Flung into existence, we are forced to advance into a future which terrifies us by its novelty and disheartens us by the “chance” that seems to govern its development. We suffer equally from the determinist processes that involve us in their various phases, and from the forbidding indeterminism of chances whose multiplicity and slenderness make it impossible for us to control them.
Following upon that, I shall put forward a particular concept of faith. If the future seems to us so uncontrollable – both in its causal sequences and its capriciousness – it is because we are afraid to plunge with it. Once we have faith (in the vigour of our spirit and in the powerful goodness of God) then the future will submit to control, and lose its terror. First of all, “chances” will give way to our personal effectiveness; and then there will emerge, from the strengths developed from our own faculties, a freedom we have never dreamed of. The creative power somehow needs our faith on which to rest its advances. The world will achieve its fulfillment only to the extent to which we commit ourselves more confidently in the direction of what has not yet taken shape – confidence forces the barriers of determinism and brings order to chance.
It is in the supernatural sphere that the world is now being created. And it is therefore above all to an achievement of sanctity that the sum total of chances that punctuate the whole course of a believer’s life will directly co-operate. … faith has an even wider function than to triumph over chance: it really enables the soul to achieve new stages of being. It doesn’t simply “order”; it creates new powers.
The more one changes, the more one dies. Trust in God does not do away with death, but it makes death such that it opens the way to greater fullness of life. There are, of course, as many deaths as lives: the greater the faith with which one allows death to carry one off, the more will death introduce one to some individually heightened form of existence.
In short, we may say that the more we believe in life, the bolder we are, the more the Universe is able to build itself around us in its mystical reality, of which all that has already taken shape makes itself manifest then to our vision in faith, inseparable from our action in faith.
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin The Making of a Mind
The Spirit blows wherever He wants, and you hear His voice, but you do not know where He is coming from nor where He is going; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit. ~ John 3:8
The breath of the Spirit is the pure act of intelligence, arising from the Silence. So how do you hear his voice? We read in Meditations on the Tarot:
The pure act is unknowable in itself; it is only its reflection which makes it perceptible, comparable, and comprehensible; in other words, it is thanks to its reflection that we become conscious of it.
The Spirit is active principle and the Virgin is the passive, reflecting principle, like the calm surface of a body of water. It takes the two conditions for the conscious experience of the Holy Spirit, or Kingdom of God. As Jesus tells Nicodemus in his nocturnal visit:
Amen, amen, I say to you that a man cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of Water and the Spirit. ~ John, 3:5
The Water represents consciousness. The reflection of the pure activity of the Holy Spirit will be distorted unless that consciousness is itself pure. Two qualities are necessary, one pertaining to the Mind, the other to the Will: it must be
- free of false ideologies, beliefs, and dogmas
- free of the cloudiness of the imagination, passions, and personal desires
Reintegrated consciousness, the Kingdom of God, or the Primordial state requires a rebirth in the Spirit and Water, to be able to hear the Spirit and reflect it accurately. This is how the Word expresses the Silence.
The Word is made flesh by the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary.
At the end of his Gospel, John mentions that Peter was questioning Jesus’ relation with John. Jesus replied bluntly, “What’s it to you?”
In Meditations on the Tarot, Tomberg brings up the often-made distinction between the Church of Peter and the Church of John, the former structured and hierarchical, the latter free and mystical. Someone asked me the question: “Does the Roman Catholic Church need Hermetism?” To answer properly, the question needs to be adjusted: “Does the Church of Peter need Hermetism?” and the answer to this question is “certainly not”.
The real question is really about the Church of John, and there are several questions: “Does it even exist, has it existed continuously, is its core Hermetism?”
According to the theologian Hans Ur von Balthazar, it does exist (The von Balthazar Reader, #66), although he calls the two churches “Official Church” and “Church of Love”, and its source can be found in the Gospel of John. He says there is a two-peaked church in harmonious tension, although the Church of John respectfully gives precedence to the Church of Peter. There are no clear boundaries between the two. This interesting discussion concludes with this:
Between these two impossible ecclesiologies, the Gospel of John leaves and dismisses us in a suspended middle point whose foundation lies solely with the Lord. The last thing said to the servant Peter, the last word of the Lord in the gospel, is the admonition (for the church and theology of all times), “What’s it to you?”
