N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
RUSSIAN GOD-SEEKERS 1
(1907 - #131)
The history of Russian self-consciousness in the XIX and beginning XX Centuries is of tremendous interest. This history is still not written, and many a page, very dear for us, is absent, many faces remain in the shadows, in the back alley-ways, not leading out onto the main thorough-fares. The typical liberal and radical histories of Russian self-consciousness have worked out their stereotypes, they have established banal criteria for defining what is the “main road”, what generally obtains, and much that is original, the most of all valuable for us, has ceased to be visible, has been omitted, has been skipped over in the book about the Russian soul. The vital worrying of official conservatism has prevented this book from being written, and has created in the area of thought an official progressiveness. There was created a moribund state cabinet of the progressive camp, a special sort of bureaucratism of consciousness, reflecting in itself the hated bureaucratism of the state lifestyle. Against everything, that that seemed imputable to the conservative camp, sometimes with foundation, sometimes without basis, there were adopted bureaucratic measures, similar to the way the government had taken bureaucratic measures against the progressive camp. In such manner, off and to the outside of the official-progressive horizon of view proved to be almost the whole of Chaadaev, the Slavophils in what was progressive in them, half of Gogol, Tiutchev, Dostoevsky, Lev Tolstoy in part, Konstantin Leont’ev, Vl. Solov’ev, V. V. Rozanov, Merezhkovsky, all the Russian decadents, the whole of Russian philosophy. They penned instead an history of the progressive self-consciousness, which they accepted as the triumph of the positivist world-view, and all the religious cravings, essentially, fell off by the wayside from this history, and they were treated as either individual quirks, or as reactionary. But in history there was the so-called “conservatism”, the non-official, the non-Katkovite, moreso romantic than it was realistic, and in it was hidden much wealth, many creative and not altogether “conservative” ideas. It is necessary to get to understand these ideas and discover these riches.
A great pining, an incessant God-seeking is lodged within the Russian soul, and it was expressed over the expanse of an entire century. The God-seekers reflected our spirit, rebellious and hostile to every philistinism. Almost the whole of Russian literature, the Russian great literature, is a living document, witnessing to this God-seeking, to an unquenchable spiritual thirst. There is something heart-rending and together with this tragic in the fate of the Russian God-seekers. They go unrecognised, misunderstood, spurned, they perish from the torments of their languishing.
The first such God-seeker in the XIX Century was Chaadaev, and no fate was more sad than his. In answer to his religious thirst, his search for the Kingdom of God, they declared him a lunatic, and then they forgot him. He remained a stranger for both the Westernisers and the Slavophils, for both those on the left and on the right, and successive God-seekers failed to comprehend their kinship with him. In the school-manuals it has become commonplace to speak a couple trite words about the scepticism of Chaadaev in regard to Russia, and about his going over to Catholicism, but they failed to see into the depths of his searching, and that which was prophetic in this man -- they failed to appreciate.2 Chaadaev had a presentiment already of the passage over of historical forms of Christianity towards the supra-historical Universal Church. With It he connected his hope for the Kingdom of God upon earth. In this regard, Chaadaev was to a greater degree a precursor for Vl. Solov’ev, than for the Slavophils, although this connection was unclear even to Solov’ev himself. Chaadaev’s thirst senses the Universal Church and subjects to it all the history of the world, something which torments us even now. He was not a Catholic, nor could he be only an Orthodox, for in him there was the potentiality of a great religious idea. Universality upon a religious ground, the search for a theocracy -- here is what Chaadaev bequeathed to the subsequent generations of God-seekers.
The Slavophils fared incomparably better, they constituted an entire camp, they founded a school of thought, and the influence of their current is felt even in our own time. But the actual influence of the Slavophils upon subsequent generations is a distressing drama, filled with historical irony. The religious thirst of the Slavophils and the mission of faith in the supreme vocation of Russia decayed into the moribund official churchliness and the official state patriotism. With his enormous intellect, his religious visionary dreaminess, his aristocratic spirit, what does Khomyakov have in common with those subsequent nationalists, all those “truly Russian people”, the Russian groups, the “Union of Russian People”, etc? The only thing that had historical success was the conservative teaching of the Slavophils about sovereignty and their false veneration of nationality as a fact, as an idealisation of the past, and not as an ideal norm, not as something which ought to be realised. This -- is what has obtained in the camp of official conservatism, which has guarded the temporal in place of the eternal. And in the progressive camp they only scoffed at or just plain ignored the Slavophils, since before their eyes they had only the degenerated legacy of Slavophilism. And at present, when someone wants to get into Kireevsky, Khomyakov, K. Aksakov, their feet tangle upon the likes of Gr. Sharapov, and they hesitate to go further.
