"...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.
I would like to compile a list of institutions which are offering or have in the past offered courses on Henry Corbin. If you offer, or have participated in such a course please send a note (in English or French) with all relevant details to firstname.lastname@example.org. - Tom Cheetham
Theophanic prayer is creative - it is a means of bringing into being the Angelic countenance whose Face is actualized by our act of Imagination - and precisely because this Imagination is a divine, personal and personified gift whose powers only we can exercise. Corbin presents Suhrawardi and Ibn 'Arabi, among others in the Islamic tradition, as masters of this power, but he is fond of citing excerpts from the Cherubinic Wanderer by the 17th century Christian mystic Angelus Silesius. Here too we find the idea of companionship and "chivalry" bonding the Angel and the human soul to whom it corresponds. Corbin cites these striking verses:
I know God cannot live one instant without Me: If I should come to naught, needs must He cease to be.
God's need of me, my need of God, Are equal in degree. He helps to bear my being up And I help Him to be.
Naught is but I and Thou. Were there nor Thou nor I, Then God is no more God, and Heaven falls from the sky.
Corbin's theology of Angelic mediation makes these remarkable lines more transparent than they can be for traditional monotheism. It is not the "God of Gods" who does not exist without us - it is the Lord, the Angel Holy Spirit whose fiery face opens out into a myriad theophanies to bring to light the diversity of creation. We are necessary partners in this creative, intimate and personal relationship with the transcendent. The bond with the Angel requires everything from us. The Annunciation is not an event in history - it is a call:
"Hail Mary!" so thou greetedst Her: Yet, Gabriel, what doth this avail To me, unless thou likewise come And greet me with the self-same "Hail!"
I must be Mary and myself Give birth to God, would I possess -Nor can I otherwise-God's gift Of everlasting Happiness.
The power of the creative imagination, the gift of Gabriel, the Angel Holy Spirit, enables each of us, if we consent, to give birth to the Angel whose grace allows us to see all the world as an icon. For we give birth not only to God, but to the world itself, transfigured in the light of a personal vision.
Adapted from After Prophecyby the author. Selections from Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer, Selections. Translated and with an Introduction by J. E. Crawford Flitch. London, 1932. (Online at the Internet Sacred Text Archive). Texts here are as follows: I, 8; I, 100; II, 178; II, 102 and I, 23.
Diptych: The Annunciation (The Angel and the Virgin), Macha Chakoff.