"...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, December 8, 2009

A Charter for Comparative Spiritual Hermeneutics

At Eranos in 1965 Corbin spoke as follows:

"...[I]f not only a general theology of the history of religions but also a general theology of religions is necessary and conceivable; it cannot be established either as a synthesis or as a process of the "historical past." It is not feasible, in one form or another, except as a theology or a theosophy of the Paraclete. This begins when our bondage to the unidimensional and linear perspective of the consciousness called "historical" ceases. What we have called here hierohistory is the appearance of a hieratic dimension, heterogeneous to our historical time; the time of this hierohistory is the one that we have seen Swedenborg analyze as a succession of spiritual states, and the events that are visions— those of Isma'ili hierohistory, for example, or those that fill our cycle of the holy Grail—are true and actually take place 'in that time.'

If the grand task of a general theology of religions was ever foreseen, it was surely by the great Protestant theologian of German romanticism, Schleiermacher, himself a master of hermeneutics. If he is scarcely to the taste or in the style of our time, this is perhaps owing to a symptom not only of dryness of heart in our theologies, but of resignation, of secret agnosticism, which insists that one should be more attentive to questions that are, in fact, at the level of sociology, even when they bear the name of ecumenism. In a striking page of his On Religion, a page totally inspired by the verses in John concerning the Paraclete, Schleiermacher professes that if, since the flowering of the first Christianity has passed, the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible, have come to be considered a closed code of religion, it is because it has been claimed that limits can be imposed on the boundless freedom of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it would be necessary to make it appear dead, and for that it would be necessary that religion itself—a divine work, not a human one—should be dead. Schleiermacher would not have spoken otherwise if he had been, like us, witness to the efforts of the theologians who have made themselves the accomplices of that death, by affirming, under the pretext of safeguarding the divine transcendence, that Christianity is not a religion and by obstinately repeating that religion is only the work of man—as though man could be capable of this effort at salvation without God being its active Subject.

In contrast, Schleiermacher proclaims:

"All those who have still felt their life in them, or have perceived it in others, have always declared themselves against that innovation which has nothing Christian in it. The Sacred Scriptures became the Bible by means of their own power; they do not forbid any other book to be or to become the Bible; they would willingly allow anything written with the same power to be added." (On Religion - 5th Discourse).

This page of Schleiermacher could be the charter of all future comparative spiritual hermeneutics."

- Henry Corbin

in « Herméneutique spirituelle comparée : I. Swedenborg, II. Gnose ismaélienne », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXII/1964. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1965. Repris dans Face de Dieu, face de l’homme – Herméneutique et soufisme. Entrelacs, 2008 (orig. Paris, Flammarion, 1983). Translated in English as "Comparative spiritual Hermeneutics," in Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, by L.Fox. West Chester, Swedenborg Foundation, 1995. Selection here from pp. 132-134.

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