N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
CONCERNING THE CHARACTER
OF THE RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
OF THE XIX CENTURY
(1930 - #345)
The motifs of the Russian Christian thought of the XIX Century have not been sufficiently evaluated. In it there were unresolved problems, passed on to succeeding ages. The XIX Century was for us an age polarised into two, schismatic, disintegrated and restless, an age of the sprouting forth of revolution. But then too it was a great age, an age of the blossoming of Russian spiritual culture, an age of Russian great literature, not merely the equal as regards the greatest of world literature, but in some respects even surpassing it. Only with the XIX Century did we have an age of thought and word. Before it, the Russian nation was a people almost without thought and mute. Our thought was merely in an unexpressed potential, our word was merely inward. Before the time of Peter, ancient Rus’ knew an highly formless plasticity of culture, architecture and iconography, a cultural modus likewise exclusive to a national literature. We had great saints and a cult of sanctity. But thoughts religious, theological and philosophical, we had not, for Rus’ was not yet roused for thought. The Orthodox world for long centuries lived asleep in thought. Orthodoxy lived only through the Patristic age, but it had not its own age of Scholasticism, it did not live through the Renaissance of thought, which in the West happened from out of the depths of the Medieval period. Orthodox thought in pre-Petrine Rus’ was connected exclusively with the religious mission of the Russian realm, with the fundamental basis of the idea of an Orthodox tsardom. Of such was the monk Philothei with his idea of Moscow as Third Rome, Joseph the official Sanin (Volotsky), and Ivan the Terrible. Of old already, while still amidst the Russian Middle Ages, there had stirred the historiosophic motifs of thought, which would be so characteristic of our XIX Century. These historiosophic motifs are heard within our Church Schism and comprise its chief content of idea. The Schism was a product not only of ignorance and ritualism of theme, but also from the struggle posited in the depth of the national consciousness for a messianic idea of an Orthodox tsardom, invoked to preserve in the world the true faith. But Russian thought of the present time was born of upheaval, evoked by the greatest event of Russian history -- the Reform of Peter. The revolution, wrought by Peter, deepened the Church Schism and spread it wider. The national consciousness responded to the deed of Peter by the creation of a legend, that the Russian tsardom had gone over to the Anti-Christ. This prepared the way within the subconscious life of the Russian nation, in the dark night of its soul, for the anarchism of Russian thought in the XIX Century. Within the Schism already had been included strong nihilist motifs, which then emerged in the thought of our Intelligentsia, likewise schismatic in its spirit. During the XIX Century the Schism broke through upwards and seized hold of our cultural intellectual stratum, again for us comprised of the Intelligentsia. The Slavophils were our raskolniki-schismatics in one sense, and the narodniki-populists and socialists in another.
The day by day conscious soul of the Russian nation, in the face of a new Europeanised stratum, lived during the XVIII Century a superficial manner of life and did not result in original creative thought. The Russian gentry of the XVIII Century was united in the externals with European civilisation and but reflected the trends of Western thought. The effect of the Western thought of the time produced upon the Russian soil Voltaireanism and Masonism, free-thinker enlightenment and spiritual mystical searchings. For us likewise was reflected the duality of the European XVIII Century, the century of Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius, but also the century of Martinez de Pasqually, Sainte-Martin, Swedenborg, Lavater, Jung-Stilling. But creative Russian thought had not yet awakened in these tendencies of the XVIII Century, nothing original was created by the Russian enlightenment-freethinkers and Mason-mystics. Novikov and Radischev -- are typical representatives of these two currents of the XVIII Century. The Masons attempted to create free self-organised societies, pursuing values of spiritual enlightenment. But they reflected the thought of second-rate theosophists and mystics on the order of Jung-Stilling and Eckharthausen. In the Russian freethinker enlightenment, the solely indeed original and fruitful consequences were the words of Radischev: “My soul has become lacerated with the sufferings of mankind”. With these words began the history of the people-oriented Intelligentsia. In the theological thought of the XVIII Century nothing original was created. Russian Orthodox thought had not yet been born. The tradition of Greek Patristics, basic to the Orthodox, was distorted and eviscerated, and over the course of long centuries it had ceased to generate dynamic thought. When the need arose for us to theologise, there was then a resorting to Western thought, to the Catholic and the Protestant. The Catholic influence infiltrated through the Kiev Spiritual Academy, through Peter Moghila. Stefan Yavorsky and Theophan Prokopovich were wont to reflect on a particular point a Catholic theologising, and on some other point a Protestant theologising. The teaching abilities of the Church had been weakened and sundered by the Schism. During the remarkable epoch of Alexander I the soul begotten of the soil crumbled apart, and there was born the divided soul of the XIX Century. But the mystical developement of that epoch, often bearing an inter-confessional hue, was in its thought without originality.
Original and creative Russian thought began only in the XIX Century. Only in this century did Russian thought make bold to speak its word. Two facts from the beginning of the century anticipate the emergence of Russian thought and the Russian self-awareness -- the Fatherland War and the appearance of Pushkin. The Fatherland War was a felicitous shaking up of the Russian nation, in which in but an instant the Russian cultural stratum of Peter’s epoch and a stratum of the people sensed themselves belonging to an unity of nations. The Russian nation as a whole sensed itself capable of action, as having a liberating significance for all Europe. Russian guardsmen returned from Western Europe with a great array of impressions and with new cultural horizons. But of still greater significance was the appearance of the first creative genius for us. The nation, in which had appeared the all-encompassing and charming genius of Pushkin, could now conceive itself capable of great culture, it answered the call of Peter, and Russian culture took its place alongside the greatest cultures of the West. In Pushkin was discerned the Russian world-wide scope of sympathy, so esteemed by Dostoevsky. The creativity of Pushkin brought us out of the condition of isolation. The epoch of Alexander is in general characterised by an universalist spirit. It was an epoch of integration, not of differentiation. Russia emerged from its condition of seclusion and isolation, it was incorporated into the life of the world. Without suchlike an opening up and emergence onto the world scene, the consciousness of its world vocation would have been impossible. In the epoch of Alexander everything was still indeterminate, nothing was crystallised. The soul became more alert, receptive and reflective. There became possible a deeper pondering over the Russian destiny, over the place of Russia in the world. Original Russian thought was born, an historiosophic thought. It attempted to solve the enigma of what the Creator intended for Russia. Of what sort is the path of Russia and of the Russian nation, is it the same also as with the nations of the West, or does it have its own altogether unique path? Russia and Europe, East and West, -- here is the fundamental theme of Russian reflection and Russian ponderings. The Russian destiny presented itself as tragic and tortuous, and the agony over it summoned forth a particularly tortuous reflection of thought. It afflicted many of the Russian people of the XIX Century and in particular there was the desire to think about the causes of the ills and the methods of cure. Why from the Reforms of Peter has there occurred such duality and schism, why is the Russian cultural stratum so without roots, why is there no organic connection between authority and society, between the church hierarchy and the church people, between the Intelligentsia and the People? Can it be that the Reform of Peter was an act of violence against the national soul which has shoved Russia onto a false, non-organic path? The messianic idea of old was deeply ingrained in the soul of the Russian nation. But there was never a clearly manifest ability capable to realise the messianic calling of Russia. Old pre-Petrine Muscovite Rus’ was unable to realise this calling. Without the Reforms of Peter, Russia would have been left backward, cut off from world history, and the Russian nation would have become a second-rate people. But even Petrine and Imperial Russia did not go the path, the path necessary to realise the religious vocation of the Russian people. The Russian empire bears very little resemblance to the Third Rome Russia. There is no integral wholeness to the Russian historical destiny. And the Slavophils themselves, in contradiction to their organic understanding of Russian history, and on basis of faith seemingly ignoring its military conquests, were compelled to admit, that the deed of Peter was a catastrophic and painful rupture. And the Church Schism, and the Time of Troubles, and the Tatar-Mongol Yoke, and the transition from Kievan Rus’ to Muscovite Rus’? All this testifies the rather, that schisms and catastrophic ruptures are more characteristic of Russian history. Far less anguished, and more organic, is the history of the Western nations.
