Thursday, May 19, 2016

Birthdays, Death Days...or, 'Biographical Resonances'

Professor Rosenstock-Huessy often called attention to calendars and to names. Animals have languages, but only man bestows proper names. It is interesting that in the Russian language a birthday is called a name-day. And calendars-- the commemoration of days, holidays, festivals – these were also of great interest to Rosenstock’s view of language and grammar.  Our language is the result of great crises and social upheavals, which come about in many cases through the inability to speak. Not-speaking can be the prelude to a revolution, catastrophe and suffering. Not being able to speak the right word at the right time bodes ill and an incapacity to create the future.



    Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

 These Rosenstockian ideas become second nature to one accustomed to pondering them, rereading their quotes and arguments, and taking stock of the current events in our western world, which seems to have become a laboratory of deteriorated speech. The question of what can be the right word for our time is too big a question for me to tackle at the present moment.  It will have to wait for a better time and a better mind.  Instead, I want to take a little detour into the interesting territory of names and dates—that is, human incarnations. Contemporaries, or rather people whose birthdays match though hundreds of years may intervene. The three people I want to talk about are Eugen Rosenstock, St. Thomas More, and the Russian philosopher and student of law, Valentin Tomberg.

                                   Their dates: 

Rosenstock-Huessy:  July 6, 1888 --- February 24, 1973

Thomas More:  February 7, 1478---July 6, 1535

Valentin Tomberg—February 27, 1900---February 24, 1973

 Now let us imagine God as the Supreme Symphony Conductor. The human world is spread before him, in all the glorious instruments and variations of sounds and color. The cosmos resounds with the music of individual being. Dark and bright tones converge in harmonic resonances, creating new combinations, new variations—fugues, interludes, concertos, songs, improvisations and unfinished symphonies.  It is a wondrous thought that when human beings emerge in their seasons of birth, certain kinships or ‘resonances’ may be blended in the time and that one can cultivate a feeling for this – perhaps an ‘ear’ for it would be the better phrase—a kind of ‘incarnational music.’

 Some students of the work of Rudolf Steiner (see the article on this blog, "Autobiographical Restart") have taken this thought and built a cosmology of reincarnation and of astrological significance.[See note 1.] For instance, I believe that Robert Powell, one of these students of Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric teachings,  has called attention to the death-date of one individual and the birth-date of a subsequent one, as a possible indicator of reincarnation. It is an interesting idea, and certainly in the case of St. Thomas More and Eugen Rosenstock, it can even be compelling. Both were lawyers and Latinists and extraordinary men of conscience.

 But no. My purpose is not to argue the case for reincarnation. I hardly know what to think of it myself. I am convinced that there are mysteries of human birth and genetics (and geography, gender, timing and disposition) of which we have only the slightest real understanding. But the usual polarity between ‘esoteric’ knowledge and the conventional religious attitude toward the spirit is not adequate to the complexity of the issue. Rosenstock’s work has an intimacy and participatory urgency with respect to history that one would think arises from a reincarnationist perspective—but without reincarnation. Rudolf Steiner, by contrast, teaches reincarnation, but his view of history lacks that deep sense of belonging, being, transforming it.[See note 2.]The evolution of consciousness idea which is so deeply a part of Steiner’s Anthroposophy sometimes borders on the idea of inevitability, of “it had to be,” such as the notion that the “I”-consciousness had to become isolated and apart (the “spectator-consciousness”)  in order to achieve its freedom.  In Rosenstock’s view of language and history, there is no place or justification for lack of participation. His view is apocalyptic in the original sense of Christianity: we are always at the last moment or the Last Day, and no excuses to think human development is going to happen automatically. Answer the call!—no matter what our state or condition.   It’s a refreshing change from esotericism, which in my experience dopes people up—makes them ‘sleepy’ in history.

St. Thomas More (by Hans Holbein the Younger)

 My purpose in this post is not to argue for or against reincarnation, but merely to bring up intriguing parallels and resonances in the thought of these three thinkers.  In reading Peter Ackroyd’s Life of Thomas More (Doubleday, 1998) I was struck by certain themes which re-emerge in Rosenstock-Huessy’s work. I would like to review some of these themes, and also with Tomberg later. I will just be quoting from some of the notes I took on reading these books. 

To begin: a contemporary described More’s genius at understanding the meanings of words from their position in sentences, especially in translating from Greek. His intelligence  “is more than human,” said another source. More said, in reference to rhetoric and public debate,  “there is no such thing as private truth.”  The sensus communis, or common sense, was important to More.  In scholastic philosophy it refers to “that faculty through which instinct and memory were able to make random sense impressions cohere.” According to Ackroyd, it takes further emphasis in More’s writings of a common or universal understanding, implying a shared and traditional substance of belief.  This is strikingly similar to Rosenstock’s insight that common sense is the residue in society of formal language and of ritual.  

