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Scriptural Hermeneutics and Epistemology
Torrance Kirby, Rahim Acar and Bilal Ba
Philosophy and the Abrahamic Religions:
Scriptural Hermeneutics and Epistemology,
Edited by Torrance Kirby, Rahim Acar and Bilal Ba
This book Iirst published 2013
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record Ior this book is available Irom the British Library
Copyright © 2013 by Torrance Kirby, Rahim Acar and Bilal Ba and contributors
All rights Ior this book reserved. No part oI this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any Iorm or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise, without the prior permission oI the copyright owner.
ISBN (10): 1-4438-4043-2, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-4043-9
Acknowledgements .................................................................................... xi
Abbreviations and Acronyms ................................................................... xiii
Introduction ............................................................................................. xvii
Part I: Philosophy and Exegesis in Antiquity
Chapter One................................................................................................. 3
Philo`s Moses and his Pagan, Christian, and Islamic Successors
Chapter Two.............................................................................................. 17
Philo Judæus oI Alexandria: The Paradigmatic Exegete
Chapter Three............................................................................................ 29
Paideia in Genesis: Interpreting Sarah and Hagar with Philo
and Clement oI Alexandria
Chapter Four.............................................................................................. 45
Exegesis and Identity among Platonist Hellenes and Christians
Eli:abeth DePalma Digeser
Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 57
The Philosopher as Spiritual Guide: Transmission oI a Third-Century
Chapter Six................................................................................................ 69
Interpretation oI Scripture in Eusebius oI Caesarea`s Imperial Theology`
Table oI Contents vi
Chapter Seven............................................................................................ 81
The Politics oI Religion: Romans, Arabs, and Christians in the Last
Century beIore Islam
Chapter Eight............................................................................................. 95
Proclus: Philosophy as the Exegesis oI Sacred` Texts
Part II: Medieval Reception of Hellenic Thought
Chapter Nine............................................................................................ 137
Greek Thought and Prophetic Tradition: Revelatory Background
oI Early Islamic Philosophy
Chapter Ten ............................................................................................. 157
Metaphysics oI Goodness according to Anselm oI Canterbury
and Far al-Dn al-Rz
Fariduddin Attar Rifai
Chapter Eleven ........................................................................................ 175
The Epistemological Value oI Scriptural Statements in Avicenna:
Can Religious Propositions Provide the Premises oI Philosophical
Omer Mahir Alper
Chapter Twelve ....................................................................................... 191
Talking about God: Avicenna`s Way Out
Chapter Thirteen...................................................................................... 205
Prophetic Legislation: Avicenna`s View oI Practical Philosophy
M. Cùnevt Kava
Chapter Fourteen ..................................................................................... 225
Knowledge as Fiqh in the Political Theology oI al-azl
Philosophy and the Abrahamic Religions
Chapter FiIteen........................................................................................ 237
azl and Bonaventure on the Criticism oI Philosophical Knowledge
Chapter Sixteen ....................................................................................... 251
A Fourteenth-century Arabic Treatise On the Platonic Intellectual Ideas
Part III: Renaissance and Modern Responses
Chapter Seventeen................................................................................... 279
From al-Frb to Mulla adra: The Two Phases oI Islamic Philosophical
Chapter Eighteen ..................................................................................... 295
For the Peace oI Constantinople: Nicholas oI Cusa`s De pace fidei
and the polis as Nexus oI Christian-Muslim Dialogue
Chapter Nineteen..................................................................................... 311
Renaissance Platonism and Interreligious Dialogue: Nicholas Cusanus,
Thomas Jackson and the Cambridge Platonists
Chapter Twenty ....................................................................................... 323
Sundrie waies oI Wisdom`: Richard Hooker on Reconciling Scripture
Chapter Twenty One................................................................................ 335
Philosophical Religions and Enlightenment: Divine Rule or the Rule
Chapter Twenty Two............................................................................... 345
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture
Table oI Contents viii
Chapter Twenty Three............................................................................. 371
From Porphyry to Habermas: Imperial Henotheism and the Post-secular
Feisal G. Mohamed
Chapter Twenty Four............................................................................... 385
Peter Sloterdijk`s Critique oI the Three Monotheisms:
Structure or Dynamism?
Select Bibliography ................................................................................. 399
Ömer Mahir Alper
Elizabeth DePalma Digeser
M. Cüneyt Kaya
Fariduddin Attar RiIai
Notre Dame Universitv
Universitv of California, Santa
Kings College, Dalhousie
Universitv of Illinois, Urbana-
Universitv of Manitoba
Trinitv College, Dublin
Tantur Institute, Jerusalem
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
HENRY CORBIN`S HERMENEUTICS
One cannot pretend to write the history oI a given theme without being
oneselI caught in this history and, unavoidably, making this history . by
prolonging it or by bringing it to an end. It is impossible to evade
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a French philosopher, theologian and
scholar known mainly Ior his studies oI Islamic mysticism and Persian
philosophy. From his earliest writings to his mature works, the hermeneutics
oI Scripture was a central preoccupation Ior Corbin. Through his study oI
Protestant theology, Russian religious thought, German philosophy, and
Islamic Neoplatonism, Corbin elaborated an original approach to the
understanding and interpretation oI Scripture.
"#$%& '(%)*$+, -.*$#%/%&
Born in Paris in 1903, Henry Corbin received his secondary education at
the abbatial college oI St-Maur, then at the Grand seminaire oI Issy, beIore
obtaining his License in scholastic philosophy at the Institut catholique de
In 1925, he Iollowed Etienne Gilson`s courses on 'Latin Avicennism
in the Middle Ages¨ at the FiIth Section, Religious Studies, oI the Ecole
Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE). With Gilson`s encouragement, he
Henry Corbin, La philosophie iranienne islamique aux XJII
(Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1981), 22. Unless otherwise indicated, all italics in quotations
Iollow the original, as in this case.
This and other biographical inIormation about Corbin can be Iound in Christian
Jambet, 'Reperes biographiques,¨ in Cahier de lHerne. Henrv Corbin, ed.
Christian Jambet (Paris: Editions de l`Herne, 1981), 15-20.
Chapter Twenty Two 346
subsequently went on to study Arabic at the Ecole Nationale des Langues
Orientales. In later liIe, Corbin evoked the 'dazzling memory¨ oI Gilson:
Corbin 'resolved to take him as a model,¨ seeking to apply to the texts oI
Islamic philosophy Gilson`s rigorous method oI interpreting texts oI
AIter graduating in 1928 Irom the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, with a
thesis on Stoicism and Augustinianism in the thought oI the 16th-century
Spanish poet Luis de Leon, and in 1929 Irom the Ecole des Langues
Orientales in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, Corbin became an adjunct at the
Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. It was there he Iirst met Louis Massignon,
the eminent French scholar oI Islamic mysticism, who had an indelible
eIIect on Corbin`s approach to the study oI Islamic spirituality.
would later write about his mentor:
There was no escaping his inIluence. His soul oI Iire, his bold penetration
into the arcana oI mystical liIe in Islam, where no one had beIore
penetrated in this way, the nobility oI his indignations at the cowardice oI
this world, all oI this inevitably made its imprint on the spirit oI his young
Such was Massignon`s inIluence that Corbin would later attempt to
'|extend| ... the spirit oI his method to ... neglected areas¨ oI Islamic
Massignon also set Corbin on his career path by presenting him with
the lithographed edition oI Suhraward`s Hikmat al-Ishrq. The encounter
with Suhraward was the most inIluential event in Corbin`s intellectual
liIe. Recalling this episode in an interview given in his later years, Corbin
Henry Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique a un Entretien philosophique¨
(henceIorth quoted as 'Post-Scriptum biographique¨) in Cahier de lHerne. Henrv
Corbin, 38-39; see also Corbin, Jovage and the Messenger. Iran and Philosophv,
trans. Joseph Rowe (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1998), 89-90;
henceIorth quoted as Iran and Philosophv
On the complex and interesting relationship between Louis Massignon and Henry
Corbin, see Jean Moncelon, 'Louis Massignon et Henry Corbin,¨ in Louis
Massignon et ses contemporains, ed. Jacques Keryell (Paris: Karthala, 1997), 201-
219; see also Pierre Roclave, 'Louis Massignon et Henry Corbin,¨ Luqmn 10.2
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 40.
