Nikolai Berdyaev
1874 - 1948

N. Berdyaev


International Universities Press, Inc., p. 233ff, reprinted with publisher's permission.

Nicolay Alexandrovich Berdyaev, the best-known of modern Russian philosophers, was born in 1874 in the province of Kiev. He studied at the Kiev University in the faculty of Law, but did not graduate there, for in 1898 he was arrested for taking part in the socialist movement. In his youth he thought of combining marxism with neo-kantianism, but he soon gave up both those theories, became interested in Vladimer Soloviev's philosophy and then began independently to work out a Christian world conception. A similar evolution took place in the case of Sergey Nikolaevitch Bulgakov who in 1901 was professor of political economy at the Kiev Polytechnical Institute, in 1918 became a priest and in 1925 was appointed professor of dogmatic theology at the Orthodox Institute in Paris. In 1903 Berdyaev and Bulgakov came to Petersburg in order to found a new journal VOPROSI ZHIZNI (Problems of Life). They asked me, as one who was less compromised politically than the others, to obtain permission in my name from the Government to publish the journal; I complied, but unfortunately the journal continued for one year only. In 1922 the Soviet Government arrested more than a hundred professors and writers accusing them of being in disagreement with their ideology and exiled them from Russia. Among the philosophers in that group were Berdyaev, Bulgakov, I.Ilyin, Lapshin, S. Frank, Karsavin and myself. At first Berdyaev settled in Berlin and afterwards moved to Paris where he worked chiefly at the Y.M.C.A. From 1926 till the end of 1939 he was the editor of the religious and philosophical journal PUT. Nicolay Alexandrovich died suddenly, while working at his writing table, on March 24, 1948.


Berdyaev's principal translated works are the following: CHRISTIANITY AND CLASS WAR, Sheed and Ward, 1933; THE BOURGEOIS MIND AND OTHER ESSAYS, Sheed and Ward, 1934; DOSTOEVSKY, Sheed and Ward 1934; FREEDOM AND THE SPIRIT, G. Bles, London 1935; THE MEANING OF HISTORY G. Bles 1936; NEW MEDIEVALISM; SPIRIT AND REALITY, G. Bles 1940; A. KOMIAKOV; SLAVERY AND FREEDOM, Scribner's Sons 1944; THE RUSSIAN IDEA; AN ESSAY IN ESCHATOLOGICAL METAPHYSICS; AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Y.M.C.A. Press, Paris 1949 (Available in English). O.F. Clarke, INTRODUCTION TO BERDYAEV, 1949; Matthew Spinka, NICHOLAS BERDYAEV: CAPTIVE OF FREEDOM, Westminster Press, Philadelphia 1950.

According to Berdyaev, the fundamental opposition with which we should start in formulating a theory about the world is that between spirit and nature, and not between the psychical and the physical. Spirit is the subject, life, freedom, fire, creative activity; nature is the object, thing, necessity, determinateness, passive endurance, immobility. To the realm of nature belongs all that is objective and substantial (by substance Berdyaev understands unchanging and self-contained being), multiple and divided in time and in space; not only matter but mental life on that view belongs to the realm of nature. The realm of spirit is of a different character: in it division is overcome by love; hence, spirit is neither an objective nor a subjective reality (PHILOSOPHY OF THE FREE SPIRIT, Chap. I). Knowledge about the spirit is attained not through concepts of reason or logical thought but through living experience. All philosophical systems not based upon spiritual experience are naturalistic; they are expressions of lifeless nature.

God is a spirit. He is really present in the life of the saints, the mystics, men of high spiritual life, and in man's creative activity. Those who have had spiritual experience need no national proof of God's existence. In Its deepest essence the Deity is irrational and superrational; attempts to express it through concepts are inevitably antinomic; i.e., the truth about God has to be expressed in pairs of judgements that are contradictory to each other. The Deity transcends the natural world and can only reveal Itself symbolically. Symbols in religious philosophy are necessarily connected with myths, such as the myth of Prometheus, of the Fall, of redemption and the Redeemer. This interpretation of the symbolism of religious truth must not be confounded with modernism according to which symbols are merely subjective expressions of the inmost reality. In Berdyaev's view symbols are the actual natural reality taken in connection with its supernatural significance. Therefore, the birth of the God-man from the Virgin Mary, His life in Palestine and His death on the cross are actual historical facts, and at the same time they are symbols. Thus, Berdyaev's symbolism is not Docetism; it does not lead to iconoclasm or undermine Christianity. It is a REAL SYMBOL. He calls such events as the birth of the God-man from the Virgin Mary and His death on the cross, "symbols" because they are an expression in the earthly reality of relations between spirit and the nonspiritual principle which subsists in a still deeper and more primary form in the domain of the Divine life itself (FREEDOM AND THE SPIRIT, chap.II).

