Valentin Tomberg Holy Christian Hermeticist (27 February 1900 - 24 February 1973) “...the role accorded to the Virgin Mary does not stop growing. The Queen of the Angels, the Queen of the patriarchs, the Queen of apostles, the Queen of martyrs, confessors, virgins, and saints, the Queen of Peace, is, in the text of liturgical prayers, also the Mother of God, the Mother of Divine Grace, and the Mother of the Church. In the churches of the Greek Orthodox Church one sings : ‘More honoured than the Cherubim, more glorious than the Seraphim - thou who art the true Mother of God, we honour thee.’” Valentin Tomberg
“...For these (letters) are in essence twenty-two spiritual exercises, by means of which you, dear Unknown Friend, will immerse yourself in the current of the living tradition, and thus enter into the community of spirits who have served it and are still serving it...The essence of the tradition is not a doctrine, but rather a community of spirits from age to age. There remains nothing more to say in this introduction to the Letter-Meditations on the Tarot, because all other questions concerning them will find a response in the Letters themselves. Your Friend greets you, dear Unknown Friend, from beyond the grave.” Valentin Tomberg
By now it’s acceptable to say that Valentin Tomberg is “the Anonymous author” of what has been called, his magisterial work, “Meditations On The Tarot : A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism.” Let me just get this out of the way from the very beginning, this book is not about doing or how to do a reading of the Tarot cards. And also tell you there is a photo of St John Paul II, with the German edition of the book, right next to him. It is said that von Balthasar gave it to him. Did he read it ? We’ll probably never know for sure.
As Catholic Christians we were taught that card reading was anathema, sort of like the worst case scenario; King Saul, desperate to hold onto his power, asking a Witch to summon the dead spirit of Holy Prophet Samuel ( 1 Samuel 28: 3-25). No surprise that it is not Prophet Samuel who arrives, but a false spirit. As the old saying by the Roman playwright Plautus goes, “a word to the wise is sufficient.” So imagine my surprise when I read a review in the Catholic Commonweal Magazine In 1986, that the great theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar (considered at that time to be very conservative) had written an Afterword to the book : “...By way of these Major Arcana, the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery. Firstly, it may be called to mind that such an attempt is to be found nowhere else in the history of philosophical, theological and Catholic thought.”
Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar is also the author of countless works of theological and spiritual nourishment. One of my favorites is “Dare We Hope ?” He became alarmed at how willing “good christians” were and are, to condemn each other to hell. So basically it’s about “dare we hope that all people will go to Heaven!?” Here is where I must also say that during the last days of painting this image, I became aware of You Tube videos where some of the followers of Valentin Tomberg, were repeating dangerous conspiracy theories and criticizing our present Pope. From my reading of the Meditations, I found the loving spirit of a truly Catholic mind and heart, who I cannot believe would ever act or write in such a misguided and condescending way. One of the most practical things I learned from Meditations, is that evil is only capable of repetition; evil has no imagination. And that God can create miracles, just at the right (kairos) time. How many times in your life when you were ready to give up, did the Holy Spirit create a way up or out for you that you never dreamed of ?
On 10 July, I wrote a birthday post about my experience of different models of the church, just in my lifetime alone. If you read it you’ll see my present experience is that we have been led into a desert, similar to the Book of Exodus, where we’ll do just about anything to go back to Egypt... or the ways of the former church. I said clearly that this desert is also terribly uncomfortable for me too, but I know for certain, the Holy Spirit never goes backwards and always, always, forward. Speaking to those who honor the Sophianic presence in the church and world, I would say that another great Russian theological master, Vladimir Soloviev (von B wrote an essay on him in his book “ The Glory of the Lord : A Theological Aesthetics : Lay Styles, volume 3 ) had one of his apparitions of Sophia, in the Desert. Isn’t this often where we meet Sophia in a literal or spiritual Desert ? I believe that we as a church are always dependent on the Holy Spirit to bring us back to the center, to the Gospels. And I truly understand, after the horrors Tomberg experienced during the Bolshevik revolution, that this alone, could have caused his painful ptsd to become enflamed during the iconoclastic period following Vatican II. I look with wonder at secular France lovingly rebuilding the fire damaged Notre Dame of Paris. I could write much about what that Gothic Cathedral might mean to them, but it’s got such spiritual power, that it means as much to many all over the world.
