N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)

ATTEMPT AT A PHILOSOPHICAL JUSTIFICATION
OF CHRISTIANITY

(1909 - #158(4))

(Concerning the Book of V. Nesmelov “The Science of Man”)


The question about the possibility of faith, about its permissibility afront the judgement of reason, stands acutely again before human consciousness. The will and the heart of man draw him towards faith, but contemporary reason quite opposes itself to faith, as once formerly the pagan reason opposed itself, and for which the matter of Christ was folly. But is the matter of Christ genuinely, or is it facetiously in the court of reason, and is this reason indeed genuine, which would invest itself with the almightiness of the supreme court? People of a positivist mind consider it beyond doubt, that the matter of faith is facetious (ultimately) and that the religion of Christ ought to be repudiated even in the event, where the human heart might pine in longing for it and the human will strive fully towards it. And for the contemporary world, as once formerly for the pagan world, the matter of Christ continues to be a “temptation” and a “folly”. The contemporary reason, having condemned the religion of Christ as irrational and folly, -- this is all but the old pagan reason, and essentially in its objections it makes use of all the themes of the old pagan arguments. But the traditional theology fights feebly against the temptations of pagan reason, and serves sooner as a support for the hostility to faith, than for faith itself. The spiritual baggage of contemporary “teachers” of the Church in a majority of cases is so wretched and deplorable, that with it there is no conquering the stormily blustering elements of this world. And it does not suffice to reminisce the old teachers of the Church, who converted the whole of pagan wisdom into a weapon in defense of the faith afront the court of reason, who with genius discerned that selfsame Logos in the philosophic presentiments of the pagan world, which in Christianity is manifest as the Logos in the flesh. Now ought anew ought to be continued the work of the great teachers of the Church, afresh there ought to begin a time for a philosophic justification of faith, and the very work of reason for the new history ought to be transformed into a weapon of defense of the Christian faith. The Logos in the history of the new thought is that selfsame eternal Logos, once but incarnated within world history. But philosophy cannot give faith or be a substitute for faith. Gnosticism is no less dangerous, than a [hellish-dark] (obscurantist) denial of reason. For faith it is impossible to go the philosophic path, but after the experiential act of faith, a Christian gnosis is both possible and necessary. For a philosophic justification of faith there is needed quite a freedom of spirit and quite a breadth, such as is rather difficult to meet with among traditionalist apologetes of Christianity. Usually those apologists, long since bereft of the bond with the spirit of life, having lost the fire of soul, quite simplistically and with ease obliterate the recent history, they negate the work of reason and uproot it with an impassable chasm betwixt the religion of Christ and world culture and world reason. The official, the externalised Christians too often -- are pagan in their life and pagans in their consciousness, and for the sinful pagan world they provide not the opportunity to access the mysteries of the Christian religion. It is as though they intended, so that ultimately there should not be revealed to the world, that the mystery of the Christian religion is a mystery both of every human heart and the [intellectual] (spiritual) nature of man. The matter of the defense of the faith is posited in a position of being the opposite to the natural: the irrationality of history has set adrift this matter into poor hands. To justify the faith in Christ it cannot and ought not to be a matter in the everyday sense of this “spiritual-clergy” world, in which long since already has been quenched the Spirit of life, and that “secular” world, which is full of life, with the Spirit yet insufficiently comprehended. In Russia there have always been “secular” people with a deep religious thirst, with an authentic spiritual life, people inspired, and from them it is necessary to search out religious thought, the comprehension of faith.

I want to turn attention to a certain remarkable, “secular” in his make-up a religious thinker, but outwardly by virtue of his position belonging to the “spiritual-clergy” world, one who is mindful of the old teachers of the Church and who genuinely serves the revealing of this faith, in that the matter of Christ is a matter in the utmost sense rational, rather than folly. I speak about V. Nesmelov, author of the large work “The Science of Man”, a modest and little known professor of the Kazan Spiritual Academy [trans. note, i.e. higher level seminary]. 1 Nesmelov is very bold, very deep and original a thinker. He continues anew the matter of Eastern [mystical] theology, with which he unites a faith in the divineness of human nature, a faith foreign to Western theology. 2 In certain regards he is more interesting than Vl. Solov’ev: he has not suchlike a scope nor brilliance, but there is a depth, an wholeness, an originalness of method and a vital sense of Christ. He is a singular thinker, standing afar off from life. His nobility of style and integrity are amazing for our tousled and fragmented era. In Nesmelov is the charm of his inner tranquillity, an organic consciousness of what is right and the majesty of his work, the independence from whatever the petty powers of the times of his interests and breadth. In the restrained style of Nesmelov one senses the spirit of the extra-temporal, an orientation towards eternity. In him there is not that overwrought and fragmented feel, which one senses with people too caught up in our epoch, in its shifting moods, in its wickedness of the day. Nesmelov is totally absorbed by the wickedness of eternity, and therefore he did not squander his spiritual powers, he gathered them for a certain task. But these traits of Nesmelov make him foreign to the people of our generation. It is difficult to throw across a bridge from him to the contemporary restlessness in soul. He is altogether unknown of and unappreciated, and for the contemporary world he mustneeds be discovered and investigated.

