Witnesses to the Wind of Death: Valentin Tomberg and Malachi Martin

Father Malachi Martin 1921-1999. May his soul repose in blessed peace …

For my part, it has been striking to note a metaphor used in common, by both Valentin Tomberg and Malachi Martin – those two great defenders of the Catholic Tradition who witnessed and deplored the changes in the Church during the 1960’s.

For regarding the Second Vatican Council and its outcomes, both of these immensely erudite and penetrating observers invoke the image of savagely destructive, even deadly wind.

There is first a passage from Valentin Tomberg from his final volume Lazarus Come Forth. We have presented parts of this before – but here it is in greater fullness (with my italics):

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 .

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! …

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 national languages and many other problems associated with conforming to the spirit of the age …

The “fresh wind” of the council was not the wind of the Pentecost miracle in the Church but a wind blowing out of the “world” into the Church – through a portal which had now been opened.

It was not the effect of the Church on the world, but the effect of the world on the Church.

Against the will and hope of the now deceased Pope John XXIII and of his successor, Paul VI, it happened that the Second Vatican Council became a door which opened to the world, but in such a way that the “world’s wind” blew into the Church.

The Council for which Pope John XXIII prayed did in fact fail; it failed … to guard the “portal” where the way begins which leads to degeneration, to exhaustion, and to death (hades) – the “way of the world”.

This failure to guard the threshold the portal opening up to the “way of the world” … is nothing else and can be nothing else but the way to death …

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Could anything be clearer? Tomberg deliberately –and very consciously, one may be sure – invokes the word hades – suggesting hell. He clearly believes the Church has started on “the way to death”.

A few pages later in the same book, he will say:

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 …

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Yes, Valentin Tomberg beheld the Council as being overtaken by an immense wind of death. As we shall see, Malachi Martin described the Church in the Sixties in a similar vein; most potently I think.

Now I am grateful that permission has been granted to quote the passage above. Admittedly, I have not gained permission for the following lengthy quotes from Malachi Martin. However I recently reviewed his book The Jesuits and, as an adjunct to that review, I offer this material from it.

I do not know what the late Father Martin would make of all the “Fair Use” debate around the common practice of internet quotation, but given the severity of the crisis in the Church – for which Father Martin put himself on the line so courageously – I hope he would smile down on my invoking his voice.

Because again: Martin’s writing here is most potent. My reason for presenting it – at some length – is that I think in the face of the crisis that the Church still faces today and the crisis of materialistic society, we have remarkably helpful reportage from an “eye-witness to the revolution of the Sixties.”

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Yes it is my lonely prayer in cyberspace that this material will be found, read and studied and perhaps lead some folk to Father Martin’s remarkable writings – two of which The Jesuits (again from which this is taken) and Windswept House are reviewed at this site.

Here now are edited extracts from a long passage in The Jesuits appearing on pages 244-250. The italics again are my own.

Put yourself in the position of a born-and-bred city dweller setting out for work on the route you have used every morning for … years …

You’ve done it hundreds of times, five days a week, for who knows how many weeks, year after year …

All is so unexpected, so predictable, so reassuring, that no matter what the noise, or what the jagged movement of street things, in a certain sense, all of it ensures your peace of mind. Around that well-known corner, it will be the same as it always was. This is what you assume unconsciously …

But picture yourself turning that corner and being suddenly seized from behind by a blasting high wind that comes from seeming nowhere and in its hurricane passage shatters buildings, leveling some of them, throwing people about, littering pavements, uprooting trees … as it carries you off willy-nilly with everyone and everything else in dizzying directions.

This is a change so total, so abrupt, so irresistible in fact, that you no longer know where you are, where you’re going, what is happening.

