Valentin Tomberg, Catholicism and the Counter-Revolution—Pt. 2


2023 Update:

Here is the first of a never-completed nine part series of musings on Valentin Tomberg, Catholicism, Rudolf Steiner and the world tragedy, written many years ago in 2011. In recently re-visiting it, for the first time in years, I have seen fit to rewrite it a little. But for the most part it remains as it was, even if today it seems to me very slightly crude and immature in places.

My more mature thinking on Tomberg is found in my books, key articles like this one and the YouTube videos you will see peppered through the series. Still I think there may be valuable material in this series not found elsewhere and For navigation purposes, we list and link the nine parts here:

And now back to 2011 — Roger Buck

Dear Lector, in opening this series, I spoke a little last time about Valentin Tomberg. Yet our title also invokes the Catholic Tradition and Counter-Revolution. Perhaps at the outset, it is good to say more for all three of these.

Valentin Tomberg was born in St Petersburg in 1900. After his mother was murdered by the Bolsheviks in the 1917 revolution, he fled to Estonia. In his youth, he belonged to the esoteric Christian movement Anthroposophy, founded by Rudolf Steiner. Around 1940 he left—and made very clear his distance from the movement. For example, he requested that his Anthroposophical writings not be republished.

On Tomberg, Steiner and Anthroposophy—Article Continues Below

Most of these may now be found reprinted and reading them could well disturb Catholics. For among many other problematic features, Tomberg’s pre-Catholic writings contain a critique of “ecclesiastical Christianity” – which follows that of Steiner.

I think it important to bear in mind that Tomberg did separate himself from Steiner’s movement, to the point of asking that his efforts not be reprinted.

Now, since his death, most of these are easily found through Amazon and elsewhere. But it should be remembered this reprinting is against the author’s express wishes.

Later in life, Tomberg would in fact speak of his former pre-Catholic self as though he were a different person. He indicated that the change he had gone through was so profound that truly he should take a completely different name. Though for civil reasons, he stated that this desired name change was not possible. Here is eloquent testimony to a man having passed through a radical transformation.

It is thus possible that his choice to write his major work Meditations on the Tarot anonymously was not unrelated to his wish for a complete break from the writings of his youth.

What this series will focus on is the work of the Catholic Valentin Tomberg.

For in 1944, but a few short years after his departure from Anthroposophy, Tomberg had not only converted, but begun writing in a Catholic vein profoundly removed from Steiner’s weltanschauung.

The break is startling – for Tomberg now not merely affirms ‘ecclesiastical Christianity”, he not merely affirms Catholicism (which amongst ecclesiastical Christianity, Steiner had particularly critiqued) – he goes much further still.

He goes as a far to defend an extremely traditional Catholicism that even then, would have been seen as ‘reactionary’.

We might call this a Counter–Revolutionary Catholicism.

Terms need defining. The designation has become rather elastic over time, meaning a lot may be gathered under this umbrella-term. But I will include not only the Catholicism that said a severe NO – not simply to the revolutionary spirit which emerged so violently in the American and French revolutions of 1776 and 1789 – but also to the revolution that can be seen in the Protestant Reformation beginning with 95 theses of Martin Luther in 1517.

Today’s Church no longer speaks with a ‘severe NO’ to these revolutions. She is conciliatory to the Protestant Reformation and to ‘the spirit of 76″, if not so much, still, the spirit of 1789.

This is not the approach taken in Valentin Tomberg’s Catholic writings. After his conversion, he writes with a consistently tragic tone regarding the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution and their consequences.

In Meditations on the Tarot written in the 1960’s for example, he does not shy away from using language such as ‘Lutheran heresy’ – far stronger language than any Pope from that era would use.

And he suggests that in reforming without ‘attacking the unity of the Church” St John of the Cross atoned for the sin of Luther. Similarly he opines that St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, atoned for the sin of Calvin (cf. Meditations on the Tarot pgs 387, 396).

