the beginnings of Andalusī mystical discourse can be detected in the writings of various ascetics or renunciants (…). Within approximately one hundred years, i.e., by the mid-Umayyad period, renunciants established their own rural convents (…) and flocked to cities such as Seville where they studied the works of Eastern Sufis such as Maʿrūf Karkhī (d. 200/815), Muhasibi (d. 243/857), Saqaṭī (d. 253/867), Tustarī (d. 283/896), Junayd (d. 289/910), and Abū al-‘Āṣ ibn al-Rabī‘ (d. 341/952).
2. A Solitary Bird Perching on a Vine Branch
So elements can leave the way they came.
The elements are bound birds–injury,
Disease, and death are what can set them free,
Untying their feet from each other, so
Each element’s bird will be free to go.
These sources’ and derivatives’ attractions
Each moment gives our bodies new afflictions,
To tear apart compounded forms by force,
So each part’s bird can fly back to its source.
What stops this quickly happening is God’s power,
Which keeps them joined until the Final Hour.
God says, ‘It’s not time yet, you parts, so wait!
It’s pointless to fly off before your fate.’
Since every part seeks union, how much more
The exiled soul seeks what it had before.
Prudence means, on receiving invitations,
You don’t think ‘They love me’ and buy flirtations.
They are like hunters’ whistles used as bait–
The hunter blows, then, camouflaged, he’ll wait.
He’ll even show a dead bird to pretend
It is the mournful calling of a friend.
Foolish birds think it is one of their kin
And gather round–he will soon flay their skin.
The bird with prudence is the sole exception–
It isn’t fooled by flattery and deception.
Imprudence leads to much repentance, friend.
This knowledge [of the divine light] is what I understand David meant here: Vigilavi, et factus sum sicut passer solitarius in tecto; which means: “I remembered, and I was made similar to the solitary bird on the roof” (Ps 101, 8). It is as if he said: I opened the eyes of my understanding and found myself above all natural intelligences, alone without them on the roof, which is above all else below. Moreover, here he claims that he was made similar to the solitary bird because, when in this manner of contemplation, the soul shares the five characteristics of this bird: the first is that it normally stands on the highest vantage point; and thus the soul, at this stage, enters into a state of the highest contemplation. The second is that its beak is always pointing against the wind; and thus the soul turns its affection to the source of spiritual love, which is God. The third is that this bird is alone, and does not suffer other birds in its vicinity, but instead flies away when approached by others; the contemplative soul is detached from all things, devoid of them all, and does not seek anything but solitude in God. The fourth characteristic of this bird is that it sings very softly; and this is what the soul does when it sings God’s praises with the most harmonious and loving prayers, the most delightful for the soul, and the most pleasing to God. The fifth is that this bird is of no particular colour; the perfect soul is not tainted by sensual desire nor ego, unaffected by any higher or lower considerations. It cannot be described, for it has become an abyss of the knowledge of God that it possesses, as has been said.(my translation, from Ruano de la Iglesia 2005, p. 967)
Twice the bird that perched upon the birdlime labours: that is, once to free itself and, once freed, to cleanse itself from that which still clings to it.
3. Following Ramon Llull’s Example: Sharing Cultural Materials
4. The Christianity of Sufism
Each Sufi is ‘the moment’s son’, but he
Who’s pure is free from time’s grip totally.
States are determined by his will and whim,
And live through Jesus–like breath breathed by him.
Conflicts of Interest
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See (Conde Solares 2019, p. 11).
The fourth volume of this series (The Varieties of Vernacular Mysticism, 1350–1550) had focused on earlier centuries when addressing English, Italian and Dutch vernacular mysticisms (McGinn 2012).
Spirituality is one of the lofty realms vindicating María Rosa Menocal’s optimistic view of the convivencia (Menocal 2003).
Mercedes García-Arenal and Fernando Rodríguez Mediano explore the roots of Spain’s Orientalism in the most appropriate chronological, social and historical coordinates: those coinciding with the finding of the Lead Books of Sacromonte in the late 16th century (García-Arenal and Rodríguez Mediano 2013).
In the 16th century, the Iluministas were victims of official scrutiny and eventual persecution, causing their fall into the realm of heterodoxy. The Inquisition condemned them as a heretical cult, linking them with Protestantism. This broke the natural line of evolution of Christian spirituality, especially after the death of Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros (1436–1517). Cardinal Cisneros had sponsored and encouraged highly emotive spirituality, incorporating popular practices into the canon and promoting the translation and dissemination of the works of European tertiaries (see Conde Solares 2017).
See (Katz 2000) (Mysticism and Sacred Scripture) for the most comprehensive monograph on the theory of contextualist mysticism.
