Sun Myung Moon, Spiritual Virtuoso

By Laurent Ladouce

Reverend Sun Myung Moon was born one hundred years ago in 1920. He was certainly the most global leader to come from Korea.

During his life, he built a universal movement, which gained worldwide attention in a very short period. Most observers were puzzled to see that a religious leader could conduct activities in strategic sectors so quickly and efficiently. Reverend Moon often claimed to be a very versatile person and that he had fought to achieve his mission with an extreme sense of urgency.

This versatility and velocity make him a model of a spiritual virtuoso, a concept first coined by German sociologist Max Weber.

First of all, what is virtuosity?

Having outstanding musical technique in the mastery of one or several instruments is called virtuosity. The virtuoso can play complex compositions with dexterity, velocity and mastery.

Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were geniuses in composition as well as virtuoso instrumentalists. When a genius composes profound music and plays it in a virtuosic manner, the audience receives this as sublime beauty.

In classical music, virtuosity is enhanced by live performances in concerts. With the strong communion and support from the conductor and public, the virtuoso may look possessed, as if in a trance.

A devout believer may be disturbed by the Weberian concept of spiritual virtuosity. Virtuosity belongs to the world of the arts, and it procures sensual pleasure and aesthetic stimulation, whereas spirituality aims at elevating and purifying the soul. Moreover, even in the world of the arts, virtuosity is sometimes looked down upon as being vain, self-aggrandizing and narcissistic.

  1. Virtue, virtuosity and the ideal person

Yet, as the etymology indicates, virtuosity and virtue stem from the same root, and originally go together. Both words derive from the Latin vir, meaning man. The Italian adjective virtuoso appeared at the time of the Reformation and Renaissance, both of which were quests for the ideal man. The virtuoso is a man of exceptional quality, or virtue, an accomplished man. Virtue can be seen as the internal, sungsang aspect, and virtuosity as the external, hyungsang aspect of the man that Adam should have become, i.e., the Tree of Life. Surely, God wanted to bequeath His virtuosity to men and women equally. Men and women express their virtuosity differently, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.

In the later stages of the Renaissance, the virtuoso was portrayed as a person gifted in several disciplines, one who could balance science and conscience, knowledge and wisdom.

  1. Michelangelo, who painted the creation of Adam and Christ’s return

Michelangelo was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was still living. Actually, he inspired two biographers. One of them, Giorgio Vasari, stated that his work transcended that of any artist living or dead, and was “supreme in not one art alone but in all three.”

Because his virtuosity seemed to flow directly from the Creator, Michelangelo was called Il Divino (“the divine one”). Struck by his total dedication to his art and the depth of his works, Italians praised his terribilità — his ability to instill a sense of awe in his work. Even today, Michelangelo is often seen as the greatest artist of all time. A Unificationist hypothesis for this is that Michelangelo was chosen by God to see, reveal, and paint both the Creation of Adam (the Alpha) and the Second Coming (the Omega). It is Michelangelo’s grandiose visions of God’s relationship with Adam and God’s relationship with the Lord of Second Coming that makes his virtuosity unique. This may explain why Unificationist literature (textbooks, flyers, posters, PowerPoints, etc.) repeatedly make use of Michelangelo’s work.

  1. Michelangelo’s Second Coming looks like a conductor

Moreover, Michelangelo’s artistic virtuosity announces and prophesies the amazing virtuosity of the Lord of the Second Coming. He understood that the third Adam will perfectly unite virtue and virtuosity.

When we observe attentively his representation of the Christ of the Last Judgment, something is really striking: with the position of his arms and hands, his Lord almost looks like a conductor about to guide a symphony orchestra.

  1. Original virtuosity and direct dominion

In light of Unificationism, original virtuosity seems deeply connected to what the Principle calls direct dominion. It thus covers the three blessings. When the original nature fully blooms by going through the three stages of indirect dominion, it is manifested in the original, Adamic culture of heart. Thus, man displays the virtuosity of a divine character (Heart, Logos and Creativity). With the rise of modern secularization, virtuosity tended to be connected strictly to technical mastery in general, and more specifically in music.

