Joachim of Fiore

Joachim of Flora, in a 15th-century woodcut.

Joachim of Fiore, also known as Joachim of Flora and in Italian Gioacchino da Fiore (c. 1135 – 30 March 1202), was an Italian theologian and the founder of the monastic order of San Giovanni in Fiore. Later followers, inspired by his works in eschatology and historicist theories, are called Joachimites.


Born in the small village of Celico near Cosenza, in Calabria (at the time part of the Kingdom of Sicily), Joachim was the son of Mauro, a well-placed notary, and of Gemma, his wife. He was educated at Cosenza, where he became first a clerk in the courts, and then a notary himself. In 1166-1167 he worked for Stephen du Perche, archbishop of Palermo (c. 1167-1168) and counsellor of Margaret of Navarre, regent for the young William II of Sicily.

A 1573 fresco depicting Gioacchino da Fiore, in the Cathedral of Santa Severina, Calabria, Italy

About 1159 he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, an episode about which very little is known, save that he underwent a spiritual crisis and conversion in Jerusalem that turned him away from a worldly life. When he returned, he lived as a hermit for several years, wandering and preaching before joining the Cistercian abbey of Sambucina near Luzzi in Calabria, as a lay brother, where he devoted his time to lay preaching. Under pressure from the ecclesiastical authorities, he joined the monks of the Abbey of Corazzo, and was ordained a priest, apparently in 1168. He applied himself entirely to Biblical study, with a special view to uncovering the arcane meanings he thought were concealed in the Scriptures, especially in the apostle John's Revelation. To his dismay, the monks of Corazzo proclaimed him their abbot (c. 1177). He then attempted to join the monastery to the Cistercian Order, but was refused because of the community's poverty. In the winter of 1178 he appealed in person to William II, who granted the monks some lands.

In 1182 Joachim appealed to Pope Lucius III, who relieved him of the temporal care of his abbey, and warmly approved of his work, bidding him continue it in whatever monastery he thought best. Joachim spent the following year and a half at the Cistercian Abbey of Casamari, where he engaged in writing his three great books, his dictations keeping three scribes busy night and day; there the young monk, Lucas (afterwards Archbishop of Cosenza), who acted as his secretary, was amazed to see so famous and eloquent a man wearing such rags, and the wonderful devotion with which he preached and said Mass.

In 1184 he was in Rome, interpreting an obscure prophecy found among the papers of Cardinal Matthew of Angers, and was encouraged by Pope Lucius III. Succeeding popes confirmed the papal approbation, though his manuscripts had not begun to circulate. Joachim retired first to the hermitage of Pietralata, writing all the while, and then founded the Abbey of Fiore (Flora) in the mountains of Calabria. He refused the request of King Tancred of Sicily (r. 1189-1194) to move his new religious foundation to the existing Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria della Matina. Fiore became the center of a new and stricter branch of the Cistercian order, approved by Celestine III in 1198.

In 1200 Joachim publicly submitted all his writings to the examination of Innocent III, but died in 1202 before any judgment was passed. The holiness of his life was widely known: Dante affirmed that miracles were said to have been wrought at his tomb,[1] and, though never officially beatified, he is still venerated as a beatus on May 29.

He theorized the dawn of a new age, based on his interpretation of verses in the Book of Revelation, in which the Church would be unnecessary (which, of course, was considered heresy) and in which infidels would unite with Christians. Members of the spiritual wing of the Franciscan order acclaimed him as a prophet.

His popularity was enormous in the period, and some sources hold that Richard the Lionheart wished to meet him to discuss the Book of Revelation before leaving for the Third Crusade of 1189-1192.

His famous Trinitarian "IEUE" interlaced-circles diagram was influenced by the different 3-circles Tetragrammaton-Trinity diagram of Petrus Alphonsi, and in turn led to the use of the Borromean rings as a symbol of the Christian Trinity (and possibly also influenced the development of the Shield of the Trinity diagram).[2]

Theory of the three ages

Main article: Three Eras

The mystical basis of his teaching is his doctrine of the "eternal gospel," founded on an interpretation of Revelation 14:6 (Rev 14:6, "Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people." NRSV translation.)

His theories can be considered millenarian; he believed that history, by analogy with the Trinity, was divided into three fundamental epochs:

According to Joachim, only in this third Age it will be possible to really understand the words of God in its deepest meanings, and not merely literally. In this period, instead of the parousia (second Advent of Christ), a new Epoch of peace and concord would begin; also, a new religious "order" of spiritual men will arise, thus making the present hierarchy of the Church almost unnecessary.

Joachim distinguished between the "reign of justice" or of "law", in an imperfect society, and the "reign of freedom" in a perfect society.[3]


Main article: Joachimites

Thomas Aquinas confuted his theories in his Summa Theologica, but in The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri placed him in paradise. Among the Spirituals, the stricter branch of the Franciscans, a Joachite group arose, many of whom saw Antichrist already in the world in the person of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (who died in 1250).

As the appointed year approached, spurious works began to circulate under Joachim's name: De Oneribus Prophetarum, an Expositio Sybillae et Merlini ("Exposition of the Sibyl and Merlin") and commentaries on the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah. The Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 condemned some of his ideas about the nature of the Trinity. In 1263 the archbishop Fiorenzo enhanced the condemnation of his writings and those of his follower Gerardo of Borgo San Donnino , joining a commission in Synod of Arles, in which Joachim's theories were declared heretical. The accusation was of having an unorthodox view of the Holy Trinity.