And Gogol, the great God-seeker Gogol? His fate was something terrible. True, he is esteemed by everyone as a first-class artist, he was put in the Pantheon, but his religious torments met with general censure, his anguish was misunderstood. He sought God and His Kingdom and he perished amidst the inescapableness of his longing. Further along came our great geniuses, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, having merited world acclaim, revered by everyone, but moreso as artists, than as God-seekers. Dostoevsky is quite still regarded with suspicion, and the progressives do not forgive him his “reactionary” streak. Everything, that in Dostoevsky was religious and prophetic, everything such failed to make it out upon the main thorough-fare of Russian history, it remained the dostoyanie-merit but of few. And the fate of a remarkable Russian man, extraordinarily original and talented, tormented and anguished, -- was that of Konstantin Leont’ev, almost a genius of a reactionary, with a fate even more pitiful than that of Chaadaev. Political fanaticism was the undoing of Leont’ev, and no one wants to know him. Who would guess, that in this reactionary there was something in truth revolutionary, in whom stormed religious passions? 3 Vl. Solov’ev has begun to be appreciated now, but this extraordinary man spent all his life isolated and ended in gloomy despair, he lost his faith that mankind would turn itself to God, as a sign of Christ within itself. Then there is Rozanov, together with the religio-philosophic gatherings, and too the most recent searchings and experiences -- all this by-passes the main thorough-fare, it all roosts off in the corners. Why does the God-seeking get valued so lowly, why does it evoke such derision and malice? Or is this a thirst for something vile? Sometimes one arrives at despair, one loses faith in mankind, the hope in the coming of the Kingdom of God. It may be that we, being weak, have not the gift to move hearts, nor inspire by example, but indeed behind us stand those great and strong ones, and their fate is sadder than ours. Some day they will write down the rightly just history of the Russian God-seekers, whose universal thirst will be quenched in those, for whom the hour of historical reality draws nigh.
The God-seekers were of little use, they were unable to give practical directives, they did not transform stones into bread, and so there has not been forgiven them their dreamy uselessness, their apparent inactivity. The official conservatism had nothing in common with this religious thirst, it declared every thirst illegal, every manifestation of spirit it regarded with suspicion, and in essence it is merely positivist. But the idealistic conservatism, romantic in its hostility to everything civil and official, has lodged within it greater spiritual values, than the official, the governmental progressiveness and revolutionism. The civil conservatives in the spirit of Katkov and others worshipped imperialism, they worshipped the idol of abstract statecraft, the kingdom of this world, but the God-seekers, even though they outwardly and to casual glance might be imputed to the conservative camp, actually instead craved for the city of God, they sought in this world the kingdom not of this world. It may be that Dostoevsky and Vl. Solov’ev were tempted by the idea of autocracy, and they displayed their political naivte and made crude mistakes in their political arithmetic, as is apparent now to any gymnasium school-kid, yet all the same they never worshipped the idol of imperialism, the Katkovism, they never avowed autocracy, as something not limited by the law of God. Government life, the practice of official statecraft did not however recognise this limitation of every rule of power by the law of God, and therefore every God-seeking as such was inwardly directed against the reactionary rule of power, against the demonic imperialism. A free theocracy, the replacing of the state by the Church, -- was an utmost dream of all the God-seekers, and insofar as there has never yet been a theocracy within historical Orthodoxy, our God-seekers strove towards an higher, a supra-historical form of Christianity.