So the Church of John exists and has existed continuously. The next question is about Hermetism. There have been many clues about this. Dionysius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen are close to Hermetism. There were the alchemists, Ramon Lull, Ficino, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin … all clues that Hermetism has always existed in the Church and only occasionally makes a public appearance.
Rene Guenon claims that the Church used to have an esoteric teaching which he claims was Hermetism. He points to Dante as a member of an esoteric order, and even Thomas Aquinas. The Templars, the Grail Legend, the story of the Magi, Medieval Romances, St Bernard, Ramon Lull, Michael Scott, and so on, all point to the existence of a Christian esoterism. In Perspectives on Initiation, Guenon writes in a similar vein about a dual church:
Within a single organization, a kind of double hierarchy can exist, especially when the apparent leaders are themselves unaware of any link to a spiritual center. In such cases there may exist beside the visible hierarchy made up by those apparent leaders, an invisible hierarchy of which the members may not fulfill any ‘official’ function but who, by their presence alone, nonetheless assure an effective liaison with this center. In the more exterior organizations these representatives of the spiritual centers obviously need not reveal themselves as such …
Tomberg and van Balthazar agree on the Church of John. It is not separate from the Church of Peter on which it depends for structure and support. Rather it is a less formal entity, in parallel with, yet not opposed to, the official church. Historically, there have been times they got along, and other times in opposition. With the destruction of the Templars, came the Rosicrusians who found themselves opposed to the Church. Then other Hermetists, such as Cagliostro, Giordano Bruno, or Thomas Campanella were imprisoned and even executed.
Yet to create a visible Church of John with its own separate structure, clergy, doctrine, and so on is, in my opinion, a mistake; actually I believe it to be impossible. That is because it will eventually degenerate into a vacuous, undifferentiated and amorphous entity, not holding firm to anything in particular. As a witness to that, we need only point to the various so-called New Age and occult movements active today.
The Church of John is in your heart and mind, especially when you are joined with 2 or 3 others. So to any self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy, I ask “What’s it to you?”
Although we know who the author was, the book Meditations on the Tarot was published anonymously and posthumously. Valentin Tomberg explains why he wrote his meditations on the major arcana of the Tarot in French:
These letters were written in French, which is not the mother tongue of the author, because it is in France, and in France only, that a living literature on the Tarot has been perpetuated since the 18th century. Furthermore, there exists as well a continuous tradition of Hermetism, which unites a spirit of free research with respect for the Tradition. These letters, by virtue of their contents, will therefore be able to become an integral part of the Tradition while enriching it. [my translation]
This attests to the continuous existence of the Hermetic tradition. Having been driven underground following the destruction of the Templars, it re-emerged in France. From there it was preserved in Russia, as we can infer from the life of Joseph de Maistre.
For our Meditations on the Tarot, we adhere to the following hermeneutic principles:
- It is self-contained. Everything essential to understanding the text is in the book, so there is no necessity to appeal to authorities, ideas, or hearsay not explicitly mentioned in the book.
- We take the author to be an honest and sober man. That means we accept that his intent is to enrich and be an integral part of the Hermetic Tradition. We don’t assume some other ulterior or hidden motive.
- The text is its own authority. The book is useful insofar as the Meditations are fruitful to the reader. We don’t accept the book based on some assumed authority of the author. In particular, we don’t assume that the author was a bodhisattva, savior, or the incarnation of some other high being.
- We don’t claim any authority to ourselves. Our intention with this blog is to elucidate and expand upon ideas and concepts in the Meditations. We haven’t been visited by Tomberg; he hasn’t dropped books in our lap. in short, a “Tomberg sighting” does not make anyone a Hermetist, no more so than an “Elvis sighting” makes anyone a pop singer.
- As Rene Guenon (who also was quite familiar with the French Hermetic tradition) points out, Hermetism is a cosmological system, not a complete tradition. It presumes a metaphysical doctrine, even if not always made explicit, without which certain ideas in it cannot be understood. Therefore, we will supply the metaphysical foundation whenever necessary.