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 96. CI. Christian Jambet, 'Le SouIisme entre Louis
Massignon et Henry Corbin,¨ in Consciousness and Realitv. Studies in Memorv of
Toshihiko I:utsu, eds. Sayyid Jall al-Dn shtiyn, Hideichi Matsubara, Takashi
Iwami, et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 258-272.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture
Massignon had an inspiration Irom Heaven. He had brought back Irom a
trip to Iran a lithographed edition oI Suhraward`s major work Hikmat
al-Ishraq .. 'Take it,¨ he says, 'I believe there is something Ior you in
this book.¨ This 'something¨ was the company oI the young shaykh al-
Ishraq which has not leIt me my whole liIe. The young Platonist that I
was then could only take Iire at contact with the one who was the 'Imam
oI the Platonists oI Persia¨ . through my meeting with Suhraward, my
spiritual destiny Ior the passage through this world was sealed.
ThereaIter, Suhraward and his school oI Ishrq would become the
centremost preoccupation oI Corbin`s thought and work. Jean Moncelon
aptly wrote: 'Suhraward . |became| the prism through which Islam had
to pass to reach . |Corbin`s| auditors and readers.¨
During this period, Corbin Iollowed the courses oI Jean Baruzi on
Protestant theology at the College de France.
Under the Iriendly tutelage
oI Baruzi, Corbin discovered the thought oI the young Luther, and oI such
Protestant 'Spirituals¨ as Sebastian Franck, Caspar SchwenkIeld, Valentin
Weigel, Johann Arndt, Jacob Boehme, F. J. Oetinger. These revealed to
Corbin the 'phenomenon oI the Sacred Book¨ and the hermeneutical
Between 1930 and 1936, Corbin made several trips to Germany, where
he came into contact with many contemporary philosophers and theologians,
notably RudolI Otto, Karl Barth, Fritz Lieb, Abraham Heschel, Martin
Heidegger, and Ernst Cassirer, the philosopher oI symbolic Iorms.
Through Cassirer, Corbin became acquainted with the Cambridge Platonists,
which, he wrote, 'broadened my path towards what I was ultimately
searching Ior . and which was later to become all my philosophy oI the
mundus imaginalis, which name I owe to our Platonists oI Persia.¨ In that
same period, Corbin also discovered the writings oI Swedenborg, which
would help deIine his conception oI the correspondence between the
natural and the spiritual worlds.
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 40-41.
Jean Moncelon, 'Louis Massignon et Henry Corbin,¨ 203.
On Jean Baruzi and his times, see Jean-Louis Vieillard-Baron, introduction to
Lintelligence mvstique, by Jean Baruzi (Paris: Berg International, 1985), 9-47.
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 41; Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 98.
On Corbin and Heschel, see Paul Fenton, 'Henry Corbin and Abraham
Heschel,¨ in Abraham Joshua Heschel. Philosophv, Theologv and Interreligious
Dialogue, eds. Stanisaw Krajewski and Adam Lipszyc (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz,
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 42-43.
Chapter Twenty Two 348
In 1932, inspired by the dialectical theology oI Karl Barth, as well as
by Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, Corbin Iounded Hic et Nunc, a short-
lived journal Ior theological renewal, in collaboration with Denis de
Rougemont, Roland de Pury, A.-M. Schmidt, and Roger Jezequiel.
Iour articles he published in that journal already emphasised the themes
important in his later works, notably hermeneutics and the link between
knowing and being.
Around that time, Corbin made the acquaintance oI the emigre Russian
Orthodox philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948). In Berdyaev, Corbin
Iound a kindred spirit and a source oI continuous inspiration. Indeed, oI all
the contemporary thinkers who inIluenced Corbin, Berdyaev had the most
signiIicant and lasting impact on his thought.
Among the many important
themes Corbin inherited Irom Berdyaev, one may brieIly mention the
rejection oI historicism and oI the socialisation oI spiritual liIe, the
theosophical understanding oI Sophia, the idea oI divine-human creativity
(theandry), and an eschatological understanding oI Christianity aimed
toward the IulIilment oI an ecclesia spiritualis. Corbin would later say oI
the Russian philosopher, that 'iI I have been able to conIront Ireely as a
philosopher the philosophical problems with which I have been Iaced, I
believe I owe it to a large extent to Berdyaev.¨
One could argue that
Berdyaev was one oI the most nearly congenial contemporary philosophers
to Corbin`s way oI thinking.
See Arnaud Bauberot, 'La revue Hic et Nunc: Les jeunes-turcs du protestantisme
et l`esprit des annees trente,¨ Bulletin de la Societe de lhistoire du protestantisme
français 149 (2003): 569-589. On Corbin`s engagement as a protestant theologian,
see Jean Brun, 'Un missionnaire protestant: Henry Corbin,¨ Revue dhistoire et de
philosophie religieuses 59.2 (1979): 65-90; see also Richard StauIIer, 'Henry
Corbin Theologien Protestant,¨ in Cahier de lHerne. Henrv Corbin, ed. C.
See Maria Soster, 'Le developpement de la pensee d`Henry Corbin pendant les
annees Trente,¨ Master`s thesis, Universite Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne (2001/
Berdyaev is the only contemporary philosopher in whom Corbin takes
continuous and increasing interest, as is evident Irom the Irequent reIerences to
him in Corbin`s works Irom 1953 right up through En Islam Iranien.
Corbin, 'Allocution d`ouverture,¨ in Colloque Berdiaev. Sorbonne, 12 Avril
1975, ed. Jean-Claude Marcade (Paris: Institut d`etudes slaves, 1978), 49.
Despite this inIluence and importance, Berdyaev has until now been largely
neglected in secondary literature on Corbin. A close comparative analysis oI
Corbin and Berdyaev would yield illuminating results. We intend to undertake this
eIIort in the near Iuture. Meanwhile, the interested reader will Iind a partial
thematic comparison in Klaus Bambauer, 'Aspekte der Theoandrie bei Nikolai
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 349
Another important Russian acquaintance oI Corbin in that period was
Alexandre Koyre, then author oI a monumental study on the philosophy oI
Jacob Boehme. In 1937, Corbin replaced Koyre at the EPHE, teaching
courses on the Lutheran theologian Johann Georg Hamann (1730-88) and
on Lutheran hermeneutics. The result oI this activity was a book on
Hamann (published posthumously) containing the major Ieatures oI
In the 1930s, along with Koyre, Alexandre Kojeve, Bernard Groethuysen,
Emmanuel Levinas, and several other notable intellectuals, Corbin played
an important role in importing German philosophy and phenomenology to
France. The 'phenomenological turn¨ oI French philosophy was
characterised by a general dissatisIaction with the positivism and rationalism
oI institutionalised philosophy (represented by the Sorbonne ProIessor
Leon Brunschvig), and a recourse to the 'concrete,¨ 'existence,¨ 'liIe
experience,¨ which appeared as irreducible to abstract and generic
concepts. Breaking with the presuppositions oI the dominant philosophical
culture oI their time, the new generation oI French intellectuals, to which
Corbin belonged, turned Ior inspiration to such German philosophers as
Dilthey, Heidegger, Hegel, Husserl, Jaspers, Nietzsche, and Scheler,
In Iact, Corbin became known as the Iirst French translator oI
Heidegger, notably Ior his publication oI essays by Heidegger titled
Quest ce que la metaphvsique? in 1938.
The chieI merit oI Heidegger
Ior Corbin was in having 'Iocused the very act oI philosophising on
In a lengthy interview titled 'From Heidegger to
Suhraward¨ conducted shortly beIore his death, Corbin declared that it
was Heidegger who gave him the clavis hermeneuticathe hermeneutical
keyto understand the Islamic philosophers. He writes: '|w|hat I was
looking Ior in Heidegger and that which I understood thanks to Heidegger,
Berdjajew: Ein Vergleich mit Henry Corbin und Raimon Panikkar,¨ in Wahrheit
und Offenbarung. Prolegomena :u einer Kritik der Offenbarung, by Nikolai
Berdjajew (Waltrop: Hartmut Spenner, 1998), 94-109.
Corbin, Hamann. philosophe du lutherianisme (Paris: Berg, 1985).
See Louis Pinto, '(Re)traductions: Phenomenologie et philosophie allemande`
dans les annees 1930,¨ Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 145 (2002): 21-
Martin Heidegger, Quest-ce que la metaphvsique? Suivi d`extraits sur l`être et
le temps et d`une conIerence sur Hölderlin, trans. H. Corbin (Paris: Gallimard,
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ in Cahier de lHerne. Henrv Corbin, ed.