Scattered through Meditations on the Tarot, there is much more in a like vein regarding the Reformation. We mean to examine all this. For now, we simply note that in preparing to write his magnum opus, Tomberg drafted some preparatory notes. These have recently been published in a slim volume called The Wandering Fool. And there in these notes, one finds a single potent sentence that speaks volumes:

The impoverishment of humanity caused by Protestantism: without the Mother the Word is not ensouled, and consequently humanity is deprived of the effect of the Universal Remedy. [Emphasis in original, pg 90].

Valentin Tomberg, The Wandering Fool, p.90.
Ninety-Eight Seconds on Tomberg and Steiner—Article Continues Below

As to the French Revolution, the Catholic Tomberg never writes of this in terms that are less than dark and tragic. And in his first Catholic legal works, he appears to identify the spirit of the American Revolution with that of the French.

By contrast, although Rudolf Steiner spoke with a certain nuance about the Reformation and French revolution – for him, they were very far from being unambiguously dreadful.

His German spirit affirmed that initial Teutonic break from Catholicism. In general terms, one would not go too far wrong in speaking of Anthroposophy as ‘esoteric Protestantism’.

This last designation perhaps moves too far in the direction of caricature. Still, it is suggestive of much: the Reformation had declared ‘sola scriptura” – the Bible alone. Christianity did not need to be mediated through a hierarchy (with the Pope at the apex), through the teaching authority of the Magisterium, through tradition, through community.

Community across the world and across the ages could now be disregarded for one’s own individual ‘take’. Individual effort to interpret the scriptures could replace the Catholic structures—which were frequently seen as tyrannical.

Yet Steiner went further in this individualistic Christian trajectory. According to Steiner, not only did one not need “tyrannical” Romanism – one did not even necessarily need to rely on the Gospels.

Steiner spent his life arguing for an epistemology that the could behold the Mystery of Christ directly – without any intermediary whatsoever. He was critical of ecclesiastical Christianity in general, Catholicism especially and most particularly Jesuitism.

My Own Book Concerning Tomberg and Catholicism. Click to See on Amazon
Michael Martin-Roger Buck

However, the Jesuits were the spearhead for the very kind of Counter-Revolutionary Catholicism, which the later Catholic Tomberg would now affirm in striking and significant ways.

And it might be observed that it was the Jesuits who did most of all in the Catholic Church to build an alternative route to the Protestant trajectory.

One is tempted to say a Counter-Revolutionary ‘Road Less Travelled”. This is to speak of an alternative to that post-1517 road which – once more – Valentin Tomberg believed to be that of: ‘the impoverishment of humanity caused by Protestantism … deprived of the effect of the Universal Remedy.”

To be continued—though other writings may appear at this website beforehand – including a review of a book by Charles A. Coulombe, which is all to do with Counter-Revolutionary Catholicism. (Now added – here – and relevant to this series on Tomberg).

Part Three is here.

Books from Roger Buck

Foreword for Monarchy by Roger Buck

Classics from Valentin Tomberg

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18 responses to “Valentin Tomberg, Catholicism and the Counter-Revolution—Pt. 2”

  1. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
    Edwin Shendelman

    It’s great to see you started on your commentary on Tomberg! You certainly hi-light the traditionalist nature of Tomberg’s view regarding Protestantism and the spirit behind the American and French revolutions. But do you not think he is much more in line with the spirit of Vatican 2 in his approach to esoteric movements in Europe and the spiritualities of the East and the Americas? In other words, he has an openness even if that is coupled with a Catholic orientation. Indeed, he would go farther, a lot farther, than the middle of the road hierarchy of the current Church in these matters. What do you think of this question?

  2. roger Avatar

    Edwin, it is very good to have your thoughtful voice here again … Thank you.

    You raise profound things indeed. Too profound for me to address properly in this comments box.

    For now, I will not say you are wrong, nor will I say you are right.

    However I will note that for many years my interpretation was more along your lines here.

