More on von Balthasar and the Tarot

Ignatius Insight republishes a review of von Balthasar’s foreward/afterward to Valentin Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot written about 20 years ago by Stratford Caldecott.

Tomberg, he says,

attempts to assimilate his vast store of “esoteric” knowledge, gleaned from years of spiritual training in the more serious New Age groups, within the orthodox Catholic vision of faith. The Tarot cards are used, not for divination, but as symbolic encapsulations of the wisdom he has leant. …

Meditations on the Tarot has flaws: the influence of anthroposophy is still too evident, for example, in the discussion of reincarnation. But potentially important for the future of the New Age movement is its breakthrough realization that, in Christianity, the esoteric and the exoteric cannot be separated, because “the spiritual world is essentially moral”.

After surveying the book itself, he turns to von Balthasar, and notes that the English translation omits a couple of qualifying statements.

… That Foreword originally began: “Having been asked to write an introduction to this book, which for most readers enters into unknown terrain, and yet is so richly rewarding to read, I must first of all acknowledge my lack of competence concerning the subject matter. I am not in a position to follow up and approve of each line of thought developed by the author, and still less to submit everything to a critical examination. However, such an abundance of noteworthy material is offered here, that one may not pass it by with indifference.”

Also omitted at the end of the piece from the English edition were the following comments of Balthasar’s: “[The author] may from time to time make a step from the middle too far to the left (in presenting, for example, the teaching of reincarnation), or too far to the right (in occasionally approaching in a somewhat ‘fundamentalist’ manner Catholic religious opinions and practices, thereby coming too close to Church dogma, sometimes arriving quite unexpectedly as evangelical counsel or the rosary prayer, for example).” He continues then, as in the published text, “However, the superabundance–almost too much–of genuine, fruitful insights which he conveys, certainly justifies bringing these Meditations to a wider circle of readers.”

OK, so von Balthasar did draw attention to Tomberg’s advocacy of reincarnation. But he slides by it as a matter of taking a step “too far to the left.” But reincarnation is not a mere “step to the left.” It reveals a fundamentally un-Christian and anti-Christian view of the human person.

And what of the muddled collection of sources Tomberg draws upon? Where is the caution from von Balthasar as a Christian theologian for non-specialists who may pick up the volume? All that von Balthasar can offer here is, “Well, shucks, folks, I’m not a specialist in this either. But it is ‘noteworthy material.'” Where is the clear discernment a theologian should bring to such a book that clearly is a syncretistic blending of Christianity and New Age beliefs? It is missing.