C. Jambet, 24.
Chapter Twenty Two 350
is precisely that which I was looking Ior and Iound in the metaphysics oI
Revealing in this regard is the Iact that his copy oI Being
and Time was marked throughout by glosses in Arabic.
perspective, Heidegger`s Being and Time was 'a moment in a cross
cultural conversation that includes that central concept oI Sh`ite
He later noted: 'Is not then phenomenological
research what our old mystical treatises designate as kashf al-mahfb, the
unveiling or revealing oI that which is hidden? Is it not also what is
designated by the term tawl, so Iundamental in the spiritual hermeneutic
oI the Qur`n?¨
But iI Heidegger gave Corbin the clavis hermeneutica to understand
the Islamic philosophers, these, in turn, would reveal to Corbin
hermeneutical levels that Heidegger 'had not Ioreseen.¨ These levels were
'the divine hierarchies oI Proclus, the great Neoplatonist, as well as those
oI Jewish gnosis, oI Valentinian gnosis, oI Islamic gnosis.¨
resolutely rejected the human Iinitude expressed in Heidegger`s
conceptions oI 'being-toward-death¨ and 'Ireedom-toward-death,¨
aIIirming instead the possibility oI a 'Ireedom-toward-beyond-death,¨
notably exempliIied Ior him in the philosophy oI the 16
theosopher Mull Sadr Shirz.
One may situate Corbin`s engagement with Heidegger within the
broader context oI what Wayne Hankey has described as the French
retrieval oI Neoplatonism in the twentieth century. According to Hankey,
Heidegger`s criticism oI Western metaphysics 'became the stimulus and
the presupposition oI the French retrieval oI Neoplatonism.¨ However,
'ironically, as a result oI the Heideggerian impulse, we have discovered
that Neoplatonism, better studied and understood, escaped in a number oI
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 24.
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 26.
Tom Cheetham, All the World an Icon. Henrv Corbin and the Angelic Function
of Beings (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, Iorthcoming).
Corbin, Philosophie iranienne et Philosophie comparee (Paris: Buchet/Chastel,
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 32.
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 30-31. See also, Corbin, En Islam
iranien. aspects spirituels et philosophiques, IV (Paris: Gallimard, 1972), 80
(henceIorth quoted as En Islam iranien). On Corbin and Heidegger, see Daryush
Shayegan, 'L`hermeneutique et Heidegger,¨ in Henrv Corbin. Penseur de lislam
spirituel (Paris: Albin Michel, 2011), 49-58; see also Amelie Neuve-Eglise,
'Hermeneutics and the Unique Quest oI Being: Henry Corbin`s Intellectual
Journey,¨ Journal of Shia Islamic Studies 2.1 (2009): 3-26.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture
ways the objections raised by Heidegger against Western metaphysics.¨
In many ways, Corbin anticipated and accomplished this reversal.
In 1939, Corbin went to Turkey to obtain microIilms oI the
manuscripts oI Suhraward held in the Istanbul libraries. He was stranded
there Ior the remainder oI the war, during which period he immersed
himselI in the study oI Suhraward and worked on the Iirst critical edition
oI Suhraward`s writings. At the end oI those years, he later wrote, 'I had
become an Ishrq.¨
Parallel to his work on Suhraward, Corbin translated
the Russian Orthodox emigre theologian Fr. Sergius Bulgakov (1871-
1944), the 'harbinger oI Sophia and sophianic thought.¨
oI Corbin`s interpretation oI Suhraward would bear the inIluence oI
Russian sophiological thought.
Corbin consequently declared that 'an
Ishrq is spontaneously a sophiologist.¨
In 1945, Corbin moved directly Irom Istanbul to Tehran, whereupon he
became the director oI the Departement d`Iranologie oI the newly Iounded
Franco-Iranian Institute, and began the series oI publications entitled
Bibiliotheque Iranienne, which made available many major texts oI
SuIism and Islamic philosophy, the enterprise carried out by Corbin with
Wayne J. Hankey, One Hundred Years of Neoplatonism in France. A Brief
Philosophical Historv |published in a single volume with Levinas and the Greek
Heritage, by Jean-Marc Narbonne| (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 108.
CI. 'Corbin non contribuisce direttamente agli studi procliani (che anzi, in
qualche misura, presuppone), sibbene testimonia una rinnovata presenza e vitalita
di Proclo, sia perche mette in luce eredita procliane nei pensatori arabo-persiani,
sia perche la sua speculazione medesima si svolge su linee parallele a sua dell`uno
e degli altri. Si puo dire di lui quanto Reale ha datto di Beierwaltes: aveva
interessi teoretici per i problemi trattati da Proclo e quindi un modo di trattare e
sviluppare quei problemi per certi aspetti congenere a quello di Proclo`¨ (Glauco
Giuliano, Il Pellegrinaggio in Oriente di Henrv Corbin |Trento: La Finestra,
2003|, 164). See Iurther Giuliano, 'Modalita della Proclus Renaissance nel
pensiero di Corbin,¨ in Il Pellegrinaggio in Oriente di Henrv Corbin, 159-202. For
an example oI the relevance oI Corbin to the study oI Neoplatonism, see Gregory
Shaw 'Containing Ecstasv. The Strategies of Iamblichean Theurgv,¨ Dionvsius 21
(2003): 53-88; see also the excellent essay oI Bernard Mabille, 'L`absolution de
l`absolu,¨ in LUn et le multiple, Cahiers du Groupe d`Etudes Spirituelles
Comparees No. 7, ed. Jean-Louis Vieillard-Baron and Antoine Faivre, 9-24 (Paris:
Arche Edidit, 1999).
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 46.
Henry Corbin, 'La Sophia eternelle,¨ Revue de culture europeenne 5 (1953): 16.
We hope to address the connection between Corbin and Russian sophiology on a
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 46.
Chapter Twenty Two 352
the collaboration oI many prominent Iranian scholars.
From 1954 until
his death, Corbin spent almost every Iall semester in Tehran teaching in
the Iaculty oI letters at the University oI Tehran and, Iollowing his
retirement, lecturing at the Imperial Iranian Academy oI Philosophy.
Beside his teaching and research activities, Corbin became acquainted
with many leading traditional authorities oI the country, notably Javd
Nurbakhsh, the master oI the Ni`matallahi SuIi order, Shaykh Sarkr
Agh, the leader oI the Shaykh community, and the eminent scholar and
gnostic, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabtab`, with whom Corbin
regularly conducted philosophical discussions. The most important result
oI Corbin`s Iranian sojourn was his monumental, Iour-volume work En
Between 1949 and 1978, Corbin was also an active participant in the
Eranos Circle, a multidisciplinary research centre oI international scholars
who met annually in Switzerland. Corbin delivered many lectures at the
Eranos meetings, almost all oI which eventually developed into
publications. There he also met and beIriended many renowned scholars,
notably C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, Gershom Scholem, Gerhard van der
Leeuw, James Hillman, Victor Zuckerkandl, D. T. Suzuki, Ernst Benz,
Describing the particular atmosphere oI Eranos, Corbin
wrote: 'what we should wish to call the meaning oI Eranos, which is also
the entire secret oI Eranos, is this: it is our present being, the time that we
act personally, our way oI being.¨ It was a 'meeting oI . autonomous
individualities, each in complete Ireedom revealing and expressing an
original and personal way oI thinking and being, outside oI all dogmatism
and all academicism.¨
See Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 'Henry Corbin: The LiIe and Works oI the Occidental
Exile in Quest oI the Orient oI Light,¨ in Traditional Islam in the Modern World
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), 277.
On Corbin and Iran, see Matthijs van den Bos, 'Transnational Orientalism:
Henry Corbin in Iran,¨ Anthropos 100.1 (2005): 113-125.
On Eranos, see H. T. Hakl, Der verborgene Geist von Eranos. unbekannte
Begegnungen von Wissenschaft und Esoterik, eine alternative Geistesgeschichte
des 20. Jahrhunderts (Bretten: Scientia novaVerl. Neue WissenschaIt, 2001).
Steven Wasserstrom`s Religion after Religion. Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade,
and Henrv Corbin at Eranos (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999)
cannot be recommended without reservation. For a critique oI Wasserstrom`s
treatment oI Corbin, see Maria Subtelny, 'History and Religion: The Fallacy oI
Metaphysical Questions (A Review Article),¨ Iranian Studies 36.1 (2003): 91-101.