    But that interpretation I once had – as a liberal Catholic who could not swallow how conservative Tomberg really sounded at times – seems to have missed much.

    For me, it was hard to bear in mind that in his public writings about Vatican II that he has not one single good thing to say about it.

    Baffling – for you are right Edwin, inasmuch as you might think he would affirm at least certain aspects of Vatican II.

    But he does not.

    As the liberal Catholic I once was, I can honestly say nothing, NOTHING in Tomberg’s corpus made my heart sink more than these lines from Lazarus Come Forth:

    “The Council for which Pope John XXIII prayed did in fact fail” …

    “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 …

    There is far, far more that needs to be said about this – but I shall have to leave it for the series itself.

    I will just say later on in the same book – cannot find pg. number right now – Valentin Tomberg issues a call for the solitary sons of the Church to come to the aid of the Holy Church to save the Church from the ABYSS into which she is sinking.

    It is clear that Valentin Tomberg meant the direction in the aftermath of Vatican II.

    I have had to pray long and hard about that.

    Again my warm thanks. Through internet analytics, I know people are following this site. But it is good to hear from them! And you have always graced this site with real and heartfelt thinking and searching …

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  4. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
    Edwin Shendelman

    My question is not so much whether he supported Vatican 2 in an explicit way but whether his ecumenicism in regards to non-Christian religions and spiritual practices went further than Vatican 2. Really, it is a comment. You cannot read the Meditations or for that matter Lazarus, Come Forth without understanding not only a respect but a deep engagement with these non-Christian spiritual traditions. For example, Lazarus contains a Kabbalistic hermaneutic on the Ten Commandments, oriented to the Catholic Mystery! The implication is that even if he saw the corrosive effect of Vatican 2 on the Church as a whole he may have been in step with in other ways. Though his views certainly go way beyond what mainstream Catholics and the middle of the road hierarchy may hold to in regards these things.

    1. roger Avatar

      Edwin, thank you once more. Your point about Cabbala specifically is well taken, I think. Please refer to a response I will shortly post at the next installment of this series to you and Billy both …

  5. Russian Revolution – Революция в России…

    […]Valentin Tomberg, Catholic Tradition and the Counter-Revolution (Part II)[…]…

  6. Jay Landar Avatar

    Meditations on the Tarot is a great masterpiece. It would be disingenuous, however, to separate it from the esoteric tradition. Tomberg did write as a Catholic – but within this book he also affirmed his belief in the truth of reincarnation as well as other ideas which do not fit so easily within the context of Catholic faith! In the same book he also spoke favourably about Steiner’s contribution – for example his book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. I think we would all do much better if we would allow ourselves to think ideas through without being scared of them – there is no requirement to believe or not believe something, only to weigh it up with good sense. Above all to live from the heart, which is the only way to avoid these awful questions of who believed what and whether it will disturb convention. It’s interesting, of course, that anthroposophists apparently find Tomberg a very problematic figure. I’m writing here as someone whose only wish is to draw the very best from any profound source of ideas.

    1. roger Avatar

      Jay, thank you so much for speaking here. I get a lot of silent readership and I am grateful to you for not being silent!

      You raise issues such as ‘disturb[ing] convention and ‘allow[ing] ourselves to think through ideas without being scared of them.’

      I draw the conclusion (falsely?) that you might be gently admonishing me for concern about disturbing convention or fear of thinking things out.

      What can I say? I cannot see all the darkness of my heart – so it is entirely possible that you are picking up things in my writing that are frightened – frightened on such superficial levels.

      However, while not as I say knowing the darkness of my heart, I really have to say that it seems to me that there is more to what I am trying to say here than such superficialities.

      You speak about the need to ‘Above all live from the heart’. Amen.

      I honestly believe that what these reflexions in this series involve is the fruit of nearly 15 years of trying to do that vis a vis the legacy of Tomberg and yes his complex, highly paradoxical inheritance from Steiner.

      You invoke Steiner’s epistemology (Knowledge of the Higher Worlds) and I would say that Tomberg is indeed trying to rescue Steiner’s epistemology.

