"...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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Saturday, October 31, 2009

« La Sophia éternelle »

As promised, here is the French version, entire, of Henry Corbin's « La Sophia éternelle » (à propos du livre de C.G. Jung : Antwort auf Hiob), Revue de culture européenne 5, 1953, 44 pp. This piece has been discussed in several earlier posts.

(Icon of the Holy Wisdom, Novgorod School, 14th c. )

La Sophia Eternelle - Henry Corbin

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Roberts Avens on Henry Corbin

The late Roberts Avens (1923-2006) was among the first in the English-speaking world to attempt to show how Corbin's work relates to contemporary western theology and philosophy. His writings are an important resource for those interested in the implications of Corbin's thought. Avens was Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. His native village is Galeni  in Latvia where there is a Roberts Muks (Avens) museum. His family moved to Dricani when Roberts was about 5 years old. He received a BA and MA in the humanities from the University of Brussels, and an MA and PhD in theology and the phenomenology of religion from Fordham University (1976). In addition to his philosophical work, he devoted much time to writing poetry, mostly in Latvian, under the name of Roberts Mūks. Some of his poems (in Latvian) can be found in Jaunā Gaita nr. 187, jūnijs 1992 and others of his and some honoring him on his 70th birthday, along with more photos, can be found in Jaunā Gaita nr. 191, marts 1993. A short obituary in the Latvian press can be found here.

I here begin a project to make some of his hard-to-find essays available in these posts from time to time, and begin with "Corbin's Interpretation of Imamology and Sufism" below. A partial bibliography follows.

Avens, Roberts, Imagination as Reality: Western Nirvana in Jung, Hillman, Barfield & Cassirer, Spring Publications, 1980. A selection from this book is available online: "Western Romanticism and the East"
____ The New Gnosis, Spring Publications, 1984.

____ "Things and Angels, Death and Immortality in Heidegger and in Islamic Gnosis," Hamdard Islamicus VII(2): 3-32, Summer, 1984
____ "Theosophy of Mulla Sadra," Hamdard Islamicus IX(3): 3-30, Autumn, 1986
____ "Henry Corbin and Suhrawardi's Angelology," Hamdard Islamicus XI(1): 3-20, Spring 1988
____ "Corbin's Interpretation of Imamology and Sufism," Hamdard Islamicus XI(2): 67-79, Summer, 1988
____ "The Subtle Realm: Corbin, Sufism and Swedenborg," in Emanuel Swedenborg: A Continuing Vision, ed. Robin Larson, Swedenborg Foundation, New York, 1988.
____ "Henry Corbin's Teaching on Angels," translated from the German by Hugo M. Van Woerkom; Gorgo 18 (1988).

Mūks, Roberts. Krokodīls un es. Ojāra Jēgena vāks. Annarborā Mišigenā: Ceļinieks, 1984.
_____ Apaļais cilvēks – Dieva kopija. 2007.
DIEVS,DIEVI UN VELNIŅI, Apgāds Mantojums, 2005. A book of essays, reviewed in Latvian here.

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Avens - Corbin on Imamology & Sufism

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Anecdote of the Spoon

On pages 206-7 of Corbin's Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi we read:

This ascending movement involves not only man; every being is in a state of perpetual ascension, since its creation is in a state of perpetual recurrence from instant to instant. This renewed, recurrent creation is in every case a Manifestation (izhar} of the Divine Being manifesting ad infinitum the possible hexeities in which He essentializes His being. If we consider the creature in relation to the Creator, we shall say that the Divine Being descends toward concrete individualizations and is epiphanized in them; inversely, if we consider these individualizations in their epiphanic function, we shall say that they rise, that they ascend toward Him. And their ascending movement never ceases because the divine descent into the various forms never ceases. The ascent is then the Divine Epiphany in these forms, a perpetually recurrent Effusion, a twofold intradivine movement. That is why the other world already exists in this world; it exists in every moment, in relation to every being. [Note 41.]

