The Life of Valentin Tomberg

An Afterword to Lazarus, Come Forth [in English as Covenant of the Heart], Three Monographs by Valentin Tomberg, Published by Martin Kriele, the Herder Press, Basel, 1985; Reprinted in Erde und Kosmos, Volume 12, Number 1 (January-March, 1986); Translated by James Morgante and Richard Wentzler

By Martin Kriele

Valentin Tomberg was born on the 27th of February, 1900, the second son of a high official in St. Petersburg. He attended a classical secondary school there and studied history and philosophy for three semesters. Although raised as an evangelical Protestant, he had contact with Russian-Orthodox intellectual life and theosophical circles at an early age. The revolution, in which his mother was shot in the street by a roving band, concluded the happy years of his youth. He went into exile at Reval [now Talinn] in Estonia, where he made ends meet as a farm worker, a pharmacist, a painter, and a teacher, meanwhile laying the groundwork for his profoundly universal culture by studying comparative religion and ancient and modern languages at the Tartu University. He was relieved of worldly anxieties in 1924 through a position at the Estonian postal administration, which eventually allowed him use of a small dacha outside Reval. He worked through Rudolf Steiner's work with such depth and conviction in those years that he was elected at 25 to the presidency of the German-speaking branch of the Estonian Anthroposophical Society. He often lamented his never having met Rudolf Steiner, who died in 1925, in life. Not until his late twenties was it possible for him to make a first trip to Finland, Germany, and France.

Beginning in 1930, he published numerous essays in anthroposophical journals. Between 1933 and 1938 appeared--privately printed--his primary work--twelve anthroposophical studies each on the Old and the New Testaments. Tomberg did indeed convey twelve further studies on the Apocalypse (and thus on the future of humanity) as lectures, although only three of them were published before he discontinued the work. In the same years appeared three works on Rudolf Steiner's foundation-stone meditation and [lectures] on the inner development of humanity and the etheric epiphany of Christ. In ever new ways, he strove first to make Christ the focus of anthroposophy; to awaken or deepen love for him; and to appreciate that Christ's life, death, and resurrection are the turning point of cosmic history, all to awaken a sense of moral responsibility to the Holy Trinity. Many who then heard him report how infinitely much they owe him.

The General Anthroposophical Society, however, saw its primary task as cultivation and spreading of Rudolf Steiner's legacy, while the Dutch society was oriented toward social applications more than Christosophy. Dutch friends made his relocation to a new homeland in the Netherlands possible; yet, when the president of the Dutch society invited Tomberg's resignation, he parted from the society but never of course from Rudolf Steiner, with whom, in the other world, he remained in most intimate communion. He also, however, until the end extended full appreciation to the praxis of anthroposophists, especially in education, pediatrics, medicine, and agriculture.

During the war years and the German occupation, he and his wife and son were in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, their only income being from language tutoring, surrounded by a small circle of loyal friends whom he led ever deeper into the mysteries of Christianity through a year-long course on the Lord's Prayer. In those years, he worked first in the [Russian] Orthodox Church. Toward the end of the war, however, his decision finalized: while interned at a camp for displaced persons, he joined the Catholic Church.

To him, seeing that church as no more than an oppressor of spiritual freedom or even as an Inquisitorial persecutor of religion and thus to confuse it with its doppelgänger or egregor, which every institution has, was a serious error. He had learned to recognize and love the real church and was fair enough to accept that its high profile was a necessary result of a transforming encounter with Hitler's National Socialism.

The motivation of his conversion was not personal; it was rooted rather in conscience and love of Christ. Many of his early friends have asked whether so great a mind hadn't surrendered his freedom by ranking himself among the members of the church. His own experience lent no support to their fears. His idea of spiritual freedom was opening oneself to objective truth and goodness unclouded by subjective likes or dislikes and receiving them with one's eternal being. He was in that sense able to preserve his freedom and identity as a Catholic. The essential point, which yielded to his matchless insight, is the message that the church brings to the whole world and serves--that it transmits the mysteries of tradition from generation to generation, administers sacraments, celebrates the feasts of the liturgical year, teaching, blessing, and extending itself humbly to humanity throughout the world. Cultured and simple unite there in homage to the Holy Trinity, in reverence toward the saints, and in singing our Christmas carols, which Tomberg loved so much.

Whoever in the spirit of earnest pursuit of truth enquires about the deeper foundations of his conversion will find illumination enough in his work.

