Introduction – Meditations in Catholic France
This is an unusual piece – very fragmentary, very personal, almost stream of consciousness in places. It touches on, but hardly elaborates, much that was moving through my soul over Noel 2006.
A little context. My wife Kim and I had begun an extended stay in France in unusual and difficult circumstances. And we had begun to confront the profound heritage of Catholic France in places like Chartres, the Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, and most importantly of all Paray-le-Monial, the little French town wherein St. Margaret Mary Alacoque beheld apparitions of Jesus Christ and founded the Cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We had even made the first of several visits to Rennes-le-Chateau. Rennes-le-Chateau whose nineteenth century priest, the Abbé Berenger Sauniere, many associate with the Da Vinci Code, but who seems to us, rather more a traditional Catholic monarchist than the subversive he is taken for …
Yes many things, grave things, were on my heart that Christmas time. And I ventured to jot some – again – very personal notes for a weblog I once wrote. It was a little known weblog and a significant portion of its readers I had personal contact with.
A significant portion also had familiarity with the writings of Valentin Tomberg, once a follower of Rudolf Steiner’s so-called esoteric Christian system of Anthroposophy – but who later in life converted to Catholicism and left Anthroposophy behind. All this may seem strange indeed to the traditional Catholic this website endeavours to aid and support.
I do not deny it: I have a rather odd, esoteric and New Age past, for which I must make reparation. Yet however strange this piece is, it contains nothing unorthodox, even if I raise these unusual matters – such as Steiner’s Anthroposophy or the Da Vinci Code. I can only hope that traditional Catholics will trust me: I want to make reparation for my past.
This piece assumes some familiarity with the story of the Catholic Hermeticist Valentin Tomberg, and those lacking it may find portions of what follows obscure. In these days of the internet, however, the interested reader should not find it too difficult to supply much that is missing here.
The first section of these notes was published. The second part was promised, but never appeared. I am now fulfilling that promise by offering both pieces in a combined single text here. I am eliminating some extraneous and/or unfortunate material, but resisting the temptation to significantly revise the rest. (Small revisions and a few small additions have been made, mainly for clarity, sans indication.)
This piece then is a reflection of my thinking over that Christmas, pretty much as I wrote it then, as I was thinking then. I do not wish to claim more for it than that. I have since moved on to a more deeply traditional Catholicism, of which I speak further in an afterword.
From Noël 2006: On the Sacred Heart of Jesus
I am now in France, in a situation that is self-chosen, entirely self-chosen, and also very demanding and precarious.
Now in the past, for the sake of unknown friends, I´ve tried to keep strictly personal content to a minimum [i.e. in the weblog this originally appeared in].
But for once, I’ll allow myself some laxity – and speak of more intimate things, which may be more of interest to my known friends. I´ll also allow myself the laxity of writing in a very unstructured, fragmentary way. Some of what follows is not just fragments then, but simply scraps, scraps from the contents of my consciousness …
Yes, our situation is very demanding and it seems to Kim and myself, very, very rich. We have been a fifth time to Paray-le-Monial, where St. Margaret Mary Alacoque began receiving visions of His Sacred Heart in 1673 …
Day after day, we have been at Mass there and we have been in the profound stillness that can be felt in the chapels there. “Avez vous bu le silence quelquefois?” Or in the English translation, “Have you ever drunk silence?”
This is a question that the anonymous Catholic author of Meditations on the Tarot asks his readers.
But which he asked in FRENCH. He who had never lived in French culture in all his life.
And this remarkable and very deliberate use of French is not unimportant to my theme … But in the English translation he continues:
If in the affirmative, you know what concentration without effort is.
And concerning this, he says:
It is the profound silence of desires, of preoccupations, of the imagination, of the memory and of discursive thought. One may say that the entire being becomes like the surface of calm water, reflecting the immense presence of the starry sky and its indescribable harmony.
And the waters are so deep, they are so deep! And the silence grows ever increasing … what silence! Its growth takes place through regular waves which, one after another, pass through your being: One wave of silence followed by another wave of more profound silence, then again, a wave of still more profound silence.
Yes, in Paray I have experienced perhaps the deepest and most significant silence of my life. Perhaps. Now, I do not believe that the waves became as profound as our author suggests they can become. But at least, the beginning of such waves did become present. I trust that.
Some of the richest prayers of my life have been spent in silence before the relics of St. Margaret Mary and those of her Jesuit confessor, Saint Claude La Colombiere in their respective chapels. Also sitting before the Blessed Sacrament in another chapel in Paray, I felt moved to write these words in my journal:
There is this Sacred Story trying to unfold between Christ and us. He is trying to heal each and everyone of us. This is amazing. Amazing. Each and every one of us, he is trying to heal.
He is trying to heal ME and billions more like me. It is amazing … He is trying to heal us all. He is trying to heal me. That woman behind me. All of us. Amazing. Completely, utterly amazing. Heal me, and billions, trillions like me. Each of us.