In modern Europe there is no such religious craving, and a different spirit has prevailed there. There each day the spirit of the earth conquers out the sphere of its kingdom, it deadens the age-old eternal dream about heaven and the thirst for the meaning of life. The mechanistic in Europe conquers everything organic, both in the theoretical consciousness, and so also in activity. Man herein -- is an outright machine, society -- is an outright machine, the whole of culture -- is an improved mechanism, the whole of thought is non-organic, is rational judgement, wherein the whole world-sense has lost its organic centre of being. Only God’s world is an organism, whereas the godless world, naturally improved, is a mechanism, a pseudo-organism, a substitute for authentic life. The prevailing European philosophy is likewise mechanistic, torn off from the absolute centre, irreligious, just as in the prevailing European politics. Observations upon European culture tend to stoke the faith in Russian missionism. This missionism readily assumes false forms, and it degenerates into the nationalism, against which Vl. Solov’ev so brilliantly contended. Nationalism, national self-praise and self-affirmation, the rendering of nationality into an idol for oneself, a doltish chauvinism -- all this quite flourishes also in the West, and in this we cannot even compare with the French, the English and the Germans in national exclusiveness, in national greed and self-worship. Our “truly Russian” people -- these are people demonic and sick, evidencing for us moreso the absence of an healthy and strong national sense, rather than its abundance. Russian missionism, which was always present in the Russian God-seekers, is least of all an earthly nationalism and state self-affirmation. This missionism, intelligible only for the religious consciousness, is totally foreign to our official imperialism, it is opposed to it and a danger for it; those seeking out the city of God have nothing in common with our nationalists, statesmen and political reactionaries, tempted by the prince of this world. In Slavophilism itself there was a twofold understanding of the missionism: that of a religious vocation and calling, which ought to be realised by Russia on the world stage, though it be by way of great self-renunciation, or otherwise that of an idealisation and regarding divine the fact of national lifestyle, i.e. a purely pagan self-affirmation. The first sort of consciousness of a Russian missionism was further developed by Dostoevsky, by Vl. Solov’ev, and passed on to Merezhkovsky and the most recent God-seekers; the second sort of consciousness was developed by Katkov, by the state nationalists, and it passed on into reactionary obscurantism and the “Union of the Russian People”. The missionary consciousness is a duty, and not a privilege, an arduous historical task, and not an outward primacy. The pagan, the non-Christian and anti-Christian attitude towards nationality and statecraft all still prevails, and our official conservatives, Katkovites, nationalists, “truly Russian” people stand firmly on the soil of this paganism and anti-Christianism.
In the revolutionary epoch at present, the position of the God-seekers, in seeking out the City, is very difficult, tortuous, complex. Truth has too much become mixed up together with falsehood. It is necessary to contend both against the official statecraft, with its reactionism, and also against the official revolutionism, with its nihilistic hooliganism in revolution, since both with the one and the other there is temptation with the kingdoms of this world. Lovers of the kingdom not of this world seem like foreigners in the bustle and the crowd, finding themselves there no joy. All these, whether Chaadaev, Gogol, the best of the Slavophils, Dostoevsky, Solov’ev and the others, did not find actual and practical applications for their extraordinary ideas, they did not find points of application, wherein their ideas would overturn all the world; they seemed in comparison with others to be inactive, and for matters of this world poorly adapted. All of them rendered unseen a great deed, but they did not bequeathe us clear methods of visible historical activity. And we too stand helplessly before a great historical task. In the official-progressive and Westerniser camp only infrequently is there to be encountered any hidden God-seeking, always instead there is the veiled-over struggle against God, and the ideas of this camp in the majority of instances are banal, but they had with them clear methods of action, techniques for liberation, and with them there is much that might be learned whether for Dostoevsky, or Vl. Solov’ev, and all the other people of this type. When the Slavophils made a great practical deed (participation in the emancipation of the serfs), they then worked in concert with the Westernisers; whereas, their own original methods almost always were mistaken or utopian.
Someone once mentioned about the day and night aspect in the history of Russian self-consciousness, in our searchings, in our literature. With us only the day part obtained an official right to existence, and was acknowledged as progressive. In this day aspect of the history there is little that is original, it all follows along on its trite models, though too it served a needed and useful service. But our God-searching has transpired as though in the night, amidst the light of the stars, and not by that of the sun. Nocturnal -- is all the poetry of Tiutchev, all the creativity of Dostoevsky. Nocturnal -- is all the Russian metaphysics and mysticism. For people of the day and daytime work, the nocturnal represents all the consciousness of the religious meaning of life. Only the nocturnal, the transcendent, the supra-empirical consciousness leads to the sensing of God, though in it too can be manifest the devil (about this, much can be learned in Dostoevsky). Amidst the night, the trans-rational, we do not reason upon the darkness and gloom, but on something higher, passing beyond the bounds of the consciousness of this world. To transform the nocturnal insight and vision into the mighty powers of the daytime sun -- in this is our great task, perhaps, our historical mission. The rift between the “nocturnal” and the “daytime” consciousness, a dualism of the transcendent and the immanent -- is likewise a sickness of spirit, and in it is all our tragedy. It is exactly as when in oversleeping we waken from the night-time dreams and our eyes are in a blind daze, and our mind is tormented by the fright of actuality, by the terror of the reality of day. We are powerless to transfer to the daytime God’s truth, as borne from out of the nocturnal searchings. The Russian missionism, lodged within the night, the transcendent consciousness of the finest Russian people, is shaken to its roots by the immediacy of day.
There has been lost faith in the people, which proved such a slave on the day of its emancipation. How could the God-bearing people in a notable extent prove so nihilistic hooligan-like or be so black-souled rowdy? How could the sacred standard of liberation become polluted with criminal acts, wild licentiousness and brazen impudence? Hath the people, as a mystical organism, said its say, and where is it, this great people? The Social-Revolutionary fabrications of the people’s soul just as little resemble -- the people, as do the fabrications of the state-cabinets. We believe, that the people is neither the Black Hundreds nor the Red Hundreds. Within the people there has always been suchlike a religious thirst, amongst those lower down in national life, in Russian sectarianism, and in the people’s Orthodox piety there has been the same God-seeking and God-responsiveness, that there is at the summits of the people’s organism, with the God-seeker thinkers, artists and prophets.
But, perchance, in our nocturnal visionary dreams and insights has there been a greater reality, an absolute reality, than that which exists in daily activity? Those, who believe in the sole finality of empirical activity, may laugh at our questions, but they will not have the last laughs. It is not about romantic dreams that are being discussed, for even without this we have had sufficient of such, but rather about actual, real, to the utmost a directing with real power the awareness of God to history, to the fate of Russia and the world. If we and our predecessors were all only mere up in the air, day-dreamy God-seekers, then it would be ludicrous to speak of real power and historical action. But we indeed speak about that God-seeking, which also together with this was a God-finding, a coming upon and following of God: the religious future in these searchings is bound up with the religious past, which is imbued already with an absolute and utmost reality, an uniquely absolute, unrepeatable, salvific and redemptive fact of world history. With Christ, with the faith in Christ the God-Man, our Saviour, is bound up the Russian religious movement, the seeking of the Kingdom of God, the thirst for the God-manly path of developement; in Him, and only in Him is all our hope, and the possibility for us to become a real force in history.
The movement follows from whence Christ leads, apart from Christ it would be bereft of all reality. But the martyrs of the new religious thirst have awaited and await the fulfilling of the promise and prophecies about the Kingdom of God even upon the earth. Often along unperceived and varied pathways, from varied and quite apparently contrary scenes of modern culture there occurs the working out in consciousness and the preparation in practice of a new idea of theocracy, neither Catholic nor Old Testament, alike opposed to both the Western Papocaesarism and the Eastern Caesaropapism. At the various ends of culture there is conceived an awareness of dissatisfaction and apprehension at the dissociated and abstract being, the impossibility and the madness of human self-affirmation and self-deification. A melancholy anxiety is taking hold, close like to that, with which the ancient world was sickened in its era of decline and decay. The most refined summits of culture are grasping at mysticism, a mysticism chaotic, anarchistic and irreligious, just as remote from worldly meaning, as are also positivism and materialism. Contemporary trans-cultural man is experiencing a profound spiritual decadence, the loss of an objective, absolutely real, religious meaning of life and he substitutes for it his subjectively contrived meaning.
The ultimate liberation is possible only by God-manhood, and the ultimate joy is possible only in God. From this perspective of consciousness there inevitable results a twofold attitude towards revolution, towards the worldwide liberation movement, now bursting forth upon Russia. The humanistic side of revolution, the liberation of man from slavery, the affirmation of the rights of man and the unconditional significance of the human person is part of the truth of God-manhood. But the abstract and exclusively self-affirming humanism, an humanism, which would idolise the human element as a god, passes over as something not only godless, but also inhuman. The revolutionaries, the humanists and atheists too often with an inhuman ferocity struggle against man, they do not respect the human person, and they lay waste the human soul. The very idea of the inalienable rights of man and the unconditional value of the human person cannot be affirmed on the grounds of an abstract humanism, it presupposes inevitably an higher and supra-human will. To spurn God and the God-Man -- this means together with this to spurn both mankind and man as the idea of God. The natural man of nature is still a beast, the offspring of a chaotic element, a child of death and decay, not a person still; the natural mankind of nature is still impersonal, subject to the law of hostility and decay, a phantasmic being. Only the God-Man was a true and absolutely real Divine Man, and a true, absolutely real Divine Mankind can only be in God-manhood. All our God-seekers, whether consciously or unconsciously, sought after God-manhood, they moved towards a sociability of God-manhood and therefore they seemed foreign to a sociability merely human, they gave the impression of being lovers of God and as it were seeming indifferent towards mankind.
