Secretum secretorum - De Mirabilibus Mundi - Social context
Background for Ars Magica sagas

Ioachim de Flore - Spiritus Intelligentiae

"In this way, three conditions of the world (tres mundi status) bear witness - as we have already stated in this work - of the symbols (sacramenta) of the divine page: the first, when we were under the law (sub lege); the second, when we were in grace (sub gratia); the third, which we expect soon, which will be of the abundance of grace (sub ampliora gratia). Indeed, as says Iohannes, the Lord 'has given us grace over grace' (Ioh.1,16), and both faith and love to our desire.

Hence, the first time was that of science, the second that of wisdom, the third will be that of full knowledge; the first was of servitude, the second of childlike obedience, the third will be of freedom; the first was testing, the second action, the third will be contemplation; the first was fear, the second belief, the third will be love; the first was the time of the old men, the second of the young men, the third will be of the children; the first was under the light of the stars, the second at dawn, the third will be under full daylight; the first was winter, the second spring break, the third will be summer; the first brought nettles, the second roses, the third will bring lilies; the first gave grass, the second stalks, the third will give grain; the first gave water, the second wine, the third will give oil; the first corresponds to Septuagesima, the second to Lent, the third will be Easter.

So the first condition belongs to the Father, the creator of all things, whose time begins with the beginning of history, referred to by Septuagesima, and reaches out to the apostles. If 'the first man was made of earth and is of earth, while the second man comes from heaven' 1Cor.15,47), the second condition must belong to the Son, who deigned to dress the clay we are made of, to fast and suffer in it to reform the condition of the first men, who killed to eat. The third condition belongs to the Holy Spirit, of whom the apostle says 'where there is the Spirit of the Lord there is freedom' (2Cor.3,17)." Ioachim de Flore, Concordia Novi ac Veteris Testamenti, 1199 ca. (book 5, folio 112)

I hope that my wooden english translation still gives an impression of the music and rhythm of the Latin original. I put it in front because it, beyond being the part of Ioachim's work with the greatest effect on the 13th century, will probably strike a chord in many inventors of Ars Magica campaigns: it structures the world and its history in an immediate, sensual and narrative way very close to the method of a writer designing the structure of a novel, or a storyteller designing a campaign. And yet it is intended to be a key to the immediate future of Ioachim.

The man - Beatus Ioachim Abbas Florensis

I will be rather thorough in this section for two reasons: First, to clarify the social position, self representation and contemporary image of an exceptional individual. Second, to give those who wish to introduce him into their campaigns sufficient background to do so without risking embarassment by some well read (read: smart ass) player.

Ioachim was born 1130 at Celico in Calabria. Most biographers agree that he was the son of a tabellius, a municipal notary. In the 1150s we find Ioachim as an official of the chancellery of William II, last Hauteville king of Sicily. Perhaps 1167 he abandons this career for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, thereby escaping his family which disapproved of his spiritual interests. (Some authors date the pilgrimage as early as 1150)

"Not much later his religious fervor brought him to Jerusalem, where, along the way, he sated the poor with all he possessed. Then he took the rugged white habit of the monks. Having come to a desert, he feared to die for thirst and covered himself with sand, so that his corpse would not be devoured by wild beasts. Then, while reflecting over the meaning of the scripture, he fell into deep slumber. Lo, there appeared to him a river of oil and a man standing near it who said to him 'Drink of this river.' Thereon he drank of it until sated. When he woke up, he found that he had the understanding of all the Holy Scripture. He passed all the Lent in an old cistern on the mountain of Christ's transfiguration (scilicet: Mount Tabor), waking, praying, fasting and singing hymns and psalms." Gabriele Barrio, Joachimi Abbatis Vita per Gabrielem Barrium Franciscanum Edita, 1571.

This obviously must be taken with a few pounds of salt, but gives an idea of the pilgrimage's importance for his work and image.

After returning from the Holy Land, Ioachim takes up the life of a hermit in various places. Finally he lives in the monastery of Sambucina, where he begins to preach. The bishop of Cantanzaro legitimizes his preaching by making him a priest around 1170.

