(submitted to the News for Members, October, 2005 -
see end of this piece for how it was treated in that Magazine)
Wendt on Usher on Prokofieff on Tomberg on Steiner
As Stephen Usher's recent piece on Prokofieff and Tomberg
has some problems, I feel compelled to offer some alternative thoughts.
First, so that there will be clarity as to my own general
views, let me state that I am a reader of Tomberg, and could be
described as one of those "who spreads his ideas about Anthroposophy in
branch and group meetings". However, the emphasis needs to be on
"could be described", because I think Usher's characterizations of
Tomberg readers is more political and polemical than something that
provides insight. The article Usher has written clearly makes
references to the most immoderate of those who speak on these problems
and refer to Tomberg, but not to the more thoughtful.
To thinking contemplation the problem of Steiner and
Tomberg takes on certain unusual characteristics. An
introspective study of mind reveals that we have a natural tendency to
form distinctions and make comparisons, for example: this car is good,
that one is bad; this spiritual way is atavistic, that one is more
pure. Most of those who try to think about Steiner and Tomberg
make the error of comparing what are basically apples and oranges.
Not only will comparative thinking fail to grasp the
underlying spiritual realities, but it will reduce what is a highly
complex problem to superficial irrelevancies. We only really get
at the root of the situation when we meditate on the question of what
Christ might have hoped could be achieved by these personalities for
the benefit of humanity. Meditative contemplation on this
question reveals that humanity is divided into quite disparate groups,
each with unique spiritual needs, such that in the time of the Ethereal
Return of the Christ, more than one renewed spiritual teaching needs to
Those with a more logical orientation on life, and well
educated in our universities and colleges - these could best be reached
by Steiner's form of the renewal of the Mysteries (Anthroposophy).
But those, who are less intellectually oriented, but who are
rooted in their spiritual life in a more devotional way, these could
best be reached by Tomberg's version of a renewal of the Mysteries
(Christian Hermeticism). It is not what we wish or believe that
is important, but what Christ's Love seeks to be realized, and which
incarnate personalities will freely devote themselves to that activity.
Prokofieff's original book suffered a number of problems
itself, for while it was decent scholarship, it really lacked an
ability to approach the problem from out of an experience of the
Consciousness Soul. Prokofieff's The Case of Valentin Tomberg is a book written out of the Intellectual Soul, as can
be perceived by its reliance on argument and on a mass of footnotes and
citations. Someone working out of the Consciousness Soul
would have foremost in mind the reader's need for spiritual freedom, so
that only carefully wrought pictures and verifiable facts are
presented, such that the reader is left free to make all the crucial
conclusions and judgments for themselves.
Now to turn to the second Prokofieff book and Usher's use
First, it is my understanding that the letter, published
now in the News for Members and in Prokofieff's second Tomberg book,
was never actually sent to its purported recipient or published by its
author. As a consequence we really don't know whether Tomberg
wanted to stand behind it, or whether it was something he wrote out of
a certain mood, and then withheld because he decided that it lacked
something. We should also keep in mind that Tomberg confesses in
the letter to be 70 years old, disinterested in meeting with the person
he is responding to, and has recently undergone a "major operation from
which he has barely recovered".
Prokofieff tries to intellectually overcome these defects
(when simple charity and empathy might require acknowledging as
important aspects in the "mood" of the letter), by asserting that the
same "argument" that appears in the letter also appears in the writings
in two Jesuit publications, which then is alleged to mean that the
source of inspiration is identical. Now this identity of
inspiration is not asserted as something Prokofieff knows directly by
spiritual perception, but is really only as his saving "theory",
since he (Prokofieff) is the one who has now seen fit to publish this
letter (a confusion now widened by Usher and the News for Members).
Like the resolute intellectual anthroposophical scholar
that Prokofieff is, the whole thing with Tomberg seems more like a kind
of exercise in pseudo academic warfare, and as such hardly helps anyone
achieve understanding, or knowledge. Mostly we are invited by
both Prokofieff and Usher to take sides. Further, if we actually
read with an open mind the letter itself, which is quite illuminating
on many levels, we might well come to the conclusion that what is being
argued about by Prokofieff and Usher is not something that Tomberg
actually wrote. (It is entirely possible, and we will get to this
later, that while Tomberg is wrong, neither Prokofieff or Usher
actually know why he is wrong)
The meaning that is used by Prokofieff and Usher is
something abstracted it out of its context, which context is not only
the letter, but the whole of Tomberg's later non-anthroposophical works
as published in Covenant of the Heart and Meditations on the Tarot.
Tomberg's very language that he uses in the letter is rooted in
these later writings, and to be honest about what the author is trying
to express in the letter, we would have to understand the meaning
conventions established elsewhere.
Usher urges us to be logical, for example, but his
writing itself is full of polemics and some serious lapses in logic.
Lets just consider this language which Usher uses: "...Tomberg is
hardly the first person to find his way to anthroposophy in his youth
only to lose the thread in his old age and become a disgruntled
opponent of anthroposophy"; or "...Tomberg has an army of followers".
These are not facts, but fanciful exaggerations apparently meant
to create a picture using clearly anti-Tomberg dramatic (polemical)
As Margaret Runyon writes in a letter published in the
same newsletter, concerning Usher's last article: "It is the
fundamental negativity of Stephen's approach that impels me to respond."
Usher clearly cannot of his own experience assert that
anthroposophical Spiritual Science is scientific, the matter which
seems at issue, and basically makes a bootstrap argument the essence of
which is that since Steiner says his work is scientific, it must be
scientific (which is to rely on authority, something Steiner again and
again urged us not to do).
Now personally, as much as I might admire Tomberg's
contributions to those whose need is for their renewal of the truths of
initiation and gnosis to take the form of something akin to their
devotional life (the main significance of Meditations on the Tarot), I would actually suggest that the abstracted argument
aspect of his unsent and unpublished letter that suggests Spiritual
Science is unscientific is in error. But it is clear that neither
Usher or Prokofieff actually has enough experience of why Spiritual
Science is scientific, to make the case that in this instance, this
recently ill older man made an error of thought. Since neither
Usher or Prokofieff has any love or empathy for their subject
(Tomberg), they can't find their way to the essence - love being the
necessary moral motive which enables true heart thinking to penetrate
to the truth.
Having gone this far, and since the subject has come up,
let me try to shed some light on the problem of the "scientific" basis
of anthroposophical Spiritual Science.
Science is rooted in a certain moral Ideal, appropriate
to the Age of the Consciousness Soul - namely that whatever is asserted
to be true, must be followed up with a discussion of the actual method
used and by which another may themselves find the same truth.
From this Ideal comes the "scientific method", which we should
take in its present formulation to be only the first iteration of what
science is ultimately capable of becoming.
Science also rests on a two very secure foundations,
namely the Queen of the Sciences - Mathematics; and less obviously so,
the King of the Sciences - Philosophy. These two sciences are
crucial to everything else which science seeks to accomplish.
Steiner led us through this confused (by materialism)
tangle of affairs in two ways. With regard to Mathematics he
pointed out to us projective or synthetic geometry as the next
evolutionary step in the Queen of the Sciences. With regard to
philosophy, he gave us the epistemological works, whose practical
exploration has fallen by the wayside within the Anthroposophical
Society. In those early writings, he overcomes the dualism on
which 19th Century materialism rested, with a profound monism, in which
thought and experience are discovered to be united.
I purposely use the term "discovered", because the monism
that is established in A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World
Conception and in The Philosophy of Freedom is something we don't know through argument (which is
where Usher and Prokofieff reveal their weakness), but directly through
It is really here where Tomberg floundered, and many
anthroposophists also flounder today. The tricky part has to do
with Steiner's having found out that so few could follow his personal
path, the Path of Cognition, that was laid out in the epistemologies.
This discovery on Steiner's part led him to publishing Knowledge of Higher Worlds, and if one wants to get into the essential matter here,
a reading of Florin Lowndes' Enlivening the Chakra of the Heart is called for. In this latter text will be found,
in the last chapters, a careful explication of the problem of the two
paths in Anthroposophy.
