Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135–1202)

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(c. 11351202)

Joachim of Fiore, the Christian mystical philosopher of history, lived in Calabria, Italy, a region characterized by the remote hermit life, yet close to Sicily, the hub of the Mediterranean. This combination of withdrawal from and encounter with the world also characterized Joachim's life. Becoming a Cistercian, by 1177 he was abbot of Curazzo, but he obtained papal permission to retire from monastic administration to a more remote mountainous region, where he founded the order of San Giovanni in Fiore about 1192. Yet he descended to dramatic encountersin which he prophesied on contemporary events and the advent of Antichristwith Pope Lucius III (1184), King Richard I of England (11901191), and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI (1191), and he meditated deeply on contemporary history, especially the two great menaces to Christianity: the infidel and the heretic.

Joachim recorded two mystical experiences: one at Easter, when he was given understanding of the inner concords between the two testaments, and one at Whitsuntide, when he received illumination on the doctrine of the Trinity. Disclaiming the title of prophet, he believed that through the gift of spiritual intelligence he understood the inner spiritual meaning of history.

With papal encouragement, Joachim set out to expound this belief in his three main works, the Liber Concordiae, the Expositio in Apocalypsim, and the Psalterium Decem Chordarum. His exposition turns chiefly on an interwoven double pattern of twos and threes. The two testaments represent history in two eras, culminating, respectively, in the First and Second Advents and marked continually by concordsfor example, twelve Tribes and twelve Churches, seven Seals and seven Openings. History is also trinitarian, growing treelike from the Age (status ) of the Father (Law) to that of the Son (Grace) to that of the Spirit (Spiritual Understanding), yet in a double "procession" of the third status from both the first and the second. This third status represents an apotheosis of history, which Joachim equated with the Seventh, Sabbath Age of the traditional Seven Ages, placing it between the worst Antichrist and the end of history. He saw himself on the threshold of the last two generations of the Sixth Age, into which will be crowded the greatest tribulations before the church "crosses Jordan" into the Sabbath of the third status.

His strong visual imagination led him to embody this philosophy of history in the remarkable Liber Figurarum, through which it was widely disseminated. This doctrine contained revolutionary seeds. Joachim avoided dangerous implications by using his pattern of twos to proclaim that the authority of the Scriptures and church would endure until history ended. His pattern of threes culminated in a spiritual state rather than a historic era. Nonetheless, he almost gave it a starting date1260and expected its Ecclesia Spiritualis, symbolized in John, to "outlast" the church designated in Peter. This inspired fanatical groups to proclaim the Third Age, the overthrow of existing ecclesiastical institutions, and the transfer of authority to the Eternal Evangel. Joachim's prophecies of two new spiritual orders to lead the church into the Third Age were claimed first by Franciscans and then by Dominicans, Augustinian friars, and even Jesuits.

Condemned as a heretic, revered as a saint, Joachim seldom met with indifference to his views. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, when an optimistic expectation of history was proclaimed, it usually drew inspiration from Joachimism.

See also Mysticism, History of; Philosophy of History.


works by joachim

Liber Concordiae Novi ac Veteris Testamenti. Venice, 1519.

Expositio in Apocalypsim. Venice, 1527.

Psalterium Decem Chordarum. Venice, 1527.

Tractatus Super Quatuor Evangelia. Edited by E. Buonaiuti. Rome: Tipografia del Senato, 1930.

Il libro delle figure, 2nd ed., Vol. I, edited by L. Tondelli; Vol. II, edited by L. Tondelli, M. Reeves, and B. Hirsch-Reich. Turin: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1953.

works on joachim

Bloomfield, M. "Joachim of Flora. A Critical Survey of His Canon, Sources, Biography and Influence." Traditio 13 (1957): 249311.

Grundmann, H. Neue Forschungen über Joachim von Fiore. Marburg: Simons, 1950.

Grundmann, H. Studien über Joachim von Floris. Leipzig and Berlin, 1927.

La Piana, G. "Joachim of Flora. A Critical Survey." Speculum 7 (1932): 257282.

Reeves, M. "The Liber Figurarum of Joachim of Fiore." Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies 2 (1950): 5781.

Reeves, M., and B. Hirsch-Reich. "The Seven Seals in the Writings of Joachim of Fiore." Recherches de théologie ancienne et mediévale 21 (1954): 211247.

Marjorie E. Reeves (1967)