Nesmelov called his two-volume work “The Science of Man”. This -- is an unique in its kind attempt of a philosophic construct of religious anthropology. This work is broken down into a teaching about the essence of human nature, and derived from this teaching the necessity of redemption. Nesmelov gives to philosophy a redemption, strikingly profound and original, and he constructs it upon his teaching about man, which he regards as strictly scientific. Nesmelov begins his work with an investigation of the question about the tasks of philosophy. Does philosophy have its own autonomous sphere, its own purpose, distinct from the purposes of all the other remaining sciences, or disciplines? If in philosophy there be viewed the teaching about the universal, then the boundaries, separating philosophy from the other sciences, become obscured, and it is deprived of its own specific object. But, according to Nesmelov, there is one object in the world, which in genuine manner cannot be investigated by any particular science and it presents an impenetrable mystery for the scientific manner of looking at the world. This object -- is man, and the mysteries are those lodged within his nature. This view has little in common with that which sees the task of philosophy in the gnosseological investigation of the subject and of the nature of cognition. The mystery of human nature is an ontological mystery, and not gnosseological, and the object, which philosophy proposes to investigate, is a fact of being, and not of intellect, a living mystery of the human being, and not a mystery of the knowing subject. The method of Nesmelov can be called ontologic-psychological, for he all the time starts out from lived facts, and not from cognition and ideas. 3 The abstract dialectic of concept is totally foreign to Nesmelov and it seemed to him scholastic. In this he quite differed from Vl. Solov’ev -- a dialectician foremost. This may seem strange, but as a thinker, as an apologete, Nesmelov has much in common with L. Feuerbach and he says straightoff, that the point of departure of Feuerbach is correct, and that he goes the same path that Feuerbach does, but arrives elsewhere. With Feuerbach, Nesmelov conceives of an identical understanding of the essence of all religion, and the Christian religion foremost. Just like Feuerbach, Nesmelov sees this essence in the enigma concerning man. Religion is the expression of the mystery of human nature, the reflection of the enigmatic-ness of human nature. “For man there does not exist in the world any sort of enigmas, besides man himself, and man himself is manifest for himself an enigma only in this sole regard, that the nature of his person in regard to the given conditions of his existence be rendered ideal. If it were possible to reject this sole regard, then together with it quite reasonably it would be possible to reject in the world both every wonder, and all mystery”. 4 “To realise oneself however in one’s own natural makeup of one’s unique person, not one man is in a condition to, in actual fact”. 5 And further on: “The image of unconditional being is not created by man in any sort of abstractive thoughts, but in reality is given to man by the nature of his person”. 6 “Through the very nature of his person, man necessarily images his own unconditional essence and at that selfsame time he actually exists, as a simple being of the physical world”. 7 This twofold aspect of human nature is also a great mystery, which ought to be investigated by philosophy and it ought to lead to religious anthropology, since positivist anthropology is not concerned with the fact of man’s belonging to another world. Out of the things of the world man is unique, and man -- is the image and likeness of unconditional Being, of the Absolute Person-ness. This is the undoubtable initial truth, upon which all religion rests, and Nesmelov grounds it upon a scientific objectivism without anything of the fantastic.