For the XIX Century Russia was structured, such that our intellectual stratum had a sense of complete groundlessness. It began also sharply to ponder and to philosophise, conscious of its complete groundlessness and suspension over the abyss. Russia ultimately was transformed into an immense peasant tsardom, dependent upon serfdom, illiterate and totally foreign to those paths upon which trod the culture of the Petrine period, with the tsar at the head, the authority of which was religiously sanctioned in the national consciousness, with a very subtle stratification distributed between two powers -- the power of the national elements and the power of the tsar’s might, and with a very dense and powerful stratum of bureaucracy. For us the classes and social hierarchies always were weakly developed and lacked firm historical traditions. The paradox of Russian spiritual culture of the XIX Century consists in this, that the groundlessness of Russian thought, its aethereal quality, its unconnectedness to a durable tradition, was not only its weakness and defect, but also its strength and virtue. The groundlessness of Russian thought in the XIX Century and of Russian religious thought in particular was a source for its extraordinary freedom, unknown to the nations of the West with their close connection to their histories. The ungrounded and completely free thought opened endless vistas. Our thought, once having roused itself, became extraordinarily radical and audacious. And our suchlike love for freedom and audacity rarely is repeated. Ungrounded thought and the schismatic always become more free, than thought grounded in and connected with organic traditions. Not only our revolutionary, but also our religious thought, lacked firm ground, and did not accept the existing actuality. All our pondering of the XIX Century stands beneathe the standard of a non-acceptance of the present, it oriented everything at one point towards the past, and at another point towards the future. Our religious thought started up without a tradition, after a five hundred year interruption within Orthodoxy, it was not schoolish, and its bearers were not hierarchs of the Church, but rather free thinkers. The greatest Orthodox theologian of Russia is perhaps the cavalry officer and land-owner A. S. Khomyakov -- unacknowledged in the West, where theological thought is advanced by hierarchs of the Church and by professors of theological schools. The first remarkable Russian historiosophist was an officer of the hussar life-guard regiment, Chaadaev. Khomyakov did not accept the Petrine Imperial Russia and turned to an idealised ancient Rus’. Chaadaev did not accept the whole of Russian history and turned to an idealised West, to the grandeur of world history. It is noteworthy concerning the Russian destiny, that when our thought had roused itself in Chaadaev, the Russian authority responded by declaring him a madman. Russian religious thought had its own great problems, beyond the bounds of tradition, beyond the constraints of authority. The authority of the Church hierarchy during the Petrine period was so very compromised, that it ceased inwardly to be imposing by its spiritual power, teaching and guidance. In his Orthodox theologising, Khomyakov sensed himself not at all connected with the authority of the hierarchy and he did not consider himself bound in guidance by their opinions. He openly disdained the “dogmatic theology” of Metropolitan Makarii, and denounced it as being insufficiently Orthodox in thought. Secular thought took upon itself the task of the working-out of an Orthodox theology and a Christian philosophy. And it sensed itself infinitely free, and indeed it directly perceived freedom as the very primal-basis of Orthodoxy. This was thought not only free, but it was also thought about freedom as the foundation of Christianity.
A singular hierarch of the Church, extraordinarily gifted and capable of an original theologising, was Metropolitan Philaret, a figure of stature in every respect, about whom Pushkin wrote: “And doth hearken the harp of Seraphim in sacred dread a poet”. But Metropolitan Philaret was unable to develope as a theologian, for he was stifled by the oppressive conditions, in which our official theology was situated. 1 The thought of Metropolitan Philaret was not free, it was too closely bound up with the empire and subject to its pressure. He emerged from amidst the inter-confessional era of Alexander I, he was active in the Bible Society and began to theologise under a Protestant influence, while striving to surmount the Protestant tendencies, inwardly reworking them into an Orthodox spirit. The theology of Metropolitan Philaret, very tolerant towards heterodox confessions of faith, was pre-eminently a Biblical theology, and in this is his uniqueness. But for Metropolitan Philaret there is a failure to create a Russian Orthodox type of theology, such as transpired to be created by Khomyakov. Throughout the extent of the XIX Century with our academic theology of the hierarchs of the Church and of the Spiritual Academies, nothing remarkable was created. 2 Into them penetrated elements of the Petrine enlightenment, rationalism and nominalism. The ancient traditions of Orthodox thought are almost completely absent. The tradition of Platonism within Christian philosophy was restored for us by people of secular thought, who proved themselves closer to the Greek Patristics, than were the hierarchs and professors of the Spiritual Academies. And against the Russian secular religious thought, our clergy circles revolted not in the name of ancient tradition, but in the name of the nominalism and rationalism of the Petrine Synodal period. There was a time, when in our Spiritual Academies the philosophy of Wolff was considered obligatory, as most in accord with the spirit of Orthodoxy. But a fresh current of theological and religious thought came about for us under the influence of the German Idealism of the beginning XIX Century.
The raising of the historiosophic theme, about the uniqueness of Russia and the Russian path, of necessity led Russian thought towards religious philosophy. If the Russian East is an unique world, distinct from the world of the West, then at the basis of Russian history and the Russian spiritual type stands Eastern Christianity, Orthodoxy. Not only did the Slavophils acknowledge this, but also Chaadaev, who from this drew other, pessimistic conclusions. The philosophy of history, which discerns in Orthodoxy a basis for the uniqueness of the Russian historical process, invariably passes over into religious philosophy, in an attempt to perceive and to ponder the essence of Orthodoxy in its distinction from the Western faith-confessions, Catholicism and Protestantism. There is born the need to create an Orthodox philosophy. The official school theology, created under the influence of Catholic and Protestant thought, failed to satisfy this need. Russian Orthodoxy up to this time did not have its own theology and its own philosophy, creative thought had not yet awakened within it. And here Iv. Kireevsky, the first thinker of the Slavophil school, tries to formulate the tasks of Russian philosophy, of Eastern Orthodox thought, which needed to be untwisted from the governing interests of our national lifestyle. And Kireevsky does lay down the foundation of a Russian religious philosophy, rooted in the Orthodox spiritual type. Further developing it would be A. Khomyakov, enriching it with theological intuitions of genius. But then also, an original religious philosophy cannot take its start in a vacuum. Thought cannot be developed without a tradition, without a connection to the past history of thought. It simply did not exist, it needed to be created, to put in place the foundations of a tradition. Greek Orthodox thought ground to an halt and became congealed during the Dark Ages, from it we long ago had become sundered, and it cannot give answers to the many questions, posed by the consciousness of the XIX Century. Russian Orthodox thought awakened at a later hour of history, after in effect living through centuries of the stormy history of the West. The tumultuous collisions of Catholicism and Protestantism had acutely refined thought and engendered manifold intellectual tendencies. It had lived through the experiences of Humanism and the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and Revolution. Christian thought needed to respond to the stirrings and questionings of the new times. Patristics does not provide answer to quite many of these questions. Russian religious philosophy emerges after the experience of the modern history, when Russia was thrust into the whirlpool of world history. Our thinking could not remain isolated. And it did indeed display great responsiveness to the problems, raised by the consciousness of the XIX Century. The religious problems of this time became for us even more heatedly acute, than in Western thought. But there obtained a very paradoxical position, occasioned by reaction among Orthodox circles on the right, which expressed misgivings on the Orthodox character of the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century. These doubts were spoken regarding A. Khomyakov, and still moreso about Vl. Solov’ev.
And what of this, regarding Orthodox Russian thought, that it is based on Schelling and German idealist philosophy? Here we meet with a fundamental fact in the history of Russian philosophy and the theological thought of the XIX Century. All our most original and creative thought was put together under the influence of German Idealism and Romanticism, that of Schelling and Hegel. Schelling was a philosopher beloved by us, and this remained so throughout the XIX Century. The philosophy of Hegel was however that ground, from which our thought took off and which it attempted to surmount. Orthodox thought availed itself of categories, worked out by German idealist philosophy. How is this fact to be regarded? Is not the originality of our thought diminished by this and is not its Orthodox subject in doubt? K. Leont’ev in the XIX Century and P. Florensky in the XX Century often made criticism against Khomyakov and the “Slavophil Orthodoxy”. K. Leont’ev posited against the Orthodoxy of Khomyakov the Orthodoxy of Athos, of Philaret, of Optina, as being the more genuine. He saw in the Orthodoxy of Khomyakov a powerful admixture of elements humanistic, Protestant, liberal-democratic. Father P. Florensky frankly accuses Khomyakov of Protestantism, of immanentism, of humanism. Khomyakov is denounced in that he took his teaching about freedom not from Orthodoxy and Orthodox tradition, but from German Idealism, which was embued with the pathos of freedom. They disdained to find an Orthodox tradition, which would confirm Khomyakov’s teaching about freedom as a basis of an Orthodox understanding of the Church. The furor against Vl. Solov’ev would be even stronger, and he would even moreso be accused of borrowings from Schelling and German Idealism. 3 From the point of view of Orthodox extremism, the reaction against Russian religious thought, that which is solely original and creative for us, can produce an impression of proof. The empirical Orthodox Church, such as we find it in history, does not resemble the Church of Khomyakov, the ideal Church, grounded in love and freedom. The Sobornost’ of Khomyakov cannot express itself in our Church. The Church was stifled by the state, which did not permit of suchlike sobor-councils. Nor is it at all easy to find in the empirical Orthodoxy Solov’ev’s teaching about God-manhood as the essence of Christianity.
