Abbot Joachim’s Book of Illustrations

How well were Joachim’s later ideas known?

Joachim had for a long time been well known in Papal, Italian and Cistercian circles, and his renown had certainly spread as far as Northern France.  He had expounded the vision of the 7-headed dragon of the Apocalypse to Richard I of England at Messina.  He was known to the writer, Ralph of Coggeshall, for his method of concordance between the Testaments and for his interpretation of the seven seals.  Robert d’Auxerre, writing under the year 1186 (Joachim’s meeting with Pope Urban III), summarised his pattern of seven periods of history and mentioned his prophecy of the coming of Antichrist in two generations’ time.[1]  None of these, however, testify to any knowledge of the 3 statūs of the Trinity.  Many historians have therefore accepted that Joachim’s doctrine of the three ages was not generally known during his lifetime, and certainly not in France.[2]

These are not, though, the only witnesses.  Geoffroy d’Auxerre (Abbot of Clairvaux in 1162, of Fossanova in 1171, of Hautecombe in 1176 and still alive in 1188),[3] criticised Joachim for his “blasphemous novelties” concerning the advent of the reign of God and the first resurrection.[4]  It is not wholly clear what he meant by that; but he had probably heard of Joachim’s Sabbath age of peace on this earth, and made the assumption that this earthly reign of God was a first resurrection, before the final end of the world and a second resurrection to eternal life in heaven.

Petrus Cantor, in his commentary on Exodus in the 1180s, criticised Joachim by name for attempting to predict the future, calling him ille Joachim (this Joachim), which suggests that the name was already familiar to his Parisian student audience.[5]  A little later, Godefroy de Saint-Victor, writing his Microcosmus in Paris in about 1190-1192, criticised a teacher who voiced the opinion that the Roman Church and its gifts of grace would cease in the future, to make way for the earthly rule of Christ.[6]  This unnamed teacher seems to have heard of Joachim’s third state; and as he was presumably teaching in Paris, he could certainly have influenced the Amalricians.  Maybe this teacher was Amaury de Beynes himself.  Perhaps the priory of Saint-Victor had been anxious about Amaury’s teachings for over a decade before his death.

Garnier de Rochefort’s sermon on the Holy Trinity and the tract Against the Amalricians both used Joachim’s illustration of the Trinitarian significance of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH): this is the Hebrew name for God which must not be uttered.  Garnier’s way of pronouncing this was jeveth.  He then proceeded to break it down into three parts, je, ev and veth, to symbolise the Trinitarian nature of God.[7]  This was taken from Joachim, and not Joachim’s source, Petrus Alfonsi, who used the ineffable Hebrew form YHWH.[8]  Garnier’s accompanying sketches are very similar to the figure of the 10-stringed psaltery in a book of Joachim’s collected illustrations, known as the Book of Illustrations (Liber Figurarum).[9]  Some of these illustrations must have been in circulation in Garnier’s time.  Such figurae (tables, plans, lists and sketches) of Joachim’s patterns of correspondence are the most likely works to have spread Joachim’s ideas early on.  A brief look at this work is required, to see whether it could have brought Joachim’s ideas of the third status to the Amalricians.

Illustrating Joachim

Joachim’s life-time project was built on Biblical correspondences and patterns. Correspondences are easier to study in juxtaposed tables; and patterns often need to be visualised, sometimes in geometrical sketches.  It would, therefore, make complete sense for Joachim to order his thoughts on paper in the form of tables and diagrams.  This seems to be what he did.  These sketches were then collected together and sent to people who might be interested.  These lists and pictures would make a much easier introduction to Joachim’s thoughts than his books.  The whole collection is now known as The Book of Illustrations (Liber Figurarum).  They do not illustrate any particular sections of any of his books.  Since they experiment with, expand upon and make sense of, his ideas in general, they are probably the work of the Abbot himself.[10]  Like the writings, they originate from different stages in his development.

