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Henry Corbin-Commentary Upon Proclus’ Prayer Of The Heliotrope

Heliotropium arborescens – garden heliotrope. Picture at Pixabay.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA, is a excerpt from Henry Corbin’s ‘Alone with the Alone‘, (Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi) Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University Press,1969. English translation by Ralph Manheim. From page 105 to 109. This post completes the  one that provides Proclus’ own text in Brian Copenhaver’s English translation and with the original Greek.


The Prayer of the Heliotrope

In a treatise on ” the hieratic art of the Greeks, ” Proclus, that lofty figure of late Neoplatonism whom scholars have so unjustly neglected, writes the following:

Just as in the dialectic of love we start from sensuous beauties to rise until we encounter the unique principle of all beauty and all ideas, so the adepts of hieratic science take as their starting point the things of appearance and the sympathies they manifest among themselves and with the invisible powers. Observing that all things form a whole, they laid the foundations of hieratic science, wondering at the first realities and admiring in them the latest comers as well as the very first among beings; in heaven, terrestrial things according both to a causal and to a celestial mode and on earth heavenly things in a terrestrial state.

Example: the heliotrope and its prayer.

What other reason can we give for the fact that the heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun and the selenotrope the movement of the moon, forming a procession within the limits of their power, behind the torches of the universe? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praise of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing.”

This passage by a philosopher and poet endowed with a hieratic sense of Beauty, strikes us as an exemplary text eminently suited to preface the themes which will here be at the center of our meditation. It establishes a connection between the “dialectic of love” and hieratic art, which are grounded on the same principle: the essential community between visible and invisible. beings. “On earth,” Proclus goes on to say, “suns and moons can be seen in an earthly state and in the heavens all the plants, stones, animals in a heavenly state, living spiritually. ” This common essence, which is distributed among several beings, is not perceived through argument proceeding from effect to cause; it is the perception of a sympathy, of a reciprocal and simultaneous attraction between the manifest being and his celestial prince, that is, one of those whom Proclus elsewhere designates as creative, generative, and saving angels ; grouped into choirs, they escort the Archangel or God who leads them, just as the flowers of earth form a train behind the Angel who is the leader of the “divine series” to which they belong. Here indeed community of essence is perceived in the visible phenomenon of a flower, in the tropism that gives it its name: heliotrope.

But taken as a phenomenon of sympathy, this tropism in the plant is at once action and passion: its action (that is to say, its tropos, its “conversion”) is perceived as the action (that is, the attraction) of the Angel or celestial prince whose name for that very reason it bears. Its heliotropism (its “conversion “toward its celestial prince) is thus in fact a heliopathy (the passion it experiences for him). And this passion, this παθος (pathos), is disclosed in a prayer, which is the act of this passion through which the invisible angel draws the flower toward him. Accordingly, this prayer is the pathos of their sympatheia (here we must take the word in its etymological sense, for the word ” sympathy” as currently employed has lost much of its force); and in this sympatheia is actualized the reciprocal aspiration based on the community of essence.

But since sympathy here is also a condition and mode of perception-for it is safe to say that not everyone perceives this silent prayer offered up by a plant-we must also speak of the poetic or cognitive function of sympathy in a man like Proclus. As such, it opens up a new dimension in beings, the dimension of their invisible selves; perhaps, indeed, it is the only means by which we may know, or gain an intimation of, this invisible self, just as a fragment of an arch arouses a mental image of the missing part of the arch. Thus, we may speak of a pathos experienced by Proclus in common with the flower, a pathos necessary to his perception of the sympathy which aroused. it, and which, when he perceived it, invested the flower with a, theophanic function.

This notion of a-tropos which in the heliotrope is a heliopathy (in the sense of sympathy with its Angel), and the idea that the perception of this heliopathy presupposes a sympathy directed toward the sympathy of the flower, a sympathy which makes Proclus aware of the hierophanic dimension of the flower, a sympathy (whereupon he perceives the movement of the flower as a prayer whose impulse culminates in a transcending which it shows him with a gesture that speaks without the help of language), provide us with the essential elements by which to orient our investigation. Our orientation will be all the surer if we start out on our own at the point where other investigations intersect with our own.

The passage from Proclus has led us to associate the terms tropos and sympathy. These same terms were employed to good advantage in a highly original study undertaken in a different religious context, its purpose being to establish, in new terms, a phenomenology of prophetic religion.’ This excellent study, which I shall not be able to discuss at length, is distinguished by its application of a phenomenology of sympathy to an analysis of prophetic religion and by the antitheses it works out between the categories of prophetic religion and those of mystical religion. In contrast to the deist God who had paled to an empty concept, or to the ethical God, guardian of the moral law, it sets forth, with penetrating vigor, the notion of a pathetic God, that is, a suffering and passionate God, a notion which has at all times been a dreaded stumbling block to the rational theology and philosophy of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism alike. The notion of a God who is affected by human events and feelings and reacts to them in a very personal way, in short, the idea that there is a divine pathos in every sense of the word (affection, emotion, passion), led the author to regard this pathos as a special category. He wished it to be considered, not as an attribute of an independent essence, but as a transitive passion, that is, a relationship, the relationship between man and his God in a συμπαθεσιν, a συμπαθησις (sym-pathesis, here again we go back to the etymology of the word).

Taken in this sense, the category of pathos spontaneously gave rise to the category of the tropos, that is to say, the revelation of God to man as the “conversion” of a God turning toward man; a divine initiative, an anthropotropism reserving and sanctioning the divine sovereignty, or theonomy, and contrasting with any idea of a “conversion” of man toward God, that is, a theotropism which would be a movement resulting from human initiative.

The contrast thus established was developed in a series of antitheses comprehensible only if we reduce the infinitely diversified concept of mystic religion to a single type, for example, a certain form of Yoga. This highly questionable reduction led to the contention that the prophet essentially experiences a dialogical relationship and situation, and that the prophetic state calls for a theophany which contrasts with mystical ecstasy; mystical religion on the other hand would lead to an ecstasy in which the human personality dissolves into the infinite divine Unity, whereby the entire basis of sympathy would be done away with. In support of this thesis it can be argued that the prophet is blind to the subtleties of negative theology, to its notion of a super-essence, while the mystic holds to a negative theology which denies all relation between the divine Being and the world. And a contrast is drawn between the basic emotional tonalities of prophetic and mystical religion: in the prophet of Israel, militant support of the divine cause in the world; in the mystic, nostalgia and enthusiasm, aspiration to ecstasy, indifference to earthly affairs, the passion for personal salvation. In short, on the one hand unification of will and feeling; on the other, unification of essence. Finally, it can be argued that the prophet’s idea of unio sympathetica is the direct opposite of the ecstatic’s unio sympathetica.



Henry Corbin-Commentary Upon Proclus’ Prayer Of The Heliotrope

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