Valentin Tomberg: The Judas Kiss of Demythologisation

Valentin Tomberg

In my last weblog entry, I made reference to the materialism of the liberal Protestant theology of the likes of Rudolf Bultmann.

And I noted briefly that this materialism had now tragically made its way into Catholicism, as well.

Thus do I recall the teaching of a certain Jesuit, who explained the Crucifixion in terms of pacificism. According to this Jesuit, the meaning of the Crucifixion seemed to lie largely or entirely in this: Jesus had taught pacifism in terms of turning the other cheek.

In order to be completely consistent in his doctrine of non-violence, it was necessary to demonstrate it on the Way to Calvary. And I recall no mention at all of the God-Man sacrificing Himself to take away the sins of the world … And Jesus Christ is reduced to Gandhi.

Now this represents a particularly outstanding form of demythologising. But we see countless examples everywhere in modern Catholicism – where the Holy Mysteries of the Faith are regularly described in routine ways, stripped of reverence and awe.

Rather than say more myself today, I thought I would instead append to all of this, some profound words from Valentin Tomberg. These are taken from a meditation, among other things, on degeneration and time in the first section of his work Lazarus Come Forth.

Christ´s saying to Pilate:”My Kingdom is not of this world”, is valid also for Christianity and for the Church. Now the so-called “demythologising” humanist theologists want to adapt Christianity and the Church to this world, to make it into a piece of this world. They call it “modernising”- adaptation to the “spirit of the age” and its requirements, including its “progress”.

Thus Prof. Mag. Doctor. Edward Schillebeeckx, Professor of Dogmatism and Theological History at the University of Nijnegn, (Holland), in answering the question: How did it happen that the Netherlands are in advance of the development within the universal Church? – made the following statement:

“The Netherlands were the first country where theologians, priests and laymen interested in religion approached religious problems from the aspect of humanist science and not from that of theology only.

The inclusion of sociology, psychology and the humanist sciences made possible the breakthrough in general here in the Netherlands.”

A German theologian and priest “consoled” a friend of mine in a conversation by stating that the angels (including the archangels Michael and Gabriel), have no reality – according to the most recent and now apparently universally accepted theology. They are merely personifications of human soul-forces and thus and only thus did an “angel” come with the annunciation to the Virgin Mary. It seems that psychology takes priority over the Holy Scripture and Tradition.

This and similar methods and teachings of theology are clearly symptoms of apostasy from Christianity- which indeed works in this world, but is not of it, nor of the world of psychology and sociology. Christianity is not an “ideological superstructure” to psychological, sociological and economic facts, but a revelation of the reality of the moral world-order in the realm of the mechanical, causal world- order. Whoever does not understand this – how can he be a “theologian” or “priest”?”

The above examples only serve to demonstrate the fact that a strong movement is working within the Church which has chosen “this world” with its pretensions and demands.

It seems that this movement is drawn with irresistible force to the human sphere belonging to the realm of time. It wants to be human (and humanistic) and up-to-date (“progressive”). Thereby it subjects itself to the laws of time, which is the path of inevitable degeneration, decline, and death.

And elsewhere within the same section, Valentin Tomberg concludes:

Demythologisation carried to its conclusion yields nothing other than the “dialectical materialism” of Marxism. “Judas, what though doest, do quickly; but if thou betrayest, at least do not do it with a kiss.

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  1. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 29 August 2009 at 16:05 | Permalink

    There are so many implications to what you wrote…so briefly but sketching out the fundamental problems at root in Western Religion in general.

    Demytholigization, if I understand you, takes the form of reductionism, humanism and psychologism.

    First, reductionism. Reductionism is species of materialism. It is the tendency to reduce something greater to its real or imagined constituent parts to so-called understand it better. This is fine to a point. We “reduce” the human being to tissues, organs, glands, cells, dna and so on. This gives us some of the better parts of modern medicine. But it also leaves out the wholistic view of man as a being that is a part of Nature and the spiritual worlds. This is not just New Age pap but an integral part of ancient world-views that gave us Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Tibetan Medicine, Galenic Medicine, Unani Tibb and Paracelsian spagyric medicine.

    Spiritually, our thought process should lead us higher and not lower. We don’t “reduce” Jesus Christ into a “pacifist” rather we lift our minds to the highest thoughts of Him which emerged out of the Contemplative Beholding of the Apostles and Church Fathers and enshrined in things like the Creeds. The Creeds lead us to Behold (in the sense of mystical contemplation) the Mystery of Christ. Part of the Mystery of Christ is indeed His Humanity but this is a spiritual Mystery, so that grasps us into Love, Worship and Adoration not a process of dissection leading to an attempt to make Him more “relevant.” One may read the letter on the Moon and the Sun in Meditations on the Tarot here, they are very instructive. Reductionism is really a “Moon” state of being in the sense of his letter on the Moon. Through Intuition we really are grasped or released into Contemplative Beholding and mystical participation and is a “Sun” state of being, again in the sense of the Letter on the Sun.

