N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
The Scientific Discipline of Religion
and Christian Apologetics
(1927 – #318)
Our Orthodox apologetics has always been rather backwards and less worked through, than the apologetics of the Christian confessions of the West. Our apologetics lacked an alertness to the mental and spiritual temptations of their times. They were refuting materialism, when it was that Kantianism held sway with minds, they refuted Kantianism, when theosophy and pseudo-mystical currents had begun to take hold upon minds, they thundered at L. Tolstoy, when the moral consciousness was enthralled instead with Nietzsche. The Russian Orthodox, protected by the state and the bundled-up in the flesh of a stable lifestyle, were not wont to show any great sensitivity to the intellectual movements in the world, they did not have to engage in the fights, which Western Christianity had to deal with. The weaponry was not hammered out, since it was needless to fight. But now Russian Orthodoxy enters into a completely new era, when Russian Orthodox people in all regards would do best to arm and prepare themself for battle. They happen now to live amidst an hostile Christian world, amidst refined intellectual currents, which strive to abase and cast down Christianity. New methods of apologetics are necessary, which will not leave the Christian faith defenseless against the assaults upon its past limited competency in scientific knowledge. And the most acute issue here is not the clash of the Christian world-concept with the sciences concerning nature, with the natural sciences, but rather the clash with the historical sciences, with the scientific discipline concerning religion, with the history of religion. It is not so difficult to refute the objections against the possibility of miracles and revelation, it is not so difficult to defend on principle the existence of an other, a supernatural world and the spiritual experience bound up with it. It is not science that pounces upon religion, only rather a poor philosophy. But there is a sphere, in which science and religion meet and clash on one and the same territory — this is the sphere of history. Christianity is the revelation of God within history. At a certain historical time, at a certain point in the historical process the Son of God appeared upon the earth. They saw Him with their eyes, they touched Him with their hands. Herein is where history itself takes on a metaphysical meaning. Two planes of being become contiguous and intersect. Through scientific investigations regarding the origin and history of Christianity one is wont to say, that this is an holy place, and it issues forth from the customary natural order of being. The old methods of apologetics, governing the seminaries and spiritual academies, both the Orthodox as well as the Catholic, tend to hit here upon difficulties, not only of a scientific order, but also a religious. Only those Christian apologetics can be fruitful, which get out beyond the differences and delimitations of the two orders of being, of the two worlds, our earthly natural world and the heavenly spiritual world. The Bible includes not only the religious revelation, but also an ancient scientific encyclopedia of mankind, of astronomy, geology, biology, archeology, the history of the childhood of mankind. And it is necessary to separate apart decisively the absolute character of the religious revelation of the Bible from the relative conditional science of the Bible. The Book of Genesis (Bytie) brings into focus the consciousness of mankind on two planes — the heavenly and the earthly, the eternal and the temporal, the spiritual and the natural, — all these things were mixed together thus, that what happened in the other world, was presented as happening in this world. Our natural world as it were had still not solidified and its boundaries had not been defined legibly. The example of the Fall into sin further elucidates, what I want to say. In the Book of Genesis the Fall into sin of the first man Adam is described as an event, transpiring within our expanse of space and time, upon our earth, at some definite geographic locale. This event is explained naturalistically, as an original initial moment within the history of our natural world. In such manner a direct natural line connects the event in Paradise — the Sin-Fall, with the present-day world history. Suchlike a naive realism and naturalism creates, certainly, innumerable difficulties not only from a scientific, but also from a religious point of view. It remains totally inconceivable, how the Original Sin with its inescapable consequences could poison all the whole human race and all the whole world. The Original Sin is likened to a fatal naturally inherited trait. But the whole of mankind could not have had a share in it. Adam was only one single man, from whom the human race descended through natural birth. Amidst such a point of view clearly the two planes are jumbled together. The Biblical account can be conceived more at depth only as a symbolisation upon the plane of this natural world, a symbolisation of what occurred pre-worldly, in the spiritual plane of being, in heaven. And this primal spiritual event has determined the course of our world process. Our time, our spatial expanse, resulting in the materiality of our natural world is begotten of the pre-worldly Fall into sin, not of one man alone, but of all mankind, and of all the world, comprised within Adam Kadmon. The new methods of Christian apologetics ought radically to surmount the naive realism and naturalism, to strive to grasp the symbolism in the Bible and delimit the two planes. We shall see, how this will also be important amidst a possible clash of the historical science of religion and the Christian faith. The historical exegesis, the scientific investigation of the origins of Christianity tempts more the modern consciousness, than it does the natural sciences, or philosophy. A vivid example of this is Alfred Loisey, whose faith the historical investigations put an end to.
Religious science has always in essence found itself under very unfavourable conditions for objective investigation. For a long time the scientific investigation of the religious life of mankind, Christianity especially, was forbidden. Concerning the religious past of mankind they want to know only about that, which Church tradition taught. Scientific knowledge seemed impossible in regard to sacred things. The fundamentals of a Biblical critique were laid down by Spinoza in his “Theologo-Political Tractate”, which aroused indignation. When the Catholic monk Richard Simon in XVII Century France attempted to posit the basis of an historical investigation of the Bible, it met with sharp resistance on the part of Bossuet, who as it were had a presentiment, that this would finish off the Renaissance. And historical science indeed is a creation of the XIX Century. The XVIII Century had not yet penetrated into the historical mystery and had not worked out the methods of historical criticism. While Christian mankind lived still in a direct organic condition and in accord with tradition, when there had not yet arisen a cognitive reflection, the time for a religious science still had not yet come. And indeed the rise of a science concerning religion had external hindrances upon its path. Freedom of investigation was acceptable neither in the Catholic world, nor in the Orthodox world. There prevailed very naive forms of the old apologetics, as a substitute for science. But there then ensued a new epoch, an era of free critique and free investigation, when the tempting sphere of the prohibited became accessible for free cognition, when cognitive reflection became limitless. One might imagine, that the time had ensued for the rise of an objective science concerning religion. But this view is superficial and inaccurate. The science concerning religion in the XIX Century was neither objective nor dispassionate, it came under the grip of a negative apologetics, an apologetics of non-belief. Bursting forth to freedom for scientific investigation of religion and Christianity were quite extreme forms of negative criticism. The investigations upon the origins and history of Christianity on principle would not admit of the possibility of revelation or miracle, nor of the activity of the Holy Spirit within history, and they were prepared to go to the most unbelievable mental contortions, they devised the most implausible explanations, in order to render intelligible the mystery of Christianity and its role in history, as a mere natural fact. It is perfectly clear, that the denial of the fact of revelation or the possibility of miracles cannot be the result of scientific-historical investigation. This denial precedes the investigation process itself and is the result of a false and negative faith, of a false and negative philosophy. The historical science concerning religion tended to arrogate to itself to decide not only the scientific question, but also the religious question, to decide the question, Who is Christ. After this, when historical criticism opened up the issue of interpolations, a genuine craze over it ensued. Everywhere they began to see things as later insertions and by this path they laid waste the Holy Scriptures. The degree of scientificness they began to measure by the degree of negativeness. They wanted to push to the limit the freedom of criticism, the freedom of the denial of sanctity and tradition. And apparently the human mind had to pass through this experience, this testing. Freedom had to be put to the test. Negative apologetics defined itself not only by investigation into the history of Christianity, but also by investigation into the history of religion in general.