Tomberg followed the path of Knowledge of Higher Worlds, such that his initiation was through the sense world,
and not, as is done via The Philosophy of Freedom,
directly through the spiritual world by confronting the question of
freedom out the potentials of moral imagination. Something
happens to thinking on the path of The Philosophy of Freedom, that cannot happen through Knowledge of Higher Worlds - a kind of free moral strength arises that is
Absent the acquisition of this quality, thinking remains
somewhat immobilized with respect to certain moral aspects of spiritual
experience. In this sense then Usher's instinct is right, in that
Tomberg couldn't do what Steiner had done, so he couldn't recognize
that Steiner actually could do it. The problem is that Usher
really doesn't know why Tomberg failed in understanding this, the why
being something essential for Usher to be able to "perceive" with his
own thinking, in order to understand the essential nature of the
problem in the first place.
Once thinking comes to terms with its real
apprehension of the natural unity of thought and experience (monism),
then we see how it is that Steiner's spiritual experiences can become
"scientific". Tomberg is right that mystical union in the
form of "inner certainty" is generally its own and only verification;
but, in not quite appreciating monism, Tomberg can't recognize
how true thinking, which has become spiritual perceiving, can result in
a "conceptual content" that is "scientifically" reproducible.
It is this "conceptual content" that we encounter in most
of the books and lectures that Steiner produced. However, without
being grounded in the epistemologies, we don't personally know "how"
Steiner produced this material. And, since the moral Ideal of
science is rooted in being able to tell the next person "how" you got
your knowledge so that they can reproduce it, what makes
anthroposophical Spiritual Science scientific is dependent upon the one
following after being able to reproduce the "how".
Many people, including Tomberg, have deep clairvoyant
experiences. The problem arises when the thinking faculty has not
been as rigorously trained as is possible via Steiner's epistemologies.
It is this exact and precise thinking that is able to work over
the spiritual experiences and render them into the content of Spiritual
Knowledge of Higher Worlds doesn't provide this particular "how" that Steiner
himself utilized, although it can and does lead to higher knowledge
(something that I believe Tomberg correctly finds not quite
"scientific"). Anthroposophy is really this Path of Cognition,
while anthroposophical Spiritual Science is the "conceptual content"
produced by someone traveling this Path.
Knowledge of Higher Worlds doesn't quite make it, which Steiner himself suggested
near the end of the 5th Chapter of Occult Science in the following way:
"The path that leads to
sense-free thinking by way of the communications of spiritual science
is thoroughly reliable and sure. [Knowledge
of Higher Worlds]
There is however another that is even more sure, and above all
more exact; at the same time, it is for many people more difficult.
The path in question is set forth in my books The Theory of
Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World-Conception and The Philosophy of
Spiritual Activity. These books tell what man's thinking can
achieve when directed not to impressions that come from the outer world
of the physical sense but solely upon itself."
The key words are: "above all more exact". It is the quality of exactness, especially as
regards the essential nature of the moral dimensions of spiritual
experience, that makes anthroposophical Spiritual Science scientific.
Thinking, in acquiring this quality, takes hold of spiritual
experience in a way Tomberg (and most anthroposophists) can't even
imagine. If we not only master the epistemologies, but also take
up projective geometry, then the thinking is not only well grounded in
the moral problem, but also becomes capable of working in a
participatory way with mobile living pictures (Imaginations) in an
equally exact fashion.
I recognize that this is a very subtle distinction, but
it is one that is essential to the future of our work as
anthroposophists, which is why I felt compelled to bring it forward as
part of my response to Usher's article. By the way, just so we
are clear here, if Usher and Prokofieff want to criticize Tomberg, then
by that same standard, their own work must be open to critical
Joel A. Wendt
reaction to this offering by the editor of
the Newsletter (at that time), Douglas Miller
I was not told this piece would be published. When it was published, Stephen Usher was allowed to make an immediately following "reply", arguing with my themes and justifying his own work. I was not told that was to happen, either. In a truly "scientific community" this would not have happened, because editors in those publications have far higher standards. The back and forth would have been encouraged - I would have been told Usher was to make a reply and offered the opportunity to reply to his reply. This back and forth dialog would have been moved to the end of the relevant magazine and allowed to continue there in following issues for sometime, with others also offered an opportunity to engage. In "scientific" communities, critical argument is celebrated, and the kind of preferential "bushwack" job, that Miller and Usher engaged in, would not have been tolerated.