According to Berdyaev, man's spiritual being is closely connected with the Divine spirituality, and he opposes his view to dualistic theism and to pantheism, regarding both those theories as the outcome of a naturalistic religious philosophy. His conception of the relationship between God and the world can be gathered from his doctrine of freedom. Berdyaev distinguishes three kinds of freedom; primary irrational freedom, i.e., arbitrariness; rational freedom, i.e., the fulfillment of moral duty; and finally, freedom permeated by the love of God. Man's irrational freedom is rooted in the "nothing" out of which God created the world. That "nothing" is not emptiness; it is a primary principle prior to God and the world, containing no differentiation, i.e., no division into a number of definite elements. Berdyaev borrowed this conception from Jacob Boehme (German mystical philosopher, 1575-1624) who designated this primary principle by the term UNGRUND (the groundless, the abyss). In Berdyaev's opinion Boehme's UNGRUND coincides with the conception of the "Divine Nothing" in the negative theology of Dionysius the Areopagite and with the teaching of Meister Eckhardt (1260-1327) who distinguished between GOTTHEIT and GOTT, Godhead and God. (1)

Berdyaev says: "Out of the Divine Nothing, or of the UNGRUND, the Holy Trinity, God the Creator is born." The creation of the world by God the Creator is a secondary act. "From this point of view it may be said that freedom is not created by God: it is rooted in the Nothing, in the UNGRUND from all eternity. The opposition between God the Creator and freedom is secondary: in the primeval mystery of the Divine Nothing this opposition is transcended, for both God and freedom are manifested out of the UNGRUND. God the Creator cannot be responsible for freedom which gave rise to evil. Man is the child of God and the child of freedom - of nothing, of non- being, (greek equivalent). Meonic freedom consented to God's act of creation; non-being freely accepted being" (THE DESTINY OF MAN, 34). Hence it follows that God has no power over freedom which is not created by him: "God the Creator is all-powerful over being, over the created world, but He has no power over non- being, over the uncreated freedom" (ibid.). This freedom is prior to good and evil, it conditions the possibility of both good and evil. According to Berdyaev, the actions of a being possessing free will cannot be forseen even by God, since they are entirely free. Berdyaev denies God's omnipotence and omniscience and maintains that He does not create the cosmic entities' will, which springs from the UNGRUND, but merely helps that will to become good; he is led to that conclusion by his conviction that freedom cannot be created and that if it were, God would be responsible for cosmic evil. A theodicy would then be impossible, Berdyaev thinks.

Evil arises when the irrational freedom leads to the violation of the Divine hierarchy of being and to seperation from God owing to the pride of the spirit desiring to put itself in the place of God. This results in disintegration, in material and natural being, and in slavery instead of freedom. But in the last resort, the origin of evil remains the greatest and most inexplicable mystery (AN ESSAY ON ESCHATOLOGICAL METAPHYSICS, 127).

The second freedom, that is, the rational freedom which consists in submission to the moral law, leads to compulsory virtue, i.e., again to slavery. The way out of this tragedy can only be tragic and supernatural: "The myth of the Fall tells of this powerlessness of the Creator to avert the evil resulting from freedom which He has not created. Then comes God's second act in relation to the world and to man: God appears not in the aspect of Creator but of Redeemer and Savior, in the aspect of the suffering God Who takes upon Himself the sins of the world. God in the aspect of God the Son descends into the abyss, into the UNGRUND, into the depths of freedom out of which springs evil as well as every kind of good." God the Son "manifests Himself not in power but in sacrifice. The Divine sacrifice, the Divine self-crucification must conquer the evil meonic freedom by enlightening it from within, without forcing it, without depriving the created world of freedom" (DESTINY OF MAN, 34-35). This doctrine, Berdyaev says, is not pantheism. "Pantheism does contain some truth, and that is the truth of negative theology. But the falsity of pantheism lies in rationalizing the mystery and translating the truth of negative theology into the language of the positive" (THE DESTINY OF MAN, 35).

Berdyaev is particularly concerned with the problem of personality. Personality, he says, is a spiritual and not a natural category; it is not a part of any whole; it is not a part of society - on the contrary, society is only a part or an aspect of personality. Nor is it a part of the cosmos: on the contrary, the cosmos is a part of man's personality. Personality is not a substance, it is a creative act, it is unchangeable in the process of change. In personality the whole is prior to the parts. Being a spirit, personality is not self-sufficient, not egocentric, it passes into something other than itself, into "thou" and realizes a universal content which is concrete and different from abstract universals. The unconscious elemental ground of human personality is cosmic and tellurgic. The realization of personality means the ascent from the subconscious, through the conscious, to the superconscious. The human body as an eternal aspect of personality is a "form" and not merely a physico- chemical entity, and it must be subordinated to the spirit. Bodily death is necessary for the realization of the fullness of life; that fullness presupposes resurrection in a perfect body. Sex means bi-section; an integrated personality has no sex, it is androgynous. Man's creative activity is complementary to the Divine life; hence it has a theogonic and not merely an anthropological significance. There is eternal humanity in the Deity and that implies that there also is Divinity in man. (2)