In actuality the meaning of this, of what we have mentioned, is entirely otherwise. From a Germanising basis, rather than that of Russian religious thought, it would be possible to accuse Greek Patristics of being insufficiently Orthodox and Christian in character. As is known, liberal Protestant historians of dogmatics, for example Harnack, accuse the Greek Teachers of the Church of reworking dogmatics into an Hellenisation of Christianity, in making the Gospel and Christian revelation subordinate to Hellenic philosophy. But actually, the Greek Fathers of the Church, when necessitated in their defense of Christian revelation to have a go upon avenues of thought and knowledge to work out dogmatic formulae, did make much use of the utmost philosophy of that time, the Hellenic pagan philosophy, and its chief figure Plato and Neo-Platonism. Platonism was rendered the source for Christian philosophy and Christian theology. St. Thomas Aquinas did the same in the West in christening Aristotle, and he so employed the categories of Aristotelian philosophy for the developing of Catholic theology and metaphysics, that Catholic dogma was rendered fused with Aristotelianism. Undoubtedly, Plato and Aristotle were not moreso, but rather less Christian, than Schelling and Hegel. And here I assert, that the Russian religious philosophy of the XIX Century did analogously, what the Greek Teachers of the Church did in their own time. Just as these latter utilised the utmost philosophy of their time, Plato and Neo-Platonism, for the defense and uncovering of Christian truth given within revelation, so likewise did the Russian religious thinkers do their work, utilising the utmost philosophy of their time, that of Hegel and German Idealism. Thus always it will be at the awakening of Christian thought and knowledge, at the awakening of Christian theologising and philosophising. The truth of the Christian revelation cannot be dependent upon Plato, nor upon Schelling, nor as may be whatever the human philosophy. But a Christian, and in the present instance an Orthodox philosophy, is always a philosophy and in such a capacity it depends upon the path of philosophic knowledge, on the philosophic problematics of its time. Only by complete thoughtlessness and obscurantism can this be denied. To construct a Christian philosophy with the help of Bergson, as Catholic Modernists strive to do, can be just as justified, as to construct it with the help of Aristotle. Thomism in its time was modernism. And all the same, no sort of philosophy can possess an obligatory connection to Christian revelation. The truth of Christian revelation and the dogmas of the Church cannot became antiquated, but the philosophical and theological doctrines of the teachers of the Church, as with the Medieval Scholastics, can become relatively antiquated and not answer the needs of the contemporary consciousness and the contemporary problematics of knowledge. That the Russian religious thinkers of the XIX Century made use of Schelling and the philosophic thought of their time, seems impermissible only to those of the Orthodox, who see in a vacuity of thought the inner essence of Orthodoxy. But in this instance even they would be unfaithful to the traditions of Greek Patristics. It mustneeds be said, that the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century, from Khomyakov to Vl. Solov’ev, did not merely translate over into the Russian language the German idealists, Schelling and Hegel, but rather it creatively transformed and surmounted them, it went over from idealism to realism. It may be that in Khomyakov’s teaching about freedom, forming the basis of his conception of the Orthodox Church, the German idealists had an influence. But from this nowise can it be concluded, that this teaching itself about freedom is in any way un-Christian or non-Orthodox. In this indeed can be viewed an altogether different meaning. Christianity lives and is dynamic within history. And afront the Christian consciousness life presents entirely new questions. There exist various epochs of Christianity, and each epoch has its own torment and its own difficulty for Christian thought. An epoch has now ensued, when Christian freedom ought the more to be revealed, than it was revealed in former epochs. With the old teachers of the Church we shall not find suchlike a teaching about Christian freedom, as there was with Khomyakov. The Russian Orthodox thought of the XIX Century reveals within Christianity that, which was insufficiently revealed. The problem of freedom stands at the centre of Russian religious thought, and upon this problem it assumes an opposite position from Catholic thought. And then too it is necessary to speak about the humanism of the Russian religious thinkers, Khomyakov and later on Vl. Solov’ev. Yes, they were Christian humanists. But in this was their strong side. It was necessary in a Christian way to make sense of the humanistic experience of modern history, in which there were put forth problems, unknown to the Patristic and Scholastic consciousness. 4 The problem about man stands at the centre of the new consciousness. And there mustneeds begin to be revealed the Christian teaching about man, about his vocation in the world. It should all the moreso be revealed, that Christianity is the religion of God-manhood, and to derive this conclusion from the Christological dogma. The human side of the life of the Church was stifled in the past and human activity was insufficiently disclosed. In Orthodoxy there has been a Monophysite tendency. It mustneeds be overcome. In the humanistic processes of modern history Christian powers also are active, but imperceptibly and subconsciously. Russian religious thought discerns this, particularly Vl. Solov’ev in his teaching about God manhood. If within the traditional teaching of the Church there is no such teaching about freedom and about man, then this evidences an incompleteness and insufficient discernment of Christian truth. In this was the creative task of Russian religious thought. This was a problematic thought, with a strong prophetic element.
I am not prepared to write an history of the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century, for which a whole book would be needed. My purpose -- is to define the character of Russian religious thought and to examine its fundamental problematics. What were the fundamental motifs and themes of the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century? The Russian religious thinkers of the XIX Century created few complete written works, which could be read by successive generations as books considered classical. Many of them did not write a single genuine book, but instead expressed their remarkable intuitions only in written articles. This mustneeds be said about Chaadaev, as well as about I. Kireevsky, A. Khomyakov, 5 about K. Leont’ev, N. Fedorov, and Bukharev -- one of the most remarkable Russian theologians of the XIX Century, extraordinarily interesting in his problematics, and he wrote so ponderously, that it is possible to read him only with difficulty. The Russian religious thought of the XIX Century is remarkable not for the completeness of its written works, but for its religious stimulation and investigation in its problematics. It posited acutely the religious problems of our epoch, which still did not have any sort of binding churchly solution and which for its creative solution would appeal to generations yet to come. It did not provide a systematic theological resolution of these problems, and in this was not only its weakness, but also its strength. Foremost in what Russian religious thought of the XIX Century affirmed, is Christian freedom. And it did this in a form, as yet not present in the history of the Christian consciousness. Khomyakov and Dostoevsky were for us the chief heralds of Christian freedom. All the theological activity of Khomyakov is an hymn to Christian freedom. For him it is not only the Church hierarchy, it is not only the Church that is not authority, but even God Himself is not authority. The categories of authority are applicable only to a lower plane of being. It negates the greatness of God. God is freedom, and only but in freedom does He reveal Himself. Even more radical in defense of freedom of the spirit is Dostoevsky, who was the greatest of our religious thinkers. In the “Legend about the Grand Inquisitor”, Christ is the freedom of the spirit, whereas the Anti-Christ is the negation of freedom, is coercion and compulsion. But the Russian idea of Christian freedom is very distinct from the idea of Christian freedom, as it appears in Protestant thought. Christian freedom on the soil of Orthodoxy is not individualism. The problem of freedom presents itself quite otherwise than in the opposition of churchly authority and individualism. An authoritative understanding of the Church is the obverse side of individualism. When the individual lives organically within the Church, then the Church cannot be for him an external authority. Christian freedom is realised within free life. Only then is the freedom of the individual not a formal and empty freedom, it is not freedom as a designated right, or as a protection. Dostoevsky, who in his defense of freedom can give the impression of being an anarchist, was not at all an individualist. Dostoevsky was an unique mystical collectivist, and this collectivism he posits in opposition to atheistic collectivism, which negates the person and the freedom of the spirit. Within this is all the originality of the Russian problematic of freedom. Christian freedom is altogether otherwise than the struggle for the right of the individual, being defended from and delimited from other individuals. The problem of freedom presents itself within the utmost depths. Freedom is not a right, but rather a responsibility of Christianity. It is not man that demands freedom from God, but rather that God demands freedom from man. Freedom is a burden and a weight, which mustneeds be borne in the name of the utmost worthiness and God-likeness of man. God accepts only the free in spirit, He does not accept the worship of the would-be slave. Khomyakov speaks much about this. For the orthodox minded among the Protestants there has remained only the external authority of Scripture, the Word of God. Russian religious thought has no desire to accept suchlike an authority. The Word of God is the inner life of the Christian. Both Khomyakov and Dostoevsky wanted to overcome the final remains of religious slavery, as being not in conformity to the spirit of Christ. They expressed a new consciousness within Christianity, a maturing towards the utmost freedom of the spirit. Christian mankind cannot yet permit itself a more easy and less responsible life in necessity, in compulsion, it cannot indeed relegate to authority the resolutions of the fundamental tasks of life. We enter upon an epoch, when from man will be demanded the enormously great, when upon himself he ought to shoulder the burden of freedom and live out the tragedy, connected with freedom. In the conditions of life, not having known the elementary freedom, which the Western nations know, there opened up for us the immeasurable freedom of the spirit. For us, hapless citizens, unable to defend their rights, there were revealed horizons invisible still of freedom of the spirit. And this was accepted by neither the official ecclesiality, nor by the freedom-minded Intelligentsia.
