Nikolai Berdyaev
1874 - 1948

Universality and Confessionalism

by Prof. Nikolai Berdiaev

translated by Fr. Stephen Janos

We live in an universalist/ecumenical era, an era of world associations, religions, cultures, intellectualism, economics and politics. Worldly organisations, congresses, gatherings, diverse international meetings show the symptoms of a will detected everywhere for accord and association. This began after the bloody discord of the world war. Fierce nationalist passions still lacerate all the entire world. The sin and sickness of nationalism all still disfigure the Christian confessions. Already there is the possibility of yet a new war to torment the European nations. But never has there been such a yearning for unity, such a thirst for overcoming particularism and isolation. These worldly tendencies show themselves also in the life of Christian churches. The Ecumenical Question has become for Christian consciousness the question of the day. The Christian East issues forth from a condition of reticence and the Christian West as it were ceases to account itself the sole bearer of truth. Many write and speak about the coming-together of the divided parts of the Christian world, about the unification of the Church. They are beginning to be acutely aware, that the divisions and discords within Christianity is a great scandal before the face of an un-Christian even anti-Christian world. But do condusive psychological premisses for reapproachment and unity exist? This is the first question which we must raise. The question about the overcoming of divisions, about the universal unity of Christian humanity mustneeds little disturb those of the Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants who feel a complete satisfaction with their confession, seeing in it the fullness of truth and considering it the solitary true preservation of Christian revelation. It is necessary to feel the disquiet and dissatisfaction, to be aware of the historical sins of each confession, to probe the imperfection and want of completeness, in order to be fired up with the Ecumenical Movement. It is necessary to feel the onset of a new world epoch, to be aware of the new hurdles set before Christianity, so as to overcome the provincialism of the confessions. The so-called Ecumenical Problem does not exist for all Christians, many consider it a false problem. The very stating of the problem presupposes the existence of sin not only personal, but also the sin of the Church in its human, certainly, aspect. The Ecumenical problem is not only a problem of Christian unity, but also a problem of Christian fullness. But to aspire after fullness is only for those who are aware of the lack of fullness, those who have a need for wholeness. For still too many Christians their provincial perspective is presented as an universal perspective. The question about Catholics is particularly complex and difficult. For Catholics it is officially forbidden to take part in the Ecumenical Movement, and they do not send their proponents to a congress or gathering. A faction of the Catholic side sympathises, and they take part in some of the inter-confessional circles and gatherings. But the Catholic Church has its own attitude worked out over centuries towards the problem of universality, and the Catholic psychology is opposed to new forms in the movement towards universality. The Catholic Church avows the universal unity as basic to its own nature, primordially inherent to it, from which it derives its very name. To those yearning for unity and universality it says: Come to us, and your yearning will be satisfied, since we have that which ye seek. The Ecumenical Movement for the Catholic Church is none other, than a movement for reuniting with the Catholic Church. The Catholic awareness considers the yearning and disquietude as essentially that of schismatics, separated off from the universal Church, but does not admit it for Catholics dwelling in the bosom of the Church, knowing plenitude and oneness. It is the Catholics, certainly, who suffered the division of the Christian world and they experience the turmoil, but they do not predicate a Catholic policy in regard to the ecumenical problem. It is however necessary to say, that not only for Catholics, but also for any man seeing in his own confession the absolute fullness of truth, there yet remains the question about the personal treatment of others from within this confession. Catholics consider by unification of the Church an annexation to the Catholic Church. But even the Orthodox understand by unification of the Church an annexation to the Orthodox Church. The glaring gaze of the Protestants, seeing in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches pagan and magic elements, awaits rather a personal conversion to the Church of the Word of God. Thus the school of Karl Barth, itself an interesting current of religious thought in contemporary Europe, is quite unfavourable towards the Ecumenical Movement and is indifferent towards it. This is explained by its Protestant pathos, by its return to the sources of the Reformation. But the greater part of Protestants, particularly the Anglo-Saxon world, are of an other disposition. The Ecumenical Movement was conceived in the bosom of Protestantism. If for the Orthodox and the Catholics the very word-phrase "unification of the Church" is inexact and ambiguous--since they believe in the existence of one visible Church, then for the Protestants it is a possibility--since for them there is one invisible Church, of visible churches however many there might be, as many as there are Christian communities. For Orthodox sharing in the emergent movement is easier than for Catholics--Orthodox are rather more free than Catholics--but more difficult than for Protestants, since there also exists for the Orthodox one visible Church with dogmas and mysteries.