      As I have commented elsewhere, Tomberg certainly believes that esotericism and hermeticism need rescuing – baptising in the same sense that Aquinas rescued and baptised the philosophy of the pagan Aristotle.

      But what Tomberg is trying to do – as in what I just mention in regard to Steiner’s epistemology – is to do that in such a way that it does not negate the Tradition.

      In the blog entry above that you have commented on, you may see how I am saying that – putting it crudely – Steiner is trying to go to Christ without the intermediary of a ‘tyrannical’ Rome or even necessarily studying the Gospels in a traditional way.

      Tomberg clearly warns repeatedly that this is dangerous indeed! At the same time, it would indeed be disingenuous to suggest that Tomberg simply rejected Steiner … He did not. The truth is far more complex.

      Too complex for a comments box! My point is that although I do not see the depths of disingenuousness, concern for conventions etc that I am sure do lie in the darkness of my heart – I do believe that what I am trying to do in this entire series of blog (9 parts so far) is more than that.

      Again it reflects my struggle at very heartfelt and existential level for many years now.

      I think there are ‘awful questions’ in all of this Jay, but for me, they are awful not for superficial reasons but because – again – they are profoundly existential, I would say terrifyingly existential.

      This is why I have tried to place them at the centre of my heart’s struggling and prayers for close to 15 years now.

      Again: thank you for commenting. If I have not responded to every complex topic you raise, I think you can find more elsewhere in the 9 part series and the parts that will follow in time. For example part 9 goes much more into Steiner and in part 1 and the comments that follow address somewhat the issue of reincarnation, which Tomberg did indeed see as real – though not true …

      1. Jay Landar Avatar

        Thank you! Your article stimulated a positive response in me. I respect and understand your existential struggle.

        1. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
          Edwin Shendelman

          I think what underlies a lot of this here is that if you get closer Tomberg you also get closer to the Catholic Tomberg which brings you into proximity at least to the Catholic Church. Indeed, it is not a matter of denying either the Church or the Esoteric Tradition of which Tomberg was equally a part of. But … and this is an important but … any reflection on the Catholic dimension does bring you into the question of Authority which might change the nature of an open-hearted questing for the truth. Let us say one does not have be less open-hearted but a gravitation and magneticism may be set up to say a source of authority like the Church that may change the quality of openness. Authority and Tradition is not irrelevant to an sincere seeking whether it is coming from the Church or another source.

          1. Jay Landar Avatar

            Yes, indeed – but clearly there has to be a great deal of give and take between those who choose freely to honour and submit to that authority, and those who feel less able to do so. I don’t doubt the sincere seeking. I sense that there is a genuine sacrifice or giving of oneself in accepting the authority of the church in this way. I could understand that this sacrifice could change the quality of openness. I’m filled with wonderment that Tomberg managed to achieve the breath of outlook that he did. But there are still some sticky points – most notably in the question of reincarnation as mentioned above – and the argumentative part of myself would not easily let these go..

  7. roger Avatar

    Dear Edwin, Jay, what follows is not so much a response to the fullness of either of your comments. Right now it is late in Liverpool and I should like to wait till I am fresher before saying more.

    However I would like to make if not a response, then an interjection here ….

    Granted that Valentin Tomberg saw a kind of secondary reality to the notion of reincarnation – if not the fullness of truth.

    However Tomberg spoke as though this matter is very dangerous indeed and IMPLORED his readers to think very, very carefully before they promoted this dangerous idea. The emphasis on the word IMPLORE is his emphasis, not mine. (Granted it is in italics, not capitals.)

    Thus on 391-392 of MotT, we find:

    I confess that it is only after hesitation, due to objections of a very serious moral order, that I have decided to write of the danger that the doctrine of reincarnation entails, and above all of that abuse that can be— and is, in fact —made of it. It is the faith that you, dear Unknown Friend, understand the weight of responsibility that weighs on each person who sees himself treating reincarnation not as belonging to the domain of esoteric (i.e. intimate) experience, but as an exoteric teaching to popularise — called to convince everyone—which has determined me to speak of the practical abuse of the fact of reincarnation.