The idea of Sobornost’, of communality, was another idea affirmed in Russian religious thought alongside the idea of freedom. It implied an organic understanding of the nature of the Church. Sobornost’ is a word almost unrenderable into foreign languages, a concept very difficult for customary forms of thought both Protestant and Catholic, which tended always to be focused on the opposition between authority and the individual. The spirit of Sobornost’, poured forth out into the life of the Church, is also essentially the sole inner authority, which according to the teaching of Khomyakov, permits of an Orthodox consciousness. And even the Oecumenical Councils themselves, according to Khomyakov, do not possess an external obligatory authority. Higher than the Sobor (Council or Assemblage) and indeed that which sanctions the Sobor, defining which Sobor is genuinely oecumenical -- the spirit of Sobornost’, living within the Church and within the churchly people. Sobornost’ is inexpressible in any sort of rationalistic or juridical concepts, it is comprehendable only in the communality towards the inner life of the Church. Sobornost’ also is a religious collectivism, but distinct from the categories so familiar to the West, those of authority and individualism. Into Sobornost’ there enters in the freedom of spirit and of conscience, without which it would not exist, and in it the person lives organically, and is not negated but the rather affirmed by the principle of Sobornost’. In suchlike a form, the teaching about Sobornost’ was first expressed by Khomyakov and shows his genius of intuition. He discerned Sobornost’ within a mentally grasped image of the Orthodox Church, in the inner conjunction of unity and freedom, of freedom and love. In the empirical image of the Orthodox Church, presented by history, the disclosing of Sobornost’ in pure visage is met with never, and often it seems, that it does not exist. Khomyakov’s Sobornost’ frightens the official school theology. Khomyakov sketched out an ideal image of the Church, its as it were Platonic idea. And through this he set forth the great problem of Christian society, the problem of person and society within the churchly aspect, of the conjoining by grace of freedom and love. In traditional Orthodox doctrine it is difficult to find Khomyakov’s Sobornost’, it is replaced by the authority of bishops, or the Church as an institution or as a community of believers. Sobornost’ is the inward spiritual community, standing beyond the external churchliness, a sacramental community comprised of both the living and the dead, grace-imbued by the Holy Spirit, co-united with Christ by love, perfectly free, not knowing any sort of compulsion nor external authority. This is not only a perception and pondering of the nature of the Orthodox Church, but it is also an expectation and hope, that the genuine community of Christ will be patterned out. Sobornost’ is not only the ideal image of the Church, it is also an expectation and seeking out of the onset of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God also is the ultimate realisation of the fullness of Sobornost’ in the life of the spirit. With Khomyakov himself this was not sufficiently revealed, but this theme was transferred on to succeeding generations of Russian religious thinkers. This brings us to yet another feature of the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century: its innate prophetic spirit, oriented towards that to come, with an intense seeking of the Kingdom of God, with the presentiment of the onset of a new religious epoch and new accomplishments.
A perceptible propheticism is little to be sensed in Khomyakov and the Slavophils, who were too set in the way of life ingrained in the landed gentry. But the element of propheticism was already in Chaadaev, it was already in Bukharev, it was most perceptible in Vl. Solov’ev, and with genius it was best expressed in Dostoevsky and characteristic of all the Russian great literature, filled with religious unrest and presentiment. In a pessimistic and unhopeful form it was present in K. Leont’ev, and in new form it was disclosed at the end of the century in the religion of resuscitation of N. Fedorov. Russian religious thought prophesies, in anguish it aches for the coming destiny of Christianity in the world, for a relationship of Christianity to the world, both eternal and temporal. And those, who are hostile to the prophetic spirit and deny its permissibility within Christianity, mustneeds also be hostile to Russian religious thought and fear its boldness. With propheticism is connected the very disturbing problem of the possibility of new revelations, of dogmatic developement within the Church, of the creative process within Christianity. We find this in Bukharev, Dostoevsky, Vl. Solov’ev, N. Fedorov, although not quite clearly and consciously expressed by them. Bukharev, who wrote in so antiquated and non-literary a mode, making it almost impossible to read him, was a man of prophetic mindset. 6 With him there are already all the problems of the new religious consciousness -- a new attitude of Christianity towards the world, a transfiguration by Christianity of all the fullness of life, the continuation of the God-incarnation process within history, the understanding of Christianity as the religion of God-manhood, the surmounting of that understanding of Orthodoxy, wherein Christianity exhausts itself as an ascetic religion of individual salvation, and the struggle with the spirit of legalism and juridicism within the Church. The propheticism of Dostoevsky and Vl. Solov’ev is known to everyone. And with them is connected all the consequent problematics. With N. Fedorov, propheticism is recast into activism, it ceases to be a passive expectation of the end of the world and the Second Coming, and it is recast as a call to action with the Christianisation of the world, a call for the activity of man in the world. He boldly interprets the apocalyptic prophecies as a conditional threat: the world is to end, there will be the Dread Last Judgement and the eternal perishing of many, if mankind does not unite itself for the common task of the resuscitation of the dead and the ordering of world life, both social and cosmic, in the image of the Holy Trinity. N. Fedorov goes out beyond the historical bounds of Orthodoxy, as also do many religious thinkers, but in no way does he separate himself off from Orthodoxy nor place himself in opposition to it. He considers the common task possible only on the soil of Orthodoxy. From Khomyakov to Fedorov there was traversed a great path. Propheticism is always oriented towards the Kingdom of God, towards the completion of world history. But the seeking of the Kingdom of God is a fundamentally dynamic motif of Russian religious thought. It is essentially eschatological. In the second half of the XIX Century eschatologism quite intensified within the Russian religious consciousness, and together with this, it mysteriously made contact with the eschatologism of the Russian people’s religiosity. Russian religious thought acutely puts forth the question, whether propheticism is possible within Christianity, whether religious newness is possible. It denied, that “Orthodoxy is completely a given”, that the Church is a finished edifice and that there can be no new unresolved problems. Russian religious thought whether to a greater or lesser degree has inherent to it Pneumaticism, Paracletism, the expectation of a new revelation of the Holy Spirit.