With the scientific investigation of religion there occurred an astonishing thing. They began scientifically to investigate the religious life only after this, only after they had already ceased to believe in its reality. The science concerning religion does not believe in the reality of its subject-matter, it considers it illusory. The investigators of the religious experience of mankind during the XIX and XX Centuries do not believe in its relevance to real being, do not believe in its authenticity. The tasks of the science concerning religion have come to seem but investigations into the principles of the rise of religious illusions, of the self-deceptions of man. True, the teachings of the XIX and XX Centuries no longer think in the terms, that the “enlighteners” of the XVIII Century thought in, that religion was devised by the priests for their own greedy ends, they do not think at present such teachings, as that “religion is the opium of the people”. The representatives of the science concerning religion are prepared even to admit, that religious illusions were very fruitful and played a positive social role in the history of peoples, that the myth-creating process helped them to live and made for spiritual developement. But all the same, the historians of religion, — relativists principally, made their work a negative apologetics, they wrought an “unmasking” and uncovered an abyss of emptiness within the history of the human spirit. Initially they thought it naive, that mankind was living a real and authentic spiritual life. Then they began to think, that the spiritual life of mankind is illusory, that it is not some sort of primal-reality, but rather an epiphenomenon, a reflection of some sort of vital processes, qualitatively distinct from spirituality. At the far end of such a sort of unmasking, toppling over the spiritual life of mankind into the abyss of the void, there appears the theory of economic materialism. At any rate the fundamental and principal question confronting the science of religion, appears to be the question: is religion some sort of primal qualitative reality or is it an epiphenomenon of other things, non-religious processes, regardless of whether they be but legitimate illusions or delusions of consciousness? Certain historians of religion are distressed by the question about making a non-reality, of apparitions, the object of their investigation. Durkheim thus concludes his remarkable and valuable book, devoted to investigation of the elementary forms of the religious life, with an expression of such a sort of disquiet.1 Is it possible that no sort of reality corresponds to religious beliefs and representations, is it possible for all this to be an empty void to be covered over? In the character of sociology not only as a specialty, but also as a world-outlook (sociology herein for it substitutes for theology), it acknowledges as the primal-reality, which is revered in the various beliefs and the totemic cult, — to be society. From society derives the life of people, it is the source of nourishment, the source of power, it bestows its own blessing upon people. The individuum ought to subordinate itself to society, to acknowledge its sacredness. Without this, the life of the human race cannot develope. But Durkheim as it were fails to note, that amidst this the object of the science concerning religion remains non-real, it is merely an epiphenomenon of the life of society, and that all this conception is in principle identical to economic materialism. It becomes perfectly clear, that the science concerning religion is of a period of negative criticism bearing upon itself the imprint of “enlightenment”, and that the negative apologetics, having permitted itself to be based upon false premises, is a false methodology. The science concerning religion has done much, it has frighteningly expended the sphere of our knowledge, it has dug up and classified an enormous quantity of material, but the mysteries of the religious inner life have eluded it. The extremely interesting book of Levy-Bruhl, “Les fonctions mentales dans le societes inferieures”, is likewise instructive in this regard. The world-outlook of Levy-Bruhl himself stands much lower than the world-outlook of the savages investigated by him. But his merit is in this, that he perceived the foreignness and incomprensibility of the mindset of the primitives for the modern logico-rationalist consciousness, which Taylor and Frazer failed to understand. Levy-Bruhl considers the mindset of the savage as rooted in the mystical and grounded upon loi de participation, i.e. in a participation in the object, in a communing with it.