Corbin, 'The Time oI Eranos,¨ in Joseph Campbell (ed.), Man and Time. Papers
from the Eranos Yearbooks (Bollingen Series XXX, 3), trans. Ralph Manheim
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957), xix-xx.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 353
Finally, one must mention the Universite Saint-Jean de Jerusalem
(USJJ), Iounded by Corbin and a group oI colleagues in 1974 as an
'international centre Ior comparative spiritual research.¨
Corbin saw in
this project 'the spiritual blossoming oI all |his| scientiIic work, as well as
the ultimate accomplishment oI a liIe-long dream.¨
His vision was 'to
organise, in the spiritual city oI Jerusalem, a common hearthwhich has
never yet existedIor the study and the spiritual IructiIication oI the
gnosis |gnose| common to the three great Abrahamic religions . the idea
oI an Abrahamic ecumenism Iounded upon the bringing together oI the
hidden treasures oI their esotericism.¨
From 1974 until 1986, the USJJ
held yearly colloquia at the Abbey oI Vaucelles in Cambrai. These
meetings were regularly attended by such scholars and philosophers as
Jean-François Marquet, Jean-Louis Vieillard-Baron, Antoine Faivre,
Pierre Deghaye, Jean Brun, and Gilbert Durand. There were also many
noteworthy guests, including the French Orthodox theologian Olivier
Clement, Marie-Madeleine Davy, Constantin AndronikoI (proliIic French
translator oI Sergius Bulgakov), and Xavier Tilliette.
Corbin died in 1978, leaving behind some 300 critical editions,
translations, books and articles, in which he mainly dealt with Twelver
Shi`ism, Ismailism, SuIism, pre-Islamic Iranian religions, and Judæo-
Corbin approached these traditions as a
philosopher rather than as a historian; he actively internalised and
endorsed the teachings oI those whom he studied.
Corbin, 'L`Universite Saint-Jean de Jerusalem: Centre International de
Recherche Spirituelle Comparee,¨ in Sciences Traditionnelles et Sciences Profanes
(Paris: Andre Bonne, 1975), 8.
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 52.
Corbin, 'Post-Scriptum biographique,¨ 53.
For a bibliography oI Corbin`s writings, see, Christian Jambet, 'Bibliographie
generale,¨ in Cahier de lHerne. Henrv Corbin, ed. C. Jambet, 345-360.
In a letter to the Russian scholar oI Ismailism, Vladimir Ivanow, Corbin wrote:
'Voyez-vous, je ne suis pas un banquier qui aurais pris pour tâche de payer son dû
a l`homme Nasir-e Khosraw. Je me deIends même pour cela d`être un historien. La
personne historique de Nasir-e Khosraw est largement depassee par l`interêt
philosophique en cause. Pour moi, le philosophe doit prendre en charge le stock
d`idees de son auteur et le porter a son maximum de signiIication. C`est
l`Ismaelisme dans son ensemble que j`avais en vue et j`en ai commente et ampliIie
les philosophemes, comme si j`etais moi-même Ismaelien. Cela n`est possible que
par une sympathie congenitale. Faute de cette sympathie, le philosophe egare
risque au contraire de porter l`auteur ou son ecole au maximum de platitude¨
(Sabine Schmidtke, ed. Correspondance Corbin-Ivanow. Lettres echangees entre
Henrv Corbin et Jladimir Ivanow de 1947 a 1966 |Paris: Peeters, 1999|, 126).
Chapter Twenty Two 354
Nothing is past to a philosopher: the metaphysical object, the spiritual
reality, are never in the past` .. Neither liIe nor death; neither Iuture
nor past, are the attributes oI things. These are attributes oI the soul. It is
the soul that conIers these attributes to things which it declares present
or which it declares past .. It is a matter oI understanding that there are
questions that have never ceased, nor will ever cease, to be posed to
humanity. It is a matter oI being their indomitable witness; and by this
witnessing in the present to be their future.
For this reason, it was Corbin`s ardent wish to see Islamic philosophy
taken out oI what he called the 'ghetto oI Orientalism,¨ and he laboured
throughout his career to achieve that goal.
It is largely thanks to his
eIIorts that such philosophers as Suhraward, Mull Sadr, and many
others, are no longer completely unknown to European philosophy.
Corbin advocated his ideas through a passionate ecumenical vision
transcending all geographical, historical and religious barriers. He believed
that 'a philosopher`s campaign must be led simultaneously on many Ironts
.. The philosopher`s investigation should encompass a Iield wide enough
to hold the visionary philosophy oI a Jacob Boehme, oI an Ibn Arab, oI a
Swedenborg, etc. .. Otherwise philosophia no longer has anything to do
Accordingly, he rejected all academic compartmentalisation
and proclaimed himselI to be above all 'a philosopher pursuing his Quest
wherever the Spirit leads him. II it has led me to Freiburg, to Tehran, to
IsIahan, they remain Ior me essentially emblematic cities,` the symbols oI
a never-ending voyage.¨
Consequently, to read Corbin`s studies and
translations oI Islamic philosophers is not only to learn about Islamic
thought, but primarily to discover Corbin`s own personal philosophy: that
is, a chapter in the history oI contemporary French philosophy.
Corbin, Philosophie iranienne et Philosophie comparee, 61 and 79.
James W. Morris, 'Religion aIter Religions? Henry Corbin and the Future oI the
Study oI Religion,¨ in Henrv Corbin. Philosophies et Sagesses des Religions du
Livre. Actes du Colloque 'Henrv Corbin,` Sorbonne, 6-8 Novembre, 2003, eds.
Moh. Ali Amir-Moezzi, Christian Jambet and Pierre Lory (Belgium: Brepols,
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 23-24.
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 24.
CI. 'Henry Corbin s`est engage dans sa quête orientale` a partir des questions
heritees de l`ontologie occidentale. La question de l`être, celle de l`Un et du
multiple, celle du rapport entre la revelation religieuse et la speculation
metaphysique, la question, enIin, de la gnose et de la verite.... |Q|u`il soit d`emblee
tres clair que traduire ces ouvres ismaeliennes etait un exercice metaphysique
inscrit dans la philosophie personnelle d`Henry Corbin, c`est-a-dire dans la
philosophie moderne Irançaise¨ (Christian Jambet, 'Presentation,¨ in Trilogie
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 355
thereIore necessary to extract Corbin himselI Irom the 'ghetto oI
Orientalism,¨ and to value him not only Ior his scientiIic achievements,
but as a philosopher in his own right.
!"#$%&'( *+#,+&+-.%/( "0 1/#%2.-#+
Corbin`s hermeneutics postulates the occurrence oI Revelation, namely the
'epiphanic descent¨ oI the Divine Word into Creation. In the course oI its
maniIestation, the Word undergoes a progressive objectiIicationwhat
Corbin describes as a 'corporalisation oI the spiritual.¨
oI the Word progresses along a plurality oI universes in descending order
in a sort oI dialectic oI maniIestation and occultation, such that 'the
exoteric oI each degree becomes the esoteric at the lower degree.¨
results in a Iundamental structure oI hierarchical 'correspondences,¨
where to everything that is apparent, literal, external, exoteric (:hir) there
corresponds something hidden, spiritual, internal, esoteric (btin).
Corbin likens the manner in which the exoteric relates to the esoteric to
that oI a mirror in which an image is suspended: 'the mirror shows the
image, and in showing it, shows its presence elsewhere` in another
In this perspective, the exoteric is the 'apparitional Iorm,¨
the 'epiphanic place¨ (ma:har), oI the esoteric.
The exterior is not
something diIIerent Irom the interior, but rather is the interior itselI
transposed to a diIIerent level oI being.
ismaelienne, by Henry Corbin |Lagrasse: Verdier, 1994|, vii). On the signiIicance
oI Corbin in contemporary French philosophy, see, Peter Hallward, 'The one or
the other: French philosophy today,¨ Angelaki 8.2 (2003): 1-32.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, III, 225; see also, Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 186-
Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 202. 'The Greek expression designates the
exterior, exoteric` things; designates the interior, esoteric` things.¨ See
Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, xiv.
Corbin, Alone with the Alone. Creative Imagination in the Sfism of Ibn Arab,
trans. R. Manheim (Princeton, NJ: Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University
Press, 1997), 78 (henceIorth quoted as Creative Imagination).
Corbin, En Islam iranien, III, 225.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 48.