With a great semblance of truth they assert, that in the world-concept of Khomyakov, Bukharev, Dostoevsky, Vl. Solov’ev, N. Fedorov -- there are strong humanistic elements. I have already mentioned, that the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century opened up Orthodoxy, after the experience of Humanism. Russian thinkers sensed within Humanism a definite problem, which demanded an answer. And the most remarkable thing of all is that we did not know Humanism as did Western Europe, and that we had not lived through the Renaissance. And especially since we had not lived through a genuinely humanistic culture, our soul was not so captivated by its temptations. Therefore within the Russian consciousness it would be possible to put forth more acutely the questions, connected with the crisis of Humanism, and its ultimate limits would be more apparent. European Humanism had become possible only upon a Christian soil. When the hour ensued for the revealing of a greater humanness, then within this became apparent the results of the Christian seed sown within the depths of the human soul. But Humanism likewise was locked within a purely human world, by the human self-affirmation, by the apotheosis of man, by the denial of the Divine world. Humanistic culture was a sort of middle of the human realm, in which the beginning and end the human life was hidden from, with its ultimate boundaries not apparent. Within this middle realm transpired all the blossoming of European culture of modern times. Russia did not experience a genuine humanistic Renaissance. Only in Pushkin gleamed something renaissance-like. But this Renaissance spirit was not victorious in Russian literature, in the Russian spiritual culture of the XIX Century. The religious theme became fundamental for us, and religious disquiet gripped hold all of Russian literature. We created not from a surfeit of joy, but from anguish and torment over the fate of man, of the people, of all mankind. Christian humanness entered deeply into the soul of Russian thinkers, of Russian writers, and this soul stood wounded with humanness and compassion. Russian religious thought was not humanistic in the European Renaissance sense of this word, and often it even denounced European Humanism. But there is a deep humanness in Khomyakov and all the Slavophils, in Bukharev, in Dostoevsky, in Vl. Solov’ev, and in N. Fedorov. I shall not yet speak about L. Tolstoy, who stood aside from the main current of Russian Christian thought. Humanness is a basic tenet of our Christian thought, and not only was it not confused with anthropology, but rather assisted in uncovering a most profound dialectic of the Divine and the human. In Dostoevsky and in Russian thought there was revealed the ultimate limits of man-godhood, which had become obscured for the average humanistic European and to which broke through only Nietzsche. Only Russian religious thought, and therein most of all Vl. Solov’ev, was given to express the essence of Christianity as the religion of God-manhood. Into the religion of God-manhood enters all the plenitude of humanness. And the denial or diminishing of humanness can be perceived as a Monophysite tendency within Christianity. The theme of God-manhood threads through all of our religious thought prior to the XX Century, and it comprises one of its unique points. If godless Humanism, based on the self-affirmation of man without God and against God, leads to the denial of man, to the denial of the human image as being the image of God, having sundered the wholeness of truth about God-manhood, then on the opposite side, it leads to the affirmation of God without man and against man. With great pathos this was made apparent by Russian Christian thought. By it was laid bare the verymost ultimate questions, connected with the theme of Humanism. In man-godhood perishes not only God, but also man. This posits sharply the problem of religious anthropology, and posits it otherwise, than in the anthropology of the Patristic Fathers and the Scholastics, and equally also much otherwise than humanistic anthropology. The problem of the relationship of Christianity to the world, to culture, to society, to the present, which so tortured Russian Christian thought from Bukharev to Vl. Solov’ev and N. Fedorov, is first of all a problem of religious anthropology. This does not at all mean, that Russian Christian thought has given in to the spirit of the times, nor fallen into the folly of modernism. The Christian ought not to sense himself a slave of the times, he ought to sense himself rooted in eternity, but he ought also creatively and from the depths of Christian truth to respond to the questioning of the times, to its disquiet and anguish. The question of man in the XX Century stands otherwise, than it stood in the Medieval and Patristic eras. Dostoevsky knows an experiencing of man, which the ancient teachers of the Church did not know, and about which there is nothing in the school courses on theology. And there is much that we have lived through more acutely than did the West. We have lived through more acutely not Humanism itself, but the crisis of Humanism. And we have perceived, that there is no exit from this crisis through a simple return to that, which preceded the Humanist experience. The Christianity of Vl. Solov’ev is Christianity after the Humanist experience. In the XX Century the anthropological problem has intensified even more.
Within the Russian religious consciousness, the problem of religious anthropology is connected also with the problem of religious cosmology. Man is the image and likeness of God. And man is the apex and centre of cosmic life. But also in the cosmos, in all the created world, there is a Divine principle, and a Divine energy is active. Western Christian thought, from St. Thomas Aquinas through Luther and through the mechanistic world-concept of the XIX Century, became too neutralised, it made the cosmos godless. On the soil of the Orthodoxy of the XIX Century was posited the problem about the mystery of the Creation by God, about the Divine in the world. Awaiting the enlightenment and transfiguration of the world, Orthodoxy became essentially more oriented towards the Resurrection, than did Catholicism and Protestantism. Bukharev propounds a genuine pan-Christism, the omni-presence of Christ, a continuing of the Divine Incarnation and the God-man-ising within the world and within the historical process. Vl. Solov’ev teaches not only about God-manhood, but also about God-cosmos, about the Divinised cosmos. For the Russian consciousness there was uncovered as it were the soul of the word in its wisdom, Sophia-ness. From whence has come the teaching about Sophia, as popularised in the XX Century. Herein arises the problem of the third principle, which is neither Creator nor creature, but is rather that of the Divine within the created world. It is impossible to deny, that this teaching was influenced by German metaphysics and German mysticism, as in general also by Western Christian theosophy, in which particularly had been raised the question of religious cosmology. Schelling had influence on Vl. Solov’ev, as likewise also did J. Boehme, Pordage, Fr. Baader. Also, it mustneeds be said, that the teaching about Sophia by Vl. Solov’ev was very distinct from the teaching of Sophia by J. Boehme, -- it was more anthropologic and more refined. Vl. Solov’ev did great service to the disposition of the problem, but his teaching about Sophia remained ambiguous and insufficiently developed. This is particularly evident in his Sophia versification. Upon this soil also is possible a cosmic seduction, hostile to the freedom of the human spirit. But it is very characteristic, that the Russian religious consciousness is resistant to the transcendent dualistic theism, which the Western religious consciousness accepts with such ease, both the Catholic and the Protestant. And this quite actually is not a pantheistic tendency, as certain fanatic Orthodox tend to believe.
In Russian Orthodoxy there are three currents, which at times flow together and at other times flow opposite. There is an ascetic-monastic current, grounded in the ancient Eastern ascetic literature of the “Dobrotoliubie” (“Philokalia”). A typical representative of this during the second half of the XIX Century was the bishop Theophan Zatvornik (“Hermit”), with his work, “The Way to Salvation”. This is a very strong and very traditional Orthodox current, grounded in monasticism, and which tends frequently towards world-denial and towards Monophysitism, towards a particular ascetic metaphysics, for which Christianity is exclusively a religion of individual salvation beyond the grave. Clearly this is a conservative current and in opposition to any of the new problematics, to any new setting of relationship of Christianity to the world. For this current there does not exist a problem of religious anthropology and religious cosmology, outside of customary ascetic practise. But within this current there is also for Orthodoxy the eternal element of an ascetic purification and inward spiritual action. There is another current also in Russian Christianity, which issues forth from the depths of Orthodoxy. With this is connected the Orthodox sanctification of life, the Theophany within the world, the catching sight of the Wisdom of God within the created world, the transfiguration of the creature, Resurrection. This is an Orthodox cosmism, alien to Western Christianity. In the form of St. Seraphim was manifest the new cosmic sanctity. The unique cosmism is peculiar to our national religious type, and it can tend still towards a Russian paganism. With this is connected the especial cult to the Mother of God, imperceptibly transformed into a cult of the Russian earth and mixed up with it. The land is not in the type of the ascetic-monastic Orthodoxy, but it is of the Russian Orthodox earth, as a religious category, and cannot be cast off. This is a motif of Dostoevsky. It flows throughout all our religious atmosphere, and it is moreso of the people, than is the monastic-hierarchic. And this motif was perceived at the apex of our religious thought. The cosmism of V. Rozanov, the revelation of the Russian soil, born of the maternal loin, collides with the very essence of Christianity, with the image of Christ, and becomes transformed into an hostility towards Christianity. The spirit of the world is rendered stronger than the Logos. The feminine, the maternal, the cosmic principle of Rozanov is not of wisdom, not sophic. This does not prevent the actual problematics of Rozanov, particularly the problem of sexuality, from being both especially profound and important for the fate of Christianity. But there is also a third current within Orthodoxy, no less characteristic nor less important, and this current is the anthropologic-eschatological, connected with the problem of man, about his precedence within the world, about destiny and about the justification of culture, about the Kingdom of God. With this trend is connected the historiosophic motif of Russian religious thought. And it likewise belongs to Russian Christianity, to the Russian anguish about human destiny, about the end of things. The problem, connected with this, became very acute in the consciousness of the XX Century. And here at the centre stood Dostoevsky with his intense anthropologism and eschatologism. But Vl. Solov’ev’s teaching about God-manhood was also connected with this. And to the theme of man, to the theme of religious anthropology was dedicated the remarkable work of Nesmelov: “The Science of Man” (“Nauka o cheloveka”). This theme in a new form appeared in N. Fedorov in his teaching about the active vocation of man in the deed of resuscitation with the possibility to bypass the Dread Last Judgement and eternal perdition. In the evaluation of Russian religious thought one mustneeds have in view the complexion of motifs and themes of Russian Orthodoxy, and the colliding within it of various elements and currents with equally concurrent roots in the Russian type of Christianity.