    Humanism really has nothing to do with the “humanity of Christ” as understood by the Church. To de-mythologize to find out who he really is is really a humanist project. As a Jew, I am sensitive to this issue. To find the “historical Jesus” is really a chimera and throughly misses the point. This is not to say who the Man, Jesus of Nazareth is is irrelevant in view of who we was in respect to the culture He lived in. To understand the thoroughly Jewish nature of His Words and Acts does not detract from His Divinity. The de-mythologizers, however, wish to tame Jesus, and make Him more acceptable to what they imagine to be what contemporary people want. They feel if they can make into a “prophet,” “Wisdom teacher,” sufi, shaman, or Rabbi (I am thinking of folks like Marcus Borg) or whatever they may be better able to jive across inter-religious and inter-cultural lines. Frankly, I have had a number of “mystical” encounters with Jesus Christ but have yet to meet “Rabbi Jesus” in them. This is not to say that my personal spiritual experiences trumps historical research. Rather, it is to point to the fact from the earliest days of the Church…since the Resurrection, in fact, the Church has been seeing a Jesus that transcended time and place. Jesus should not be read from the context of history primarily and then forward into what the Church teaches but the reverse. From the Resurrection we will read back into history and forward through out time correctly. We will look from Easter onto Earth and into Heaven.

    Psychologizers are everywhere. They want to make religion into an exclusive psychological process. There are friendly psychologizers like Jung, Almaas, and transpersonal psychologists. Then there are unfriendly ones like Freud. The friendly ones can be a bridge for many immersed in the modern world-views. They provide justification for spiritual and religious impulses. They also provide many insights to how the Light of the Logos impacts the Psyche. But the all-too-present danger is that ones experience is relativized. This is because an over-emphasis on the psychological dimensions of religion leads to subjectivism. If what I experience is only a personal experience it can be dismissed as “that is just your opinion.” But if after intensive prayer, meditation and holy living my being is radiated from above that leads to inner experiences that confirm the truth of Tradition or a Tradition it is no longer just personal or just subjective. Rather, it appears our psyche can participate in religious truth and be illuminated by them without in just being reduced to psychological and subjective experience.

  2. roger
    Posted 8 September 2009 at 17:06 | Permalink

    Dear Edwin,

    Thank you again for ENRICHING this website with your striking mixture of penetrating analysis and very evidently sincere faith.

    Yes all of this – from my brief little bits to your rich complex thoughts are to do with a VAST territory of what you call “the fundamental problems at root in Western Religion in general.”

    And we can add Western culture in general, which culture now overwhelms the rest of the world with its “reductionism, humanism and psychologism”.

    I agree with you that this is “not just New Age pap” and that it carries many victims in its wake – not simply Christianity. I have however become cautious about some of the Eastern techniques you mention … More may be said in time …

    But I want to thank you again for this very, very rich and thoughtful set of comments … Much more than I can fully comment on right now, but which I see with appreciation contains much subtlety and paradox.

    Just as a single example, you write:

    “Psychologizers are everywhere. They want to make religion into an exclusive psychological process. There are friendly psychologizers like Jung, Almaas, and transpersonal psychologists. Then there are unfriendly ones like Freud. The friendly ones can be a bridge for many immersed in the modern world-views. They provide justification for spiritual and religious impulses. They also provide many insights to how the Light of the Logos impacts the Psyche. But the all-too-present danger is that ones experience is relativized. This is because an over-emphasis on the psychological dimensions of religion leads to subjectivism.”

    I appreciate both sides you offer here. There can be a bridge here and a dear Known Friend of mine could say much of value here about this if he wanted. (Are you up for it, by any chance, dear Known Friend?).

    At the same time, the nature of the bridge can be treacherous indeed and even if Jung was far more sympathetic to religion than Freud – he was not about reducing the higher impulses to libido! – his religious vision runs counter to Christianity in very significant ways …

    Just a small response for now. Again I see much else in your much appreciated and complex comment …

  3. Posted 25 May 2010 at 13:52 | Permalink

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. You must know that there are many Christians outside of of Catholicism who share your sentiments. There may be elements within and without the church which seek to contain Christ – to make Him only a spirit, only an idea, or only a person, but He wants to be found and in His grace He’s been revealing Himself to seekers. Thank God!

  4. Posted 27 May 2010 at 07:17 | Permalink

    Thank you so much Tim, for your testimony here to both Global Tragedy and Global Hope. Yes indeed within and without Christianity, there exist these heartbreaking efforts to constrain, reduce, cheapen the Christian Mystery.

    But as you say, there exist Christians everywhere within all confessions who find and see. May they all be strengthened in their efforts to resist the multi-headed Hydra which seeks to bury Jesus Christ under an extremely efficacious tyranny of betrayal and misrepresentation: “only a spirit, only an idea, or only a person” …

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Bleeding Heart Conservative on 10 October 2011 at 11:37

    […] this not describe those theologians who seek freedom from the “constraints” of tradition – and who then set out to crush the tradition (e.g. by attempting to “demythologise” […]

  2. […] How I can praise a book which uncritically parades this contemporary corrosion of the Church, and the work of theologians who come perilously close to what Valentin Tomberg called The Judas Kiss of Demythologisation?! […]

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