Passing Irom the exoteric to the esoteric might be compared in musical terms to
'|passing| Irom one octave to a higher octave...a progression to a height or pitch
that is qualitatively diIIerent. All the elements are changed, yet the Iorm oI the
melody is the same. Something in the nature oI harmonic perception is needed in
order to perceive a world oI many dimensions.¨ Corbin, Spiritual Bodv and
Chapter Twenty Two 356
The contrast and correspondence between exoteric and esoteric, visible
and invisible, characterises what Corbin describes as 'the phenomenon oI
the Sacred Book.¨ He writes:
The drama common to all the 'religions oI the Book¨ . can be
designated as the drama oI the 'Lost Speech.¨ And this is because all the
meaning oI their liIe revolves around the phenomenon oI the Sacred
Book, around the real meaning oI this Book. II the true meaning oI this
Book is the inner meaning, hidden under the literal appearance, then
Irom the moment people Iail to recognise or reIuse this inner meaning,
Irom that instant, they mutilate the integrality oI the Verb, oI the Logos,
and begin the drama oI the 'Lost Speech¨.
At the term oI its maniIestation, the Word has become Book: it is made oI
a text, oI words, oI narratives.
As such, the Book appears as a historical
document, written at a particular time and place, in a particular language,
Ior a particular group oI people; it can constitute the object oI philological
and historical examinations, which seek to document and reconstruct the
historical meaning oI the Book. Such interpretations determine the
meaning oI the Book Irom the historical, social, and political
circumstances in which the text appeared. The characters and events oI
which Scripture speaks are accordingly treated as actual historical realities,
empirically veriIiable and registered in historical archives.
As a result,
what can be empirically determined and dated in time is deemed as 'true¨
and 'real,¨ whereas what seems to exceed the limits oI historical and
empirical veriIiability is relegated to the realm oI myth or Iiction.
According to Corbin, however, the events oI Scripture are neither myth
nor history. The events recorded in the Sacred Book are not 'events oI this
world,¨ perceptible to the senses and registered in historical archives.
Rather, they are 'events oI the soul¨ that have been objectiIied or
Celestial Earth, trans. N. Pearson |Princeton, NJ: Bollingen Series XCI:2,
Princeton University Press, 1989| xxviii.
Corbin, LHomme et son Ange. Initiation et chevalerie spirituelle (Paris: Fayard,
Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 208. 'The eternal Qur`n` descends Irom world to
world, going through the metamorphoses that lead it Irom the state oI archetypal
Book,` in its pure intelligible essence, to the state oI material book which, in our
world, contains the secrets oI the worlds whence it descended.¨ Corbin, En Islam
iranien, I, 188.
Corbin, Philosophie iranienne et Philosophie comparee, 29-30; see also, Corbin,
En Islam iranien, I, xvi.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 159-176.
Corbin, Philosophie iranienne et Philosophie comparee, 31.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 357
'historicised¨ in the Iorm oI external history.
The historical meaning oI
Scripture is Iixed in the past and is in a certain sense dead. Nonetheless
under the external, historical meaning, there is a hidden, inner meaning
which 'does not cease to happen Ior the living until the Final Day, a
meaning that aims at very real events, but which are not accomplished on
the physical plane oI existence. This is the esoteric meaning.¨
Consequently, the events oI Scripture, 'Iar Irom having |their| meaning in
themselves, |are| but the imitation . oI events accomplished or being
accomplished at superior universes which give them their meaning.¨
describe this type oI events, Corbin uses the Arabic word hikvat, a term
which connotes simultaneously the idea oI narrative, account, history, and
that oI imitation (mimesis), repetition, re-creation, a recital. He writes:
|The hikvat| is a re-cited history |histoire re-citee|, but whose Reciter
thereIore is the mime,` the actor in the actual |actuel| and active sense oI
the word. This is because the event is never closed |clos|, and only
becomes a historv insoIar as it is a comprehended event |evenement
compris|. The act oI comprehendingtechnically designated by the word
hermeneuticis the work oI each one oI us, Irom generation to generation,
and it engages our responsibility without any possible alibi.
Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, trans. L. Fox (West Chester, PA:
Swedenborg Foundation, 1995), 84. CI. 'Every external history only symbolises,
imitates, re-cites, an internal history, that oI the soul and oI the universes oI the
Soul.¨ En Islam iranien, I, xviii.
Corbin En Islam iranien, I, 26.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 208.
Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de lhomme. Hermeneutique et soufisme (Paris:
Flammarion, 1983), 177 (henceIorth quoted as Face de Dieu, face de lhomme).
Elsewhere, Corbin deIines his use oI the French word 'actuel¨ as Iollows: 'In
using the word actuality` |actualite in the original French| I did not have in mind,
needless to say, the meaning attached to the word actualite in the daily press and
the cinema. I meant precisely what is meant by the Greek Energeia oI which the
Latin actualitas was a not altogether happy translation. It is the idea oI a Iorce,
whether latent or in action, which has the inherent power to produce certain
eIIects, just as action is inherent in the transitive verb, which in Greek is called
energetic`¨ ('L`actualite de la philosophie traditionnelle en Iran,¨ Acta Iranica 1
(1968): 1). Still elsewhere, Corbin deIines the word 'comprendre,¨ rendered here
as 'comprehending¨: 'Let us take the Latin word comprehendere in its exemplary
acceptation here: to contain, to implicate |impliquer|. To comprehend a meaning is
to implicate it in oneselI, one way or another, in one`s own mode oI being.. The
act oI comprehending is accomplished in the present; the meaning oI the sign is
implicated in him who comprehends it, because he is the one to whom it is
addressed.¨ En Islam iranien, I, 138.
Chapter Twenty Two 358
In contrast to 'historicist¨ interpretations which, 'by making the signiIicance
oI the Sacred Book captive to the date oI its material composition, |stiIle|
any potential Ior a signiIicance that goes beyond that past,¨ Corbin`s
hermeneutics instead consists in 'comprehending and constantly reactivating
in the present` the true meaning |oI the Sacred Book|.¨ This is 'to act
such that through us history remains still to come |par nous l`histoire reste
encore a venir|, that through us the past continues to be accomplished,
because we are the mimes who actualise the meaning oI exemplary
In this way, the events oI Scripture are actively made present in
the soul oI the exegete; they are 'ravished¨ Irom the past and given new
liIe. This is possible because 'liIe and death are attributes oI the soul, not
oI present or past things. The question is . to understand what once made
this past possible, caused its advent, was its future.¨
Without this re-
enactment in the present, we are leIt with an historical Iaith (fides
historica), which conIines the Iigures and events oI Scripture to the past.
How does the hermeneutical re-enactment oI Scripture work? In
addressing this question, Corbin draws on the pair oI Islamic theological
notions: tan:l and tawl. Used in reIerence to the revelation oI the Sacred
Book, tan:l means 'to cause the descent oI this Revelation Irom the
higher world.¨ In this sense, it designates 'positive religion,¨ or the letter
oI Revelation. In contrast, tawl is 'to cause to return, to lead back to the
origin, and thus to return to the true and original meaning oI a written
The operation oI tawl accordingly leads the revealed text Irom its
letter, or externality, to its inner spiritual signiIicanceIrom its appearance
to the esoteric truth with which it symbolises.
This is not a matter oI
substituting the literal text with a theoretical explanation or an allegorical
Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, 90-91; Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de
lhomme, 177. There are certain parallels between Corbin`s hermeneutical
reactuation and R. G. Collingwood`s idea oI 're-enactment.¨ CI. David Bates,
'Rediscovering Collingwood`s Spiritual History (In and Out oI Context),¨ Historv
and Theorv 35.1 (1996): 29-55.
Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital, trans. W. R. Trask (Princeton, NJ:
Bollingen Series LXVI, Princeton University Press, 1960), 10.
CI. 'The pure fides historica.measures the degree oI reality oI its object to the
documents which attest to its physical existence in the past`.. Such a Iaith is that
oI the external man. It is the fides historica denounced by all mystics as a fides
mortua.¨ Corbin, En Islam Iranien, I, 26.
Corbin, A Historv of Islamic Philosophv, trans. L. Sherrard and P. Sherrard
(London: Kegan Paul, 1993), 12 (henceIorth quoted as Hist. of Islamic
Philosophv); Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital, 28-29.