It is from the fact of human nature, and not from the concept of God that Nesmelov comes to the awareness of God. He anthropologically posits the being of God and by this positing he philosophically affirms the objective verity of Christianity. God awareness is a given by the ideal nature of the person as the image and likeness of God. The idea of God “is actually a given for man, but not only is it not a given to him from somewhere outside, in the capacity of a thought about God, but factual-subjectively it is realised in him by the nature of his person, as a living image of God. If the human person were not ideal in regard to the real conditions of its own particular existence, man would be incapable of possessing the idea of God, and no sort of revelation would ever be able to impart to him this idea, since he would be in no condition to comprehend it. And if man had not consciousness by virtue of the ideal nature of his person, he would then be incapable of possessing any sort of consciousness about the real being of the Divine, and this consciousness would be unable to lodge within him any sort ever of a supernatural actuality, since by his human consciousness he would be susceptive only to the reality of the sense world and the reality of himself as a physical part of the world. But the human person is real in its being and ideal in its nature, and by the very fact of its ideal reality it without mediation directly affirms the objective existence of God as true Person-ness. 8 “The possibility of the consciousness of God is determined by the fact of the inner contradiction between the conditional being of man and the unconditional character of his person”. 9 In such manner, Nesmelov decisively and victoriously refutes the mechanistic understanding of revelation, as something foreign and external to the inner nature of the human person itself. His method of discerning the being of God is more powerful and persuasive than all the discernments from intellect, and his proof -- is factual. But the fact of an higher nature of man is unprovable and positively inexplicable. Man as a person is conscious of himself as of an higher order, and not a thing of the natural order, and this consciousness cannot originate from a world of things, from the order of a lower nature. The consciousness of one’s God-likeness is a consciousness not from this world, it is a consciousness, begotten from another world.

Within man, alongside his animate life, with his life as a thing of this world, there is alive a consciousness of life true, perfect, and God-like. “The moral consciousness springs forth for man from the ideal nature of his person, and therefore it leads man not to the concept about the good of life, but exclusively only to the concept about the truth of life”. 10 The consciousness of his belonging to another, to a Divine world, the consciousness of his vocation-call to a true and perfect life is the source of a tormenting dissatisfaction with this imperfect and false life. Man realises, that his unworthiness -- of God-like existence -- makes for the life of a simple thing of the natural world. Out of this is begotten the consciousness of guilt, the impossibility to be reconciled with this false and imperfect life, the thirst for the redemptive atonement of guilt and the attainment of the utmost perfection. For man is necessary not a pardoning of guilt, not an armistice with God, which would grant the hope for a semblance of a forgiveness, but rather the redemptive atonement of the guilt, the transfiguration of his nature in accord with the image of God, the attainment of perfection. Man himself cannot pardon himself his sin, his life in accord with the law of the animal world, he cannot reconcile with this his own God like nature, his own consciousness of true life. And Nesmelov subjects to a deep analysis the idea of salvation, which is rooted in the depths of human nature.

The idea of salvation was not foreign to the pagan world, it was promulgated by the nature religions, but therein it was altogether different than in the Christian consciousness. The natural pagan religions were unable to arrive at the consciousness of true life. They looked upon God and the gods as means for the attaining of earthly happiness, as an help for their own purposes. True religion however requires the free assimilation of likeness to God. “The striving of man towards the justification of his existence upon the earth, amidst that hostile to the God-like life, gives rise to a juridical relationship to God and by this it directly and decisively negates the truth of religion, and the possibility of morality, since that in the grip of this relationship religion is transformed for man into a simple deal with God, and like an ordinary worldly deal, it necessarily becomes subordinated to the principle of the happiness of life”. 11 Such is the idea of salvation in natural religion. And this juridical theory was carried over also into the Christian world. In Catholicism (indeed in Protestantism also) the juridical understanding predominates. The (radical) surmounting of it comprises the chief service of Nesmelov.

The pagan salvation is a seeking of help and the fulfilling of wishes, and the pagan relationship to the Divinity is a juridical contract with Him, a deal. Christian salvation is a transforming of man, the attaining of perfection, the realisation of God-likeness. The pagan idea of salvation Nesmelov sees not only in the pagan world, but also in the Christian world. Far too many a “Christian” understands the idea of salvation in the crudely pagan manner, they see in it only an heavenly projection of earthly greed, of earthly egoism. Man finds himself serving heaven, and imploring God, in atonements for his lower nature, and the attainment of blissful well-being. But the higher, the God-like nature of man calls him not to well-being, but to perfection, not to a life of making reparations, but to true life. The relationship of man to God ought to be defined by his thirst of perfective, of true life, by his ineradicable need to realise his eternal image, and not by his thirst for well-being and satisfaction. Therefore the relationship of man to God cannot be a juridical contract, it is impossible to cajole out of God forgiveness and well being, God cannot be given hurt feelings by man, wherein either to pardon or to punish him. Christ revealed the truth about God-manhood, about sonship to God, about the God-likeness of man and He called people to this, -- that they should become perfect, as their Heavenly Father is perfect And God is not moreover Power, to be terrified of, which can either punish or befriend, and which it is necessary by bloody sacrificial offering to win well-being in life. God wants but the perfection of His children, and they themselves desire this perfection, this likeness to their Father. Herein there is no place for superstitious fears and terrors, for a contract, for pardons or punishments, of the crude transference of the humanly-relative to the Divinely-absolute. This great truth which is Christ’s, Nesmelov investigates and establishes, and he does a great service for the liberation of Christianity from pagan superstition.