Yes, sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, I was with the faith that this healing was offered through an individual relationship with each of these uncounted entities …
He sought to reach out to each of us through individual relationship … ! And this has so many corollaries. Corollaries. One corollary I also noted in my journal at the time:
He can “use” each of us. (He never wants to “use” any of us!) But he can extend through each of us. We can help him. We can help his work.
So, so many things to dwell upon in pondering this question: “How to help his work?” So many answers to that question. At one level, obedience. Obedience to the deepest matters one is able to discern in one’s prayer. Such obedience, I believe, led Kim and me to France, and to Paray-le-Monial.
Much unfolds for us around the sense of work to be done. Can I speak yet of it? Perhaps in halting fragments or even scraps …
On the Tragedy of Liberal Catholicism
Friends, I am also more and more moved by a beauty I find in many writings, images, works of art associated with the immediate pre-Vatican II era. I who was first a fully fledged, card-carrying New Ager, then a liberal Anglican, then a liberal Catholic, and then …
Words fail. And in France, it seems to me, we see more than anywhere else I have lived, a most concerted effort to BURY the pre-Vatican II church.
The result it would seem are empty churches or a Catholicism my wife calls “zany.”
“Zany”. What does she mean by “zany?” Among other things, she means a Mass, wherein the Mystery of the Mass is no longer central. Where instead, what has taken centre stage is singing and entertainment, that is neither reverent or prayerful, but is animated at times by something bordering on inane or even manic …
At a Mass in the Pyrenees, my wife and I are looking up at a modern mural of the Resurrected Christ behind the altar. In this modern image, he smiles sweetly down at us, maybe even starts to grin …
But there is no GRAVITAS in this modern face of Christ. Is this an image of the Christ who weeps with us, as well as smiles? No, it is zany.
Again, how to do, to serve the work of Christ? Again, obedience. Including obedience to work with what life presents oneself. The example of Kim and I following our conviction of inspiration in coming to France is just one example. And another example is of being presented here in France, with a dying, zany church, in which it seems to us, that Christ is obscured …
On the Da Vinci Code and Rudolf Steiner
But life presents so much more, besides. Here is another example. This summer, life also presented me with the Da Vinci Code at last, and also some comments from Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, which aspires to a so-called esoteric Christianity, directly opposed to the Catholic Church.
Around these two, so much could be said, but I must content myself with noting just a little.
Noting for example, that I am seeing a direct connexion between two statements. First there is the statement that I find on pg 403 of the Da Vinci Code, regarding the Priory of Sion.
The Priory, like many European secret societies at odds with the Church, had considered English the only European pure language for centuries. Unlike French, Spanish and Italian, which were rooted in Latin – the tongue of the Vatican – English was linguistically removed from Rome’s propaganda machine, and therefore became a sacred, secret tongue for those brotherhoods educated enough to use it [Emphasis in original].
And then there is the statement, or at very least the implication, that Rudolf Steiner seems to make – that English is also a tongue which can so easily facilitate the aims of secret societies, which he claims for decades have aimed to promote global capitalist domination, through that language.
Yes, in lectures given in Dornach in October 1920, Rudolf Steiner touches on these secret societies, speaking of invisible entities working through the people in them. He emphasises the role that English plays for this endeavour, noting that within peoples speaking Romance tongues (such as French), these same entities “‘would be extremely constricted”.
Yes, I am hearing a connexion between these statements from Dan Brown and Rudolf Steiner, and between these and much more besides. For example, a recent cover of The Economist. That cover shows the tricolour of the French flag – blue, white and red – with the bold headline, “What France needs”. And in the middle panel, the white panel, below the headline, there is the image of Margaret Thatcher. My wife sees this cover and recoils in shock. “Oh my God”, escapes her lips. I ask her why.
She says because she feels a striking paradox: For in one sense, she is here in France: “Margaret Thatcher” has already conquered France. And of course, globalised capitalism is everywhere. But in another way, my wife notes she really is NOT here yet …
I nod in agreement. No “Margaret Thatcher” and all she so radically brought to Britain, if not Europe, in 1979 has still not fully reached France. That is why The Economist feels she is needed.
Like myself, The Economist can still feel her ABSENCE here.
For of all the European countries I know, I feel the greatest resistance to capitalist globalisation here in France. In many ways, I feel here the greatest need to preserve tradition and soul here …
In many ways, I wish to repeat. Not all. As my wife noted, great contradiction and paradox exists … And what then, of Ireland, which I love with all my heart? Well yes, particularly in the still Catholic Ireland of the West, there is also a marked attempt to resist the colonising culture of global capitalism.
But in the East, in the East where I also lived, alas, one feels much more the influence of this colonising influence, brought on a wave of Anglo-American impulses. That is, impulses that the French call “Anglo-Saxon”. And feel they need to resist. In so many cases, at least.