    I implore you therefore, dear Unknown Friend, to have the good will to examine, in the light of moral conscience, the question whether the way of treating reincarnation in exoteric teaching that has been adopted … by Theosophists, Anthroposophists, Rosicrucians, etc. is justified …

    I may add that in the last analysis it is a matter not only of the moral danger of evading purgatory – and the experience of Eternity, but also of replacing one immortality by another, namely that of God by that of the serpent.”

    It is for the reason of this very great danger of the effort to avoid purgatory and Eternity that Tomberg said the Church was absolutely right in what She did.

    One senses here I think how tortured Tomberg was in regards to this and he returns to this theme in Lazarus Come Forth.

    There he defends the Church’s decision in regards to denying reincarnation as ‘impeccable’. This on pg 62 of the old edition. I regret I do not know the page in the new edition, which I do not have.

    We are speaking of very deep, very tangled matters here – and ones again that Tomberg considered very dangerous.

    May I be forgiven then, if I repeat that Valentin IMPLORES his reader on this matter to be especially morally serious, given what he calls ‘the weight of responsibility’ here.

    And I repeat also this is just an interjection. For you both say much else worthy of comment, which I cannot easily manage now.

    1. Jay Landar Avatar

      Thank you, Roger, for giving me airtime here as a visitor. This is the first time I’ve been able to discuss Tomberg anywhere and I’m grateful for being able to do it in such a reflective environment. My interpretation is that Tomberg is saying that reincarnation is real, that it belongs to the realm of esoteric experience, but that it is not suitable for public presentation in any form. (I’m not trying to argue the case for or against.) I take his warnings very seriously and also deplore the very fatuous treatment of reincarnation in many places. But if – if – it is a truth, is it right that it should be concealed? Is there a difference between denying something as a doctrine and as a reality? Hmm. Too many complications to take this matter much further. The essential question here is not so much about reincarnation but about Tomberg’s mission to carry hermeticism into the heart of traditional Catholicism – or vice versa. On this subject I admit I have a huge amount to learn..

  8. roger Avatar

    Edwin, Jay – long delayed fuller response which I indicated I would give here:

    Edwin you write:

    ‘Authority and Tradition is not irrelevant to an sincere seeking …’

    Indeed and I think throughout the book Tomberg is frequently saying it in far stronger terms …

    Obedience is indispensable, he says at one point as in:

    But the hierarchical order is eternal and obedience is indispensable. 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.’ Mott 119

    So much in this. The Enlightenment aspiration to be emancipated is likened to a pentagram that is not the Sacred upright pentagram.

    Non-obedience leads to false authority, dictatorship … our current global media and advertising industry spring readily to mind …

    And thus, obedience is indispensable.

    Very complex things here. I have known people who tend to try to interpret such passages as obedience simply to one’s own conscience, an inner spiritual dimension, etc.

    Clearly Tomberg esteems conscience very highly, but he is certainly talking about more than simply inner dimensions – emphasis in capitals is mine:

    ‘Obedience … is the life of cosmic and HUMAN HIERARCHICAL ordering; it is the meaning and justification of the fact that there are Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominions, Virtues, Powers; Princi-
    palities, Archangels, Angels; Priests, Knights and Commoners.

    Obedience is order: it is international law; it is the state; it is the Church.’ Mott 112

    So much could be said. I struggled painfully for long years with all of this …

    And Jay in regards your most recent comment – I agree when you write:

    ‘Too many complications to take this matter much further. ‘

    Let me just stress, that Tomberg is not simply saying that reincarnation should not be a doctrine of the Church. That is say, it is not that he is saying the Church was right to deny reincarnation as a doctrine because it is dangerous but it is true nonetheless. He is actually saying it is less than true …

    Too many complications for a comments box!

