Unfinished Personal/Global Musings II (Valentin Tomberg on Disintegration – Death)

Diego Velázquez

My last web entry tried to introduce the personal context within which I try to grapple with Global Warming.

It is the context, as I said, of a practising Catholic aspiring to deep, regular Sacramental Communion. It is also that of ongoing study of Catholic Tradition and the history of the transition from a Western medieval Catholic world to the Western secular society we know.

Many writings feed into my study, Papal, clerical, lay and secular … but I would be less than frank with you, dear Reader if I did not say that the writings of Valentin Tomberg have assumed a particular place, as I struggle to understand the solemn, tragic situation we find ourselves in at the dawn of the third millennium.

As I have indicated in this weblog before, I have been profoundly struck by Valentin Tomberg’s little known Catholic doctoral theses in Jurisprudence. Valentin Tomberg who once had sharply criticised the Church, but who converted amidst the horror of World War II. In these Jurisprudence theses, written shortly after his conversion, Tomberg considers what he regards as (as I have put it before at this weblog here)

“a degenerating modern society – whose degeneration stems – he says – from its tendency in recent centuries to SEVER.

That is, to SEVER not only jurisprudence from morality, philosophy and theology – the ground from which it sprang, but also to sever nature and supernature, humanity and God … His Catholic writings as a whole, testify to a crippling process, whereby so very much in the West becomes dry, withered, mechanical, soul – less, because it is being stripped of that which gives life.

Dry, withered, mechanical, de-composing, degenerating … his terms may vary, but always he implicates this same loss of life-force …”

And as I continue this series of Unfinished Musings, I thought I would draw this more fully out, first by quoting from Foundations of International Law as Humanity’s Law:

“International law concerns all humanity and must therefore be linked to the whole of humanity’s culture. It is an organic component of the socio-cultural values of all humanity, like religion and morality. For theoretical purposes it may very well be treated separately from intellectual culture as a whole, but in practical reality it can never exist by itself …

Roman and canonical law matured for almost 2000 years, then international law began to separate from private law. The successive separation of law from metaphysics, i.e. philosophy, the divorce of philosophy from morality, the parting of morality from religion are not steps in the direction of progress, but steps in the direction of an increasing poverty of ideas and the narrowing of one’s horizon in regard to posed problems.

A “de-Romanised” international law, a philosophy of law “cleansed of metaphysics”, a “science liberated from morals” and a “detheologised philosophy” seem to characterise the time from the “Enlightenment” to the present and thus are manifestations of progress in the sense of advancing time, but not in the sense of increased profundity, expansion and exaltation of these concepts, ideas and ideals.

Just the opposite is true: the dominating tendency, especially since Kant, of a “clean separation of fields” did result in a separation of almost all fields from one another – a separation carried so far that professors of different faculties have so little to say to one another that they depend on the fodder delivered by the daily news.

This process occurred at the expense of general spiritual and intellectual culture …

When carried through to its ultimate conclusion, this tendency of separation will simply become a process of disintegration – i.e – death of true intellectual culture.

For if one does not stop at this point – and why should one? – having separated philosophy from religion, ethics from philosophy, science from philosophy and ethics, then the next step would be to separate science from logic, that is from judgment and conclusions; and subsequently from all abstract concepts, perceivable by the senses, just like toddlers!

The absurdity of following this tendency beyond the limits reached today is obvious – and still there is a desire and efforts expended in the direction of extinguishing that which is higher in favour of that which is lower.”

(Because the internet is a different medium than print, I have added paragraph breaks and italics for more easy assimilation of profound and challenging material from a monitor. Tomberg´s original emphasis is in bold.)

Yes here are indications of what is my mind and heart as I contemplate Global Warming. Valentin Tomberg returns again and again to the theme of degeneration through disintegration leading to loss of life. Often he is speaking of degeneration of culture and philosophy, but here in these books he is also speaking of law and order.

I spoke of Global Warming as a systemic tragedy, far beyond partial solutions such as activism. And so I see it – something that will demand everything of us – in terms of cultural life, philosophy and religion – and law and order.

Now as part of his response to the crippling decay of culture, Valentin Tomberg turned to both the Catholic Religion and the Study of Law.

And his writings and his life testify to the conviction that these domains could not be justifiably DIS-INTEGRATED.