[Note 41, pp. 354-5]: Fusus II, 151. Here I should like to mention a conversation, which strikes me as memorable, with D. T. Suzuki, the master of Zen Buddhism (Casa Gabriella, Ascona, August 18, 1954, in the presence of Mrs. Frobe-Kapteyn and Mircea Eliade). We asked him what his first encounter with Occidental spirituality had been and learned that some fifty years before Suzuki had translated four of Swedenborg's works into Japanese; this had been his first contact with the West. Later on in the conversation we asked him what homologies in structure he found between Mahayana Buddhism and the cosmology of Swedenborg in respect of the symbolism and correspondences of the worlds ( cf. his Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series, p. 54, n. ). Of course we expected not a theoretical answer, but a sign attesting the encounter in a concrete person of an experience common to Buddhism and to Swedenborgian spirituality. And I can still see Suzuki suddenly brandishing a spoon and saying with a smile: "This spoon now exists in Paradise. . . ." "We are now in Heaven," he explained. This was an authentically Zen way of answering the question; Ibn 'Arabi would have relished it. In reference to the establishment of the transfigured world to which we have alluded above (n. 10), it may not be irrelevant to mention the importance which, in the ensuing conversation, Suzuki attached to the Spirituality of Swedenborg, "your Buddha of the North."

[At Eranos in 1954 Corbin presented "Épiphanie Divine et Naissance Spirituelle dans la Gnose Ismaliénne," and Suzuki's contribution was "The Awakening of a new Consciousness in Zen." See the Eranos Jahrbuch 1954, Band 23. For more on Corbin & Swedenborg see Roberts Avens' article "The Subtle Realm: Corbin, Sufism and Swedenborg," in Swedenborg a Continuing Vision.]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Corbin in the Music of Sir John Tavener

Sir John Tavener's (b. 1944) piece The Veil of the Temple (also here) makes use of some lines from Corbin's Temple and Contemplation. Tavener has written a short essay on the composition available here as a pdf. The premiere of this immense overnight work was in 2003 at the Temple Church in London. Of Cycle 8 Tavener writes,

"My references to the Knights Templar that follow are symbolic. There is a rather wonderful legend concerning them, recalled by the eminent French Islamisist Henry Corbin. He tells that on March 18th, a knight of the Temple is seen to appear uttering the cry “Who will defend the Holy Temple? Who will defend the Tomb of Christ?”. At this call, the enthroned Templars come alive and stand up to answer “No one! No one! The Temple is destroyed forever”."

The passage in question is from the opening paragraph of Corbin's "The Imago Templi in Confrontation with Secular Norms" (p. 263). In this first section, The Imago Templi at "the meeting-place of the two seas", Corbin writes as follows:

"A great Jewish writer of our time, Elie Wiesel, has chosen as the epigraph to one of the most poignant of his books, Le serment de Kolvillag [in English as The Oath - TC], the following quotation from the Talmud: "If peoples and nations had known the evil they were inflicting on themselves by destroying the Temple of Jerusalem, they would have wept more than the children of Israel." I was still pondering the far-reaching implications of these lines when, in a recent work, I came across another epigraph, taken this time from the historian Ignaz von Dollinger: "If I were asked to name the dies nefastus in the history of the world, the day that would come to my mind would be none other than October 13, 1307" (the day when Philip the Fair ordered the mass arrest of the French Templars). A few pages further on, the same work makes mention of "a legend whose setting is the amphitheatre of Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, where six knights of the Temple lie at rest in a chapel. Every year, on March 18—the birthday of the last Grand Master of the Order— a knight of the Temple is seen to appear, whose shroud is replaced by the famous white cloak with the four-triangled red cross. He is in battle apparel and holds his lance in rest. He walks slowly towards the centre of the chapel and utters a piercing call, which re-echoes around the amphitheatre of mountains: 'Who will defend the holy Temple? Who will deliver the tomb of Christ?' At his call, the six entombed Templars come alive and stand up, to answer three times: 'No one! No one! No one! The Temple is destroyed.'"

"The lamentations of the Talmudist sages and the doleful cry resounding through a Pyrenean amphitheatre echo each other, in that each of them sets the same catastrophe at the centre of world history: the destruction of the Temple, of the same Temple. Nevertheless, over the centuries a triumphal Image occurs and recurs, opposing this despair with the tenacity of permanent defiance: the Image of the rebuilding of the Temple, the coming of the New Temple, which assumes the dimensions of a cosmic restoration. The two images, of the destruction and of the rebuilding of the Temple, are inseparable one from the other. They draw on the same source, and they configurate a vision of the world which in both its horizontal and vertical dimension is dominated by the Image of the Temple, Imago Templi, and which conjoins the destiny of the city-temple and the destiny of the community-temple in the body of the Knights Templar." (263-4) - H. Corbin.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Notes on Corbin & Hamann

In 1937 the young Henry Corbin taught a course at the l'Ecole pratique des Hautes Etudes on the influence of Luther on Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788). (I have discussed Hamann & Corbin in this earlier post).