More had “an abiding respect for the practice, and a deep admiration for, the principles of law.”  And poetry for him was a particularly affecting form of grammar. To Erasmus, More was ‘a man for all seasons;’ this above all may well remind us of the Cross of Reality. But the phrase could also mean that More was reluctant to reveal himself as the author of his own works. A curious detachment was noted by his son-in-law, who remarked that More “never showed of what mind himself was therein.”
Religion and law were, to More, two sides of the same coin—or sword. This is why, according to Ackroyd, More “understood at once the nature of Martin Luther’s heresy, when the German monk spoke of judgment ‘according to love…without any law books.’” More was the first English writer to use the term anarchos, and his most bitter accusation against Luther and his followers was that they “incited disorder.” He believed that the Lutheran attacks on the Pope imperiled the civilization of a thousand years, and he noted sadly that “the festivals and holy days of the ritual year now seem inconceivably remote, so thoroughly has the work of the reformation been done.”  More was a Latinist and wrote a Latin grammar for children in 1497, Lac puerorum, or Milk for Children.  At age nineteen he said that “the declensions of Latin nouns was sometimes compared to the declensions of the soul into the body.”  Amidst the Christian humanists of the Netherlands, “More felt certain of his position in attacking the Scholastic dialectic and reaffirming the importance of rhetoric and grammar for the progress of human understanding.”  

I understand that Rosenstock-Huessy became a Lutheran when he converted to Christianity, but I don’t recall reading anything in his works that addresses Lutheranism in particular, nor why he chose that particular denomination. In one sense, Rosenstock was very much a man of the Reformation – although he spoke highly of Catholicism too.

Valentin Tomberg was born of Lutheran parents in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1900. In 1920 the family fled to Estonia. Tomberg’s mother was killed by revolutionaries – she had left the house, and Valentin found his mother and the family dog tied to a tree, where they had been shot. After this terrible event Tomberg found his way to Europe where he discovered the work  and teaching of Rudolf Steiner. In 1925 he became a member of the Anthroposophical Society, the name that Steiner had given to his body of work. He married a Polish Catholic woman and the couple became the parents of one son, Alexis.  At the end of the Second World War, Tomberg received his Ph.D. in jurisprudence. The title of his thesis was “Degeneration and Regeneration in the Science of Law.”   Tomberg continued to produce original and unusual contributions of spiritual thought and research, a fact which sometimes grated on the Anthroposophical Society leaders. He was asked to leave the Society in 1940. He became a convert to Roman Catholicism. This would further alienate many of the convinced anthroposophists, some of whom had a horror for the ‘exoteric’ Church. But one of Tomberg’s main contentions was that ‘esoteric’ and ‘exoteric’ cannot be separated, for “the spiritual world is essentially moral.”


  Valentin Tomberg

 I propose to discuss some of the ideas found in Tomberg’s book, Covenant of the Heart (Element Books).  Tomberg made a comment about Luther: he said that Luther failed to realize that Catholic Christianity brings with it the resurrection of timeless values, that is, philosophical thinking. In Scholasticism (which Luther abhorred) the basic conviction was that a thinking directed toward the world (classical philosophy) and thinking directed toward revelation (Christian) could not contradict one another. “The logic which reveals itself in and through the world can be none other than Logos.” My notes are inadequate here. This point had to await Rosenstock-Huessy for its full articulation as the ‘Grammatical Method.’ Indeed it is quite evident to me that Rosenstock-Huessy’s writings make concrete and utterly ‘present’ what some of the anthroposophical or spiritual thinkers were often trying to express.
For example, “the law of repeated awakenings” is revealed in the story of the raising of Lazarus, says Tomberg. For Rosenstock-Huessy, this law is Christianity itself: that death precedes birth. “Spiritual-cultural history” appears for Tomberg as a cross formed out of causality (the horizontal plane) and miracles (the vertical plane).  The miracle appears in the causal sphere and comes from the realm of pure morality, transcending causally conditioned things, i.e., out of the realm of freedom. “For the realm of causality, every miracle is fundamentally an immaculate conception—a conception for which the  Father, the procreator, as effective cause, is not on ‘earth’ but in ‘heaven.’ The immaculate conception and the virgin motherhood of Mary … is like an archetypal phenomenon of all miracles. For it reveals, in the most essential and concise form imaginable, the intrinsic nature of a miracle as a vertical cause in the sphere of horizontally linked cause and effect.”

