Tomberg on Ghosts and Reincarnation

Heretical nonsense

Valentin Tomberg‘s Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, discussed earlier in connection with the Afterword by Hans Urs von Balthasar, is, as Theodore Parker once said of another work, “a curious farrago of sense and nonsense.”

And it is most certainly nonsense of a heretical nature, denying fundamental Christian teachings of the nature of the human person and his relationship with God.

This becomes most evident in Letter XIII, on Death, which includes arguments on the reality of ghosts and the mechanisms of reincarnation.

Here are some extracts:

… Ghosts exist. This is not a question of belief; it is a matter of fact. There is an immense literature, without speaking of facts that one can find in the sphere of personal experience, which bears witness to the existence of ghosts. Now it is no longer a matter of believing or denying; now it is a matter only of understanding and explaining. Ghosts exist therefore. Thus it happens from time to time after someone’s death that this person or “something” of him or similar to him manifests in an outward and physical way (noises, movements, etc.) in the guise of an active energy. It is as if a certain quantity of energy, freed through death, but remaining condensed and not dispersed, manifests as an entity or as an individual “body”. … (p. 358)

What, then, is a ghost? It is exactly what Gurdjieff teaches concerning the product of psychic crystallisation effected from within the physical body, and which can resist the death of the latter. …

A ghost is always constituted as a consequence of crystallisation, i.e., crystallisation of a desire, a passion, or a purpose of great intensity, which produces a complex of energy in the human being. … (p. 359-360)

And the same thing that happens with human beings who are possessed by strong desires, passions and intentions can be achieved methodically by making use of the scientific method of the “construction of the tower of Babel”. Then one could not only animate the double crystallised from a desire, a passion or a dominant intention, but also equip it with an intellectual apparatus of very developed functioning and a mechanical memory in which all the facts of experience on the physical plane are accumulated. The “self” of such an occultist would then be allied to this double, who is the bearer of his memory and intellect, and could incarnate himself anew–avoiding purgatory and the whole path of purification, illumination and union which is the lot of the human soul after death. … (p. 360)

[The serpent of Genesis] did not lie. … He advanced the bold programme–but real and realisable–aiming at a mankind which would be composed of the living and of ghosts, with the latter reincarnating almost without delay and avoiding the way which leads through purgatory to heaven.

You see now, dear Unknown Friend, why the Church was hostile to the doctrine of reincarnation, although the fact of repeated incarnations was known–and could not remain unknown–to a large number of people faithful to the Church with authentic spiritual experience. The deeper reason is the danger of reincarnation by way of the ghost, where one avoids the path of purification (in purgatory), illumination and celestial union. (p. 361)

Similar statements are scattered through the work.

As we have already mentioned, reincarnation–successive lives of the same human individuality–is a fact of experience, as are the successive periods of wakefulness belonging to the day, which are interrupted by sleep at night. (p. 104)

Elsewhere, he becomes enraptured of the glories of paganism (well, of the good paganism of some pagans vs. the bad paganism of other pagans).

With this distinction made, one can say that the “pagan” initiates and philosophers knew of the unique God–the creator and supreme Good of the world. The Bhagavad-Gita, the books of Hermes Trismegistus, Plato, Plutarch, Plotinus and many other ancient sources prove this beyond any shadow of a doubt. The difference between the religion of the so-called “pagan” initiates and philsophers and that of Moses is simply the fact that the latter made monotheism a popular religion, whilst the former reserved it for the elite, for the spiritual aristocracy …. (p. 426)

The “paganism” of the poets–symbolic and mythological paganism–was, in so far as it was not a symbolic version of the wisdom and magic (theurgy) of the mysteries, a universal humanism. Its “gods” were, truth to tell, human personages–heroes and heroines, divinised or poetised, who were prototypes of the development of the human personality, i.e. planetary and zodiacal types. Thus Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Diana, Apollo, etc., were not at all demons, but leading prototypes of the development of the human personality who, in their turn, corresponded to cosmic–planetary and zodiacal–principles. (p. 427)

His discussion of The Judgment (Letter XX) toys with the possibility of a final apokotastasis (p. 584). The judgment will be

… the experience by mankind of awakened conscience and completely restored memory. It will be mankind itself who will judge itself. … God will not accuse anyone. He will only acquit, justify and forgive. … The last judgement will be the sacrament of penance on a cosmic scale, comprising universal confession and universal absolution. (p. 584)

Tomberg has produced an eclectic work drawing upon a wide variety of pagan and occult speculation, throwing in a dash of Christian thought from time to time. But is this a Christian reflection? I say, “No.” This is confused spiritualism, with belief in ghosts, zombies, and reincarnation.