[Then] another high wind interlacing with the first comes screaming incoherently around your ears and … seems to affect most people around you with a sort of ecstatic joy …

So eerie is the effect of the second blast that even in all the violence and turmoil, the most disorienting thing of all for you is the strange euphoria of expectation and joyous confidence that seems to grip most of the people who are being tossed about …

A bizarre element of this disturbing euphoria is the way that people begin to talk, whether among themselves or to God. They seem in an instant to have learned a new language … with pop-up, pre-fab concepts: “Don’t worship vertically! Worship horizontally!” “Whatever helps creative growth toward integration!” …

Wild questions assault you … Why was there no warning? … Why is everyone so euphorically confident about the future? Is their joyous leap forward into darkness … informed by their instinct for the divine?

Such a scenario wild and surreal as it seems is barely enough to convey the completeness and the suddenness of the change and the strange euphoria that overpowered Roman Catholics – and surprisingly, Jesuits along with them – in the 1960’s.

For an entire traditional way of religious life and practice was seemingly killed off that suddenly without warning.

A centuries-old mentality was flushed out in a hurricane of change.

In one sense, a certain world of thought, feeling, attitude, ceased to exist — the old Catholic world centered on the authority of the Roman Pontiff; the cast-iron “either-or” of Catholic dogma and morality; the frequentation of Mass, Confession, Holy Communion; the Rosary and the various pieties and devotions of parish life; the militancy of the Roman Catholic laity in defence of traditional Catholic values. That entire world was swept away, as it were, overnight.

When the violence of the winds had passed and the new day dawned, people looked about and found that suddenly the universal Latin of the Mass was gone. Stranger still: The Roman Mass itself was gone.

In its place, there was a new rite that resembled the old immemorial Mass as a lean-to shanty resembles a Palladian mansion. The new rite was said in a babel of languages, each one saying different things.

Things that sounded un-Catholic. That only God the Father was God, for example; and that the new rite was a community supper, not an enactment of Christ’s death on the Cross; and that priests were no longer priests of sacrifice, but ministers at table serving guests at a common meal of fellowship …

The devastation of those hurricane winds had not stopped there. Churches and chapels, convents and monasteries had been denuded of statues.

Altars of sacrifice had been removed or at least abandoned, and four-legged tables were planted in front of the people instead, as for a pleasant meal. Tabernacles were removed along with the fixed belief about Christ’s Sacrifice as the essence of the Mass. Vestments were modified or laid aside completely. Communion rails were removed.

The faithful were told not to kneel any longer when receiving Holy Communion, butt to stand like free men and women, and to take the Bread of Communion and the Cup of the Grape of Fellowship in their own democratic hands.

In many churches, members of the Congregation were immediately expelled for public disturbance of worship if they dared to genuflect, or worse still, to kneel, for Holy Communion in the new rite…

Outside the churches, altar cloths, Mass vestments, Communion rails, even pulpits, statues, and kneelers as well as Stations of the Cross were either consigned to bonfires and city dumps or sold off at public auctions where interior designers picked them up at bargain prices and launched an ecclesiastical look in the decoration of high-rise apartments and the elegant homes of suburbia. A carved oak altar made such an unusual “vanity” table…

Attendance at Mass immediately declined, and within ten years was down by 30 percent in the United States, 60 percent in France and Holland, 50 percent in Italy, 20 percent in England and Wales.

Within another ten years, 85% of all Catholics in France, Spain, Italy, and Holland never went to Mass.

Seminary populations plummeted. In Holland, 2000 priests and 5000 Religious brothers and nuns abandoned their ministries …

Similar declines were registered elsewhere.

In the twelve years 1965-1977, some twelve to fourteen thousand priests worldwide asked to be relieved of their duties, or they simply left. Sixty thousand nuns left their convents between 1966 and 1983 …

The Catholic Church had never suffered such devastating losses in such a short time.

Very many teaching nuns simply doffed their religious habits, quickly acquired lay clothes, cosmetics, and jewelry, said good-bye to the local bishops who had hitherto been their major superiors, declared themselves now constituted as ordinary, decent, straightforward American educators, and carried on their teaching careers …

Conversions to Catholicism were cut by two-thirds…

Those who remained –lay and clerical— were not satisfied with the attempted abolition of the traditional Roman Mass, with the overall changes of Catholic ritual and worship, and with newly exercised freedom to cast doubt on all dogmas. It wasn’t enough.