1171 at Corazzo a noble Greek monk convinces Ioachim to take the Cistercian habit.

1177 Ioachim is elected abbot of the Cistercian monastery Sta. Maria di Corazzo. In these years he publishes De unitate seu essentia Trinitatis, attacking the teachings on the Trinity of Petrus Lombardus.

1183 Ioachim is, with business for his monastery, at the Cistercian abbey of Casamari in southern Latium. There, in the night before Easter, he has a vision. "In the complete silence of this night, and, as I believe, just in the hour when our 'lion of Juda' (Ap.5,5) was resurrected from the dead, while I meditated on 'Rapt in extasy on the day of the Lord, I heard behind me a powerful voice, like a trumpet ...' (Ap.1,10), I caught with the eyes of my mind something of such clarity of intelligence on the subject of the fullness of this book of the Apocalypse and of all the harmony of the old and new testament." Ioachim de Flore, Expositio in Apocalypsim, 1199 ca. (book 1, folio 39)

Another vision follows on Whitsunday. "While I entered the church to pray to the Almighty in front of the altar, I felt in me a sort of hesitation about the belief in the Trinity. It was difficult to grasp for intellect and faith, that all these persons were one god, and one single god was all these persons. When this happened I prayed with fervor and, frightened, urgently implored the Holy Spirit, whose holiday it was, to deign to reveal to me the sacred symbol of the Trinity, through which the Lord promises us complete knowledge of the truth. Saying these things I began to sing to reach the verse for the day in the book of Psalms. At once I had in the mind the image of a psalterium (scilicet: a kind of zither) with ten chords and in this image I saw so clearly and evidently the symbol of the holy Trinity that I was brought to exclaim 'Which god is a great as our God' (Sal.77,14)." Ioachim de Flore, Psalterium Decem Chordarum, 1187 ca. (prologus, folio 227)

In this time Ioachim begins to write his biblical commentaries: Concordia Novi ac Veteris Testamenti, Expositio in Apocalypsim and Psalterium Decem Chordarum.

1184 Ioachim meets pope Lucius III at Veroli. As a Cistercian monk he needs official permission to write, and gets it from the Pope. He might have been invited by Lucius III to comment on the very popular sybilline prophecies. Anyway, in 1184 Ioachim completes Expositio de prophetia ignota on this subject. Ioachim's permission to write is renewed by Pope Urban III 1186 at Genova.

In Spring 1186 Ioachim leaves Corazzo and retires with a few pupils to a hermitage. The monks of Corazzo protest and claim their abbot back.

In 1188 pope Clemens III frees Ioachim of his duties to Corazzo and encourages his work explicitly. At the end of the year Ioachim searches the inhospitable Sila mountains in Calabria for a place to found a new monastery. With the help of Tancredi of Hauteville he raises the funds for it, and from 1190 takes up residence there.

Spring 1191 Ioachim is at Messina, where he might have met Richard Coeur de Lion. Several English chronists report how Ioachim explained to Richard the meaning of the seven heads of the apocalyptical dragon: five correspond to dead persecutors of Christendom, the sixth to Saladin, and the seventh to the antichrist itself, already born into the world.

In Summer 1191 Ioachim meets the emperor Henry VI under the walls of the besieged Naples. It is told that, by exegesis of Ezechiel 26,7, he prophesied to the emperor the nonviolent taking of Sicily and admonished him to show moderation. The Capitulum Generale of the cistercians condemns Ioachim in 1192 for leaving Corazzo and orders him to return. Geoffrey of Auxerre, secretary of Saint Bernard, attacks him as a false prophet and hints at rumors about Jewish origins of Ioachim.

1194, 1195 and 1197 Henry VI, now in possession of Sicily, makes generous donations to S. Giovanni in Fiore. On Good Friday 1196 Ioachim is called to the court of Palermo as the confessor of the empress, Constance de Hauteville. The 25th of August 1196 pope Coelestinus III approves the monastic rule of the Ordo Florensis founded by Ioachim.

1198 Ioachim is in Rome, attending the conclave electing Innocence III.

In 1200 both the Expositio and the Concordia are completed, and Ioachim submits them with all his works to the judgement of the pope.