It is clear from a letter, which is known as The Letter about the Enclosed Illustrations (Epistola subsequentium figurarum), that Joachim was in the habit of circulating his diagrams to friends (probably fellow Cistercians) for their help and criticism, as early as 1176.[11]  An 1176 text comments upon sketches of a double tree,[12] some tables of concords and the seven seals and their openings.  Two manuscripts, into which this letter and its figurae have been copied, are very early.[13]  The date of the Paris one may be 1203 because, in one of the tables of concords between the Testaments, the Christian generations are marked in 30-year periods with the name of the Pope at the time.  The 40th generation ends in 1200, against which is written Innocentius III cum V (Pope Innocent III + 5 years).[14]  Innocent III became Pope in 1198 and so it should read Innocentius III cum II.  Did the scribe put at the end of his chronology the present date by mistake?  If so, the supplement was copied, perhaps in Paris, in the fifth year of Innocent III’s pontificate, i.e. in 1203.  This could be another pointer to the early interest in Joachim’s illustrations in the north.

The most complete manuscript of the whole Book of Illustrations (Liber Figurarum), upon which most of the remainder of this chapter is based, MS Oxford Corpus Christi 255A, also dates from the earliest years of the 13th century, and was copied either in France[15] or Italy.[16]  It is certainly possible that the Amalricians could have had access to some of Joachim’s illustrations, and so these will be examined for material that might have provided inspiration.

Intimations of a sabbath age in the future

In the Oxford Corpus Christi manuscript, there are many tables of concords between the two Testaments, between the 7 seals and their openings and one table of the 7 aetates or stages of religious history.[17]  This last has the 6th aetas beginning with John the Baptist, after which it says “clarification of the Son”.  The beginning of the 7th aetas comes just after “present time” (presens tempus) and is followed by “clarification of the Holy Spirit” (clarificatio spiritus).  Then there is an 8th aetas, which is outside history, for the resurrection of the dead to eternal life.[18]  It looks as if the Christian and churchly understanding of the sixth period will make way for the more complete and direct understanding of the Holy Spirit in the seventh period, which will occur here on earth.

The fact that the sixth period is soon to end with the appearance of Antichrist, is apparent from the picture of the 7-headed dragon (of Rev.13), where the 7 persecutors of this sixth (Christian) period are given as: Herodes, Nero, Constantius, Mahometh, Melsemothus, Saladinus, Antichristus.[19]  The 5th name is presumably based on the word Muslim and refers to a past period of Islamic conquest, maybe the one that led to the First Crusade.  The present time is in the persecution of Saladin.  The next tribulation will be the last, that of the Antichrist.

A message for the future can be drawn from the second of two trees, known as the Tree of the Second Advent and the Tree of the Holy Spirit.  They both show a tree growing from Adam to Jacob (with 12 branches for the 12 tribes of Israel), through 42 generations to Jesus Christ (with 12 branches for  the 12 Churches) and then through 42 generations to the top.  The first tree ends at the second advent of Christ, but the second bursts into a profusion of new growth at that point labelled the Holy Spirit.[20]

The Trees with Side-Shoots

An interesting pair of trees is the sketch of the Trees with Side-Shoots, which is reproduced in translation in fig.1.  The tree on the left is based on the family tree of the Patriarchs of Genesis.  This is taken as a paradigm for the spiritual development of all the descendants of the Patriarchs in the Judaeo-Christian world, represented by the tree on the right.[21]

At the bottom, there are buds; farther up are leaves, flowers and fruit; and at the top the luxuriant growth is likened, by M.Reeves and B.Hirsch-Reich, to the crown of a palm tree, a heavenly palm tree of exaltation.[22]  These trees of spiritual inheritance are two of the most elaborate and beautiful pictures in the collection.

Note that it is usually the junior partner, the later arrival, the younger brother, who passes on the all-important spiritual tradition, represented by the main stem: Jacob rather than Esau; the youngest, Joseph, not the eldest, Reuben. Although the Jews were the first chosen people, the Gentiles accepted Christ and so received the favour of the Holy Spirit. Although the Greek Church was far more spiritual than the Latin in the early Christian centuries, it is now the Latin Church that will pass on that spiritual understanding.[23]  The final luxuriant growth of the spirit will grow out of the Cistercian movement.

The Tree-Ladders

The illustration, known as the Tree-Ladder of the Three Judgements (see fig.2), gives a clear visual image of the three-fold nature of universal religious growth.  The line of development for each stage of religious understanding, – Jewish, Christian and spiritual, – grows out of the previous one, and is symbolised by a key female figure from the Bible.[24]  In the version of the Book of Illustrations which is found in the Dresden manuscript, the third ladder ends in the “judgement of the church of the third state”,[25] which seems to make better sense than “judgement of Israel”.  Joachim had probably envisaged a correspondence between the literal Jerusalem of the first state and the spiritual Jerusalem of the last.

There is another, similar tree-ladder, which gives more precise information about chronology.  It states that the church of the Son, which had been sterile from the time of Abraham until that of John the Baptist, would be fecund from then until the “present time”, and that the church of the Holy Spirit, sterile until the present time, would be fecund until the end of the world.  On the third branch of the diagram, between “the present time” and “the persecution of Gog”, which leads to “the end of the world”, is marked “the fructification of the third state”.[26]

The Tree-Circles

In the illustration known as the Tree-Circles,[27] or the two-stemmed tree of Noah (see fig.3), two stems grow up from two of Noah’s sons, Shem, the ancestor of the Semites, and Japhet, the ancestor of the Gentiles.  (Ham is shown as a sterile stump.)  As the 2 stems grow up and cross over each other, they form 3 circles for the 3 ages of religious history.  In the first circle, that of the Old Testament, the Jewish stem is on the left and is flourishing a little bit more than the Gentile one.  In the second circle, the time of the New Testament and the Church, the Gentile or Christian stem is on the left and flourishing.  In the third circle, both stems burst simultaneously into a wealth of luxuriant growth, to symbolise the unimaginable new life, which will become manifest in the third status.[28]  Here, manifested in a very simple and visual form, are many of Joachim’s teachings: on the organic nature of history, on the Trinitarian pattern of religious development, – Jewish under the law of the Father, Christian under the grace of the Son, and spiritual under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, – and on the equal importance of Jews and Gentiles in the age of the spirit.

The Trinitarian Circles

The Trinitarian Circles are even more explicit.[29]  There are 3 circles for the 3 persons of the Trinity (and the 3 parts of the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable name of God, Latinised here as IEVE, and divided into 3 syllables).  The first and the third circles overlap on either side of the centre of the second circle, so that the key Christian moment, the time of John the Baptist, is in all 3 circles.  The circle of the Father is coloured green (perhaps symbolising earth, or nature, or unripe fruit), that of the Son is blue (perhaps symbolising water and air, or baptism, or grace, or ripe fruit), and the third circle is red (perhaps for fire, or the spiritual life, or the sweetest and most luscious fruits).[30]  The three ‘states’ are those of 1) the Mosaic Law, 2) the Christian Gospel and 3) the spiritual interpretation of both.

Human history passes from left to right through 4 columns of human progress, – from Adam (primitive man) – to Moses and Aaron (the priestly law of the Old Testament) – to John the Baptist (the sacramental grace of the New Testament) – to a future spiritual state.  Each has its period of germination or initiation, which is coterminous with the period of fructification of the preceding state.  It is clear that the literal interpretation of the Gospel will give way to the spiritual, during “the present time” (presens tempus), although that is left as an unspecified period.

The circles have had to be omitted, because there is insufficient space on the page.  I have, therefore, tried to simplify, into four vertical columns, and seven horizontal bands, the names and the concepts that are given a special relationship in the sketch, according to their position among the interconnected circles:

Because of the overlapping of the 3 circles, Joachim obtains 4 main divisions, each characterised by a prophet.  The prophet for the last status will be Elijah, who is expected to reappear at the time of the second Advent.  Thus, the status of the Holy Spirit will be announced by both Old and New Testament figures.[32]  Joachim is always keen to stress that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, so that the third status must unite both Jews and Christians.

