Musings: Tomberg on False Hierarchy

2023 Update: What we have here is the third of a series of musings on Tomberg and the world tragedy, written many years ago, when this site started in 2009. For navigation purposes, we list and link the three parts here:

And now back to 2009 — RB

I no longer recall my exact words of course.

But the essence of the conversation remains engraved on my mind.

It was a warm, sunny Spring day in France. People in shirt sleeves were frolicking in the shine. But it was too warm, too pleasant. It was too early in the Spring.

My beloved turned to me and said: “We aren´t going to make it, are we?” She meant that people were all too attached to simply frolic …

Immediately – without fully thinking – I said: “Under the present capitalist system – no.”

And if I had thought more, I might have said: “No – not under the present capitalist system with its roots in a secular, materialistic worldview stripped of higher values, stripped of Mystery, stripped of Christ, stripped of the Virgin …”

Whatever our exact words in that warm, pleasant shine, the moment was a minor epiphany for me. I had said my words – again – without fully thinking what I was saying. But I realised at that very instant, that I had little faith for the future of the world, under the continuance of the Western trajectories of the last centuries.

But it might be asked why just the trajectories of the last centuries?

It could be argued, could it not, that the seeds of our destruction go right back to the Fall? Since the Fall, human nature is constituted with such significant egocentricity, greed, attachment to the pleasure principle – whatever language one uses, the idea remains – that given the right levels of technology, given the right means to spread a massive and ever expanding consumerist culture, global warming and environmental ruin was inevitable …

Is then the current crisis merely the logical, inexorable outcome of the Fall?

In this series of web musings (starting here) I have invoked that great Catholic convert, Valentin Tomberg to suggest otherwise. That is to say, we have pursued a line of thought as to suggest that that the contemporary global crisis is rooted in a particular degeneration over the last centuries, whereby Western society disintegrated, severed.

It severed the supernatural from the natural, it severed jurisprudence from its earlier sacral foundations and it severed Christianity

And no doubt controversially, we quoted in this context, Valentin Tomberg referring to the prior, non-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 “Christianitys” tradition in the present and as the most universal representative of humanity’s Christian ideals today.

Now this kind of thinking it seems to me, is most evident in Valentin Tomberg´s legal writings in the wake of the Second World War. But the theme certainly recurs in his later anonymous writing. Thus in the 1960’s, he writes:

The Middle Ages erected the cross above the nations, societies, aspirations and thoughts of Europe. This was the epoch of obedience and faith – accompanied by every imaginable abuse.

This was followed by an epoch where the dawn of hope made itself felt. Humanism with its flourishing of Renaissance art, philosophy and science was born under the sign of hope …

Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot, p. 118.

Now in both his 1940’s law writings and in his anonymous symbolic and hermetic writings, there is the idea that this early humanism becomes degenerate. (One may wish to look here for more in this regard).

Now more recently, Charles Taylor writing in A Secular Age, speaks of a process whereby what he calls exclusive humanism has come to be the order of the day. Exclusive humanism – what Taylor means by this is an orientation whereby there is no need to look beyond the purely human for the answers to our existence.

Morality, purpose, meaning … all of these can be found – it is now claimed – by looking exclusively and purely within the human being and there is no need to posit God, Grace, Mercy, Angels, the Holy Sacraments or anything else, which would look beyond the purely or exclusively human.

This is not the only kind of humanism. Taylor for example, contrasts exclusive humanism with what he calls the devout humanism of Saint Francois de Sales, a Doctor of the Church and a genius of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Reading Valentin Tomberg, I imagine he would agree with much of Taylor’s analysis of exclusive humanism. And I imagine that in Saint Francois de Sales, Valentin Tomberg would see a devout Catholic figure living in the sixteenth century and poised on the edge of modernity – who pointed the way to an authentic Christian humanism …

And I believe Valentin Tomberg would say it is tragic that we did not do more to follow in the way of the devout humanism of Saint Francois de Sales. For writing in an unusual symbolic language, Tomberg goes onto say:

A purely humanistic art, science and magic had its development under the sign of the pentagram of hope in man [This] impulse of … hope in emancipated man has built up and demolished a great deal. It has created a materialistic civilisation without parallel, but at the same time it has destroyed the hierarchical order…

Now new hierarchical orders are beginning to be established, replacing obedience by tyranny and dictatorship. For he who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind (cf. Hosea ix.7) – this is a truth that we are learning with so much suffering today. The pentagram of hope in emancipated man has in former times sown the wind – and we and our contemporaries are now reaping the whirlwind.

Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot, p. 119.

We no longer erect the Cross above our society. Indeed we try to abolish it. Has not the EU recently made moves to eliminate crucifixes in public spaces – because they are seen as “imposing” upon people?

And what do we erect above our society now? A double bow of golden arches, perhaps?

And if the CEO of McDonald´s – whoever he may be, I do not know – wants to erect enormous mighty monuments everywhere (in real space or virtual space, it matters not) to cajole and manipulate us, including our young, we do not complain of imposition

And if the CEO of Coca-Cola – whoever he may be, I do not know – wants to erect enormous mighty monuments (in real space or virtual space, it matters not) to convince us that Coke adds life! we do not bat an eyelid …

Yes it seems to me that we have what Valentin Tomberg called “new hierarchical orders” devoted to the Goddess Economy. And false hierarchies of invisible CEO’s and boards are allowed willy-nilly to impose their manipulative agenda and the world becomes ever more consumerist and materialist.

And the world quite literally, may begin to burn …

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