A clamor arose in favor of the use of contraceptives … of divorce and remarriage within the Church, of a married clergy, of women’s ordination, of a quick patchwork union with Protestant churches, of Communist revolution as a means not only of solving endemic poverty but of defining Faith itself.

Backing up this motley array of changes and changers and changelings, there came marching in a whole phalanx of feisty experts. Theologians, philosophers, liturgical experts, facilitators, socio-religious coordinators, lay ministers (male and female), praxis-directors –whatever their pop-up titles, all were looking for two things: converts to the new theology, and a fight with the battered and retreating traditionalists.

A flood of publications –books, magazines articles, bulletins, newsletters, plans, programs, and outlines—inundated the popular Catholic market. The experts questioned and reinterpreted every dogma and belief traditionally and universally held by Catholics.

Everything, in fact, and especially all the hard things in Roman Catholic belief – penance, chastity, fasting, obedience, submission—were subjected to violent, overnight change …

Throughout seminaries … a more subtle but still obvious weeding-out went on. Older, traditional-minded men were retired early or simply retired themselves in disgust.

They were replaced only with devotees of “the Renewal” (the word was always capitalised in those early days).

[With] the blast of euphoria, there arose among those who were left the brave if not always convincing idea that the future of Catholicism, so abruptly reduced in its practice and numbers, was now somehow brighter than ever before.

What seemed a shambles was really a vast pentecostal renewal under way; the real Church of Christ was about to emerge in all its beauty and truth …

An immediate consequence was the insistent demand for democratization to replace central authority and bring a new and much needed order throughout the length and breadth of the Church.

Priests organized themselves into leagues and associations and senates and unions on a national and regional basis. Nuns did likewise. The laity, men and women separately, followed suit …

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I shall not say much more at this point, dear Reader, leaving this to ponder, as you will.

I will simply note that twenty years after the Council finished, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a lengthy book-long interview called The Ratzinger Report – also reviewed here at this site.

And there in this book length interview, he spoke with definite echoes – if not complete accord – with the above.

One might observe that the Holy Father is not as radical as either Tomberg or Martin in regards to the Council.

Still in The Ratzinger Report, he has said:

“What the Popes and Council Fathers were expecting was a new Catholic unity, and instead one has encountered a dissension which – to use the words of Paul VI – seems to have passed over from self criticism to self destruction.

There had been the expectation of a new enthusiasm, and instead too often it has ended in boredom and discouragement.

There had been the expectation of a step forward and instead one found oneself facing a progressive process of decadence …

For those who are interested, more can be found in my review of The Ratzinger Report here.

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6 responses to “Witnesses to the Wind of Death: Valentin Tomberg and Malachi Martin”

  1. […] As I said last time, I found Tomberg’s traditional Catholicism so, so hard to digest for so many years. For example, I could never understand his wholly negative public comments regarding Vatican II. […]

  2. […] And thus the student of Tomberg may readily understand why, two decades later, Tomberg critiqued Vatican II so strongly – and clearly did not wish to see a Church which had ‘made peace with the modern world’ … (There is more about this here.) […]

  3. […] such attitudes became prominent nearly everywhere in the 1960s. And Father Malachi Martin is right: a ‘strange euphoria’ seemed to grip the Church at that time – as indeed it did everywhere else during the […]

  4. […] For Tomberg not only placed his hope for the world in the Catholic Church –  he also predicted the Church would overcome the grievous worldliness, which he saw so pronouncedly working through Vatican II. […]

  5. […] that passage from Valentin Tomberg (here) upset me – like nothing else the man ever […]

  6. […] Let us say one thing in closing, however. Valentin Tomberg was deeply conscious of the crisis in the Church at the time of Vatican II – a time when nearly everyone else was rejoicing. (We have a post here about Tomberg’s grave concerns regarding the Council.) […]

  7. […] For anyone who cares to follow this up, we have more from Martin about this here. […]