"...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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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Corbin on Mormon Angelology

For those who are interested yet may not have noticed it, I excerpt this brief section from the English translation of Corbin's Paradox of Monotheism as it appears on the website of Les Amis de Stella et Henry Corbin. It is from pp. 55-6 of Le Paradoxe du Monotheisme, Livre de Poche, Editions de l'Herne, 1981.

    The contrast stemming from the eruption of what we have termed the paradox of monotheism seems to me evident in the contrast between the phenomenology of the angelic consciousness, that of the Holy Spirit–Angel, and a phenomenology that seeks to be of the absolute Spirit.  If in Hegelien terms we were to say that religion is the knowledge that God gradually acquires about Himself, the revelation of the Spirit through History, the formation of God as he becomes conscious of Himself as absolute Spirit, then the finite Spirit, the human spirit, is the vehicle by which God attains this absolute.  Now, in terms of the phenomenology of the angelic consciousness of a Holy Spirit that is the Angel of Humanity, the meaning of man and his fate as the partner of his Angel in the quest to regain paradise lost is entirely different.  In this world, the God of Gods, the absolute Spirit remains forever beyond the knowledge that religion can have of it.  The formation of the supreme divine consciousness does not occur [in the discipline] of History.  The contact of divine archangelic Forces with what we call History volatises the latter and is accomplished between Heaven and Earth. This is the very meaning of theophanies.   We are not dealing with History when we speak of theophanies. I must admit that I have been obsessed with this opposition for some years now. I have been confronted by it at many crucial turning points in my research.  This as you can see has just happened to me again.  I wish the Heavens would grant me the time to write a book on the phenomenology of such an opposition.  Perhaps the human hand is not capable of writing such a book.        

     For the moment and to bring our inquiry towards its conclusion, I would simply like to evoke two testimonies from favoured lands whose secret remains unsuspected and supports what we have just attempted to draw out from our “oriental” philosophers.

     The first testimony is found in the cosmology of a heroically destined community that designates itself as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Saints of the Final Days or simply as the Mormons.  Their doctrine includes a theogony, the concept of a primordial God, who as the God of Gods is not at all the creator but the generator of other Gods.  All have the stature of man, since man was created in the image of God.  The essential function of these Gods is to produce souls for bodies that have been created in this and other worlds.  Each world has its own God. In the case of our planet, the God is Adam as described in the Book of Genesis and who has gradually reached his present predominant status.  He is the God with whom we have to deal.  All the Gods are in a gradual process of development.  Saints gain entry into this series of Gods via death.  At first they are much lower in rank but they progress until each one even surpasses the Adam-God in splendour and might.  This is the meaning of the pithy statement: “What you are, God has been.  What God is, you shall be.”  In body, an eminently subtle body, our God is in space.  In Holy Spirit, he is omnipresent. 

     It is striking that here we find an entire structure not unlike Ismaili and Ishraqi monadologic hierarchism.  There is an inaccesible God of Gods, removed from the most central and vital position of all the universes.  It is incumbent upon each of the Gods to function as the previously described Dator formarum.  There is an Angel or lord of the human species, the only God to whom we have immediate access, and who is the mediator opening up other worlds to us.  This Adam-Angel is identified by the Mormons with Adam of the Book of Genesis.  Among Ismaili theosophers, Adam featured in Genesis is the epiphanic form of the metaphysical, spiritual Adam, the celestial Anthropos, the Third Angel become Tenth due to his error.  Finally, there is the idea of an infinite post mortem ascension that corresponds to what Ismaili theosophy describes as operating from world to world in an attempt to reconquer paradise led by the Angel of humanity, this Tenth Angel of the cherubimic pleroma, the guide of the Ishraqi pilgrim rising from Orient to Orient, whose names (i.e. the pleroma) still remain unknown to us.  This it seems to me concurs with Mormon adamology.  For Ismaili gnosis, the reconquest of paradise lost is the exaltation of the Imam’s “Temple of Light”, the eternal Imam whose manifestation this gnosis recognises in Melchisedek.  The sacredotal role of the latter among the Mormons comes to mind.  Alas, we must confine ourselves to such briefly suggested comparisons that need further examination.

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