"...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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Friday, August 29, 2008

Harmonia Abrahamica

Henry Corbin devoted his life to articulating a vision of the essential harmony of all of the religions of the Book, the vision of what he was to call in his late work the Harmonia Abrahamica. It is based on a Christology radically different from the one that became dogma. It requires a return to the Christology of the Ebionites, who had no doctrine of the Trinity, or of the substantial union of the divine and human in Jesus. For these Jewish-Christians, Jesus was a manifestation of the celestial Son of Man, the Christos Angelos, who was consecrated as Christ at his baptism. Jesus then takes his place in the lineage of the True Prophets. Corbin writes

“for Ebionite Christianity…sacred history, the hierology of humanity, is constituted by the successive manifestations…of the celestial Anthropos, of the eternal Adam-Christos who is the prophet of Truth, the True Prophet. We count seven of these manifestations, eight if we include the terrestrial person of Adam himself. They are Adam, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus… . The fundamental basis of this prophetology is therefore the idea of the True Prophet who is the celestial Anthropos, the Christus aeternus, hastening from christophany to christophany 'toward the place of his repose.' Now, this is the same structure that Islamic prophetology presents, with this difference, that the succession of christophanies is no longer completed with the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, but with the prophet of Islam, the 'Seal of the Prophets' whose coming Jesus himself announced, and who is the 'recapitulation' of all the prophets… .” (Corbin, 1977, 11)

Thus Mohammad has been identified with the figure of the Paraclete in the Gospel of John. Among the Shi'ites, the Twelfth Imam, the Hidden Imam, is sometimes identified with this final manifestation of the True Prophet, the central figure of the Eternal Gospel.

The death of Christ then signifies something utterly different from what we have come to accept. Corbin relates with evident approval the story of Christ's death told in the Medieval Gospel of Barnabas. Jesus is taken up by the Angels, before Good Friday. Judas Iscariot, transformed to resemble Jesus, is arrested and killed upon the Cross. And so His followers believe that He has died. It must be this way, since, Corbin argues,

“in making of him the 'Son of God' it is Man himself that humanity has equated with God, and it was only possible to expiate this blasphemy through succumbing to the belief that his God was dead. Everything occurs as if the Ebionite-Islamic prophetology here went ahead to denounce and refute the false news of the 'death of God.' ...It is undeniable that this vision overturns from top to bottom some eighteen centuries of the Christian theology of History.” (Corbin, 1977, 15)

Without any illusions about the magnitude of the transformation he is suggesting, this vision is Corbin's answer to those who wonder whether Christianity itself is capable of surviving. It is only by being open to a radically reformed Christianity in harmony with the mystical traditions of the rest of the Abrahamic tradition, that the religion of Christ can find its fulfillment. Only a Christianity based on theophany can survive.

Corbin tells us that the event of the Great Resurrection, the parousia of the Paraclete, which has its origins in the Final Battle proclaimed by Zoroaster, and the expectation of which is in common in various forms to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, is symbolized for Shi'ism in the person of the Hidden Imam. But, Corbin writes, this cosmic Return

"is not an event which may suddenly erupt one fine day; it is something that happens day after day in the consciousness of the Shi'ite faithful... The Advent-to-come of the Imam presupposes...the metamorphosis of men's hearts; on the faith of his followers depends the progressive fulfillment of this parousia, through their own act of being...
"...The parousia of the awaited Imam signifies a plenary anthropological revelation, unfolding within the man who lives in the Spirit." (Corbin, 1993, 71-73)

"The Imam has said: 'I am with my friends wherever they seek me, on the mountain, in the plain, and in the desert. The man to whom I have revealed my Essence, that is to say, the mystical knowledge of myself, has no further need of my physical proximity. And this is the Great Resurrection.'" (Corbin, 1993, 102)

[Citations from Corbin in "Harmonia Abrahamica," preface to Évangile de Barnabé: Recherches sur la composition et l'origine, par Luigi Cirillo, Texte et Traduction par Luigi Cirillo and Michel Frémaux, Paris : Éditions Beauchesne, 1977, and A History of Islamic Philosophy, Trans. L. Sherrard & P. Sherrard, London: Kegan Paul International, 1993.]

Text adapted from The World Turned Inside Out and Green Man, Earth Angel by the author.

The final chapter of my book Green Man, Earth Angel can be read here: "Harmonia Abrahamica: The Lost Speech and the Battle for the Soul of the World."

Illustration: La Pentecôte: Heures d'Étienne Chevalier, enluminées par Jean Fouquet. Musée Condé, Chantilly, R.-G. Ojeda, RMN / musée Condé, Chantilly.

1 comment:

  1. What is the source of this:

    "The Imam has said: 'I am with my friends wherever they seek me, on the mountain, in the plain, and in the desert. The man to whom I have revealed my Essence, that is to say, the mystical knowledge of myself, has no further need of my physical proximity. And this is the Great Resurrection.'" (Corbin, 1993, 102)

    He doesn't cite it in his book on Islaamic Philosophy (where it is from).