Man's essential nature is distorted because he fell away from God; beings separated from God and from one another have no immediate experience of spiritual life; they suffer from the disease of isolation. Instead of the immediate experience which reveals the life of the subject, of the existential self, distorted reason develops away of cognizing the world in an OBJECTIVE form. Man exteriorizes his subjective sensations, projects them and builds out of them objects which stand over against him, form a system of external reality, forcibly act upon him and enslave him. The world system created by such objectificaton is nature as opposed to spirit; it is the world of appearances, of phenomena, while the true, fundamental reality is spirit, the world of NOUMENA, i.e., a world cognized in and through immediate spiritual experience and not through objectivization. (3)

Berdyaev takes it to be a great merit of Kant's to have drawn a distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal world, but thinks Kant was mistaken in regarding the noumenal world as unknowable; the defect of this philosophy, in Berdyaev's view, is that he failed to explain why man makes use of knowledge in its objectified form. According to Berdyaev this form of knowledge arose as a consequence of the sin of falling away from God which leads also to a mutual severance between persons.

Does nature consisting of objects exist in man's mind only, as Kant thought, or is it a special cosmic realm generated by sin? Berdyaev says "the subject is created by God, the object is created by the subject" (AN ESSAY ON ESCHATOLOGICAL METAPHYSICS). This does not, however, by any means imply that he, like Kant, regards nature studied by natural sciences as merely a system of our presentations. To understand Berdyaev's position it is essential to remember that in his view sin leads not merely to objectification through cognition but actually creates nature as a lower realm of being. "Evil gives rise to the world bound by necessity, in which everything is subject to causal relations" (SPIRIT AND REALITY). "If the world is in a fallen state, this is not the fault of the mode of cognizing it - as L. Shestov maintained, for instance - the fault lies in the depths of the world's existence. This can be best pictured as a process of splitting up, division and alienation which noumenal subjects undergo. It is a mistake to think that objectification takes place in the cognitive sphere only; in the first instance it takes place in reality itself. It is produced by the subject not only as a knower but as a living being. The fall into the objective world took place in the primary life itself. But as a result of this we regard as real only that which is secondary, rationalized, objectified, and doubt the reality of the primary, the not- objectified" (AN ESSAY ON ESCHATOLOGY AND METAPHYSICS, 77). Nature as a "system of relations between objects" has the following characteristics: (1) the object is alien to the subject; (2) the personal, the unique and individual is submerged by the general, the impersonal-universal; (3) necessity, determination form without is predominant, freedom is suppressed and hidden; (4) life adapts itself to mass movements in the world and in history, and to the average man; man and his opinions are socialized and that destroys originality. In this world of objects life is lived in a time which is divided into the past and future, and that leads to death. Instead of "existence" as a unique and individual creative activity of the spirit, we find in nature mere "being" determined by laws. The use of general ideas about this uniformly recurrent being serves as a means of communication between the isolated selves which create social institutions; but in this sociality, subordinated to conventional rules, the subject remains solitary. Fortunately, however, in his "existential depths" man still preserves the communion "with the spiritual world and the whole cosmos" (ibid., 61). Man is a "dual entity, living both in the phenomenal and the noumenal world" (ibid., 79). Hence, "the noumena can break through into the phenomina, the invisible world into the visible, the world of freedom into the world of necessity" (ibid.,67). That victory of spirit over nature is achieved through sympathy and love overcoming isolation by communication of the "I" and "thou" in immediate spiritual experience which is of the nature of intuition and not of objectivization. "This knowledge is 'the conjugal' union of personalities based upon true love" (Solitude and Society, 118). There can be no marriage between universals, between "objects": marriage is only possible is respect of "I" and "thou" (ibid., 109). Spiritual knowledge is the meeting between two subjects in the mystical experience in which "all is in me and I am in all" (ibid., 115, 148). Berdyaev designates such direct spiritual communication by the term "communalty." It creates unity on the basis of love. Love is a free manifestation of the spirit. Hence it is a communal, soborny unity, to use that term in the sense given to it by Khomiakov. "The free spirit is communal, and not individualistically isolated" (An Essay on Eschatological Metaphysics, 21).

Regeneration of the fallen man means his deliverance from nature as created by the objectifying process; it manes victory over servitude and death, the realization of personality as a spirit, as an existence which cannot be an object and cannot be expressed by general ideas. Therefore Berdyaev calls his philosophy existential or personalistic. But he thinks that true personalism is to be found not in Heidegger or Jaspers but in St. Augustine who put into the foreground the conception of the "subject."

