In the twelfth century, Joachim of Fiore, abbot of a monastery in a remote area, San Giovanni da Fiore, wrote his apocalyptic visions of the future which included three religious ages. That is, an age of the Father, an age of the Son and an age of the Spirit. Fiore tied his ideas to the monastic life and saw the age of the Spirit as the age of two perfect monastic houses who would battle against the anti-Christ.. (Picture by Stephen Larson)
Some post-modern thinkers, writers and even pastors in the United States also think in terms of an age of the Spirit. Several times Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why has referred to both Joachim of Fiore and a coming age of the Spirit.
In her book in a footnote to page 162 on the possible changes coming to Christianity, Tickle writes:
“As many readers may know medieval mystics like Joachim of Fiore would regard that development [changes in Christianity which include a rewrite of theology] as nothing less than prophetic fulfillment, inasmuch as they believed history was to be divided up into bi-millennial units. For them, from the beginning to the birth of Christ was the two thousand years of primary emphasis on God the Father. From the coming of Christ to 2000 was to be the two thousand years of primary emphasis on God the Son. From 2000 CE to 4000 CE would be the two thousand years of the primacy in worship and in human affairs of God the Spirit.” (165 n8)
In a recent paper on Patheos Tickle writes: The Age of the Spirit has come, just as many of the mystics had promised it would. Authority will rest not only in scripture, as Luther and Protestantism had argued, but also in the intentions of the Spirit as they are revealed to, and discerned by, the devout in prayer and in congress with one another. It is a shift of historic proportions.”
I first want to correct Tickle’s understanding about Joachim and other mystics’ views of an age of the Spirit. But then I want to explain the problems that exist when Christians lift up such an age. (And it is nothing new within Christianity)
Joachim saw three states of time that overlapped each other. The first began with Adam and lasted until the time of Christ. For Joachim this was the time of the Father and those who married. The second state began with Josiah and lasted into the time of Christ and past. This was the time of clerics. The third stage, the Holy Spirit, is the time of the monastic orders and started with Saint Benedict. The time of the Father is the Old Testament, the time of Christ the New Testament. But, the time of the Spirit is unclear –it is now but it is also future. Joachim’s position on this is argued about by Scholars.
There were others who followed Joachim; some were considered orthodox by the church of their time others were not. Some of the more heretical appeared in the thirteenth century. They were called the Amaurians. Norman Cohn in his fascinating book, The Pursuit of the Millennium writes of them:
“Like Joachim the Amaurians saw history as divided into three ages, corresponding to the three Persons of the Trinity; but unlike him, they believed that each age had its appropriate Incarnation. From the beginning of the world until the birth of Christ the Father had acted alone; and he had been incarnated in Abraham … The age since the Nativity had been the Age of the Son. But now there was the beginning the Age of the Holy Spirit, which would last to the end of the world. That age was to be marked by the last great Incarnation. It was the turn of the Spirit to take on flesh and the Amaurians were the first men in which it had done so-the first ‘Spirituals’, as they called themselves.” (155)
And here is one of the clearest problems with an idea of an age of the Spirit. In such thinking the Holy Spirit is so easily untied from his position as the one who turns our attention to Jesus Christ. Jesus, in John, states that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in him (Jesus. ) He convicts the world of righteousness because Jesus is with the Father. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment because the ruler of the world (Satan) has been judged. And this is the work that Jesus did on the cross. (Col 2:15)
In Tickle’s thinking the community of believers will now find authority within their interconnectedness’ as the Holy Spirit guides. She speaks of the “intentions of the Spirit” and lays that beside the Holy Scriptures. But it is through the illumination of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit to the heart of the believer, and always centered on the Lord of the Church that both believer and Church are guided.
The 19th century Romantic Movement was also a time when the Holy Spirit was lifted above Christ in emphasis. It was another age, like ours, that turned in interest to monasticism, cathedrals (but broken ancient ones), candles and gothic themes. It began with mystery and nature and ended in despair with the works of Nietzsche and the art of Francisco Goya.
H.G. Schenk in The Mind of the European Romantics, also writes of this problem of emphasizing the Holy Spirit over Christ. He explores the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, a romantic and the father of liberal theology. Using Karl Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher, he writes, “Adoration of the Holy Ghost, at the expense of the other Persons of the Trinity, emotionalism and finally, pantheism are, as it were, natural allies.” (116) And this is the direction many in the emergent movement, Tickle’s main subject, are headed. Moving away from the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ places believers in a very dangerous position.
If we hear the voice of the Spirit but do not hear of Jesus Christ and his redeeming, transforming life and death-it is not the Holy Spirit we are hearing. If we tend to listen for the Spirit but fail to obey the word of God, the Bible, we are listening for the wrong spirit. It is eternally the time of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
 Trans. Intro. Bernard McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactanntius, Adso of Montier-En-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Spiritual Franciscans, Savonarola, (New York Paulist Press 1979) 102.
 When I first began ministering to families and Christians who had friends and children involved in cults and new religions, I encountered a whole ‘Christian’ radio station whose various pastors from all over the United States were teaching a similar doctrine.