Michael McGaha points to 8th-century Baghdad for the origins of Islamic spiritual systems prior to the consolidation of Sufism. He also agrees that Masarrah was responsible for the early voyage of Islamic mysticism to Spain (McGaha 1997, p. 37). He bases his theory on the mutually reinforcing evidence produced by text and biography (McGaha 1997, pp. 37–39).
According to Ebstein, the Ismaili Epistles of the Sincere Brethren (Basra, late 10th century–early 11th century) “had a profound impact on mythic–philosophical thought in medieval al-Andalus. Many themes which are found in the Epistles–the Divine creative world in its Neoplatonic context; the hierarchal view of human society and of the universe at large; the figure of the perfect man; the notion of parallel worlds; or the perception of man and the cosmos as Divine books–resurface in the writings of both Ibn Masarra and Ibn al-ʿArabī, and thus point to the close affinity between these various authors” (Ebstein 2013, p. 235).
The “Cristo de la Cepa” is currently housed in the museum of the cathedral of Valladolid. There are other variations of the same theme, such as a 16th-century “Santo Cristo de la Cepa y la Salud”, locally attributed to Isidro de Villoldo (d. c. 1540) and currently held by the Museo de Santiago in Carrión de los Condes, following the secularization of the Benedictine monastery of San Zoilo.
The most comprehensive of studies on Ibn Barrajān, Casewit’s The Mystics of al-Andalus highlights how this mystic has often been misunderstood, in no small part because his works have “remained scattered in manuscript libraries” until now, with the main thrust of secondary literature on him being biographical (Casewit 2017, p. 8). Casewit plausibly discredits Ibn Barrajān’s supposed indebtedness to al-Ghazali (1058–1111), often simply attributed by his epithet of “Ghazali of al-Andalus” (Casewit 2017, p. 9; cf. Bellver 2013). A direct influence of Suhrawardī on Ibn Barrajān is yet to be substantiated. Barrajān was an important advocate of Mahdism, the eschatological belief in the arrival of the redeemer of Islam (accompanied by Jesus). For Bellver, his biographical vicissitudes in late Almoravid al-Andalus were partially “the result of the growing tensions produced by the shifting of religious authority from transmitted knowledge to purity of heart and intimacy with God rather than the result of his leading or inspiring a Sufi uprising against the Almoravids, as was the case with Ibn Qasī” (Bellver 2013, p. 680).
See Denis Gril’s edition (Gril 2006).
Zabor explores the biographical connection between the Persian Sufi and his contemporary from Murcia: “Rumi, recognized within the Sufi tradition as its ultimate exemplar of divine and spiritual Love, is not Ibn ‘Arabi’s opposite but his complement. Ibn ‘Arabi is alleged to have seen the child Rumi and to have remarked upon his future greatness, but the two are more substantially and convincingly linked through Ibn ‘Arabi’s adopted son and great disciple Sadruddin i-Konevi, who was a friend and collaborator of Rumi’s in Konya, the capital of thirteenth-century Seljuk Turkey; and it may be that Ibn ‘Arabi and Jelaluddin Rumi are ideally understood in terms of each other, one expressing explicitly what is implicit in his counterpart” (Zabor 2004).
However, this is not exempt from critical controversy. Domingo Ynduráin proposes that St John’s bird comes from the Phoenix, and he quotes Latin texts from the 16th and 17th centuries that display similar characteristics (Ynduráin 1990, p. 38). William Childers, on the other hand, follows Luce López Baralt’s lead to Suhrawardī (López Baralt 1981, p. 76).
Ángeles Cardona Castro explains how both Ramon Llull and St John of the Cross were able to adopt Sufi schemes because of their early relation with Christianity, linked to Syrian monasteries (Cardona Castro 1984, p. 156).
Of course, these are not disparate cultures: Roger Boase identified the many Arab, Sufi and Islamic elements of the troubadour tradition from its very origins (Boase 1977). Boase follows the learned lead, as well as those of Arab epic and lyrical expressions in the music and poetry of the early Muslim world. He also considers etymological clues to decipher the shared moral code of love (Boase 1977, p. 62). St Teresa’s troubles with orthodoxy, which only ended post-mortem when Benedict XIII consecrated her feast day in 1726, were the same that once had plagued many Sufis: a perceived excess in their emotive, subjective experiences that she also shared with the tertiaries of her own gender. Early Sufis, as noted by Michael McGaha, had often been accused of Shiite extremism and of being prone to exaggeration and deception (McGaha 1997, p. 32). In her canon-defining The Ornament of the World, María Rosa Menocal studied the Iberian contexts in which these traditions interacted and thrived (Menocal 2003).
I am following Charles Frazee’s biographical account (Frazee 1967, pp. 235–36).
My translation. Rodrigo Molina cites this quote as proof of the Muslim element in the development of Iberian Christian mysticism (Molina 1970, p. 246).
Cynthia Robinson presents this as an early manifestation of the Passion and Piety of the Virgin as an ecstatic and mystical experience that would be later reproduced by Francesc Eiximenis in his Vita Christi (Robinson 2006, pp. 403, 412).
This controversy can be found in Brian Dutton’s catalogue, as transcribed by the University of Liverpool’s Online Cancionero Project with the following Dutton nomenclature: Severin-Maguire, ID1407 R 1406, PN1-273 (90r), vv. 21–22 (Severin et al. 2007). This debate is studied by Julian Weiss (Weiss 1990, pp. 34–35) and by Conde Solares (2019, pp. 35–49).
See (Conde Solares 2017).
This piece has survived in the Cancionero de Juan Fernández de Ixar (Dutton MN6), the Cancionero de París (Dutton PN5) and the Cancionero de Roma (Dutton RC1).
Shah’s lecture series entitled The Elephant in the Dark: Christianity, Islam and the Sufis marked a watershed moment in our understanding of Sufism as a cultural phenomenon independent of Islam. Cardona Castro believes that European Sufism was founded in pre-Islamic Spain and that many of the soldiers that conquered the Visigoth kingdom were indeed Sufis. Her hypothesis points at Egyptian and Hellenistic origins (Cardona Castro 1984, p. 149).
The Western philological and theological canon shifted in the 19th century, when scholars began to study mysticism as opposed to studying the mystics. This entailed an almost universal recognition that the search for spiritual fulfilment was a core human trait that was shared by all religious codes, East and West (see Schmidt 2003, p. 282).
There is historical continuity in this, even after the fall of Granada, in Northern Africa. The geographical locations that received Andalusians, Mudejars and Moriscos established long-lasting Sufi practices and communities. Cardona Castro finds evidence of Ibn Abbad of Ronda’s importance in the academic canon and in the curriculum of Tunisian, Moroccan and Egyptian universities to this day (Cardona Castro 1984, pp. 155–56).
Ibn Abbad of Ronda’s Letters, today held in the library of El Escorial, confirm the relevance of his doctrine in at least St John’s works.
“God provides you with width of spirit so that you do not abandon yourself when in anguish; He places you in narrow paths in order not to leave you when your spirit expands”; “the sensitive soul extracts its joy from the width of the spirit, but no solace is to be found in oppression” (my translations). See (Cardona Castro 1984, pp. 153, 156).
Junceda defines this brand of Hispanic Stoicism as “senequismo”. The Roman-Cordobese philosopher’s ethos had infused early Christianity, and his medieval reputation, both learned and popular, transcended his proto-Christian sainthood. Above all, a similar moral response came from a defence of their respective faiths based on the universal concept of truth (Junceda 1982, p. 106).
Serafín de Tapia Sánchez studies St John of the Cross’s Morisco environment in “El entorno morisco de San Juan de la Cruz en tierras castellanas” (Tapia Sánchez 1990, pp. 43–76). St John spent time in several villages and cities that hosted significant communities of former Mudéjares, such as Arévalo, Medina del Campo, Salamanca, Pastrana, Ávila, Segovia or Granada (Tapia Sánchez 1990, p. 43). Tapia Sánchez is sceptical about religious dialogue between communities as a potential explanation for St John’s familiarity with Sufi imagery. He argues that relationships between religious communities in the places frequented by St John were probably similar to those in Toledo and Cuenca, where his archival research suggests that daily interactions were of a socioeconomic nature and rarely ideological or religious.
Paradoxically, Cardinal Ximénez de Cisneros could have been one of the most influential catalysts of the popular survival of these practices. Cisneros officially restored the Mozarab liturgical cycle when the Missale secundum regulam and the Breviarium secundum regulam were sent to print in 1500 and 1502 (see study by Pedro Sáinz Rodríguez 1979, p. 54).
This programme included the translation into Spanish vernacular of “tree-shaped” continental volumes such as Pseudo-Bonaventure’s Meditationes Vitae Christi, Bonaventure’s (1221–1274) Lignum Vitae or Ludolph of Saxony’s (1295–1377) Vita Christi, as translated by Ambrosio Montesino (c. 1444–1514) (see Robinson 2006, pp. 389–91).
Michael McGaha also gives credit to this theory (McGaha 1997, p. 49). The Lead Books of Sacromonte are highly evocative of a Christianity that is compatible with Islam, and vice versa.
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