    But I thank you both for commenting here and for your own struggles I imagine with these weighty, complex matters.

    1. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
      Edwin Shendelman

      In VT’s writings one gets the sense of a constant two-foldness in his thinking. Sometimes it is a two-foldness like two wings beating on the same bird and sometimes it is dualistic or dialectical.

      Authority and Tradition likewise has a two-fold nature in his writings and I think this legitimately embraces the Tradition. This two-foldness is expressed in what could be called the “orthodox” side and the “creative” side. The orthodox understanding of the transmission of Tradition is the one must receive it from the “legitimate authorities” like the Magesterium, a Priest, a Monk, a Spiritual Director and so on. You can definitely find this strand in VT’s thought. The creative understanding of the Transmission of Tradition is the personal work we do in the spiritual domain, where under the power of the Holy Spirit we ENGAGE in a personal way the Living Spiritual Reality behind the religion. This is the experience of mystics, gnostics (in VT’s sense), Prophets and Saints. Here, the engagement with Tradition is Creative, in that we discover new vistas, new horizons in the spiritual domain and give expression to them in writing, in our lives and so on. This wing is also represented in VT’s writing. I think VT would not want to see these two “wings” separated but beating on the same bird.

      1. roger Avatar

        Yes Edwin, absolutely. I think you have put this beautifully indeed. Perhaps I emphasise the first strand sometimes, the first wing, because it is very much the broken wing in our culture – particularly modern Anglophone culture.

        There are masses of folk who want to read Tomberg without regarding his powerful emphasis on obedience, authority tradition.

        However for Tomberg, Tradition is living if it is growing. It becomes fossilised and pharisaic if it is not creatively engaged in the ways you convey.

        I think a certain readership of this site is very alarmed, however, when the second creative wing is used as a ‘blank cheque’ for unlimited innovation in the Tradition, a license for that which is far from truly inspired.

        Thus Tomberg has nothing good to say about the innovations of Vatican II – as I have pointed out frequently here. The innovations he names are not creative and Tomberg was a prophet in seeing how destructive they would prove to be – leading the Church towards ‘the abyss’.

        And thus Tomberg after Vatican II cried out for the need ‘to save the Church from the abyss toward which she is moving.’

        Still there is a certain kind of Traditionalist who, as the Holy Father has said, wants to have the Tradition’frozen in 1962′.

        This cannot be the answer, anymore than the destructive innovations have been. Catholics are not meant to become pharisees.

        Still the innovations have been so deeply wounding to the Church that the call to obedience becomes very, very highlighted in this era of continuous rebellion.

  9. Anna Avatar

    Thank you for this commentary. I am a Catholic and graduate of Christendom College (2003). I discovered the Meditatioms only very recently and am about 100 pages in. Other than reincarnation, Von T seems to have so many deep and transformative insights into the faith and I wish there was a way to make this book more available and well known in Catholic circles. I am curious as I have heard it rumored that John Paul II had a copy of this book. Does anyone know if he or Ratzinger gave the book an analysis ever?

  10. roger Avatar

    Anna – thank you. I am grateful for your comment in two important ways.

    First, the most obvious one – the important issues you raise as to the Vatican’s response to MotT. I actually have a post I am preparing about this – so will not say much now, except that I see important links to both JPII and Ratzinger – if not any formal, public analysis.

    So, more soon – as you have given me the impetus to finish this long-delayed post!

    No promises – but I will really try to finish it by the weekend, Sunday eve or earlier. So please check back then …

    The other thing I am grateful for is your naming your time at Christendom College.

    This institution has drawn my deep interest for years! In truth, I am more than deeply interested – I am haunted, positively haunted by the place … and people like Warren H. Carroll, Brent Bozell Jr etc. (I also have two of Timothy T. O’Donnell’s books reviewed at this site …)

    It seems to me wonderful that you could participate in its programme and although it is completely off the topic of this thread, I would love to hear any more you might be able to share of Christendom …