Other splendid images are less relevant for any possible influence on the Amalricians.  The last image to be mentioned here will be that of the ten-stringed psaltery, which combines a triangle of trinity with a central circle of unity.  The 10 strings represent, on one side, man and the 9 grades of the angelic hierarchy, and on the other, the 3 theological virtues and the 7 gifts of the spirit.[33]  One of the rather daring things in this illustration is that man is not added, as the 10th string, but put at the top of the angelic hierarchy!  This is because man can, thanks to the work of Christ, surpass the angels in his mystical ascent to God, to receive things that no eye has seen nor ear heard,[34] as Joachim explained in the Psalterium.[35]

Joachim and the Amalricians

This has been an incomplete examination of a fascinating body of work, to see whether the Amalricians could have been inspired by it, if they had known about it.  The historian, Norman Cohn, noted the similarity between their doctrine of history and one part of Joachim’s, but could not see how they could have become familiar with abstruse works buried in manuscripts in southern Italy.[36]  While this may have been so in the case of his major works, it was otherwise with his figurae, his illustrations and tables, which were being disseminated, certainly as far north as Northern France, and certainly as early as the first decade of the thirteenth century, as is known from the evidence of Garnier de Rochefort.

Vincent de Beauvais certainly thought that the Amalricians were connected with Joachim and wrote, under the year 1215, of Pope Innocent condemning the doctrine (in the singular) of Joachim and Amaury.[37]  This is a reference to the Lateran Council of 1215.  The two names were juxtaposed.  A condemnation of Amaury was appended to the Council’s chapter On the error of the abbot Joachim, in which the Trinitarian errors of Joachim were censured; but his other works, and particularly the Florensian order he had founded, were praised.  The chapter ends with the sentence:

“We also reject and condemn the most perverse opinion of the impious Amaury, whose mind was so blinded by the father of lies that his teaching is to be reckoned not so much heretical, as mad.”[38]

The Council could not condemn the work of Joachim which had been approved by every Pope since Lucius III.  It did not want to criticise any of his followers in the Florensian order, which probably had supporters in the Council.  It could, however, try to extinguish any potentially dangerous notions of a future age of the spirit, by condemning and ridiculing the Amalricians’ possible or partial use of Joachim’s work.  If the Amalricians did use some of Joachim’s ideas, they selected quite narrowly, taking only the Alpha (triple) interpretation, without any thought for his Omega (dual: Old Testament / New Testament) interpretation.

The Fourth Lateran Council may have made a specific connection between Amaury himself and Joachim’s ideas.  Those who believe that they did not, point out that there is no stated connection between the two condemnations; they have just been put into the same chapter.  Those who think there was probably a link, may wonder whether perhaps it was Amaury de Beynes who was the exponent in Paris of an increasingly spiritual future, which had made Godefroy de Saint-Victor so anxious.  If the Amalricians had gained some knowledge about Joachim’s expectation of the third status of the Holy Spirit, they had probably seen some of his figurae that were in circulation, usually among Cistercians.  Many of the plans and tables that were collected into Joachim’s Book of Illustrations could certainly have been inspiring to Amalrician illuminists.  They would have understood Joachim’s third state as representing both an inner, personal reality and a future hope for society in general.

A change of direction

Now that this search for possible sources is well into the later twelfth century, it is time to transfer our attention to the philosophical – usually Platonist and Hermeticist – speculations of the scholars of that era, who may have contributed to the development of the Amalricians’ ideas.