Nesmelov recognises the possibility of an intellectual basis of the ontological significance of salvation, of a philosophic construct of an ontology of salvation. But his religious ontology is wholly based on religious anthropology, and religious anthropology is based on a scientific analysis of human nature, “on the psychologic history and critique of the fundamental questions of life”. In such manner, Nesmelov attempts to provide a scientific-philosophic justification of the truth of Christ. Nesmelov -- is a remarkable psychologist, and he provides to psychology transcendent depths [and extremes] of the soul life. His psychology of the fall into sin is striking. The higher human nature is positively inexplicable, it remains an enigma for positive science, which acknowledges only the manifestation of the nature, only as a thing. Within human nature there is hid an enigmatic twofoldness, in man -- one of the things of the world, one of its phenomena, there is the image of absolute person-ness, there is the striving towards true and God-like life.

But there is a certain vagueness in the profoundly thought out teaching of Nesmelov. The dualism of human nature, the dualism of an higher nature in man, of a nature not of this world, and of a lower nature which is of this world, the dualism of God likeness and beast-likeness is not a dualism of soul and body, or of the spiritual and the material. It is indeed incorrect to say, that man in soul belongs to the Divine world, but in body to the animal world, and that everything in him spiritual is of another world, whereas everything material is of this world. The soul and body, the spiritual and the material duality in man belongs simultaneously to two worlds. In his God-likeness man is transformed not only in his body, but also no less in his soul; the lower, the evil principle lies not only in the material sphere, but also in the spiritual sphere. The source of evil -- is in spiritual pride, and of hence is begotten the evil of the material fetters. But Nesmelov (sometimes) tends to express it, as though in the spirit he sees the sign of man’s God likeness, but in the body man’s belonging to the animal world. Nesmelov in the results of his analysis [correctly] arrives at this conclusion, that only a spiritualistic teaching about man withstands the test of philosophic and scientific demands. [Spiritualism is the sole true philosophy, and this is so.] But spiritualism can be varied, and least of all satisfactory for us is the dualistic [medieval] form of spiritualism. A spiritualistic monism is [far and above] more satisfactory a form of metaphysics. Together with this, a spiritualistic monism transfers the centre of gravity of the dualism of human nature from the area of philosophic ontology to the area of the religio-mystical. Philosophy can comprehend human nature [only] spiritually, but lodged within it is not so much the ontological dualism of soul and body, as rather the dualism of another order, the dualism of man’s singular and complex spirit-(soul)-bodily nature belonging to two worlds -- to a world Divine and free, and to a world bestial and of necessity. This is a dualism foremost of freedom and necessity, the dualism of one’s consciousness of belonging to a necessitated world of things, and one’s consciousness no less of belonging to a free world of God-like existences. Man -- is a thing in the world and both in his soul and his body he is subject to the necessity of the natural order, and man also -- is a free being, and he belongs both in his soul and in his body to the Divine world. 12

With Nesmelov there is not fully shown the character of the dualism of human nature. But here arises the possibility of yet other vagueness, connected with the ideas of D. S. Merezhkovsky. Merezhkovsky repudiates the metaphysical truth of spiritualism, on the basis that he wants to surmount the dualism of spirit and flesh, with which Christian history and Christian culture have been infused. This mistake is rather greater, than is the vagueness of Nesmelov, but it has the same root. Spiritualism is not a denial of flesh and the earth, and it does not have any sort of relation to the religio-moral or religio-cultural problem of “flesh”, to the problem of an ascetic or non-ascetic relationship to the world. Spiritualism, or panpsychism, is but an understanding of the nature of man and the nature of the world as being spiritual, as comprised of living monads [from spiritised substances].The question about the religio-cultural dualism of spirit and flesh has therefore nothing in common with spiritualist metaphysics, because the principle of “flesh” in the moral, the cultural-historical and religious sense has nothing in common with matter, with the empirical, etc. The spiritual exists not only in Heaven, in an other world, but also upon the earth, in this world. It ought decisively to be stated, that the vulgar distinction between soul and body, the spiritual and the material, is neither possible to be identified with, nor to be brought into harmony with, a dualism between an other world and this world, a dualism of an higher and a lower, etc. Nesmelov is unable to detect the mistake of Merezhkovsky, since he himself but vaguely posits and resolves this question. “Spirit” thus indeed belongs to “this world”, as also does “flesh”, and in “spirit” there can however be a “lower”, -- just as also in “flesh”. The ontological dualism of spirit and matter does not at all exist, but the moral and cultural dualism of “spirit” and “flesh” finds resolution in the religion of God-manhood; in the deification of mankind and the world in Christ. 13 Therefore the hostility of Merezhkovsky towards spiritualism is a simple misunderstanding, a vagueness of philosophic consciousness, and the association by Nesmelov of the twofoldness of human nature of soul and body -- this likewise is a misunderstanding.