The Russian religious thought of the XIX Century contained within it not only purely religious problematics, it was likewise a philosophic thought. Russian thought was more religious a philosophy, than it was theological. With us there formed an unique school of religious philosophy, though this religious philosophy was not of the schools. Russian religious philosophy flourished most of all in the XX Century, when we lived through a philosophic renaissance. But the fundamental features of Russian religious philosophy can already be noted in I. Kireevsky. Insofar as it might be possible to characterise the fundamental features of Russian philosophy, it was religiously directed and grounded. First of all, this was a philosophy which was essentially anti-rationalist and anti-Scholastic. It was an original Russian philosophy conceived with a mission to surmount the rationalism of European philosophy. The rationalism of the European path of philosophy had begun already with the Scholastics, with St. Thomas Aquinas. 7 It developed further with Descartes, Kant, Hegel. Rationalism is always the result of cutting asunder the integral life of the spirit, a detaching of reason and intellect into an abstract principle, torn off from life. But abstract reason cannot apprehend being, being is hidden for it. The rationalistic and intellectualistic cannot be commensurate with being. Therefore rationalistic philosophy is always an anti-ontological philosophy. Being reveals itself only within the integral life of the spirit, only to reason, organically in union with the will and the senses -- to volitional reason and reasonable volition, as Khomyakov said. The primal commensurability with the existing is possible only through faith. Being is given on faith. And only after this primary intuition of being, which is given on faith, is there given the possibility of knowledge. Vl. Solov’ev, following upon the fundamental intuitions of I. Kireevsky and Khomyakov, expresses his critique of rationalism as a critique of abstract principles. He likewise strives towards an integral knowing, although the form of his philosophising remains too rationalistic, and his critique of abstract principles too abstract. But for him too the existing is given only on faith. The Russian school of religious philosophy understands knowledge as knowledge which is integrated with, not severed from, spirit. Faith and knowing are organically in synthesis. Philosophic knowledge presupposes not only reason, the rationalistic principle, and experience, the empirical principle, but also revelation, the principle of faith. Revelation is the source of knowledge, and through it the intellect is enlightened and transfigured. This point of view is in opposition to St. Thomas Aquinas, but closer to St. Bonaventure. Russian philosophy mutinies against the Cartesian “cogito ergo sum”. In its being, just as in being in general, it is impossible to become convinced through abstract reasoning, just also as it is impossible through individual reasoning, through the isolating of my “I” and positing it opposite the collective “we”. Rationalism and individualism -- are the firstborn sins of European philosophy. Russian religious philosophy attempts to build an unique churchly gnosseology, it brings the principle of Sobornost’ into philosophic knowledge itself. Authentic knowledge of the existing is possible only through a being-present in Sobornost’, in the churchly “we”, in tradition. The “I”, having fallen away from Sobornost’, from the churchly “we”, sundered from tradition as the inner life of the churchly organism, ceases to be commensurate with the existing or know it. Pr. S. Trubetskoy terms such a collective gnosseology a metaphysical socialism. Descartes therefore was twice over incorrect, he philosophised rationalistically and individualistically. And St. Thomas Aquinas also was incorrect, allowing intellectualism into the cognition of being and affirming the right of a natural philosophy (in the spirit of Aristotle), torn asunder from faith and revelation. This path led to Hegel, for whom being is ultimately transformed into idea. Hegel attempted to derive being from idea. With him the substrate, the existing, has disappeared. Thus philosophy experienced a crisis, which led to a downfall into materialism and crude empiricism.
Russian philosophy of the religious tendency contends against not only rationalism and individualism, but also against idealism, in the name of an ontologic realism. Primacy belongs not to the idea, nor to the perceiving subject, but to being. Being is given first of all, it is given in faith, it is given to the experience of the integrally whole spirit, and therein only is possible its cognition. Theologising itself ought to be by experience, it ought to be by the non-rationalistic, the non-Scholastic. Russian religious philosophy has subjected to doubt the commensurability and fruitfulness of rationalism in philosophy and theology, which had been affirmed and developed by Western thought, beginning with the Medieval Scholastics. The Russian consciousness is reconciled only with difficulty to the contrived constructs of hierarchical stages and differentiations of various areas, which St. Thomas Aquinas makes use of on the one hand, and Kant -- on the other. We are inclined to think, that the light, which pours itself forth upon the highest hierarchical stages (faith, revelation, mysticism), ought to spread its rays upon all the lower stages and illumine them. Philosophic apperception therefore cannot be based exclusively upon reason and sense experience. For us, in the XIX Century it was no elaborated systematic philosophy, issuing from the principles put forth by I. Kireevsky. The most systematic was Vl. Solov’ev, but in form he was the most rationalistic of Russian thinkers -- in opposition to the content of his philosophy. The merit of the Russian religious philosophy of the XIX Century was in its sharp setting forth of the problem of the relation of knowledge and faith, of apperception by the integral spirit, of the problem of churchly gnosseology, i.e. apperception, based on Sobornost’, and too the problem of ontologism within philosophy, which in Western Europe had been altogether shoved away and forgotten. Russian philosophy conceived of itself as ontologic, soborno-collective, organically integral, and religious in accord with its truths. Russian thinkers sometimes happened to be unjust towards the Western thought, from which they had received much. Not all Western thought was rationalistic, individualistic, idealist. And in the West too there were representatives of an ontologic-realist tendency, integrally synthesising faith and knowledge. It suffices but to name Fr. Baader, to whom the Slavophils and Vl. Solov’ev were close, and back in the Middle Ages -- to St. Bonaventure. It is appropriate also to mention Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, the influence of whom became apparent within the XX Century. And Schelling also ultimately tried to surmount rationalism and idealism to break through to revelation and the world as sources of cognition. But all the same it mustneeeds be acknowledged, that ours is an original tradition with Russian religious philosophy, of interest also for Western thought. The German philosophy of our day moves in the direction of the ontologism and realism, which earlier had been affirmed by Russian philosophy. Our thought received its graftings from German philosophy, but the results realised were original. The idea of Sobornost’-communality in philosophic apperception and ontologic realism remain uniquely Russian ideas, in such a form as exists not in German philosophy. The Russian religious thought of the XIX Century felt and was acutely conscious of the crisis of European philosophy, and it saw the impasse, to which it had come. In this impasse there vanished the reality of being and freedom and person. Russian thought perceived, that the only way out would be religious. The insufficiency of empiricism, rationalism and critique-ism, was realised. But, with a characteristic Russian radicalism and inclination towards extremes, we not only overleaped the crisis of philosophy, and often instead denied any autonomous philosophy and thus affirmed its complete absorption by religion. Russian thought, bantering on its own problematics, with difficulty set up hierarchic stages and made the differentiation of various areas. It mustneeds too be remembered, that religious philosophy is however all still philosophy, is gnosis. This was not always remembered by us. Russian philosophic problematics reach their utmost not in pure philosophy, but rather in Russian great literature.
The Russian literature of the XIX Century is the greatest creation of the Russian national soul. Russian creativity has never scaled higher nor undoubtedly will it rise higher. Russian literature not only puts Russian culture on the same level with the great culture of Western Europe, but is amidst the greatest literature of the world. The significance of Russian literature is not only national-Russian, but also for the whole world. This mustneeds be considered as generally acknowledged. But it is important for our themes, that in the Russian literature of the Russian great writers the religious themes and religious motifs were stronger, than in certain other figures of world literature. One mustneeds turn to Aeschylos and Dante, to behold in the literature such religious unrest, like to the unrest of the Russian writers. All our literature of the XIX Century was pierced through by a religious theme, it was all in search of salvation, it was all in search of deliverance from evil, suffering, the terror of life for the human person, the people, mankind, the world. In the most remarkable of their works, everything is permeated by religious thought. And the apex of Russian thought, the greatest Russian metaphysician was, certainly, Dostoevsky. Russian literature shook the world by its love for truth and its love for man. Russian writers lived through a tragedy of creativity, in suchlike dimensions and such depth as writers in the West did not know. Russian literature compels one to ponder over the religious problem of creativity, over the religious justification and meaning of culture. This is a purely Russian theme -- a theme of Gogol, of Dostoevsky, L. Tolstoy. Literature goes out beyond the bounds of art and seeks religious activity. This literature is prophetic, instructive, teaching the meaning of life. The greatest works of Russian literature are prophetic and instructive. And Russian religious philosophy essentially elaborates the themes, postulated by Russian literature.
In Pushkin the problem of creativity and creative genius were set forth with an uncommon alacrity and depth. And in him alone it receives a positive resolution. ”Mozart and Salieri” and the verses, “Til Apollo demand the Poet to Sacred Sacrifice” (“Poka ne trebuet poeta k svyaschennoi zhertve Apollon”), and “Poet, esteem not...” (“Poet, ne dorozhi...”), set forth the problem of creativity. It would torment all our great writers, but they would survive it tragically. The insolubility within Christianity, within Orthodoxy, of the problem of the creativity of man strikes and pierces the consciousness of the Russian creative figures of the XIX Century. This likewise is the problem of the religious meaning of culture. It was not resolved in Orthodoxy so felicitously as it was resolved in Catholicism and Protestantism, and particularly since in the Russian consciousness it emerged in all such depth. The greatest Russian writers were tormented by the question about the transition over from creativity of perfective works to the creativity of perfective life. This indeed was fundamentally so for Gogol and Tolstoy, who were agreeable to the renouncing of their creativity in the name of searching for perfective life. The passionate denunciation of the injustice of life and the search for truth, person, perfective life, for the Kingdom of God which is not only in heaven but also upon the earth, -- this is a fundamental motif of the Russian literature of the XIX Century. And this was a motif not only social, though it had its social projection, this was a motif likewise religious and metaphysical. Even with the writers of the radically-populist current, with Nekrasov, Schedrin, Gl. Uspensky, the search for the truth of life had meaning not only social, but also religious. The Russian religious problematics of the XIX Century in essence always were far more social, than generally admitted in our thought. The search for the truth of Christ and the Kingdom of God always has a social side. On the other hand, Russian literature was often given too social an interpretation and its religio-metaphysical profundity bypassed. They transformed Gogol into a social satirist during this period, when it was that the metaphysical problem of evil tormented him. He saw more profoundly the falsehood and evil of the transient social forms. Russian literature in general was realistic not in that external sense, which our superficial critics have ascribed to it. It was realistic in the sense of a religious, ontologic realism, a vision of the deepest realities of being and life. And in this sense it was among the most realistic in the world, for to it were revealed the ultimate, the most profound realities of the spiritual world. Gogol was not a realist in the sense of the artistic, aesthetic principle of his creativity. But he saw the reality of evil in the verymost depths of life. The search for true righteousness is a quite indisputable and recognised quality in Russian literature. The whole life of L. Tolstoy was more remarkable even than his teaching, and it was a tormented search for the truth of life. We see this extraordinary and to such a degree unparalleled love of truth with all the genuine Russian writers. It also makes of Chekhov a writer of religious earnestness, despite the desolation of his perception and the vulgarity of deliberative outlooks. Russian literature is the most free of all from the conventional lies of civilisation.
Russian literature ponders deeply and with torment over the fate of man, and it pondered with a religious earnestness. The whole of Russian literature is filled with the religious problematics concerning man, and Dostoevsky attains to an extraordinary acuteness. The problem of man, the problem of religious anthropology is transformed in the Russian consciousness into the problem about the God-man and the man-god, about Christ and the Anti-Christ. Russian literature, the most humane, mankind-loving and sympathetic in the world, sets forth the problem about the religious meaning of humanism and it renders a judgement over humanism. 8 This too is a purely Russian theme. This also is a theme about the end fate of man, an eschatological theme. The eschatologicism of Russian literature is without misgivings, it is oriented towards the end, the limit, the resolution of everything, towards the ultimate destiny. With those writers, whose religious consciousness is most obscured, as for example with Turgenev, the theme concerning human destiny is transformed into a theme about fate, about magical powers, and its peculiar anguish rending the soul. Russian poetry is filled with religious and metaphysical motifs. It was there also in Lermontov, who was perhaps one of the most religious of our poets, creating images with a prayerful poetry. But the most profoundly metaphysical in Russian poetry was Tiutchev. His poetry is filled with metaphysical problematics. He was a poet of the nocturnal element of the world, of the Ungrund. The dark abyss of being, of Dionysian metaphysical powers, reveals itself to him. The creativity of Tiutchev goes out beyond the limits of Apollonism and it is filled with foreboding. For the genuine propheticism, so characteristic to Russian literature, it is necessary to seek not in the political verses of Tiutchev, just as one would not seek it in the articles of Dostoevsky’s “Diary of a Writer”, but rather in the metaphysical verses. In them is not only the sensation of chaos beyond the cosmos, but also the foreboding of a new historical epoch, in which chaos unfolds. Tiutchev, a conservative in accord with his high official position, sensed that possibly it was the onset of an epoch of historical catastrophes. In Russian literature particularly, there was a prophetic foreboding of revolution facing Russia, and possibly the whole world. This was already there in Pushkin and Lermontov. And this revolution was always perceived not only as a political phenomenon, but also a phenomenon metaphysical and religious. This was most clearly so in Dostoevsky. The problem of revolution, as a religious problem, was first set forth in such a depth within Russian literature. With Dostoevsky the revolution is first of all a revolution of spirit, an heaping up of inward dynamite. He presents images of an impending inward revolution, he is an artist of the revolutionary dynamics of life. Tolstoy by contrast is an artist of stabilised forms of life. But his consciousness is destructive and demands the revolutionary restructuring of life. The foreboding of impending revolution in Russian writers takes on an eschatological character and reflects the eschatologicism of our spiritual type. This was possible through the basic groundlessness of our cultural current, through a catastrophic standing over the abyss. Writers in the West poorly understand this. The social-revolutionary frame of mind in its famed period is relatively very grounded in comparison with the Russian eschatological search for truth, with the Russian presentiment of the onset of the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Anti-Christ. The conservative element and the revolutionary element are very strangely interwoven within Russian literature, and it is impossible to apply to it the traditional social categories of the right and of the left. In the most dynamic and revolutionary aspects in Dostoevsky there are conservative elements of the right in his “world-outlook”, and with the most conservative artist Tolstoy there are elements of the revolutionary-anarchistic in his “world-outlook”. Many noted Russian thinkers were monarchists, but their monarchism was something altogether peculiar, and frequently it was a mere pseudonym, screening anarchistic tendencies and religious-revolutionary searchings. The Russian literature of the XIX Century was more “God-tormented” than any other sort of literature in the world, and this torment over God was likewise a torment over man. In this is its greatness and significance for Russian religious thought. The conjoining of the torment concerning God with the torment concerning man makes Russian literature Christian, even then, when in their consciousness Russian writers abjured the Christian faith.
The Russian thought of the XIX Century was very social. The question about social truth tormented it. And it mustneeds be said, that religious motifs and themes were innate to Russian social thought, in it there was a religious agitation and unrest, even when consciously it was anti-religious and external to religion. In the justly true words of Dostoevsky, Russian revolutionaries were not politicians, they were tormented by the question about God, about immortality, the ultimate fate of mankind and the world. At the basis of Russian social visionary thought was lodged the Christian idea. In Russian thought there obtained either the utopia of an ideal autocratic monarchy, or the utopia of an ideal socialist and anarchist current. This monarchy and this socialism had not at all any resemblance to the prosaic monarchies of the West, nor to the prosaic socialism of the West. The ideal monarchy of the Slavophils, or of Bukharev, Dostoevsky, Vl. Solov’ev, of N. Fedorov possessed no semblance to the prosaic monarchy of the Petrine epoch, with the Russian imperialism. Social truth as pravda on the land was to be realised for us the same whether through monarchy or through anarchy, whether through a mystical autocracy or through an atheistic socialism. And then too behind our social utopias was hidden the search for the Kingdom of God. The independent Russian thought of the XIX Century always rose up against the philistine and bourgeois aspects of the West, whether be it on the left with Hertsen, or be it on the right with Leont’ev. Not at all did the Russian thinker uphold the bourgeois and philistine, if he were genuinely Russian, and he always denounced as sinful the bourgeois and philistine in Western civilisation. Russian thinkers far earlier than Spengler made the distinction between culture and civilisation and they recoiled with horror at the image of a triumphant bourgeois civilisation in the Western Europe of the XIX Century. This was an ingrained Russian theme, traditionally rooted in our thought. Russian social thought always attempted to find for Russia a path, which might avoid the developement of capitalism with its inevitable triumph of the philistine and bourgeois. And amidst this, philistinism was always considered by us in its depth as a category spiritual and moral, rather than socio-economic. Thus also it was for the irreligious Hertsen. Philistinism is first of all the negation of the vivid, creatively original person.