He followed with the publication of a short piece in the Annuaire de l’ Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Religieuses 1938-1939, pp. 77-81, Conférence temporaire : « L’Inspiration luthérienne chez Hamann ».

In 1935 he had written a substantial essay and had planned a book which would include this, plus his translations of a few short pieces by Hamann. One of these translations was published as J.G. HAMANN, « Aesthetica in nuce. Rhapsodie en prose kabbalistique », trad. de l’allemand par H. Corbin, Mesures, janv. 1939, 27 p.
This translation appeared also in Henry Corbin, edited by Christian Jambet, Cahier de l'Herne, no. 39. Consacré à Henry Corbin, 1981.

In 1985 Corbin's larger essay and three translations of pieces by Hamann were at long last published as Hamann, philosophe du luthérianisme, introduction by Jean Brun. Paris, Berg International, 1985, reissued in 2005.

Hamann's essay "Aesthetica in nuce, " "Aesthetics in a Nutshell," is a remarkable piece of Romantic literature in itself and is not readily available in English. I make it available here (in printable, if not screen-readable form & as yet at least, without the extensive notes provided by the translator) in a translation by Joyce P. Crick from Nisbet, Hugh Barr, German Aesthetic and Literary Criticism: Winckelmann, Lessing, Hamann, Herder, Schiller, Goethe. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Aesthetica in Nuce Complete - Hamann

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal

It is perhaps worth making this essay available here in spite of the fact that it can also be found online here in a different translation. This pdf version may be more readable and more easily printed. This is the essay as it first appeared in Spring 1972 (Zurich), in a translation by Ruth Horine.

Mundus Imaginalis

The Imaginary and the Imaginal


Henry Corbin

Spring 1972 - Zürich

[This paper, delivered at the Colloquium on Symbolism in Paris in June 1964, appeared in the Cahiers internationaux de symbolisme 6, Brussels 1964, pp. 3—26. The version printed here has been condensed (with the permission of the author) by omitting paragraphs of a technical nature on pages 5 and 8 of the original, as well as an account (pp. 17—23) of the topography of the Eighth Clime. The complete text of this account has been published in H. Corbin, En Islam iranien: aspects spirituels et philosophiques, tome IV, livre 7, Paris: Gallimard, 1971. Other writings of Prof. Corbin have been published regularly in French in the Eranos Jahrbucher. His major works in English translation are: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (Bollingen Series LXVI) N. Y. and London, 1960 and Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn'Arabi, Princeton and London, 1969. – Eds.]


Blue Animal Skin Carpet - Konya; from Christopher Alexander, A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of very Early Turkish Carpets. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Towards a Chart of the Imaginal

Prelude to the Second Edition of
de l’Iran Mazdeen a l’Iran Shi’ite


This brief essay is worth posting here in spite of its availability elsewhere (including Temenos 1 (London, 1981) pp.23-36). I have on more than one occasion found that it is unknown to people who otherwise are familiar with Corbin's Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth (Princeton University Press, 1977). This "Prelude" to the Second Edition of CORPS SPIRITUEL ET TERRE CELESTE, de l’Iran Mazdeen a l’Iran Shi’ite (1st ed. 1961, 2nd ed. 1979) appears in the English edition only with the Fifth Printing (1989) of the book and may be unknown to those who have copies printed before then. The essay is of considerable interest for many reasons, not least because it addresses concerns Corbin had about the use and misuse of the term imaginal which came to his attention as his neologism gained in popularity.

Photo: Jerry Uelsmann. Untitled, 1992.

Chart of the Imaginal

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yemen & Sufism

I draw your attention to this short piece in the NYTimes:

Crossroads of Islam, Past and Present

(if you have trouble with the link, try it through Google News)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Visionary Dream in Islamic Spirituality

The Visionary Dream in Islamic Spirituality

Henry Corbin


The Dream and Human Society
University of California Press
Edited by

Based on the proceedings of the international
Colloquium on "Le Reve et les societes humaines,"
sponsored and organized by the Near Eastern Center,
University of California, Los Angeles,
and held at the Cercle Culturel de Royaumont,
Abbaye de Royaumont, Asnieres-sur-Oise,
June 17 to June 23, 1962

(This document was scanned and printed using OCR software.
I apologize for the lack of diacrits and any
typographical errors that I may have missed. - TC)

Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) by Nizami ; verso: The Prophet's "Night Journey" (miraj); 1548
Safavid period, Shiraz, Iran Freer Gallery, F1908.278a-b

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mysticism & Humor

Henry Corbin

from Spring Journal 1973

Publisher’s Note: This translation has been prepared from the second part of a lecture entitled "Mystique et Humour chez Sohrawardi, Shaykh al-Israq" presented in Teheran, November 19, 1969, and which has been published in French in Collected Papers on Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism, (Institute of Islamic Studies, Teheran Branch, McGill University, Montreal), Teheran, 1971, pp. 16-38; this translation is of pp. 26—38. For further authoritative material on Sohrawardi, see the author's En Islam iranien, vol. II: "Sohrawardi et les Platoniciens de Perse", Paris: Gallimard, 1971.

Photo: Upupa epops, the Hoopoe, King Solomon's Bird.

Mysticism & Humor

And, most pertinent here is this poem from Rumi,

Longing for the Birds of Solomon

Is this stuff poetry? It's what birds sing in cages.
Where are the words spoken by the birds of Solomon?

How would you know their cries, if you heard them,
When you haven't seen Solomon even for two seconds?

Solomon's bird lifts his wings, one tip touches East, one West.
Those who hear the notes feel an intensity in their whole body.

The bird descends from the Holy One's bedroom door to earth.
And from earth it flies among light back to the Great Seat.

Without Solomon every bird is a bat in love with darkness.
Listen, oh mischievous bat, try to become his friend. Do you want to stay
in your cave forever?

If you go even three feet towards Solomon's mountain,
Others will use that as a yardstick to measure their lives.

Suppose your leg is gimpy, and you have to hop, what's the difference?
Going toward Solomon, even by limping, the leg grows whole.

Translation by Robert Bly, from 'The Rumi Collection' Edited by Kabir Helminski

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Henry Eugène Corbin
April 14, 1903 - October 7, 1978

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mensbrugge's From Dyad to Triad

For the sake of completeness I include here the illustrations from Alexis van der Mensbrugge's From Dyad to Triad which Corbin references in « La Sophia éternelle » Revue de culture européenne 5, 1953 (Portions in English as "The Eternal Sophia," translated by Molly Tuby, in Harvest vol. 31, London, 1985, here pdf). (See this earlier post.) See 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; Morehouse Publishing: Milwaukee & New York, 1935, 153pp, 6 Plates).

Of the six plates Mensbrugge has this to say:

"Except the first one, which is a pen-drawing of the Sophia of Novgorod Cathedral (xi c.), the photogravures are all reproductions of old icons taken from the invaluable albums of N. P. Likhatchev (Materialy dlia istorii russkago iconopisania, S. Petersburg, 1905). I have chosen rather belated specimens (xvii.—xviii. c.) on purpose, to stress the continuity of the Sophian tradition in iconography. They are numbered as follows in Likhatchev: No. 487 (PI. 2), No. 446 (PI. 3), No. 611 (PI. 4), No. 613 (PI. 5), and No. 398 (PI. 6)."

The captions for the Plates read as follows (left to right, top to bottom):
1. The Wisdom Angel 2. The Wisdom Angel (xviii c.) 3. Wisdom as Mother, Son and Angel Counselor 4. Wisdom as Mother & Mediatrice between Father & Son 5. Wisdom as Son Unborn, Embedded in Father & Son 6. Wisdom as Throne of the Divine Three.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Fire

Eyes of Flesh and Eyes of Fire
Science and Gnosis

by Henry Corbin

Opening address, June 1978
l'Université Saint Jean de Jérusalem

Translated from
Les Yeux de chair et les yeux de feu: la science et la gnose :
colloque tenu à Paris les 2,3 et 4 juin 1978
Cahiers de l'Université Saint Jean de Jérusalem, 5.
Paris: Berg international, 1979.