The society, the nation, the state are not personalities; man as a person has a higher value than they. Hence it is man's right and duty to defend his spiritual freedom against the state and society. In the life of the state, the nation and society we often find a dark, demoniacal force which seeks to subordinate man's personality and make it merely a tool for its own ends (Solitude and Society, 177). In social life man's conscience is distorted by the process of objectification and by conventional rules. The pure, original conscience can only manifest itself in and through personality; everything must be submitted to the judgement of that "existential" conscience, unspoiled by objectification.

In his ethics Berdyaev struggles against the imperfect good developed in the social life on the basis of objectification. He expounds it is his book The Destiny of Man which he calls "an essay in paradoxical ethics." As an epigraph to this remarkable book Berdyaev chose Gogol's saying "It is sad not to see any good in goodness." The whole of Berdyaev's ethics boldly reveals the sad truth that "there is very little good in goodness, and this is why hell is being prepared on all sides" (The Destiny of Man, 358). The fundamental paradox of his ethics is that the very distinction between good and evil is, according to him, a consequence of the Fall which is "a manifestation and trial of man's freedom, of man's creative vocation" (ibid., 362). The experience of good and evil arises when irrational freedom leads to severance from God: "The world proceeds from an original absence of discrimination between good and evil to a sharp distinction between them and them, enriched by that experience, ends by not distinguishing them any more" (ibid., 47); it returns to God and His Kingdom which lies beyond god and evil (ibid., 371). The paradox is this: "It is bad that the distinction between good and evil has arisen, but it is good to make the distinction, once it has arisen; it is bad to have gone through the experience of evil, but it is good to kn ow good and evil as a result of that experience" (ibid., 49).

Berdyaev gives the name of "ethics of law" to ethics which takes cognizance only of the middle part of the course, i.e., only of the distinction between good and evil. In analyzing legalistic ethics and legalistic Christianity Berdyaev shows that they are adapted to the requirements of social everyday life and therefore are full of conventions and lead to hypocrisy and tyranny. He proposes to evaluate the rules of this ordinary morality from the point of view of "pure consciousness" and not of man's temporary needs. He wants to create a "Critique of pure Conscience" similar to Kant's "Critique of pure Reason." Berdyaev makes use of the Freudian discoveries to show up the sadistic elements in legalism, and the impure subconscious sources of the rigorous demands made by many champions of "the good;" for instance, he traces all fanaticism, all concern for the "far off" at the expense of the "neighbor," to a lack of real love, namely of the love for the concrete individual person and to replacing it by a love of abstract theories, programmes, etc., backed up by the pride of their authors and champions.

Berdyaev does not by any means propose to cancel the ethics of law or the legal forms of social life. He merely demands tolerance in the struggle with evil and points to a higher stage of moral consciousness than the ethics of law. That higher stage is expressed by the ethics of redemption and the love of God; it is based upon the descent of the God-man into the world and His acceptance of suffering out of love for the fallen. Berdyaev pictures this descent of God as the tragedy of God's love for all creatures. As already mentioned, he maintains that in so far as the world contains irrational freedom, it is not created by God, but is rooted in the Ungrund, a potency which is independent of God and is the basis both of God and of the world. In God this irrational freedom is overcome from all eternity; in the world it is not overcome; it plunges the world into evil and makes its history a tragedy. Irrational cosmic freedom is not subject to God. Hence God's love for the creature inevitably acquires a tragic character: the Son of God can only help the world by personally entering the world tragedy so as to realize from within the world the unity of love and freedom which leads to the world's transfiguration and deification. This aspect of God's relation to the world is specially emphasized in Berdyaev's book FREEDOM AND THE SPIRIT: the victory of the Logos over darkness, the "nothing" is only possible if the Divine life be a tragedy (I, 240). "God Himself longs to suffer with the world" (251). The coming of Christ and redemption are "a continuation of the creation of the world, the eighth day of creation, a cosmogonic and anthropogonic process" (254). Transfiguration and deification are only possible through ascent to the third kind of freedom penetrated by the love for God. Hence it is clear that they cannot be achieved compulsorily: they presuppose man's FREE love of God. Hence Christianity is the religion of freedom. In all his works Berdyaev fervently and insistently defends man's freedom in matters of faith. Chapter VI-X of FREEDOM AND THE SPIRIT are specially devoted to the subject of freedom and free creativeness which God expects of man as His friend. The church, Berdyaev says, must give a religious sanction not only to the holiness that seeks personal salvation, but also to the genius of poets, artists, philosophers, scientists, social reformers who consecrate themselves to creativeness in God's name (230). "In the salvation of the soul man is still thinking of himself" (64), but creativeness in its inner meaning implies thinking of God, of truth, of beauty, of the higher life of the spirit. In his book THE DESTINY OF MAN Berdyaev repeats that not only the ethics of redemption, but also the ethics of creativeness is a way to the Kingdom of God

Social life, Berdyeav maintains, is an organization based to a greater extent upon falsehood than upon truth. Pure truth is often not safe but destructive; it acts as an explosive and leads to judgement being passed on the world, and to the end of the world. Pure truth is existential; in social life, we use objectivized knowledge which arrives at truth which is no longer existential, but is adapted to the needs of millions of man (FREEDOM AND THE SPIRIT, 57). In the state and in the church as a social institution we often find not the existential spiritual reality but conventional symbols: "Titles such as Tsar, General, Pope, metropolitan, bishop are all symbols. All hierarchical grades are symbols. In contradistinction to them we have such realities as saint, prophet, creative genius, social reformer. Thus the hierarchy of human qualities is real" (ibid., 64).

The Kingdom of God is permeated with love for all creatures, both holy and sinful. "The morality of transcendent good does not by any means imply indifference to good and evil or toleration of evil. It demands more and not less;" it aims at "enlightening and liberating the wicked" (THE DESTINY OF MAN, 372). Hence, true moral consciousness cannot rest content while there exist wicked souls suffering the torments of hell. "Moral consciousness began with God's question: 'Cain, where is thy brother Abel?' It will end with another question on the part of God: 'Abel, where is thy brother Cain?" (ibid, 351). "Paradise is possible for me if there is no everlasting hell for a single being that has ever lived. One cannot be saved singly, in isolation. Salvation can only be a communal, universal deliverance from torments" (AN ESSAY ON ESCHATOLOGICAL METAPHYSICS, 205). Berdyaev is convinced that ways of redeeming evil and conquering hell can be found and believes in universal salvation, apocatastasis. He regards the development of creative activity as one of the best ways of combining freedom and love.

In FREEDOM AND THE SPIRIT there is a chapter called "Theosophy and Gnosis" in which Berdyeav subjects to a scathing criticism modern "theosophy." He points out that in theosophy there is no God, but only the divine, no freedom, no understanding of evil; it is a species of naturalastic evolutionism. It attracts people by its fictitious gnosis, by its claim to the knowledge of the Divine world. The Church must oppose to it the real gnosis and free itself from antignosticism which has in a sense become identical with agnosticism. With regard to ancient gnosticism the Church feared that is was allied to magic, but the modern man who has passed through all kinds of temptations can no longer be protected against them by artificial barriers "The method of protecting there little ones from temptation has been grossly abused in the history of Christendom," says Berdyeav, as he calls for free creative development of the human spirit in the name of God.

Berdyaev's social theories are closely connected with his religious philosophy. Many of his works deal with the philosophy of history or with the philosophical aspects of political problems - e.g., THE MEANING OF HISTORY, THE PHILOSOPHY OF INEQUALITY and NEW MEDIEVALISM. The historical process, according to Berdyaev, consists in the struggle of good against irrational freedom and is "a drama of love and freedom unfolding itself between God and His other self, which He loves and for whose reciprocal love He thirsts" (THE MEANING OF HISTORY, 52). "Messianism is the fundamental theme of history - true or false, open or secret messianism" (AN ESSAY ON ESCHATOLOGICAL METAPHYSICS, 174). The credit for discovering this truth belongs to the Jewish nation. "Three forces operate in world history: God, fate, and human freedom. That is why history is so complex. Fate turns man's personality into the playground of the irrational forces of history. At certain periods of their history nations are particularly subject to the power of fate; their freedom is less active and man feels forsaken by God. That is very noticeable in the fate of the Russian people, and in the fate of the German people. Christianity recognizes that fate can be overcome - but it can only be overcome through Christ."

When irrational freedom gains the upper hand, reality begins to disintegrate and revert to the primeval chaos. This is depicted with the greatest vividness by Dostoevesky, especially the novel THE POSSESSED (see Berdyaev's DOSTOEVSKY'S WORLD CONCEPTION, one of the best things he wrote). In social life revolution is an extreme form of the return to chaos. Berdyaev's work contains many valuable ideas about the nature of revolution and the character of its leaders. "Revolutions," he says, are preceded by a process of disintegration, a decline of faith, the loss by people of a unifying spiritual center of life. As a result of it the people lose their spiritual liberty, become possessed by the devil;" the leading part among them is played by the extreme elements, Jacobins, Bolsheviks, men who imagine themselves to be free creators of a new future, but in truth are passive "mediums of formless elements; they are really turned not to the future but to th past, for they are slaves of the past, chained to it by malice, envy and revenge" (PHILOSOPHY OF INEQUALITY). Hence, revolutions can do nothing but destroy; they are never creative.

Creativeness begins only in the periods of reaction that come after a revolution: the new forms of life for which the people had been prepared by their past then come to be realized. But even the creative epochs of history have never achieved the ends men had set for themselves. "Not one single project elaborated within the historical process has ever been successful" (THE MEANING OF HISTORY, 237). In the Middle Ages the compulsory Catholic and Byzantian theocracy was a failure. True, it is to the credit of that period that it hardened man's will by the discipline of the monastery and of chivalry; thanks to the medieval Christianity man rose above nature; his bond with the inner life of nature was severed: "The great Pan was dead" for him and man came to look upon nature as dead mechanism. But he severed himself not only from nature; at the period of the Renaissance and of humanism he also fell away from God. The watchword of our own time is "the liberation of man's creative powers;" the center of gravity is transferred from the Divine depths to the purely human creativeness which seeks to perfect life by subduing nature without God's gracious help. Regarding nature as a dead mechanism, modern man has worked out a positivistic science and technics which interpose machinery between man and nature. The power of machine helps man in his struggle with nature but at the same time it disintegrates him: he begins to lose his individual image, "is depersonalized and submits to the artificial machine-made nature which he himself has called into being." Thus the epoch of extreme individualism ends by the loss of individuality; nonreligious humanism lead to the dehumanization of man. Such an end was to be expected, because man who is severed from the higher principle, who has ceased to strive for the realization of the image of God in himself, is doomed to be a slave of the lower elements. New forms of slavery are threatening man; they are the result of socialism which replaces true "togetherness" (SOBORNOST) based upon love and the religious transfiguration of the creature, by the false, based upon the compulsory service of the individual to society for the sake of satisfying its material needs. It is significant that modern socialism has been founded by a Jew, Marx, a representative of the nation which "passionately demanded the fulfillment of truth and happiness on earth" and rejected the true Messiah because he came in the form of a servant and not as an earthly king-liberator. The Jews are still expecting paradise on earth and are wholly turned to the future; hence, they are ready to declare war on all historical and sacred traditions, on all that has been handed down through the ages from one generation to another; a Jew easily becomes a revolutionary and a socialist (THE MEANING OF HISTORY, 199).

It must not be imagined, however, that Berdyeav is an anti-Semite. Like Vladimir Soloviev, he thinks very highly of the Jewish people. There is no trace of anti-Semitism or of undue fear of socialism in his teaching. He readily points out the valuable aspects of socialism. He champions a special variety of it which he calls PERSONALISTIC and maintains that socialization of the economic life can only he useful of "the supreme value of the human personality and its right to attain the fullness of life be recognized" ("The Problem of Man," l.c). But the efforts to realize socialism will transform it "into something quite different from the socialist ideal." Socialism will reveal fresh discords in the human life. It will never achieve the liberation of human labor which Marx sought to achieve by binding labor, it will never give man wealth or establish equality, but will merely create new emnity between men, new separateness, and new, unheard of, forms of oppression (THE MEANING OF HISTORY). The elimination of hunger and destitution "does not solve the spiritual problem;" man will be "faced as before with the mystery of death, of eternity, of love, knowledge and creativeness. Indeed it may be said that when the social life is more rationally organized, the tragic element in life - the tragic conflict between the individual and society, the person and the cosmos, personality and death, time and eternity - will grow in intensity" (SPIRIT AND REALITY).

Berdyeav points out, however, much in the same way as Bulgakov, that it is precisely the historical failures which lead to true achievements: the failures rouse the will to a religious transformation of life (THE MEANING OF HISTORY, chap. X), to transferring the center of gravity from the disrupted earthly time to the eternal time in the Divine life. In that DIvine life universal resurrection is achieved -the necessary condition of solving the moral contradictions of the earthly life. Even man's economic activity must undergo a profound change: basing itself on "the love for nature's inner being" it must become a force that leads to resurrection, whereas the modern technics remain in the realm of death (PHILOSOPHY OF INEQUALITY). "The only kingdom which can be successful is the Kingdom of God" (AN ESSAY ON ESCHATOLOGICAL METAPHYSICS). That kingdom is not in the historical, but in the existential time. The difference between these two kinds of time is this: the historical time "may be symbolized by a line stretching forward to the future, to the new," but in the existential time "there is no distinction between past and future, beginning and end." Hence life in the Kingdom of God is not a part of history, but is metahistorical. The meaning of history lies "beyond the confines of history," in metahistory. It must not be imagined, however, that history and metahistory are entirely separate: "Metahistory is continually present as the background of history. That which is metahistorical breaks up both the cosmic endless sequence of events and the determinism of the historical process: it disrupts objectivization. Thus, the coming of Jesus CHrist is pre- eminently a metahistorical event; it took place in the existential time" (ibid.). In the same way all true creative activity on the part of man "takes place in the existential time" and is "divinely human" (ibid.). But the realization of the creative impulse in history - i.e., in our objectified world - is always imperfect and always ends in tragic failure. "World history knows the most terrible creative failure - the failure of Christianity, of CHrist's work in the world. The history of Christendom has been but too often a crucifixion of CHrist" It must not be supposed, however, that human creativeness, distorted by objectification, is completely wasted. "The Resurrection as the end which includes all individual creative achievements" imparts meaning both to the personal and to the historical existence. That end is the metahistory of the Kingdom of God in which objectification is overcome, and the opposition between subject and object holds no longer. In our world "the sun is outside of me" and that "indicates my fallen condition" but in the transfigured world "it must be within me and radiate from me" (ibid.).

A personality capable of worshiping the Holy and serving it follows the path that leads to the perfection of the Kingdom of God. It develops within a community containing an infinite multiplicity of beings, sharply distinguished from one another in quality and HIERARCHICALLY interrelated. Berdyaev devotes a whole book, THE PHILOSOPHY OF INEQUALITY, to proving that the egalitarian strivings of democracy, socialism, internationalism, etc., lead to the destruction of personality and are prompted by the spirit of non-being, of envy, resentment and malice.

All the distortions of personality that take place in our fallen world are overcome through a long process of development in many world aeons. "If we refuse to accept the slavish and terroristic doctrine of everlasting damnation, we must admit the pre-existence of souls on another plane before their birth and their passing through other planes after death. The theory of reincarnation on one place is incompatible with the wholeness of personality and the unchangeability of the very idea of man, and is untenable; but the idea of reincarnation on many planes, which makes man's destiny dependent upon his existence on planes different form that of the objective phenomenal world, may be accepted. Leibnitz rightly spoke of metamorphosis and not of metempsychosis" (ibid.).

Berdyaev wrote often and at length about Russia. He says that "as intended by God, Russia is the great integral unity of East and West, but in its actual, empirical condition it is an unsuccessful mixture of East and West." He traces the origin of Russia's ills to the wrong correlation in it of the masculine and the feminine principles. At a certain stage of national development among the Western peoples, in France, England and Germany "the manly spirit rose up and imposed form upon the elemental forces of the people organically and from within" (PHILOSOPHY OF INEQUALITY). There was no such process in Russia, and even the Orthodox religion failed to provide that discipline of the spirit which Catholicism with its firm and clear-cut lines built up in the West. "The Russian soul remained unbounded, it was not conscious of any limits and spread itself out indefinitely. It demands all or nothing, its mood is either apocalyptic or nihilistic and it is therefore incapable of building up the half-way kingdom of culture." In accordance with these national characteristics the Russian thought, too, is directed chiefly "toward the eschatological problem of the end, and apocalyptically colored" and penetrated by a sense of the impending catastrophe (this phrase was originally used by Ern and Prince E. Trubetskoy). The eschatological bent of the Russian mind and its lack of interest for the "half-way kingdom of culture" is fully expounded in Berdyaev's book THE RUSSIAN IDEA. He particularly has in mind Dostoevsky, Vladimir Soloviev, K. Leodorov, and Prince E. Trubetskot. Berdyaev himself is one of the most striking representatives of this trend of the Russian thought.

Even Christian-minded philosophers in reflection on the significance of their own nation in the historical process fall into the temptation of naturalism, in the sense of attaching too high a value to the empirical national character. In his book on A. S. KHOMIAKOV Berdyaev notes this defect among the Slavophils in so far as they have a tendency to admire the Russian people's natural characteristics and the historical forms of their national life. Modern Russian philosophers are on their guard against this tendency.

Berdyaev belongs to the group of thinkers who strive to develop a Christian world conception and whose work is the most original expression of Russian philosophical thought. It was begun more than a hundred years ago, with the founders of the Slavophil movement Ivan Kireyevsky and Khomiakov, but came into its own much later, under the influence of Vladimir SOloviev. A whole galaxy of religious philosophers appears after Soloviev. Among them are Price S. N. Trubetskoy, Prince E. N. Trubetskoy, N. Feodorov, Father Pavel Florensky, Father Sergius Bulgakov, Ern, Berdyaev, Karsavin, S. L. Frank, S.A. Alaxeyev (Askoldov), I.A. Ilyin, Father Vassili Zenkovsky, Father G. Florovsky, Vysheslavtsev, Arsenyev, Novgorodtsev, Spektorsky. Some of those philosophers, for instance Father P. Florensky, Father S. Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Karsavin, Frank, have worked out entire systems of Christian philosophy. Some of their ideas are not in strict conformity with the traditional doctrines of the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches; moreover, it may be said with regard to some of their theories that they disagree with the data of religious experience and intellectual intuition, and should therefore be rejected in the course of further development of the Christian world conception. One fo such theories is Berdyaev's teaching about the UNGRUND as a primordial principle giving rise on the one hand to God and on the other to the will of the cosmic entities.

