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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.