Joachim of Fiore

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Cistercian mystic; b. Celico, near Cosenza, Italy, c. 1130; d. Fiore, Calabria, 1201 or 1202. As a young man, Joachim of Fiore (Flora, Floris) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, witnessing en route (probably at Constantinople) the horrors of an epidemic. This experience, together with his visit to the Thebaid anchorites and a Lenten retreat in Jerusalem, changed his life. Returning to Sicily, he withdrew to the Cistercian monastery at Sambucina, but without taking the habit, and devoted himself to lay preaching until ecclesiastical disapproval led him to make profession at the Cistercian monastery in Corazzo, where he was ordained in 1168. Elected abbot (117778), he appealed to Lucius III, who authorized him to spend a year and a half writing at the monastery in Casamari. In 1191 he left the Cistercians to found at San Giovanni, in Fiore, a more austere branch of the order, which was approved in 1196. In 1202 (?) he publicly submitted all his works to the judgment of the Holy See but died before any judgment was passed. Contemporaries testified to his love of Christ, his fervor at Mass, his inspiring eloquence in preaching. Gentle and pure, he loved all creatures and lived in utter poverty.

Joachim's entire doctrine is reducible to his teaching on the Trinity and on history. Opposing Peter Lombard, Joachim held the unity of the Trinity to be not vera et propria, but collectiva et similitudinaria, a thesis that was condemned by Lateran IV (1215) as tritheistic. The same tritheistic tendency appeared in Joachim's developmental theology of history, which moves from the Age of the Father (Old Testament), characterized by fear and servile obedience (this was the age of the married and the old), to the Age of the Son (New Testament), which was characterized by faith and filial obedience (this was the age of the clergy and the young), to the Age of the Holy Spirit, due to begin about 1260, which Joachim believed would be characterized by love and liberty (this was the age of monks and infants). The visible Church of the second age was to be absorbed by the spiritual Church of the third; the clergy and hierarchy were to have a place in the spiritual order; the active life was to be absorbed by the contemplative; Jews were to be converted, Greeks and Latins reconciled; wars were to cease, universal love would reign, and the theology of the beatitudes would endure to the end of the world, the evangelium aeternum of the Revelation (14.6).

This doctrine was taken up by the Spiritual Franciscans, that is, the Joachimites, mixed with ideas from the Apocrypha, and carried far beyond Joachim's intentions. With the condemnation of Gherardo of Borgo San Donnino's Introductorium in evangelium aeternum by Alexander IV (1256), the teaching of Joachim himself was condemned. It was revived in a modified form by peter john olivi and ubertino of casale, and by many German writers of the Reformation, and with cola di rienzo it resulted in the political messianism familiar to later times. Joachim's concept of history, developmental and tripartite, is also familiar through Hegel, Schilling, and many contemporary thinkers.

After Joachim's death, a multitude of works, largely pseudo-prophetical, appeared under his name, making his canon difficult to establish. Unquestionably authentic and most important are Concordia novi et veteris testamenti (Venice 1519); Expositio in Apocalypsim (Venice 1527); and Psalterium decem chordarum (Venice 1527). Of probable or doubtful authenticity are Tractatus super quattuor evangelia, ed. Ernesto Buonaiuti (Rome 1930); De articulis fidei, ed. idem (Rome 1936); Liber figurarum, ed. Leone Tondelli (Turin 1939; tr. 1953); De vita et regula S. Benedicti, ed. C. Baraut in Analecta sacra Tarraconensia 24 (Barcelona 1951) 33122; De septem sigillis, ed. Marjorie Reeves and Beatrice Hirsch-Reich, in Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 21 (1954): 24247; and Adversus Judaeos, ed. Arsenio Frugoni (Rome 1957). Very doubtful is the authenticity of the Liber contra Lombardum, ed. C. Ottaviani (Rome 1934).

See Also: franciscan spirituals.

Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum (Antwerp 1643; Venice 1734; Paris 1864) May 7:87141. e. jordan, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 8.2:142658. j. ratzinger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10 v. (Freiburg 195765) 5:975976. f. ehrle, Wetzer und Welte's Kirchenlexikon, v. 6 (2d ed. Freiburg 1889) 147180; "Die Spiritualen, ihr Verhältnis zum Franziskanerorden und zu den Fraticellen," Archiv für Literaturund Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters, 7 v., ed. h. denifle and f. ehrle 1:509569; 2:108164, 249336; 3:553623; 4:1200. m. w. bloomfield, "Joachim of Flora: A Critical Survey ," Traditio 13 (1957): 249311. f. russo, "Rassegna Gioachimito-Dantesco," Miscellanea Francescana 38 (1938): 6583; Bibliografia gioachimita (Florence 1954); Gioacchino da Fiore e le fondazioni florensi in Calabria (Naples 1959). e. buonaiuti, G. da Fiore: I tempi, la vita, il messaggio (Rome 1931). d. l. douie The Nature and Effect of the Heresy of the Fraticelli (Manchester 1932). h. grundmann, Neue Forschungen über Joachim von Fiore (Marburg 1950). m. reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages: A Study in Joachimism (Oxford 1969). b. mcginn, "The Abbot and the Doctors: Scholastic Reactions to the Radical Eschatology of Joachim of Fiore," Church History 40 (1971): 3047. d. c. west and s. zimdars-swartz, Joachim of Fiore: A Study in Spiritual Perception and History (Bloomington 1983).

[m. f. laughlin]

Joachim of Fiore

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JOACHIM OF FIORE (c. 11351202) was an Italian monk and biblical exegete. Joachim was born in Calabria, and after a pilgrimage to Palestine he returned to southern Italy, where he became successively abbot of the Benedictine, later Cistercian, monastery at Curazzo and founder of his own Florensian congregation at San Giovanni in Fiore. The Mediterranean was then a crossroads of history, with pilgrims and Crusaders coming and going and rumors of "the infidel" rife. Joachim was acutely aware of living in the end time and sought an interpretation of history through biblical exegesis illumined by spiritual understanding, a view elaborated upon in works such as Liber Concordie Novi ac Veteris Testamenti (1519), Expositio in Apocalypsim (1527), and Psalterium decem chordarum (1527).

Joachim recorded two experiences of mystical illumination (and hints of a third) in which the trinitarian understanding of history was revealed to him. He developed his theology of history through investigations into biblical concords, or sequences. The first sequence arises from the relation of the old and new dispensations. The second sequence, the procession of the Holy Spirit from both Father and Son, exemplifies his famous "pattern of threes": the first stage (statusi ) that of the law, belongs to the Father and lasts until the incarnation of Jesus Christ; the second, that of grace, belongs to the Son and lasts until a near future point; the third, that of the Spirit, proceeding from the first two and characterized by love and liberty, runs until the second advent of Christ. Joachim found the clues for his scheme of history in particular biblical sequences, for instance, in the references to the twelve patriarchs, the twelve apostles, and the twelve expected future leaders, and in references to Noah's sending forth of a raven and a dove paralleling the mission of Paul and Barnabas, which he took as evidence for the future founding of two orders of spiritual people.

Joachim's originality lay in the concept of a third stage still to come, whereas in the standard threefold pattern (before the law, under the law, and under grace) the church had already entered the third stage. Joachim believed that the transition to the third status must be made only through the tribulation of the greatest Antichrist (the seventh dragon's head), who was imminent. This age to come, the age of the Spirit (equated with the seventh, or sabbath, age), was part of history and should be distinguished from the eighth day of eternity.

Joachim was recognized as a prophet in his lifetime. Richard I of England, leading the Third Crusade, interviewed him at Messina. In the thirteenth century his concept of the coming of two orders of spiritual people achieved a "prophetic scoop" when the Dominicans ("ravens") and Franciscans ("doves") were founded. In both orders, especially the Franciscan, some friars claimed the role outlined by Joachim, which successively fired the imagination not only of heretical groupsthe Apostolic Brethren, Fraticelli, Provençal Beguines, and othersbut also of some Augustinian hermits and Jesuits. Pseudo-Joachimist works spread the prophecies, and Joachimist influence is traceable as late as the seventeenth century in the myths of the Angelic Pope and the Last World Emperor. In 1254 occurred the "scandal of the eternal evangel," when a Franciscan proclaimed Joachim's works to be the new gospel, replacing the Old and New Testaments. This was widely documented and later referred to by Lessing, the eighteenth-century German philosopher whose Education of the Human Race was widely influential in promoting an optimistic view of the future age. Consequently, the nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in Joachim's third status among visionaries such as Jules Michelet, Edgar Quinet, Pierre Leroux, and George Sand who were antiecclesiastical but looked for a new gospel. Some scholars claim Joachim as the source of all later threefold patterns of history, but this is questionable.