Yes it seems to me that in many ways, the French sense more keenly this loss of SOUL that the Anglo-American colonising impulses bring … It is a quality of soul that Margaret Thatcher, it seems to me, did much, so very much to bury in Britain … bury under a culture, so-called, more and more exclusively dedicated to economic FUNCTIONS …
A “culture” that is, whose aesthetic, religious, spiritual, as well as political,legal and moral dimensions are more and more dictated by and hence, REDUCED to economic agendas.
Here is more of what Rudolf Steiner says of the beings working through the English language:
They have set themselves the task of keeping life as a whole restricted to the mere life of economics. They seek to gradually root everything else … to root out spiritual life, to chip away the political life and to absorb everything into the life of economics (Emphasis mine).
On Materialism and Modernism
Yes, eighty years ago, Rudolf Steiner warned of the threat of reducing all of culture and politics to economic functions. And now I feel it everywhere. A successful musician tells me how she left the record industry because of corporate pressure to make her music more commercial. University doctors tell me of the crass, commercial ethos that now pervades the academy, if academy it can still be called, for it has been dumbed-down to meet economic agendas. Artless, graceless buildings arise everywhere, sacrificing Soul for economic ends. And children grow up in built environments of rigid angles and uninspired monotony.
And if individuals nations try to express their unique souls, there is indeed mighty pressure to CONFORM, that is, to MARCH to the global capitalist beat. And everywhere people’s individual lives also become stripped of soul and mystery.
I receive e-mails which haunt my soul. One of my dear known friends, expresses the stripping of soul he experiences in his own life in America. Yes here is a fragment from his letter that elaborates something far better than I can, at least right now, something well advanced in Asia and America – but now being summoned forth in Europe:
In this fast-paced, busy, time-starved,complex environment we’ve created, we are forced to compartmentalize our lives. For example: Up at 6:45, to work by 8, pick up the kids after soccer practice, throw together dinner, pay the bills, do the laundry, go to church at 10 a.m. Sunday, meet the parents for lunch, fix the fawcet in the kitchen…
Church, religion, spirituality, get compartmentalized along with all the other things we do in life. … Is it any wonder that the lessons and brotherly love we shared at 10 a.m. Sunday get brushed aside in the boardroom Monday, when we decide to up profits by laying off a thousand people?
… Connectedness — we’ve lost it in America, at least to a great degree. (That makes it easier to lay off people!) If you look at the European model of community and work, and weeks of vacation each year, and the East Asian model of all work and no play, America long has fallen in between. But we’re moving toward the East Asian model; in fact, we’ve been accelerating in that direction.
Nowadays, [with]greedy business owners and corporations … There seems to be a mentality spreading that ANYTHING that is good for a company’s profits is a good idea. Lying, stealing, cheating, destroying the environment and exporting jobs overseas … [We have ]an acceleration to the disconnected, dog-eat-dog jungle style of capitalism in East Asia.
In East Asia, where I lived for two years and worked at a business magazine, capitalism is perverted thoroughly in this way … Japan is woefully ill in spirit, having replaced all their values with the worship of wealth. Korea is far down that track, and China is racing up behind those nations … I see a societal illness — and let’s admit that society never has been and never will be perfect — that results from imbalance, away from spirituality and toward self-centeredness.
Yes dear known friend, how your words strike my soul … “FORCED to compartmentalise” as you put it. Forced to acquiesce to an increasingly mechanical society that leaves no room for soul. And without soul, we move ever more to the self centred dog eat dog horror that you see so clearly …
On Secret Societies and the Sacred Fire of the Heart of Jesus
Yes all of this, it seems to me, is not without connexion to the Da Vinci Code, and to Rudolf Steiner’s warnings more than 80 years ago about the dangers of a society conquered by the forces working through Anglo-American Secret Societies.
To a degree, France resists. And The Economist is NOT happy about it. The Spirit of “Margaret Thatcher” simply must be summoned here as well. But she is still “constricted” …
What am I saying here? Am I insinuating? Or am I just pointing? Stammering and pointing: “Look there. Look there.” Because for the moment, I can do no more than point and stammer. I will let you decide for yourself.
Yet the light of the love of Christ does indeed shine on in the darkness. In saying this, I am with an image that France gave to the world, or rather that Our Lord gave to the world, through France in the Seventeenth Century. Through France, how the sense of that impressed my soul in Paray-le-Monial: Through France! The image then, is that of the blazing Sacred Heart encircled by a crown of thorns. Yes the encircling is very real. But how much more real are the blazing flames of love on the altar of His Heart …
Again so much of this is representations of the contents of my consciousness, as I ponder the question, how is it that I am called to serve the work of Jesus Christ? What exactly is my vocation? Again, so much more might be said. Because so much has happened since Kim and I have come to France.
Through all of that, has come an ever deepening conviction regarding the work, the mighty work that is being done “to bypass the Mystery of Golgotha” as Rudolf Steiner once put it. The mighty work being done to obscure, that is, the Mystery of Jesus Christ …
Yes, we have the Da Vinci Code which would tell us, as its leading protagonists do, that ‘Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” and that “Nothing in Christianity is original.”
Thus millions are led to suspect, if not believe, that almost the entire content of two thousand years of mystical experience, work, thought, prayer and revelation, are nothing but a spurious rehash.
There is nothing then inspired with all these mystics, theologians, philosophers and saints. At best, they are dupes. And at worst? Those who would follow Dan Brown can only conclude that everything from the original writers of the Gospels to all the Christian mystics and saints, all of these, all, all are, at best, deluded. Thus that which the Church teaches us about the Mystery of Christ has almost nothing to do with the truth.
But to return to my theme, the true question in my heart is, again, how to help to serve His work. Ranting about The Da Vinci Code will not achieve that. Although perhaps what will, perhaps what will, is really allowing myself to WEEP at the immense, unfolding tragedy to which those best selling pages speak: the full-scale tragedy of the vast attempt to bury Christ … Yes, not to rant, but to weep, to weep and act …
Am I weeping enough? Am I acting enough? These are questions in my soul. As I ask them answers come. I do not know if they are true.
On Valentin Tomberg’s Turning Away from Anthroposophy
But it seems to me that there is needed work to be done. A work that seems to me to involve much. It involves a certain listening to the legacy of Rudolf Steiner, who unlike Dan Brown proclaimed the unutterably sublime depths of the Mystery enacted by Christ on Calvary. But a “certain listening” to Steiner – such as his grave warnings concerning those who would “bypass the Mystery of Golgotha” – is not the same as subscribing wholesale to so-called esoteric Christianity, divorced from the Church.
Still the course of my life and providence it seems to me, has led me to engage with Anthroposophists and try to understand their position. Steiner’s tragic condemnation of the Church, it should be noted, is not entire. He seems to have some degree of honouring the Church up through the medieval era.
Yet Steiner attacked what he considered to be a rigidity and materialism of the post-medieval Catholic Church. He also deeply criticised the Jesuits who pioneered so much of the so-called Counter Reformation Catholic Church, whose work he considered most “dangerous”. And yet this work I see, also draws on the legacy of Valentin Tomberg. And Valentin Tomberg saw something very different to Steiner in regards to the Jesuits and the Counter-Reformation.
As he writes in his Lazarus Come Forth, Valentin Tomberg considers that with
The spiritual exercises [of St Ignatius] it was a matter of awakening the whole human being to the reality of Christianity through inner experience. Through the meditative training people became MORE than pious; they became witnesses to the truth of Christianity.
Human beings emerged from the meditative training of the spiritual exercises to wholly devote themselves, out of their own deepest knowledge and conscience to the redemptive truths of Christianity.
What was usually experienced – more dreaming than awake – through pious devotion became in this experience of meditation a matter of burning conscience, a challenge to action and an overwhelming awakening to the reality of redemption, the Redeemer and the saints.
Yes, the Catholic Valentin Tomberg is saying something very different indeed to the esoteric Steiner. Now, what strikes my heart as I consider the profound disagreement between Steiner attacking the Church and Tomberg, profoundly loyal to the Church, is that much that is at issue here, revolves around how we consider the human personality of Jesus Christ.
For Rudolf Steiner, the Jesuits were “materialistic”. He tells us thus:
Because Christ had to be incarnated in a physical body, the purely spiritual took part in the physical world; but over against this participation stand the monumental and most significant words of Christ: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
But for Steiner, Jesuitism misses all of this. In Jesuitism, Steiner believes “the Jesus principle is exaggerated.” Ignatius, Rudolf Steiner also tells us, wanted “to represent everything to do with Jesus in a purely material way.”
Now, there are also many other objections made by Rudolf Steiner to the Jesuits. This one of materialism is hardly all encompassing. But I am focussing on this, because it may be at just this very point that the Catholic Valentin Tomberg began to part company with the Anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner.
For it seems clear to me that what Valentin Tomberg is saying has gone wrong with so much of so-called esoteric Christianity, including Anthroposophy, is that the human, concrete aspect of Christianity has gone missing – in favour of the Logos. And perhaps this in turn could lead to blindness as to that which the Church offers …
Thus at one point Tomberg writes that although LIGHT is present in a Christianity that focusses on the Cosmic Christ, magic, warmth and personality and LIFE may be missing:
The tendency is certainly accentuated, if not prevalent, amongst contemporary Hermeticists to occupy themselves more with the “Cosmic Christ” or the “Logos” than with the human person of the “Son of Man”, Jesus of Nazareth. More importance is attributed to the divine and abstract aspect of the God-Man than to his human and concrete aspect …
It must be pointed out, in the first place, that it was not the revelation or knowledge of the cosmic Logos which gave rise to the new spiritual impulse that manifested itself in the apostles, martyrs and saints – which we call “Christianity” – but rather the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was not through the name of the Logos that demons were exorcised, the sick were healed and the dead were brought back to life, but rather through the name of Jesus …
It was contact with the person of Jesus Christ which opened up the current of miracles and conversions. And it is the same even today … it was Jesus Christ who gave to the idea of the Logos the warmth and life which created living Christianity, whilst the idea of the Logos, held by the sages of antiquity, although it was true, was lacking this warmth and life. And it is the same even today” (Emphasis mine).
