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Louis Massignon: Messenger and Researcher

This article was published in Oasis 11. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2019-06-19 14:49:54

In 2008 the Association of Friends of Louis Massignon celebrated the centenary of his conversion. It was in fact on 3 May 1908 in Iraq that, in dramatic circumstances, Massignon ‘finds Jesus Christ’ after carrying out archaeological research at al-Ukhaydir. Baghdad then became a city ‘very dear’ to him since it was the place where al-Hallâj had died in 922, the mystic martyr of Islam to whom Massignon went on to dedicate his PhD thesis at the Sorbonne and all his later studies on Islamic mysticism. As professor for a long period of time at the Collège de France (1926-1954), step by step Massignon published a real summa of scientific articles. Father Youakim Moubarac put them together in 1963 in three volumes which came out in Beirut (Dar el-Maaref) under the title of Opera Minora, later to be reprinted without any modifications in Paris in 1969 by Presses Universitaires de France. A certain number of some of the most important texts were missing from this collection and above all no consideration had been given to the annotations and patiently added improvements entered by the Catholic Orientalist in the margin to the reprints of his publications. This is why, encouraged by the Association of Friends of Louis Massignon, Christian Jambet, François Angelier, François L’Yvonnet and Souâd Ayada, members of the steering committee of the same association, offer researchers, thanks to the Robert Laffont editions, a collection of Massignon articles that represents the best of his thought and shows how coherent this is. It would in fact be impossible to separate his scientific articles from his spiritual works. The selected works are grouped together under titles that are as many as the essential themes of the life of their author and range from the most intimate dimension of his faith to the more explicit one of his science. Hence a progression that has been patiently articulated and presented. The Stranger’s visit, Witnesses and intercessors, The essential witness: al-Hallâj, political Massignon: the erudite and the mystic, The teaching at the Collège de France, Islamic thoughts and Christian proximities, Privilege of the Semitic languages, The mirror of the heart and the night of the spirit, Spiritual topographies, Islamic eschatology and Sciitism, Symbolic forms in the land of Islam, A faith opened onto the world: these are the different chapters that gather together the 177 published articles, 46 of which are published for the first time. In the second volume is proposed moreover a table of the concordances for the 131 articles already published in the Opera Minora and which apply also to the 31 articles collected by Vincent Monteil in Parole donnée, in such a way making it possible to compare the different versions. Scholarly introductions to each chapter and ample explanatory notes enable the reader to better place each article in Massignon’s thought. The wonderful preface by Christian Jambet is worth reading, Pour Massignon ‘the most unclassifiable of the great French writers of the XX century.’ What Massignon was is repeatedly expressed in brilliant terms: man of science, man of feeling and man of God. In him ‘the Christian, the learned, the man of action answer each other, strengthening each other [in a] “trans-historical perspective.”.’ According to history everything is dissolved into the common past. According to the trans-historical perspective each one of us is a person that freely creates a fate having the value of a decree. The time of each one of us is united to that of everyone else by means of communion and not community. Massignon decides that such a lesson of providential contingency and freedom of self annulment will be the fate of the scholar and the maxim of the man of faith.’ And this is the message that seems to come out of all his articles as it does from his books. Massignon addresses all those who dare, like Abraham, to receive ‘the others’ as ‘guests of God,’ in turn messengers of the only ‘Stranger’ that every believer waits to receive.