With the question about human nature is closely connected the question about immortality and the resurrection. Nesmelov sees in this question a tremendous difference between the naturalistic, pagan mindset and the Christian mindset. For the pagan mindset there sufficed but the idea of a natural immortality, of a naturalistic passing-over from this world to another world. Death also appears as such a naturalistic passing-over. But the naturalistic teaching about immortality says nothing about the salvation of man nor does it point out a path of salvation. Upon the basis of such an idea of immortality there cannot be affirmed the meaning of life, nor can there be posited the purpose of life. Only the Christian teaching about resurrection provides this meaning and leads to salvation. The teaching of the natural religions about immortality only shows the impotence of man to save himself. Nesmelov very keenly discloses the impotence of natural religion and its fatal subordination to the principle of happiness, rather than truth and perfection.

II

“Christianity appeared in the world, as an incredible teaching and an incomprehensible deed”. 14 The human mind -- is pagan, and the naturalist temptations of the mind -- are pagan temptations. The naturalist human mind, left to its own devices, in natural religion readily reduces itself to this, that “the religion necessarily transforms itself into a simple implement for the attainment of its wishes, and the natural transference of the idea of a physical salvation onto the soil of religion necessarily is expressed for it only by the invention of a supernatural method towards the attainment of the purely physical interests and ends of life”.15 With a [striking] (great) depth of psychological analysis Nesmelov traced out, how in context of paganism people accepted the deed of Christ. Both Jews and pagans readily submitted to the preaching of Christ and the charm of His Person, but the mystery of this Person and the significance of His deed they were unable to grasp, misinterpreting it altogether. People awaited an earthly king, the establishing of an earthly kingdom, the saving of the physical life of people in accord with their interests, with their thirst for well-being. But Christ taught: “Be ye perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect”; Christ said: “My kingdom is not of this world”. The deed of Christ was salvation of another kind, a salvation incomprehensible for people, immersed in this world and having neither perfection nor happiness. Nesmelov says, that at the present time a tremendous multitude of the people, “Christians” namely, are situated in a stage of religious superstition, a pagan-Jewish superstition. The people have religion, since they think about their salvation, but not about their perfection, the fear of perdition disquiets them, but not the thirst to realise their God-likeness. People of a pre-Christian consciousness, “understanding their own salvation as a natural result of their own proper merits before God, would concern themselves and actually did concern themselves only about this, to discern for sure the will of God and for sure to define, what is particularly acceptable to God and what is unacceptable to Him, what might please God and what might anger Him”. 16 Upon this soil is begotten a juridical understanding of salvation, i.e. the interpretation of the Saviour’s death on the Cross as a ransom payment for the sins of people, as the appeasing of an angry God.