  1. Why is spiritual virtuosity a characteristic of the Messiah?

The Messiah declares himself to the world by displaying an eruptive spirituality that aims at winning the maximum number of souls to God in the shortest possible time.

The Messiah lives with an urgent, irrepressible sense of mission. He unveils the passion of God that we change our lives immediately. This is done in a whirlpool of completely new concepts, new emotions, new ways. This prompts the Messiah to release the original virtuosity that God intended to bequeath to Adam as Lord of the entire Creation.

Born to be whole, destined to love all, the Messiah is bound to do everything, and do it well.

  1. Aspects of Sun Myung Moon’s virtuosity

Rev. Moon openly talked about his virtuosity As a young man, he trained to speak faster than any other person, and developed the velocity of speech. In Heungnam prison, he was the best laborer in the death camp. He often claimed to be a master of Chinese calligraphy. On the ocean, he determined to beat records of catching the biggest tunas. He invented new types of boats.

He also determined to be the fastest matchmaker in all history and to match the largest number of couples. He advocated multifaceted virtuosity:

Other Americans only tackle one profession at a time, but we do five or six things at the same time. I want to do everything to the fullest degree. I have created training for husbands and wives here in the Unification Church, and the first qualification to be considered the most capable candidate is the ability to do ten different things simultaneously. God made me into a very versatile man, not a single-minded man who can do only one thing.

  1. The Heavenly Tribal Messiah victor as a virtuoso

To become a Heavenly Tribal Messiah, one should inherit messianic virtuosity. We are thus asked to declare our self, to commit our self absolutely, and to see this task as our lifetime mission. Many have experienced Tribal Messiahship as a highly transformative experience. It transforms the ordinary believer into an extraordinary evangelist. Rev. Moon wanted to create a school of messiahship producing global leaders with a multifaceted virtuosity. With True Mother’s (Mrs. Hak Ja Han) strong emphasis on Tribal Messiahship, the completion of 430 couples and registration at the Cheonbowon, many HTM victors recently emerged. A HTM victor is something akin to a Unificationist virtuoso.

A detail from Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” (1536-41) in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

  1. Jesus Christ, archetype of spiritual virtuosity

Robert Boyle wrote on the Christian Virtuoso (1690) and Max Weber offered insights about spiritual virtuosity. But they did not attempt to understand the Messiah as the archetype of spiritual virtuosity.

More than any other spiritual master, Jesus seemingly captured small circles as well as large crowds by his exceptional spiritual virtuosity. Jesus behaved as a genius who would convey the deepest and most universal spiritual truths with utmost simplicity, velocity and universality. He was so gifted to reveal God’s truth that traditional Christology concluded that only the Creator was able to speak and act like Jesus did.

Jesus was often confronted with questions from people. Those questions could be pure and candid, desperate, challenging, cynical, inimical, and hostile. Often, Jesus gave very quick answers, which were full of spiritual fire and able to shake people’s souls. He never prepared speeches, but spoke from the depth of his heart.

  1. Athens and Jerusalem as schools of virtuosity

Antiquity had already produced many outstanding speakers, both in Athens and Jerusalem. The rules of eloquence had been codified and academies of fine speech produced dozens of great orators. In Athens, intellectual virtuosity was to be accompanied by elegant phrasing and beautiful imagery so that the truth would be thrilling and highly emotional. Moreover, theater was of paramount importance to the Greeks. The Greek tragedy brought the spectator to a trance-like state, or catharsis.

Eloquence was all the more important because the spoken word was ephemeral. Speech was uttered just once, and could not be recorded. There was no amplification of the voice and the actors had to speak loudly, yet distinctly, without losing control. A speaker needed to be strong and powerful so that his whole body would amplify the discourse of the tongue.

Jerusalem also produced major prophets. Several books of the Bible are masterpieces of literature. It has been suggested that only Shakespeare could occasionally match the divine inspiration found in the Song of Songs, the Psalms and Proverbs, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, to mention only some of the most famous books of the Old Testament.

  1. Jesus was to perfect Jacob’s and Moses’ virtuosity in his lifetime

Jesus came from this tradition of prophetic eloquence. However, as the beloved son of God and Lord of the entire Creation, he displayed a spiritual virtuosity that was unprecedented. Even so, the four gospels offer an incomplete overview of what Jesus wanted to say, wanted to do, and wanted to be. Jesus’ premature death prevented him from fulfilling the original purpose of Creation. The Divine Principle reveals that Jesus Christ was to show the model course to subjugate Satan in substance at the world level, inheriting Jacob’s symbolic course (family and tribal level) and Moses’ image course (national level).

Let’s identify some unique components of Rev. Moon’s virtuosity. In many ways, as the Third Adam, he is the encapsulation and perfection of Jacob’s, Moses’ and Jesus’ virtuosity. This is the biblical component of his profile.

  1. Korean sources of Rev. Moon’s virtuosity: Shimjung, han and pansori

Besides being the heir of biblical virtuosity, Rev. Moon is a typical Korean virtuoso. Here are some insights.

Korean dramas are now popular worldwide. This year we celebrate the centenary of a man who comes from this culture.

His movement was originally known as the “church of tears.” The ability to shed divine tears, to let God weep through the self, was the strongest indication that one had become a disciple of Sun Myung Moon. Tears exist in Judaism and Christianity, but Rev. Moon made those tears a cornerstone of his movement. Those tears are new and are part of the spiritual revelation brought by the master from Korea. Rev. Moon claims he was trained and coached by God to shed the deepest tears of all human history in order to atone for sin. This tradition does not come from the Bible. It is unique to Korean culture, with its specific notions of shimjung (heart, the irrepressible impulse to seek joy through loving an object) and han (a very deep resentment and pain that cannot be understood), and its unique art of storytelling called pansori.

Much of Rev. Moon’s spiritual virtuosity is challenging for Western minds. However, it can enrapture Asian hearts, especially in Korea. Rev. Moon studied all the virtuous characters of his country and of Korean culture, and was determined to surpass them all in filial piety, patriotism and sainthood. Moreover, he turned the Korean heritage into something universal. For instance, he often described himself as the man who has suffered the most from injustice. It is a typical  theme of pansori. But his life course is narrated as the pansori of pansoris and transcends this art form. The theme is to vindicate the injustice done to God.

  1. Korean sources of Rev. Moon’s virtuosity: Jeongseong and pali-pali

Jeongseong is the Korean word for diligence, hard work, sincerity, devotion, and pouring all of one’s soul and energy into some activity, with utmost concentration. For Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, to work is to work hard, for many hours, to truly exhaust oneself and arrive at the highest possible quality through sacrifice and dedication. This work ethic is something truly challenging for the Western world, even though this notion also exists (dexterity, mastery), but is given less emphasis.

Rev. Moon applied the notion of jeongseong to spiritual practices and discipline. He advocated that the Unificationist should be a very busy person, always focused on the mission, always trying to breakthrough. But this hard work should be based on logos and on heart. One has to feel and think very deeply in order to experience the living God while recreating the world.

Finally, he wanted to be the fastest man ever, the champion of velocity. In music, velocity is almost a symbol of virtuosity. The virtuoso plays at full speed in order to mesmerize the audience.

In his quest for velocity, Rev. Moon could benefit from the Korean cultural tradition of pali-pali (“hurry-up”). Koreans often claim they can be faster than the Chinese and Japanese in martial arts, calligraphy, archery, or table tennis. To be Korean is to be quick and fast. Rev. Moon always spoke so quickly, walked quickly, and decided everything quickly. He clearly stated we have to shorten the Providence, find the shortcut, and mobilize the spirit world. Non-Koreans cannot adjust easily and even average Koreans cannot follow such extreme speed.

After the passing of Rev. Moon in 2012, many feared that without his virtuosity, his movement would fade away. Just the opposite has taken place in the past eight years. His wife and disciples have proven that his spiritual virtuosity is a legacy which is bound to stay with us for a long time.♦

Laurent Ladouce is a French Unificationist who was awarded an honorary doctorate by Unification Theological Seminary in 2017. A prolific author of Unificationist publications, he also published the book, Le Projet Pakxe: une contribution du Laos à l’unité de l’Asie du Sud‐Est et à la Paix Mondiale, describing the rising role of city diplomacy and proposing a plan to make Pakxe, Laos, an international city of peace. He also regularly conducts tribal messiah activity in West Africa.

11 thoughts on “Sun Myung Moon, Spiritual Virtuoso

  1. Dear Laurent,

    Thank you very much for what is truly an excellent essay! It is beautifully written and in itself a piece of virtuosity. That’s all I can and want to say. Merci!

  2. Mr. Ladouce,

    It was a real pleasure this morning to read your essay. In my second reading I shared it with my wife. We say this is a new kind of essay and a higher level of understanding and expression of the Second Advent. We were fascinated especially by Korean sources of Rev. Moon’s virtuosity. I personally remember about doing ten things at the same time.

    Thank you very much.

  3. I’d like to share a statement made by Dr. Young Oon Kim in 1988 on Rev. Moon: “It is the greatest privilege for me to be Reverend Moon’s contemporary and an eyewitness to such a storm-filled life. How did I have the fortune to be born in such a crucial time in God’s providential history, and walk on the same ground with such a great person?”

    Mr. Ladouce, thanks for your words.

  4. First of all, I must say I really enjoyed your essay, as did my husband, who pointed out that he has never seen anyone write about or honor Rev. Moon from this perspective.

    When I read it, I was reminded of an anecdote written about in a book I read many, many years ago: The Silent Pulse by George Leonard. It was one of those stories that remains in the back of one’s mind, returning to be reconsidered time and again. A story is told about a man running down a very steep hill and the man’s recollection of his feet always finding the exact footing, never falling but bounding down in complete balance. The author illustrates how when an individual is put into an “amplified” or pressured situation, something happens that causes one’s mind, spirit and flesh to unify. We go beyond thought and into a place of just “being”…there is no time to “think” but just to act, which seems to be a higher state of awareness.

    I believe Rev. Moon put himself into these sorts of pressured situations (or perhaps God put him into them), teaching him or forcing him to work in this higher state. He in turn has pushed his adherents to do the same.

    Thank you for your thought provoking article which will now join that above stated anecdote, in the recesses of my mind, as I continue to ponder the creation of mind/body unity.

  5. Thank you, Laurent, for this perspective.

    As a musician (and basketball player) I know that to become a virtuoso in music, sports or any particular human endeavor requires dedication, personal sacrifice and great deal of discipline. There are those who are blessed with abundant God-given talent (Mozart, Lebron James, e.g.), yet we all have our responsibility to hone our talents in order to become the best that we can be. That’s a “first blessing” modality. Goethe once said that the words “genius” and “industry” are synonymous. There’s no substitute for hard work — being industrious and dedicated — in the pursuit of our life’s goals.

    I believe this is an important aspect of Sun Myung Moon’s teaching and life. He walked-the-walk. He was the personification of dedication to God’s will, the willingness to sacrifice for the will and having the discipline to go his course every day, every hour, every moment. He once said that he could have resentment about many of the injustices he experienced in his life, but he developed the discipline to overcome the urge to react with rage or anger. He did this by thinking of God’s suffering heart and this gave him the “spiritual enzymes” to digest resentment and continue to act in a godly way.

    I remember a hearing a testimony by one brother who was on Father’s security detail for many years. He recalled that there were many times that Father would go outside at night to pray for hours in the dead of winter wearing nothing but a light sweater. This uncommon behavior is virtuoso behavior in a very real sense. As Carol Pobanz mentioned, this was likely Sun Myung Moon “being in a higher state of awareness” where he wasn’t necessarily thinking of winter’s severe cold and frigid wind. He was thinking of God’s situation and this mitigated the difficult physical circumstances of the moment. Like a great musician or athlete, he was “beyond thought” and performing in a virtuoso manner based on years of having practiced his faith in this manner. It’s our challenge to meet that standard in our attempts at becoming “spiritual virtuosos” as children of our heavenly parent.

  6. Dear Laurent,

    An interesting piece of literature!

    To adapt virtue and virtuosity into the life and work of True Father is another angle of perception of the greatest man who ever lived, in my view.