And in Lazarus Come Forth, Valentin Tomberg speaks of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, noting that:
The third aspect of the Way, the Truth, and the Life – namely life – was not given enough attention. For the scientific form into which the logic of the Logos had to be cast, and by which it was limited, left little room for pure mysticism and spiritual magic, that is for life. So there is in Anthroposophy a magnificent achievement of thought and will, which is however, unmystical and unmagical, i.e. in want of life. Rudolf Steiner himself was conscious of this essential lack. Therefore it was with a certain amount of hope that he indicated the necessary appearance of a successor (the Bodhisattva) who would remedy this lack and would bring the trinity of the Way, the Truth and the Life to full fruition” (Emphasis mine).
And Valentin Tomberg has also served to make it very clear to me, that these lacking elements CAN be found in the Catholic tradition. Yes Valentin Tomberg is saying that the esoteric Christian system of Rudolf Steiner is deprived of of life. But if he were with us today, he might tell us that Jesuit Counter Reformation Catholicism did indeed participate in life.
For unlike Rudolf Steiner, Valentin Tomberg certainly affirms the value of the Counter-Reformation, saying again in Lazarus Come Forth that this last
Should not be understood as anti reformatory, but as a true reformation. For the movement toward interiorisation and spiritualisation which arose then in the Church was indeed, in a real sense reformation, and in no sense a process of outer revolt – destroying images and annihilating Church hierarchy, and doing away with the spiritual orders and the three vows. A monastery, for instance, is not reformed by chasing out the monks, but by bringing in a more interiorised spiritual life … The so-called Counter-Reformation and the so-called Reformation stand in the same relationship to one another as the spiritualisation of the monasteries stands in relation to their dissolution. The first was an impulse toward inner transformation; the second signified “rebellion” and “purge”. The one meant “evolution”, the other signified “revolution”.
Yes, there is this beauty, I sense in the Counter Reformation Catholic Spirituality that is so sidelined in our time. Yes the future work I see involves all of this and more. It involves also the striking fact that Valentin Tomberg, a Russian author who lived in England, nevertheless chose to write so much in FRENCH.
And it involves the immense French legacy of the experiences of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who beheld His Sacred Heart in 1673. A legacy which seems so very tied up with the Jesuits. A legacy which served to inspire profound resistance to the Revolution of 1789. A legacy with countless shadows and contradictions. A legacy which may be more profoundly relevant to THE SOUL OF FRANCE, and to the world, than even I dare to imagine yet. (More that is relevant can be found here regarding Catholic France and the Sacred Heart.)
And so much more this work I see involves. But one more thing I will leave you. It is a translation of a few lines from a German book by Martin Kriele, who guards Valentin Tomberg’s estate, and who knew him during his life. I hope that Doctor Kriele can forgive my use of these brief lines from his book. It seems to me somehow important.
Occasionally [Tomberg] spoke of evil in which he saw not only a “lack of being”, but very real powers manifold and chaotic. One should not occupy oneself excessively with it but pay attention to evil in the seductive form of seeming good, its method of adopting something beautiful and half-true which deceives us and leads us unwittingly into evil.
He was concerned with the art of the discernment of spirits which was needed particularly also in matters of politics and political philosophy. In this context he held Vladimir Soloviev’s writings in high esteem.
If people were afraid of evil occult groups and “conspiracies”, this was not principally unjustified – they did in fact exist – but most of the time, one did not understand how to localize them accurately. Thus the talk of a “Jewish world-conspiracy” had been a fateful lie. But in fact sinister occult forces had worked in Hitler’s and Lenin’s movement.
To counter these there was a need for a “white” Christian Esotericism of Good which alone was up to this task. It could unfold “magical” effects if the will of man is in perfect harmony with the will of God. In “Scottish” Masonry, whose center in London had been destroyed during the war and relocated to New York, he saw a dangerous occult counter current. It would lure man with the promise of humanity – but with the aim of a world without Christ and without death and resurrection … He described to me the methods of working of the sinister counter-occultism, for example its influence on language, manners of speech, ideological forms of thinking and the fostering of all sorts of enemy-polarisations.