From Material for Thought, Number 8, 1980.
Published by Far West Institute, San Francisco, CA

Taking the words "Orient" and "Occident" not in their geographic or ethnic sense, but in the spiritual and metaphysical sense given them by tradition, we have spoken before of the contrast between the "pilgrims of the Orient and the vagabonds of the Occident." Now it is a question of knowing how to attempt the pilgrimage toward the Orient and extricate ourselves from vagabondage. First of all, the way must be discovered. With what eyes must we look in order to discover this way and set out on it?

Let us begin by recalling that in the biblical visions, Angels are recognized by their eyes of fire (cf Daniel 10:6, Apoc. 19:12, etc.). When we contrast the eyes of the soul with the eyes of the flesh, it is these eyes of fire that are referred to.

The point of this year's theme is to mark, by the contrast between the look of the eyes of flesh and the look of the eyes of fire, the contrast between the way present-day "science" looks at beings and things and
the way they are looked at by what is traditionally designated as “gnosis.”

In order to justify our extension of the concept of gnosis, let me remind you that ever since the Congress of Messina (April 1966) scholars have agreed to differentiate the use of the word "gnosticism" from that of the word "gnosis." It is understood that the gnosticism of the first centuries of our era only constitutes one chapter in the whole of gnosis (there is a Jewish gnosis, a Christian gnosis, an Islamic gnosis, a Buddhist gnosis, etc.). Therefore, we do not propose to take a position concerning the problems raised about gnosticism by historians of religion and historians of dogma—and still less to take these discussions up again. It is one thing for a historian to propose hypotheses on the origins of gnosis; it is another to ask ourselves the theoretical and practical significance of gnosis for us today, because gnosis is not a phenomenon tied to the historical conditions of the second century, but a religious phenomenon perpetuating itself from century to cen¬tury.

It is essentially a question of acknowledging the generally accepted definition of the word gnosis as designating a certain type or mode of knowledge, correlated with the phenomenon of the world to which this type of knowledge corresponds, and of making use of this as a criterion in order to bring judgment to bear on the concept of "science" in the form that dominates our epoch. In other words, it is essentially a question of determining with what eyes this "science" (in all its domains) looks at the world, and with what eyes gnosis looks at it. The point is that the phenomenon of the world, or rather the phenomenon of worlds, varies decisively according to the way it is looked at. The phenomenon of the world cannot be constituted in the same way when looked at with the eyes of flesh and the eyes of fire.

Let it be understood that gnosis is characterized as the salvational, redemptive, soteriological knowledge because it has the virtue of bringing about the inner transformation of man. The world which is the object of this knowledge implies in its very plan the role and function of this knowledge itself. The dramatic aspect of the cosmog¬ony in which the human soul is itself a protagonist is in fact the very drama of gnosis: the fall from the world of Light, the exile and the struggle in the world of blindness and ignorance, the triumphant final redemption.

That is why one is astounded when present-day historians, or philosophers, reputedly serious in other domains, adopt a conception of gnosis, perhaps from second- or third-hand sources, which in fact is the exact opposite of gnosis. We have heard the idea expressed that ideology is to modern science what gnosis is to religious faith. This analogy of the relationship is completely false, first of all because the result of the secularization of religious faith is not modern science but rather ideology itself. This has nothing to do with gnosis, which has avoided just this secularization. Gnosis is not a matter of dogma but of symbol. People have even gone so far as to turn a now dead ideologist and political leader into something of a gnostic, under the pretext that if the believer knows that he believes, the ideologist believes that he knows. More sophistry: the word "believe" is not used in the same way each time, and we can be sure that the ideologist does not believe that he knows, he knows that he knows.

It is these catastrophic confusions that lead people to say, for example, that gnosis claims to give a "positive knowledge" of the mysteries, and that this knowledge contradicts faith. Far from it! Gnosis and its theosophy have nothing in common with what is understood these days by "positive knowledge." But an irritating symptom of these impertinent confusions is the use today, without rhyme or reason, of the word "Manichaeism" when it is simply a matter of duality and dualism, as if all dualism was merely a secularization of Manichaeism when in fact neither Manichaean religion nor gnosis has anything to do with it. It is all taking place as if ignorance and an anti-gnostic feeling, tacit and unexplained, were striving to go beyond the limits of absurdity.