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 76; Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital,
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 359
meaning. II this were the case, Corbin claims, then the literal, apparent
meaning oI the text would lose its justiIication and become superIluous,
with the resulting tendency to relegate it to the realm oI 'myth,¨ in the
sense oI something 'untrue.¨
Against 'demythologising¨ interpretations, Corbin aIIirms 'the necessity
oI maintaining the simultaneity oI the spiritual sense and the literal
appearance, oI the exoteric (:hir) and the esoteric (btin).¨ The literal
appearance Iorms 'the covering, the basis, and the protection oI the
The appearance is indispensable to the spirit, because
'in its appearance |it| shows Iorth something which can reveal itselI
therein only by remaining beneath its appearance.¨
At the same time,
isolated Irom its spiritual truth, the body oI the Word is nothing but a 'dead
nature, an absurd husk.¨
The letter oI the Book is not any less primary than
the spirit which animates it; the two must exist simultaneously.
accordingly must show the hidden signiIicance while preserving the literal
meaning oI the text.
According to Corbin, the way hermeneutics 'saves the appearance¨ oI
the text is by 'drawing or unveiling the hidden which shows itselI beneath
To put it diIIerently, the appearance oI the text is
preserved only by showing the inner signiIicance which 'justiIies¨ the
literal meaning, and oI which the text is but the 'imitation¨ in the visible
world. This is not a matter oI replacing one meaning with another, but
rather oI perceiving the apparent and the hidden, literal and spiritual,
material and psychic, simultaneously, in a single act oI perception. This
constitutes a 'symbolic perception¨ which operates a transmutation oI the
immediate data (the sensible and literal data), and renders them
The text is thereby 'raised to incandescence and the hidden
signiIicance shines through the covering, which becomes transparent.¨
This can be compared to 'the manner oI the light which becomes visible
CI. 'Adam`s transgression consisted in yielding to the suggestion oI Ibls: to
attain to the esoteric in its pure state.¨ Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam,
Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, 61.
Corbin, Philosophie iranienne et Philosophie comparee, 23.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 128.
CI. 'The btin |esoteric| cannot subsist without the :hir |exoteric| which is its
support; the symbolised (mamthl) can only be maniIested in the symbol that
symbolises it (mathal).¨ Corbin, En Islam iranien, I, 75.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 199.
Corbin, Philosophie iranienne et Philosophie comparee, 23.
Corbin, Hist. of Islamic Philosophv, 13.
Corbin, Spiritual Bodv and Celestial Earth, 21.
Chapter Twenty Two 360
only as it takes Iorm and shines through the Iigure oI a stained-glass
The text is perceived as symbol to the extent that the exegete is able to
raise his consciousness to its hidden signiIicance. As Corbin writes:
The symbol is both key and silence; it speaks and it does not speak. It can
never be explained once and Ior all. It expands to the degree that each
consciousness is progressively summoned by it to unIoldthat is to say,
to the degree that each consciousness makes the symbol the key to its own
In other words, the tawl oI the text is correlative to a transIormation in
the soul oI the exegete; it depends on whether or not one succeeds in
leading the text back to the 'internal event¨ which it symbolises. The text
is spiritually understood to the degree that it is internalised. ThereIore, the
'hidden meaning¨ concealed beneath the appearance oI the text is not
something superimposed on, or 'read into,¨ the literal text, but is the
'event oI the soul¨ that corresponds with and justiIies the literal meaning.
The spiritual hermeneutics thereIore aims at reproducing, in the soul oI
the exegete, the 'event oI justiIication¨ at the origin oI the revealed text:
that is, the spiritual event in the absence oI which the Revelation could not
have taken place. The exegete understands the revealed text (modus
intelligendi) to the extent that the event oI Revelation is reproduced in him
The tawl oI the text thereIore supposes the tawl oI
the soul: in restoring the text to its truth, the spiritual exegesis restores, in a
simultaneous movement, the soul oI the exegete to its truth.
The event is transmuted by the mode oI perception that leads it back . to
the higher plane on which, spiritually understoodthat is, transmuted into
symbolthe Event then 'occurs¨ spiritually. And iI in this sense it can
Corbin, Creative Imagination, 275. CI. 'Idolatry consists in immobilizing
oneselI beIore an idol because one sees it as opaque, because one is incapable oI
discerning in it the hidden invitation that it oIIers to go beyond it. Hence, the
opposite oI idolatry would not consist in breaking idols, in practicing a Iierce
iconoclasm aimed against every inner or external Image; it would rather consist in
rendering the idol transparent to the light invested in it. In short, it means
transmuting the idol into an icon.¨ Corbin, 'Theophanies and Mirrors: Idols or
Icons?,¨ trans. Jane A. Pratt and A. K. Donohue, in Spring |1983|: 2.
Corbin, Hist. of Islamic Philosophv, 173.
CI. Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 26; see also, Corbin, Cvclical Time and
Ismaili Gnosis, trans. R. Manheim and J. Morris (London: Kegan Paul, 1983), 51.
Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital, 31.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 361
always 'occur¨ again in the Iuture, this means that it is in truth not an
ordinary external event, but the Event oI the soul, which, by
comprehending it, lives it, and makes it its own .. This is not to preserve
history, but to accomplish it.
In this sense, hermeneutics, Ior Corbin, involves 'a lived situation . in
which the true meaning dawns on the believer and conIers reality on his
Understanding the text is not a matter oI theoretical or
philological inspection 'but a passion lived and shared with the
understood object, a com-passion, a sympathy.¨
To understand the text is
to experience its literal meaning in its significatio passiva: we discover the
true meaning oI the text insoIar as it occurs within us, according to what it
makes oI us, insoIar as it is our passion.
The being oI the exegete
becomes that in which the eternal imperative oI the Word is accomplished,
the point where the divine action, in being IulIilled, is no longer
distinguished Irom the passio, since the passio is the very event oI its
The exegete`s understanding oI the Word is the action
oI the Word in him.
This means that the Word is at once interpreter and interpreted: 'it is
the divine Subject which is . the active Subject oI all knowledge oI God;
it is God himselI who is thinking himselI through the thought which the
enlightened human intellect has oI him.¨
This state might be called
speculative, insoIar as the exegete becomes a mirror in which the gesta
divina are reIlected:
Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital, 261.
Corbin, Hist. of Islamic Philosophv, 1.
Corbin, Creative Imagination, 116.
Corbin, Creative Imagination, 116. Corbin draws the notion oI significatio
passiva Irom the theology oI the young Luther. CI. 'In the presence oI the Psalm
verse In fustitia tua libera me, |the young theologian Martin Luther| experienced a
movement oI revolt and despair: what can there be in common between this
attribute oI justice and mv deliverance? And such was his state oI mind until |he|
perceived in a sudden Ilash (and his entire personal theology was to result Irom
this experience) that this attribute must be understood in its significatio passiva,
that is to say, thv justice whereby we are made into just men, thv holiness whereby
we are hallowed, etc.¨ Corbin, Creative Imagination, 300 n. 25. See also, Corbin,
'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 25.
Corbin, Cvclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 34. Corbin cites and translates the
-century Ismaili philosopher Nasir-e Khosraw as Iollows: 'The significatio
passiva oI the nomen patientis (maf´l-e maf´l) consists in the very action oI the
agent, which is accomplished in him.¨ Cvclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 34-35.
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 140-141.
Chapter Twenty Two 362
The mirror is the inner human being, to whom, by whom, and Ior whom
the theophany is produced, and who is the place and Iorm which it takes
.. However, because this mirror is the place oI the soul contemplating
itselI in contemplation, it is also true to say that the mirror is itselI the
We are conIronted here with what Corbin describes as a coincidentia
oppositorumthe conjunction between action and passion, divine nature
and human nature, Deus Absconditus and Deus Revelatus, hidden and
revealed: 'in revealing HimselI to man, the personalised God oI the
personal theophany reveals man to himselI, and in revealing man to
himselI, He reveals man to HimselI and reveals HimselI to HimselI.¨
The Revelation oI God to man allows, in turn, Ior the Revelation oI man to
God to occur. This theandric operation, or co-operation between man and
God, accomplishes the spiritual meaning oI Revelation.
