Joachim of Fiore was a medieval thinker who divided salvation history into three segments. The first stage of history was that of God the Father narrated in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Father’s deliverance of the Jews and the giving of the Mosaic Law dominate this initial portion of revelation. The second phase of God’s involvement with mankind belongs to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, consisting of the New Testament era along with the first Christian centuries.
This era is characterized by the ministries of the clergy and celebration of the sacraments, the age of organized religion.
The third and final chapter of God’s interaction with humanity is the age of the Holy Spirit in which the third person of the Blessed Trinity will finally make accessible to the world the fullness of truth, the completion of revelation. In this third and last age, the predictions of the Old Testament and the rites of the Christian Church would be unnecessary. Non-believers would finally be united with Christians by an enduring, internal, spiritual bond. This age of the Holy Spirit would result from mankind’s coming into direct, contemplative contact with God, commencing a new dispensation of universal love. The age of the Spirit would advance beyond the Gospel of Christ, replacing ecclesiastical organization with a new spiritual order of the just, a sort of worldwide monastic experience, in which individuals would rely not on prophetic revelation as in the Old Testament era nor on priestly organization as in the New Testament era but rather on direct personal enlightenment through the Holy Spirit. Thus a new epoch of peace and concord would begin, making the Scriptures and the church unnecessary. The Spirit would effect a transition from the reign of law and liturgy to the reign of liberty, from an imperfect society to a perfect society.
Death kindly intervened before any condemnation of Joachim of Fiore’s thoughts could be issued by church fathers. Actually, he died respected by many as a very humble, devout and prayerful soul, especially esteemed by many spiritual-minded Franciscan Friars.
Joachim’s fond musings about an ideal age without commandments and without clergy have never really disappeared. At a recent Interfaith meeting a number of participants were listed as “Nones” since when ask to indicate their religious preference they checked off “None of the Above.” Reportedly, 44% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 can be classified as “Nones.” They have no formal religious affiliation. These look beyond the written law and beyond the church’s rites in favor of sensitivity to interior promptings, hopefully from the Holy Spirit but possibly from the spirit of the age. Such persons nowadays often describe themselves as “spiritual but not especially religious.” These are the modern if unwitting disciples of Joachim of Fiore.
The Catholic Church does not know three successive waves of revelation. There has been one unique revelation from God and his name is Jesus Christ.
The Hebrew dispensation looked forward to Jesus Christ and the Christian dispensation looks back to Jesus Christ. As this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage teaches, the Spirit’s mission is to deepen the believing community’s appreciation of Jesus and his work: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” And again, St. John writes, “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.” Still again, St. John insists: “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.” St. Paul would later succinctly write that the premier charge of the Spirit is to foster faith in Jesus Christ: “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”
Christian revelation did not replace but rather fulfilled the revelation made known to the Jews. The work of the Spirit is not to replace but rather to refresh in every generation the fullness of revelation offered once and for all in Jesus Christ, who solely is “the way, the truth and the life.” Every period, every era, is the age of Jesus Christ.