Since we are going to speak of gnosis in this period of study, these warnings are necessary at the outset. It appears to me that all these pseudo-criticisms misinterpret, simply and absolutely, the meaning of the word gnosis. They identify it merely with knowing and they oppose it to believing.

Now, in point of fact, as we have just said, in contrast to all other learning or knowledge, gnosis is salvational knowledge. To speak of gnosis as theoretical knowledge is a contradiction in terms. It must therefore be admitted that in contrast to all other theoretical learning or knowledge, gnosis is knowledge that changes and transforms the knowing subject. This, I know, is just what cannot be admitted by an agnostic science, let alone a philosophy or a theology which can only, in some sense, speak of gnosis in the third person. But when one speaks of it in that way, one is no longer speaking of gnosis, and all the criticism misses the mark.

It is therefore necessary, before continuing, to expose these confusions and their sources.

A first source of confusion stems from the fact that critics of gnosis have at their disposal only two categories, believing and knowing, and they identify gnosis with knowing alone. It is thus completely over-looked that between believing and knowing there is a third mediating term, everything connoted by the term inner vision, itself corresponding to this intermediary and mediatory world forgotten by the official philosophy and theology of our times: the mundus imaginalis, the imaginal world. Islamic gnosis offers here the necessary triadic scheme: there is intellective knowledge ('agl), there is knowledge of traditional ideas which are objects of faith (nagl), and there is knowledge as inner vision, intuitive revelation (kashf). Gnosis is inner vision. Its mode of exposition is narrative; it is a recital. Inasmuch as it sees, it knows. But inasmuch as what it sees does not arise from "positive" empirical, historical data, it believes. It is Wisdom and it is faith. It is Pistis Sophia.

Another source of confusion is the lack of discrimination between the gnostic schools of the second century, between a Valentinus and a Marcion. Valentinus never professed the metaphysical antisemitism of Marcion as regards the God of the Old Testament. Quite the contrary. Moreover, there is an original Jewish gnosis found in the Judaeo-Christian literature called pseudo-Clementine, in a book such as the Hebrew Third Enoch, the main document of the mystical theology of the Merkabah. Some scholars even tend to give gnosis a Judaic origin.

Finally, let us expose another confusion: the cosmology of gnosis is in no way a nihilism, a sort of "decreation" of the creative act. How could it be, since the aim of gnosis is cosmic salvation, the restoration of things to the state which preceded the cosmic drama? The gnostic is a stranger, a prisoner in this world, to be sure, but as such his mission is to aid in the liberation of other prisoners. And this mission will not be done without a great many efforts.

Now that these warnings have been formulated, we are free to put into perspective a present-day phenomenon that strongly undercuts the impertinent criticisms of gnosis. It is significant that a certain number of scholars, observing in good faith that rationalism is powerless to provide a rational explanation of the world and of man, tend to turn back to a vision of the world that draws from traditional cosmologies. They speak of a "cosmic consciousness" because an Intelligence must be at work in order to explain the phenomenon, and they invoke the words gnosis and new gnosis.

At this point, we at the Universite Saint Jean de Jerusalem must consider a serious question or, more exactly, a twofold hypothesis. Will there really be a renewal of gnosis, bearing witness to the fact that gnosis cannot remain indefinitely absent and that its banishment was a catastrophe? If so, we are ready to bring reinforcements. But has this renewal sufficient backbone for the word "gnosis" not to be usurped nor the authenticity of the concept imperiled? If this were unfortunately to occur, our task would be to speak out against the peril.

As a first step, we must begin by putting to profitable use the schema common to all forms of gnosis, in order to rigorously define on the one hand the situs of agnostic science and on the other the situs of a science aspiring to a new gnosis.

We can illustrate this status quaestionis from many different perspectives.

For example, we still have to restore the true face of the science of Newton. People have made of him one of the great founders of the mechanistic conception of the universe, of the science with eyes of flesh, while three-fourths of his work, mystical and alchemical, springs from the knowledge with eyes of fire.

Considering Jacob Boehme and like figures, it is a question of determining what alchemy would signify as spiritual science if it had at its disposal the resources of modern laboratories and observatories.

We have still to explicate the gnostic view of the world of visionaries with "eyes of fire," such as William Blake, Wordsworth, Goethe, etc.

