The Case of Sergei Prokoffief in the Case of Valentine Tomberg
I would like to take an unusual tack in commenting on Sergei Prokoffief’s recent book The Case of Valentine Tomberg – Anthroposophy or Jesuitism? 1
I will concede, initially, for the sake of argument and to limit the scope of discussion, that SP is correct on all counts in his charges against VT. I will proceed by developing overlooked implications which are contained in his procedure and in his conclusions. Others are in a far better position to engage in evaluating the merits of the ‘facts’ as well as the history of the situation than I am.
‘Facts’ are also precisely those things most open to dispute or dismissal, especially since one already committed to belief in a certain position rarely lets a fact get in the way. So I will just wash my hands of that whole aspect of “he said, she said” and try and dig a little deeper. I will work from my inner experience of having tried to understand and appreciate where both SP and VT are coming from and draw on what I have learned from them instead of taking an ‘objective’ approach.
SP obviously feels impelled to issue a challenge for some deep and resolute thinking on a variety of closely related issues of an essential nature. For him, these issues cut to the core of what anthroposophical endeavor is and should be. In posing these questions SP deserves our thanks, for few people are capable of critically examining the governing assumptions of anthroposophical endeavor. These questions, which should be existential, not abstract, for all devoted and sincere anthroposophists, are good ones, and every reader of this book should be a participant and struggle through to his or her own relationship to them, in response to his call to task. SP seems to feel that too many of us just skate over the surface of things and are naïve and credulous, lacking in original relationship for what is at stake. In this, he may be right; I think he is.
However, even granting for the sake of argument his premises, and even many of his conclusions, I end up in a quite different place from what SP intends.
SP rests his case at an intermediate position, and does not fully draw out his conclusions. I propose that to proceed to the necessary conclusions results in a moral reductio ad absurdam which is untenable, and which casts doubt on his standpoint as a whole, and upon his originating premises in particular.
First of all, and in general, even if (if!) SP is correct on all counts, why does he treat Valentine Tomberg as an enemy? If one disagrees with another, one still has a range of options from which to choose in how to disagree. Why a character assassination on someone who just as easily could be considered a close colleague and a fellow initiate? (Blavatsky was a very “bad girl”, indeed – she loved her hashish, for example, rode a horse like a man, and one of her prominent photographs shows her being trundled around a garden in a wheelbarrow, yet because of her accomplishments, these things are overlooked. We resent deeply the charges of racism against Dr. Steiner himself, even though some of his statements about Negroes and Mexicans look pretty problematical in light of current sensibilities. We make allowances if we feel like it!)
Assume VT’s impulse failed completely. SP does not ask: “What is there of worth in what he intended?” He makes no effort to examine or evaluate what VT might have had in mind for the course of his life, or what was the dream of his heart. Was VT evil from his conception and are his motives so perverse as to be unmentionable? The best explanation that I can come up with for SP’s failure to examine the subjectivity of VT in The Case of Valentine Tomberg is that he cannot, for he is in avoidance and denial of the very things that VT attempts to address in his life’s work. Hence the reactive and belligerent tone of his book, for it has an overall mood of spite and vindictiveness which is wholly out of keeping with real conscious appreciation (i.e. critical understanding), and all too typical for someone challenged in their sore spot or shadow.
VT’s impulse (to broaden the scope of anthroposophy and to reach out to other congregations) went awry? If so, so what? Don’t most best efforts fail? Was anthroposophy itself a rousing success? The prominent Anthroposophist and Vorstand Chairman Hermann Poppelbaum said that, in light of its history, anthroposophists must acquire an entirely new relationship to failure! And what is the proof that it has failed? It hasn’t failed in my life, nor in the lives of many others whom I know. The fact that someone like VT (or anyone, really) could find a way to work creatively with the impulse that Rudolf Steiner inaugurated (not completed, as SP seems to think) was my biggest indication, upon meeting anthroposophy 25 years ago, that there was something alive behind it – one could work with it; it had the potential to grow. This gave it credibility for me.
I find no willingness on SP’s part to search for what might be of worth in VT’s life work, no generosity of spirit or impulse of reconciliation.
Depending on your meditation then, the question circles back and asks: “What kind of credibility is thus implied for SP’s logic and intention in the first place?”