The 30th of March 1202 Ioachim dies at Petrafitta. He is buried in the church of S. Giovanni in Fiore. The inscription on his tomb reads: "Hic Abbas Floris/caelestis gratiae roris", meaning: Here [lies] the abbot of the flower/of the dew of heavenly grace.

Method of exegesis - quasi sit rota in medio rotae

I shall give only the basics of Ioachim's method here, enough to make a modern man's head swirl (wheels within wheels within wheels...), but not enough to drive the unprepared reader mad - I hope.

From his life it can be derived easily that Ioachim must have been mostly self taught with material available to a southern Italian monk. We have no indication that Ioachim knew of Abelard's thoughts, and his knowledge of the Magister Sententiarum, Petrus Lombardus (whose summa was THE text book for doctorands in theology from 1150 on), was criticized by Saint Bonaventura as lacunary.

He knew, however, books of the exponents of the school of Alexandria (Cassiodorus, Ticonius, Eucherius de Lyon) and of the school of Antiochia (Junilius Africanus, Adrianus), and he knew Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana and De Civitate Dei.

For Ioachim, as for all clergy of his time, the goal of theology is exegesis, the proper understanding and use of the Holy Scripture. And this understanding is not the result of arguments, but of sudden insights, revealed by juxtaposition of events from the old and new testament, from past and present. His methods are the ones of the schools of Alexandria and Antiochia, typology and allegory, which he brings to a last subtlety.

The traditional four senses of theological insights are given in a distich of Augustinus de Dacia: "Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia." (The letter teaches the facts, allegory what to believe, morals teach how to act, anagogy where you will go.)

Out of them Ioachim makes TWELVE senses (intelligentiae spirituales) in two groups (intellectus allegoricus and intellectus typicus). What each sense confers is illustrated by Ioachim himself on the example of Abraham's first and second wives, Agar and Sarah. The five senses of the intellectus allegoricus, concerned with the relation between letter and spirit of the Scripture, work thus: Intelligentia hystorica finds in Agar the servant and in Sarah the free woman. Intelligentia moralis finds in Agar the affection of the flesh, in Sarah spiritual attachment. Intelligentia tropologica finds in Agar the letter of the Holy Scripture, in Sarah its spiritual understanding. Intelligentia contemplativa finds in Agar the active life, in Sarah the contemplative one. Intelligentia anagogica finds in Agar the totality of present life, in Sarah the life of paradise to come.

Intellectus typicus is concerned with the relations between diverse parts of the Scripture, and between the Scripture and the world. The seven senses of the intellectus typicus correspond to all possible relations between the three persons of the Trinity, and to the seven ages of history known since Augustine, but reworked completely by Ioachim to fit his eschatological worldview.

So we have an intelligentia of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, an intelligentia of the relation between Father and Son, Son and Spirit, Father and Spirit, and, at last, an intelligentia of the relation of the complete Trinity. This last intelligentia, for example, sees all priests as corresponding to the Father, all the church from its beginning to the end of history as corresponding to the Son, and the celestial Jerusalem as corresponding to the Holy Spirit - but also the relations of the Trinity are mirrored in the relations of priests, church and paradise.

While such theological senses since Augustine were nearly exclusively used to find correspondences between the old and new Testament, Ioachim uses his enhanced repertoire of senses to find such correspondences, which he calls concordiae, among old Testament, new Testament and the present history.

Of course his method is incommensurable with the scientific, argumentative approach of the Thomists at the end of the 13th century. It is, in fact, a different paradigm. Deductions drawn from the Holy Scripture the same way as from any other philosophical authority would have appalled Ioachim. (Aside: Can you imagine a Thomist tempering a divine aura? I can't. But I do imagine Ioachim in this field, turning any bishop's work inside out, upside down and being thanked for it.)

