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Henry Corbin-Some Convergences Between The Johannite Tradition & The Isma’ili Tradition

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – ‘How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival were fed with the Sanct Grael’. 1864.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are two quotes from Henri Corbin’s ‘Man and his Angel’, Fayard_1983 from which we shared already. It is the conclusion of the second part, ‘Ismaili Initiation’. Covering page 196 to page 205. Our working translation from the original French.

In the second part, in the preceding chapters, Henri Corbin presents a novel from the Ismaili tradition, ‘The book of the Sage and the Disciple’ (Kitab al-alim wa’l-gholam) and then traces a fascinating parallel with the Arthurian and later theosophical (Boehmian not Blavatskian) tradition, stressing its closeness and kinship. We wish you all a harmonious week end!

Blessings, Nalan and Nicolas🌻🌿🐝
‘Recently, I had the opportunity to study elsewhere the exegesis of the Paraclet, from the twelfth century up to today, by the Iranian philosophers and theosophists who knew, first hand, the verses from the Gospel of John that herald Him and those of the Apocalypse that may be interpreted in that way.
From this research, a remarkable convergence revealed itself between their ideas of the spiritual ages of the world and the ideas professed in the West by Joachim of Fiore and the Johannites, from the twelfth century onwards. On both sides, there is the same prophetic vision of the rule of the Paraclet, at the same time in the future and already started existentially at least with a certain number of Elects.
On one side, in Shia Islam, there is the idea of the era of prophets, that is the time of the Law of Religion (Shari’at), that is followed by the era of spiritual initiation of the ‘Friends of God’, the era of the ‘Walayat’, that itself its outcome in the Parousia of the last Imam, identified by a certain number of Shia writers with the Paraclet.

On the other side, in the Christian world, there is this idea of the Ages of the world, as formulated for the first time by Joachim of Fiore who blends, the three ages with the persons of the Holy Trinity. In similar manner, the era of the law is followed by the era of the ‘Walayat’, the era of the Church of Peter is followed by the Church of John, the Johannine communion. And we know what extraordinary influence the Johannine idea had on the spirituality and philosophy of all those who, heirs to the ‘Ecclesia Spiritualis’ of the Johannites of the Twelfth and thirteenth century, were eager to overcome the secularization and the socialization of the official Church, such as Arnaud de Villeneuve, Cola di Rienzi, Johann Valentin Andreae’s Brethren of the Rose+, Jacob Boehme and his school, Schelling, Baader and finally Berdiaev.

If one can only choose a quote within a thousand it would be this one, and I particularly think of Cola di Rienzi protesting that the out-pouring of the Holy Ghost cannot be a past event, accomplished once and for all at the time of the Apostles, but that the Spirit never ceases to breathe throughout the world and initiating ‘Viri Spirituales’ (Spiritual Vocations):

What is the point, he asks, praying for the coming of the Holy Ghost, if we deny He can still come? It is most certain that the Holy Ghost, not only descended upon the Apostles, but that every day he does, inspiring and taking home within us, at the condition that we are willing to stay humble and silent with Him.

‘Let us also pay attention to the fact that Joachim of Fiore was not understanding the ‘Eternal Gospel’ as a new book, but as ‘the spiritual intelligence’ of the books of the ancient and new testaments. As I just recalled, the Shia esoterists, Twelvers or Ismaili are not expecting also a new prophet bringing a new revelation, a new book, a new Shar’iat, but the ‘Ta’wil’, the original spiritual intelligence of the preceding revelations, the revelation of revelations by the one who is in his being the ‘Qoran Natiq’-‘the Talking Book’, being de facto the Perfect Man, holding the role of the White Knight of the Apocalypse, as Swedenborg understood it. And this is exactly the meaning that the gnostic Shia gave to the Paraclet, by identifying Him with the Twelfth Imam.’


‘Hence, what we call ‘esotericism’, in a general but incomplete manner, sheds a decisive light to understand the depth of the tragedy of our post-Christian world, and maybe elsewhere of a post-Islamic world.

In that sense, it is true to say that it is still the Johannine idea that preserves secretly the existence of our world, as it is similar to say that for the Shia in general, it is the presence of the Imam in our world, who even ‘Incognito’, unsuspected by men, allows the human world to carry on.