We believe, that Christianity is absolute truth and absolute power, and that the Meaning revealed within Christianity, appertains as the ultimate word within being. But because of this namely we ought not to be afraid of freedom of investigation and critique. Every external limiting of this freedom, which characterises the Christianity of the past, was undignified and it has produced consequences directly counter-productive. It is necessary not to place limits to the freedom of investigation, not outwardly to limit it, but the rather to inwardly comprehend amidst whatever the conditions that an investigation should be something fruitful and actively be a mastery of its object, with a penetration into its mystery and mystical aspects. And here first of all it mustneeds be realised, that an investigation is more likely to be fruitful, if it acknowledges the reality of its object. For a long time it was thought, that for the knowledge of a religious object especially conducive and a guarantee of objectivity would be the complete absence of religious experience on the part of the knowing subject; yet this is a complete insensitivity to the mystery of religious life, a non-acceptance towards the especial quality of religious life. And in such a sort of mental framework and spiritual disposition was written the notorious quasi-scientific history of religion, the “Orpheus” of Salomon Reinach, which is intended as a pamphlet against Christianity and against religion in general. Not by chance is this flippant booklet strewn with citations from Voltaire.2 Serious teachings and philosophers especially do not entertain such a sort of flippant understanding of the necessary premises for the investigation of religion. And in any case they acknowledge the necessity of a sympathetic feel for one’s subject. Max Mueller, one of the founders of the science concerning religion, was able to do much work in this area, only because he had an instinctive feel for the religious life of mankind, an empathy for it. And indeed no one in their right mind would recommend matters of aesthetics and the history of art to a man, bereft of aesthetic sensitivity and incapable of distinguishing beauty. Such a sort of aesthetic idiotism would be, certainly, very inconducive for knowledge in this area. It would likewise be impossible to recommend concerns of the investigation of the moral life to a man, bereft of the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and insensitive to moral experiences and moral valuations. But why then the religious idiotism, i.e. the inability to discern and recognise the religious object, the religious reality, for a long time considered the conducive premise for its objective investigation? This has to be recognised, since the science concerning religion posits itself the aims of an apologetics of non-belief. In regard to religion there cannot be a perfect neutrality. And beneathe the guise of a scientific objectivity there is customarily cloaked a militant struggle against Christianity. In essence and on principle it remains inconceivable, why someone having religious experience should be less capable to judge about it, than someone not possessing it, why someone having a spiritual life should be less capable to know of it, than someone not having it? It is necessary to have a spiritual sense of sight, in order to catch sight of and recognise the spiritual object. For someone lacking the spiritual sense of sight is the same thing, as being doomed to flit about on the surface and on superficialities, to see only the facade of an house, and not its inward life. This is elementary and clear for everyone, except for those whose aim is to show, that the religious object is not real, that the spiritual life is only an epiphenomenon. But the negative apologetics tends to employ everything for its own ends. Even the sphere of the uncovering of the subconscious, so important for the expansion of our knowledge and for the surmounting of rationalism, is employed for negative apologetics. For investigators on the type of Delacroix it seems clear, that when they denigrate mystical and religious experience to subconscious and magical desires, they attain to a psychological explanation of mystical and religious life, rendering unnecessary any admission of the reality of the mystico-religious object.3 But an objective philosophy ought to acknowledge, that the religiosity of the cognitive subject, its participation in religious experience, is conducive for the cognition of the religious object. And it ought to admit, that the singular quality of a religious experiencing of the Divine is prior to any totemism, fetishism etc, i.e. that what is religious is a priori.
I want to dwell here on two problems of the science concerning religion, which present difficult tasks for Christian apologetics, — the problem of the relationship of pagan religions to Christianity, and the problem of the life of Jesus Christ. The history of religion, both as to its origins and also culture, has made tremendous gains in the last few decades. It suffices but to mention such names, as Max Mueller, Robertson Smit [William Robertson Smith], [Edward] Taylor, Frazer, E. Rhode, in order to understand, how much has been done in this area. The history of the pre-Christian religions has been revealed in a new light. And the old seminary point of view on paganism, as a darkness into which penetrates not a single beam of Divine light, as a demonic proclivity, has become untenable. The Providence of God was active not only in the Hebrew people, but also in all the peoples. Even within paganism there was a revelation of the Divine, though dimly and of the natural element. The first Christian apologists were already struck by the similarity of the mysteries of Mithras, a religion concurrent with Christianity [during the late Roman Empire], with that of the Christian mysteries, the Christian liturgy. Certain of these apologists attempted to get out of the difficulty by suggesting, that the demons had inspired within the religion of Mithras an imitation of Christianity, in order to muddle the meaning and forestall the acceptance of the purity of Christianity. But the history of the pre-Christian religions has shown, that in paganism there was a suffering god, a redeemer god, a god torn asunder by the powers of this world, which after dying and being resurrected grants life to those, who commune in his mysteries. Suchlike suffering gods were Osiris, Adonis, Attis, Dionysos. The similarities of the mysteries of Osiris with the Christian liturgy is striking.4 That which had seemed the exclusive merit of Christianity, was shown instead to be present in the pagan religions. The history of religion at first impression as to origins diminishes the originality of Christianity. Already the pre-civilised knew the concept of grace — as mana. Already in the primordial religion of totemism there was a sort of totemistic eucharist, a communing of the flesh and blood of the totemic animal. And this communion bestowed a graced power. The ancient Mexicans already knew of a transubstantiation and the transforming of bread into body.5 The brilliant works of Frazer in particular make for the tempting undermining of the originality of Christianity. Frazer loves to point out, that in the pre-Christian religions there was already present all the elements, later to be borrowed by Christianity. The idea of a god incarnated into a man was an idea familiar to the savages. Osiris, Adonis, Attis were all personifications of a perishing and rebirth of life in a god, who dies and is resurrected. The striving for a spiritual rebirth is connected with the yearning to promote the vegetative process, the productive harvest. Adonis — is the spirit of bread. The pagan religions knew their own version of Christmas-like nativities and Pascha-like resurrections. They would kill the divine animal and by this they enhanced its totemic power. The ancient pagan world was filled with a thirst for redemption and eucharist, with a thirst for a resurrection through death. All the pagan cults were full of this. I have come across pious and strongly Orthodox people, who were left in the greatest perplexity in having read some book or other on totemism, and they were unable to find the wherewithal to defend the originality of Christianity. A large portion of the books on the history of religion, besides the elements of an objective-scientific nature, secretly contain in them or even openly wish to show, that Christianity is not original and that everything in it is a borrowing from the pagan religions. At one point in time there was a strong enthusiasm for Pan-Babylonianism and everything was considered a borrowing from Babylon. The myth about Christ the Redeemer was thought to be but a reworking of the pre-Christian solar myth. Krishna was already of a type with the Son of God. In the Persian eschatology, which had a defining influence upon Jewish eschatology and apocalyptics, there was already given all the fundamentals of Christian eschatology. The Revelation of St. John is very reminiscent of Persian apocalyptics, in which likewise was depicted a final battle between a good and an evil god. The very idea of the devil, evidently, is of Persian origin. In the higher forms of the Greek religion, in Orphism, in the Orphic Mysteries, to a remarkable degree it seems to have excelled over Christianity. The principles, which had been put forward as exclusively Christian, are thus shown to be universal and cosmic, everywhere present. But there mustneeds be a new point of view, a new perspective, in order to turn about the results of the science of religion to the defense of Christianity and its glorification. It is first of all necessary to acknowledge the absoluteness and universality of Christianity. Christianity is not merely one of many religions, perchance the highest, alongside with which there exists a whole series of other religions. Christianity does not exist alongside with other religions, with the pagan religions, with Buddhism, with the Jewish religion, with Mahometanism, not merely one of many all-concurrent. Christianity is the religion of religions, as Schleiermacher expressed it, the universal religion, including within it all the fullness of religious revelations. There exists nothing besides Christianity, everything else is its inferior. All the pre-Christian religious revelations external to Christianity within the history of mankind — are but subordinate parts of the Christian revelation, only separate rays of that solar light, which ultimately poured forth in Christianity. There are theosophic truths, when they speak about the existence of a single world religion and seeing light in all religions, but they vulgarise this truth and bestow upon it a false syncretic meaning. The single world religion is the Christian religion, taken in all its concrete fullness. All else is inferior to the Christian light. Everything in the religious life of mankind is but a preparation or foreshadowing of the Christian revelation. The pagan world was filled with these preparations and presentiments. People thirsted for redemption and salvation and they expressed this in their cults. In paganism there was light, there was a thirst for the divine and for immortality. And in a certain sense it can be said, that paganism was likewise an Old Testament of sorts for mankind. In the views of Schelling and Vl. Solov’ev it is not, that they have become partially outmoded and no longer correspond to our present level of knowledge as regards the history of religion, but rather that they had in them an undying religio-philosophic truth. The position, which asserts an history of religion hostile to Christianity, can be turned round and become a source of glory for Christianity. Christianity is not a mere borrowing from paganism of its basic principles — redemption, eucharist, grace, but rather that the pagan religions were a searching and presentiment of that, which ultimately was revealed and realised within Christianity. The myth about redemption, about a suffering god, about dying and a resurrection, finds its ultimate realisation in the appearance of Christ — the redeemer and Saviour. Christ also is the ultimate realisation of the solar myth, the appearance of the son to the world, the realisation of that which the pagan peoples mythologically sought for and had presentiment of — is what we should say, as Christians. The fundamental truths of Christianity were revealed already to paganism, but dimly, distortedly, naturalistically, pervaded by the natural elements. The pagan mysteries of antiquity remained however but naturalistic mysteries, they could not break out from the immanent cycle of nature. In Dionysianism, a religion of deliverance, man sought for salvation, becoming divine in his nature and with the attaining of immortality through an orgiast ecstasy and communion with an impersonal and elemental nature. The boundary limits of individuality are thus removed and in the perishing of the person man sought for deliverance from the limitedness and grief of this world. The salvation of the person, the discovering of eternal life was not attained for it. The becoming divine was at the price of the complete loss of the person. And in the natural order of being nothing else could possibly be attained. But in Dionysianism there was a genuine thirst for deliverance, there was a seeking of life both divine and immortal. Dionysianism, the source of mystical religiosity in Greece, was full of presentiments and foretypes. In Orphism, the barbaric elements of Dionysianism were ennobled by the Hellenic genius for form, it attains to an high degree of spirituality and provides a breakthrough for spirituality. And upon this basis is begotten the greatest manifestation of the Greek genius — the philosophy of Plato, penetrated throughout by the Orphic Mysteries.6
But only in Christianity does the supernatural and spiritual power conquer the endlessly inescapable cycle of elemental nature and free man from demonolatreia, devil worship, afflicting the ancient world. The Christian religion sets man free from the grip of the spirits and demons of nature, it saves the person for eternal life. Christianity realised that for which the ancient world sought in its mysteries. The pagan mysteries of a suffering god were akin to the natural dying-off and spring-time resuscitation of life, they wanted to realise within the natural order that, which Christianity realises by the graced power of God. Already within totemism there dawns a light, which ultimately shines forth in Christianity. The universality of an eucharist, which did exist in the pagan world at the dawn of the religious life of mankind, does not refute the truth of Christianity, and indeed but the rather supports it. The whole world was making its way towards Christ, towards the authentic Eucharist revealed within Christianity, it sought Christ and the Redemption by Christ already back in the mysteries of Osiris and Adonis, not perceiving whereof it was going. In paganism there was a genuine piety. And it was not only the demons that revealed themselves to the pagan peoples and lacerated them, there was also a Divine light revealed to them, the Divinity was revealed in nature and in the fatal course of national life. But only to the Hebrew nation, through the prophets, was there given a direct foreseeing of the appearance of Christ and a straight-forward movement towards Him. But in all the peoples there was a prophetic presentiment and foresight, that there had to be a Redemption and Salvation of the world. and actually the results, garnered by the science of religion, serve to affirm the absoluteness and universality of Christianity. But in order to comprehend this, it is necessary to transform the methods of Christian apologetics, it is necessary to free oneself of the limiting provincialism characteristic of the old apologetics, it is necessary to have the perspective of world horizons. Christianity had to be something maximally repulsed by paganism, it had to manifest an heroic struggle against nature, against the dominion of the cosmic forces, of the cosmic infinity over the human soul. And in that period it was natural to see in paganism only the workings of demons. But that period has expired, and we long since already live in an atmosphere of the decay of the once formerly heroic mindset. Completely inevitable is the rise within Christianity of a different attitude towards paganism, i.e. in an ultimately different attitude towards the cosmos and its secrets. The science concerning religion helps in transforming this attitude. But it bears upon it the imprint of the limitedness of the evolutionism of the XIX Century. Hidden from it remains the truth about the primordial revelations of mankind, about the ancient wisdom. The evolutionary science concerning religion considers the savage state, its beliefs and forms, as the point of emergence of the spiritual life of mankind, which has its antecedents in the darkness of the bestial world. But the savage state is that of fallen man, a distortion of the image and likeness of God. In the depths of time, time itself intersects with eternity, our world intersects with another world. In the history of the world there were two processes — a diminishing of revelation, a weakening of the Divine light in the measure that this fallen world grew hardened in its callousness, but there is also an exiting from the darkness, an intensification of the Divine light, a growth of revelation. This remains hidden a perspective as regards evolutionary science. But in principle there was light also, and not only darkness, and it was by the glimmerings of this light that people lived.