Berdyaev is wrong in thinking that his UNGRUND is identical with the "Divine Nothing" of Dionysius the Areopagite. The Divine Nothing in every respect transcends all possible determinations and is so perfect that it cannot be adequately expressed by means of our conceptions. When the Areopogite passes to the positive theology - for instance, when he interprets the Supreme principle as personal and at the same time superpersonal - he does not rationalize it, but still remains true to the negative theology: thus, if the one God is tripersonal, the word "person" can only designate here something that is analogous to the idea of a created personality, but not identical with it. Mystical experience, so admirably described in Otto's book DAS HEILIGE, wholly confirms Dionysius the Areopagite's teaching of the "Divine Nothing" as a primordial and absolutely perfect principle.

Neither mystical experience not intellectual intuition find any evidence of a "nothing" existing independently of God and utilized by Him for the creation for the creation of the world. Philosophers and theologians wrongly interpret the statement that "God created the world out of nothing" by supposing that some king of "nothing" served as material out of which God created the world. That statement has a very simple and at the same time a much more significant meaning: God created the world without borrowing any material either from within Himself of from without; He creates cosmic entities as something ontologically entirely new as compared with Him. The will of the created beings is also His creation. It is free because in creating personality God endows it with a superqualitative creative force, giving it no empirical character whatever - neither goodness, nor wickedness, neither courage nor cowardice, and so on. Each personality freely develops its own empirical character, or its essence (ESSENTIA) and transcends it in the sense that it remains capable of working it out afresh. Having created our will as free, God never forces it, because freedom is a necessary condition of the attainment of perfect goodness by the person, but at the same time of course it conditions the possibility of evil.

Freedom of the creatures' will is quite compatible with Divine omniscience. God is a supernatural being, He therefore is not separated form the future by the relation of precedence: He cognizes the future as well as the present and the past not by means of inference but through contemplation or direct perception. This was pointed out as early as the sixth century A. D. by Boethius.

During the many years of our friendly intercourse, Berdyaev and I disputed over questions of epistemology. Berdyaev affirms that there are two kinds of knowledge: intuition with regard to spiritual reality and objectivization with regard to nature. I maintain, on the contrary, that both are higher and the lower realms of being are known through intuition, i.e., through direct contemplation )see e.g., my book on THE SENSUOUS, THE INTELLECTUAL AND THE MYSTICAL INTUITION).

As already pointed out, Berdyaev's doctrine of the UNGRUND and of the creatures' will not being created by God, cannot be accepted as a part of the Christian philosophy. But this by no means implies that the rest of his system must be rejected also; the main content of it is unaffected. The essential theme of Christian philosophy is the doctrine of the absolute good, realizable on in the Kingdom of God, and of the imperfections of our sinful world. Berdyaev's greatest merit lies in showing in a highly original way "how little good there is in our goodness," in our individual, social, and even ecclesiastical life. Like L. Tolstoy he boldly denounces the wrongs of our way of living and teaches us to detect those of them which, through force of habit, we fail to see. He vividly depicts the whole of the historical process as a struggle between good and evil, the end of which can only be attained beyond history. He convincingly shows that everything earthly must perish except the rays of the Kingdom of God which find their way into the historical process because the God-man Jesus Christ does not withhold from us His gracious help.

Highly valuable, too, is Berdyaev's contention that the doctrine of terrible torments of hell, hopeless and lasting for ever, has a sadistic character. No theodicy can be formulated apart from the doctrine of apocatastases or universal salvation. A noble feature of Berdyaev's philosophy is his defense of the truth that Christianity is a religion of love and therefore of freedom and tolerance. Great credit is due to him also for his criticism of socialism, communism, the bourgeois spirit, and for his struggle against any attempts to make relative values absolute. He criticizes modern class struggle from the point of view of the Christian ideal. As to the principle of social life, Berdyaev champions the traditions of the Western-European and Russian humanism, namely, the absolute value of personality and its inalienable right to spiritual freedom and decent conditions of life. He convincingly shows that those principles can only he consistently substantiated on the basis of a Christian world conception.

There are people who in their wish to be more Orthodox than Orthodoxy itself condemn Berdyaev's work as dangerous to the Church. They forget that the historical life of Christianity, ecclesiastical practice and traditional theological teaching suffer from many defects which have driven wide circles of society away from the Church. In order to bring them back, much work is needed by suc laymen as Berdyaev who snow that those defects may be removed without damage to the foundations of the Christian Church. By expressing the essential truths of Christianity in new and original terms, different from the style of the traditional theology, such philosophers as Berdyaev awaken an interest in Christianity in many minds that had turned away from it, and may succeed in drawing them back to the Church. Men like Berdyaev lend powerful support to the work of perservering and developing the civilization that defends the absolute value of personality - and for this, all praise and honor to them!


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Last revised: October 21, 1998