[1] M.Reeves: Influence… (B.47) pp. 5-13 & 40-41.
[2] This tempted M.Bloomfield and M.Reeves to write, with reference to the doctrine of the 3rd status: “the conception which is later regarded as most characteristic of Joachim had not yet been seized upon.” (Bloomfield & Reeves: Penetration… (B.47) pp.775-6).
[3] J.Leclercq: les écrits… (B.43) pp.274-5.
[4] J.Leclercq: Analecta… (B.43) pp.200-201.
[5] R.E Lerner: Joachim and the Scholastics (B.47) pp.256-7.
[6] Godefroy de St.Victor: Microcosmus (S.30) book 2, chap.103, p.114, lines 15-19.
[7] Garnier de Rochefort: Sermo de sanctissima Trinitate (S.29) col.715C and Contra Amaurianos (A.7) chap.10, p.34.
[8] M.Reeves & B.Hirsch-Reich: The ‘Figurae’ of Joachim of Fiore (Oxford 1972) (B.46) p.39.
[9] Liber Figurarum (S.50) plate 13.
[10] M.Reeves: The ‘Liber Figurarum’… (B.46) p.67.
[11] J.Bignami-Odier: Notes… (B.46) pp.224-6.  S.Wessley (B.46) pp.22-27 thinks it was written by Joachim himself; M.Reeves and B.Hirsch-Reich (1972) (B.46) pp.109-10 think it came from a disciple.
[12] This is probably a fig-tree, representing Old Testament development, from the precursor, Adam, to Christ, the fulfilment, out of which grows a vine, representing the New Testament, from Uzziah, the precursor, to the Second Coming of Christ: Jeanne Bignami-Odier op.cit. p.224.
[13] Paris BN lat.11864, and Zwettl 326 (from the Cistercian abbey of Zwettl), see Wessley (B.46) p.26.
[14] Epistola subsequentium figurarum (S.17) p.224; MS B.N. lat.11864, fol.151v.
[15] F.Saxl (B.46) p.108 n.1; L.Tondelli & M.Reeves & B.Hirsch-Reich (B.46) p.20.
[16] M.Reeves & B.Hirsch-Reich (1972) (B.46) pp.100-101.
[17] M.Reeves: The ‘Liber Figurarum’…(B.46) pp.71-73.
[18] Liber Figurarum (S.50) plate 18.
[19] Ibid. plate 14.
[20] Ibid. plate 1 and plate 2.
[21] Ibid. plate 23.
[22] M.Reeves & B.Hirsch-Reich: The ‘Figurae’ of Joachim of Fiore (Oxford 1972) (B.46) p.181.
[23] ibid. pp.174-177.
[24] Liber Figurarum (S.50) plate 21.  It may be interesting to note that the sacramental Christian Church of the second status descends from Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, while the third status grows out of the experience of the Spirit of Christ, the son of Mary.  Some of Joachim’s contemporary churchmen might not have appreciated that too much.
[25] Ibid: Dresden MS plate 21. M.Reeves & B.Hirsh-Reich: op.cit. p.167.
[26] Liber Figurarum (S.50) plate 20.
[27] Ibid. plate 22.
[28] M.Reeves: The ‘Arbores’… (B.46) p.134.
[29] Liber Figurarum (S.50) plate 11.
[30] D.West & S.Zimdars-Swartz (B.45) p.21; only some of the suggested symbolism comes from them; I am responsible for the others.
[31] The anagogical interpretation of scripture, which will be initiated in the third status is, presumably, its meaning for the afterlife, the eternal life in God, which will follow the end of the world.
[32] The double appearance of E in IEVE signifies the double appearance of Elijah and the double procession of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity: M.Reeves & B.Hirsch-Reich: The ‘figurae’ of Joachim of Fiore (Oxford 1972) (B.46) pp.197-8. 
[33] Ibid. plate 13; pp.201-208; D.West & S.Zimdars-Swartz op.cit. p.56 and p.81.
[34] 1 Cor.2:9.
[35] Psalterium decem chordarum (S.45) 1:7 fol.243r; see M.Reeves & B.Hirsch-Reich op.cit. p.203.
[36] N.Cohn (B.7) p.155.  Calabria may seem, culturally and geographically, to have been a long way from Paris, but in the late 12th century, it was part of the powerful Kingdom of Sicily, which many people had cause to visit for many different reasons, including those of Mediterranean trade, Norman landholding, crusading, medicine, and the study of Greek and Arabic works, as well as Papal diplomacy,- which had tried to use Sicily to maintain a double balance of power, in Italy against the Western (German) Empire, and in the Mediterranean against the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire: D.Matthew (B.49) pp.75-6 & pp.114-121; H.Takayama (B.49) pp.59-71.
[37] Vincent de Beauvais (A.20) book 30, chap.64, p.166.
[38] The 4th Lateran Council (A.12) col.986 : “ reprobamus etiam et damnamus perversissimum dogma impii Amalrici, cuius mentem sic pater mendacii excaecavit, ut eius doctrina non tam haeretica censenda sit, quam insana.”

%d bloggers like this: