The Angel, Spirit and Intelligence

~Henry Corbin

The idea of the journey into the Orient—that is, of the soul's return to its "home" under the conduct of its Guide, its celestial Self—implies an "angelic pedagogy" that makes the being of the particular soul and the notion of soul in general concurrent with an angelology. This concurrence is particularly clear in the Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, in which the Avicennan angelology pro-pounds its triple hierarchy: there are the Archangels or pure Intelligences, the Kerubim (Cherubs). 

There are the Angels who emanate from them and who are the moving Souls of the celestial spheres. There are the human souls, or "terrestrial angels," who move and govern earthly human bodies. We shall be insistently reminded of the kinship and homology between Animae coelestes and animae humanae. Human souls are in the same relation to the Angel from whom they emanate and who is the tenth of the Kerubim as is each celestial Soul to the Intelligence from whose thought its being is an emanation. Hence it is in imitation of the Anima coelestis that the terrestrial angel or anima humana will realize its angelicity (fereshtagi), which is still virtual precisely because terrestrial. But, unlike the Anima coelestis, the human soul can be false to its being, transgress its limits, and develop the demonic virtuality in itself. 

We shall ... state some characteristics of the Avicennan angelology—in particular, how the notion of soul plays an essential role in it, since it is because of this notion that the cosmological function of the Angel-Intelligence also appears as a soteriology. This latter, in turn, is the consummation of the angelic pedagogy, which finally poses the problem: if our souls are in the same relation to the Active Intelligence (Holy Spirit or Archangel Gabriel) as is each Anima coelestis to its Archangel, the fact nevertheless remains that each Intelligence ('aql) forms with each Soul (nafs) a dyadic whole, a closed universe, a heaven among the heavens, whereas human souls are a multitude in relation to one and the same Intelligence. How is the homology of structure and behavior to be conceived? 

The answer to this problem will be less a theoretical solution than a vision—that of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, for example—from which a fundamental problem of angelology will make its appearance under a new aspect: the problem of specific individuality—that is, of the individuality that is no longer subordinated to a species but is itself its species, its archetype. In establishing its own angelology, and with it all the aspects foreshadowed by the gnostic feeling of Exile and the ardent desire that is its motive force, Avicennism must have had to confront other systems of angelology proceeding from an entirely different interpretatio mundi. First of all there will be the Koranic angelology, which a felicitous ta'wil will furnish means for leading back to its philosophical truth. There will be the far more serious conflict with the Averroistic angelology. There will be the uneasiness aroused in Christendom by this angelology, which Latin Avicennism will be unable to make current in orthodox and official medieval Scholasticism but whose attested presence enables us to find its connections of kinship and affinity with so many other visions in all ages. Thus it would be necessary to compose a com-plete summa of angelology in order to situate and restore this function of Avicennism. The time for that has not yet come. Here we merely propose a few themes whose meditation will serve to illuminate the trilogy of our recitals. The celestial kinship of the soul is declared in a simple fact whose implication is twofold: it is by awakening to consciousness of itself, by attaining to consciousness of self, that the soul is enabled to know the Angel and the world of the Angel, and, by thus attaining the "clime of the Angel"—that is, the Orient—is eo ipso enabled to realize its exodus from the cosmos that is the Occident—that is, to affirm its transcendence in respect to that cosmos. This, then, implies, between the thinking human soul (nafs natiqa) and the Angel, a relation that is at least a conaturality (which indeed leaves its mark in the twofold intellective power of the soul thus structured after the image of the dyad 'aql-nafs). And it likewise implies a transcendence common to the soul and the Angel in respect to cosmic space. It is by acquiring consciousness of this transcendence that the soul is delivered from this cosmos. To be sure, it is the sense of spatiality pertaining to the cosmic crypt that we must have in mind here; transcendence in respect to sensible space does not imply evanescence into the formless or the unfigurable. Pure Forms have an intelligible "space" of their own.

The equivalence between the pleroma of the Intelligences ('Uqul) and the archangelic pleroma (Arabic Mala'ika, Persian Fereshtagan) forms part of our philosophers' creed. It would be worth while to trace this convergence from the time of late Greek Neoplatonism; Avicennism is, without a doubt, a moment of capital importance in it, and it is presupposed by the Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzan as well as by the Persian commentator's amplifications.

Every occasion for recalling it is seized upon, and it would be superfluous to multiply citations here. However, if it occurs to the philosopher to reflect on the term 'aql designating the Angel-Intelligence, he will not fail to make some surprising observations in regard to the implications of this word, in-tended to represent in Arabic the Greek term Nous, the corresponding Latin term for which will be intellectus or intelligentia (not ratio). In Persian the situation is entirely different. The corresponding term, kharad, directly evokes representations relative to knowledge and immaterial substantiality. In addition it is the equivalent mentioned by the Persian commentator on Hayy ibn Yaqzan: for example, 'aql nazari (intellectus contemplans, speculativus) has as its equiv-alent kharad-e dana. With the representation called up by the Persian term simultaneously in mind, one certainly has less difficulty in conceiving, under the Arabic term 'aql, the substantiality of the angelic being.

From: 'Avicenna and the Visionary Recital'