Joachim of Fiore

Joachim of Fiore

By Toby Affleck

Access History, Vol. 1:1 (1997)

16th century image of Joachim of Fiore

16th century image of Joachim of Fiore

Introduction: The twelfth century monastic theologian Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202) holds an important place in the progression of the linear Christian theory of time, through his reinvention of a numeric plan for history, and the widespread diffusion of his interpretations of the Apocalypse with their extreme consequences for the medieval Church. Joachim, held as both magnus propheta and heretic, contested the existing Catholic faith by proposing a new conclusion to history that effectively challenged the clerical dominance of the ecclesiastical body as well as bringing forward the dire implications of the rise to power of the Anti-Christ; issues that turned extreme ascetism into condemned dissent. It is with this in mind that it becomes relevant to examine the fundamental theories of Joachim’s interpretation of the past, his vision for the future, and its implication for the future direction of Christendom. What were the principles upon which his biblical commentaries were laid? In doing so, this paper examines the allegorical reading of Scriptures, in particular that of Revelation, as well as Joachim’s belief in the significance of “spiritual numerology” and the critical importance of his Doctrine of the Trinity.

Joachim was born in Calabria, and acted as an official in the Sicilian court at Palermo until he experienced a religious conversion, prompting his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Upon his return to Calabria around 1171, Joachim entered the Benedictine monastery of Corazzo where he soon was elected to the post of Abbot. His desires to have Corazzo included in the Cistercian Order led to his journey to Casamari where he experienced visions that provided the basis for his “insight” into the future of Christian civilisation, shaping his notions regarding the apocalyptic path that the Church was destined to follow. Joachim’s work found the approval of popes, being declared orthodox after inquisition in 1200 and by Honorius III in 1220, providing a legitimacy that would allow his ideas to find forums and be propagated throughout western Christendom. Eventually he became dissatisfied with the Cistercian Order, inducing him to establish his own monastery at Fiore, providing the foundation for the development of Florentine monasticism.

In the early thirteenth century, the Christian “ground-plan” of time and history and expectations for the future, were largely conceived of in Augustine terms of Seven Ages, symbolic of the seven days of Creation and culminating in a Sabbath Age. Augustine looked upon this Seventh Age as existing outside of the time process, asserting that the climax of history had already taken place with the Advent of Christ. All that remained for humanity therefore was a period of repentance in anticipation for the apocalyptic conclusion to civilisation, or rather life “under the shadow of impending judgement” . Marjorie Reeves asserts that the Augustine theory of time and history, based on scriptural passages such as Matthew 24, represented an inherently pessimistic pattern; that all that was left for humanity was to wait for the end.

The world was doomed to an age of deterioration, iniquity would increase and love would grow cold, the final tribulations would come suddenly upon it, and immediately after, the Son of Man would appear to judge the human race and make an end to history.

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