Bloomfield, Morton. "Joachim of Flora: A Critical Survey of His Canon, Teachings, Sources, Biography, and Influence." Traditio 13 (1957): 249311. The best bibliographical survey, now updated in "Recent Scholarship on Joachim of Fiore and His Influence," in Prophecy and Millenarianism, edited by Ann Williams (London, 1980), pp. 2352.

McGinn, Bernard. The Calabrian Abbot. New York, 1985. An account of Joachim's place in the history of Western thought.

Reeves, Marjorie E. The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages. Oxford, 1969. Deals with Joachim's life and thought and traces his influence down to the seventeenth century.

Reeves, Marjorie E. Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future. London, 1976. A brief account summarizing material in the preceding and the following book and incorporating some new material.

Reeves, Marjorie E., and Beatrice Hirsch-Reich. The Figurae of Joachim of Fiore. Oxford, 1972. A study of Joachim's use of symbolism, especially in his Liber figurarum.

West, Delno C., ed. Joachim of Fiore in Christian Thought: Essays on the Influence of the Calabrian Prophet. 2 vols. New York, 1975. Reprints essays from various journals, dating from 1930 to 1971.

Marjorie E. Reeves (1987)

Joachim of Fiore

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Joachim of Fiore

The Italian mystic Joachim of Fiore (ca. 1132-1202) developed a philosophy of history based on his interpretation of the Trinity.

Joachim was born at Celico near Cosenza in Calabria. While on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he decided to enter the monastic life. Returning to Sicily, he entered the Cistercian abbey of Sambucina. At the Cistercian monastery of Corazzo Joachim was ordained a priest in 1168 and elected abbot in 1177.

Preferring a solitary life of meditation and writing, about 1185 Joachim retired to the Benedictine monastery of Casamari, where he began to write his commentary on the Book of Revelation. In 1191 he left the Cistercian order and moved to Fiore (Flora), in Calabria, where he founded a hermitage and later, as disciples were attracted, a monastery. This group, eventually organized into the order of San Giovanni in Fiore, was a strict, reformed branch of the Cistercians; it was approved in 1196, and its members came to be known as the Florensians.

In his later years Joachim came increasingly to feel that he possessed special insights into Christian Scriptures and doctrine and was perhaps subject to a special revelation. Through the encouragement of Pope Innocent III, Joachim wrote down his interpretations and visions and submitted them to the papacy for consideration and approval shortly before his death in 1202. Although Joachim had no intention of disseminating heretical doctrines, ideas drawn from his writings influenced heterodox thinkers and caused problems for the Church and society for the next 200 years.

Joachim's thought centers on his concept of the Trinity and its implications for the understanding of human history. In his Liber figurarum and in several other works, Joachim divided history into two dispensations, or eras: the dispensation of the Old Testament, or former covenant, which culminated in the first coming of Christ, and the second dispensation, or new covenant, of the Christian Church, which would culminate in the second coming of Christ. Joachim believed that he was living near the end of his second age and that only two generations remained before the second advent of Christ.

A slightly different view of history was extracted from Joachim's writings after his death. According to the view with which his name increasingly became associated, history is divided into three periods, the ages of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of the first two being composed of 42 generations. The third age, which was supposed to dawn about 1260, was to be the age of the Spirit, an age of love, liberty, and freedom in which the principal institution in the world would be monasticism and in which the visible, hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church would be superseded by the Spiritual Church.

One such eschatological movement that founded its doctrine in the writings of Joachim was led by the Franciscan Gerardo of Borgo San Donnino, who was condemned along with the teaching of Joachim in 1256 by Pope Alexander IV. However, the ideas of Joachim, especially the concept of a golden age of the Spirit and the threefold division of history, remained influential in Western thought from the 13th century on.

Further Reading

Major works on Joachim are in German. In English, a popular treatment of medieval heterodox movements that includes Joachim is Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957).

Additional Sources

Bett, Henry, Joachim of Flora, Merrick, N.Y.: Richwood Pub. Co., 1976. □

Joachim of Fiore

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Joachim of Fiore (c.1132–1202). Christian mystic and prophetic visionary. As a young man he became a Cistercian, but later left and eventually founded his own monastery at Fiore in Calabria. He saw history divided into three ages: the age of the Father, in the Old Testament; the age of the Son, the period of the Church; and the shortly-to-be-inaugurated age of the Spirit, in which new religious orders would convert the world and usher in the ‘Spiritual Church’. His views were influential among the new orders of the 13th cent., especially the Spiritual Franciscans. He wrote a harmony of the Old and New Testaments, a commentary on the Apocalypse, and The Psalter with Ten Strings.