The conditional, the superficial criteria of conservatism and progressivism, of the right and of the left, are inapplicable to these searches, ineffective for this spirit. One can but say, that a thousand times more radical are those, which go down deep to the very roots of being, who get to the transcendent fundaments of all phenomena, rather than those, that accept the phenomenality as the essence, and see not the roots.
To go along the path not only of an European but also a world liberation does not signify an as yet for certain becoming subject to vulgarisation, to philistinism and spiritual devastation, as tended to think Konstantin Leont’ev, an odd, extraordinarily gifted reactionary and genuine God-seeker. Russian God-seekers, perhaps, as no one nowhere, sensed the absolute void of emptiness in the end-point of the natural, the merely human progress, and they were terrified at the shrill vividness of their insight. But this was indeed only one side of the world developement -- a foreseeing of the kingdom of the prince of this world. There is also another side -- the prophecy about the Kingdom of God upon earth, into which will enter everything good that was created and conceived in the world. And there can be further developed the invested pledges of an organic thought and an organic world-sense. These rich investments we see in Russian literature, in Russian philosophy, in the unique religiosity of the Russian people and in the religious searchings of the finest segment of the Intelligentsia, creative investments, prophetic about the future. It has fallen to our lot to undergo onerous tribulations, but a great people has need of such trials, in order to prove the strength of its spirit. At present the very idea of the people has been shaken; the religious idea of the people as an integrally whole organism has been falsified by both the right and the left, it has had substituted for it various classes, social classes and every sort of social category. The will of the people has become splintered, fragmented, unseen by us, and everyone alike takes cover under the veil of the people’s will: with it all justify themselves the Black Hundreds, and the Red Hundreds, and the government, and the people’s freedom parties. Two Dumas have already expired, and neither one of them has discovered the authentic and mighty will of the people, there has been discovered only dissonance and discord. The people’s will has sickened with a grievous illness, and this inward infirmity can hardly be doctored with but outward, politically-abstract measures. Then only will the people’s will be integrally whole and organic, then only can it find itself expression and fulfillment, surmounting the malice and hatred, when it inwardly becomes conjoined together with the will of God, when it becomes a God-manly will, and not merely human a will.
We do not share the earthly utopias of other dreamers and we believe it to be a poor thing the general deification of mankind, though also we ought to aspire to this. But we believe and we hope that there will be discerned the God-manly centre of world history and around it will coalesce the full scope of God-manly life. Vl. Solov’ev, in whom there was much of the prophetic, finely said, that if prior to Christ the world moved towards the God-Man, then after Christ the world moves towards God-manhood. When upon the world historical path there acutely arises the problem of God-manhood, when the purely human paths will have been traversed, when the godless efforts yield all their results, when religious anguish takes hold on people not only separate and as it were torn off from the great historical path, and there be many, whole masses, whole peoples, then they will remember the Russian God-seekers. These names, sometimes forgotten and always misunderstood by people, will be inscribed onto the list of heroes of world liberation, not an illusionary, but quite real liberation. The anguish of the God-seekers will be appeased. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shalt be satisfied”.
© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1907 - 131(4) -en)
RUSSKIE BOGOISKATELI. Published originally in “Moskovskii ezhenedel’nik”, 1907, No. 29, p. 18-28, (Klep. #131). Article was included and republished thereafter within the 1910 Berdyaev book, “Dukhovnyi krisis intelligentsii” (“Spiritual Crisis of the Intelligentsia”) (Klep.# 4). My translation is from the 1998 Moscow “Kanon” republished edition of the “Dukhovnyi krisis intelligentsii”, p. 35-45, -- whether this follows the pagination of the original 1910 text is not clear. I have not reproduced the many scholarly footnotes of the 1998 editor, since my intent is to preserve and present the integrity of Berdyaev’s own original text; also as not to infringe copyright rights of the 1998 editor’s (V. V. Sapov’s) own work, at this interim point in time.
1 Originally published in “Moskovskaya ezhenedel’nika”, 28 July 1907.
2 Not so long ago, M. Gershenson opened up almost all that there was in Chaadaev within his articles in “Voprosi Zhizn” for the year 1905, and in “Vestnik Evropy” for the year 1906. And thereafter the work of Gershenson came out as a separate book.
3 Here however there ought to be mentioned the remarkable thinker Fedorov, a bit strange and with flashes of genius, having had influence upon Vl. Solov’ev and deeply revered by him. In Fedorov is seen already a passage over towards a new religious consciousness. Concerning Fedorov, vide the interesting book by V. a. Kozhevnikov, which regrettably was published not gratis for free, as was the work of Fedorov himself.
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