"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Feast at the Heart of Creation

The Breath of the Compassionate is food for both the creature and his God. Ibn 'Arabi writes,

"Feed then God's Creation on Him, for thy being is a breeze that rises, a perfume which He exhales; We have given Him the power to manifest himself through us, Whereas He gave us (the power to exist through Him). Thus the role is shared between Him and us."

This continuous mystic Feast is represented for Corbin by the Biblical and Qur'anic event of the philoxeny of Abraham (Genesis 18: 1-8; Qur'an 11: 72). The story is depicted in Andre Rublev's 15th century masterpiece, sometimes known as The Old Testament Trinity. Some Islamic commentators have interpreted the three mysterious strangers as the angels Gabriel, Michael and Seraphiel. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition they represent the three persons of the Trinity. Corbin tells us that Ibn 'Arabi has given a most magnificent mystical exegesis of this icon. This mystical Supper is the Feast at the heart of Creation:

to feed God's creatures on Him is to reinvest them with God, is therefore to make their theophanic radiance flower within them; it is, one might say, to make oneself capable of apprehending the "angelic function" of beings, to invest them with, and perhaps awaken them to, the angelic dimension of their being. (Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, 131).

This continuous cosmic Feast takes the place of the sacrament of Holy Communion in Corbin's theology.

(Adapted from Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World by the author).