A Catholic Theologian’s Occult Dabblings

An earlier post dealt with a commentary at Spero News which raised questions about the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. That article has problems, but one question is not easily dismissed, and that is the issue of von Balthasar’s dabblings in the occult.

Here is von Balthasar himself: Excerpt from Foreword to Meditations on the Tarot.

Of the book, Meditations on the Tarot, he says,

A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us the symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis and magic, taking in also the Cabbala and certain elements of astrology and alchemy. These symbols are summarised in the twenty-two so-called “Major Arcana” of the Tarot cards. By way of the Major Arcana the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery.

He describes the interest throughout the ages of Christian thinkers into esoterica and “Hermeticism,” rooted in the books attributed to “Hermes Trismegistus.” Like them, he thinks it possible to learn from these pagan sources without compromising Christian faith.

Here the important point is that although this penetration into the secret teachings of pagan and Jewish origin was pursued in the spirit of humanism, in the hope of bringing new life into rigidified Christian theology through collecting such scattered revelation and illumination, no one for a moment doubted that despite the disparities everything could be accommodated into the true Christian faith. …

The author’s “Meditations on the Major Arcana of the Tarot” are in the tradition of the great accomplishments of Pico della Mirandola and Franz von Baader, but are independent of them. The mystical, magical, occult tributaries which flow into the stream of his meditations are much more encompassing; yet the confluence of their waters within him, full of movement, becomes inwardly a unity of Christian contemplation.

You can read extracts from the book here. Here are quotes by people praising it, including some by well known Christian monks. And here, apparently, is a photo of one of von Balthasar’s friends with the edition of the work given to him by von Balthasar in plain view on his desk.

And von Balthasar and his famous friend have the reputation of being conservative.

13 thoughts on “A Catholic Theologian’s Occult Dabblings

  1. I have the book in front of me now, and I just don’t see where any of this swerves from orthodoxy.

    At the moment, it’s tough for me to come up with a sufficient analogy. Perhaps this will work, though: it’s like Thomas Merton writing a book on the Christian elements of Buddhism. Merton took heat for this too, because people thought he was branching out in to a pagan religion. But this wasn’t at all the case. He was simply very interested in where Buddhism and Christianity converge, and what we can learn from Buddhism on those elements.

    I believe it is *absolutely* possible to “learn from these pagan sources without compromising Christian faith,” because the Holy Spirit isn’t at work solely in the Christian Church. It’s a generally accepted, post-Vatican II idea, that we see glimpses of truth in other religions. To see and take note of where these varying religions intersect Truth is a noble, interesting project, one worthy of folks like Merton and Balthasar.

  2. I read the first chapter and found these heresies.

    IT IS IN THE DEEP AND INTIMATE LAYERS OF THE SOUL WHICH WE BECOME ACTIVE AND BEAR FRUIT WHEN ONE MEDITATES ON THE ARCANA OF THE TAROT.
    (p.4)

    As Catholics, we are not supposed to meditate on Tarot cards.

    YOU KNOW WITHOUT DOUBT, DEAR UNKNOWN FRIEND, THAT MANY PROMULGATE THE DOCTRINE OF THE SO-CALLED “TWO CHURCHS”. THE CHURCH OF PETER AND THE CHURCH OF JOHN, OR OF “TWO EPOCHS”– THE EPOCH OF PETER AND THE EPOCH OF JOHN. YOU KNOW ALSO THAT THIS DOCTRINE TEACHES THE END…OF THE CHURCH OF PETER, OR ABOVE ALL OF THE PAPACY WHICH IS ITS VISIBLE SYMBOL, AND THAT THE SPIRIT OF JOHN…WILL REPLACE IT. IN THIS WAY IT TEACHES THAT THE “ESOTERIC” CHURCH OF PETER WILL MAKE WAY FOR THE “ESOTERIC” CHURH OF JOHN, WHICH WILL BE THAT OF PERFECT FREEDOM. (p.6)

    Scripture tells us: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    THE WORLD IS AN ORGANISM(p.12)

    Scripture tells us that the world is the creation of God the Father, and it is put under the command of man. It is the worship of GAIA that posits the world is an organism.

    THAT WHICH IS ABOVE IS LIKE THAT WHICH IS BELOW.(p.13)

    This is not Catholic doctrine. This is the premise of occultism.

    THE STORY OF CAIN AND ABEL IS A MYTH(p.14)

    Cain and Abel are Scriptural, not myth.

    THE SAME IS SAID ABOUT THE FALL OF ADAM AND EVE AND NOAH’S ARK. THESE ARE MYTHS…(p.15) (in original)

    No where in Catholic doctrine are these said to be myths.

    Occultists are cited again and again throughout the chapter.

    It should not be difficult for one to recognize that this diverges from Catholic theology.

    God Bless!
    Maria

  3. “As Catholics, we are not supposed to meditate on Tarot cards.”