I shall move on now to another problem, and for the Christian consciousness immeasurably more vexing. The investigations about the life of Jesus Christ, which generated an enormous literature in the last century as to the origins of Christianity, presents very difficult tasks for Christian apologetics, with which it is not always capable of dealing with, while employing false methods. We do not see any direct progress in this area of investigation. Herein there all the time occurs a movement forwards and backwards, there are revisions of points of view and almost no sort of firm and stable scientific gains. The consciousness of European man from the XIX and XX Centuries, having lost his Christian faith, is very tormented by the problem of Jesus, the mystery of Jesus. The workings of thought over this problem is with an extraordinary intensity. And the unbelieving man of the Christian world remains deeply agitated by the question, Who is Christ? And this agitation nowise resembles the agitation over other scientific problems. The issue is in this, that in the investigations about Jesus Christ there are combined and uncritically jumbled together the scientific-knowledge interests with the religious interests. They thus try to decide scientifically a religious question. And since scientifically to decide a religious question is in principle impossible, then in these sort of investigations there is always the feeling of hopelessness and impotence. The scientific investigations about Jesus Christ and about the origins of Christianity sprouted up upon the soil of liberal and rationalistic Protestantism. These investigations, which have led to extreme forms of negativity, all had still nonetheless a religious wellspring. The Protestants, who have done the most for these investigations, do not hide their religious and not only scientific interest regarding this problem.7 Harnack, one of the choreographers of liberal Protestantism, seeks to try to define the very essence of Christianity, with which he is unable to break himself free, with the help of a scientifico-historical investigation. Suchlike positings of the question have also rendered liberal Protestantism into a religion of the professors. Protestantism in its origins repudiated the Holy Tradition of the Church, leaving only the Holy Scripture. With this it cleared the way for a critique of tradition, for a free investigation. But by this path it led also to a devastating of Holy Scripture, which is only but a part of Holy Tradition. And by this, Protestantism has deprived itself of the possibility to posit religiously the question about Jesus Christ, about its mystery, about the mystery of the origin of Christianity.
It is possible to ascertain two totally opposite currents in the investigations of the problem of Jesus Christ. Both these currents arise from the denial of the integral wholeness of the mystery of the God-Manhood of Jesus Christ, but they arrive at results completely opposite. And these clever paths of investigation teach nothing more, go nowhere, gain nothing more. With the God-Man — Jesus Christ, there occurs no meeting on either of these paths. The one path led to a denial of the reality of Christ, i.e. of the Divine Nature, with a readiness to admit only the diminished reality of the man Jesus. The other path led to a denial of the reality of Jesus, i.e. of the human nature, with a readiness to admit Christ as the Logos, as a God never having lived upon the earth. The original investigators of the life of Jesus Christ, smothered with the rationalistic enlightenment of the XVIII Century, wanted to free the Gospel history from the elements of the miraculous, they gave ridiculous rationalistic explanations for the miracles, they tried to harmonise the history of the life of Jesus Christ in accord with their own rationalistic mindset. From this shallow rationalism D[avid] Strauss set free the Leben Jesu-Forschung, the life of Jesus-Research, having introduced the concept of the myth-creating process. This was his tremendous merit. But he already represents an altogether different line. The Protestant critique, not having altogether broken with Christianity, attempted to salvage the remnants of the historical reality of Jesus, of Jesus as a great religious teacher, and upon this shaky foundation they wanted to base their own rationalistic and moralistic Christianity. In suchlike manner they arrived at the reality of Jesus, while having completely become torn asunder from the reality of Christ. Such is the Christianity of Harnack, a remarkable historian, but a weak thinker. In Germany there was written an enormous literature, devoted to the riddle of the mystery of Jesus. But it failed to face the riddle of this mystery, since the rationalism from the start repudiated the God-Manhood of Jesus Christ, it repudiated the hypostatic union of the two natures within the single Person, i.e. the sole path towards resolving the enigma of this mystery. Everything is shaky and unreliable in the investigation of the earthly life of Jesus. Nowhere is it possible to find a firm footing. They have lost hold of the very paths for catching sight of the historical reality of Jesus Christ, since these paths lay not in the objective sphere, not in the outwardly perceptive historical plane. The very origins of Christianity, the very rise of the faith in Christ the Redeemer and Saviour, is inexplicable via the pathways of historical investigation. And so the keen of thought have attempted to go by other paths. If the one path has led to a denial of the reality of Christ, then the other path has led to a denial of the reality of Jesus. And this involves the ballyhooed mythologic method.