His views also inspired several subsequent movements: the Amalricians, the Dulcinians and the Brethren of the Free Spirit. All of these were eventually declared heretical by the Catholic Church

Of importance is the fact that Joachim himself was never condemned as a heretic by the Church; rather, the ideas and movement surrounding him were condemned. Joachim the man was held in high regard during his lifetime.

Recently, a hoax has been circulating that Barack Obama referred to Gioacchino da Fiore, or Joachim of Fiore, three times in his campaign speeches during the 2008 presidential election.[4] He is said to have spoken of him as a master of contemporary civilization who had sought to create a better world.[5] However, no citation in any actual speech of Obama's quoting or mentioning Joachim has been produced.[6]

Literary references

W.B. Yeats' short story "The Tables of the Law" tells about a single surviving copy of a certain book by Joachim of Flora and its powerful effects on its owner.[7]

Joachim is mentioned in Umberto Eco's medieval mystery The Name of the Rose. His influence on the Franciscan Spirituals and the rediscovery of his books foreseeing the advent of a new age are part of the book's background story in which an inquisitorial debate is held in a remote monastery where a number of murders take place.

The sprawling conspiracy satire and Magickal manual or literary leg-pull entitled the Illuminatus! trilogy of novels by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea also reference Joachim of Fiore repeatedly. His writings fit well with the eschatological tone of the story. The authors attempt to confuse matters and give an air of authenticity to the madness of the various plotlines by including references to real people and events. This technique was used without irony decades later in Baigent and Lees' The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail and again in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.


Dialogi de prescientia Dei

Lesser works include:

See also

"The Eternal Gospel" by Leos Janacek, a 1913 composition described as A legend for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra.


  1. See one reference to Joachim in Paradiso XII.141-2.
  2. "Borromean rings in Christian iconography". 2007-07-27. Retrieved 2012-04-07.
  3. Eric Hobsbawm, Primitive rebels, introduction, Norton Library 1965, p. 11.
  4. "Italy: Obama invited to visit land of monk who inspired him". AKI. Adnkronos International - Italy. 28 August 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
  5. Owen, Richard (March 27, 2009). "Medieval monk hailed by Barack Obama was a heretic, says Vatican". London: The Times. Retrieved 2009-03-27.
  6. Wooden, Cindy (2009-03-30). "The papal preacher, Obama and a medieval monk". Washington, D.C.: Catholic News Service. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  7. Tables of the Law; & The Adoration of the Magi. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
  8. The 1519 Venice edition was reprinted in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1964. Books 1-4 are available in Daniel, E. R. (1983). "Liber De Concordia Novi Ac Veteris Testament". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. 73 (8).. Book V remains only available in the 1519 (and 1964) edition.
  9. The 1527 Venice edition was reprinted in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1964.
  10. The 1527 Venice edition was reprinted in Frankfurt-am-Main, 1965. A more modern Latin text is in Joachim von Fiore, Psalterium decem cordarum, ed. Kurt-Victor Selge. (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Quellen zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 20; Ioachimi Abbatis Florensis Opera Omnia, 1.) Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2009.
  11. The Latin text is in Tractatus super quatuor Evangelia di Gioacchino da Fiore, ed. by E. Buonaiuti (Rome, 1930).
  12. Potestà, G. L. (2000). "'Die genealogia. Ein frühes Werk Joachims von Fiore und die Anfänge seines Geschichtsbildes'". Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters. 56: 55–101. ISSN 0012-1223.
  13. Matthias Kaup, ed, De prophetia ignota: eine frühe Schrift Joachims von Fiore, (Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1998).
  14. The Latin text is in Adversus Iudeos di Gioacchino da Fiore, ed. A. Frugoni (Rome, 1957).
  15. The Latin text is in De articulis fidei di Gioacchino da Fiore. Scritti minori, ed. by E. Buonaiuti (Rome, 1936).
  16. Professio fidei, in P de Leo, ed, Gioacchino da Fiore. Aspetti inediti della vita e delle opere, Soneria Mannelli 1988, pp. 173-175.
  17. The Latin text is in C Baraut, 'Un tratado inédito de Joaquín de Flore: De vita sancti Benedicti et de officio divino secundum eius doctrinam ', Analecta sacra Tarraconensia, 24 (1951), pp 33-122.
  18. Praephatio super Apocalipsim, in K-V Selge, ed, 'Eine Einführung Joachims von Fiore in die Johannesapokalypse', Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters, 46 (1990), pp 85-131.
  19. Intelligentia super calathis ad abbatem Gafridum, in P de Leo, ed, Gioacchino da Fiore. Aspetti inediti della vita e delle opere, Soveria Mannelli 1988, pp 125-148.
  20. The Latin text is printed in K-V Selge, ed, 'Ein Traktat Joachims von Fiore über die Drangsale der Endzeit: De ultimis tribulationibus ', Florensia 7 (1993), pp 7-35. The English translation is in E. Randolph Daniel, 'Abbot Joachim of Fiore: The De ultimis tribulationibus', in A Williams, ed, Prophecy and Millenarianism: Essays in Honour of Marjorie Reeves, (Harlow: Longmans, 1980), 167-189.
  21. The Latin text is in Edward Kilian Burger, ed, Joachim of Fiore, Enchiridion super Apocalypsim, Studies and Texts, 78, (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986).
  22. M Reeves and B Hirsch-Reich, eds, 'The Seven Seals in the Writings of Joachim of Fiore', Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 21 (1954), pp 239-247.
  23. Marjorie Reeves and Beatrice Hirsch-Reich, The Figurae of Joachim of Fiore, (1972). For examples, see
  24. "Frank Schleich, Ascende calve: the later series of the medieval pope prophecies"". Retrieved September 2, 2016.

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