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.
On Good Friday in 1196, Empress Constance, also Queen of Sicily, summoned Joachim of Fiore to Palermo to hear her confession in the Palatine Chapel. Initially the empress sat on a raised chair, but when Joachim told her that as they were at the places of Christ and Mary Magdalene, she needed to lower herself, she sat on the ground.
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, and, though never officially beatified, he is still venerated[by whom?] 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 and in which infidels would unite with Christians. Members of the spiritual wing of the Franciscan order acclaimed him as a prophet.
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).
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:
The Age of the Father, corresponding to the Old Testament, characterized by obedience of mankind to the Rules of God;
The Age of the Son, between the advent of Christ and 1260, represented by the New Testament, when Man became the son of God;
The Age of the Holy Spirit, impending, ushered in by an Angel with a sword, when mankind was to come in direct contact with God, reaching the total freedom preached by the Christian message. The Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, a new dispensation of universal love, would proceed from the Gospel of Christ, but transcend the letter of it. In this new Age the ecclesiastical organization would be replaced and the Order of the Just would rule the Church. This Order of the Just was later identified with the Franciscan order by his follower Gerardo of Borgo San Donnino.
According to Joachim, only in this third age will it be possible to truly understand the words of God in their 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.
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 the Synod of Arles, in which Joachim's theories were declared heretical. The accusation was of having an unorthodox view of the Holy Trinity.
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.
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.
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 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.
A hoax circulated that Barack Obama referred to Joachim's third age three times in his campaign speeches during the 2008 presidential election. He is said to have spoken of him as a master of contemporary civilization who had sought to create a better world, but there is no evidence Obama ever quoted or mentioned Joachim.
Dialogi de prescientia Dei
Liber Concordiae Novi ac Veteris Testamenti (Harmony of the Old and New Testaments/Book of Concordance), completed in 1200.
Expositio in Apocalipsim (Exposition of the Book of Revelation), finished around 1196–1199. The Liber introductoris in Apocalypsim, sometimes cited as a separate work, forms an introduction to this.
Psalterium Decem Cordarum (Psaltery of Ten Strings).
Tractatus super quatuor Evangelia (Treatise on the four Gospels).
Adversus Judeos (also known as Exhortatorium Iudeorum), probably written in the early 1180s.
De articulis fidei, probably written in the early 1180s.
Professio fidei, probably written in the early 1180s.
Tractatus in expositionem vite et regule beati Benedicti, sermons belonging to the late 1180s.
Praephatio super Apocalipsim. Written around 1188–1192.
Intelligentia super calathis. Written in 1190–1.
De ultimis tribulationibus, which is a short sermon by Joachim.
Enchiridion super Apocalypsim. Written in 1194-6, this is an earlier and shorter version of the Liber introductorius that prefaces Joachim's Expositio in Apocalipsim.
De septem sigillis. It is uncertain when this was written.
The Liber figurarum was drawn together soon after Joachim's death in 1202, and is a collection of 24 'figurae' drawn by Joachim. The name was used in thirteenth-century manuscripts to describe a work attributed to Joachim of Fiore, but it was only in the mid-twentieth century that it was identified in relation to three extant manuscripts.
The late thirteenth-century set of pseudo-prophecies, united with a later series under the title Vaticinia de Summis Pontificibus was falsely attributed to Joachim of Fiore without any basis in truth.
^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). doi:10.2307/1006385. JSTOR1006385.. Book V remains only available in the 1519 (and 1964) edition.
^The 1527 Venice edition was reprinted in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1964.
^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.
^The Latin text is in Tractatus super quatuor Evangelia di Gioacchino da Fiore, ed. by E. Buonaiuti (Rome, 1930).
^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. ISSN0012-1223.
^Matthias Kaup, ed, De prophetia ignota: eine frühe Schrift Joachims von Fiore, (Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1998).
^The Latin text is in Adversus Iudeos di Gioacchino da Fiore, ed. A. Frugoni (Rome, 1957).
^The Latin text is in De articulis fidei di Gioacchino da Fiore. Scritti minori, ed. by E. Buonaiuti (Rome, 1936).
^Professio fidei, in P de Leo, ed, Gioacchino da Fiore. Aspetti inediti della vita e delle opere, Soneria Mannelli 1988, pp. 173–175.
^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.
^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.
^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.
^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.
^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).
^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.
Thomas Gil, "Zeitkonstruktion als Kampf- und Protestmittel: Reflexionen über Joachim's von Fiore Trinitätstheologische Geschichtskonstruktion und deren Wirkungsgeschichte." In Constructions of Time in the Late Middle Ages, ed. Carol Poster and Richard Utz (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997), pp. 35–49.
Henri de Lubac, La Postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore, Lethielleux, 1979 and 1981 (in French)
Marjorie Reeves, Joachim of Fiore & the prophetic future : a medieval study in historical thinking, Stroud : Sutton Pub., 1999.
Gian Luca Potestà, Il Tempo dell'apocalisse - Vita di Gioacchino da Fiore, Laterza, Bari, 2004.
Valeria de Fraja, Oltre Cîteaux. Gioacchino da Fiore e l'ordine florense, Viella, Roma 2006.
E. Randolph Daniel, Abbot Joachim of Fiore and Joachimism, Variorum Collected Studies Series, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2011.
P. Lopetrone, L'effigie dell'abate Gioacchino da Fiore", in Vivarium, Rivista di Scienze Teologiche dell'Istituto Teologico S. Pio X di Catanzaro, Anno XX, n. 3, Edizioni Pubblisfera 2013, pp. 361–386.
"The Eternal Gospel" by Leoš Janáček, a 1913 composition described as A legend for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra.