Tomberg--the Work and the Nature of a Renegade

Info 3 (May, 1988), Page 16, Translated by James Morgante and Richard Wentzler

By Karl Boegner

If one mentioned Valentin Tomberg among anthroposophists ten years ago, very few had ever heard his name and, certainly, far fewer had read anything by him. That has now changed: one is aware of the name but still reads virtually nothing of his. The cause is simple--all of his basic writings are unavailable in stores. The limited original editions--crude hectographs--are quite scarce. It's true that a few of his essays from the weekly Anthroposophie reappeared in the papers Erde und Kosmos and Hermetica but, unfortunately, only one of his larger works--from the Achamoth Press in an edition of little appeal but no less expensive for that. Tomberg is today known for his move from anthroposophy into the Catholic Church. It's therefore not Tomberg the important author but Tomberg the renegade on whom interest focuses. That's most regrettable, because Tomberg the author is certainly the essential one.

There are always important renegades but have they necessarily lost their stature as worthy authors? Does the "Cherubinic Wanderer", for one, lose its importance because its author became a Catholic or the Rosicrucian tracts of Johann Valentin Andreæ lose theirs because he later turned into a superintendent and a harsh cleric? The present case of Valentin Tomberg, however, is similar.

What rightly fascinates the few who know his anthroposophical works is his sure command of the material and the lapidarian style of his craftmanship. Tomberg imparts his own research to his readers like a lapidary--carving into stone--things that even Rudolf Steiner never wrote or otherwise expressed. Reading them, one realizes that they're written from personal spiritual experience. Whence came that experience? From inspiration, the influence of the bodhisattva, which leads many to assume that Tomberg was an incarnation, at least partially, of the future Maitreya Buddha.

It's therefore welcome that Professor Kriele in his interview quoted parts of a letter by the twenty-year-old Tomberg to Rudolf Steiner. That letter makes abundantly clear that Tomberg had taken the path of training presented by Rudolf Steiner in his Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, not without, as Tomberg writes, results, which clearly arose from personal supersensible experience. We have before us, then, an esoteric pupil of Rudolf Steiner who has taken the modern path of initiation, not with a personal guru but with a book.

We must keep an open mind about the respective roles that his karmic predisposition and the oriental configuration of his soul played in what happened next. Likewise born in the east although of German stock, Marie Steiner, in her sharp and peremptory criticism of Tomberg, sought to employ her familiarity with oriental souls to warn against their dangers and temptations. Although not entirely correct, her criticism nonetheless had a feel for the tendencies and the direction of a life and was especially acute regarding oriental humanity, which one can find exemplified in the sad but impressive case of Andrei Belyis by reading his short autobiography, I, a Symbolist. Other examples exist. Much of Tomberg's nature is puzzling because its witnesses are extraordinarily conflicting. Marie Steiner mentions his ambition and his vanity--a trait that had obviously emerged fully by the age of thirty, for both Ernst Lehrs and F. W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven have confirmed it to me in conversation. Even his faithful friend Stefan Lubienski was unable to refute that. Lehrs amplified that impression with a description of Tomberg's humorlessness, which seemed to him so characteristic. Garvelmann and also Kriele, however, write that the later Tomberg was modest, cheerful, and playful. If both statements are correct, then a fundamental transformation of his nature must have occurred en route from anthroposophy to religion,

Very much the same is true of Tomberg the author: the books of his Catholic period are different. Quite apart from the occasional unpleasantness of the mystery-mongering way in which occult truths are discussed in the wide-ranging Meditations on the Tarot, the chief sources for many of its quotations--Eliphas Levy and Papus--give anthroposophical readers much pause. Kriele replies that the book was written for French readers unfamiliar with Rudolf Steiner. There remains, however, a very disagreeable aftertaste.

The case is different with Covenant of the Heart, published [originally] from Tomberg's literary remains by Professor Kriele through the Herder Press. Large passages are unmistakably Tomberg's but there are also sections that are quite uncharacteristic of him. Wherever the thought slips into theologizing and becomes puzzling--in other words, where it ceases even to approach that lapidarian style--one can no longer recognize his handwriting. Has Tomberg the author also changed or are those sections beneficiaries of the "reworking" mentioned by Professor Kriele in his afterword? What exactly reworked? certainly not Tomberg's style, because that didn't need it. It must therefore have been the content, perhaps an adaptation of anthroposophical text to Catholic readers? We'd be grateful for details.

It's commendable and absolutely necessary that Tomberg's anthroposophical writings are being republished, for the following reasons--they thus finally become accessible again, because they're really worth reading, and anthroposophical readers finally get the chance to form their own judgments.

The precondition for republication, however, is that not the slightest alteration of the kind feared by Garvelmann but not addressed by Kriele have been made; i.e., unadulterated text complete with all of its pointed criticism of the Catholic Church and the Anthroposophical Society. In rough chronological order, they would be

the many essays from the weekly Anthroposophie during 1930-1933 [they appeared in Early Articles];

Anthroposophical Studies on the Old Testament, 1933-1935;

Anthroposophical Studies on the New Testament, 1935-1936;

The Four Sacrifices of Christ and the Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric;

Meditations on the Foundation Stone;

The Spiritual Background of the Tragedy of Eastern Europe [also in Early Articles];

the seven lectures on Inner Development;

Anthroposophical Studies on the Apocalypse (three of the twelve lectures held--are the others available? [unfortunately not]); and

the other titles mentioned by Kriele in his interview, which were unknown to me.

It would truly be unfortunate if we anthroposophists would now find an imprimitur necessary, which the Catholics still use to ban printing.

And now come a few remarks on Tomberg's life to add to the studies by Garvelmann and Kriele. Chronologically, two events seem to converge--the departure of Tomberg from the General Anthroposophical Society and his controversial encounter with F. W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven, the General Secretary for the Dutch national section. The departure in 1938 can only be understood against an overview of the society's condition then. Tomberg announced with that step his solidarity with friends from the Netherlands, Great Britain, and France who were ejected in 1935. It was in his lectures on inner development late in the summer of 1938 in Rotterdam that he expressly mentioned Ita Wegman.

The second conflict with the Dutch members occurred, according to Stefan Lubienski, later, apparently not before the Second World War. One ought to take the trouble to picture the situation then obtaining. The Tomberg groups, almost exclusively in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, were conducting research into personal karma. Tomberg was credited with the reincarnated William of Orange and his friends with connected identifications. Other leading Dutch anthroposophists, beyond those circles, were labeled reincarnations of Philip II, the Duke of Alba, etc. and a German Waldorf teacher who emigrated to England that of Francis Bacon. All of that occurred within the close quarters of the Netherlands, so it's no wonder that as prominent a personality as F. W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven suggested that he leave the society, if Tomberg wasn't, as Stefan Lubienski believes to have happened, ejected by him. Two of the involved happened to have received guidance as to the lines along which to seek an understanding of their karma from Rudolf Steiner himself. Those lines did not, however, in any regard agree with Tomberg's version.

How does this remarkable behavior by Tomberg mesh with the moral integrity so often underscored by Kriele (e.g., in response to Luba Husemann, Erde und Kosmos, volume 1, 1988) and likewise that he never infringed on the freedom of others? Is it compatible with his having gratuitously boxed their ears with their supposed karmic past?

An objective assessment of the Tomberg's character won't be possible until the archives in Dornach and the Netherlands and eventually those of the Christian Community as well are made accessible, for there is a persistent rumor that Tomberg asked Emil Bock during the second world war to admit him into the community's seminary. If more than just a ruse, the story would mark an interesting stage on Tomberg's path. The great transformation appears to occurred during the war. Little is known of him from that time. How does he suddenly come to be back in Germany and then in an English uniform? There are thus many murky patches in his life: even the real reason for his conversion to Catholicism is given differently by Garvelmann and Kriele from the one told to me by Lubienski, his sole loyal friend from the anthroposophical period until his death. According to him, the foremost cause was Tomberg's fear that all of Europe would succumb to communism. He saw the Catholic Church as the only institution with the power to prevent that. For him, the Anthroposophical Society was disintegrating, a strife-torn remnant without further historical significance--an opinion that anyone might heartily have shared in 1945.