The denial of the historical reality of Jesus Christ does not present anything especially new. This thought was already expressed in the XVIII Century by the historian of religion Dupuy, asserting that Christ is the solar myth. They answered him in objection at the time, by defending the no less brilliant hypothesis, that Napoleon — is the solar myth. And more than once later on there was a return to thoughts about the mythological character of Christ. The most serious in significance is D. Strauss, who attempted to reconstruct the life of Jesus, starting out with the premise, that within the Christian community there occurred a myth-creating process. But he did not derive thence the radical conclusions. The mythological theory always starts out from the premise, that the Gospel itself represents not historical accounts about the life of Jesus Christ, but rather theological and mystical tracts, expressions of the beliefs of the Christian community, accounts about the God the community lived for. This point of view represents an indisputable step forward in comparison with the rationalistic theories. It turns attention upon the creative religious process within the religious collective. The mythological theory became very popular with those, who wanted to inflict a blow upon the Christian faith. This seemed the most radical and most irrefutable objection against Christianity, in comparison with which all the other remaining objections seemed weak and ineffectual. There began a concurrent radical denial of the historicity of Jesus Christ. There appeared the works of Robertson Smith and others. The life of Jesus in the style of Renan receded into the past, a belletristic fiction. But the greatest sensation was caused by Drews in radically denying the existence of Jesus Christ, and seeing in Him only an ancient myth.8 Drews was neither an historian nor an original researcher, he relies chiefly upon the works of Smith. Drews — is a philosopher of the Hartmann school. In his capacity as an Hartmannist, he preaches a religion of pure spirit. And he fights against the historicity of Jesus Christ in the name of a religion of spirit, he contends against the religious materialism which he detests. He is prepared to admit the existence of Christ, as the Logos. But for him the Logos never could have been incarnated into a man upon the earth, within earthly history. The religious materialism of Christianity is a legacy inherited from Judaism, it is a Semitic graft, and Drews in his capacity as a religious anti-Semite, struggles against this materialistic Semitic graft for the religious life of Aryanism, expressing itself in its purest guise in India. Drews, just like E. Hartmann, is a resolute antagonist against Protestantism and the religion of Jesus. For him Jesus was not real, in the metaphysical sense that Christ is real. He is the opposite antipode to Harnack, a result of the splitting apart of the God-Man — the polar opposite to the Jesusism of the Protestants. He himself is steeped in the Christian mythology.9 A final expression of the denial of the historical reality of Jesus Christ appears in a brilliant book by Couchoud.10 Couchoud is even less the historical researcher, than Drews. He is moreso the artist, employing very vivid expression for a most extreme denial of the historical reality of Jesus. Having denied the reality of Jesus, he is prepared in a certain sense to admit the reality of Christ, as a god, as a spiritual existent. For him the Gospel is not an historical book, but rather a mystical book. There exists the pre-Christian Christ. Christ is not solar myth, but rather a spiritual existent, a god, by which ecstatically lived the early Christian community. The perspective of Couchoud is peculiar to the gnosticism and docetism of modern man. Couchoud regards Christianity with great esteem, almost enthusiasm, he is not hostile to it as is Drews, and he is ready to see in Christianity the greatest thing, created in the history of mankind. The early Christian community lived in its spiritual mystery and only later everything began gradually to decline into the merely human and material. The basic thought of Couchoud is very sharply expressed in the words: “Jesus n’est pas un homme progressivement divinise, c’est un Dieu progressivement humanise”. This modern form of the euhemeristic11 within antiquity customarily has felt, that the great religious teacher Jesus was gradually regarded as Divine by the Christian community, believing in Him, and it transformed Him into the God-Christ. An analogous process occurred with Buddha. But Couchoud expresses a thought directly the opposite to this. The man Jesus never existed, and there are no sort of historical facts, substantiating his existence, for all the facts are mythological. But the spiritual existent, dwelling in Heaven, the god ecstatically experienced by the early Christian religious community, was gradually humanised, and came to seem a living being upon the earth acting within history. Couchoud also suggests that Christians not abandon their faith, but instead have the bravery to admit, that God does not depend upon the material world, upon the historically empirical, that he is spiritual and heavenly, i.e. he proposes a return to the unique gnostic docetism, which unexpectedly was revived as a result of the historical investigations into the life of Jesus Christ. A certain Protestant exegete, Goguel, made a whole series of fundamental historical objections against Couchoud and tried to defend scientifically the historical reality of Jesus.12
The apologeticists of Christianity are quite afraid of the mythological theory, denying as it does the historical reality of Jesus Christ. I want to defend the completely opposite point of view. The denial of the reality of Jesus Christ, derived as a result of scientific-historical researches, has also its own positive significance. through this there is discovered the helplessness of historical science in resolving “the riddle of Jesus”. A biography of Jesus Christ by means of historical science cannot be written, as there are no historical materials for it which can be acknowledged as indisputable, from the point of view of the customary methods of historical criticism. All the materials for the life of Jesus Christ can readily be suggested as the product of the myth-creating process, transpiring within the Christian community, the result of the theological thought of this community. The non-Christian sources, whether Jewish or Roman, are completely inconsequential, and there are moreover almost none. A customary argument in use for the non-historicity of Jesus Christ is the at first glance strange fact, that Josephus Flavius, a competent contemporary, who quite well knew both the Jewish world and the Roman world, says nothing about Jesus Christ, assuming we disregard a small fragment, irrelevantly inserted and producing the impression of an evident textual interpolation. There are no sort of any non-Christian testimonies concerning Jesus Christ, which would allow for the possibility of reconstructing his life, and it is impossible to find any such among the Roman writers. This is thus very tempting. And the objections, which usually are made by Christian apologists, by Christianity’s Christian historians against these historical issues, produces a quite strained impression scientifically unimpressive. As regards method, it is impossible to conduct an historical investigation, if beforehand there are imposed obligatory results for the investigation. Historical research can only be a free research. But the freedom of this investigation does not of itself yet guarantee the veracity of the results, since this freedom can be impelled by a false spiritual mindset underlying it. The historical researching of Christianity has also been a trial of probity for the human freedom of investigation, through which it was necessary to undergo. But there was a jumbling together of the two planes of being and the two methodologies of research, it was both among the apologists of belief and the apologists of non-belief. The truthfulness of faith cannot be dependent upon either the positive or the negative results of historical research, it has its own absolute wellspring. This is not with the intent to assert a system of twofold truth, which ought to be overcome, but it ought to be overcome by another path, than has happened up to now. When historical science approaches the “riddle of Jesus”, then it is requisite upon it to say: this is an hallowed place. And indeed science itself senses this and expresses this in its helplessness, in its tossing about from one extreme to the other.