This is a long way from Rosenstock’s Cross of Reality, but it does have the sense of the fourfold direction and intersecting planes of action. The essence of a miracle is “the reality of the moral world order working down into the reality of the mechanical causal world order—the mystery of ‘becoming.’” In the Creed is the avowal of the miracles of creation, redemption and sanctification of the world.  Faith he defines as “the recognition of the moral world-order and conviction of its primacy over and against the mechanical, causal world-order.” Christianity is not an “ideological superstructure” but a revelation of the moral world order amidst the mechanical-causal world order.

Tomberg believed that the strong movement in the Church for ‘this world’ – to be in the time, with the time, progressive—subjected the Church to the laws of time, indeed, inevitable degeneration, decline, death. This movement came to the fore right after the Second Vatican Council. The “second Pentecostal miracle” hoped and prayed for by the Holy Father was replaced by a policy of keeping in step with the times. The Council became a sort of religious Parliament – not the effect of the Church on the world but that of the world on the Church. Failure to guard the portal which leads to death – Hades – the “way of the world.”

Resurrection is the appearance of the transfigured past, that is, the past that has eternal value. The truth and love of the apostolic era was resurrected and transfigured the religion of Israel and preserved what was of universal value (Catholic).  The second great epoch of Christendom was an impulse foreign to Israel, specifically, renunciation of the world, the solitude of the Desert Fathers. This resurrected what was eternally valid in Eastern religions and yoga.

 My notes do not encompass what could be the third great epoch in Christian history, and I do not recall whether Tomberg addressed this in his book. Perhaps that is the great question of our era, to which we have yet to develop the definitive answer. What will be our synthesis – of Christianity and anti-Christianity (Enlightenment), of imperialism, revolution, technology and modern information sciences?

 I have not been considering grand answers but of births and deaths. Somehow, the answer may lie there: that man is a procreated being, and our appearance on this earth is marked in the succession of generations. Somehow, that answer is so simple, so secret, and yet so open, that it may lie beyond the diabolical plans of Western man to genetically create humans without parents. The question of whether there is to be an answer and whether there is to be a future have become, in effect, a single question.

 Will western humanity renounce the diabolism that currently afflicts our science, our foreign policy, our economic arrangements, and our general outlook towards our life and culture?  To me, that seems to be the question now—not yesterday’s question, nor tomorrow’s—but now. And somehow, I think we must learn how to die in the right way before we can learn to be good stewards again. And I don’t mean by “dying in the right way”  that of allowing our culture to be overrun by immigrants or the moral practices of generations to be trashed. “Dying in the right way” must mean standing up for what is good and just and right. For by doing this we renounce grandiose possibilities and say, “I don’t want it all, I can’t have everything and every choice.” For I am here, now, a particular, limited person and being on a land with limits, traditions, constraints. And this is what I defend. This is the imperative.[See note 3.] That seems to me the “right way of dying” and we need it if Christianity is ever again to transform death into life. 



[1] Reincarnation is mentioned in the New Testament, most notably in connection with John the Baptist, ‘who was Elijah.’  The Western concept of reincarnation has nothing in common with Eastern views, that may include animal incarnations. Most anthroposophical or other ‘esoteric’ writers that I have read simply state that it was not the mission of Jesus Christ to teach reincarnation, but to stress the importance of this life. Thus has the subject been shelved.
[2] I don’t want to be unfair. This is a superficial statement, I realize. Transformation (and self-transformation) is an important part of Anthroposophy. But its significance is blurred, perhaps, because the emphasis in Anthroposophy is on the spiritual world, the Hierarchies (Angels, Archangels, etc) whom Steiner believed to be the real inspirers of history. This supernatural dimension is not present in Rosenstock’s grammatical philosophy, at least not in the same way. The whole sense of impetus is therefore different.
[3] I believe that our imperative demands that we confront the modern ‘gnostic’ doctrine of limitlessness – whether of unlimited immigration, unlimited energy, unlimited military operations, unlimited economic exploitation of earth and resources, unlimited and non-defined gender delusions. This evil doctrine has infected America as with a toxic virus.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! I pray that this link helps provide an apropriate response to ERH's 'symphony of history' use in 'Fruit of Lips,' and his challenge for the nextera in 'Universal History 1954'. It 'one anothers' via his 5-step revolution process, and 4 fronts to be an application to the earth beneath, as liturgy is to the heavens above, and the scientific method is to the waters under--or as ERH said, names, numbers, words.