He took the occultism without Christ which based itself on the Theosophy of Blavatsky and worked out of the Indian-Tibetan region very seriously. It was very influential from the background. It was for example partly instrumental in the spread of Bolshevism, in the benevolent neutrality towards it, in the threatening east-west polarization but also in the “esoteric” youth movement of the “New Age” which began to flourish at the time.
History is like a chess board with white and black figures. One could never clearly foresee which moves the enemies prepared from out of the dark. Therefore no certain prophecy was possible … It could well be useful to reveal what the enemies still wanted to keep hidden. The most effective counter measure though was to turn to Christ, prayer, contemplation, the cultivation of love and kindness of heart.
Everything in Tomberg’s thinking revolved around one center: Christ. His greatness and glory he said, full of reverence, was so immeasurable that every attempt to imagine it stayed far behind the reality. When he spoke of Christ his language took on the tone of gravity and deeply being moved familiar to us, from the Gospels, especially the St John’s Gospel. Him he loved with every fibre of his heart. In His service, he placed himself without any reserve and through Him in the service of the Father.”
Friends, I am either mad, or I am aspiring to the Hanged Man of which Tomberg writes that he acts first, then he desires, and lastly he understands. Which is to say, I do not yet know where all of this is going.
In the meantime, I recommend to all Catholics who can do so, a pilgrimmage to Paray-le-Monial, where it seems to Kim and me that his Sacred Heart can STILL be felt, more than 300 years after 1673 …
Afterword – June 2009: On Tomberg and Guarding Catholic Tradition
It is now two and half years since the above was written. Pointing and stammering indeed! Is there more to be said about the above themes? Indeed there is and much of this entire website – currently in its initial stages as I write these words – will aspire to their unfoldment.
Yes among others, I hope to explore much further the themes of the Sacred Heart, Catholic France, the growing problem of world materialism and capitalism. I want to explore the hope I have come to find in the tradition of the Church, and also the need I see to guard that tradition in the face of such diverse threats as a zany Novus Ordo, the Da Vinci Code or a so-called esoteric Christianity which attacks the Church …
What has been the cost of the various attacks on the Church, from the domain of Christian Hermeticism, I wonder? What would have been the benefit to the Church and the World, if more of these Christian Hermeticists had become loyal sons of the Church, the way Valentin Tomberg did?
What is to be done in a world increasingly buried in materialism or New Age forms of spirituality that cannot comprehend the Sacrifice on Calvary?
In keeping with the very personal nature of this piece, I will give some very personal replies. When the above was written, Kim and I had visited Paray five times. In total, we have now visited more than twenty times. For us, it is the most astonishing place we have found on this earth. There the beating Heart of Jesus Christ can still be felt. There we have felt bathed and cleansed in the Love of that Heart.
There have actually been some terribly hard times. But in Paray, like nowhere else on Earth, I have felt held in the arms of Christ, held and soothed … And there I have been led by the Grace of God to say more deeply than ever before, YES to the Traditional Catholic Church.
There I have had some of the most meaningful experiences of my life and through them, I have come to the conviction that what is needed – now as ever – in this time of serious global danger, is the defense, conservation and clarification of the Catholic Mystery. For this, I pray that I can humbly work at this website.
Here I am referring to convictions, born from interior experience, in Paray-le-Monial most of all. Now this piece has referred to the so-called “esoteric Christianity” – divorced from the Church – of the Anthroposophists who follow the so-called “spiritual science” of Rudolf Steiner.
Now such Anthroposophists often fall into the trap of saying things like: “We KNOW through Anthroposophy that …” or “Steiner says” … I think in time, we could also witness the emergence of a group of people saying “Tomberg says” – such is the profound impression Tomberg’s writings can make. However, I have no wish to fall into such a trap.
For my convictions, as I have tried to relate them here, are born from interior experience. But exterior to those experiences, there are also the words of Valentin Tomberg, who as indicated, made a transition from a purely esoteric Christianity to a traditional Catholicism. And because he made such a transition, he may well help others to do the same.
Thus while I have no wish to fall into the trap of “knowing” because “Tomberg says”, I nonetheless believe that there is profound value to be had in listening to Valentin Tomberg and pondering deeply these words of his from his final writings collected in Lazarus Come Forth:
Let us consider what happened in the fourth century at the time when the Church entered into an alliance with the Roman Empire and the influence of the latter became paramount. It was as if a dark cloud covered the sky. It even came to a point when the center of Christianity itself – Christ himself as the Son made flesh – was to a large extent veiled, and Arianism for a time achieved almost complete dominance. Then a strong fresh wind scattered the clouds and the sun of Christ as the Son of God shone forth again in the heavens as faith.