Again, I ask, How could a Christian theologian survey such a book and not draw attention to these things? Von Balthasar’s Afterword, like Tomberg’s Last Judgment, delivers a general absolution. Had he done the job of a Christian theologian, he would have countered Tomberg’s stories of ghosts and reincarnation with a simple “Thus saith the Lord”: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

9 thoughts on “Tomberg on Ghosts and Reincarnation

  1. I approved them both at the same time. I was going to make the same point in that thread, too. 🙂

    I’m rather appalled by the clericalism of one commentator, who suggests that we shouldn’t worry about this, if there are any problems with von Balthasar, The Church will tell us. All of us readers, regardless of our level of theological training or lack thereof, should just sit back, not comment, not question, not raise concerns. Just sit back and be spoon fed with whatever The Church has to say about him or any other theologian.

  2. Well, as you remarked earlier this month, people these days are very quick to call each other heretics. It’s a serious charge, and some aren’t so comfortable making that judgement about anyone. Von Balthasar has long been under attack by the Rad Trads as a “modernist” and a “heretic,” and yet he was highly respected by Pope Benedict (also viewed by the Rad Trads as a “modernist”). That’s a point in his favor, as far as I’m concerned.

    Sure we can come to our own conclusions. But I haven’t read enough at this point to do so. Nor am I likely to in the near future… ask me again when my kids are grown. In the meantime, I have a good friend who’s a theologian at EWTN. Maybe the two of you can get together and discuss it.

  3. Yes, Benedict and John Paul praise him; rather than that inspiring me to give Balthasar the benefit of the doubt, this leads me to raise questions in the other direction ….

  4. Trust in clerics can’t be blind. That’s clericalism. And authorities cannot demand blind trust–that’s authoritarianism, which is related. Thinking Christians must be able to ask questions, and raise concerns, especially when leading Catholics 1) teach error, 2) endorse error, 3) act immorally, 4) cover up immorality, or 5) fail to act against immorality or error. All these things are cause of scandal.

    Paul was able to “oppose Peter to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Likewise he commended the Bereans, who didn’t simply trust him, but who “searched the Scriptures to see if those things were so.” Neither he nor Peter demanded blind obedience. They provide the best models of Christian leadership.

  5. Urs & Benedict
    as seen by Glenn Friesen:

    “Hans Urs von Balthasar

    The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar was one of the new Catholic theologians who rejected the scholastic dualism between nature and grace. Medard Kehl says that von Balthasar

    …belongs with Przywara, de Lubac, Fessard, Daniélou, Douillard, Congar, Hugo Rahner and Karl Rahner, among others, to that generation of theologians who, precisely with the help of the church fathers, gave the final deathblow to the “two-storey-thinking” of the neoscholastic doctrine of grace and thereby overcame the unhealthzy—for the encounter of the church with modern consciousness—dualism in Catholic thought between nature and grace, history and revelation, experience and faith (Von Balthasar Reader, 5).
    Von Balthasar’s ideas were much admired by Pope John Paul II [47], as well as by the present Pope Benedict [48]. In 1929, von Balthasar joined the Society of Jesus. Erich Przywara influenced his studies in philosophy. Von Balthasar translated Henri de Lubac’s work Catholicism (1938) into German, referring to it as the “basic book” of theology. He also studied under Henri de Lubac, who inspired him to research the Church Fathers. Von Balthasar wrote important studies on Origen (Parole et mystère chez Origène, 1957), Gregory of Nyssa (Présence et Pensée, 1942), and Maximus the Confessor (Kosmische Liturgie, 1941 ). Von Balthasar said that the Church Fathers should not be read just in terms of speculative knowledge, for they then become boring. Rather, they must be read in terms of the restlessness of the heart. In his introduction to von Balthasar, Stratford Caldecott says,

    The true God is to be found wherever the “parallel lines” of this world meet, at the converging-point of the common or “transcendental” properties of being that we call Truth, Goodness and Beauty. It is only in Beauty that Truth is good, and that Goodness is true. By losing the sense of Beauty, by closing the “spiritual senses” that grasp the colours and the contours, the taste and the fragrance of Truth in its radiant body, the theologians had betrayed even the very Master they claimed to serve. [51]
    Like Przywara, Von Balthasar was aware of and appreciated the ideas of Franz von Baader. Von Balthasar refers appreciatively to Baader’s rejection of a human reason that is under the illusion of being absolute. And like Przywara, Von Balthasar refers to Baader’s idea that our knowledge is not autonomous, but is based on our being known by God:

    If God becomes an object of my reason, he is no longer primarily the eye which sees me and in whose light I behold his light […]. No: God is the one who knows me. There is truth in Franz von Baader’s formula: “cogitor (cognoscor), ergo sum” I am, because God knows me. Paul continually found new and luminous formulations for this fundamental relationship: “’Knowledge’ (gnosis) puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him” (1 Cor. 8:1ff).
    […] “Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Cor. 13:12). Here below it is not a matter of integrity of gnosis but integrity of love, which is elevated and praised by Paul above everything else; the fragmentary nature of our knowledge is a veritable spur of love, which races ahead to embrace him who already knows me—which means, in the case of God, that he affirms me and chooses me in love. Here Paul does not hesitate to equate man’s ultimate knowledge of God with his being known by God; in the sense of John’s immanence-formulas, the unmediated indwelling of mutual, loving insight.
    Finally, “Now you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (Gal. 4:9). You have stepped out of the obscurity of purely worldly knowledge into the light of the knowledge of God; this you owe to being known already by God. […]Thus our knowledge of God is an act of creation on God’s part. “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). This is the knowledge manifested to the Apostle on the road to Damascus; it did not manifest itself to him merely as an object but shone interiorly in the personal knowledge of his heart. The unity of knowing and being known cannot be expressed in a profounder or more intimate way. [52]
    Baader had also emphasized the importance of God’s love as the basis for our knowledge. [53]