In the years after the war, he held lectures in several cities in the Rhineland. Attendees of the early ones enthusiastically recall, for example, how he clarified the deeper sense of the Rosary. Meanwhile, he distilled the political experience of the Nazi years into two treatises on philosophy of law--Degeneration and Regeneration of Jurisprudence and Human Rights As the Foundation of International Law. He was awarded a doctorate degree by the law school of the University of Cologne. At Mulheim on the Ruhr, he was entrusted with the responsibility for refounding the school for continuing education. In 1948, English friends secured for him a post at the BBC that employed not only his linguistic skills but also his political understanding and sensibility. He lived first in London and then in a cottage amid greenery near Reading, where the university's library was available to him for his nightly studies. He took his earliest opportunity to retire to devote all of his time to his manuscripts. His French-Polish wife was to that work not only an understanding companion but also quite often a congenial collaborator. His profound spiritual communion with her during a life outwardly burdened with misunderstanding and isolation was an endless source of earthly joy.

Regarding my own first meeting with Valentin Tomberg--which, as a catholic and as an anthroposophist, I had sought long but unsuccessfully--I had indeed heard that he was a friend of the Cologne professor of public law emeritus Ernst von Hippel and that the latter might be able to mediate a meeting with him but I never succeeded in making his acquaintance until 1967, when I was unexpectedly appointed his successor, upon which Tomberg was introduced. In his last years, Valentin Tomberg was not only a teacher to me but also a fatherly friend of amazing warmth and generosity. In conversation, he alternated profoundest gravity with uninhibited cheer, wit, and humor. With him, I experienced nothing but goodness, candor, unerring judgment, and the utter clarity of his being. Every encounter, every letter, even every call was to some extent refreshing, strengthening, and renewing.

My own experience of his life and thought allows me to stress two points. His "social" activity was directed primarily to the dead in purgatory, for whom he labored day and night to render practical assistance to great numbers through prayer. Ever again, he stressed as of special importance that "heaven" not be understood abstractly; it is rather the divine "milieu" (Teilhard de Chardin) replete with the presence of tangibly living angels and other personal beings who have names and distinctions and who work, suffer, and participate in the great drama of cosmic history. He usually referred to God as "the Father" and to his son as "the Master". He strove for perfect obedience to them.

During a Christmas visit, he had with him various manuscripts, including the first three published here, as well as his spiritual diary and other sketches, and entrusted me with care of his literary remains. Although healthy, he was aware of his approaching death; it was in any event our last meeting: he suffered a stroke a few weeks later and died on February 24th, 1973. Death overtook his wife shortly afterward, just as he had once foretold with absolute certainty when we were discussing his plans for old age.

I was to publish the three when the time was ripe, which "would in no case be less than ten years". I have withstood with difficulty the seductive temptation to alter difficult or controversial passages or ones that would have required overly detailed explanations, preferring to ask readers not to lose their faith in Valentin Tomberg where any doubt remains. From my own experience, I can offer two considerations. More important to him than convincing others was respect for their spiritual and moral freedom and sovereignty, which he always took very seriously in his debates and reflections. Second, he often replied to questions with elaborate answers that immediately thrust one into an entirely new perspective and made them comprehensible in surprising ways. Revision, editing, and transposition have therefore been distilled into grammatical and factual corrections to which I am certain that Tomberg would have consented. In that respect, the collaboration of Dr. Gertrude Sartory has been especially helpful and obliging.

I have ventured to supply to the first and third manuscripts more manageable titles and to the second a more suitable one. In the originals appear the headings, "The Miracle of the Revival of Lazarus in History"; "The Ten Commandments (The Decalogue)"; "The Kingdom of Nature, the Kingdom of Humanity, and the Kingdom of God (On Natural, Human, and Supernatural Morality)". The final fragment bore no title. "The Breath of Life" seemed to characterize its contents best. Its first chapter bears the notation, "Pentecost, 1972". The author was working on the second just before his death, which overtook him while relating the experience of sunrise to the activity of the Holy Spirit. "The Proclamation in the Sinai" was his immediately prior work, bearing a date of "May, 1972". "Thy Kingdom Come" stems from between February 1st and April 10th, 1967. The Lazarus manuscript is undated but can still be dated to the latter 1960s with certainty. We've placed it first and extended its name to the others not only because it's the most significant of the four but also because its introduction serves to introduce the whole.

Dr. Martin Kriele, 54, [formerly] of the Social Democrats, is a professor of Civic Studies and Legislation at the University of Cologne as well as a judge in the federal court of North Rhine-Westphalia.