"...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.

Search The Legacy of Henry Corbin: Over 800 Posts

Friday, September 25, 2009

Corbin on Sophiology and the Eastern Orthodox Church

As noted in an earlier post, Corbin's commentary on C.G. Jung's Answer to Job, « La Sophia éternelle » (Revue de culture européenne 5, 1953) is partly available in English translation. Selected portions appear as "The Eternal Sophia," translated by Molly Tuby, in Harvest vol. 31, London, 1985. This is available as a pdf file here.

I'd like to highlight one of the sections in this essay, which is well worth reading in its entirety, concerning the "sophiology" of the Orthodox Church, which, Corbin alleges elsewhere (Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 138), always exhibits a "latent monophysitism" - a claim that Orthodox theologians would hotly deny. I'd like to use this text to point out the considerable affinity between Corbin's project and certain aspects of Orthodox theology to which he made reference at key points in several of his books. Not surprisingly given his own penchant for the heretical, one of Corbin's favorite Orthodox theologians, Sergei Bulgakov, was embroiled in a controversy over the heresy of his views on the Virgin Mary (see the links below). [On Orthodox theology, I recommend the writings of Olivier Clement (1921-2009) - who Corbin knew as we learn from a footnote in En Islam iranienne Vol. 2, 375n - in particular The Roots of Christian Mysticism. Also of inestimable value is The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty by another Orthodox friend in Paris, Paul Evdokimov.]

Corbin writes as follows:

- ... a symphonic relation can be detected between the sophiology of Father Boulgakov and what can also be called the sophiology of Jung. Of course there are differences . . . The Russian Orthodox theologian's ideas evolve within traditional Christian dogma whilst Jung's unfold with total confessional freedom. Sophiology is an interpretation of the world, a theological Weltanschauung within Christianity itself ... It became one stream . . . within the Orthodox Church . . . represented, nevertheless, by a long tradition (from Soloviev to Father Florensky). The way it poses the problem of the relation between God and the world, between God and man, and its affinity with the ideas of Meister Eckhardt, Boehme, Schelling and Baader, doubtless make it, of all the Christian theological schools today, the one most likely to understand Jung's sophiological message.

Sophiology began with the confrontation between the Aristotelian concept of substance (ousia) used by the Greek Fathers to interpret the hypostases immanent in the divine Trinity, and the Figures of revelation in the Bible (especially in the Wisdom books), those of Sophia, Wisdom, and of Doxa, Glory (Shekhina). These Figures, as exegesis has sometimes defined them, cannot be reduced to divine attributes, properties or qualities. On the other hand, if they differ from the divine essence, this ousia is nothing but a metaphysical diagram, abstract and empty. All endeavours tended towards showing that the divine in God is what makes the divine Sophia (or Doxa), and that, at the same time, the Sophia is the divine ousia, the locus Triadis. Therefore she herself is not a hypostasis, but the power to hypostasize in a given hypostasis, and also its life. That is why there is not really a quaternity (that symbol which held so much of Jung's attention). And yet it is the danger of a tetrad replacing the Triad which caused the hasty accusation of 'heresy'.

. . . The mystery of the eternal Sophia as divine ousia is the revelation of the 'Father' in the dyad of Logos and Holy-Spirit, and as such this dyad constitutes the divine humanity ... By its 'sophianity', the world has become the mirror of the divine world, or creaturly Sophia - To transcend this duality of the divine Sophia (eternal form and created form) is to divinize the created, to bestow upon it the divine life . . . that is the process of humanity's divinization.

This process enables us to see how sophiology establishes an archetypal relation between the Incarnation and Pentecost, thus throwing a new light on the connection between the Figures of the Holy Spirit, Sophia and the Virgin Mother. Rightly, Father Boulgakov called upon the Church's liturgic awareness rather than upon its dogmatic awareness (an important point for psychology). Liturgy and iconographic tradition in the Orthodox Church bear witness to an identification in religious consciousness between the Sophia and the Mother of God. Christ, born of the Virgin, is not simply an isolated event in time; it is an event which establishes an eternal link between Mother and Son, so that an icon representing the Virgin with her divine Child is in fact an image of divine humanity . . . The Virgin Mother is the feminine counterpart of the humanity of Christ and that is why the icons of the Mother of God with her Child (Sophia and filius Sapientiae) are an expression of the Incarnation, or divine humanity.

. . . Father Boulgakov has been an admirable exegete of Russian Orthodox iconography which testifies to the sophiological aspect of the cult of the Mother of God (The icon of Novgorod, where Wisdom is represented as a fiery Angel with the Virgin on the right and St John the Baptist on the left. [above] Some very interesting icons of the Sophia are reproduced in Father Alexis van der Mensbrugghe, From Dyad to Triad, a Plea for duality against dualism and an Essay towards the Synthesis of Orthodoxy, London: Faith Press, 1935 - For the illustrations see this post). The Sanctuaries of the Santa Sophia which, in the Byzantine empire, carried a christological meaning, in Russia referred to a Marian Sophia. Finally, the liturgy, in uniting the special service for Sophia with the service of the Assumption, is yet another echo of what we called the third act of the 'Answer to Job' . . .

Henry Corbin
Teheran, December, 1952

No comments:

Post a Comment