    No? Why then am I year after year invited to come and read tarot in a fund raiser for Roman Catholic Schools?

    THAT WHICH IS ABOVE IS LIKE THAT WHICH IS BELOW.

    Our Father… Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven..

    Pax,
    Father Emrick

  4. “No? Why then am I year after year invited to come and read tarot in a fund raiser for Roman Catholic Schools?”

    Simple–Because those schools that would invite you to do so are not in harmony with Christian teaching.

  5. I read the second post and found these errors.

    We are forbidden to attempt divination, by any means including tarot cards. This has nothing to do with meditation on the arcana themselves. And even if it did, the quote from HuvB isn’t heresy. I hope i don’t need to provide a definition for a charge your glibly making.

    HuvB only points out the fact that some promulgate this false doctrine. Your second quote does nothing whatsoever to demonstrate that he himself promulgates such a pernicious doctrine.

    Your third claim would seem to indicate that you understand organisms to be uncreated beings. Further, the 4th definition of the word organism in Random House’s 2006 Unabridged would seem to include such structures as earth. Lastly on this topic, just because earth Worshippers claim the earth is an organism doesn’t make everyone who believes such an earth worshipper. I bet a lot of pagans posit the earth is round; I’m not going to quit proclaiming it too.

    For the fourth, you provide absolutely no context whatsoever for the quote, nor your assertion that this is a premise of occultism.

    To move things along we’ll condense the last two. I am aware of no requirement that the faithful hold the historicity of the Book of Genesis, beyond affirming that we come from one original couple that God elevated to bearing the Imagio Dei. There are a few perfectly orthodox ways to believe what HuvB says there.

    The funny thing is, I’m not a big HuvB fan, but the above post is more reminiscent of the Evangelical thinking I was raised with than the careful, thoughtful work I have come to expect from Catholics. Maybe he was a heretic, you’ve just not demonstrated it.

  6. I shouldn’t have referred to HuvB repeatedly. I meant the anonymous author every time. My apologies.

  7. “Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians. For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that, becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing. For all the writers were able to see realities darkly through the sowing of the implanted word that was in them. For the seed and imitation imparted according to capacity is one thing, and quite another is the thing itself, of which there is the participation and imitation according to the grace which is from Him.” — St. Justin Martyr – Apology, Part II, Chapter 13.

    “For God is the cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New Testament; and of others by consequence, as philosophy.” — Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Chapter 5.

    The question of how to appropriate truth from among pagan sources is a very old one for the Church. I don’t know if there might be truth among the content of the Tarot or Buddhism, but the possibility should not be ruled out in principle.

  8. It is one thing to suggest that there might be principles in human religions that, followed properly, would lead one to a hunger for greater truth. Romans 1.

    It is something else to suggest that pagan systems of belief are the subject for theological inquiry by Christians, as we should turn from light to darkness, from truth to superstition, from worship of the one true God to idolatry. There are only warnings in Scripture, Old and New Testament, for this.

  9. ‘These are “the doctrines” of men and “of demons” produced for itching ears of the spirit of this world’s wisdom: this the Lord called “foolishness,” and “chose the foolish things of the world” to confound even philosophy itself. For (philosophy) it is which is the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy. From this source came the AEons, and I known not what infinite forms, and the trinity of man in the system of Valentinus, who was of Plato’s school. From the same source came Marcion’s better god, with all his tranquillity; he came of the Stoics. Then, again, the opinion that the soul dies is held by the Epicureans; while the denial of the restoration of the body is taken from the aggregate school of all the philosophers; also, when matter is made equal to God, then you have the teaching of Zeno; and when any doctrine is alleged touching a god of fire, then Heraclitus comes in. The same subject-matter is discussed over and over again by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments are involved. Whence comes evil? Why is it permitted? What is the origin of man? and in what way does he come? Besides the question which Valentinus has very lately proposed–Whence comes God? Which he settles with the answer: From enthymesis and ectroma. Unhappy Aristotle! who invented for these men dialectics, the art of building up and pulling down; an art so evasive in its propositions, so far-fetched in its conjectures, so harsh, in its arguments, so productive of contentions–embarrassing even to itself, retracting everything, and really treating of nothing! Whence spring those “fables and endless genealogies,” and “unprofitable questions,” and “words which spread like a cancer?” From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, “See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost.”(2: 8) He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our victorious faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.’ — Tertullian, Prescriptions against the Heretics, Chapter 7, Pagan Philosophy the Parent of Heresies. The Connection Between Deflections from Christian Faith and the Old Systems of Pagan Philosophy.

  10. And yet Augustine, Aristotle and even Benedict XVI paid Tertullian no mind in this regard.

  11. I don’t think Aristotle would have paid any attention to Tertullian–he died about 500 years before Tertullian was born.

  12. Yeah, you can tell how hard a time I have separating Aristotle, Aquinas and the RaMBaM sometimes. I did mean Aquinas above, haste got the better of me.

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