1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Joachim of Floris
JOACHIM OF FLORIS (c. 1145–1202), so named from the monastery of San Giovanni in Fiore, of which he was abbot, Italian mystic theologian, was born at Celico, near Cosenza, in Calabria. He was of noble birth and was brought up at the court of Duke Roger of Apulia. At an early age he went to visit the holy places. After seeing his comrades decimated by the plague at Constantinople he resolved to change his mode of life, and, on his return to Italy, after a rigorous pilgrimage and a period of ascetic retreat, became a monk in the Cistercian abbey of Casamari. In August 1177 we know that he was abbot of the monastery of Corazzo, near Martirano. In 1183 he went to the court of Pope Lucius III. at Veroli, and in 1185 visited Urban III. at Verona. There is extant a letter of Pope Clement III., dated the 8th of June 1188, in which Clement alludes to two of Joachim’s works, the Concordia and the Expositio in Apocalypsin, and urges him to continue them. Joachim, however, was unable to continue his abbatial functions in the midst of his labours in prophetic exegesis, and, moreover, his asceticism accommodated itself but ill with the somewhat lax discipline of Corazzo. He accordingly retired into the solitudes of Pietralata, and subsequently founded with some companions under a rule of his own creation the abbey of San Giovanni in Fiore, on Monte Nero, in the massif of La Sila. The pope and the emperor befriended this foundation; Frederick II. and his wife Constance made important donations to it, and promoted the spread of offshoots of the parent house; while Innocent III., on the 21st of January 1204, approved the “ordo Florensis” and the “institutio” which its founder had bestowed upon it. Joachim died in 1202, probably on the 20th of March.
Of the many prophetic and polemical works that were attributed to Joachim in the 13th and following centuries, only those enumerated in his will can be regarded as absolutely authentic. These are the Concordia novi et veteris Testamenti (first printed at Venice in 1519), the Expositio in Apocalypsin (Venice, 1527), the Psalterium decem chordarum (Venice, 1527), together with some “libelli” against the Jews or the adversaries of the Christian faith. It is very probable that these “libelli” are the writings entitled Concordia Evangeliorum, Contra Judaeos, De articulis fidei, Confessio fidei and De unitate Trinitatis. The last is perhaps the work which was condemned by the Lateran council in 1215 as containing an erroneous criticism of the Trinitarian theory of Peter Lombard. This council, though condemning the book, refrained from condemning the author, and approved the order of Floris. Nevertheless, the monks continued to be subjected to insults as followers of a heretic, until they obtained from Honorius III. in 1220 a bull formally recognizing Joachim as orthodox and forbidding anyone to injure his disciples.
It is impossible to enumerate here all the works attributed to Joachim. Some served their avowed object with great success, being powerful instruments in the anti-papal polemic and sustaining the revolted Franciscans in their hope of an approaching triumph. Among the most widely circulated were the commentaries on Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel, the Vaticinia pontificum and the De oneribus ecclesiae. Of his authentic works the doctrinal essential is very simple. Joachim divides the history of humanity, past, present and future, into three periods, which, in his Expositio in Apocalypsin (bk. i. ch. 5), he defines as the age of the Law, or of the Father; the age of the Gospel, or of the Son; and the age of the Spirit, which will bring the ages to an end. Before each of these ages there is a period of incubation, or initiation: the first age begins with Abraham, but the period of initiation with the first man Adam. The initiation period of the third age begins with St Benedict, while the actual age of the Spirit is not to begin until 1260, the Church—mulier amicta sole (Rev. xii. 1)—remaining hidden in the wilderness 1260 days. We cannot here enter into the infinite details of the other subdivisions imagined by Joachim, or into his system of perpetual concordances between the New and the Old Testaments, which, according to him, furnish the prefiguration of the third age. Far more interesting as explaining the diffusion and the religious and social importance of his doctrine is his conception of the second and third ages. The first age was the age of the Letter, the second was intermediary between the Letter and the Spirit, and the third was to be the age of the Spirit. The age of the Son is the period of study and wisdom, the period of striving towards mystic knowledge. In the age of the Father all that was necessary was obedience; in the age of the Son reading is enjoined; but the age of the Spirit was to be devoted to prayer and song. The third is the age of the plena spiritus libertas, the age of contemplation, the monastic age par excellence, the age of a monachism wholly directed towards ecstasy, more Oriental than Benedictine. Joachim does not conceal his sympathies with the ideal of Basilian monachism. In his opinion—which is, in form at least, perfectly orthodox—the church of Peter will be, not abolished, but purified; actually, the hierarchy effaces itself in the third age before the order of the monks, the viri spirituales. The entire world will become a vast monastery in that day, which will be the resting-season, the sabbath of humanity. In various passages in Joachim’s writings the clerical hierarchy is represented by Rachel and the contemplative order by her son Joseph, and Rachel is destined to efface herself before her son. Similarly, the teaching of Christ and the Apostles on the sacraments is considered, implicitly and explicitly, as transitory, as representing that passage from the significantia to the significata which Joachim signalizes at every stage of his demonstration. Joachim was not disturbed during his lifetime. In 1200 he submitted all his writings to the judgment of the Holy See, and unreservedly affirmed his orthodoxy; the Lateran council, which condemned his criticism of Peter Lombard, made no allusion to his eschatological temerities; and the bull of 1220 was a formal certificate of his orthodoxy.