To the same
degree to which the exegete succeeds in leading the letter oI Scripture to
its inner meaningthat is, to the same degree that the events oI Scripture
are made into events oI the exegete`s own soulto that same degree 'the
Word . IulIils its Iunction Iully, which is to express the Sacred, in other
words to operate the reunion oI the plurality oI this world with the divine
One might well ask, on what plane oI reality does this Divino-human
encounter occur? Where does the reunion oI the plurality oI the world with
the divine Unity take place? In what space does the exegete`s experience
unIold? With a quantitative conception oI space, it is impossible to
apprehend any oI these things. In Iact, spiritual visions and events imply
the existence oI diIIerent kinds oI spaces. These are spiritual or qualitative
spaces, where the events oI the soul take place. 'Such space,¨ Corbin
writes, 'is existential space, whose relationship to physico-mathematical
space is analogous to the relationship oI existential time to the historical
time oI chronology.¨
The proper measure oI that space is the state oI the
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 141-142. 'The authentic meaning oI speculative`
is lost unless we bear in mind its etymological origin: speculum ÷ mirror. The
intelligence oI speculative theology is in its Iunctioning as a mirror which reflects
God, a mirror in which God is revealed. In the words oI Franz von Baader,
Spekulieren heisst spiegeln` (To speculate is to reIlect`).¨
Corbin, 'De Heidegger a Sohravard,¨ 35.
On the concept oI theandry, see Corbin, 'Face de Dieu et Iace de l`homme,¨ in
Face de Dieu, face de lhomme, 300-313.
Corbin, 'Traditional Knowledge and Spiritual Renaissance,¨ trans. Kathleen
Raine, in Temenos Academv Review 1 (1998): 32.
Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, 37.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 363
soul. It is indeed a place 'where time becomes reversible and where space
is a Iunction oI desire, because it is only the external aspect oI an internal
To designate this 'existential space,¨ which is the location oI visionary
events, Corbin coined the term mundus imaginalis.
As a 'median and
mediating¨ world, the imaginal world shares aspects oI both the world oI
sensation and the world oI intellectual Iorms.
It is a world 'where the
spiritual takes a body and the body becomes spiritual,` a world consisting
oI real matter and real extension, though by comparison to sensible,
corruptible matter these are subtile and immaterial.¨
The Iunction oI the
mundus imaginalis is deIined by its ability to symbolise with the worlds it
On the one hand |the mundus imaginalis| immaterialises the Sensible
Forms, on the other it 'imaginalises¨ the Intellectual Forms to which it
gives shape and dimension. The Imaginal world creates symbols on the
one hand Irom the Sensible Forms, on the other Irom the Intellectual
Accordingly, the mundus imaginalis requires a Iaculty oI perception
that is proper to it. This Iaculty is the active Imagination, which
Corbin sharply distinguishes Irom the imaginary or 'Iantasy.¨
latter secretes nothing but the imaginary, the unreal, whereas the
active Imagination has a cognitive Iunction just as Iundamental and
objective as sensation or intellection. The active Imagination is the
organ that allows the exegete to penetrate the mundus imaginalis,
where the reality oI symbols is veriIied.
Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, 16.
On the notion oI the mundus imaginalis, see particularly Corbin, 'Towards a
Chart oI the Imaginal,¨ in Spiritual Bodv and Celestial Earth, vii-xix; see also
Corbin, 'Mundus Imaginalis, or The Imaginary and the Imaginal,¨ in Swedenborg
and Esoteric Islam, 1-33.
Corbin, Spiritual Bodv and Celestial Earth, ix; Corbin, Swedenborg and
Esoteric Islam, 11.
Corbin, Creative Imagination, 4.
Corbin, Spiritual Bodv and Celestial Earth, ix
'Here there is the same total diIIerence already recognised and clearly remarked
by Paracelsus between the imaginatio vera (Imagination in the true sense) and
Phantasv`.¨ Spiritual Bodv and Celestial Earth, ix.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 286.
Chapter Twenty Two 364
In the absence oI a Iunctional imaginative Iaculty, all the phenomena
oI religious experience would lose their meaning.
The active Imagination
is indeed 'the place oI theophanic visions, the scene on which visionary
events and symbolic histories appear in their true reality.¨
oI this world, according to Corbin, are like 'images seen in mirrors, which
|are| neither objects nor abstract ideasthese are intermediary realities.
And because they are intermediary, they culminate in the notion oI the
Consequently, the active Imagination allows the transmutation
oI intellectual Iorms and sensory data into symbolic Iorms; it allows the
transmutation oI internal spiritual states into external states, into vision-
events symbolising with those internal states.
The Burning Bush is only a brushwood Iire iI it is merely perceived by the
sensory organs. In order that Moses may perceive the Burning Bush and
hear the Voice calling him 'Irom the right side oI the valley¨in short, in
order that there may be a theophanyan organ oI trans-sensory perception
The Iunction oI the active Imagination consists 'in puriIying and liberating
one`s inner being so that the intelligible realities perceived on the imaginal
level may be reIlected in the mirror oI the sensorium and be translated into
In other words, the Iunction oI the active
Imagination is the same as that oI tawl: to unveil the hidden reality oI
things, to maniIest the hidden. The world oI the Imagination guarantees
the reality oI tawl; it is the place where the hermeneutics oI Scripture is
accomplished: 'raised to the level oI that interworld, the literal data oI the
Sacred Books take on their spiritual truth; . their spiritual sense . is
then the literal sense, and there no longer is a literal sense other than that
'Upon |the mundus imaginalis| depends.both the validity oI visionary
accounts that perceive and relate events in Heaven` and the validity oI dreams,
symbolic rituals, the reality oI places Iormed by intense meditation, the reality oI
inspired imaginative visions, cosmogonies, and theogonies, and thus, in the Iirst
place, the truth oI the spiritual sense perceived in the imaginative data oI prophetic
revelations.¨ Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, 11.
Corbin, Creative Imagination, 4.
Corbin, Creative Imagination, 217.
Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, 16.
Corbin, Creative Imagination, 80.
Corbin, Temple and Contemplation, trans. P. Sherrard and L. Sherrard (London:
KPI in association with Islamic Publications, 1986), 266.
Corbin, Philosophie iranienne et Philosophie comparee, 124. CI. 'Since the
hidden meaning is nothing other than the letter raised or transmuted into symbol,
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 365
The symbolic and spiritual exegesis described so Iar is illustrated, Ior
Corbin, in a series oI short 'symbolic recitals¨ authored by the 12
century Iranian Shihboddn Suhraward, the martyred chieI oI the
spiritual Iamily Corbin labels 'Platonists oI Persia.¨
Suhraward`s recitals are 'spiritual romances¨ which narrate the story
oI the soul`s initiatory journey Irom exile in the material world (the
'Occident¨) to the intelligible and spiritual world (the 'Orient¨), which is
the original abode oI the soul. According to Corbin, these recitals are
records oI Suhraward`s own mystical experiences. They literally describe
what occurs or can occur in the soul oI the philosopher when Suhraward`s
philosophical teachings become lived experience; the mystical voyage
indeed begins precisely at the point when the theoretical teaching becomes
an event, a 'personally lived adventure¨ oI the soul.
In other words, the
recitals describe Suhraward`s 'Oriental¨ philosophy 'in dramatic action.¨
and perceived henceIorth on the level oI the imaginal world, the symbol itselI is no
longer something behind which hides the thing symbolized. It is, quite simply, the
Iorm assumed on this level by the transcendent reality, and this Iorm is this reality.
Thus instead oI allegory, one could perhaps speak oI tautegorv.¨ Corbin, Temple
and Contemplation, 304-305.
Corbin`s interpretation oI Suhraward continues to be the subject oI heated
and oIten ill-inIormeddebate. As Sabine Schmidtke remarks: 'although much
progress has been made in recent decades in the study oI Suhraward and his later
Iollowers...contemporary scholars seem to spend much oI their energy either
rejecting or deIending Corbin`s views on the nature oI Suhrawardian thought in
one way or another¨ (Review oI The Leaven of the Ancients and The Wisdom of the
Mvstic East, by John Walbridge, in Die Welt des Islams 43.1 |2003|: 119). These
issues are complex and impossible to address here. The present purpose is not to
examine the IaithIulness oI Corbin`s interpretation, but simply to illustrate
Corbin`s personal hermeneutics through his own interpretation oI Suhraward`s
recitals. In other words, our concern here is more with Corbin as a philosopher
than with Corbin as a scholar. It is, nonetheless, important to bear in mind that
Corbin considered himselI as belonging to the tradition derived Irom Suhraward,
and he approached his subject accordingly. One might, on historical grounds,
contest Corbin`s claim oI belonging to Suhraward`s lineage, but only at the risk oI
missing the intentionality oI his claim and thereIore misinterpreting him.
Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital, 4.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 217. Suhraward`s 'Orient,¨ Ior Corbin, essentially
designates 'the world oI the beings oI Light, Irom which the dawn oI knowledge
and ecstasy rises in the pilgrim oI the spirit¨ (Spiritual Bodv and Celestial Earth,
110). Accordingly, by 'Oriental¨ philosophy or theosophy, Corbin understands 'a
doctrine Iounded on the Presence oI the philosopher at the matutinal appearance oI
the intelligible Lights, at the outpouring oI their dawn on the souls who are in a
state oI estrangement Irom their bodies.¨ Hist. of Islamic Philosophv, 209. The
Chapter Twenty Two 366
The recital in which this transIormation is most clearly expressed is
entitled The Recital of the Occidental Exile.
This story begins with the
Iall into captivity. The hero has Iallen in the 'Occidental¨ city oI
Qarawayn. On a night oI the Iull moon, the Exile escapes and Iinally
reaches the mystical Sinai, at the Ioot oI the Source oI LiIe. The stages oI
the journey progress through a mystical navigation Irom prophet to
prophet, whose gestæ are presented in Qur`nic verses. As Corbin points
out, these are not the historical prophets, but 'the prophets oI one`s being.¨
The pilgrim is, in turn, Noah, Lot, Moses, Solomon, Alexander, etc. This
series oI identiIications reveals a 'psychodramatic initiation¨ in which the
mystical pilgrim himselI becomes the hero who acts out all oI these
This implies a 'personal hermeneutic¨ oI the Qur`nic
verses, which 'resuscitates |them| in the present oI the Iirst person.¨
The narrator becomes the patiens, the 'place,¨ in which the recited deed
comes to be accomplished, because he has 'leveled |aboli| in himselI the
mountain oI closed egotism |la montagne de l`egoïte close|.¨
oI the mystical pilgrim becomes a mirror in which the gesta divina are
accomplished; these gestæ constitute a 'metahistory¨ the history oI the
pilgrim`s own soul.
This is not a chronological history, but can rather be
conceived as a history in 'gothic style,¨ that is, 'a history which, while
progressing, is by itselI reversion to the origin.¨
The mystic is the
'patient¨ oI this spiritual history because he is the one in whom it happens,
and this is why he is simultaneously its agent, actor, and active subject.
This state indicates 'the moment where the object to be known becomes
itselI the knowing Subfect |Sufet connaissant|.¨
What we have here is an
example oI a hikvat: '|i|t is a mystical recital in which narrator, narrated
knowledge obtained at this illuminative 'Orient¨ is not a theoretical, re-presentational
knowledge (ilm sr), but a knowledge that is immediate, presential (ilm h:r),
that is, 'a Knowledge through which rises to himselI, to his Orient, the subfect oI
this Knowledge.¨ En Islam iranien, II, 48. 'Oriental knowledge,¨ thereIore, entails
'a metamorphosis oI being.¨ En Islam iranien, II, 61.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 258-294.
Corbin, LArchange empourpre. quin:e traites et recits mvstiques (Paris:
Fayard, 1976), 270 (henceIorth quoted as LArchange empourpre); Corbin, Iran
and Philosophv, 160.
Corbin, Lalchimie comme art hieratique, ed. Pierre Lory (Paris: L`Herne,
Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de lhomme, 197, 206 and 214.
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 142; Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 212.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, IV, 288.
Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de lhomme, 227.
Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de lhomme, 212.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 367
deed, and hero oI the narrative are all one.¨
'It is I who am the hero oI
this tale,¨ declares the author at the end oI the Recital.
In the Recital of the Crimson-hued Archangel, an Angel appears at the
beginning and invites the pilgrim to return to his original abode.
Angel teaches him how to make his way across the valleys and ranges oI
the cosmic mountain (Mount Qf). This is not a journey in outside space,
but a psychic event whose scene and action are set in the intermediate
world oI the Imaginable, which Suhraward here designates as N-Kof-
Abd, literally, 'the land oI no-where,¨ meaning a 'place outside oI
Once one has crossed into the limit oI that world, one no longer
Iinds oneselI 'in the place, but is himself the place.¨ According to Corbin,
'this is the imaginal space, the space where the active Imagination Ireely
maniIests its visions and its epics.¨
Just as, in the previous Recital,
Suhraward resuscitated the deeds oI Qur`nic prophets through the
experience oI the narrator, here the deeds oI the heroes oI the ancient
Iranian epic, the Shh-Nmeh, are 're-cited¨ as personally lived events by
the pilgrim. Suhraward 'absolves¨ the deeds oI the ancient Iranian heroes
Irom the past and resuscitates them as his personal history: 'in the person
oI Suhraward, in the mystical Recital, the records oI the heroes oI ancient
Iran are accomplished in the present.¨
The 'heroic epic¨ is thus
transmuted into a 'mystical epic¨: this is a 'history that breaks history,¨ an
eschatological history which, in leading the Iigures oI the Shh-Nmeh to
their true, inner meaning, simultaneously leads the mystical pilgrim 'to his
real being, to his origin, to his Orient.`¨
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 164-165. On the notion oI hikvat, see
particularly 'De l`epopee heroïque a l`epopee mystique,¨ in Face de Dieu, face de
Corbin, LArchange empourpre, 279.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 211-257.
Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, 4-6.
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 168.
Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de lhomme, 214. CI. 'One may conceive that
Suhraward had read the Shh-Nmeh in the same manner that we ourselves read
the Bible or that he himselI read the Qur`n, that is, as iI it had only been
composed Ior his own case`..the Shh-Nmeh could thereIore become the
history or metahistory oI the soul..it is the entire history oI the soul and oI the
world oI the soul that Suhraward could see even in the Iramework oI the Shh-
Nmeh, by reading it.in the manner the eminent Proclus could read the history oI
the mysterious Atlantis as a real history and simultaneously as an image oI a
certain reality existing in the Whole`.¨ Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 212-213.
Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de lhomme, 191.
Chapter Twenty Two 368
According to Corbin, the text oI these recitals can be assimilated to the
'phenomenon oI the Sacred Book.¨
The exegete is conIronted with the
same hermeneutical situation: understanding the 'true meaning¨ oI the text
implies a 'new birth¨ in the soul. The success oI the exegesis depends on
whether or not one succeeds in leading the text or letter oI the recital back
to the 'psychic Event¨ with which it symbolises. The tawl oI the text will
thereIore reproduce, will itselI also 're-cite,¨ the tawl oI the soul.
reactuating, 're-citing,¨ the events oI the narrative, the hermeneutic oI the
recital becomes itselI a voyage oI the soul; the exegesis oI the text is itselI
the exodus oI the soul Irom the world oI exile.
Given this understanding oI hermeneutics, the recital can never be
'explained¨ or 'deciphered¨ once and Ior all. It is truly understood only
each time the exegete undertakes the spiritual exegesis oI the text Ior
The exegesis 'leads¨ the text oI the recital back to its 'literal
spiritual truth,¨ that is, to the consciousness oI the recital as oI something
happening to oneselI, Ior the Iirst time.
This 'literal spiritual¨ meaning
is not perceived in the world oI common evidence and sensible perception,
but in the imaginal world (sensus litteralis in mundo imaginali).
The hermeneutic oI the mystical recital does not consist in
'redescending¨in 'bringing back¨ the events oI the recital to the level oI
|theoretical| evidence. On the contrary, it is the latter that the tawl, the
hermeneutics, 'leads¨ back to the level oI the Malakt |or mundus
imaginalis| where the events oI the recital take place.
The literal meaning is saved on the condition that it is actualised in the
soul oI the exegete. 'Recite the Qur`n as iI it had been revealed Ior your
own case,¨ Suhraward instructs.
That is, one must read Scriptureor,
in this case, the recitalas iI it were addressing and inviting each person
to experience its meaning in one`s own soul. The recital engages as much
Corbin, Face de Dieu, face de lhomme, 177.
Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital, 34.
Corbin, Iran and Philosophv, 160.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 239. CI. 'A symbol is never explained` once and
Ior all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never
deciphered once and Ior all, but calls Ior ever new execution.¨ Corbin, Creative
Corbin, 'Traditional Knowledge and Spiritual Renaissance,¨ 35.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 194.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 191.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 212.
Henry Corbin`s Hermeneutics oI Scripture 369
the responsibility oI the reader as that oI the narratorunderstanding the
meaning oI the text 'depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon
its reIusal or acceptance oI a new birth.¨
In other words, to understand
the recital, one must act it out, experience its events as events oI one`s own
soul: 'no one will understand the Event which the recital wants to sav,
save the one in whom the Event begins, at least, to happen.¨
Corbin, Avicenna and the Jisionarv Recital, 10.
Corbin, En Islam iranien, II, 202.
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