We had a few times the opportunity to link the motive of the quest of the Imam as ‘Speaking Book’, with the Quest of the Grail. This connection is rooted upon ‘spiritual facts’ themselves, because the ‘Book of the Grail’ falls also under the phenomenon of the ‘Book descended from Heaven’, and the Quest of the Grail also is a quest for the ‘Lost Word’. The secret Church of the Grail is an aspect of the Johannine Church, and it is impossible not to mention it here, where we try to gather the members of the ‘Ecclesia Spiritualis’ common to the West and the East, because the esoteric theme of our cycle of the Holy Grail embodies maybe the secret of a properly western spiritual tradition.

On one side, we still lack, a proper edition and translation, a systematic corpus and truly complete of all the texts composing the cycle of the Grail; corpus that could be used as a continual spiritual hermeneutic, escaping the traps of a partial exegesis some have fell into, too obsessed by contemporary psychological categories.

On the other side, we can detect some connections to the theme of the Grail, as appearing in the Iranian mystical journey, with the heroic journey of the pre-Islamic chivalry. But what we need to focus more particularly is to the connections that reveal within the cycle of the Grail the theme of our current research, the theme of the ‘Lost word’. We will give here only two examples:

In Robert de Boron’s ‘Joseph of Arimathea’, tradition calls ‘the smaller Grail’, Christ teaches to the writer words that cannot be nor expressed nor committed to writing-unless one has read from the great Book in which they are recorded and that contains the secret of the Great Sacrament accomplished upon the Grail, the Cup; but the author asks the reader not to ask furthermore on that point, as whoever pretends to say more would be lying. That this hint alludes to the consecration words or of an unknown ‘epiclesis’, everything happens as the author would like to suggests that these words are lost and that since the veiling of the Grail, no mass has been celebrated ‘in truth’ in this world.

Another example, of a more generally allusive manner, as it puts ‘the Book of the Grail’ into the phenomenon of ‘Holy Books descended from Heaven’, is to be found in the opening of the ‘Estoire del saint Graal’, or ‘Greater Grail’, or more simply ‘Book of the Grail’. It is the story of an hermit telling how he received the Book through a vision and how he locked it in the tabernacle of the altar; How at Easter morning, he found that the Book wasn’t there anymore; the Book also left the empty tomb, the exoteric speech, similarly, is void without its esoteric meaning. A difficult quest takes him to recover it on the altar of a small chapel, exactly where he conducts a supreme fight against satanic forces, bringing back to life a ‘possessed’ they left for dead. Through a vision he receives then the mission to make a copy of this book, before Ascension Day, day the Book will ‘ascend to heaven’. The hermit sets himself to work on the Monday following the second week after Easter and the fruit of his work was ‘the Book of the Grail’, transmitted up unto us and which is the copy ‘of the Heavenly Book re-ascended to Heaven’. Thus, all the poets of the Grail, refer to a Book they drew the content of their poems from.

So, we are now at the cross-road, where the Quest of the Grail and the Quest of the Imam as ‘Speaking Book’ meet, and where seems to have gathered all those who have entered the Quest, may they come from Ismailism or Twelvers Shiism, or from the Johannine Eternal Gospel or the Johannine chivalry of the Grail. The original of the ‘Book of the Grail’ is a ‘Heavenly Book’ ‘re-ascended to Heaven’. Was it the ‘once and for all lost’ ‘Lost Word’? It was transcribed between the two limits of the Resurrection and the Ascension; it is also only between the two limits of the Resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the Occultation that the action of our Ismaili novel was set.

The Ismaili initiation attempted to find the Imam as ‘Speaking Book’, talking about the esoteric, heavenly, meaning of the divine revelations of the prophets-Likewise, for he who knows how to read it, the ‘Book of the Grail’ is a ‘Speaking Book’, giving the esoteric meaning that is the secret of the ‘Book that re-ascended to Heaven’. This ‘Talking Book’, every knight of the Grail, at the outcome of his Quest, is invited to become.

Between the earthly copy, transcribed the day after Resurrection, and the heavenly original of the Book of the Grail, which the very same day of the resurrection left the empty tomb, lies the whole secret of the ‘Lost Word’.’

A 17th-century example of zoomorphic calligraphy. Because of his courage and valour, Hazrat Ali was known as “The Lion of God.” The Arabic text is known as Nad-e ‘Ali, and is typically used by Shia Muslims to seek Hazrat Ali’s support in times of sorrow. AGA KHAN MUSEUM.


Henry Corbin-Some Convergences Between The Johannite Tradition & The Isma’ili Tradition

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