It is most of all important to perceive that the Church is a Divine-human process, the interaction of God and mankind. In the history of the Church not only does God act, but also man. And man brings into the life of the Church both his positive creative activity and also his negative activity, having been distorted. Man has imposed his own imprint on all the churches and all the confessions and he is always inclined to substitute his own seal in place of the seal of God. Within tradition, for tradition not only Orthodox and Catholic, but also Protestant, human activity is always shrouded over. And this human activity develops not only that what like a seed was placed within Divine Revelation, but often also took the place itself of Divine Revelation. Thus continuously side by side in the history of the Church the Gospel was screened and transmitted by human tradition. Very often there was opposed to new human creativity not Divine Revelation itself, but the already ossified results of an old human creativity. Human creativity and activity of the past sometimes seem inertial, jumbled together for the human creativity and activity of the present. This we see constantly in the history of Christianity. The demand of guarding the tradition of the fathers and the forefathers might often be unfaithful to the fathers and the forefathers, who in their own time created something new. Living tradition not only preserves, but creates further. It is impossible to comprehend within the religious life, if one does not constantly remember, that Revelation dually assumes not only a Revealing of God, but also a perceiving of the Revelation by man. Man in perceiving Revelation is not like a stone or a piece of wood, he is activated. When man hears the Word of God--the beloved phrase of Barthianism--he is not able to be passive, he always has a creative reaction in his hearing, he has always an active comprehension of what was heard. The perception of Revelation is already a response to it. Wherefore the Divine element and the human element in the life of the Church and in Christian history are so mixed up together, that it is difficult to separate and divide them apart. Absolute guarantees of purely the Divine aspect, not complicated by the human aspect nor altered by it, would almost not be possible. Such a guarantee would be a negation of human freedom. Catholics seek their guarantees in the infallible authority of the pope; Protestants--on the authority of Holy Scripture; Orthodox--in Sobornost' and Church Tradition. But in these searchings after guarantees there is no escape from a vicious circle, because the authority of the pope exists only during that time wherein the faith of Catholics, human faith, consigns to the pope this authority; since Holy Scripture itself, the Word of God is come by through human verse, expressed in human language and given to us through Church Tradition; since the Sobornost' of the Church presupposes human freedom and outside this freedom there does not exist tradition itself. The teaching of Khomyakov about Sobornost' has an advantage, since avowedly there is put at the center of it the idea of freedom, and not the idea of authority. And Dostoievsky further discerns that the idea of authority is an anti-Christian temptation. The question is complicated because, not only all the searching, corruption and sin in the life of the Church proceeds from the human aspect, but from it also proceeds all the creative, the enrichment and development. Human activity of the past, human tradition often mix up the resolution of the problems posed for our era, but these problems can only be resolved by a new human activity, only by the commencing of a new tradition. The human aspect, with its own active reaction individualises Christian Revelation, fragmented into national types of thought and national types of culture, associated and conjoined within national-political forms. The universal truth of Christianity is perceived variously and assumes a different type for East and for West, for the Latin, German or Anglo-Saxon world. We do not know a type of Christianity that would not be an human individuation. These very individualisations by themselves are a positive enrichment and blessing. In the House of the Father are many abodes. Yet by human sin is manifest not individualisation, but rather separation and emnity. If there were not the separation of the Church, then all the variance would be the huge distinction between the type of Christian East and the type of the Christian West. This distinction was largely between eastern and western patristics, when the Church was still one. If India and China were to become Christian, then they would form a new individualised type of Christianity, distinct from the Eastern Orthodox and from the Western Catholic and Protestant. You would not convince Indians or Chinese, were they to become Christians, that the ancient Graeco-Roman culture with Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics is a necessary component part of Christian Revelation. They had their own ancient wisdom, their own great philosophies, and they remain for them much closer than Plato or Aristotle. This ought to be ascribed to the human aspect, not the Divine aspect. Our Christianity up to the present was almost exclusively the Christianity of Mediterranean nations, of Graeco-Roman culture. Such was the human soil receiving Christianity. True, this soil was formed in the Hellenistic epoch which was universalistic, but all this however was complicated by the eastern influences of Graeco-Roman