By the same token, we have still to judge if what we have heard of a so-called Princeton gnosis truly tends toward a gnosis with "eyes of fire" or whether on the contrary it is attempting to the fatal com¬promise with a gnosis with "eyes of flesh." On the other hand, a man like Nicholas Berdyaev could rightly be considered a "modern gnos-tic."

We have finally, or rather most of all, in order to stay within the line of our fundamental calling, to uncover for the first time the convergence of cosmogonical and soteriological visions in the type of gnosis common to the three Abrahamic branches.

Of course, it is impossible to examine all these aspects at one time. Our program this year proposes a few of them to lay the groundwork for future developments.

Finally, it should be clearly apparent to everyone why we have associated the concept of gnosis with the look of eyes of fire. Inasmuch as the look of gnosis is a visionary look and not the look of theoretical knowledge, it is wedded to the look of the prophets, spokesmen of the Invisible. To open "the eyes of fire" is to go beyond all false and vain opposition between believing and knowing, between thinking and being, between knowledge and love, between the God of the prophets and the God of the philosophers. The gnostics of Islam, in agreement with the Jewish Kabbalists, have particularly insisted on the idea of a "prophetic philosophy." It is a prophetic philosophy that our world needs. It is to this above all that we must be called. Such was the meaning of the passage written by the philosopher Theodore Roszak that I have quoted elsewhere. It has the force of a program: "Perhaps I am implying," he wrote, "that the resurrection (of gnosis) figures among the most urgent projects of our epoch."

Guisto de Menabuoi, The Angel of Light, 1376-78, Baptistry, Padua Cathedral. Scenes from the Apocalypse.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Concept of Comparative Philosophy

As I noted in an earlier post, Corbin's Philosophie iranienne et philosophie comparee is now available here. The first of the four lectures which make up this small book can be found in English as The Concept of Comparative Philosophy, Ipswich (England): Golgonooza Press, 1981. This volume is long out of print & I have received permission from the publisher Brian Keeble to reproduce it here. The essay was originally a lecture to the Faculty of Letters at the University of Teheran in December, 1974. It was translated from the French by Peter Russell. This short but fascinating essay is well worth your attention.

Alexander Visits the Sage Plato: Page from a dispersed manuscript of the Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi, dated 1597–98; Mughal
Attributed to Basawan, Pakistan (Lahore)
Metropolitan Museum, NY.

The Concept of Comparative Philosophy

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Notes on Corbin & Jewish Mysticism

Henry Corbin and the great scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) (also here) were of course colleagues at Eranos for many years and Corbin's works make frequent reference to Scholem. Their relationship has been most thoroughly examined by Wasserstrom in Religion After Religion though it must be said that his treatment of Corbin is at best controversial (and those familiar with Corbin's work - myself included - have not given the work a sympathetic reception; see my earlier post Corbin at Eranos).

Among contemporary scholars of Jewish mysticism Elliot Wolfson, Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University may be the most explicitly influenced by Corbin. His Personal Homepage is also of great interest.

Dr. Wolfson writes as follows:

"Corbin has been a major influence on my work on Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, beginning with Through a Speculum that Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, 1994) -- specifically, I avail myself of his notion of the imaginal. Other essays which follow the path of Corbin include:

"Iconic Visualization and the Imaginal Body of God: The Role of Intention in the Rabbinic Conception of Prayer," Modern Theology 12 (1996): 137-162;

"Sacred Space and Mental Iconography: Imago Templi and Contemplation in Rhineland Jewish Pietism," in Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine, 593-634. Edited by R. Chazan, W. Hallo, and L. H. Schiffman. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999;

"Seven Mysteries of Knowledge: Qumran E/sotericism Reconsidered,” in The Idea of Biblical Interpretation: Essays in Honor of James L. Kugel, 173-213. Edited by H. Najman. Leiden: Brill, 2003;

"Imago Templi and the Meeting of the Two Seas: Liturgical Time-Space and the Feminine Imaginary in Zoharic Kabbalah," RES (Journal of Anthropology & Aesthetics) 51 (2007): 121-135.

In the last essay, I have an extended discussion of Corbin's thought."

Dr. Wolfson has kindly given permission for me to post this last very interesting piece online, which I have done below.

Wolfson - - Imago Templi