Observations on the Influence of the Occult in Traditional Catholic Discourse
“For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.”
— 2 Timothy 4:3–4
I begin this eight-part monograph with a caveat. I am a traditional Catholic layman unschooled in either philosophy or theology. I write with neither authority nor desire to pass judgement on ideas, much less persons. Nevertheless, my “pious ears” have been offended, and my “sensus fidei” alarm has been triggered, and so I offer these observations in the hope that what little light I am able to shed on that which has scandalised me may soon be joined by other, greater lights. Perhaps then we shall have some much-needed clarity.
Part I: Valentin Tomberg and His Progeny
I read a very peculiar book recently: Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed, a semi-autobiographical work in which the author, Roger Buck, chronicles his conversion to Catholicism from the New Age spiritual movement and issues a stirring cri de coeur for a return to Catholic Tradition. Like his earlier book, The Gentle Traditionalist, which Buck describes retrospectively as “the ‘comic-book’ version of this much bigger, more in-depth work,” Cor Jesu Sacratissimum was received to considerable acclaim amongst traditional Catholics upon its release in December 2016.
“Roger Buck has done a great service to the Church,” wrote Dr Joseph Shaw on the popular blog Rorate Caeli, a website generally regarded as the authoritative voice of Tradition in the Catholic blogosphere. “Buck is one of the very few authors writing today who grasps the intimate connection between Catholic faith and Catholic culture,” added Thomas Storck, arguably the Anglophone world’s foremost exponent of traditional Catholic Social Teaching, who commended Cor Jesu Sacratissimum for offering American readers “the possibility of an escape from the prison of the dreary intellectual and spiritual world of Protestant culture.” Traditionalist Catholic author Charles A. Coulombe also joined the chorus of praise, calling it an “elegant feast of a book” that “expertly skewers the modern world, with its twin horrors of arrogant materialism and non-specific ‘spirituality’.”
Rave reviews for The Gentle Traditionalist and its sequel, The Gentle Traditionalist Returns, likewise flowed from the pen of Dr Peter Kwasniewski, who even went so far as to include Cor Jesu Sacratissumum alongside Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma and the Catechism of the Council of Trent on his list of eight “recommended books for study” published at LifeSiteNews, another site widely read by Catholics of a traditionalist bent. Buck’s popularity with traditional Catholics is further evidenced by the fact that his corpus, including Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, is available for purchase from the online bookshops of the UK’s Latin Mass Society (LMS) and the traditional Benedictine community of Silverstream Priory in Ireland.
I call this book “very peculiar” for two reasons. The first is to be found in its Acknowledgements, which conclude in this way:
“And there remain two deceased authors, Valentin Tomberg and Hilaire Belloc, to whom this book is, above all, indebted… Both Belloc’s and Tomberg’s writings guide and inspire me like no other. This is so much the case that, although I never met them in this world, I can scarcely think to omit them from this list of my dearest friends, family, and supporters.”
Belloc, of course, needs no introduction, but readers are unlikely to be familiar with Tomberg, whom Buck credits with having “guided me, not only to the Church, but, with every passing year, ever more deeply to traditional Catholicism.” Buck is so enamoured of Tomberg, in fact, that he even had a passage from his magnum opus read at his wedding.
What is this magnum opus of Tomberg’s? It is Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, first published (anonymously) in 1980. This is the book that Buck hails as “a work of moral genius — the lifetime’s fruit of an elderly man who demonstrably achieved the most lucid thinking combined with the warmest of hearts. A 600-page tour de force, it features an astonishing synthesis of theology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, science — and indeed matters of a more esoteric nature.” Indeed.
Valentin Tomberg, who died in 1973 (his Meditations were published posthumously), was a Russian occultist and magician who, in his later years, was received into the Catholic Church. It was during this latter period of his life that he authored Meditations on the Tarot. The late Hamilton Reed Armstrong, writing in the Catholic journal Christian Order, offers the following summary of this bizarre tome:
“The ‘anonymous’ author presents Gnosticism, Magic, Kabbalah and Hermeticism as not only compatible, but essential to true Catholic belief. While he quotes St. Paul and St. John the Evangelist and extols the visions of such Catholic mystics as St. John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, and St. Francis of Assisi, as well as quoting from St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, he gives equal coverage to the ‘initiated’ Masons… Papus, Louis Claude de Saint Martin (Martinism), Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, the acknowledged Luciferian, Stanislau de Guaita, the Satanic Magician Elephias Levy, as well as the Kabbalistic false Messiah Sabbatai Zevi, Madam Blavatsky, Swami Vivekananda, Rudolf Steiner, Teilhard de Chardin, Jacob Boehme, Swedenborg, Carl Jung, and a host of others.
“The general premise of the book — dedicated to the Virgin of Chartres — is that there is a general cosmic energy labelled ‘egregore’ (God) that runs through all religions, as well as Freemasonry. This unified energy is manifested in duality: light-dark, male-female, good-evil, etc., which in Hinduism is called Advaita Vedanta, Monism to the Spinozist, and in the Christian tradition (quoting St. John out of context), are united by ‘Love’ (p. 32). All spiritual masters enter mystically into this cosmic spirituality by ‘initiation’, understood as ‘the state of consciousness where all, eternity and the present moment are one.’ In this state of consciousness, magical powers are acquired (p. 87). Jesus was an initiate, as were those who came before him, i.e. the Hebrew Moses and the Egyptian Hermes Trismejistis, as well as such people as Eliphias Lévi, Stanislaus de Gauita, and Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, etc. Reincarnation is ‘simply a fact of experience’ (p. 93), for example, Jesus was aware of his ‘magical’ powers, and the theurgist Monsieur Philip ‘made himself an instrument of the divine magic of Jesus Christ’ (p. 193). The Holy Trinity is made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or, Father, Mother, and Son interchangeably. The cross is the symbol of the marriage of opposites (p. 259) and the Virgin Mary is ‘a cosmic entity, Wisdom, the Virgin of Light of the [Gnostic] Pistis Sophia,… the Shekinah of the Cabbalists’ (pp. 547–549, 582). ‘The great Many [founder of Manichaeism] taught a synthesis [that mobilised] the good will of the whole of mankind — Pagan, Buddhist and Christian — for a single concerted and universal effort of ‘yes’ towards the eternal spirit and ‘no’ towards the things of matter’ (p. 471).
“The author weaves these syncretistic, Gnostic, Kabbalistic and Manichean beliefs together, while maintaining that all of the above conforms to his orthodox Catholic Faith…”
Such theological eclecticism, Buck concedes, is “definitely problematic for Catholics,” but he waves aside these occult elements as “not primary, nor secondary or even tertiary…” For my part, however, I am far from convinced that they can be so easily dismissed as mere obiter dicta; rather, I suspect they are substantively prejudicial to Catholic orthodoxy. Indeed, even if it could be said that Valentin Tomberg was ninety-nine percent orthodox and “only” one percent heretical, we might still recall Pope Leo XIII’s warning from his 1896 encyclical Satis Cognitum:
“There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition.”
To the extent that Tomberg’s Meditations is known amongst traditional Catholics, it is largely — if not entirely — due to the fact that the effusive Foreword to the German edition (Afterword in the English) was penned by one Hans Urs von Balthasar. The late Swiss theologian and Cardinal-elect’s penchant for Tomberg (he called him a “thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity”) and his esoteric “Christian Hermeticism” has been much commented upon by traditional Catholic bloggers, including the writer whose essay I have just quoted, and I do not intend to rehash that commentary now. Whilst Balthasar’s influence on post-Conciliar theology — and on Pope “Emeritus” Benedict XVI personally — can hardly be understated, most well-read traditional Catholics are already wise to his heterodox thinking, and do not claim him as one of their own.
The same is not true of the German philosopher Robert Spaemann, whose passing in 2018 was mourned as a mighty blow to the cause of Catholic Tradition: “In Spaemann,” eulogised Rorate Caeli, “the Catholic intellectual world has lost one of its greatest lights, and an eloquent defender of the traditional Mass and traditional Catholic doctrine…” Martin Mosebach, author of The Heresy of Formlessness, which has become something of a modern classic amongst defenders of the Traditional Latin Mass (and whose Foreword was written by the same Robert Spaemann), took to the pages of First Things to pay tribute to his fallen comrade’s “decades-long battle for the traditional Catholic liturgy… For Spaemann, it was only in the rite — spanning all time — that a person experienced the unity of the human family.” At the height of the Amoris Laetitia controversy, in which Spaemann had been outspoken in his criticism of Pope Francis’ efforts to overthrow the Church’s teachings on marriage, “Trad” social media celebrity Fr John Zuhlsdorf counselled readers of his eponymous Fr Z’s Blog, “When Spaemann speaks, we should listen.” In a later blog post, he added, “Even though German theologians today set a low bar for clarity and orthodoxy, Spaemann is clearly the best working theologian among them. And he is faithful.”
It might come as a surprise, then, that a man with such a reputation for doctrinal orthodoxy would join his voice to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s in endorsing Meditations on the Tarot. And yet he did; of the two Forewords to the German edition of Meditations, the second was penned by Professor Robert Spaemann: “The right time for this book has come… How fortunate we are… [to have] the spiritual world opened to us by the author of these Letters [of which Meditations consists.]”
The late philosopher’s enthusiasm for Tomberg’s esoteric treatise (he is said to have gifted to Pope John Paul II the two-volume edition that appeared on the pontiff’s desk in a 1988 photograph) might explain an otherwise inexplicable report of a conversation between Spaemann and Italian author Pietro Archiati, who formally apostatised in 1987. Archiati, like Tomberg, had come to believe in the reality of reincarnation, and so felt (unlike Tomberg) that he could not in good conscience remain a Catholic. He recalls that when he informed his friend Spaemann of his decision to forsake the Church of his baptism, “Prof Spaemann… was very upset… [and] said he would show me that the Church was a lot more open and liberal than I wanted to impress on him… and that there is room in the Church for people who, like me, are convinced of reincarnation.” Whether the professor himself believed in reincarnation is not known, but according to Archiati, he knew “with certainty” that John Paul II did believe, and therefore regarded it as a perfectly orthodox opinion.
Returning now to the self-confessed “aspiring Christian Hermeticist” Roger Buck’s Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, the second reason I call it “very peculiar” is on account of its publisher: Angelico Press.
Traditional Catholics will likely have at least one Angelico title on their bookshelves; in its own words, Angelico Press is “dedicated to making the rich tradition of Catholic intellectual and cultural life more available to families, students, and scholars.” To this end, it has published many works by such luminaries of Catholic Tradition as Bishop Athanasius Schneider, historian Prof Roberto de Mattei, lawyer and journalist Christopher Ferrara, Prof John Rao (who is also on Angelico’s advisory board), Dr Peter Kwasniewski, LMS Chairman Dr Joseph Shaw, Dr Edmund Mazza, and journalist Antonio Socci, as well as republishing many Catholic classics by authors such as Ven Fulton Sheen, Fr Bryan Houghton, Bella Dodd, G.K. Chesterton, St Thomas Aquinas, Dom Prosper Gueranger, Bl Columba Marmion, and St Francis de Sales. Amongst Angelico’s original titles, traditional Catholic readers will no doubt recognise In Sinu Jesu, a 2016 bestseller and instant spiritual classic endorsed by no lesser eminences than Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
This overview of the Angelico catalogue — replete as it is with volumes on Fatima, the ancient Roman liturgy, Chesterbelloc, the Modernist heresy, and the life and visions of Bl Anne Catherine Emmerich — serves to demonstrate why I, and many priests and laymen with whom I have spoken, have long considered Angelico Press to be not only a reliable publisher of orthodox Catholic literature (“one of the foremost presses for traditional Catholic thought today,” as Rorate Caeli puts it), but even an outlet at the intellectual vanguard of the pushback against Modernism in the Church. This impression is evidently shared by Dr Peter Kwasniewski, for example, who has lauded Angelico as “the premier publisher of imaginative and intellectually rigorous traditional Catholic books,” and “one of the few Catholic presses today for whose new releases one could envisage having a standing subscription and not be disappointed with each title as it comes in the mail.” Fraternity Publications, the bookstore and publishing arm of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP), has sold more than a few Angelico titles.
All of this is to say that, for good or ill, Angelico Press makes a significant contribution to traditional Catholic discourse, and can therefore be said to have a certain influence on the intellectual formation of traditional Catholics.
Less than four years after publishing Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, in January 2019, Angelico Press released an attractive, illustrated hardback that curiously, even a full year after the fact, is nowhere to be found on its website. Turning to its back cover, the reader is greeted by glowing endorsements from Angelico authors Dr Michael Martin and the late Stratford Caldecott, as well as the late Prof Robert Spaemann and others, alongside the following blurb:
“Published now with an extended table of contents, supplementary material, recently discovered early notes, and an exhaustive index, the Angelico Press edition of this spiritual classic, which has drawn boundless praise, is a priceless gift for today’s spiritual seekers.”
Unusually for a Catholic “spiritual classic” trumpeted (by Dr Martin) as possibly “the most radically orthodox… work of the last century,” it is currently (at the time of writing) ranked 77th in Amazon’s “Hermetism & Rosicrucianism” category, and 129th in “Magic & Alchemy” at Amazon UK.
The book’s title is Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism.
Keep scrolling for Part II: Perennialism and the “Transcendent Unity of Religions”…
 Buck, R., Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed (Angelico Press, 2016), p. 15
 Ibid, p. 239
 Ibid, p. 240
 Ibid, p. 238
 Incidentally, it is said “that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prior to becoming Pope Benedict XVI, authorised the Russian edition of Meditations on the Tarot.” (SOURCE)
 Anonymous [Tomberg, V.], Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (Angelico Press, 2019), pp. v-vi
 “Whether from Angelico Press, St. Augustine Academy Press or various other places, the FSSP chooses to sell what it considers the best traditional books in print today.” (SOURCE)
Part II: Perennialism and the “Transcendent Unity of Religions”
Back in 2005, the aforementioned, four-times-published Angelico Press author Stratford Caldecott posted — approvingly, it seems — the text of a letter sent to him by his colleague, fellow Angelico writer Professor Wolfgang Smith, on the internet forum of Second Spring, a business founded by Stratford and his wife that “offers editorial and educational services in the field of Faith and Culture.” To date, this organisation has published a total of eleven books under its own “Second Spring” imprint with Angelico, which mourned Caldecott (who passed away in 2014) as “a guiding light for all of us at Angelico Press.” Prof Smith’s letter reads, in part:
“It is only of late (perhaps in the last year or two) that I seem finally to have made my peace with the TU [Transcendent Unity] doctrine…
“I am fully convinced that there IS a transcendent unity of which every authentic religion constitutes a manifestation willed by God. It seems to me that this transcendent unity is indeed the pearl of truth enshrined within every religion, which the faithful are destined to discover and take possession of at the end of the road, when they shall have, Deo volente, attained to what Christianity terms theosis; for indeed, that truth is no longer a matter of doctrine, of theological or metaphysical conceptions, but is God Himself: I am the truth, said Christ.”
From my simple layman’s perspective, I cannot fathom how this “transcendent unity of religions” differs in any way materially from the statement, “The pluralism and the diversity of religions… [is] willed by God in His wisdom,” to which Pope Francis controversially gave papal assent when he signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together in 2019, and for which he was so roundly criticised in traditional Catholic circles, not least by Msgr Athanasius Schneider, that great defender of the Faith in our times. Indeed, if anything, Smith’s letter goes further still, by making explicit what that document only implies; namely, that God positively wills a multiplicity of religions. And yet, this would appear to be an opinion held in common by Angelico’s flagship authors, who look to Stratford Caldecott — “Strat” to his fans — as their visionary leader.
Do I exaggerate? I do not think that I do. Further evidence of the “transcendent unity” consensus that exists at Angelico Press is to be found in another of its publishing imprints, “Sophia Perennis,” under which Angelico has published nineteen titles to date, making it Angelico’s premier special imprint. It belongs to a publishing house of the same name, headed by Angelico Press co-founder James Wetmore, whose website declares its mission in these terms:
“Sophia Perennis is dedicated to publishing the best contemporary writing on the world’s wisdom traditions, largely from a Traditionalist or ‘Perennialist’ perspective, as well as reprinting recognized classics. We have tried to remain faithful to Traditionalist core principles — notably the Transcendent Unity of Religions — while exploring new applications of these principles, as well as returning to the great Revelations themselves for fresh insight.”
According to Sophia Perennis’ “FAQ” page, the cardinal “rule” of Traditionalism/Perennialism — I will hereafter use this latter term when referring to the philosophical school to avoid confusion with Catholic traditionalism — is that “a Traditionalist must remain faithful in his or her personal practice to one and only one of the revealed Traditions…” In this respect, the Perennialist School positions itself in contradistinction to religious syncretism (as espoused by Theosophy or New-Ageism, for example):
“Traditionalism rejects all syncretism. The differences between the religions are as providential as are the aspects they hold in common. Mixing religions is like trying to walk down separate but parallel paths at once; it can’t be done, except in fantasy. The true and revealed religions were all sent by, refer back to, and grant access to, the same Absolute Reality, but their paths do not converge in this world; the Unity of Religions exists only in the Transcendent. Thus Traditionalism, as long as it remains true to its first principles, is totally opposed to all attempts to federate the world’s religions under a non-religious authority, or to create a One-World religion.”
This, nevertheless — as any Catholic reader will immediately recognise — is pure religious indifferentism; as such, it falls into the same category of error as the syncretism it pretends to oppose. The author of Sophia Perennis’ “FAQ” section, recognising this apparent paradox, seeks to resolve it by asking and answering the following questions:
“Traditionalism implies that we are obliged to make a serious commitment to ONE of the revealed religions. Doesn’t this conflict with the idea that more than one religion is valid? How can you make a serious commitment to a religion if you don’t see that religion as the Truth itself?
“The only way, ultimately, is to develop so deep and unshakable a sense of God or Absolute Reality that It itself, not your particular religion, becomes the primary focus of your faith — and then to understand your religious path as an incomparable gift given to you by That One, Who has specifically called you to approach Him by means of it. Your religion thus becomes, like your human beloved, your ‘one and only’; to compare it with other religions is useless, irrelevant — actually an insult to the One who has called you to Him by means of it — since such comparisons require that you turn your attention away from Him and concentrate instead upon secondary matters. In pursuing the Transcendent Unity of Religions you learn how to leave others to their own destined paths, and discover (God willing) that your sole duty is to follow your own path to its ultimate end.”
These “secondary matters,” of course, are the obvious doctrinal differences that exist between the world’s manifold religions. In Perennialist parlance, these are referred to as merely circumstantial, “exoteric” (outer and superficial) representations of universal, “esoteric” (inner and profound) truths; anyone who takes the former too seriously — by evangelising non-Catholics, for instance — is missing the point.
It is only by working from such a premise that one may arrive at the conclusion of Angelico’s own Prof Wolfgang Smith, “that truth is no longer a matter of doctrine, of theological or metaphysical conceptions, but is God Himself: I am the truth, said Christ.” Whilst not without a certain internal logic, it is telling that this conclusion requires of the Christian Perennialist a rather disingenuous abridgement of Our Lord’s utterance, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Christ, in other words, properly understood, is not only the final destination (“the truth”), to be “take[n] possession of at the end of the road,” as Smith imagines, but is also the road (“the way”) itself; indeed, the unique and exclusive road, contra Perennialism.
Any effort to force the square peg of Christianity — and Catholicism especially — into the round hole of Perennialism invariably mutilates both Scripture and Tradition. Witness, for example, this attempt by the late Professor James S. Cutsinger, another Christian scholar of the Perennialist School, to reconcile his faith with his philosophy in an essay he contributed to Christianity: The Complete Guide: “It must be admitted,” he writes, “that traditional Christianity is largely hostile to the perennial philosophy…
“According to [Frithjof] Schuon and other perennialists, this dominant attitude among Christians is not surprising, nor should its usefulness for the vast majority of believers be called into question. The entire point of any religion is to ensure the salvation of as many people as possible, and most people, whether Christian or otherwise, are able to take their tradition seriously only if they are persuaded that it is the best, if not the only, way to reach God…”
[There are echoes here of Valentin Tomberg (see Part One), who reportedly impressed upon one of his disciples — note well, after his conversion to Catholicism — the importance of “Living in the Tradition! Only the one with genius, ought to (and can) transcend it.” The Gnostic overtones are unmistakable; the highest, deepest, purest truths must remain veiled and inaccessible to the common man, and taught only to the initiated.]
“…Critics have argued that the New Testament, taken as a whole, is opposed to the perennial philosophy, and this is by and large true… But for the perennialist this simply shows that the primary aim of the world’s religions, beginning with their scriptures and apostolic authorities, is to assist their adherents in remaining focused on a single form of saving truth, not to lay the foundations for interfaith dialogue. On the other hand, given the common origin of the religions in a transcendent Source which, as the traditions themselves all attest, infinitely exceeds even its own self-expressions, it is in the nature of things that the scriptural and dogmatic formulations of each religion should include certain openings or clues to the underlying validity of the perennial philosophy…
“Following the thread of such clues [as are found in Christianity], one begins to sense that the Son or Word, far from being limited to a single religion, is the divine principle behind all revelation and the eternal source of salvation in every authentic tradition. Though truly incarnate as Jesus Christ in Christianity, he is salvifically operative in and through non-Christian religions as well. In some he is present in an equally personal way, as in Krishna and the other Hindu avatars, in whom he was also ‘made man’ (Nicene Creed), while in others he appears in an impersonal way, as in the Qur’an of Islam, where he made himself book…”
That Our Lord is simultaneously a man, a book, and a demon — “For all the gods of the Gentiles are devils…” (Psalm 95:5) — and that the dogmas of the Faith exist solely to keep the uninitiated masses in line, I expect, will come somewhat as a shock to the Catholic faithful. But Angelico Press is apparently unperturbed by the suggestion, and maintains its partnership with Sophia Perennis regardless. Indeed, Stratford Caldecott even joined his colleague Prof Smith in contributing a lengthy back-cover endorsement to one of Sophia Perennis’ exclusive titles, Guénonian Esoterism and Christian Mystery, by French Perennialist philosopher Jean Borella.
It will doubtless be of interest to traditional Catholic readers that Borella, a self-styled Catholic traditionalist whom Caldecott often cited in his writings and recommended to his readers, was the subject of a 1996 book, The Gnostic Heresies of Professor Jean Borella, for which Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) wrote the Preface:
“[M]any of the ideas central to Borella’s thought fall foul of the Church’s historical condemnations of Gnostic errors…
“Original Sin, he argues, is ‘the will of the conditioned being to know itself as such’, and doing away with it is simply a matter of man ‘returning to the operative power and salvific efficacy of knowledge’. Is this an appealing worldview, in which sin is an intellectual error and salvation a matter merely of knowledge?”
Gnosticism (of which more in Part Three) is intimately bound up with Perennialism. Prof Smith certainly wades into its murky waters in his treatment of the heterodox mystic Meister Eckhart’s “affirmation of a supernatural ingredient in man…, [the] ‘little spark’ in each and every human being, said to be… ‘uncreated and uncreatable’…” Smith clearly agrees with this teaching of Eckhart (despite its condemnation by Pope John XXII in 1329), but nevertheless applauds the Church’s “pastoral” rejection of it, because “such conceptions are comprehensible to very few, and… their dissemination to the faithful at large is not only uncalled for but dangerous in the extreme; as Clement of Alexandria has put it: ‘One does not reach a sword to a child’.” Valentin Tomberg (not strictly a Perennialist, but whose belief in “a general cosmic energy… that runs through all religions” assuredly locates him within that philosophical tradition) takes the same obscurantist stance vis-a-vis reincarnation in his Meditations on the Tarot (p. 361):
“You see now, dear Unknown Friend, why the Church was hostile to the doctrine of reincarnation, although the fact of repeated incarnations was known… to a large number of people faithful to the Church with authentic spiritual experience… For humanity could [otherwise] succumb to the temptation of preparing for a future terrestrial life… It is worth a hundred times more to… deny the doctrine of reincarnation, than to turn thoughts and desires towards the future terrestrial life and thus to be tempted…”
Msgr Tissier de Mallerais continues:
“Borella is also highly unorthodox on the subject of Revelation, affirming as he does ‘the divine origin of revelations’ — note the plural — ‘after the necessary revelation of Christ’, as well as ‘the presence of a central and properly divine element in non-Christian religion’. This, he claims, is due to the untrammelled generosity of the divine gift of salvation, the existence of visionaries in non-Christian religions, and the transcendent beauty, which cannot have a human origin, of these religions.
“Borella asserts that ‘intelligence, in its pure form, surpasses the order of nature… [and] is in itself ordered to the transcendent’. In doing so, he denies both the gratuity and the supernatural origin of the infused grace of Baptism. Likewise, he claims that ‘the knowledge of faith, in which consists true gnosis, does not need to be generated through an infusion of a particular grace, such as an extraordinary mystical experience’, but ‘is able to activate (that is, to put into action) [the] natural capacity [of the intellect], or at least to enable the intellect to bring about a cognitive act which begins to reveal to the intellect its own deiform/theomorphic nature’. This, again, amounts to a denial of the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders: a denial which leaves no room for belief in the gratuitousness or the supernatural origin of sanctifying grace and the theological virtue of faith… which inheres in the human soul by virtue of the sacrament of Baptism!”
Angelico Press, in fact, has published five of Borella’s books; and clearly, several of its most prominent authors have imbibed deeply from the wells of Perennialism. But there is further reason to suppose that not only these individuals, but Angelico Press itself, as an institution, has embraced this philosophy. How else to explain the publication on its own website of an article, “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad,” which states as a matter of fact that “the covenants in question were not the product of his [Muhammad’s] own human initiative, not the outcome of divine inspiration, but rather the actual consequence of divine revelation,” and speaks of the Quran as “the divinely-dictated book granted to Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah by means of the Angel Gabriel”?
As jarring as it is to read such an avowal on an ostensibly Catholic website whose homepage is headlined by the slogan, “To deepen our knowledge of the Catholic tradition. To find new ways of living our faith within that tradition,” it is nevertheless in perfect harmony with the thought of Stratford Caldecott — Angelico’s “guiding light,” remember — who opined in “The Mystery of Islam: Further Reflections,” that “Islam and Christianity may in fact be doctrinally closer than is frequently assumed…
“[Fr Roch] Kereszty writes, ‘Christians cannot but acknowledge that God spoke through the Qur’an and communicated the experience and knowledge of himself to countless millions of people’. Islam is a tree that has borne innumerable good fruits as well as bad…”
Furthermore, Angelico Press founder and current President John Riess — who, by his own admission, established Angelico “to give a mouthpiece to contemporary Catholic voices such as Stratford Caldecott, Jean Borella, and Jean Hani” (the latter of whom is yet another Perennialist philosopher) — belongs to “an academy and think tank,” Restore the Arts Inc., whose Jungian “neo-Humanist” manifesto declares that “[m]any members of this group are people of faith and believers in the One God of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic revelations” — a decidedly indifferentist (not to mention quasi-Masonic) formulation.
That this so-called Perennialism has its origins in the occult is so obvious that it hardly need detain us. It will suffice to note that the founding father of the Perennialist School, the French occultist and Catholic apostate Rene Guenon, was a Freemason of the Scottish Rite; and to quote from Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (1871) by the Mason Albert Pike:
“The Brahmin, the Jew, the Mahometan, the Catholic, the Protestant, each professing his peculiar religion, sanctioned by the laws, by time, and by climate, must needs retain it, and cannot have two religions; for the social and sacred laws adapted to the usages, manners, and prejudices of particular countries, are the work of men. But Masonry teaches, and has preserved in their purity, the cardinal tenets of the old primitive faith, which underlie and are the foundation of all religions.”
Keep scrolling for Part III: The Gnostic Metaphysics of the Kabbalah…
 And I do mean “visionary” in the very literal sense: “Stratford himself, as a young man, had had visionary dreams of the Holy Grail…” (SOURCE) He also claimed to have witnessed the ascent of his late father’s soul: “…as I prayed alone with his body, I believe I was granted a glimpse of the battle for his soul, and I knew that he had been victorious.” (SOURCE)
 In an interview with Fr Dwight Longenecker about the work of Angelico Press, founder John Riess makes reference to “My business partner James Wetmore and I…” (SOURCE) Roger Buck likewise expresses his gratitude to “John Riess and James Wetmore of Angelico Press” in the Acknowledgements of The Gentle Traditionalist Returns. (SOURCE)
 “A few luminary figures such as Jean Borella… were indeed associated with both the Perennialist School and the Catholic traditionalist movement…” (SOURCE)
 For example, “I also recommend the writings of Jean Borella, a Perennialist turned orthodox Catholic, especially… his book on Guénonian Esoterism and Christian Mystery…” (SOURCE)
 Original in French. All quotations from this work are my own translation.
 John XXII “condemned seventeen of Eckhart’s propositions as heretical, and eleven as ill-sounding, rash, and suspected of heresy…” (SOURCE)
Part III: The Gnostic Metaphysics of the Kabbalah
What is this “old primitive faith” that, according to the Freemasons, is the “foundation of all religions”? Albert Pike’s entire tract is the Masonic answer to this question:
“All truly dogmatic religions have issued from the Kabalah and return to it: everything scientific and grand in the religious dreams of all the illuminati, Jacob Bœhme, Swedenborg, Saint-Martin, and others, is borrowed from the Kabalah; all the Masonic associations owe to it their Secrets and their Symbols.
“The Kabalah alone consecrates the alliance of the Universal Reason and the Divine Word; it establishes, by the counterpoises of two forces apparently opposite, the eternal balance of being; it alone reconciles Reason with Faith, Power with Liberty, Science with Mystery; it has the keys of the Present, the Past, and the Future.
“The Bible, with all the allegories it contains, expresses, in an incomplete and veiled manner only, the religious science of the Hebrews…
“The Kabalah is the primitive tradition… and in the Secret Traditions of the Kabalah we find a Theology entire, perfect, unique… It is the Secret of the UNIVERSAL EQUILIBRIUM… between Good and Evil, and Light and Darkness in the world, which assures us that all is the work of the Infinite Wisdom and of an Infinite Love…”
The Kabbalah (as it is more commonly spelt) is an esoteric Jewish mystical tradition of uncertain provenance. Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis, a teacher of Kabbalah at the University of North Texas and author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, offers the following introduction to its basic tenets and practice via the official website of the Union for Reform Judaism:
“Kabbalah (also spelled Kabalah, Cabala, Qabala) — sometimes translated as ‘mysticism’ or ‘occult knowledge’ — is a part of Jewish tradition that deals with the essence of God…
“Its practitioners tend to view the Creator and the Creation as a continuum, rather than as discrete entities, and they desire to experience intimacy with God… Within the soul of every individual is a hidden part of God that is waiting to be revealed… Thus, the Kabbalist Moses Cordovero writes, ‘The essence of divinity is found in every single thing, nothing but It exists… It exists in each existent’.
“There are three dimensions to almost all forms of Jewish mysticism, which are likely to be understood by only small numbers of people who possess specialized knowledge or interest in the topic:
“The investigative aspect of Kabbalah involves searching the hidden reality of the universe for secret knowledge about its origins and its organization — a quest that is more esoteric than mystical…
“The experiential dimension of Kabbalah involves the actual quest for mystical experience: a direct, intuitive, unmediated encounter with a close but concealed Deity. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, mystics ‘…want to taste the whole wheat of spirit before it is ground by the millstones of reason.’ Mystics specifically seek the ecstatic experience of God, not merely knowledge about God…
“The practical dimension of Kabbalah involves rituals for gaining and exercising power to effect change in our world and in the celestial worlds beyond ours. This power is generated by performing commandments, summoning and controlling angelic and demonic forces, and otherwise tapping into the supernatural energies present in Creation… The true master of this art fulfills the human potential to be a co-creator with God…”
If all of this — the dualism, the pantheism, the secrets, the sorcery — strikes the Catholic reader as distinctly redolent of the Gnostic heresy, he is not deceived. Israeli philosopher Gershom Scholem, the preeminent modern Jewish scholar of Kabbalah, admits as much in the Encyclopaedia Judaica:
“From the beginning of its development, the Kabbalah embraced an esotericism closely akin to the spirit of Gnosticism, one which was not restricted to instruction in the mystical path but also included ideas on cosmology, angelology, and magic.”
Drawing on Scholem’s scholarship, the late Professor Orlando Fedeli of the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo explains that, like the Gnostics, “the Cabala assumes there are two opposing principles in God: that of good and that of evil… [Quoting Scholem:] ‘All that is devilish has its roots in some part of the mystery of God’.”
The undeniably Gnostic character of this Jewish mysticism is likewise acknowledged by Joseph Dan, Professor of Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has noted the Kabbalah’s presentation of “the universe as a battleground between satanic divine powers and good divine powers, drawing a parallel world of divine ‘emanations of the left’ which are the enemies of God, yet they are divine in the full sense of the term… The Kabbalah strongly believes that the fate of divine powers is decided by the good and bad deeds of human beings, and that it is the task of the Jewish people to ‘correct’ (tikkun) the incompleteness of the divinity itself”; that is, by unifying the opposites of God and Satan, good and evil, being and non-being, order and chaos.
“Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” (Isaias 5:20) “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (3 Kings 18:21) “No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) “For what participation hath justice with injustice? Or what fellowship hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” (2 Corinthians 6:14–15) These are the Biblical questions I would put not only to the Mason Pike and the Jew Dennis, but to the Catholic authors promoted by “the premier publisher of imaginative and intellectually rigorous traditional Catholic books,” Angelico Press: Valentin Tomberg, Prof Jean Borella, Roger Buck, Stratford Caldecott, Prof Wolfgang Smith, and Dr Michael Martin, as also to those other purportedly traditional Catholics of a similar theological persuasion (some of whom we shall meet in Parts Four and Five).
We have seen already (in Part One) that the Kabbalah is a major influence on Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot, wherein, to cite just one example, the reader is told “that Jesus Christ is the key to the world, and that the world — such as it was before the Fall and such as it will be after its Reintegration — is the Word, and that the Word is Jesus Christ…” (p. 195) In this short passage is contained the two most fundamental (and, I believe, most erroneous) doctrines of the Kabbalah: emanationism and apocatastasis, which were condemned — and their proponents anathematised — at the First Vatican Council and the Second Council of Constantinople, respectively. It was against these twin heresies that the superlative Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange railed when he penned his famous 1946 essay, “Where is the New Theology Leading Us?”:
“Authors such as Téder and Papus, in their explication of ‘Martinist doctrine’, teach a mystical pantheism and a neo-Gnosticism by which everything comes out of God by emanation (there is then a fall, a ‘cosmic evil’, a ‘sui generis’ original sin), and all aspire ‘to be re-integrated’ into the divinity, and ‘all’ shall arrive there. This is in many recent occultists’ works on the ‘modern Christ’, and ‘fulness in terms of astral light’, ideas not at all those of the Church and which are blasphemous inversions because they are always the pantheistic negation of the true supernatural, and often even the negation of the distinction of moral good and of moral evil, in order to allow only that which is a useful or desired good, including cosmic or physical evil, which with the reintegration [i.e. apocatastasis] of all, without exception, will disappear.”
The Gnostic-Kabbalistic thinking of the Meditations author is similarly apparent in an observation made by his (still living) friend, Dr Martin Kriele, Tomberg’s literary executor and heir:
“Occasionally he [Tomberg] spoke of evil in which he saw not only a ‘lack of being’, but very real powers manifold and chaotic… To counter these there was a need for a ‘white’ Christian Esotericism of Good which alone was up to this task. It could unfold ‘magical’ effects if the will of man is in perfect harmony with the will of God.”
Such ideas, as Fr Garrigou-Lagrange would say, are “not at all those of the Church,” because the entire tradition of the Church testifies with St Thomas Aquinas that “goodness and being are really the same… [Therefore,] no being can be spoken of as evil, formally as being, but only so far as it lacks being.” To assert that evil has being is to insist that God created evil, and therefore is Himself in some measure evil — which, needless to say, is as much a blasphemy in Catholicism as it is evidently a truism in Kabbalah: “When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world,” teaches the Zohar, Kabbalah’s foundational text, “…all things were contained one with another, the good inclination and the evil inclination, right and left, Israel and the nations, white and black. All things were dependent on one another.”
None of this, however, deterred Angelico Press’ “guiding light,” the late Stratford Caldecott, from exalting Valentin Tomberg as an almost Elias-like prophet crying out in the wilderness of a decrepit Catholicism, as he does when he proclaims from the back cover of Angelico’s lovingly revised and updated edition of Tomberg’s magnum opus, “Meditations on the Tarot shows that Christianity has not been lost, but lives and breathes.” Two of Caldecott’s books, moreover — All Things Made New and The Radiance of Being — make frequent excursions into the Kabbalah, in whose abstruse texts, he claims, one may find “the ring of truth.”
Caldecott’s friend and colleague Dr Michael Martin, a Byzantine Catholic who, in his own words, “take[s] much inspiration from the spiritually nourishing forms of Catholicism… in the work of Stratford Caldecott,” is equally enamoured of Tomberg: “Meditations on the Tarot has been a constant source of spiritual renewal and companionship,” he writes, and defends the author’s belief in reincarnation (which he regards as “probably true”) on the grounds that, although “some suggest the Bible doesn’t teach reincarnation, I don’t think it’s as simple as that… [because] the kabbalah, a Jewish mystical teaching born of deep contemplation of scripture, proposes a doctrine of sod ha-gilgul, ‘the revolution of souls’.” Dr Martin also draws inspiration from the work of another “esoteric Christian,” Rudolf Steiner, whose own metaphysical speculations are similarly Kabbalistic:
“In recent years, I have found Rudolf Steiner’s conception of Lucifer and Ahriman very useful in diagnosing our own struggles with the Spirit of the Age. Though I disagree with Steiner on certain aspects of his Christology… I think he’s on to something with Lucifer and Ahriman.
“For Steiner, Lucifer is the principle (or spiritual being) that tempts us with promises of ‘freedom,’ the desire for self-expression, individualization, and an absolute creativity. Ahriman, on the other hand, is the principle (or spiritual being) that promises order and a kind of technological and corporatized efficiency that enslaves us to the subhuman, turns us effectively into machines. Between these two polarities, Steiner points to Christ as that principle which guides us through the perils of the promises made by Lucifer and Ahriman and helps us abide in the real.”
In the blog post quoted above — published on the Angelico Press website — we see yet another expression of the Gnostic dualism at the heart of the Kabbalah, which in Steiner’s Christology, as in Tomberg’s (and seemingly also in Martin’s), makes Our Lord the harmonising “principle” in which order (Ahriman) and chaos (Lucifer) find their equilibrium. Such is the concord that Christ hath with Belial; St Paul has his answer.
But of all Angelico’s authors, none is a more enthusiastic devotee of the Kabbalah than Professor Wolfgang Smith. This is nowhere more clearly evidenced than in his written correspondence with the late Fr Malachi Martin, compiled by Angelico Press under the title In Quest of Catholicity and marketed as a “fascinating exchange of letters between two celebrated Catholic traditionalists…”:
“If I were younger, how I would love to follow in your footsteps to learn Hebrew, and delve into the Kabbalistic literature — without of course forgetting Jacob Boehme. Actually, it seems to me that Kabbalah, Hermeticism, and the doctrine of our German mystic can hardly be separated. These three legacies seem to form one underlying tradition, one grand perennial doctrine, which as you say springs from Christ Himself. What Boehme has done is to expound that doctrine more openly, and in overtly Christian terms. Perhaps, thanks to him, the Catholic Church will one day make Kabbalah its own! And I wonder whether perhaps it will be on the basis of this assimilated Kabbalah that the Church will eventually resolve the enigma of the ‘separated religions,’ and in doing so will realize her own authentic and ultimate Catholicity.”
Jacob Boehme, of course, was a Lutheran heretic. But the stench of heresy seems not at all distasteful to Prof Smith, who will not be dissuaded from “engagement” with Boehme’s thought, nor with the papally-censured mystical teachings of Meister Eckhart (see Part Two), as we read in the blurb of Smith’s Christian Gnosis (jointly published by Sophia Perennis and Angelico Press):
“Basing himself on Christian sources — literally ‘from Saint Paul to Meister Eckhart’ — Wolfgang Smith formulates what he terms an ‘unexpurgated’ account of ‘gnosis’, and demonstrates its central place in the perfection of the Christ-centered life… The ‘fact of gnosis’… has a decisive bearing on the theological notion of ‘creatio ex nihilo’… What is thus demanded, he contends, is the inherently Kabbalistic notion of a ‘creatio ex Deo et in Deo’ [i.e. emanationism], not to replace, but to complement the ‘creatio ex nihilo’. This leads to an engagement with Christian Kabbalah (Pico de la Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, and Cardinal Egidio di Viterbo especially) and with Jacob Boehme, culminating in an exegesis of Meister Eckhart’s doctrine. The author argues, first of all, that Eckhart does not (as many have thought) advocate a ‘God beyond God’ theology: does not, in other words, hold an inherently Sabellian view of the Trinity. Smith maintains that Eckhart has not in fact transgressed a single Trinitarian or Christological dogma; what he does deny implicitly, he shows, is none other than the ‘creatio ex nihilo’, which in effect Eckhart replaces with the Kabbalistic ‘creatio ex Deo’. In this shift, moreover, Smith perceives the transition from ‘exoteric’ to ‘esoteric’ within the integral domain of Christian doctrine.”
For what reason is the integration of “Kabbalistic notion[s]” into Catholic doctrine “demanded”? Why is it so desirable that the Church should “make Kabbalah its own”? I believe I have found Prof Smith’s answer to these questions, buried in the pages of Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies:
“There are levels of meaning in the New Testament as well [as the Old] — that may conceivably include the highest! — which prove to be accessible only by Kabbalistic means.”
But if this is so; and if, as St Jerome says, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”; and if, moreover, as the Baltimore Catechism assures us, “When we know Him, we shall love Him…, [and] the better we know Him, the more we shall love Him”; then why is it, I wonder, that in the parade of “Christian Kabbalists” that have gone before us — Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, Giles of Viterbo, Francesco Giorgi, Paolo Riccio, Athanasius Kircher, and so on and on — with all their worldly erudition and Kabbalisticly inferred “knowledge” of Christ, not one is recognised as a saint?
Keep scrolling for Part IV: Kabbalah for Catholics? “Hebrew Catholics” and Their Cardinal…
 “If anyone says that finite things, both corporal and spiritual, or at any rate, spiritual, emanated from the divine substance; or that the divine essence, by the manifestation and evolution of itself becomes all things or, finally, that God is a universal or indefinite being which by self determination establishes the totality of things distinct in genera, species and individuals: let him be anathema.” (SOURCE)
 “If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the γνῶσις and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apocatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.” (SOURCE)
 “In a fashion which is both erudite and yet accessible, we find excursions into the Kabbalah…” (SOURCE)
 Martin, M. & Smith, W., In Quest of Catholicity: Malachi Martin Responds to Wolfgang Smith (Angelico Press, 2016), p. 76
Part IV: Kabbalah for Catholics? “Hebrew Catholics” and Their Cardinal
When I first became aware of the growing influence of the Kabbalah in traditional Catholic discourse, I contacted an esteemed Franciscan priest-theologian in good standing with the Church, whom I know personally and whose judgement in such matters I trust implicitly. I asked him straightforwardly if the Kabbalah might have any legitimate application in orthodox Catholic theology. His reply was uncharacteristically blunt: “No, it hasn’t.” Indeed, as I would later read in the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Several of its doctrines recall to mind those of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, the neo-Platonists of Alexandria, the Oriental or Egyptian Pantheists, and the Gnostics of the earliest Christian ages. Its speculations concerning God’s nature and relation to the universe differ materially from the teachings of Revelation.”
It should at this point be noted, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Kabbalah’s radical irreconcilability with the Deposit of Faith is in no way a prejudice of Judaeophobic Catholic traditionalists, as even philo-Semitic Catholic scholars have acknowledged the fact. Dr John Lamont of the Australian Catholic University, for example, in writing what is otherwise an extremely sympathetic treatment of Judaism (entitled “Why the Jews Are Not the Enemies of the Church”) for the mainstream Homiletic & Pastoral Review, interpolates an important qualification: “It should be mentioned that Kabbalah… is not compatible with monotheism.” Not only incompatible with Christianity, but even with monotheism!
The extent to which the Kabbalists are gaining traction in the milieu of Catholic Tradition is difficult to quantify precisely, but perhaps we can gauge some sense of it by considering the case of the Association of Hebrew Catholics (AHC), a lay apostolate formerly headquartered in the US Diocese of Lansing and boasting an estimated ten thousand members worldwide, whose stated mission is “to preserve the identity and heritage of Jews within the Church…, to help all Catholics understand the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith, and to serve all people on their spiritual journey, both inside and outside of the Catholic Church.” The AHC strives to achieve these goals by connecting its geographically diffuse membership in order to facilitate, amongst other things, “Havurot” (in the plural; “Havurah” in the singular) — informal local fellowships of so-called “Hebrew Catholics” who meet regularly to socialise, pray and study. An example of typical Havurah activities is given on the AHC website:
“From the Bnei Miriam Havurah, Tasmania, Australia…
“Our Havurah activities include a weekly celebration of the traditional Jewish Sabbath meal. We kindle the lights using the traditional prayers and then do the Catholic evening prayer from the Office. We say the Jewish Psalm for the day and then sing the L’cha dodi (Come my beloved) in honour of Our Lady the Sabbath Queen. We also sing the song to welcome the angels and pray other prayers from the Siddur before saying the Kiddush. After the meal we say Birkat Mazon (Grace). During the meal we talk or share some aspect of Jewish Torah life. We also at other times study the teachings of [the Kabbalist] Rebbe Nachman or the Zohar or other Jewish writings in the light of our Catholic faith. We also attend certain events with the local orthodox Jewish community in Hobart.”
Between 2002 and 2004, The Hebrew Catholic, the AHC’s official quarterly newsletter, serialised across three issues an essay, “The Eucharist and the Jewish Mystical Tradition,” in which the author, leading AHC member and activist Athol Bloomer, posits that “study of the Jewish Mystical tradition [i.e. Kabbalah] in the light of the Eucharist is… essential in the future development of a Hebrew Catholic spirituality that would enrich the whole Church.” For Bloomer, “one of the important things for the Hebrew Catholic movement is to develop an authentic Hebrew Catholic theology and spirituality which is Eucharistic centred. If we are just going to be Hellenistic-Roman Gentile Catholics who just happen to have once been Jewish, I think we should just shut up shop and admit the regime of assimilation has triumphed.” His essay was later republished on the AHC website, where it can still be read today.
Also available via the AHC website — presumably with a view to fostering this “authentic Hebrew Catholic theology and spirituality” — are such texts as The Book of Understanding by “Scriptural and rabbinic scholar” Michael Anthony, which the late Rabbi Joseph H. Ehrenkranz recommends as “an encyclopedic work enabling us to ascend the Ladder of Understanding… As [the author] presents each rung of the ladder he calls upon the Holy Scriptures, Midrashic and other rabbinic texts, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, the Zohar, in addition to commentaries from both Christian and Jewish tradition.” I confess I have not read this work, but if it is suitable reading for the edification of Catholics, then how is it that an Orthodox Jewish rabbi — an adherent of a completely different (and false) religion — can describe it as being “in essence a text-book of life, a major contribution for those who seek a way of life based on fundamental faith leading to Understanding”?
In 2006, two years after the final instalment of “The Eucharist and the Jewish Mystical Tradition” appeared in The Hebrew Catholic, the AHC relocated its headquarters to the US Archdiocese of St Louis, where the incumbent Archbishop proved to be a most complaisant host. In a letter to David Moss, President of the AHC, he wrote:
“First of all, permit me to express my esteem for the apostolate of the Association of Hebrew Catholics. The mission of your association responds, in a most fitting way, to the desire of the Church to respect fully the distinct vocation and heritage of Israelites in the Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church knows and treasures the particular and privileged part in the economy of salvation, assigned by God the Father to the people of Israel…
“The headquarters of the Association of Hebrew Catholics is most welcome to relocate its headquarters in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. What is more, if there is anything which I can do to assist you in establishing the headquarters of the Association in the Archdiocese, please let me know. I have instructed my staff to give you every possible help in locating a fitting place for the headquarters and your personal quarters.”
The same Archbishop — now Emeritus — currently sits on the AHC Board of Advisors. He is none other than Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, the putative standard-bearer of Tradition in the Catholic Hierarchy!
Perhaps His Eminence is unaware of the AHC’s Kabbalistic inclinations. Perhaps Dr Taylor Marshall, another doyen of the traditional Catholic movement, was likewise unaware when he addressed an AHC conference in 2010, and afterwards wrote on his popular blog, “I had a wonderful time and I hope to attend again in the future.” I cannot speak for either of them, of course, though I suspect that Dr Marshall — who would later provoke the ire of liberal Catholics by speaking out against the “judaising” practice of Christians celebrating Passover Seders, which the AHC actively encourages — really was unaware. Cardinal Burke, on the other hand, has participated in at least one of these AHC-organised Seders that Dr Marshall convincingly argues (quoting St Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Florence) is an objective mortal sin for a Catholic to attend. How to explain it?
It came as a surprise to me that Cardinal Burke, for whom I have always had the greatest respect and admiration, would not only neglect to censure an organisation under his jurisdiction that proposes to “enrich the whole Church” with a Gnostic-Kabbalistic spirituality, but would elect to endorse and even personally associate with it. I may be showing my layman’s naivete here, but I would have thought that any Catholic prelate purporting to be faithful to Tradition would necessarily uphold that tradition in its entirety, including the 1887 decree of Pope Leo XIII proscribing the various texts of Kabbalah (inter alia), which reads, in part:
“Our Holy Lord Pope Clement VIII in his Constitution against impious writings and Jewish books, published in Rome in the year of Our Lord 1592… expressly and specially stated and willed, that the impious Talmudic, Cabalistic and other nefarious books of the Jews be entirely condemned and that they must remain always condemned and prohibited, and that his Constitution about these books must be perpetually and inviolably observed.”
Perhaps His Eminence would be so kind as to clarify his position on the matter?
Keep scrolling for Part V: Renaissance Neoplatonism and the Hermetic Tradition…
Part V: Renaissance Neoplatonism and the Hermetic Tradition
Closely related to the phenomenon of Kabbalah is that of Hermeticism, which indeed, according to Albert Pike, “may be accurately defined as the Kabalah in active realization…” So-called Hermeticists are disciples of (the mythical) Hermes Trismegistus — a supposed oracle (or sometimes the human incarnation) of the ancient Egyptian god Thoth — and students of the arcane texts attributed to him, known collectively as the Corpus Hermeticum. It is to these practitioners of the occult “Hermetic sciences” that Valentin Tomberg addresses the epistles of which his Meditations on the Tarot consist.
We have seen already (in Part One) that Roger Buck, the celebrated author of Cor Jesu Sacratissimum and The Gentle Traditionalist, simultaneously self-identifies as a “traditional Catholic” and “an aspiring Christian Hermeticist” (“The Hermetic tradition originating with Hermes Trismegistus must be Christianized — not repudiated,” he contends); and (in Part Three) that the “Catholic traditionalist” Professor Wolfgang Smith conceives of Hermeticism as a tributary of the “one grand perennial doctrine, which… springs from Christ Himself.” To the roll of these Hermetic advocates we can add the previously mentioned Dr Michael Martin — an admitted “Rosicrucian” — and Stratford Caldecott, who has argued that “Hermetic writings… provide many of the resources we need for developing an effective contemporary mystagogy”; and, elsewhere:
“[Quoting Tomberg:] Now is the time for the Hermetic movement to make true Christian peace with the Church and to cease to be her semi-illegitimate child, leading a half-tolerated life more or less in the shadow of the Church — and to become eventually an adopted child, if not a recognized legitimate child. But ‘it takes two to love’… [End quote.]
“The challenge to develop a science of ‘miracles’ (in the common and loose sense of the word) is perfectly serious. It will not do to dismiss the entire Hermetic movement as though it signified only a resurgence of heresy and devil worship.”
In a blog post, “Hermetic Imagination,” traditional Catholic writer Charles A. Coulombe — the author of many Catholic books, including the traditionalist TAN Books’ just-released Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy — who had such high praise for Cor Jesu Sacratissimum (see Part One), opens with a “lengthy quotation [that] serves well as an introduction to the Hermetic or Magical world-view”:
“Beyond these fields and this borderland there lies the legendary wonder-world of theurgy, so called, of Magic and Sorcery, a world of fascination or terror, as the mind which regards it is tempered, but in any case the antithesis of admitted possibility. There all paradoxes seem to obtain actually, contradictions coexist logically, the effect is greater than the cause and the shadow more than the substance. Therein the visible melts into the unseen, the invisible is manifested openly, motion from place to place is accomplished without traversing the intervening distance, matter passes through matter. There two straight lines may enclose a space; space has a fourth dimension, and untrodden fields beyond it; without metaphor and without evasion, the circle is mathematically squared. There life is prolonged, youth renewed, physical immortality secured. There earth becomes gold, and gold earth. There words and wishes possess creative power, thoughts are things, desire realises its object. There, also, the dead live and the hierarchies of extra-mundane intelligence are within easy communication, and become ministers or tormentors, guides or destroyers of man. There the Law of Continuity is suspended by the interference of the higher Law of Fantasia. (A.E. Waite, The Book of Ceremonial Magic, University Books, NY 1961, pp. 3–4)”
If Waite’s “legendary wonder-world” seems altogether strange and unsettling, what follows is stranger still — because the nearly 8,000-word essay that this long excerpt precedes is in fact an endorsement of the “Magical world-view” it describes. More than that, it is practically a tribute to the occult Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (in whose ranks the notorious Satanist Aleister Crowley began his diabolical career) and the literary giants whose esoteric spirituality it influenced:
“The G.D. [Golden Dawn] aspired to be not merely a complete academy of occult knowledge… but also a forum for Mystico-Magical practise — which Magic was seen as being like that of Eliphas Levi. In the words of Stephan Hoeller, Magic in this sense is ‘an umbrella term for the growth or expansion of consciousness by way of symbolic modalities.’ To impart both knowledge and practise, an elaborate system of grades was established; as the student ascended these grades, he or she learned ever more esoteric skills. These latter included knowledge of Qabala (which… provided the G.D. with its basic ideational framework); Tarot; Geomancy; Astrology; Alchemy; and ritual Magic. The workings of the last-named included making of sigils and talismans, communing with Elementals, evocation of Demons, and invocation of Angels. As well, the Golden Dawn initiate was taught ‘skrying,’ which included both clairvoyance and astral travel…
“[T]here can be no doubt that many G.D. Fratres and Sorores achieved in their own devotional lives the same synthesis between Hermeticism/Neoplatonism and Sacramental Christianity that characterised Medieval Ultra-Realists [and] Renaissance Humanists… In a word, their Christianity, while tied to the dogmas of Revelation, saw the world as both a symbol and concealment of higher realities, contact with which was attainable both through magic and divination, and on a purer and greater level, through the Sacraments.
“Most representative of these was perhaps the Catholic A.E. Waite, who… wrote of the Golden Dawn itself: ‘It is not in competition with the external Christian Churches, and yet it is a Church of the Elect, a Hidden and Holy Assembly… It is a House of the Holy Graal in the sanctity of a High Symbolism, where the sacred intent of the Order is sealed upon Bread and Wine’…
[The idea of a secret, mystical “Church of the Elect,” typically identified with St John the Apostle, distinct (though never separate) from the visible, “exoteric” Church of St Peter, is a recurring motif in Christian-Hermetic lore, and is explicit in Tomberg’s Meditations (p. 6): “The beloved disciple who listened to the beating of the Master’s heart was, is, and always will be the representative and guardian of this heart… The mission of John is to keep the life and soul of the Church alive until the Second Coming of the Lord… This is the spirit of Hermeticism.”]
“…[F]or varying reasons Christian and non-Christian writers alike have attempted to set up a dichotomy between the Christian and occult elements in the writings of [the authors discussed]… where there is in fact a synthesis…
“This union of the Catholic with the Hermetic, of the Christian with the Esoteric, would… have made perfect sense to the Ultra-Realist, the Humanist, or the peasant…
“All of these concepts, applied to Christianity, may seem peculiar… But it is only idiosyncratic if one is referring to Aristotelian and/or post-Reformation forms of Christianity…
“The Christian Hermeticism encompassed by the Golden Dawn, like all such Hermeticism, might well… be symbolised by the Ace of Cups in the Tarot Deck. Considered merely as a fortune telling device, it can mean plans or latent thoughts, ready to be put into action but whose meaning is still hidden. On a higher level it is said to mean psychic protection and knowledge. But its appearance suggests a world of meaning. For it shows a chalice held by a hand descending from a cloud. The Dove of the Holy Ghost conveys directly into it a wafer bearing a cross, and out from the chalice pour into the sea streams of pure and living water. We have at once a representation of the Sacramental system (the Eucharist and Baptism), and of the Holy Grail. Two mysteries, one attainable only at the end of a long quest, and the other so near as to be taken for granted. Yet they are in fact one. This is deepest Christian Hermeticism indeed. It is to the honour of the Golden Dawn that the Order both developed an authentic strand of such Hermeticism, and attracted members of the calibre necessary to convey such to a world not without need of it.”
[Coulombe — yet another of Tomberg’s admirers — has a particular affinity for the Tarot, as we shall see.]
The Christian-Hermetic synthesis exemplified by the occultists of the Golden Dawn, we are repeatedly assured, would have “made perfect sense” to the Catholic “Ultra-Realists” (i.e. Neoplatonists) of the Renaissance, and it is with these that Coulombe resolutely aligns himself, as is evident from another of his blog posts, “Ultra-Realism FAQ.” In that article, the staunchly Neoplatonist Coulombe pours scorn on the “Aristotelian” philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas, which he denounces variously as “ill-fitted for Catholics,” “simply untrue,” and “a recipe for disaster” ultimately responsible for “devastating” Christendom. “St. Thomas’ canonisation,” he laments, “and the employment of his philosophy (or, to be more accurate, more or less distorted versions of it) in the Counter-Reformation, seemed to grant it official status, as though it were THE Catholic philosophy.” By Coulombe’s reckoning, Christianity has been spiralling into ruin ever since: Thomism “contributed to the decline of the Church… [and] rocked the very foundations of both the Medieval Church and State,” he writes.
The only way to arrest and reverse this alleged decline is to repudiate Thomism and embrace the “Magical world-view” of the Golden Dawn instead; such is the argument strongly implied in the essay quoted above, and made explicitly in “The Esoteric Orthodoxy of Catholicism,” a 1990 article penned by Coulombe for the sixteenth issue of (the now-defunct) Gnosis magazine, in which he (reportedly) wrote:
“One cannot tell with complete accuracy what will happen. But we can know what must happen if the Church is to function properly. She must return to the… magical view of life; and the process of baptizing Hermeticism, interrupted by the Reformation, must be completed.”
A rhetorical sleight of hand is at work here, since the Protestant “Reformation” can really only be said to have halted “the process of baptizing Hermeticism” inasmuch as it provoked the Catholic Counter-Reformation inaugurated by the Council of Trent, whereat — as Pope Leo XIII noted in his (forcefully Thomistic) encyclical Aeterni Patris — “the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.”
Thomism, in other words, was effectively canonised at Trent (an honour frequently renewed by the wisest of Roman pontiffs, including and especially Leo XIII and St Pius X) and it was this Catholic act — not the Protestant heresy it rejected — that thwarted the efforts of Hermeticists to ingratiate themselves with the Magisterium: “[O]rthodox elements of the Counter-Reformation,” explains Dr John F. Nash, Editor Emeritus of the peer-reviewed Esoteric Quarterly, “…[worked] to stifle what influence Hermeticism still had in upper echelons of the Roman church. In a deliberate snub to Renaissance Neoplatonism, and Hermeticism to which it had given legitimacy, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the Aristotelianism of Thomas Aquinas as the official philosophy of the Catholic Church.” Much to the chagrin of Charles A. Coulombe!
It is ironic that Coulombe should aver that we “cannot tell… what will happen,” because there are numerous audio files available online in which he — together with his long-standing friend Dr Stephan A. Hoeller, a “bishop” of the Ecclesia Gnostica (Gnostic Church) — attempts to predict the future by the reading of Tarot cards. These are recordings of the yearly “Tarot Forecast for the U.S.A.” hosted (in a Theosophical Lodge, no less) by the Gnostic Society of Los Angeles, whose website proudly advertises the participation of “our good friend, Charles Coulombe” in its “very popular annual divinatory session.” I am in no respects a philosopher, but if this is the practical application of the Neoplatonist “Ultra-Realism” displaced by the ascendancy of Thomism, then I am not in the least surprised or dismayed that Divine Providence appointed the Angelic Doctor, in his great wisdom and by his life’s work, to inoculate the Church against its noxious influence.
Charles Coulombe, certainly, is an eccentric. But he is also a Contributing Editor at the traditionalist Crisis Magazine, as well as the “Scholar-in-Residence” at Tumblar House, a small but prestigious Catholic publisher that claims for itself “a reputation for publishing quality Catholic books that adhere to Catholic tradition and orthodoxy,” and whose authors include Robert Cardinal Sarah, Fr Chad Ripperger, and Dr Taylor Marshall. Coulombe’s “Hermetic Imagination” and “Ultra-Realism FAQ,” quoted above, were both published on the official Tumblar House blog.
Fr Ripperger may have been more right than he knew when he warned on the same blog (albeit somewhat hyperbolically) that “the traditionalist movement is slowly becoming a Gnostic movement among some…”
Keep scrolling for Part VI: Towards a Traditionalist-Modernist Synthesis?…
 Buck, R., Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed (Angelico Press, 2016), p. 249
 Martin, M. & Smith, W., In Quest of Catholicity: Malachi Martin Responds to Wolfgang Smith (Angelico Press, 2016), p. 76
 I say “reportedly” because I have been unable to find the article in question online, though it certainly exists and was indeed penned for Gnosis — as the name suggests, a Gnostic publication — by Mr Coulombe; the quotation here reproduced was posted in a Catholic internet forum.
Part VI: Towards a Traditionalist-Modernist Synthesis?
I have thus far conducted a very limited, far from comprehensive survey of the interrelated Perennialist, Gnostic, Kabbalistic and Hermetic discourses that have penetrated the traditional Catholic movement — most notably via Angelico Press (see Parts One, Two, Three, and Five). Two obvious and important questions arise from it: Why have some traditional Catholics proven susceptible to these occult influences, and why might others still yet prove to be so? And how might these affect the future development of Catholic traditionalism and, ultimately, of the Church herself? Over the next three parts of this serialised monograph, I endeavour to articulate what few insights I — an unschooled layman — have to offer that I think may be valuable to the efforts of better qualified commentators to answer these questions of such paramountcy.
Aesthetically speaking, occultists and traditional Catholics have much in common; both have a profound respect and longing for transcendent ritual, mystery and tradition, and a correspondingly profound disdain for the crass materialism, rationalism and secularism of our spiritually arid modern world. One can surely appreciate, therefore, how a fondness for “bells and smells,” in the absence of supernatural faith, might easily excite a curiosity for “hells and spells,” as it were. This is not hypothetical. An article in the Anglican Church Times illustrates how widespread this phenomenon can become:
“In 1978, A. N. Wilson published ‘Unguarded Hours’, a satire of life in an Anglo-Catholic seminary… At the book’s climax, a liberal dean visiting the seminary walks in on a few ordinands engaged in ritual magic…
“Wilson knew what he was writing about…
“Anglo-Catholic involvement in the occult is much broader and deeper than most would suspect. Take, for instance, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn… [which] recruited heavily from the clergy…
“Such Anglo-Catholic lay luminaries as Evelyn Underhill, Arthur Machen, and Charles Williams all dabbled in the Golden Dawn’s initiatory ‘mysticism’, forming their own ideas on the relationship between hermeticism and Christianity in conversation with their mutual friend A. E. Waite (1857–1942). Waite, although not personally faithful, maintained a healthy respect for ritual forms of Christianity — especially the Latin mass…
“These disparate figures were united by two threads often thought to be mutually exclusive. First, they all shared a commitment to the Anglican Catholic tradition. They also took a deep interest in (and, in some cases, participated in) various occult practices and beliefs.
“The borders between the two tendencies proved permeable. Anglo-Catholicism and occultism both had a sense of ritual, an often Gothic romanticism, and a sacramental world-view. Both suggested that the supernatural could pervade the material world, and both offered their own paths of ‘mysticism’ to penetrate beyond the material world…
“Anglo-Catholic occultism was, in the minds of many of its practitioners, a rebuke to the unbelieving world outside cloister and sanctum…. Occultism could augment conventional religion, and it was by no means as marginal as might be expected.”
This should be read by traditional Catholics as a cautionary tale; it happened to Anglicanism, but could just as easily happen to us. It may be countered that the multiplication of heresies amongst heretics is only to be expected — which is true enough — but we ought not to be so complacent; the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, unlike the Anglican counterfeit, is indefectible, but her individual members are not. Traditional Catholics and so-called “Anglo-Catholics” — though we share no communion (neither “imperfect” nor otherwise) — have, on the natural level, more than a few traits, attitudes and preferences in common, and these make us vulnerable to the same spiritual dangers; hence Pope Ven Pius XII’s cautioning against any indulgence in exotic mysticism as “a rebuke to the unbelieving world” in his 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi:
“For while there still survives a false rationalism, which ridicules anything that transcends and defies the power of human genius, and which is accompanied by a cognate error, the so-called popular naturalism, which sees and wills to see in the Church nothing but a juridical and social union, there is on the other hand a false mysticism creeping in, which, in its attempt to eliminate the immovable frontier that separates creatures from their Creator, falsifies the Sacred Scriptures.”
All false mysticism (as I understand it), fundamentally, is a consequence of collapsing the natural and supernatural orders — that is, nature and grace — into one another (of which the “traditional Catholic” Professor Jean Borella, for instance, would seem to be guilty; see Part Two), because doing so causes us — rather than looking upwards to God — to look inwards, to the deified self; or outwards, to a divinised cosmos — either way, an implicit denial of Original Sin. (Buddhism would be the consummate exemplar.) Pope St Pius X takes the propagators of this category error to task in his anti-Modernist encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis:
“We cannot but deplore…, and grievously, that there are Catholics who… seem to admit that there is in human nature a true and rigorous necessity with regard to the supernatural order, and not merely a capacity and a suitability for the supernatural…; [nor others, who] would show to the non-believer, hidden away in the very depths of his being, the very germ which Christ Himself bore in His conscience, and which He bequeathed to the world. Such, Venerable Brethren, is a summary description of the apologetic method of the Modernists,… brimming over with errors, made not for edification but for destruction, not for the formation of Catholics but for the plunging of Catholics into heresy…”
Is this not a direct, preemptive refutation of Professor Wolfgang Smith’s “affirmation of a supernatural ingredient in man,” the “little spark” theorised by Meister Eckhart (see Part Two), from which he surmises “a natural disposition for the supernatural”? Thus does Smith, the Kabbalist (see Part Three) — together with the Perennialist (and accused Gnostic) Jean Borella, the Hermeticist Valentin Tomberg, and their ilk — join himself to a tradition of proto-Modernist false mystics who “attempt to eliminate the immovable frontier that separates creatures from their Creator” and, in doing so, “falsif[y] the Sacred Scriptures.” Ven Pius XII would later follow up his Mystici Corporis Christi with Humani Generis in 1950, wherein he further decried that “novelties of this kind have already borne their deadly fruit” by, inter alia, “destroy[ing] the gratuity of the supernatural order” and “pervert[ing] the very concept of original sin…”
A perfect example of this “false mysticism creeping in” is in fact provided by the Church Times article quoted above, for amongst the “Anglo-Catholic occultists” named in it, Dom Aelred Carlyle — a keen student of Voodoo — would later “cross the Tiber,” with the Benedictine community he founded on Caldey Island in tow. The abbot’s traditionalist bona fides (he loved the Tridentine liturgy) did nothing to prevent him from filling his monastery’s library with “a large miscellaneous selection of books and pamphlets dealing with Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, reincarnation, and similar forms of non-Christian mysticism,” nor from procuring what he claimed were the relics of Bl Richard Whyting by way of a seance. (And I am inclined to believe that the multiple child sex-abuse scandals that rocked Caldey Abbey — now home to a community of Trappist monks — in 2017 were not unrelated to the occult goings-on there a century prior. The exorcists of my acquaintance, I am certain, would concur.)
The fortress of Catholic Tradition, we know, has been under sustained assault for at least the past hundred years — from the nominally Catholic forces of Modernism on one front, and from the expressly anti-Catholic legions of rationalists on the other. Siege conditions such as these can make for strange bedfellows, and there is always the temptation to compromise, especially when the compromise offered is dressed up as a congenial synthesis (such as that advocated by Charles A. Coulombe, for example; see Part Five). Once again, Rome has warned us of exactly this threat before, this time through the pen of Pope Pius XI, in a 1926 letter to Cardinal Andrieu, Archbishop of Bordeaux:
“We have gladly read the response of Your Eminence to the group of young Catholics who questioned you on the matter of the ‘Action Française’… Your Eminence indicates… a danger that… touches, more or less directly, and without it appearing so, upon the Catholic faith and morals; it could unwittingly cause the deviation of the true Catholic spirit…
“Your Eminence rightly lists and condemns… the signs of a new religious, moral, and social system, for instance regarding the notion of God, of the Incarnation, of the Church, and, generally, of Catholic dogma and morals… In substance, there is, in these manifestations [of Action Française], traces of a rebirth of Paganism, to which is linked the Naturalism… against which they themselves fight often so ardently…”
Many traditional Catholics — the saintly Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre included — have argued that Pius XI acted imprudently by condemning Action Francaise, whose positivist leaders were pragmatically pro-Catholic (recognising as they did the Church as an essential pillar of French society) but privately detested the Faith and thought paganism more conducive to civilisational greatness. It is quite possible that he did indeed err in his judgement, perhaps having an exaggerated perception of the risk to the faith of pious French Catholics who joined the movement, of which there were many. Nevertheless, some element of risk did exist, even though the alliance of Catholics and positivists that was Action Francaise represented only a political synthesis. How much more, then, ought we traditional Catholics to be wary of the theological synthesis proposed by the Perennialists, the Gnostics, the Kabbalists, and the Hermeticists?
Such a synthesis may very well be a seductive one. It may appeal to our intellectual pride, as Gnosticism always does, by tantalising us with the promise of secret knowledge, and of initiation into an elite inner circle of “enlightened” believers. (Fr Chad Ripperger has already noted the particular vulnerability of traditional Catholics to this temptation in a Sensus Fidelium lecture, “10 Problems in the Traditionalist Movement,” of which the first is “Becoming Gnostic & Elitist.”) Or, as per Perennialism, it may seem to afford us the luxury of retaining the “positive” aspects of Tradition — the ancient liturgy and customs of the pre-Conciliar Church — whilst jettisoning (or at least mitigating) the “negative” aspects: extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, the scandal of particularity, and Original Sin. But we must never offer so much as one grain of incense to the false gods of the occult: “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
It will not do to fight Modernism with Martinism, or any other such theosophy, any more than it was prudent to treat morning sickness with thalidomide; it might prove efficacious, but at what cost? Many of the pregnant women to whom thalidomide was administered consequently gave birth to horribly deformed children. If the Church were “one day [to] make Kabbalah its own,” as Prof Smith hopefully predicts (see Part Three), what might be the offspring of that marriage? In pondering this question, I am reminded of the Secret of La Salette:
“Before [the era of Antichrist] comes to pass, there will be a kind of false peace in the world. People will think of nothing but amusement. The wicked will give themselves over to all kinds of sin…
“Tremble, earth, and you who proclaim yourselves as serving Jesus Christ and who, on the inside only adore yourselves, tremble, for God will hand you over to His enemy, because the holy places are in a state of corruption. Many convents are no longer houses of God, but the grazing ground of Asmodeus and his like. It will be during this time that the Antichrist will be born of a Hebrew nun, a false virgin who will communicate with the old serpent, the master of impurity, his father will be a Bishop. At birth he will spew out blasphemy; he will have teeth, in a word, he will be the devil incarnate. He will scream horribly, he will perform wonders, he will feed on nothing but impurity…
“Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist…
“The Church will be in eclipse, the world will be in dismay… All the universe will be struck with terror and many will let themselves be led astray because they have not worshiped the true Christ who lives among them. It is time; the sun is darkening; only faith will survive…”
We are familiar with the four senses of Sacred Scripture; might there also be multiple layers of meaning, beyond the literal-historical, in this private revelation to Melanie Calvat? I can only speculate, of course, but I do wonder if this frightening message of Our Lady, understood as allegory, presages an attempted crossbreeding of the Jewish Kabbalah (personified as “a Hebrew nun”) and Roman Catholicism (“a Bishop”) — with disastrous consequences for the Church.
Keep scrolling for Part VII: The Lethal Ecclesiology of Tombergian Neo-Traditionalism…
 “Oh, it was not a Catholic movement, but it was a movement against the disorder sown by the Freemasons in the country, in France: it was a healthy reaction, a determination to re-establish order and discipline, a return to morality and to Christian morality… Pius XI was not a liberal. But he was weak, very weak in the practical sphere and rather inclined to compromise with the world…” (SOURCE)
Part VII: The Lethal Ecclesiology of Tombergian Neo-Traditionalism
In the course of my investigation into the influence of the occult in traditional Catholic discourse, the Hermeticist Valentin Tomberg — whose Meditations on the Tarot, I submit, must be studied and critiqued by Catholic scholars faithful to Tradition — has emerged as the common denominator by which almost all the ostensibly traditional Catholics discussed in this monograph are linked and inspired.
The strength of Tomberg’s allure amongst traditionalists, despite his eclecticism, is in the impressiveness of his counter-revolutionary credentials. Tomberg was consistently and vehemently opposed not only to the political revolutions of America, France and Russia, but also to the religious revolutions of Martin Luther and, most pertinently, the Second Vatican Council. In his (posthumous) 1985 book, Lazarus, Come Forth!, he writes:
“[T]he Council [was] called together by Pope John XXIII out of a desire for renewal, i.e. to deepen, elevate, and expand the traditional inheritance of the Church. A tremendous misunderstanding then entered in; instead of a renewal of the Church in the sense of a deepening, elevation, and expansion of tradition, there arose a striving to revise the tradition…
“The Council did not reflect the timeless inspirations of heaven, but rather the earthly needs, complaints, wishes, and demands of the age. It became a sort of ‘religious parliament’ with a ‘progressive left’, a ‘conservative right’, and a ‘moderate center’. Thus people spoke of a ‘democratization’ of the Church, now breaking through. The ‘world’ remarked with satisfaction: the Catholic Church is moving closer to us; yes, just a while and it will be part of us — the Council exudes a ‘fresh wind’, the wind of a free and modern spirit! And a ‘fresh wind’ did indeed blow from the Council. It blew up such problems as: the abolition of the celibacy of priests suddenly become pressing; the problem of mixed marriages with those of another faith; the problem of acceptability of the ‘pill’ and other methods of contraception; the problem of ‘demythologization’ of the Holy Scripture and of tradition; the problem of the Mass, in the sense of abolishing Latin as the liturgical and sacred language, and the substitution for it of many national languages; and many other problems associated with conforming to the spirit of the age at the cost of tradition.”
Tomberg’s heartfelt litany of grievances will strike a chord with any traditional Catholic worthy so to be called. But all that glisters is not gold; what we find in Tomberg’s writings, if it can be called traditional at all, is a highly unorthodox, even dubiously Catholic “Catholic traditionalism,” which Roger Buck (who venerates Tomberg as “an authentic genius and saint”) characterises as “both less than traditional and extremely traditional — at one and the same time.” Another confirmed Tombergian, Dr Michael Martin — for whom Meditations is “a constant source of spiritual renewal and companionship” and “the most radically orthodox… work of the last century” — puts it this way:
“Part of the wonder embodied in ‘Meditations’ is how it balances a subtle (if highly idiosyncratic) traditionalism with some theologically daring propositions concerning astrology, reincarnation, and, most central to its message (if subsumed to some degree), sophiology…
“Tomberg’s non-traditional traditionalism (to turn a phrase) resides in his devotion to the dogmas of the Church, his upholding of the papal office, and his veneration for the saints, doctors, and teachers of Catholicism (he’s particularly fond of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Bonaventure, and Bernard of Clairvaux, among others) — while at the same time expressing his admiration for certain figures from the French Occult Revival of the nineteenth century (for example, Joséphin Péladan, Eliphas Levi, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, and so forth). His traditionalism, in fact, goes so far as to question Vatican II…
“Needless to say, a good many of Tomberg’s more zealous readers take up this thread… and join in the chorus of Vatican II derision, if not flirting with Sede Vacantism or other varieties of alt-right Catholic bizarreness. But displeasure with Vatican II is not all there is to Valentin Tomberg.
“More importantly, Tomberg was also a religious innovator who held a deep admiration for Teilhard de Chardin…, Henri Bergson, and C. G. Jung. He also understood reincarnation as a metaphysical reality and recognized the influence of the stars on human life… So maybe he wasn’t as traditional as all that. Tomberg’s a paradox.
“What Tomberg does, I think, is explode complacent notions of what it means to be ‘Catholic’…”
Tomberg deplored all novelty — religious, political or otherwise — and this is to his credit, but his disordered zeal for tradition led him to a rejection of modern errors (e.g. rationalism) by the adoption of ancient ones (false mysticism; see Part Six). Not everything that is old is venerable and profitable to salvation, for indeed, what creature has a better claim to antiquity than the primordial serpent? All error, whether ancient or modern, proceeds ultimately from the devil, “the father of lies,” (cf. John 8:44) and ultimately leads back to him — the true emanationist-apocatastatic paradigm (see Part Three), the diabolical solve et coagula of the alchemist’s credo. Such is the unhappy fate that necessarily befalls all non-Catholic traditionalism, as St Paul — a former non-Catholic traditionalist if ever there was one — well understood: “Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy, and vain deceit; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)
We may be justifiably suspicious, therefore, when Tomberg expresses his hope for “a deepening, elevation, and expansion of tradition,” and especially when, just a few lines later in Lazarus, Come Forth!, he swaps out the word “tradition” for “revelation,” and begins to speak instead of “the ‘second Pentecostal miracle’ hoped for and prayed for by the Holy Father [Pope John XXIII] — the proclamation by the World Council of a deepened, elevated, and expanded treasure of Church revelation…” Did not the era of public revelation end forever with the death of St John the Apostle on the island of Patmos, circa 100 AD? What precisely, then, is meant by this “deepening, elevation, and expansion of tradition” and/or “revelation”? Since Tomberg is now some fifty years in the grave (and was for the most part an impenetrable writer anyway), the question is perhaps best put to his disciples. And so we turn again to Dr Martin:
“In 1986, the year after it was first published in English, I stumbled upon Tomberg’s ‘Meditations on the Tarot’. Besides my amazement at the breadth and depth of the author’s knowledge of spiritual traditions, East as well as West (Buddhism, Vedanta, yoga, kabbalah, Catholic mysticism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Sufism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and so forth), not to mention his familiarity with science, politics, and the arts and his discussions of reincarnation, astrology, and alchemy, I was particularly taken aback by his expansive vision of Catholicism. In short, I came away from the text with the understanding that Catholicism was a much bigger thing than… my limited exposure to ‘tradition’ had been able to show me. Much, much bigger. ‘In my father’s house there are many mansions’. [John 14:2]”
To speak of an “expansive vision of Catholicism” in the same breath as a plethora of heathen and occult beliefs and practices is alarming, to say the least — especially when that “expansive” Catholicism is contrasted favourably with what Martin, in the same blog post, calls “the dreadful Baltimore Catechism,” from which he received his “limited exposure to ‘tradition’…” This notion of a deeper, richer, more authentic, hidden Catholic tradition — of which the benighted “Trad,” clinging wretchedly to his dog-eared copy of the Baltimore Catechism, is entirely and pitiably ignorant — is the sine qua non of “esoteric” Catholicism. It can be discerned, for instance, in the writings of retired Sedevacantist “bishop” Jason Spadafore, who promotes what he terms “Catholic Occultism” on his website:
“[T]he sources of Catholic Occultism are the same as the sources of the Catholic religion: the Bible, the Creeds, the Church Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils, the Writings of Mystics and Saints, the Manuals (seminary textbooks), the Liturgy, Catholic devotions, and Papal Decrees. These sources are read side-by-side with the ‘scientific paradigm’ [i.e. Hermeticism] known and understood by the Medieval Church (four elements, seven planets, twelve signs, herbal and other knowledge available at the time)…
“Catholic Occultism is a product of pre-Vatican II Catholicism, meaning it is compatible with Traditional Catholicism and most compatible with pre-Tridentine Catholicism…
“Unlike the exoteric Catholic, the Catholic Occultist… [is] not afraid to engage with spiritual teaching or practice from other periods of Church history (to which the average exoteric Catholic would be either uncomfortable or unaware), or to make a sober analysis of ‘wheat versus chaff’ in non-Catholic systems…
“While Catholic Occultists tend to come to their practice differently, the first book we would recommend is ‘The Magic of Catholicism: Real Magic for Devout Catholics’ (Brother A.D.A. [one of Spadafore’s pseudonyms], 2015), which lays out the concept of Catholicism as a magical system, discusses its initiations and practices, and gives a clear framework for beginning one’s own practice.”
The resemblance of this “Catholic Occultism” to Charles A. Coulombe’s “Hermetic Catholicism” (discussed in Part Five) is immediately obvious, not least in the implicit assumption of both writers that the Council of Trent, rather than revivifying a Church mired in scandal and heterodoxy, represented an unfortunate narrowing of Catholic Tradition. Dr Martin likewise bemoans “the Tridentine reactionarianism of the Counter Reformation… [that] forever after denigrated [astrology] as ‘occultism’ or ‘esotericism’…
“As [historian] Ioan Couliano has written, ‘In response to Luther and to Puritanism, the Church embarked on its own reform… Far from consolidating the positions assumed by Catholicism during the Renaissance, this movement severed itself completely from them and went in the same directions as protestantism. It was along the lines of severity and harshness that the Reformation developed, from the Protestant as well as the Catholic side’… I think it’s time to recapture a healthy relationship to the cosmos.”
Another writer, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart (twice published by Angelico Press) exhibits this same anti-Tridentine bias in an essay, “The Myth of Schism,” wherein he venomously mocks “a certain kind of ecclesial extremist…
“…who can imagine no version of the Catholic faith that does not conform in every detail to the practices and prejudices of his childhood… Of course, in almost every case, the great irony of such persons… is that what they generally take to be the immemorial heritage of the Catholic faith is the distinctly modern form of the church that happened to hold sway in the days when their infant minds still luxuriated in idyllic pliancy. Thus when a certain kind of militantly conservative Catholic priest is heard to claim that the celibate priesthood was the universal practice of the early church, established by Christ in his apostles…, the historically astute among us should recognize that such a delusion is possible only for a person having no understanding of the priesthood more sophisticated than his pristine boyish memories of Fr O’Reilly’s avuncular geniality, and the shining example of his contented bachelorhood, and the calm authority with which he presided over the life of the parish church of St Anne of Green Gables. And when this same priest ventures theological or ecclesiological opinions, it is almost certain that what he takes to be apostolic Catholicism will turn out to be a particular kind of post-Tridentine Baroque Catholicism, kept buoyantly afloat upon ecclesiological and sacramental principles of an antiquity no hoarier than 1729…”
This is the same David Bentley Hart whose essay collection, The Dream-Child’s Progress, belongs to the Angelico Press catalogue’s large “Christian Esotericism” section of more than thirty Angelico titles, including works by the Perennialist philosopher Prof Jean Borella (see Part Two), the Kabbalist Prof Wolfgang Smith, Tomberg enthusiast Roger Buck, Stratford Caldecott, and — most prominently of all, with nine “esotericist” volumes to his name — the “Rosicrucian” Dr Michael Martin. These “esoteric” Catholic writers, whilst conventionally traditional in many respects, are perhaps better described as neo-traditionalists — a label I would struggle to define exactly, but which appears to be characterised primarily by an extremely novel, quasi-Joachimite ecclesiology — who, with their spiritual father, Valentin Tomberg, eagerly await that “second Pentecostal miracle” (to be ushered in by the “baptism” of Hermeticism and the Kabbalah) by which “a deepened, elevated, and expanded treasure of Church revelation” will emerge, phoenix-like, from the ashes of a Tridentine Catholicism whose era has ended.
“Christ came once in the form of man, and that was in the midst of winter. The life he brought created — out of the barren ground, soon moist with the blood of martyrs — a deeply flawed but recognisably Christian civilisation. That civilisation had its natural life, it rose and fell, and after 2000 years most of it has been reduced to ash. But its purpose has been fulfilled; it has given birth to many saints. Their seeds have been planted for a new spring, which this time will not follow but presage his Coming. The Second Spring is caused by the energies released in the earth by the Cross, and by the grain that had to die in order to bear fruit a hundredfold. Its purpose is to prepare the valleys and the hills for the feet of the One who comes. He will come at a time that we do not expect. But when he comes, the flowers will bloom, so that he may walk on meadows, not on the bare earth.”
This enigmatic forecast, taken on its own, defies easy interpretation. But I suspect that Tomberg, whom Caldecott so much admired, holds the key to unlock its meaning. And who better to wield that key than Caldecott’s friend and colleague, Angelico’s esotericist-in-chief, Dr Michael Martin, inspired as he is by “the spiritually nourishing forms of Catholicism… in the work of Stratford Caldecott”; and whose book on Sophiology, The Submerged Reality, Roger Buck “thoroughly recommend[s]… to anyone trying to grasp Tomberg’s project to heal the West”? Martin writes:
“It may be that even Tomberg didn’t see the power in what he was proposing. [His] Sophiology, in the context of contemporary Christianity, carries with it a complete paradigm shift. No one likes to change, let alone shift paradigms, but that is clearly what confronts us in the work of Tomberg. Again to quote [Marxist philosopher Slavoj] Žižek:
“…‘[I]t is possible today to redeem this core of Christianity only in the gesture of abandoning the shell of its institutional organization (and, even more so, of its specific religious experience). The gap is irreducible: either one drops the religious form, or one maintains the form, but loses the essence. That is the ultimate heroic gesture that awaits Christianity: in order to save its treasure, it has to sacrifice itself — like Christ, who had to die so that Christianity could emerge’.”
If the logical consequence of Tombergian neo-traditionalism is nothing less than the death of Holy Mother Church, then what really is there, in the final analysis, to differentiate it from Modernism — that “synthesis of all heresies” whose adherents “vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church” whilst invariably demanding (whether consciously or not) “the destruction… of the Catholic religion,” as Pope St Pius X astutely observed? It is “High-Church” Modernism at best. Whilst couched in terms that appeal to the natural sympathies of traditionalists and conservatives, Tomberg’s intended “deepening, elevation, and expansion of tradition,” so conceived, amounts in practice to a wilful erasure (or a “reinterpreting” beyond all recognition) of at least the four centuries of ecclesiastical development and doctrinal maturation between the Councils of Trent and Vatican II — arguably a golden age of Catholicism, as indeed has been argued by the great Servant of God Prosper Gueranger in his fifteen-volume masterwork, The Liturgical Year:
“[Bishop Jacques-Benigne] Bossuet, speaking of the Council of Trent…, says that it brought the Church back to the purity of her origin, as far as the iniquity of the times would permit. And when the œcumenical sessions at the [First] Vatican [Council] were opened, the Bishop of Poitiers, the future Cardinal Pie, spoke of ‘that Council of Trent, which deserved, more truly even than that of Nicæa, to be called the great Council; that Council, concerning which we may confidently assert, that since the creation of the world no assembly of men has succeeded in introducing among mankind such great perfection; that Council whereof it has been said that, as a tree of life, it has forever restored to the Church the rigor of her youth. More than three centuries have elapsed since its labors were completed, and its healing and strengthening virtue is still felt’.”
There is, as it happens, a name for the kind of ideology that would sweep aside centuries of tradition and call it a restoration; it comes to us courtesy of Pope Ven Pius XII, and it is emphatically not pious traditionalism, but impious antiquarianism. In his 1947 encyclical on the liturgy (but whose principles are no less applicable to any other facet of the Church’s patrimony), Mediator Dei, the last of the pre-Conciliar pontiffs writes:
“The Church is without question a living organism, and as an organism, in respect of the sacred liturgy also, she grows, matures, develops, adapts and accommodates herself to temporal needs and circumstances, provided only that the integrity of her doctrine be safeguarded. This notwithstanding, the temerity and daring of those who… call for the revival of obsolete rites out of harmony with prevailing laws and rubrics, deserve severe reproof…
“The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world…
“[I]t is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device…
“Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas…
“This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the ‘deposit of faith’ committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn…”
What makes the neo-traditionalists antiquarians, I think, rather than genuine traditionalists, is that their idea of the Church (at least, for all practical purposes) is not as “a living organism” that “grows, matures, develops, [and] adapts” — their “Tradition” only ever fades and decays — but as something dead and buried, to be exhumed and reanimated. They are the Victor Frankensteins of Catholicism — and the results of their Promethean necromancy (as we shall see in Part Eight), however well-intentioned, are predictably monstrous.
Keep scrolling for Part VIII: Everything Flows into the Tiber! The Syncretic “Church-to-come”…
 Tomberg, V., Lazarus, Come Forth! Meditations of a Christian Esotericist (SteinerBooks, 2006), [no pagination]
 Incidentally, one of the leading thinkers of the occult-originated Perennialist School is Rama Coomaraswamy, another Sedevacantist. He was ordained priest by a Thuc-line bishop (though the validity of his ordination has been called into question) in 1997, after breaking with the SSPX, at whose seminary in Connecticut he had taught for five years. So it would seem that the influence of occultism is not limited to the mainstream of Catholic traditionalism, but also extends to its wilder shores.
Part VIII: Everything Flows into the Tiber! The Syncretic “Church-to-come”
A perilously distorted ecclesiology, infused with the spirit of what Pope Ven Pius XII condemned as an “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism,” and further polluted by the creeping “false mysticism” about which the same holy pontiff sounded the alarm (see Part Six), is likely what actuates Angelico Press’ resident esotericist, Dr Michael Martin, in a blog post reflecting on the implications of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s heinous crimes, to conclude:
“[F]or me at least, the McCarrick Scandal… calls into question the very notion of a Magisterium — why would anyone trust a body so willing to throw lambs to the wolves? And I don’t mean just going back to Vatican II, or Vatican I, or Trent, or even Lateran IV. And I have to wonder whether or not a good many of the so-called heretics over the ages were merely victims of some seriously vicious intermural politics, not to mention the railroading of Teilhard [de Chardin] and [Henri] de Lubac. Do you see? Suddenly, everything is suspect…
“[T]he Church, the real Church, may now be for the most part invisible. And probably always was…”
To this latter statement, the Baltimore Catechism counters unequivocally, “The Church is the congregation of all those who profess the faith of Christ, partake of the same Sacraments, and are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible head.” But Dr Martin is probably loath to take such a “dreadful” book seriously (see Part Seven). Pope Leo XIII would add, “Those who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error”; and Ven Pius XII, similarly, “[T]hey err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something… by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by an invisible bond” — to cite just two magisterial pronouncements from the Holy See. Lest these be altogether too modern for Martin’s antiquarian tastes, we may also adduce the testimony of St Ignatius of Antioch, writing in 107 AD: “Where the bishop is found, there let the people be, even as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
Dr Martin’s “so-called heretics,” amongst whom he counts the English Kabbalist and Rosicrucian Robert Fludd, the Welsh alchemist Thomas Vaughan, the astrologer Sir Kenelm Digby (a Catholic Englishman who apostatised for the advancement of his political career), “and much of the cohort I have devoted my scholarly attention to, were not kooks or outliers. Indeed, if anything, they were traditionalists standing against an intellectualized and corrupted Neo-Scholasticism… In short, they were upholding what they saw as Christian tradition.” These, Martin contends — once again, on the official Angelico Press blog — are the real traditionalists:
“It may be that these so-called heretics possess something many allegedly ‘faithful’ Christians don’t: a sincere approach to the figure of Jesus, unencumbered by obligations to dogma. Because of such sincerity, Jesus is able to bleed through obscurity and fable. This doesn’t… happen, alas, with a significant amount of orthodox theology.
“Heresy or heterodox opinions — or just plain old ideas — often frighten people who feel a need to adhere to a covenant of law and not a covenant of Wisdom…
“Nevertheless, I have learned much about Jesus from heretics. May they be blessed.”
We have already seen (in Part Seven) that Roger Buck — the Catholic traditionalist author and tireless promoter of Valentin Tomberg whose vaunted semi-autobiography, Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, first alerted me to the growing problem of occultism amongst traditional Catholics (see Part One) — strongly recommends the writings of Michael Martin “to anyone trying to grasp Tomberg’s project to heal the West.” He concludes the book review (of Martin’s The Submerged Reality, published by Angelico Press) from which I have taken those words, with an effusive endorsement:
“This book is a living flame in the dark. If you care about the fate of humanity, I urge you to consider studying Martin. He is, with Valentin Tomberg, pointing to the only hope I have for the West: an obedient, pious, deeply traditional Catholicism, which is neither afraid to embrace Eastern Christianity, nor indeed any Christian wisdom, wherever it may be found.”
Here, again, we hear a clarion call to forge the “expansive vision of Catholicism” set forth by Tomberg, which is so broad as to encompass all manner of heretics and their heresies, all the while masquerading as “an obedient, pious, deeply traditional Catholicism…” Professor Wolfgang Smith — a “celebrated Catholic traditionalist,” we are told — takes up this challenge in his In Quest of Catholicity (also published by Angelico Press, and quoted in Part Three), an epistolary exchange between himself and the late Fr Malachi Martin, in which he prescribes that “it is incumbent upon us to broaden our ontological horizon — to open doors and windows, if you will, that have long been shut…
“What is actually needed is a radically deeper comprehension of the cosmos: the discovery — or rediscovery, to be precise — of ontological strata inaccessible not only to ordinary sense perception, but to the modus operandi of contemporary science as well… What stands at issue are the so-called ‘traditional’ sciences, which may also be referred to as ‘sacred’ sciences inasmuch as they pertain potentially to the religious quest…
“In certain respects the case for traditional science, I am sorry to say, stands even worse among conservative Catholics [than among progressives]: the fact that these sciences are ‘sacred’ — that they constitute, in other words, an adjunct of religion — suffices generally to provoke instant denunciation: ‘pagan superstition’ seems to be the canonical term. Now, I have always regarded such a knee-jerk response as unworthy of a Catholic, as ‘un-katholikos’ in fact. But more to the point: I have invested decades in the exploration of such ‘pagan superstitions’, not only by way of written sources, but through personal contacts involving half-a-dozen extended sojourns in parts of India and Nepal, for example, where happily our McDonald’s culture had not yet penetrated. And in light of these investigations I am persuaded that there exists a pre-Christian wisdom of supra-human origin, perpetuated in unbroken chains of transmission from master to disciple — beginning conceivably with Adam himself — vestiges of which can still be found in various parts of the world. I have come to believe, moreover, that the wisdom in question — this veritable ‘sophia perennis’ — is something of which we of the present age stand urgently in need…
“I felt inclined from the start to submit my — at times seemingly ‘unorthodox’ — conceptions to the scrutiny of this great man and priest, [Fr Malachi Martin,] as to someone qualified to judge and to advise… It was clear to me that, from an ultra-traditional Catholic point of view, much of this material was suspect, to say the least, and that it would in fact be futile to open my thoughts on such matters to ‘rank and file’ theologians on either side of the contemporary divide. I realized at the same time that parts of what I had to say would in fact be warmly welcomed by aficionados of Vatican II; but let me be absolutely clear: I submit without reservation to the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church, which transcends both the pedantic and at times pharisaical narrowness of the extreme theological right no less than the liberal fantasies and pipe dreams of the left…
“This brings me at last to my final point: apart from whatever human interest Malachi Martin’s letters may hold and the light they may cast upon this great man, their paramount significance, it seems to me, resides in the fact that they bear witness to the Church, not only as it was, but also — and especially — as it shall be. He seems to have his eye as much on the future as on the past, and gives us to understand that whereas the essential truths of our Catholic faith need of course to be preserved, there are extraneous elements to be shed and artificial boundaries to be razed. Surely all that is orthodox will be found again in the Church that is even now silently forming beneath the rubble of the present disintegration; yet that Church-to-come will doubtless be freed from limitations of outlook and idiosyncrasies endemic to this or that era, as also from the autocracy of any particular theological style: for example, of Thomism as we generally conceive of it. And this explains not only why ‘we really need a new Thomas Aquinas,’ but also puts in perspective Malachi Martin’s affirmative response to the various ‘foreign’ doctrines with which I confronted him, beginning with the teachings of Jacob Boehme, the seventeenth-century visionary who in the opinion of some has ‘Christianized’ the alchemical wisdom pertaining to the Hermetic tradition. It explains why Malachi Martin could embrace such ‘suspect’ doctrines with unfeigned joy and palpable enthusiasm… In place of the customary references, open or veiled, to ‘pagan superstitions’, we encounter… the perfect receptivity of a mind and heart purified in the Blood of Christ. And who can doubt that this priest speaks, even now, for the Church that is to come!”
Somehow, Prof Smith is able to hold these opinions and still profess — to his own satisfaction, if to nobody else’s — his submission “without reservation to the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church,” just as Tomberg “weaves… syncretistic, Gnostic, Kabbalistic and Manichean beliefs together, while maintaining that all of [it] conforms to his orthodox Catholic Faith.” How can this be? I ask in all sincerity.
If my research (the fruits of which are presented in this monograph) is anything to go by, the “Church-to-come” of the Tombergian neo-traditionalists’ imagination embodies “an obedient, pious, deeply traditional Catholicism” in all its pre-Conciliar glory, with its ancient liturgy and customs restored, but “which is [not] afraid to embrace… Christian wisdom, wherever it may be found,” (Buck) and indeed, duly finds it in the supposed dictations of the Egyptian god Thoth — “the alchemical wisdom pertaining to the Hermetic tradition” of the “one grand perennial doctrine, which… springs from Christ Himself” (Smith) and “must be Christianized — not repudiated” (Buck) — and in the Kabbalah, wherein it discerns “the ring of truth.” (Caldecott) It is “on the basis of this assimilated Kabbalah” that the “Church-to-come” will “realize her own authentic and ultimate Catholicity,” having finally “resolve[d] the enigma of the ‘separated religions’…” (Smith) Separated, that is; not false, because “the presence of a central and properly divine element in non-Christian religion” (Borella) will no longer be denied, but affirmed: “Christians cannot but acknowledge that God spoke through the Qur’an,” for example, “…[which] has borne innumerable good fruits…” (Caldecott)
This new, more authentically Catholic Church, by resuming “the process of baptizing Hermeticism” and returning to “the magical view of life,” will at last achieve a “synthesis between Hermeticism/Neoplatonism and Sacramental Christianity” — a “union of the Catholic with the Hermetic” (Coulombe) — having cast off the shackles of Thomism; (Smith, Coulombe) “an intellectualized and corrupted Neo-Scholasticism”; and “the Tridentine reactionarianism of the Counter Reformation,” which for centuries prevented the development of “a healthy relationship to the cosmos” based on astrology; (Martin) denied access to the “Hermetic writings… we need for developing an effective contemporary mystagogy” and a “science of miracles”; (Caldecott) and “contributed to the decline of the Church” by undermining “the very foundations of both the Medieval Church and State.” (Coulombe)
How “expansive [a] vision of Catholicism” (Martin) we shall possess, when the Church is “freed from limitations of outlook and idiosyncrasies endemic to this or that era, as also from the autocracy of any particular theological style,” (Smith) and when the neo-traditionalists, following Tomberg, have finished “explod[ing] complacent notions of what it means to be ‘Catholic’…”! (Martin)
Since it is “a lot more open and liberal” than the old Church, “there is room in the [new] Church for people who… are convinced of reincarnation” (Spaemann) — a “fact of experience” (Tomberg, p. 93) that is “probably true,” because the Kabbalah affirms it. (Martin) The “Church-to-come” will not be so “open” as to formally promulgate this as dogma, however, as it “is worth a hundred times more to… deny the doctrine of reincarnation, than to turn thoughts and desires towards the future terrestrial life and thus to be tempted…” (Tomberg, p. 361) Anything other than persistent obfuscation on the issue would not be “pastoral…” (Smith) Nevertheless, “the revolution of souls” (Martin) will form part of an esoteric higher magisterium of secret teachings — to include also the “affirmation of a supernatural ingredient in man… [that is] ‘uncreated and uncreatable’,” and “the transcendent unity of religions,” amongst others — which “are comprehensible to very few, and… [whose] dissemination to the faithful at large is not only uncalled for but dangerous in the extreme,” (Smith) and so these will be taught only to the initiated, who alone can benefit by them. For everyone else, the traditional, exoteric lower magisterium will suffice: “Only the one with genius, ought to (and can) transcend it.” (Tomberg)
But before the Mystical Body of Christ can be transfigured in this way — before the “second Pentecostal miracle” of the “deepening, elevation, and expansion of tradition” (Tomberg) can happen — Catholicism must undergo “a complete paradigm shift” by “abandoning the shell of its institutional organization,” the Church of old, which “has to sacrifice itself — like Christ, who had to die so that Christianity could emerge”; except, in this case, what emerges will be “the real Church,” which has hitherto been “for the most part invisible,” (Martin) led throughout the ages by the spirit of St John the Apostle, the “beloved disciple who… was, is, and always will be the representative and guardian of [Christ’s] heart…” (Tomberg, p. 6) Catholics must not be alarmed by this seemingly cataclysmic transformation, however, because the old Church has “had its natural life,” and “its purpose has been fulfilled; it[s]… seeds have been planted for a new spring, which this time will not follow but presage [Christ’s] Coming.” (Caldecott)
And when Christ does come, how much better He shall be than the old Christ of our narrow misconceptions! The old Christ was only a God-Man; the new, true Christ — thanklessly revealed to us by “so-called heretics…, unencumbered by obligations to dogma,” as “that principle which guides us through the perils of the promises made by Lucifer and Ahriman and helps us abide in the real” (Martin) — is so much more than the mere Second Person of the Blessed Trinity: He is the very universe itself, for “Christ is the key to the world, and that… world — such as it was before the Fall and such as it will be after its Reintegration — is the Word, and that… Word is Jesus Christ,” (Tomberg, p. 195) whom the faithful of all religions “are destined to discover and take possession of at the end of the road, when they shall have, Deo volente, attained to what Christianity terms theosis; for indeed, that truth is no longer a matter of doctrine, of theological or metaphysical conceptions, but is God Himself.” (Smith)
O brave new Church, that has such people in it…!
As Dr Martin says, “No one likes to change, let alone shift paradigms…” Well, quite; “…but that is clearly what confronts us in the work of Tomberg.” Call me a luddite, but I am not at all sure that this is a direction the traditional Catholic movement wants to be taking — because none of it bears any resemblance to the Faith in which I was catechised as a young convert.
But then again, I was taught “the dreadful Baltimore Catechism,” so what do I know?
Alistair McFadden is a pseudonym. Although he wishes to remain anonymous, he may be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JustACatholic1 on Twitter
 Martin, M. & Smith, W., In Quest of Catholicity: Malachi Martin Responds to Wolfgang Smith (Angelico Press, 2016), p. 76
 Buck, R., Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed (Angelico Press, 2016), p. 249
 Martin, M. & Smith, W., In Quest of Catholicity: Malachi Martin Responds to Wolfgang Smith (Angelico Press, 2016), p. 76
 That is, Pietro Archiati, paraphrasing what he alleges Spaemann to have conveyed to him (and which Spaemann never denied).
 Tomberg, V., Lazarus, Come Forth! Meditations of a Christian Esotericist (SteinerBooks, 2006), [no pagination]