    We can find other important references by Von Balthasar to Baader. Von Balthasar wrote an Afterword to Valentin Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot. Von Balthasar praises the book, although he says that the power of its spiritual vision is primarily in the author’s certainty of the interrelationship between all things by way of analogy. He traces these ideas to Baader:

    There are other historical examples analogous to that of the gathering and accommodation of Hermetic and Cabbalistic wisdom into Biblical and Christian thought: above all, the transposition of Chassidism to a modern horizon of thought by Martin Buber (Chassidism is deeply influenced by the Cabbala). However, just as strong in its creative power of transformation is the incorporation of Jacob Boehme’s Christosophy into the Catholic world-conception by the philosopher Franz von Baader. […] The author’s Meditations on the Tarot are in the tradition of the great accomplishments of Pico della Mirandola and Franz von Baader, but are independent of them. [54]
    Like the other Roman Catholic theologians relied on by Marlet, Von Balthasar rejects a dualistic separation between nature and grace. Rather, “nature is totally encompassed by grace.” God’s acts are Trinitarian acts of love, which include beholding, giving and revealing, and receiving or adoring.

    But whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed (as happens… where ‘faith’ and ‘knowledge’ are constructed as opposites), then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of ‘knowledge’, and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation — a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated — a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique.[55]
    Social issues and ethics cannot be separated from spirituality. Von Balthasar demonstrated this in his personal life in the Community of St John, which he co-founded with Adrienne von Speyr. Medard Kehl writes about von Balthasar’s views of how social issues relate to spirituality

    God’s love for the world in the gift of his Son and in the sacrament of his church—should be recognized in its original “infolding” (Ein-falt), so that it can then also be continually recognized again in is detailed “un-foldings” (Aus-faltungen, i.e. in the most varied expressions of faith, dogmatic formulas, sacramental and liturgical forms, social and legal structures of the community of faith, etc.) For Balthasar the original synthesis has its place in theology ahead of all analyses (of a historical-critical, hermeneutical, historical-doctrinal, psychological, and sociological kind). This synthesis integrates in itself all individual moments of faith and brings them forth from itself, but without ever releasing them from this unity (Von Balthasar Reader, 35).
    Note how Von Balthasar speaks of the “unfolding” of a theoretical expression from out of the central root unity or synthesis. Dooyeweerd would not use the word ‘synthesis’ to refer to this root unity, and Dooyeweerd would also object to referring to the central root unity as ‘theological.’ And yet we can see many similarities here in an unfolding from a root unity [56]. And for both Dooyeweerd and von Balthasar, this root unity is situated in the supratemporal, a time-beyond. As von Balthasar says,

    Full integration of temporal life could only be hoped for in a time-beyond in which, with the eternal significance of every moment, there would also be salvaged the sense of direction of the river of time (von Balthasar Reader, 69).
    And von Balthasar stresses the need to overcome our ego in favour of a transcendent selfhood:

    Just as the Buddhist has to dissolve the illusion of his I as a substantial center in order to catch sight of the absolute, so, too does the Christian have to dissolve the geocentricity of his self-awareness, in which everything revolves about his psychological ego in favor of a heliocentric, i.e., theocentric worldview, in which the created and graced is both received purely from the central sun of divine grace and allows itself to be determined by it. So much is this divine center the absolute that the word “objective’ in the worldly sense is not applicable to it. It is, according to Augustine, at once “more inward than I am to myself and more sublimely superior to me,” and for this reason coming to me from within as well as from above-without. But in this coming the finite I is posited, affirmed, loved; and indeed not only my I, but that of all persons who in their essential uniqueness and irreplaceability are a radiation of the one God, and indeed become that more the closer they all come to God. Here the particularity of Christian in contrast to Eastern meditation becomes completely evident. (Von Balthasar Reader, 340).
    Elsewhere, von Balthasar says that relation between nature and grace is exemplified in the attempts to relate theology to the other sciences. He refers to Baader’s attempt to heal this split:

    But the work of transposing the concept of the physical and mental sciences, and articulating them with theology, was bound to become more and more difficult, and post-scholastic theology rarely applied itself to the task (in their own way, Nicholas of Cusa, Leibniz and Baader did, but they were not taken up into official theology). For the most part, it confined itself to using a natural theology, antecedent to biblical theology, as a basis for a rational exposition of the latter. [57]
    Other favourable comments regarding Baader can be found in von Balthasar’s The Glory of the Lord. He refers to Baader in his comments on Soloviev’s style of theological aesthetics. [58]”

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