Joachim of Fiore Biography


(History of the World: The Middle Ages)

Article abstract: Joachim developed a persuasive system of historical understanding which evolved through three successive stages culminating in an age of the Holy Spirit filled with bliss and understanding.

Early Life

Joachim of Fiore (archaic, Flora) was born to Maurus, a notary, and Gemma in Celico, near Cosenza, about 1135. Although later writers would claim that the family members were converted Jews, there is no convincing evidence to support this statement. Joachim, who was trained to be a court bureaucrat and notary, entered the service of King William II of Sicily at Palermo as a young man. About 1167, after an illness, he left William’s service to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he decided to follow a religious life. While meditating on Mount Tabor, he experienced his first revelation; as a result, he believed that God had given to him a special insight into scriptural understanding.

Joachim returned to Sicily and lived as a hermit on Mount Etna for a few weeks, and then he traveled back to the vicinity of Cosenza, where he began to live the life of a hermit-preacher. In 1170, he entered the novitiate at a monastery at Corazzo and rose to the position of prior shortly after taking his vows. Seven years later, he was elected abbot of the monastery. Either shortly before his election or shortly thereafter, Corazzo chose to join the Cistercian community.

As the new abbot, Joachim’s first task was to seek association for the Corazzo monastery with a Cistercian motherhouse. Thus, he began to travel almost immediately in search of a monastery which would assume that obligation, going both to Sambucina and to Casamari. He was unsuccessful in convincing the Cistercians in either place to accept Corazzo. Finding a motherhouse for his monastery was doubly important to Joachim as he was anxious to begin writing about his scheme of history and theology. The Cistercian General Council would not authorize his scholarly activities until Corazzo was officially within the Cistercian community. Frustrated with the Cistercians and anxious to begin his writing, he appealed to Pope Lucius III in 1184. Permission was granted to him to begin his studies, and the pope also allowed him a leave of absence from his duties as abbot.

Life’s Work

Joachim returned to Casamari and began to write Liber Concordia Novi ac Veteris Testamenti (1519; book of concords between the Old and New Testaments) and Expositio in Apocalypsim (1527; exposition on the Apocalypse) simultaneously. As he wrote, he realized that he still did not have a clear understanding of the relationship between the Trinity and biblical concords; thus, on Pentecost, 1183 or 1184, he received his second revelation. This revelation was so graphic that he put aside the two manuscripts on which he was working and wrote the first book of his third major treatise, Psalterium decem chordarum (1527; ten-stringed psaltery). Utilizing the imagery of the strings on the musical instrument, Joachim presented a full explanation of the mystery of the Trinity.

Returning to Corazzo the following year, he continued his writing; after failing to understand the meanings of the apocalyptic writings in the Bible, he received his third revelation. While he was again in deep meditation, it seemed as if curtains were lifted within his mind causing “a certain clearness of understanding before the eyes of my mind which exposed to me the fullness of this book of the Apocalypse and the entire concord of the Old and New Testaments.”

In 1186, Joachim visited the new pope, Urban III, and received renewed permission and encouragement to continue his writing. In 1187, however, Urban died; Joachim traveled again to Rome in 1188 to visit Urban’s successor, Clement III. Clement, too, endorsed his writings. By 1189, Joachim was feeling the pressures of growing fame and recognition as an exegete of prophecy, and he was becoming more and more disenchanted with the Cistercian Order, which he believed to be too lax in its religious life. In late winter of that year, he went deep into the Sila Mountains to seek a place of peace and quiet. In May, he settled at San Giovanni in Fiore. As a result, the leadership of the Cistercian Order considered him a renegade. He finally broke with the order when Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, issued a charter to Joachim on October 21, 1194, authorizing a new monastery at San Giovanni in Fiore with Joachim as its abbot. With the charter in hand, Joachim approached Pope Celestine III seeking approval of a constitution for a new religious order; the pope did so by a papal bull on August 25, 1196. Thus the Order of Fiore was born with its motherhouse located in San Giovanni in Fiore in Calabria.

Despite periodic revelations, Joachim never claimed to be a prophet. Instead, he insisted that God had given him the gift of a clearer exegetical understanding of Scripture which enabled him to display a new system of theology and historiography. Joachim’s apocalyptic attitudes and theology of history were a...

(The entire section is 2091 words.)