A great accomplishment of the science of religion was in the establishing of the position, that within the religious collective there transpires a myth-creative process. This is a positive step forward for both the history of pre-Christian religion and the history of the Christian religion. The myth-creative process has occurred both in the primitive clan worshipping its totem, and within the Christian community. This objective scientific position by no means pre-decides nor prejudices the question, whether the myth-creating process is bound up with realities, or is illusory and unreal. I think, that the philosophy of religion ought first of all to acknowledge, that myth is reality, that mythologic thought is more in touch with being, than thinking via the conceptual. Science possesses no sort of grounds nor rights to regard myth as fictitious, as contrary to reality. Science fails to understand the ultimate meaning of its accomplishment, when it says, that within the religious collective there occurs a myth-creating process. What does this mean, if it be carried over into a religious language, into the language of Christian faith? For us, as Christians, the religious collective is the Church, and the myth-creative process within it is the dynamic life of churchly tradition, in which we come into touch with the profoundest realities, hidden from the sensory sight directed at the empirical, i.e. hidden from historical science. The absolute reality of the God-Man Jesus Christ is a given within the Holy Tradition of the Church, within the spiritual experience of the Church. Only within the Church is seen the integral wholeness of the visage of Jesus Christ, in which Jesus and Christ, man and God cannot be divided apart. The absolute reality, the integrally whole visage of Jesus Christ is not seen in the outward empirical actuality, in the historically empirical. And herein is why the problem of Jesus Christ cannot be decided by means of historical science. It is remarkable, that about the great historical personages, and sometimes also about the not great, the second rate, there does not arise doubts as to their actual historical reality. No one writes investigations, about whether Socrates or Alexander of Macedonia actually existed or not. About many an historical figure, nowhere near having made the absolute turnaround in world history, made by the appearance of Christ, there are far greater historical witnessings, than about Christ. One need not be a Christian, in order to admit, that the appearance of Christ turned things around in the world, it began a new world era. Mankind continues to calculate its years from the Birth of Christ, even while having lost its faith in Christ. But the appearance of the Son of God in world history was not accompanied by such an outward persuasiveness of His historical reality, as has obtained with the appearance of whatever other historical figures. It is impossible to write the earthly biography of the Son of God and the Son of Man in accord with a single objective-scientific historical fact, whereas it is possible to pen the biography of an innumerable host of historical figures, none of whom so turned things around in the world. But this historical, sense-empirical unpersuasiveness of the earthly life of Jesus Christ is also the greatest witness to the benefit of the Christian, a witness to its miraculous aspect. For historical science, the rise of Christianity and its role in the life of the world remains a wonder, at the very borderline of scientific knowledge. And even the denial of the historical reality of Jesus Christ indirectly witnesses to this. It is inconceivable, how from the historically elusive, from the unreal or not-existing, how there could have arisen the greatest reality of world life? The appearance of Christ was marked by no outwardly obligatory historical persuasiveness, no readily sense-empirical visual aspect. The absolute reality of Jesus Christ and His integrally whole visage reveals itself in a different order of being, not the naturo-historical, but rather the supernaturo-historical spiritual order. With the appearance of Christ in history the boundary-lines, separating the two worlds, is broken asunder, and the one order of being enters into the other order of being. Christ appeared within history, but the dimensions of His appearance were not visible within history, within its outward process. The dimensions of His appearance are evident only in the Church, which also is a mysteried dwelling of the other order of being within our order of being. In this inconspicuousness of Christ the Saviour, the non-persuasiveness and unprovenness of His reality, there can be seen the “extreme humility” of the kenosis or emptying, the indeed God-forsakenness, — the source of our freedom. The Saviour of the world did not appear at Rome, the then centre of world civilisation, where there occurred great visible events of world history. The appearance of the Saviour was not accompanied by any outward brilliance or grandeur. The Saviour of the world was born amidst a second-rate Eastern people, the significance of which was null, if not regarded from a religious point of view, from the point of view of the fulfillment of prophesies. The Son of God came into the world, coercing no one, forcing no one to accept Him, not imposing by any brilliance of His appearance. The manger, into which was placed the Saviour of the world, went unnoticed by the world. And there is a great religious significance, in that there are almost no sort of historical witnessings about Christ. For the proud Roman world there was nothing especially remarkable in the earthly life of Jesus Christ, a religious teacher of the despised Jewish nation, having perished by a shameful execution. The folly of the Cross at first failed to even be noticed and accepted by the people of the Graeco-Roman civilisation. Only in the newly arisen world, the other world within this world, within the Church of Christ, mysteried for the world spiritual organism, was there revealed a different manner of sight wherein became evident absolute reality, imperceptible for the sight of the world. In this also was included the mystery of Jesus, over which strains the modern consciousness of this world, in having fallen away from the mysteried reality of the Church of Christ. The encounter of two worlds, the union of two natures in one Person is unacceptable for those immersed in this world, where everything is fragmented and alienated. Here is why it is improper to demand historical persuasiveness and proof of the reality of Jesus Christ, here is why the denial of the reality of Jesus Christ fails to frighten us.