culture. In the East was the influence by the principal trend--Greek culture; in the West--Latin. For the one influence the principal trend was Plato and Neo-Platonism; for the other--Aristotle and the Stoics. But if we believe in an absoluteness of Christianity, then we are not able to take into account the Mediterranean Graeco-Roman religion. It is necessary to distinguish Christian Revelation from the types of civilisation and the types of thought, through which it is refracted. And here all the confessions make this distinction insufficiently. If however they make Aristotle a fragmentary part of Christian Revelation, if the Thomists avow the confession of Aristotle's philosophy as a necessary pre-condition for the correct understanding of Revelation, then it means that the human particular was accepted in place of the Divine-universal. The human element, human versification transforms the absolute Christian Revelation into a confession, into which the universality is always jammed-in. Without doubt--nations, civilisations and confessions have their own special gifts and missions. But a consciousness of these gifts and missions does not oblige to cripple the universal consciousness. National types and civilisation types, the character of thought and distinction of formulation are moreso separative, than the religious realities and truth of Revelation itself, than spiritual life. When the problem of Christian universality is considered, it is rather difficult how to specify what aspect in a confession applies to the human and psychological, to types of thought and culture, nationalism and politics. And furthermore there is the great difficulty in delineating within this individuative human element between what is the positive diverse creativity and richness, and between what in it is the source of self-complacency, narrow-mindedness, division and emnity towards others. A Confession, any Confession, is an historic individualisation of the one Christian Revelation, of the one Christian Truth. Since no Confession is able to be the full universal Truth, it is not able to be the Truth itself. A Confession is an historical category and it relates to an historical issue of the Divine-human religious process. A Confession is the confessing of faith in God by man, and not the full Truth revealed by God. And man himself adds on limitations to his confession of faith in God. A believer has an irresistible tendency to see a theophany in that which he himself has contributed to the historical religious process. His very own deeds appear to him like an objective truth revealed from without. National-historical faith-confessions in particular appear to be revelations objectively given. Church nationalism, although it were as vast as Latinism, is still an irresistible paganism within Christianity. A Christian is not able not to believe, that the Universal Church of Christ exists, and that in it are oneness, fullness and riches. But it is only partially, incompletely actualised in history, and much in it remains in a potential condition. Confessions with their own conjoining with nationalism and political forms, with their own limitations by certain types of thought and certain styles of culture are not able to pretend to be the contemporary actualised Universal Church, a contemporary expression of oneness and fullness. No confession in its human aspect is able to pretend to be the bearer of the fullness and purity of Orthodoxy, Catholicity, and Evangelicity. Confessions always have limitations and often become ossified, obstructing the Spirit. No local Orthodox Church can pretend to be the bearer and expression of the fullness of Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church exists as the true Universal Church, but this is not the Russian or the Greek Church, in which the Orthodoxy is subsumed. The Roman Catholic Church cannot pretend to be the bearer and expression of the fullness of Catholicity. And the many-denominationed Protestant Church cannot pretend to be the bearer and expression of the fullness and pureness of Evangelicity. People very often accept their own pride and self-conceit for faithfulness to Truth. But they become faithful not so much to Truth, as to themselves and their own limitations. Truth is established rather moreso deeply and moreso beyond. The official Catholic Church has pretensions to be the bearer of fullness and universality. And in the name of their own universal consciousness it is exclusive; it removes itself from communality with all the remaining Christian world. In actuality it is particularistic, the Roman Church, bearing on itself the imprint of a certain type of human mentality, human civilisation, the imprint of an human ethnos, the Latin ethnos. This vast Church, a grand style with great past culture, encompassing all parts of the world--but it is only a part, taking itself for the whole. In its particularism it most imagines itself universal. Especially, the Catholic consciousness in its classic system of Thomism regards its own church, ie. the contemporary, as fully actualised in history, and it is willing to admit nothing of potentiality still requiring actualisation. This fully conforms with the Thomistic interpretation of Aristotle's teaching about potentiality and act. Orthodox consciousness is more readily able to admit potentiality in the Church, of those things still requiring actualisation. This is defined by the concept of the Church as a living spiritual organism, or Divine-human process. This also is Sobornost', a strange notion for Western Christian consciousness.

But does this not lead us to acknowledge the limitedness of every confession and the impossibility to see universality in it--does this not lead us to Inter-Confessionalism? Many think of the Ecumenical Movement as a movement towards Inter-Confessionalism. I am inclined to think that Inter-Confessionalism is a mistake and a danger for the Ecumenical Movement. Protestant organisations frequently put forth the principle of Inter-Confessionalism and in it they think to encompass all the confessions and churches. But Inter-Confessionalism is least of all to be acknowledged universal. Inter-Confessionalism is not an enrichment, but an impoverishment, not a concrete fullness, but rather an abstraction. Inter-Confessionalism is not richer and fuller, but rather poorer and more impaired than a confession. It is a reducing to the minimum. Inter- Confessional Christianity is an abstract Christianity, and in it there is not the concrete fullness of life. The proponents of Inter-Confessionalism propose a Christianity to be united on an abstract minimum of Christianity, eg. on faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, throwing away everything else that makes for division. But by such a path it is impossible to come upon the religious life. Religious life has altogether no semblance to political life, wherein impossible coalitions are structured such, that I yield up something to you, and you yield up something to me. Faith however is able to be integral, whole, in which there is nothing possible to yield up. Wherefore it only is living, wherefore it only is able to inspire to action. If what I have as an Orthodox is a cult of the Mother of God, then I cannot pretend that I forget about this in the interest of harmonising with a Christianity to which this cult is foreign. Universality is fullness and it is not attained by way of abstraction, by a way of addition and subtraction. The will for universality is a will for greater fulless and enrichment and only by this fullness and enrichment is it possible to think about the reunification of the Christian world. The Ecumenical Movement is able to be considered only in the sense, that in it representatives of various confessions jointly meet together and work, that it is a co-operation of confessions. But this jointness does not mean that a confession makes itself within to be inter-confessional, that Inter-Confessionalism makes its believers into Orthodox, Protestants or Catholics. Such an Inter-Confessionalism would signify indifference. Therefore it is necessary to speak not about Inter-Confessional, but rather about Supra-Confessionalism, about a movement towards supra- confessional fullness. Universality is attained by a movement upwards and into the depths, through a manifestation of fullness within each religious type. The Christian world is one in the depths and in the heights, but on the surface it is hopelessly divided. But the movement towards Inter-Confessionalism moves along the surface. The movement towards Supra-Confessionalism is a movement in depth and on high. We want to fill in its deficiency. Inter-Confessional Christianity is deficient, very abstract, a minimising, and therefore we ought not to strive after it. Only by remaining in one's own confession, but going into profound depths and sublime heights, passing from the plane on which historical confessions clash, to the greater spiritual plane, I am able to hope to attain to supra-confessional fullness. Orthodoxy in its depths, in the authentic realities, is able to make encounter with Catholics and Protestants. Profound Christian mysteries make encounter with profound mysteries of non-Christian religions. On the surface we are divided by doctrines and forms of thought, various psychologies and forms of church organisation. In the depths we touch together with Christ Himself, and therefore with each other. And this is altogether not the bloodless Inter-Confessionalism. This is a movement towards fullness.

It is impossible to give up the Truth in which we believe, and thereis nothing in it to be surrendered. Concrete integral Truth is indivisible. But this does not make implication that one account oneself already the bearer of this Truth. No one is able to pretend that he or his religious community fully actualises the fullness of universal Truth. Not only in life, but also in thought it is not fully actualised. Not only the individual man, but also each religious community there is a need for its fullfillment, and always it becomes blameworthy in self-satisfaction, in emnity towards others, and to assume the part for the whole. The Christian religious life is infinite in its tasks and it is not able to be comprised in any final form. Meanwhile all historic confessions strive after a consolidation of final forms, in which they wish to contain the fullness of Truth. Universality however is an infinite task, not containable by any confessional form. Christianity is not only a Revelation of Truth, but also a Revelation of Love. And fanatical attachment to its own confessional truth often sins against love. It is a not-believing in Christ, Who is not only the Truth, but also Love, as the Way and the Life. Only an unity of truth and love is able to reveal the way of Christian unity. Legalistic devotion to truth itself for its own sake may lead to hateful feelings and disunity. The excluded entry of love, accompanied by an indifference to truth, makes vague and uncertain the aim itself of Christian unity. It is necessary to make a distinction between Orthodoxy as the Universal Church, in which there mustneeds be the Fullness of Truth, and Orthodoxy as a confession, in which inevitably there rests the imprint of human organisation. I can see in Orthodoxy the very great Truth and therefore I want to remain in it to the end. But this does not oblige preventing me to see the historical sins and blame of Orthodoxy, both Graeco-Byzantine and Russian. And such sins are not small -- deceitful attitudes by the Church towards the State, having led to the enslavement of the Church by the State, church nationalism, belief in ceremony, into which the Orthodox world frequently succumbs, a deficiency of action, of active Christian life, the suffocation of the Gospel aspect by the sacramental-liturgical aspect, isolation within itself and hostility towards the Western Christian world. The very word Pravoslavnie/Orthodoxy signifies the confession of Truth. But the national Orthodox churches of the East do not manifest themselves as bearers of this full Truth. By Orthodoxy, and in particular for us Russian Orthodoxy, one ought to acknowledge that Orthodoxy preserved an ancient truth, but very little and poorly did it put it into practise, very little was done for embodying it into life, and not only in life but even in thought. Western Christianity realised and actualised itself much more. It may be because the temptation to alter the truth often presented itself. But Truth is revealed to us not only in order for us to guard it jealously, it is revealed to us for creativity in life. Truth is not dead stock-capital, it ought to bring about a profiting. Truth, which itself is not realised in the dynamic of life, thus becomes deadened, it ceases to be the Way and the Life. Beyond question, the Truth of Orthodoxy was the Spiritual Font of Life of the Russian nation. It gave birth to the images of great saints. It shaped the souls. But its realisation was not proportionate to the measure of the given truth. The Christian West, it may seem, actualised itself too much, until the force burst asunder; the Christian East--insufficiently so. I am convinced that there is in it greater dogmatic truth than in Catholicism and Protestantism, that in it are given endless possibilities, particularly in consequence of its insufficient actualisation, and that in it flows the spirit of freedom. But this does not hinder the awareness of the sins of the Orthodox world and its limitation. And in the West there exist not only confessions, as Orthodox often suppose. In the West is an original Christian spiritual experience, very rich and varied, and we ought to much study Western Christianity. But also the Western Christian world ought to consider the significance and richness of the Christian East. It is neither necessary in total nor in all it holds to, Only such a reciprocal dispostion might be propitious for Christian reapproachment and unity. We cannot in the XX Cent make pretension to a consciousness of the Universal Church by human power itself. If the Universal Church never was, it if does not know its own origin from Jesus Christ, then it would never be. Congresses, conferences, inter-confessional gatherings might be a symbol of the rise of a new universal spirit amongst Christian mankind, but they cannot make pretense to a consciousness of the Church, which finally first of all would be fully universal. The Ecumenical Movement, which serves its own heated advocacy, has its own risks, which need to be recognised. In the past Unia attempts between Catholics and Orthodox bore an altogether external character, that of church- governance, and it was accomplished without an inner spiritual unity. This Unia usually caused the reverse results and aroused even greater hostility. Nowhere is there such hostility between Orthodox and Catholics, as in the countries where there is Uniatism. It is very characteristic, that the Orthodox are most repulsed by those Catholics, who appear to be specialists on the Eastern Question and on Orthodoxy, professionals on the so-called "Re-Unification of the Church". The very expression "Re-Unification of the Church" would be best altogether discarded, as insincere and inacurrate. A schism of churches did not occur; what occurred was a schism of Christian humankind. And the question amounts not to a re-unification of churches, but to a re-unification of Christians, a re-unification of Christian East and West, and a re-unification of Christians within the West itself. From this it always concludes where it begins, with a re-unification of the Christian soul. Least of all is this attained by negotiations and agreements by church rulers. The process of reapproachment and unification ought to come from underneath, from within the depths. The danger of formal Unias exist therefore, when Catholics strive towards the annexation of the Orthodox East. On this soil has already stood Vl Solovyev, who was great by his empathy over unity, but the point of view of which was out-dated. At present the Ecumenical Movement, in which the chief role is played by Protestants, takes on a different symbol and with it is bound up danger of a different sort. They sometimes comprehend Christian Universality too externally, predominantly social and moral. In our era there exists an understanding of Christianity as being a social and moral religion. It is often possible to encounter such an understanding in the Anglo-Saxon world. I am least of all inclined to deny the great significance of the social question for the unification of the Christian world. On the contrary, I think that the social question at present is central for Christian consciousness. From the changed attitudes of Christianity of all confessions of belief towards social life, from the radical condemnation by Christians of social injustice and demands for realising the righteousness of Christ in social life, its fate depends upon Christianity in the world. Precisely upon this ground there emerges the gathering of anti-Christian forces. Christians ought not to cede to the enemies of Christianity the prerogatives of the struggle for social justice, for improvement of the condition of the working classes. But Christianity is not a social religion, and the foundations of Christianity are not social nor are they moral, but rather mystical and spiritual. Forgetfulness about the mystical side of Christianity and its orientation towards eternity cannot lead to true unity and universality. The Liturgical Movement of our times is a reminder about the mystical foundations of Christianity. And in a significant part of the Protestant world, which generally is most liturgically impaired and impoverished, there has awakened a liturgical thirst. The unity of the Christian world will be attainable not on the soil of the social, but on the soil of the spiritual deepening between all confessions, on the soil of emergence of spiritual life. In the last century Christian spirituality has become enfeebled, and Christianity having grown external, was exposed to the influence of rationalism and frequently was subservient to bourgeois interests. It is impossible to hope, that a decayed and externalised Christianity would attain to greater unity and universality. The tasks of the Ecumenical Movement are however carried out under the present time Christian renaissance. Over our world living through its crises and catastrophes, it brings about a breath of a new Christian spirituality. And with this are bound up our hopes. It is impossible already to be an externalised, existing Christian, half-Christian, half-pagan. The demands imposed on a Christian soul in our times are terribly increased. And there occurs a qualitative selection. By the sword it separate the authentic from the inauthentic, the real from the illusory, the Divine from that, which man himself fashions and passes off for the Divine. Christianity itself over the course of centuries has become secularised and there ought to occur a cleansing of Christianity. It is necessary to resolve the problems within Christianity which torment the world, and Christianity cannot be indifferent to movements in the world. But then however it would be strong in the world and for the world, when it is not dependent on the world nor defined by the world. There emerges in the world an unprecedented concentration, association and organisation of anti-Christian forces. These forces are unusually active. And Christianity, divided into parts, into hostility between its confessions, is powerless before the face of anti-Christian peril, before the increasing de-Christianisation of the world. The contrast between the associated, organised and anti-Christian forces and that of the divided, disorganised and passive force of Christians cannot but torment the Christian conscience. Before the face of a powerful enemy, the need for Christian unity is not able to be perceived. Christians themselves are guilty in much, Christians and not Christianity. Christians themselves were necessary to do those social and cultural deeds, which often the enemies of Christianity did instead. They did not do it, or they did it with a strange delay, that even worse, condemned the doers. Why Christian forces are less active than anti-Christian forces, quite plainly, this is explicable by the Christian teachings of belief and world outlook. Christianity recognises the freedom of the human spirit and the power of sin. It is not able to believe in the resolution of all the questions of external life nor in coerced organisation, in which Communism believes. Christian freedom in particular makes difficult the realisation of Christianity in life. This is the fundamental paradox of Christianity. It is easier to be a materialist than a Christian. From a Christian is demanded incomparibly more, and usually he fulfills it less. But epochs occur when Christian souls awaken, when activism is made unavoidable, and dullness and inertia of soul are overcome. We are come upon such an epoch. Responsibility has increased immeasurably. We do not already live in a cozy and calm Christian existence. We are summoned to creative efforts. The Ecumenical Movement is a symptom of the awakening of the Christian world, as yet still weak. But within all the confessions and all the historical churches there awakens this disquiet and agitation. All more and more often there emerges a passing through the enclosed boundaries of a confession. The transitions from one confession to another are often a personal matter and do not resolve the ecumenical problems, usually even do not raise them. But people, remaining believers in their own confession, sicken with thirst for universal unity and fullness. More deep and spiritual an understanding ought to weaken confessional fanaticism and self-conceit; it leads to another plane than that, on which are played out the struggles of the divided and hostile parts of the Christian world. "Mystic" and "politic" are necessarily set in decided contrast within the Church, using these words in the sense that Charles Peguy uses them. All the persecutions of Christian history are related to the engagement of the Church with the "political". In the separation and emnity a large part however was borrowed from the political, which is able to be shown for all the historical religious persecutions. And here already the political momentum plays a predominant role in religious strife, it enters into dogmatic disputes. The awakening of Christian spirituality ought to diminish the role of the political element in the Church. And by this ought to be uncovered the possibility of a new spirit-inspired social creativity within Christianity. We enter into the present new era and altogether modernly there needs to be posited the problem of unity and universality. In the old settings of this problem was however a sense of the particularism and parochialism of the historic life of the Church. We live in a revolutionary epoch, and all the historical boundaries, seemingly eternal, are swept away. Universal Christianity might however be actualised through a critical eschatological sense of life. Christians think, that Divine truth separates them. In reality what separates them namely is human, human inner constructs, differing in experience and sensation of life within its intellectual type. Treating as an object their own personal condition, people think that they struggle for an absolute truth. But when we come towards the authentic religious primal-realities, when the authentic spiritual experience shows itself forth to us, we come nigh close one to another and are united in Christ. Orthodox have a different teaching about the Atonement than Protestants, and are able to dispute endlessly that their teaching is more correct. But the Atonement itself is one thing or another, yet the religious reality itself is one. Orthodox have another teaching about the veneration of the Mother of God than do Catholics: they do not accept the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Disputes about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception arouse division and hostility. But the cult itself of the Mother of God, the religious experience itself of the Mother of God is one and this however is of the Orthodox and the Catholics. Christian reapproachment results when set neither on the soil of scholastic-doctrinalism, nor on the soil of canonical correctness. On this soil especially there occur separation and division. Reapproachment first of all needs to set on the groundwork of the spiritual-religious, the inner. The outer comes from the inner, Church unity from the spiritual unity of Christians, from Christian friendship. There is conjoined first of all the faith on Christ and the life in Christ, a seeking of the Kingdom of God, ie. the very essence of Christianity. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all else shalt be apportioned you. It is possible to join together on the very seeking of the Kingdom of God, and not on those remaining things that are added. But in sinful Christian mankind, these things that are apportioned/added eclipsed the very Kingdom of God itself, and it is this that separates into parts the Christian world. The idea of the Kingdom of God is more deeply profound than the idea of the Church, which is an historical pathway to the Kingdom of God. The idea of the Kingdom of God is eschatological and prophetic. On it ought to be the foundation of unity. This is not a minimum but a maximum, not an abstraction but concrete. The perspective of attaining absolute fullness and absolute unity is an eschatological perspective, is a fulfillment of the times. But this fulfillment of the times is however accomplished in time.

The Ecumenical Movement signifies a change within the Christian world, the arising of a new Christian consciousness. Orthodoxy would be propitious soil for the Ecumenical Movement and the entry of Orthodox into this movement may have great significance. The Orthodox world is not a participant in the fierce historical struggle of Protestants and Catholics. The experience of inter-confesssional gatherings in Paris has shown, that Orthodox and Catholics more easily meet on an Orthodox groundwork. There are two understandings of universality--horizontal and vertical. For an horizontal understanding of universal unity it signifies the seizure as may be possible of vast expanses of land, with an universal organisation over all the surface of the land. Catholicism is inclined towards this understanding. For a vertical understanding of universality it is a measurement of depth, and universality is able to be bestowed, like a quality of each eparchy/diocese. This is the Orthodox understanding. It is more propitious for the Ecumenical Movement. The Catholics could take an active part in this movement in however this circumstance, if they renounce imperialism in the understanding of the universal unity of Christianity, if they conquer in themselves the imperialistic will as a temptation, and view around themselves not objective influences, but subjective. This perhaps is the most important question in the movement towards unity. Without the part of the Catholics the movement is not able to be complete in its results. Of the Protestants there is another temptation, a temptation of too great an easiness in the attaining of unity and universality. The Orthodox temptation however is the temptation of an isolated and self-satisfied existence, indifferent to what happens in the world. Each has its own temptation. The soil for unification might be prepared by human action and a focusing of the human will. And we all ought to work towards this. But not by human powers is this unification to be accomplished; it is accomplished ultimately by the action of the Holy Spirit, when the hour for this is come. And in any case, the movement towards this central event in the destiny of Christianity symbolises the entry into a new epoch, when the pouring-forth of the Holy Spirit will be more powerful, than was up to the present time.

Nikolai Berdiaev

Translator's Postscript

Article published in collaborative book "Khristianskoe Vozsoedinenie: Ekumenicheskaya Problema v Pravoslavnom Soznanii (Christian Reunification: The Ecumenical Problem in Orthodox Consciousness)", YMCA Press, Paris, no date, p 63-81. YMCA Press Berdiaev "Bibliographie", by T Klepinina, indicates publication in year 1933. Also, that article was first published in 1931 in French, under title "OEcumenisme et le confessionalisme". Russian title "Vselenskost' i konfessionalism". In light of the French title, it might seem that our title should be "Ecumenism and Confessionalism". Berdyaev, in addition to using the literal russification of the word "ecumenical", uses also this word "vselenskost'" which I translate as "universal" which is the literal meaning of the Greek-derived "oikumene" (sic "ecumenical councils" in contrast to those that are only "local" or parochial); indeed, the word "catholic" bears in part similar meaning. In the long duration that separates us from 1931 very much has transpired: the events of 1960's and after have made of the English word "ecumenical" a reknown label, yet devoid of its meaning and significance.

Since 1931/1933, a critical moment midway between the catastrophic world wars, much has transpired, and the first impulse may be to regard this work as out-dated and obsolete. On the contrary, so very much remains pertinent to our own day. And to compare the changed against what was then, is to taste of the bittersweet tragedy of Christian unity in our own seemingly post-ecumenical world. Amidst all the other failed hopes of that time.

There is in the article something to unsettle everyone whether Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant. As in any Berdyaev "issue" one must comprehend the whole and avoid taking him out of context. Berdyaev's basic contention remains extremely valid: that Christian unity of any sort can only be attained through a co-operation with the Lord God, by a penetration into the spiritual depths of one's own religious Tradition for what is authentically eternally real, in contrast to what will be "consigned to oblivion" on the Last Day. A fine tonic to the polite "ecumenical teas" of our own day.

This article should likewise help set to rest the scholarly conceit of some that Berdyaev is somehow not Orthodox, on its fringe, as compared to the rich diversity of life within the Church, and which we ardently hope will return within the life of the Church.

This translation copyright 1995 by translator Fr. Stephen Janos.


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Last revised: October 21, 1998