    In regards to virtuosity, I would add that True Father found a way to reach me on a very personal level that touched my shimjung. To be able to do this one has to be in tune on the very highest level. Yes, I have memories with True Father that are so personal that it refreshes my bond whenever I think about them. I believe he was able to reach many people in a very personal way and not always talk about it, because of its private (sacred) nature.

    What you write about Jesus Christ is surely a nice reference to him. I believe too that he has unmatched qualities. However with references taken from the Bible I would be careful, because in many cases it is based on hearsay and the DP has to struggle a lot to extract some useful elements. As True Mother points out the essence of Jesus teaching was not understood and subsequently True Parents had to suffer a lot because of this.

  7. I rejoice that this essay on virtuosity was read by both the husband and the wife in Kaady’s and Pobanz’ homes. When you write something that can touch a couple, you feel a greater joy. The written words has facilitated a dialogue between the spouses. Their remarks touched me.

    It is true that the essay tries to shed a new light on True Father’s life, on the occasion of his centenary. Reverend Moon’s legacy will be constantly revisited as the years go by. Entirely new dimensions of his life and mission will be discovered. Likewise, John the Evangelist and Paul revealed completely new dimensions of Christ. It is my hope that great artists will finally be inspired by the course he took and will express the tragic and glorious aspects of his destiny through the angle of aesthetics.

    I am also grateful to David Eaton for his insights on Father’s ascetic practices and, as he says, “the discipline to go his course every day, every hour, every moment.”

  8. Oh, Laurent, it is beautiful to connect the Messiah to virtuosity.

    I may comment as musician (bassoonist), that a virtuoso is not only a good musician that mostly plays an instrument, but also, besides performing his or her dexterity, velocity and maestria, it has to be beauty. During the baroque period, there was the time to express this kind of perfection – Perfection at lib, so sometimes there was a space open in most of the pieces to show such talent then it was stop, because many musicians offered their dexterity but lacking of passion or beauty, or saying it in other words lacking of heart. In addition, all became as is well known, in the case of Bach, very mathematical.

    That is why in the following period known as “classic,” the composers took control of this kind of expression of perfection (controlled perfection) and created what is known as a “concerto,” which means “coming together in agreement,” and the composer would guarantee that the virtuoso keeps attached to the whole original idea (is like creator and co-creator relationship).

    Let us say, Mozart writes a concerto for flute and orchestra. Mozart and other composers, had the ability to create some beautiful difficulties – notice not only difficulty. And then, at certain point there is a moment where the flute virtuoso is free to play whatever he wants, but his virtuosity will be measured by the way he keeps his tune resonating with the original piece or score, and so the audience may offer a great applause or not, depending of their taste or judgment. It is known that if the soloist is not so creative and cannot keep attached to the original idea, the composer used to write an optional “solo” and no problem with the audience. The score is printed, with one of the most famous “solo” ever played to that concerto.

    Therefore, in my opinion, yes, the Messiah should be considered a virtuoso and a soloist – meaning solitary life – that performs his life not only with dexterity, but also, with beauty – passion and heart – and very attached to the original idea. In addition, his disciples are the orchestra that comes to a concerto (coming together in agreement) following the soloist, not on the contrary, according to the main score written by God, the Creator.

    • In one sense, True Father might be considered a “solitary” figure, yet he was nonetheless a very public person and taught us to be that way, though it could be said that we are like the orchestra in relation to the soloist (Father) in that we are “accompanying” God and TPs. We are co-creators in that sense, and Father did say on several occasions that “religion and music go hand in hand.” Having conducted numerous concerti by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky, I can personally attest to the importance of the harmonious partnership between the soloist (subject) and the orchestra (object).

      Yes, beauty should be goal, not just being a “show-off” or being technical for technique’s sake. In the Baroque era — roughly 1700 to 1750 — improvisation was quite common. Saying that Bach was being “mathematical” in his composing is a way of saying that his music was tightly organized according to the principles of the tonal syntax of the time — principles that comport with various godly attributes as defined in DP and UT.