Right in the middle of my vocation as a Hospice Chaplain, (I was in my mid-thirties) I was hungry ... starving for personal new life, because of the thousands of deaths we were all experiencing during the AIDS Pandemic. So after reading that Commonweal Review, I immediately took the subway down to a bookstore and carried the beautiful first English edition home with me. The photo on the hard cover was a bas relief from Chartres Cathedral of Jesus Christ (the Pantocrator) in Glory surrounded by the traditional figures given to the 4 Evangelists. Inside the dedication was : To Our Lady of Chartres. I devoured the book in one month understanding only about half of what I read. I felt a feeling inside of me, exactly like a few of the blurbs quoted on the back cover:
“The most extraordinary work I have ever read.” Basil Pennington, Trappist Abbot “The greatest contribution to date towards the rediscovery and renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition.” Thomas Keating, Trappist Abbot “Simply astonishing. I have never read such a comprehensive account of the perennial philosophy.” Father Bede Griffiths
Another word to the wise from my friend Professor James Robinson, of Iona University in New York, “Wisdom figures are to be communed with, not co-opted.” This is not a book for everyone but certainly not to be treated as a book only the elite can manage. As I mentioned before, in my first reading I could only understand about half of it, but I kept coming back, because I knew this was a hidden treasure. A book you could read into all through your life, and grow in understanding with it... “And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom...” (Luke 2:40)
In our church we consider little Francisco and Jacinta Marto as great as the most erudite of our saints. So as I see it, Tomberg ‘s book is an invitation to a spirituality similar to our great orders of women and men. Some people will love the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, some the Catholic Workers, some Ignatian spirituality, some African American Theology, some the Liberation Theology of Latin America, or the Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk and Native American spirituality, some Feminist theology like the great Edith Stein or Elizabeth Johnson. Some will fervently insist on “only Scripture” ... and some just want and need to simply pray the Holy Rosary. This is what I love about Catholicism; the innumerable ways to God.
Just as in music, I am attracted to a specific voice; it’s the same with theology. I have mentioned before I love the voice of Biblical Scholar, George Bradford Caird, the voice of Adrienne von Speyr, the voices of “my 911 Saints,” Padre Pio and Therese of Lisieux, the voices of the Jesuits, Robert Southwell, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Teilhard de Chardin, Daniel Berrigan, Jim Martin, the voices of my friends, Christopher Pramuk, Kathleen Hendricks, John Dadosky, Mirabai Starr, and Robert Ellsberg... I could go on and on. But it doesn’t mean these are the only or even “right” voices, just a very few of the ones who speak (sing) to me.
My first reaction to this book was “what a beautiful non-judgmental voice.” The voice of Valentin Tomberg is a beautiful, loving, humble, and simply inviting voice. He never harangues or finger wags, or tries to convert you to what he has found. I believe that if you really believe and love something, you don’t have to force people into it; and actually, in the end you can’t. This is the very quality I want from Valentin; what I admire most about him.
Right now I’m discovering more each day as I look into a new biography which came out in 2022. So I have a lot yet to learn from him. This is a man who escaped Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, after his mother was shot, and then the Nazi Regime in Holland. Much of his life he was in conflict, especially as he moved closer and closer to Catholicism. And a few jealous people sought to “cancel” him, as they say today. After becoming a Catholic everything seemed to fall into place for him and he wrote with his vast philosophical and spiritual knowledge with such transparent humility.
I have been wanting to paint an image of Valentin ever since 1986. I’m not yet certain why he had to be blue, (I’m sure I’ll find out someday) as my artist friend Tyler says, just because the artist didn’t realize what he or she was putting into a work, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I know that I had to indicate that to me, he was and is led by the Holy Spirit; still speaking to us “from beyond the grave.”
Fr William Hart McNichols ⚜️Ⓜ️⚜️ The Queenship of Mary Mother of God 💠 22 August 2023
August 20th, 2023
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