About the justification of his method the Chronicum Anglicarum of Ralph of Coggeshall gives an answer. When questioned 1198 in Rome, Ioachim stated that he never received any prophecy (prophetia), prediction (conjectura) or revelation (revelatio), but that the Lord, "who one time gave to the prophets the spirit of prophecy (spiritum prophetiae), gifted me with the spirit of understanding (spiritum intelligentiae) to understand in all clarity, in the spirit of God, all the mysteries of the Holy Scripture, like the holy prophets understood them who one time wrote them down in the spirit of God." This was accepted until the last third of the 13th century.

Theology - Psalterium decem chordarum

It is very significant that Ioachim's contribution to theology in a literal sense, study of the nature of god, is a visualization, a symbol, and not a theory to be argued about.

Whitsunday 1183 Ioachim saw in his mind the symbol of the Holy Trinity, a psalterium with ten chords. He explains how the triangular corpus of the instrument (corresponding to the Trinity) requires all three wedges (corresponding to the persons), how each wedge implies the other two to make the corpus, and how the corpus can be taken apart, but then ceases to be an instrument. On top of this he sees in the outer form of the psalterium the capital alpha, and in the hole in its center the capital omega, beginning and end of the alphabet and of the world Ap.1,8).

Then he goes further to look at the small omega, which he sees as the circle breaking apart and revealing a comma, thereby being a symbol of the Holy Spirit coming from both the Father and the Son, and of the condition of the Holy Spirit, coming forth from the other two conditions.

Dominant social paradigm - Concordia trium statuum

If there was ONE dominant SOCIAL paradigm governing medieval Europe around 1200, it had a very strong foundation in Augustine's De Civitate Dei and De Trinitate with their opposition against any millenarism and eschatology in time.

These confirm that the sixth and last age of history has begun with the coming of Christ, that the church, as is, is the only way to salvation and that hence any possible development in time is of no importance for the general state of the world. Until the end of time there must be priests to guide the flock, kings and emperors to rule it and peasants to feed it. This world could in a socially acceptable way be renounced only by becoming a monk or, more radically, a hermit. Any other opposition was likely to be branded as heresy.

Against this static worldview Ioachim puts his exegesis, transforming the present into a time as important as the time of Christ, promising the end of history in the near future, in the age of abundance of grace. According to his computation (supputatio), there will be 42 generations of 30 years each under the condition of the Son. This is, because Judith remained a widow for 42 month of 30 days each. From the last book of the new testament, the Apocalypse, he finds the signs to be observed at the end of this condition, reviving again the millenarism of the early Christians, though he does not predict the end of the world, but its final transformation.

Ioachim left it to posterity to monitor the years until 1260 for the seven headed dragon, the antichrist and the lamb.

As he had many followers, especially among the Franciscan order, his exegesis has in a very tangible way changed the dominant social paradigm of his time, until 1260. Afterwards the disappointment of many of his more simpleminded followers and upcoming scientific methods in theology undid most of his influence.

"The true demolisher of Ioachim's method was Aristotle. ... [The rediscovery of Aristotle's philosophy] contributed to dissolve the identification of theology with exegesis. Under the influence of the Aristotelian concept of science the theologists were brought to admit in theory what they had a long time accepted in the practical application of their teaching. Theology is a 'speculative science'; it proceeds from revealed premises to new conclusions, just like any of the lesser sciences parts from undisputed principles. The theological method is argumentative, not exegetic. Finally the theologists reached the self-confidence which allowed them to leave the fiction behind, that all their work was a mere training for allegorical interpretation. Hence, after having formally freed theology from exegesis, they also freed the exegesis from theology." Beryl Smalley, 1952, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, p.405ff (You guessed it: I translated it back from the Italian.)


Nothing of this text is my own wisdom. I gathered it from:

Andrea Tagliapietra: Il "Prisma" Gioachimita, Introduzione all' opera di Gioacchino da Fiore in Gioacchino da Fiore Sull'Apocalisse Feltrinelli Editori, 1994, ISBN 88-07-82089-7 (A Latin/Italian bilingual edition, I know of no translation)

Henry Charles Lea: History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. Harper & Brothers 1887 (Many, many translations into all languages)

Plus several good dictionaries and encyclopedias.

Secretum secretorum index - De Mirabilibus Mundi index

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Last modified: Sun Dec 27, 1998 / Jeremiah Genest