      However, throughout the 1800s musical expression became increasingly impassioned and the “Romantic” concept of heroism became an important poetic narrative. As Isaiah Berlin observes in his essays on romanticism, the Romantics of the nineteenth century prioritized the concept “readiness to sacrifice one’s life to some inner light,” and that heroism (even failed heroism) was noble. They believed that selling out to anything less than your personal convictions was a sign of weakness, and that knowledge, reason and the advance of science — those salient Enlightenment tenets — were subsidiary to one’s personal idealism and one’s dedication to that idealism. To the Romantics a work of art “is the voice of one man addressing himself to men — the expression of the attitude to life, conscious or unconscious, of its maker.”

      Father clearly acted in a “romantic” and heroic fashion throughout his life, and his art of messiahship was certainly virtuosic. Following in his footsteps as heavenly tribal messiahs remains our challenge.

  9. I want to thank Mario Salinas and David Eaton for their insights on the virtuosity of the soloist and the concerto. Father was an outstanding soloist, as well as the embodiment of Unificationism throughout his life. His leadership was able to bring about the best from his followers. He motivated many people to transcend their natural limitations, while serving a public purpose, so that God would work through them.

    We may contemplate if there is something like a “collective virtuosity.” An interesting website entitled Collective Virtuosity starts with the following statement from the founder:

    ‘‘As a leadership mentor, musician, and former Fortune 100 executive, I can guide you and your team to adopt practices used by musical ensembles to achieve peak performance together, or what musicians call “collective virtuosity.”

    Another source found on the internet is “Collective Virtuosity in Organizations: A Study of Peak Performance in an Orchestra,” by Mark Marotto and Johan Roos. This article was published by the Journal of Management Studies in 2007.

    As Unificationists who celebrate the centenary of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, we may study more about collective virtuosity applied to spiritual groups. Under True Mother’s leadership, there is a strong push to offer models of collective virtuosity to the world, especially through the Hall of Fame of the Cheonbo. The biographies of Heavenly Tribal Messiahs will be displayed there. This will become a valuable source of research. Scholars will try to identify the common elements behind success in Tribal Messiahship, as well as the unique features of individuals. The campaign for the Cheonbo Hall of Fame is both highly competitive and highly collaborative. It is competitive because one has to show a strong desire and absolute commitment. But it also collaborative in many countries. I visited the Battambang HTM center in Cambodia in March 2018. I would simply say that it is the most performing factory of HTM victors. People come from many countries to learn the art and method of Tribal Messiahship. In many ways, it is mind-blogging and offers you a life-changing experience.

    Additionally, True Mother has showed her concern about raising future talents in our movement. She is aware that the Unification Movement has to breakthrough and gain respect by having Unificationist virtuosos who will be acknowledged.

  10. It’s a joy to discover that the hypothesis of Reverend Moon as a spiritual virtuoso, which I briefly elaborated in this essay, is something that was already explored by scholars. I found two different sources.

    1) In Controversial New Religions, ed. by James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard Petersen (2006), there is a paper entitled “Spirit Revelation and the Unification Church” written by James A. Beverley and it is interesting how the general introduction of the book summarizes his essay:

    “Beverley examines Reverend Moon’s sense of the importance of his role in history and of the role he plays in the spirit realm. This exalted image of Reverend Moon is reinforced, on the one hand, by the Unification movement’s success at attracting world-class religious and political leaders to its conferences and other gatherings. On the other hand (…) a wide variety of different Unificationists have received messages from deceased religious and political leaders, all of whom praise the church’s founder as a spiritual virtuoso whose ministry represents a threshold in world history.’’ (Introduction, p. 11)

    2) On the other hand, in Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments (Kevin J. Christiano, ‎William H. Swatos Jr., ‎Peter Kivisto, 2015), there is a paragraph on p. 313, which contends that Reverend Moon should not seen as a spiritual virtuoso according to the Weberian concept, but as purely mystical and prophetic figure. My only comment on that is Max Weber himself was not very clear about what exactly he called a spiritual virtuoso. People like me, who find the concept interesting, have a hard time understanding whether Weber had a very clear idea about what his own paradigm would mean.

    Anyway, I hope that, maybe thanks to the AU blog, in the future, more research can be done by UTS on Unificationist virtuosity.

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