Not only a Pleiad of great believers (with Saint Athanasius at their head), and holy hermits such as St Anthony of Thebes (the friend of Athanasius) … were the fruit of this spiritual wind but also – and especially – the Council of Nicea with its wonderful creation of the Nicean Creed, which to this day has lost nothing of its inspiring and enlightening force and effect …
The Christianity of the hermits … was no passing phenomenon limited to a few centuries only. Today it still lives with all the intensity of its youth. Though it may not be deserts and thick forests into which one can retire into an undisturbed solitude nowadays, there are still people who have found or created in the deserts of the great cities and among the thickets of the crowds, a solitude and stillness of life for the spirit.
And as before, their striving is devoted toward becoming a witness for the truth of Christianity. The way into the depths has not led them to an individualistic brand of belief, but has given them unshakable security in the truth of Christian revelation as transmitted and taught by the Church.
They know the truth of the following: Extra Ecclesiam non est salus (“there is no salvation outside the church”); the Holy Father is not and cannot be the mouthpiece of an ecumenical council; the Holy See alone can make decisions in questions of faith and morals – a majority of the bishops cannot do so and even less can a majority of priests or congregations do so; the Church is hierarchic-theocratic – not democratic, aristocratic or monarchic – and will be so in all future times; the Church is the Civitas Dei (“the City of God”) and not a superstructure of the will of the people belonging to the Church; as little as the shepherd follows the will of the herd does the Holy Father merely carry out the collective will of his flock; the shepherd of the Church is St Peter, representing Christ – his pronouncements ex cathedra are infallible, and the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven belongs to him and him alone.
In other words, those who become solitary in order to seek profundity may reach on their path of spiritual experience to the unshakeable insight that the dogmas of the Church are absolutely true. And so it can happen that, as they did at the time of the Arian darkening of the Church, the “hermits” of today may come again to the assistance of the Holy See, leaving their solitude to appear as witnesses to the truth of Peter’s throne and its infallible teaching. In those times it happened that St Anthony of Thebes left the desert and hurried to Alexandria to support St Athanasius with the weight of his moral authority – St Athanasius who became the standard bearer for the divinity of Christ.
The darkening which today is described as “the present crisis of the Catholic Church” can lead to the necessity for the solitary sons of the Church to hurry to the aid of the Holy Father, the most solitary of solitaries, in order to save the Church from the abyss toward which she is moving. ..”
Yes for me, these are words to be pondered deeply indeed. Now from the context of his Catholic writings, it is clear that Valentin Tomberg was not invoking an everlasting damnation – sans any choice or means of escape – for those outside the institution of the Church. Yet it is equally clear that he is also saying: The Church and its mystical structures – including the (very seldom invoked) capacity of the Pope to speak ex cathedra – are not there for nothing.
Christianity … is one and indivisible. One should not – one cannot! – separate from so called exoteric Christianity … so-called esoteric Christianity. Esoteric Christianity is entirely within exoteric Christianity; it does not exist – and cannot exist – separately from it.
Tomberg once spoke of “the tragedy of Anthroposophy” and it seems clear to me at any rate, that his entire life story attests to the tragedy he saw – on a grand scale – in trying to live Christianity outside the Church. This I think is relevant to ponder, when he speaks of Extra Ecclesiam non est salus.
Now these words from Tomberg above, were also written in the wake of the Second Vatican Council – a subject on which, significantly I think, the author also has nothing good to say in this, his final book. He in fact roundly declares:
The Council for which Pope John XXIII prayed did in fact fail.
His explanation for this assertion is as follows.
It happened that the “second Pentecostal miracle” hoped for and prayed for by the Holy Father – the proclamation by the World Council of a deepened, elevated and expanded treasure of Church revelation – was replaced by a policy of “keeping in step with the times”. The Council did not reflect the timeless inspirations of heaven, but rather the earthly needs, complaints, wishes and demands of the age [Emphasis mine]. It became a sort of religious parliament with a “progressive left”, a “conservative right” and a “moderate center”. Thus people spoke of a “democratisation” of the Church, now breaking through. The “world” remarked with satisfaction: the Catholic Church is moving closer to us; yes, just a little while and it will be part of us – the Council exudes a “fresh wind”, the wind of a free and modern spirit!
And he continues:
A fresh wind did indeed blow from the Council. It blew up such problems as the abolition of the celibacy of priests suddenly become pressing; the problem of mixed marriages with those another faith; the problem of acceptability of the “pill” and other methods of contraception; the problem of “demythologisation” of the Holy Scripture and of tradition; the problem of the Mass, in the sense of abolishing Latin as the liturgical and sacred language and the substitution for it of many other languages …
Now in this afterword, I have been referring to personal, interior processes which have led me to conviction, including the conviction of the crying need to aspire to guard the Catholic Tradition – a need as grave as ever, in this epoch where the Christian Mystery is being buried by materialism and New Age spirituality.