Bourgeois virtues never attracted us. Our virtues were oriented to an other, a Divine world or towards a new world to come. Not at all in the Russian ethic were the innately economic-productive virtues. Maximalism was innate to Russian social thought both in its religious, and its anti-religious or pseudo-religious currents. It demanded not a gradual historical toiling, but rather a radical restructuring of the world. N. Fedorov, who defended autocratic monarchy and extended it into the cosmic whole, strove thus towards this, as did also Bakunin, who defended anarchism. Distorted searchings for the Kingdom of God and the righteous-truth (pravda) of God were undoubtedly there also within Russian atheistic socialism and anarchism. The Russian populist movement was full of subconscious religious motifs. Russian nihilism, which became the basis for the world-concept of Russian socialism, was a religious phenomenon. It became possible on the soil of Orthodoxy, it was the result of a lack of disclosure within Orthodoxy of a positive attitude towards culture, of an Orthodox eschatologism. Russian nihilism is the negative side of Russian apocalypsis. The Russian nihilist, just like the Russian apocalyptic, demands a sweeping and all-resolving end. Russian nihilism in the people’s midst had already previously the appearance of extreme forms in the Russian Schism and sectarianism. In the nihilism was a peculiar living-through of an ascetic world-denial, a non-acceptance of the world, as of something based on falsehood and injustice. But nihilism denies the world not in the name of God, but rather in the name of nothing. Belinsky had already set down the basis for Russian nihilism and atheistic socialism; in the name of ecstatic love for man and mankind he was imbued with vile sentiments and prepared to annihilate one part of mankind, in order to make happy its other part. The pure, the austere, ascetically minded and devout youth Dobroliubov becomes a nihilist out of his love for just-truth, out of enmity for falsehood. There was in the psychology of Russian nihilism a strong ascetic element, and only further on did nihilism result in dissolution and debauchery. The “What is to be Done” of Chernyshevsky -- is an untalented, but ascetically moral didactic book, which desires to replace the “Domostroi” with a loftier and more humane morality. Pisarev revolted against beauty, against Pushkin, against art for ascetic motifs, born of those selfsame motives, which compel the Orthodox ascetic to regard these values suspiciously and with contemnation. There is always one sole need, the salvation of the soul for eternal life, or the salvation of people from evil and suffering in earthly life, and this becomes higher than creativity and the values of culture. The utilitarian denial of morality is accomplished in accord with moral motives. The good is adduced to be immoral. The attitude towards the people, towards its sufferings and welfare takes on a religious character. Revolutionaries want to be saviours and they avow themselves saviours. Philosophy, art, contemplative thought are repudiated by them as a self-deception hostile to real deeds, as a luxury impermissible afront the sufferings of the world and the people. Heaven is presented as hostile to earthly just-truth and it is denied out of asceticism, out of abstinence, out of humility. This is a remarkable phenomenon, needing more study. We have here a matter with a graceless, godless asceticism, evidencing to a perversion of religious nature. A boundless social visionary dream took hold in the soul of the Russian Intelligentsia of the second half of the XIX Century, and this was regarded the sole permissible and allowable visionary-dream. Every other visionary-dream was declared sinful. Into this social visionary-dream was invested all the energy of a pent-up and constrained religious feeling. This was religion without a religious object, with an object, unworthy of religious worship, and this religion had fateful consequences, as predicted by Dostoevsky, and we have reaped its fruit in Russian Communism. But to condemn this godless religion of the Intelligentsia those among the Christians dare not, who did nothing for the realisation of Christian just-truth (pravda) in life and who were not capable of suchlike sacrifices. The dream about a perfect social order is a false and tyrannical dream, hostile to the freedom of the human spirit. And the experience of the realising of this dream ought to lead up to a paradox -- to a new dream about an imperfect social order, in which would be allowed a certain freedom of evil, as a condition of the freedom of the good. Russian socialism was a peculiar offspring of our national spirit, in which there were mixed together features positive and lofty with features negative and fateful. This was a distorted form of Russian itinerancy, of Russian wandering on the paths to the New Jerusalem. Russian Communism also is the negative side of the positive Russian searching for just-truth. But also in our social thought was disclosed Russian religious problematics.
Russian religious thought reached its heights in Dostoevsky and in Vl. Solov’ev, and at the very end of the century there appeared the strange figures of V. Rozanov and N. Fedorov, whose main influence was moreso in the XX Century. Our religious thought led up to the positing of the problem of a new religious consciousness and towards the expectation of a new creative epoch within Christianity. The catastrophic outbreak of the Russian Revolution cut short the tradition and it evoked a reaction against the thinkers of the preceding century. This was customary to history. Russian religious thought was not socially influential, though the social problem was never foreign to it. The original current of our national religious thought was overrun by other currents, reactionary and revolutionary. The ideology of the Russian Revolution was not defined by this current, and it was powerless to spiritually halt the growth of the atheistic revolution. The Russian great writers and thinkers foresaw and had forebodings of the Russian Revolution, and its catastrophic potential is anticipated in their thought. But this was a passive propheticism. In opposition to action there was set not action, but thought. The problematics of Russian religious thought in the minds of contemporary generations and generations closest became altered for generations more remote, and for those to come. They merely catch the drift of the problematics of Russian religious thought and sense its vital significance. We meanwhile are going through a period of reaction, a reaction reduced to hostility towards all thought. The Russian religious thought of the XIX Century was not systematic nor perfected in form, it was fragmented and piecemeal. It did not realise itself in full and it remains much in a condition of potentiality. The intuitive visionary-dreams neither unfolded nor transpired. But the significance of this thought is in another area. In it was manifest an extraordinary freedom of spirit, which could be discovered only outside the schools, outside the ingrained tradition. In it was the unrest and agitation, characteristic to pre-revolutionary periods. In it were set forth problems very profound, but they were not always resolved, and sometimes they were resolved erroneously. And chief of all were the problems posited of religious cosmology and religious anthropology, problems concerning man and the world. Within Russian thought transpired the experience of a Christian consideration of the processes of modern history. In it the thought of the Christian East gives response to the thought of the Christian West. Against the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century simultaneously arose both reactionary churchly tendencies and revolutionary atheistic tendencies. But within it for the first time there was formed a tradition of religious philosophy, a tradition begotten within an epoch of groundlessness and the spiritual freedom connected with this groundlessness. Russian thought, both the religious and social thought, was inwardly most free during the epoch of autocratic monarchy, but together with this frequently it was utopian. A paradox in the history of thought consists in this, that thought frequently is inwardly maximally free when on the outside there is maximal constraint. Freedom is as it were needed in the resistance. And God grant, that when there ensues for us a time of greater external freedom, there be also preserved for us the former inner freedom of thought. The Russian nation, now living through a bloody delirium and unprecedented tyranny, can in time settle it out, can discover the solid ground to receive external rights and freedom, it can restore its powers for the arrangement and organisation of civilised life countered to the philistine and bourgeois. But can it preserve in that case those spiritual features, which were disclosed in the Russian literature of the XIX Century and in the creative thought of this century of disorder and woe? Is it possible to affirm, that the Russian nation expressed itself most profoundly in Dostoevsky? This is a very tortuous question for our times. It is always put alongside the question about our external affairs and fortunes. Many features of the XIX Century ought to be surmounted as begotten of the legacy of serfdom. And there ought to be revealed new features -- a discipline of character, the capacity for action, for organisation, a sense of responsibility, and together with this a real understanding of actuality. But always the question remains about the eternal features of the Russian spirit. For the French, the eternal features of the national spirit are connected with the XVII Century; this remains eternally through the present, unaltered by the XVIII Century and revolutions. What will happen with us?
© 2000 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1930 - 345 - en)
O KHARAKTERE RUSSKOI RELIGIOZNOI MYSLI XIX-GO BEKA. In journal Sovremennye zapiski, 1930, No. 42, p. 309-343.
1 Of the hierarchs of the Church can also be mentioned Archbishop Innokentii, intellectual, refined and comparatively free.
2 In the Spiritual Academies [upper level seminaries] there was almost no creative theology, but there was much of value in a scientific sense.
3 Another accusation against Solov’ev contradicts this point -- that of the purely catholic (i.e. universalist) character of his thought.
4 It otherwise mustneeds be mentioned, that the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas was uniquely a Christian humanism.
5 Kohmyakov expressed his genius-inspired theological intuitions in polemical articles. His “Notes on World History”, gathered in three volumes, -- is comprised of rough drafts.
6 The life of Bukharev was very tragic: he was an archimandrite, but left monasticism and married, though he remained fervently Orthodox. He was subjected to harassment and for a long time he went totally unacknowledged.
7 St. Thomas Aquinas, as in general also the Scholastics, were poorly known and incorrectly understood by us. The intellectualism of Thomas Aquinas is not rationalism, in the same sense, as this word was used during the XIX Century.
8 Gogol was perhaps the sole Russian great writer, for whom there was a lack of love for man, and whose humanness was impaired by the consciousness of evil and falsehood. He is a most enigmatic and dismal of Russian writers.
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