Of principal significance for the science of religion is the philosophic problem concerning the character and criterion of reality. There are certain who might suspect me of docetism and monophysitism. This would be, certainly, a misunderstanding, the product of a naturalistic understanding of reality, which has penetrated into Christian theology and Christian metaphysics. Docetism within the confines of the naturalistic understanding of reality regards as illusory the humanity of Jesus Christ and all His earthly life. Monophysitism admits the reality of only one nature in Christ [the Divine] and denies the mystery of God-manhood. But the question about the two natures and the authentic reality of the human nature of Christ ought not to be mixed up with the question about the two orders of being — spiritual being which is primary, and naturo-natural being which is secondary. In primary being also there are the two natures [of Christ], and the human nature is real. Only the spiritual world is authentic and primal being. The world in contrast is symbolically natural, reflectedly a reality. The naturo-historical earthly life if Jesus Christ is just as much symbolistic, as is all the flesh of the world, just as also is the life of Alexander of Macedon or Napoleon, just as is all of history and all our world, but it is no less real, it is altogether not illusory, as Docetism would tend to think it. But in this naturo-historical earthly life of Jesus Christ there is symbolised13 the primal-reality of the spiritual world, of spiritual life. And in this world there is a spiritual order of being, in which there occurs encounter with the primal-realities of authentic life, — this also is the order of being involving the Church. With the appearance of Christ there occurred a singular and unrepeatable encounter and mutual interaction of one order of being with the other, of reality and symbol. But the acknowledging of reality cannot be grounded upon the acknowledging of symbol, it is impossible to become convinced in the being of primal life from proofs, drawn forth from being in reflective life. All the relict historical world we know about we know of its reality through reflected symbol, through the empirical, but in regard to it without spiritual memory, i.e. without any sort of intimate tradition the recognition becomes impossible. In regard however to Christ we make an act of recognition of reality directly within the tradition, within the pathways of primal life. And it would seem, that Christian apologetics ought not to be so dependent upon proofs and the corroborative empiricism of historical science. They might, perhaps, say to me: you are indifferent to the historical reality of Jesus Christ. This again would be a mistake, a misunderstood point of view. I acknowledge the absolute and singular historical reality of Jesus Christ, the earthly life of the Saviour of the world. But this historical reality, symbolic just like all historical reality, is evidenced from the reality of the spiritual world, from the experience of the Church. There is absolutely a precise biography of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, but it cannot be written upon the basis of the historical materials, externally received, it can only be perviewed by spiritual sight, by a mystical sort of contemplation.14 Such was, for example, the contemplation of Catherine Emerich. The churchly consciousness rises above the disputes of historical schools and it cannot base itself upon whatever the sort of trend of historical science. The significance of historical criticism in the pathways of human cognition has to be admitted, and it is impossible to oppose it with any sort of falsifying pseudo-science, or apologetic history, based upon contortions and upon shreds of the empirical. Our faith is shaky, if it has to be based upon the historically empirical. And indeed within genuine ontologic history itself, the actually existent is known about through a transcending of the outwardly given empirical.15 The empirical itself as regards itself is still not yet history. History is at first given only within discovered meaning. Meaning however is discovered, is discerned by spiritual insight. The meaning of the Gospel history, the meaning of the earthly fate of Jesus Christ is given not within the historically empirical, not in the raw material, which historical science critically reworks, but in spiritual insight, in tradition, in the inner connections of my spiritual depths together with the spiritual depths, hidden beyond the historically empirical. Herein we collide with the philosophic problem of history. Historians usually adopt a naive realism in regard to the historical actuality. But naive realism in regard to history is nowise more sustainable, than it is in regard to all the natural world. The naive realism ought to be replaced by a symbolic realism. The philosophy of history is the uncovering of meaning of the genuinely existent within history, of the existent and its essence. And only herein is history first revealed. Such a phenomenology of history has still not been created. But the phenomenology of Gospel history is in principle and qualitatively distinct from the phenomenology of every other history. It is possible only through the insight, discoverable within the Church, it remains hidden for other forms of view.
Christian theology has been too much infected by naturalism, it naturalises the spiritual reality and in general it has been inclined to conceive of reality naturalistically. The very idea of God was naturalised, and it was conceived of by analogy with the realities of natural objects. This is especially evident within Thomism, which so esteems its analogies with the physical world. The creative developing of theological knowledge ought the more to distinguish the different planes, not confusing them, and thereby overcome naturalism and naive realism. Naturalistic apologetics has had its last gasp and is done for. It is necessary to re-arm with more precise and more powerfully effective weaponry. In a certain sense it can be said, that the theological naturalism gave birth to the naturalism of positivism and materialism. And now there ought to begin and there has already begun a movement against naturalism both in the scientific and in the religious consciousness. When we overcome the naive naturalism in religious thought, we then have no need to fear whether it be the history of religion, or Drews, or Couchoud, or any sort of mythological theory. Christianity draws its assurance in its veracity from an absolute source, from the supernatural and spiritual plane of being, and not from the plane of the natural, not from the historically empirical, which of itself is not even genuinely history. And for Christianity nothing ought to terrify. We religiously know, that the appearance of the Son of God in the world, within earthly history, cannot be imbued with that historical persuasiveness, which the appearance of other people both great and small within history has had. In this appearance there has been discovered heaven upon earth, and heaven proves otherwise different in its reality, is perceived otherwise, than does the earth and all that which doth transpire upon it.
© 2003 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1927 -318 – en)
NAUKA O RELIGII I KHRISTIANSKAYA APOLOGETIKA. Journal Put’, Sept. 1925, No. 1, p. 169-171.
1 Vide Emile Durkheim, “Les formes elementaires de la vie religieuse. Le systeme totemique en Australie”.
2 The Catholic history of religion “Christus”, compiled primarily by the Jesuits, was written seemingly as it were against S. Reinach and others like him. This book stands quite much higher than Reinach’s, but all the same still wants for freedom.
3 Vide Delacroix, “La religion et la foi”.
4 Vide Moret: “Mysteres egyptiens”.
5 Vide Frazer: “Le rameau d’or” [“The Golden Bough”], p. 460-1.
6 Concerning the Greek religion, vide the remarkable book of E. Rhode, “Psyche”.
7 Vide the detailed book, expounding the whole historical legacy of Jesus Christ, by Albert Schweitzer, “Geschichte der Leben — Jesu — Forschang”, 1921. Vide likewise the book of Otto Pfleider: “Die Entwicklung der Protestantischen Theologie in Deutschland seit Kant und in Grossbritanien seit 1825”.
8 Vide Arthur Drews, “Die Christusmythe”.
9 With the Christian mythology was connected the teaching of Drews and E. Hartmann about the unconscious Divinity, which in a fit of madness created the vale of being and comes to consciousness through man. Vide the book of Drews: “Die Religion als Selbstbewustsein Gottes”.
10 Vide Couchoud: “Le mystere de Jesus”.
11 [Translator note: from Euhemeros, an ancient Greek who viewed the gods mythically.]
12 Vide Maurice Goguel: “Jesus de Nazareth. Mythe ou histoire?”, 1925. An analogous objection on the part of the Catholics regarding C. Reinan was made by Mgr. Batiffol, “Orpheus et l’Evangile”, 1910.
13 [Translator note: “symbolised” as in the real-symbolism of the eikonic, as with the religious icon for the Eastern Church, the symbolic of an at-depth greater reality than obtains with the sense-empirical world. Religious “myth” too is eikonic, in a real-symbolist sense. One might even suggest that Berdyaev’s philosophy of spirit is a metaphysics of the “icon”, carried beyond its non-specifically religious utilisation.]
14 This is analogous to what the theosophists call “akasha-chronika”.
15 Vide my book, “The Meaning of History”.