It is clear to me that Valentin Tomberg came to similar conclusions. Now again, his is, I believe, a voice to be listened to. As others can attest, one may find that his writings possess a moral seriousness and lucidity unsurpassed, by anything else one has found. He speaks thus with authority. But this is not the same as parroting “Tomberg says” and he himself would urge us not to turn to any lone teacher, but instead to the entire tradition:
May the Holy Scriptures be holy for us; may the Sacraments be Sacraments for us; may the hierarchy of spiritual authority be the authority of hierarchy for us …
Yes in this most personal piece, may I say that there was a time when I was still a rather New Age and so-called “progressive” Catholic. In that time, Valentin Tomberg’s account of Vatican II disturbed me deeply. I found his account of the Council more difficult than anything else in his entire writings. I can even recall vividly when first I read his words on Vatican II: I was sitting outside in central London in 1998 and my heart was sinking …
Eleven years later, it now seems to me that Valentin Tomberg understood very well the kind of dangers Vatican II would unleash for the Church. And that he understood very profoundly the dangers of the forces working to destroy Christianity in the world.
He understood the kind of thing to which the Da Vinci Code testifies. Towards the end of that book, Dan Brown suggests the election of a future pope John XXIV – with the apparent hope that this Pope will carry the “the Spirit of Vatican II” agenda through to its logical conclusion – a thoroughly de-Catholicised “Catholicism”.
Yes, it would seem clear that the Da Vinci Code agenda wants to bury the Mystery of Calvary. Either by destroying it outright or by creating a new “Church”, where it is so watered down as to be completely “harmless”. “Harmless” that is to certain people’s objectives.
All of this suggests to me, at any rate, that there are those who still see the Catholic Church as a danger to their goals. Otherwise, they would not be mounting so much effort, in order to render her “harmless” – including perhaps hijacking the story of a traditional Catholic monarchist priest at Rennes-le-Chateau and manipulating it for certain ends. This again is but more pointing and stammering: “Look there! Look there!” If you will …
These are grave matters. They are ones that I have wrestled with for years in search of a creative response. I am still wrestling. What can I say now? As this piece indicates, once I was a New Ager, then a liberal Anglican, then a liberal Catholic who believed passionately in Vatican II.
Year after year processes involving prayer, took me to a more traditional position. Above I often speak in negative terms about the dangers to the Church. These are real indeed and the zany manifestations of the Novus Ordo seem ever more damaging to me.
No need for Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code, while the Church auto-destructs …
But this piece began on more positive tones – on the love of the Sacred Heart for each and every one of us. This being a very personal piece, I will finish on a very personal note. Since entering the Catholic Church, I find the love of the Sacred Heart in a kind of experience I never had before in my life.
I have experienced it through the Sacraments of the Church, daily Mass and regular confession.
This experience of living with the meeting with Jesus Christ through the Sacraments is indescribably precious. Indescribably – words fail utterly. But still I venture these: it is the preciousness of keeping with a warming, strengthening, affirming, solidifying current of communion, which moreover helps me to be bear so much that I could not otherwise bear …
Once I was a New Ager who acquiesced to the New Age doctrine that all forms of spirituality amount to the same thing.
It would have been inconceivable to me that the Catholic Church was offering anything which could not be gained elsewhere. It would have been inconceivable to me that through the Catholic Church, something was available that could not be found outside the Church.
What can I say? More than twenty years of exploring other spiritual paths never gave me anything like what I experience now.
Through the Grace of God I have been led ever more into the Sacred Heart of the Church which is the Sacred Heart of the World. Incredible grace upon grace is to be had through the Church and her Sacraments.
The zaniness of many celebrations of the Novus Ordo does not wipe out the Sacrament – as much as bury it in banks of fog. It can still be felt, particularly if one receives it daily. Even if one should have no choice but to also suffer daily the zaniness of a local Novus Ordo Mass …
Through the Grace of God, I was led to Catholic France … buried, nearly forgotten Catholic France. Through the Grace of God, I was led to Paray-le-Monial, once it might be said, the “capital” of Catholic France. And perhaps indeed it still is. There are postcards for sale in Paray which say coeur spirituel de l’Europe. I probably laughed impiously when first I saw these. But I laugh no longer. I know what I have felt there.
And there in Paray by the Grace of God, I became ever more consistently clear that the Church must be saved “from the abyss towards which she is moving” as – again – Valentin Tomberg wrote shortly after the Council.
Today it might be more appropriate to say “towards which she has been moving” . For there are signs of a turning of the tide – that the Church is now more conscious of this abyss and that under His Holiness, Benedict XVI, it is beginning to turn aside from the direction of the abyss.
For years, I lived in turmoil and indecision. It was hard to take a stand.
I asked myself if the situation of the world, the New Age movement and the Church was not as truly dark as it appeared. I asked myself if I were not “over the top”, neurotically overworried and maybe worse.
But enough of all this, for now. For I judge at last the time has come to draw the curtain down, on these most personal of musings.
And I will draw that curtain now – by saying simply that through the Grace of God, in Paray-le-Monial, I finally took my stand.