For SP should know, thinker that he is, that logic is like a trained animal; it goes where you point it. (More precisely, one of the main axioms of mathematical logic (Godel’s Proof) is that anything which can be proved absolutely is thereby also at the same time also proven to be absolutely irrelevant with regard to any real-world consideration. One has to choose axioms to start with in any form of logic or calculation. These choices cannot be anything other than arbitrary in the last analysis. They can never be proven to correspond with the experienced world, because they themselves are the basis for the logical system itself as well as for one's view of what constitutes "reality." The system can only be judged as to whether or not they are internally consistent).
The weight of evidence that SP marshals is impressive, but we have seen too many courtroom dramas where everything gets turned upside-down at the end as a result of an overlooked detail to be overly impressed by that. Facts don’t prove the case where moral considerations are involved, and SP furthermore substitutes his interpretations of the facts for the facts themselves. That he is being reactive is by the far the most charitable of the possible interpretations of this situation.
Of course, one cannot avoid the moral responsibility of drawing difficult but necessary conclusions from time to time, and on matters of core principle there should be no compromise. But if the heart is not engaged things can go seriously awry - as I believe they have in SP’s latest effort. Unfortunately for SP, however, the way in which he has flung down the gauntlet has made such a direct reply as this inevitable, at least for myself. Not that I don’t find many things in VT’s later work perplexing and enigmatic. But there are also many things in Steiner’s output which require the utmost goodwill and suspension of judgement to accept - many more than in VT’s work. It’s good training to ‘hold questions in patience’; I frequently find questions more stimulating than answers. SP obviously prefers conclusions of the “you’re either with us or against us” variety.
The way in which SP has nailed his colors to the mast is a bit unnerving. Not only does he fail to leave any room for dialogue, as if he has fully answered his questions not only for himself but also for everyone else; he has left himself no room for nuance or maneuver. This is very foolish, especially since the depth of his agitation and conviction is so deep that his logic becomes sloppy, his fact-finding perfunctory and arbitrary, and his conclusions arbitrary. In the tradition of the true fundamentalist – a universal type – he chooses his axiom (in this case the immutable purity of the content of anthroposophy as received from RS, unmodifiable and unaugmentable by the use of the anthroposophic method by any individual, student or initiate) and then, since the true has been proven (by assumption), he becomes lazy and careless. Nonetheless, I am grateful and indebted to him for forcing me to work through the dilemmas he poses.
To be specific: “Occult Imprisonment” supposedly imposed by the Jesuits upon VT explains for SP everything provoking serious reflection about the course of VT’s life and work after (or right before) his turn to Catholicism. But this explains nothing. The inner issues raised and the options offered by VT’s life and work still remain, even though SP considers the ‘fact’ of this move of such a nature that it locks down the lid on any examination of those issues or of what VT’s freely chosen intention might have been. This is not even logic, but pure biased agenda.
One of the sub-issues here is that of the Papacy, not an easy one for me, being a lapsed Catholic and no friend of the conventional wisdom of Catholicism. But by saying (perhaps correctly) that since the institution of the Papacy belongs to the era of the sentient soul, and since we are in the era of the consciousness soul, it is thereby outmoded, superseded and retrograde, he also inadvertently reveals his bias against the sentient soul in general. That this is so is clearly indicated by the vituperativeness of his attack. The natural instinct for fellow-feeling – the famous gemut; the main fruit of the sentient-soul period – he evidently considers as being just so much excess baggage. But this is precisely the thing that RS himself decried as being obvious by its absence in so many of the affairs of the Society of his day, as it still is. Just because too much sense of group identity is bad does not mean that no fellow-feeling is better….
He is not broadminded enough to realize that to embrace a path of devotion and sacrifice of personal will in service of a spiritual inspiration - an ideal signified by "The Pope", aka: "The Hierophant" in the Tarot, and represented so imperfectly in mundane reality by the Pope himself - is an act that also validates the Impulse that inspired Rudolf Steiner in his attunement with the Michael School and the Anthroposophical Movement. But he castigates Tomberg for doing what he proclaims himself to be doing. So VT is merely SP's rival. This is terribly confused as well as trivial and clearly says more about SP than it does about VT.
Anyway, VT was not referring to the formal institution of the Papacy so much as referring to the function which may or may not be operating in any individual, one which mediates between the divine and the earthly across the Threshold by sacrificing the personal and the arbitrary. The Pontiff himself has an awkward job in trying to do this full-time within the egregoric weight of a two thousand year-old bureaucracy, but SP materializes the concept and does not grasp the spiritual or esoteric implications of this particular function as described by VT. Reflexively, what does this say about SP’s conception of his role and function in representing anthroposophy as a spiritual impulse? He is certainly acting more like an actual Pope of the old school than VT ever endorsed it as an ideal, and his attack upon VT has exactly the kind of calculating deviousness of the Jesuit than he decries in VT – in which it is simply absent.
Back to ”Occult Imprisonment” (OI). The allegation of this occurrence as an explanation for VT's defection from anthroposophy is not even made straightforwardly by SP, but is inserted by relating this as being the conjecture of someone else, now deceased and unavailable for questioning. SP, furthermore, cannot even relate this first-hand, for the conjecture was passed on in the way such things are, by means of gossip. (Unsupported testimony is, legally as well as epistomologically inadmissible. Since VT is on trial here by SP, I call SP on fairness on this point). As if this were not enough to self-discredit the charge or render it unsuitable for mention, SP does not even personally vouch for his knowledge or, in lieu of that, for his conviction, that such a thing is true or offer any indication as to how it might have been implemented: he just slips it in and leaves it hanging, as if the truth of it should be obvious to all. It’s not. I can’t believe that his editor didn’t do his job and tell him to yank this portion. But then he wouldn’t have any other easily dismissive explanation for VT’s behavior, one with the added convenience of being strange and scary enough to dissuade examination of it by the easily intimidated or by those incapable of judging or researching it themselves.
But: if such a thing is true (the OI), then it is no small thing, and the question then becomes: “Who was VT then, to have inspired such opposition?” (The adage that you can tell the worth of a man by the nature of his enemies comes to mind). SP is silent on this, for he does not want to remind us that the precedents for victims of OI in the anthroposophical history are Caspar Hauser and H. P. Blavatsky, both very worthy souls!
This is not illustrative of an artfully constructed and closely reasoned argument; one which would inspire respect for its conclusions out of the obvious conscientiousness of the author and the elegant aesthetic of its demonstration.
Other aspects of this faulty logic and procedure could be addressed and developed here, but I can only include mention of them in the following recap because of space limitations:
1). He does not describe OI or claim to know what it is.
2). He does not identify which faction of “the Jesuits” is responsible for the OI. To blame the entire stream is no more apt than to blame Christianity for slavery. And is a good example of sloppy categorical thinking.
2). He fails to address the corollary of his charge: the practice of full-fledged ritual black magic in the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church. To not follow up on this is just as irresponsible as bringing it up in the first place.
3). The famous precedent: the OI of H. P. Blavatsky as related by RS. VT is certainly in good company here.
4). Charges by Annie Besant that RS was under the influence of the Jesuits were a significant factor in the split of RS from the Theosophical Society, second perhaps only to the Krishnamurti affair. SP has a special obligation to be conscientious in this area and to make his charge stick if he lays it on the table.
5). There is an unfortunate history of outstanding individuals – even entire national chapters - being ‘excommunicated’ from the Society. There is also a history of such individuals either suffering quietly until they died or 'allowed' reentry under decades-later reinstatement. VT, on the other hand, seems to have refused to be thwarted and said something like: “You can’t fire me, I quit!”. He went ahead and found a new audience. Does SP resent VT’s spiritual autonomy and his refusal to submit?
6). VT’s new audience was those familiar and sympathetic to the esoteric streams within French culture, and he drew heavily upon those influences in his mighty Meditations on the Tarot. Could there possibly be some ethnophobia operating within SP here, with the Russian SP trying to be “holier than thou” in the mostly germanic milieu of the Vorstand he courts, in addition to drawing upon centuries of almost instinctual animosity between the Germans and the French as well as Rudolf Steiner's own publicly stated animosity towards the effects of French culture?
6). So VT dared talk to the Catholics. So? Perhaps he was following the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who left his cozy womb in heaven to enter our sordid earth existence. Would SP like to suggest that Christ should not have consorted with known criminals and scoundrels like us? SP must think that Anthroposophy is too weak for the real world and deserves to be sheltered under his auspices.
7). SP criticizes the Jesuits on a number of points and quotes RS extensively in support. Again: "So what?" Consider this: Is Anthroposophy all it could be? What could a ruthless muckraker find if he put his mind to it? How many have quit the Society for reasons of conscience? What of the millions that RS said were out there as potential members? Why don’t they like the Society – is it their fault or the Society's?
There is no ‘Big Picture’ here in this grab bag of SP’s, despite SP’s attempts to corner the high ground. In Soloviev’s tale of the Antichrist, representatives of the different streams of Christianity set aside their in-house differences to do their real work: oppose the antichrist and represent the Life and Love of Christ. In order to achieve this, an appeal far more subtle and simple is needed than the one to doctrinal correctness, which after, all is a private matter for the individual sense of conscience – unless you subscribe to a sentient-soul sense of authoritarian preeminence. This latter approach doesn’t work, or rather; it only works with precisely the wrong type of people: people who need a Pope.
True spiritual vision is audacious and unprecedented, yet has heavy context. SP is not bold, he is reckless. He has generated quite a bit of credibility by virtue of his past work, which represents at least an obvious conscientiousness in research, but here he squanders it in spite against one who could be one of his best spiritual allies. That SP ignores the imperatives of the Apocalypse indicates that he either does not see them, that he considers them unimportant, or that he has an only an abstract appreciation of them. I have no explanation for his seduction by a fabulous anthroposophical "correctness” although this instance is a typical combination of Luciferic idealism combined with Ahrimanic rigidity. One would have thought that the leader of the Anthroposophical Society would have been a more subtle thinker that this.
In his intense tunnel vision, focused on his goal of discrediting VT, he has forgotten that the means create the ends, and has failed to notice that he is talking and walking in different directions. While we all have our personal affinities and personal biases, they need no justification at anyone else’s expense.
Personally, I hope (and believe) that we are all by now smart enough not to fall prey to such a weak appeal to cheap factionalism in the name of a righteous but illusory anthroposophical fundamentalism. That’s already been tried by people with a lot more clout than SP. The purity and strength of Steiner’s legacy is in the process of the intention; in the humility and the intuition which reaches out to the approaching future, not in the content of it which is only a marker in the past.
As for who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’, that is a debate taking place on a banal level, a level of little or no sophistication - one for which Ahriman is especially well suited: the one who knows all the ‘facts’ and is incapable of external refutation. We should fight where we are strong - in our moral conscience and in our ability to suffer, and, in love, to be stronger than that which causes us suffering, and to persuade by example and character. In this we may reliably hope to be good at some day.
Christ seems to be much more interested in: “Are we good?” than in: “Are we right?”
“For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” – G. K. Chesterton.
Just in case you still wonder what all the fuss is about, consider this: “Who’s next?”
If you have any desire for real spiritual experience or talent for spiritual research – and it will be original, even heretical to those of fixed mind; if it is authentic – then do you want SP or the spectre of orthodoxy breathing down your neck? Shame on him for introducing the subtle virus of fear: the fear of being ‘wrong’. You will, if you are successful in your quest for understanding, be going past all previously understood understandings - even your own - although they may become renewed and deepened in the process. Do you want support and informed peer review or backbiting and ad hominum attacks? Does SP have access to some kind of secret learning process which prevents him from “learning by doing”: i.e.; by learning from making mistakes, which is usually the case for most of us?
The discussion that SP hopes to have cannot be decided on this side of the Threshold even by using the highest, faultless, and well-intentioned analysis and logic or accumulation of scattered gossip. Any such effort is bound to be counter-productive, unless it has the active cooperation of the Spiritual World. Let SP state clearly what he knows to be true, out of his personal Word, and submit his other opinions simply as his opinions.
Sergei Prokoffief has had the courage to speak bluntly. It is out of respect and with no personal animosity that I speak just as bluntly in reply for one who cannot speak for himself, one who has been a friend to me. Such questions as SP raises have been around in the Society for quite some time; again, he comes up with little that is new. But by bringing them to light in such a glare and with the overstated boldness imprimatur of his official authority, perhaps we have the opportunity to finally put them to rest once and for all so that we may all get on with our lives and meet the end of the century with a lighter load.
A positive appreciation of what Valentine Tomberg represents will have to wait for another opportunity, but perhaps this brief partial analysis of the ‘charges’ against him will induce individuals to do that for themselves, on their own. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…” I can only say that the more I work into VT’s work the more substance of true spiritual worth I find. And that if I wanted to, I could make a much better case against him than SP has made, particularly in examining the inconsistencies involved in his flip-flop on the question of evil between his early Anthroposophical Studies of the Old Testament and his later Meditations on the Tarot. But I have my own understanding about this, and I don’t care to dance on his bones.
One last thing that provides a context for me and renders much of this a mere distraction: “Who and where is the Initiate who informs the activity of the Movement now? Will he/she be capable of approaching the Society if such artificial and gratuitous agitation and turmoil is not quelled?”
It has become apparent to this writer, after several years of reflection and many varied conversations upon this subject, that it orbits around considerations which can only be characterized as hero-worship. The thwarted expectations, agendas, and identifications precipitating about the central question of the “Boddhisattva” bear every similarity to the population of a solar system. Krishnamurti was a comet of the first magnitude, heralded with great fanfare, extolled with every extravagance while present, and then just as quickly absent from the gravitational field of the Theosophists, powered by a motor all his own.
Disgusted by the unaccountability of those who promoted him (and Krishnamurti was not the first candidate of those who wished to manufacture a controllable Christ-candidate), Steiner left the Theosophical Society to found his own Anthroposophical Society. While present, there was no doubt that an initiate in the fullness of his capability was present. Afterwards, with no designated replacement in sight, and insufficient critical mass within the body of members, his Society became split over many issues, one of which was, once again, the identity of the Boddhisattva. All this is detailed quite well in T. H. Meyer’s The Bodhisattva Question2. The gist of it is that some thought it was Steiner, some thought it was Tomberg. Few seemed to think that it was not an important question, or a matter of extreme significance which camp one chose to join. On this, as well as many other questions - many involving issues of continuing revelation, if any – the Society was torn apart, with hundreds of individuals, a great weight of significant personalities, and at least two whole national Society Chapters being expelled by the headquarters in Switzerland.
Although time and the passage of the pivotal players have healed some wounds, much of the residue lingers, either as dust under the rug or skeletons in the closet, and the present condition of the Society – or predicament, depending on how one wishes to view it – are not comprehensible without an understanding of the context out of which they arise. Many members of the Society have no wish, talent, or opportunity to investigate such intractable and contentious issues, and they simple follow their own interests, cultivating their own gardens. These may be the fortunate ones.
Within the context of this matter of Prokoffief’s crusade against Valentine Tomberg, all this may be quite relevant. In Prokoffief’s first book, written when he was at the tender age of 25, he identifies Rudolf Steiner as the Boddhisattva of this age (Rudolf Steiner and the Founding of the New Mysteries, pp. 69- 79.) Even taking into account his first flush of enthusiasm for discovering the New World of Anthroposophy, it must be noted that he ignores Steiner’s own disavowal of this proposition, which was made to him and refused by him while he was still alive. The same situation also obtained for Valentine Tomberg: he said it wasn’t him, either.
Yet people seem to have an irresistible urge to try and figure or who it was or is. I submit that it doesn’t make any difference, especially as indicated by the fact that there is no way to resolve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. So why even go there?
PS: 2016: Since the death of Sergei Prokoffief, such considerations as were proposed above may be seen as ill-considered since the man now has no opportunity to respond. To this I say:
1. Such tendencies as I describe may be seen as symptomatic default tendencies within the Society as a whole, since its inception, and considered as such.
2. In 1998 and for years afterward, this article was submitted to Mr. Prokoffief himself for comment and response, also to as many official representatives of the Society in Dornach and in this country as I had contact information for. In no case did I receive any substantial response, and none at all from Mr. Prokoffief himself.
1 Temple Lodge, London, 1997. Originally published in German by Verlag am Goetheanum,
Dornach, Switzerland, 1995. Enlarged second edition published by the author, 1996.
English translation from the second edition by Richard Michell.
2 Meyer, T. H.: The Bodhisattva Question – Krishnamurti, Rudolf Steiner, Annie Besant, Valentin
Tomberg, and the Mystery of the Twentieth-Century Master. Temple Lodge, 1993 (from the German of 1989).