The Joachimite ideas soon spread into Italy and France, and especially after a division had been produced in the Franciscan order. The rigorists, who soon became known as “Spirituals,” represented St Francis as the initiator of Joachim’s third age. Certain convents became centres of Joachimism. Around the hermit of Hyères, Hugh of Digne, was formed a group of Franciscans who expected from the advent of the third age the triumph of their ascetic ideas. The Joachimites even obtained a majority in the general chapter of 1247, and elected John of Parma, one of their number, general of the order. Pope Alexander IV., however, compelled John of Parma to renounce his dignity, and the Joachimite opposition became more and more vehement. Pseudo-Joachimite treatises sprang up on every hand, and, finally, in 1254, there appeared in Paris the Liber introductorius ad Evangelium aeternum, the work of a Spiritual Franciscan, Gherardo da Borgo San Donnino. This book was published with, and as an introduction to, the three principal works of Joachim, in which the Spirituals had made some interpolations. Gherardo, however, did not say, as has been supposed, that Joachim’s books were the new gospel, but merely that the Calabrian abbot had supplied the key to Holy Writ, and that with the help of that intelligentia mystica it would be possible to extract from the Old and New Testaments the eternal meaning, the gospel according to the Spirit, a gospel which would never be written; as for this eternal sense, it had been entrusted to an order set apart, to the Franciscan order announced by Joachim, and in this order the ideal of the third age was realized. These affirmations provoked very keen protests in the ecclesiastical world. The secular masters of the university of Paris denounced the work to Pope Innocent IV., and the bishop of Paris sent it to the pope. It was Innocent’s successor, Alexander IV., who appointed a commission to examine it; and as a result of this commission, which sat at Anagni, the destruction of the Liber introductorius was ordered by a papal breve dated the 23rd of October 1255. In 1260 a council held at Arles condemned Joachim’s writings and his supporters, who were very numerous in that region. The Joachimite ideas were equally persistent among the Spirituals, and acquired new strength with the publication of the commentary on the Apocalypse. This book, probably published after the death of its author and probably interpolated by his disciples, contains, besides Joachimite principles, an affirmation even clearer than that of Gherardo da Borgo of the elect character of the Franciscan order, as well as extremely violent attacks on the papacy. The Joachimite literature is extremely vast. From the 14th century to the middle of the 16th, Ubertin of Casale (in his Arbor Vitae crucifixae), Bartholomew of Pisa (author of the Liber Conformitatum), the Calabrian hermit Telesphorus, John of La Rochetaillade, Seraphin of Fermo, Johannes Annius of Viterbo, Coelius Pannonius, and a host of other writers, repeated or complicated ad infinitum the exegesis of Abbot Joachim. A treatise entitled De ultima aetate ecclesiae, which appeared in 1356, has been attributed to Wycliffe, but is undoubtedly from the pen of an anonymous Joachimite Franciscan. The heterodox movements in Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries, such as those of the Segarellists, Dolcinists, and Fraticelli of every description, were penetrated with Joachimism; while such independent spirits as Roger Bacon, Arnaldus de Villa Nova and Bernard Délicieux often comforted themselves with the thought of the era of justice and peace promised by Joachim. Dante held Joachim in great reverence, and has placed him in Paradise (Par., xii. 140–141).
See Acta Sanctorum, Boll. (May), vii. 94–112; W. Preger in Abhandl. der kgl. Akad. der Wissenschaften, hist, sect., vol. xii., pt. 3 (Munich, 1874); idem, Gesch. d. deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter, vol. i. (Leipzig, 1874); E. Renan, “Joachim de Flore et l’Évangile éternel” in Nouvelles études d’histoire religieuse (Paris, 1884); F. Tocco, L’Eresia nel medio evo (Florence, 1884); H. Denifle, “Das Evangelium aeternum und die Commission zu Anagni” in Archiv für Literatur- und Kirchengesch. des Mittelalters, vol. i.; Paul Fournier, “Joachim de Flore, ses doctrines, son influence” in Revue des questions historiques, t. i. (1900); H. C. Lea, History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, vol. iii. ch. i. (London, 1888); F. Ehrle’s article “Joachim” in Wetzer and Welte’s Kirchenlexikon. On Joachimism see E. Gebhardt, “Recherches nouvelles sur l’histoire du Joachimisme” in Revue historique, vol. xxxi. (1886); H. Haupt, “Zur Gesch. des Joachimismus” in Briegers Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch., vol. vii. (1885). (P. A.)
- Preger is the only writer who has maintained that the three books in their primitive form date from 1254.