Thus he speaks of law being originally based “on those sources to which human culture owes its awareness of what is truth and what is good, i.e. it based on a religious conception of the world. The latter was common to all “Christianity” at one time, and the aftereffect of this commonality is the present international community of mankind.”

Here he is indicating a view to the effect that present international law is something of a reduced shadow of Western Christian heritage and ethics, or at least owes a very great deal to it.

And yet he goes on to comment that there was a certain element within the West that did not succumb to a degenerated, disintegrated world-conception:

“Only one part of divided humanity (divided into states, races, nations and classes) remained loyal to this common conception of the world, however and continues to maintain it across the globe: It is the Catholic Church, as the sole carrier and caretaker of “Christianity´s” tradition in the present and as the most universal representative of humanity’s Christian ideals today.”

In the milieu from which Tomberg came, such a statement was indeed radical! As it will be for many today …

But for we, we who feel the joy, strength and life-force of the Catholic Tradition and the Sacraments, what are we to say if we feel we look out on a world in a terminally ill condition…?!

Must we defer for fear of offending secular sensibilities of political correctness (read: tyranny) and remain silent about what seems to us “the stone that the builder rejected”?! (cf. Luke xx 17)

That is to say the main corner-stone which has now been eliminated in countless contexts …

I will have more soon to say – however “unfinished” it may be. Tomorrow, perhaps. And I will be trying to suggest something of what Valentin Tomberg is saying of disintegration versus unity and life-force …

Of Related Interest at this Site:

There is a long multi-part series concerning Valentin Tomberg started at this site. Involving both the continuities and discontinuities with Rudolf Steiner’s thought, it examines why the convert Tomberg turned from Anthroposophy to a Counter-Revolutionary Catholic tradition that embraced hierarchy.

Link to first entry here:

Valentin Tomberg, Catholic Tradition and the Counter-Revolution

From Amazon US:

The following (highly) recommended books helped me grapple with that which Valentin Tomberg is saying. They can also be found in different sections of our Amazon UK store here. The following titles also have Reviews at these links: (Puritan’s Empire) (Meditations on the Tarot) (When Corporations Rule the World).

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  1. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 2 November 2009 at 16:21 | Permalink

    “Roman and canonical law matured for almost 2000 years, then international law began to separate from private law. The successive separation of law from metaphysics, i.e. philosophy, the divorce of philosophy from morality, the parting of morality from religion are not steps in the direction of progress, but steps in the direction of an increasing poverty of ideas and the narrowing of one’s horizon in regard to posed problems”

    What an incredible paragraph! What more needs to said? An almost-perfect summary of our problems. But how do we go forward without trying to re-live what is already past?

  2. roger
    Posted 3 November 2009 at 13:14 | Permalink

    Thank you, Edwin.

    How do we go forward indeed?

    This most profound of questions is obviously one that cannot be answered in a soundbite. It is so huge that every day of my life is involved with struggling with it, as I imagine yours may well be, too. This whole website is bound up with this question.

    We cannot mechanically re-live what is past, but we can try to live that which has eternal value within certain things given in the past.

    Just one example of what I have mind here – just one – are the Sacraments.

    Paul VI tried to change the Mass with the aid of a stopwatch apparently. That is, I have heard a report I judge reliable (from George Weigel) that in the Vatican the new Mass was devised by “experts” with stopwatches in hand …

    But tradition does not develop through utilitarian innovation. How many seconds can we allow the Agnus Dei now that it is in the vernacular …?

    No, tradition develops by those who are loyal to the inspiration of the past, but who are open to the inspiration – true inspiration, not utilitarian innovation – of the future.

    We cannot “freeze the Tradition” in 1962 as the Holy Father has said – otherwise it will become pharasaic – deprived of Eternity. And not Tradition, which ever develops …

    But we can cultivate a spirity of fidelity and reverence for the spiritual genius of the past and openness to the continued work of the Holy Spirit in the future.

    These words I hope express a true Traditionalism.

    And it seems to me that such true Traditionalism – sans the ignorance of the past perpetuated by contemporary “culture”, sans arrogant “knowing-better”, sans cynicism, irreverence, iconoclasm – is what must be cultivated.

    Against the colossal forces of globalising capitalism, we must live it, we must educate for it, we must work to clarify the issues and our thinking and we must pray …

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