A World Renaissance

Pythagoras and Plato attached their names to the power of numbers. Each number carries a symbolic charge. The simplest are the most meaningful. They can be associated by imagination with the higher functions of the soul.

The 1, or « unity », symbolizes intelligence because it is unified in intuition or in concept. Through intuition or concept intelligence grasps what makes the “unity” of the thing, and thereby reveals itself as « one ».

The 2, or « duality », represents science, because it starts from a principle, to reach a conclusion. It goes from one to the other, and thus generates the idea of duality.

The 3, or « trinity », is the number associated with opinion. The opinion goes from one to two (which makes three): it starts from a single principle but reaches two opposite conclusions. One seems accepted, provisionally « concluded », but the other remains « fear », always possible. The opinion, by its intrinsic doubt, introduces a ternary ambiguity.

The 4, or « quaternity », is associated with the senses. The first of the quaternities is the idea of the body, which consists of “four angles”, according to Plato.

The 1, 2, 3 and 4 altogether symbolize the fact that all things are known either by intelligence, or by science, or by opinion, or by the senses.

Unity, duality, trinity and quaternity are « engrammed » in the soul.

From this, Plato concludes that the soul is « separated ».

It is « separated » from matter and the body because it is composed of four unalterable, eternal numbers that serve as its essential principles.

How could one deny the eternity of the 1, 2, 3, 4 ?

And if the soul is composed of, or ‘engrammed with’, the ideas of the 1, the 2, the 3 and the 4, how could one deny its own eternity?

This Platonic idea is worth what it is worth. At least we cannot deny in it a certain logic, which combines reason, imagination and myth.

And this idea opens the way for Platonic « great stories » about the soul, the world and the Author, which it is difficult, even today, to throw into the dustbins of History.

But above all, it should be stressed that this idea, as well as the whole Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies that result from it, is bathed in a deep shadow, whose sources come from extremely ancient times.

Twenty centuries after Plato, Marsilio Ficino stated that the construction of the Platonic imagination would not have been possible without the immemorial contribution of seers, diviners, prophets, aruspices, auspices, astrologers, Magi, Sibyls and Pythias. He summed it up as such: « When the soul of man is completely separated from the body, it will embrace, the Egyptians believe, every country and every age. »i

In the midst of the European Renaissance, Marsilio Ficino, a humanist thinker, wanted to reconnect with the mysteries of the East and the lightning-fast, millenary intuitions of their greatest geniuses.

Happy times when Orient and Occident thinkers were seen as allies in the search for answers…

At the dawn of a chaotic third millennium, we need to build the conditions for a World Renaissance, we need to create a new civilization on a global scale.

For the world to live, we need to embrace, in the midst of each of our souls, every country and every age.

i Cf. Marsilio Ficino Platonic Theology

Ancient Iran’s influence on Judaism

Henry Corbin wrote more than fifty years ago a vibrant tribute to the spirituality and philosophy of Iranian Islam, considered in its historical depth. The Ayatollah regime was not in place at the time. Taking a certain distance from the immediate history, Corbin analyses the difference between Iranian shî’ism and sunnism which generally prevails in Arab countries, in a book dedicated to Sohravardî and the Platonicians of Persia.

« Unlike the majority Sunni Islam, for which, after the mission of the last Prophet, humanity has nothing new to expect, the shî’ism keeps the future open by professing that, even after the coming of the « Seal of the Prophets » something is still to be expected, namely the revelation of the spiritual meaning of the revelations made by the great prophets. (…) But this spiritual intelligence will only be complete at the end of our Aiôn, during the parousia of the twelfth Imâm, the Imâm now hidden and mystical pole of the world. »i

Corbin also reviews the exceptional adventure of a « brilliant young thinker » from northwestern Iran, Shihâboddîn Yahyâ Sohrawardî.

This « brilliant thinker », who died in 1191 in Aleppo, Syria, at the age of thirty-six, as a martyr of his cause, had dedicated his young life to « resurrecting the wisdom of ancient Persia » and « repatriating the Hellenized Magi to Islamic Persia, and this thanks to hermeneutics (ta’wil) whose Islamic spirituality offered him the resources. »ii

Corbin’s works shed light on the ancient pendulum movement between East and West, and their intersecting influences over the centuries.

Sohrawardî wanted to celebrate the wisdom of the Hellenized Magi in Islamic Persia. What this Chaldaic Magic refers to? Greek Philosophy?

In any case, Sohrawardî was taking a certain risk, considering the context of his time. But he was also a visionary, from the point of view of the long history.

And Sohravardî paid for his vision with his life.

More than a millennium earlier, the Jewish, Essenian, Qumran sects had recognized their spiritual debt to Iran.

Almost intact texts, the Qumran manuscripts, have been found in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956.

Drawing on the texts of Qumran, Guy G. Stroumsa, a Jerusalem-based researcher, raises the question of the influence of Iranian spirituality on Judaism in his book Barbarian Philosophy.

He reports on the words of the famous religious scholar Shaul Shaked: « It may be imagined that contacts between Jews and Iranians helped in formulating a Jewish theology which, though continuing traditional Jewish motifs, came to resemble fairly closely the Iranian view of the world.»iii

It seems to me fruitful, in our troubled, fanatical, over-informed and under-educated times, to recognize the richness of the cross-fertilization accumulated over the centuries, which has structured the spiritual geography of this immense area, ranging from the Greek West to the « near » and « middle » East, via Egypt and Israel.

iH. Corbin, En islam iranien, p. III.

ii Ibid. p.IV

iiiS. Shaked, Qumran and Iran : Further considerations (1972).