Religious anthropology, having under it a purely scientific foundation, leads to a rational realisation of that great Christian truth, that man himself, by his own limited powers is unable to save himself. The world was created for the perfective God-likeness of the creation, for the free realisation of the Divine perfection of mankind, and not for the egoistic and greedy aims of people, and not for God to lord it up in dominion over us. Nesmelov penetrates to the intimate depths the psychology of sin and the psychology of salvation and redemption, [and he has a grasp of transcendent psychological mysteries, as but few have had]. People cannot themselves forgive sin, they cannot themselves make peace with their falling-away from God. “They thought not about that they had come to ruin, but only about this, that they -- were guilty before God, i.e. in other words, they thought not about themselves, but only about God; it came to be, they loved God more than themselves, and therefore they were not able to forgive themselves their transgression”. And once there was such a psychology of sin, then also the psychology of redemption had to be included in the striving to merit the mercy of God, the forgiveness of sins, in the reconciliation with God from the fear of perdition. Nesmelov with indignation rejects the conceiving of God as an egoistical holder of power, and in such a view of God he sees the basis of the diabolical temptation. “God did not threaten punishment for the transgressing of His commandment, but beforetime forewarned man about what would necessarily follow, if His given commandment be transgressed by them. Consequently, the fulfilling of the commandment was necessary not for God, but only for people in the interests of their moral perfecting, and consequently, by the transgressing of the commandment, man could bring to ruin only himself, since by this transgression he was however altogether unable to convey an infinite affront to God”.17 God cannot be indignantly insulted by man and therein either punish man, or pardon him. The will of God is in this, that man become perfect, like his Heavenly Father, to become likened unto Him, and it is altogether not in this, that man be made obedient to His formal will. Wherein therefore sin ought to be annihilated, and not merely pardoned, annihilated in the name of perfection. Man himself, conscious of the God-like nature within himself, recognises himself unworthy of forgiveness and thirsts to become perfect. The meaning of Christ’s sacrifice -- is not in the ransom for sin, not in the appeasing of God the Father, but in a miraculous transformation of human nature towards perfection. The juridical teaching about redemption is an affront both to man, and to God. For Nesmelov, in what is the essence of the sin, and why have people, in gnawing the apple from the forbidden tree, committed transgression? Nesmelov provides a [profound] psychology of the primordial transgression. He always makes use of the psychological method, rather than one of abstraction. A “psychology of living facts”, and not a “logic of concepts” -- in this is the originality of the method of Nesmelov in his religious anthropology.

People “desired, that their exalted position in the world should not be dependent on the free developement by them of their spiritual powers, but rather by their physical eating of certain fruits, it means that they essentially wanted this, that their life and fate should be defined not by them themselves, but by external material principle. And this desire of theirs they realised in actual fact. They actually turned for help to the forbidden tree in that particularly full confidence, that the somehow magical power of its fruits, without any effort on their part, mechanically would render them all the more perfect. In these calculations of theirs they were of course crudely mistaken, but the fact of fulfilling their intention they nonetheless accomplished; and therefore the undoubtable mistakenness of their calculations does not itself in the least degree alter the actual significance and meaning of their fatal course of action: by their superstitious course of action people voluntarily subordinated themselves to external nature and themselves voluntarily destroyed that world significance, which they could and should have had in accord with the spiritual nature of their person”. 18 People went their own particular godless way, reckoning to attain by this path a Divine condition, but they fell into a bestial condition, subjecting themselves to a restrictive material nature. Therefore the Biblical account about the fruits of the forbidden tree has deep metaphysical significance. Nesmelov emphasises especially, that the essence of the fall into sin -- is in a superstitious attitude towards material things as a source for power and knowledge. The [deep] truthfulness of this psychology of the fall into sin finds itself experientially confirmed in the consciousness of modern man, in the personal fall into sin of each of us. People “subordinated their soul life to the physical law of mechanistic causality, and it means, they put their spirit into common bondage with the world of things. In consequence of this, they can now essentially live only that life, which exists and is proper to the particular nature of the physical world, and under these conditions death appears inevitable. It means, that death is not something from somewhere from the outside that has come upon people, in punishment, for example, God’s punishment for sin; it has come upon them from them themselves, as a natural and necessary consequence of that transgression, which people committed. In actual fact, this world, in which people wanted to live and in which they actually entered by fact of their transgression, God did not create and did not want to create, and all the appearances which exist in this world, as in a world of transgression, exist not in accord with the creative will of God, but rather in accord with the mechanistic forces of physical nature. That world, which actually was created by God, man spoiled by his transgression”.19 Why did God permit the mutilation of His creation? “By virtue of His almightiness, God undoubtedly was able to not permit the fall of the first people, but He did not want to stifle their freedom, since He would not distort His own image in mankind”. 20

“The holy human life of Jesus Christ speaks but to this, that despite the existence of evil in the world, the world nonetheless comes to realise the Divine idea of being. It means, by fact of His immaculate life, Christ manifested only the justification of God in His creative activity, and not a justification of people before God in their deviation away from God’s law of life”. 21 “Sin never and in no case can be excused man, since every pardoning of sin can only be a becoming reconciled with it, and not at all a liberation from it. For this, that man actually should be delivered from sin, he ought invariably annihilate it within himself”. 22 But the salvation of man is bound up with the salvation of the world, and man himself even with a martyr’s death cannot deliver the world from sin. Nesmelov understands Christianity as an universal deed, and not an individual one, and he affirms the religious meaning of history. The righteousness of Christ is also for him the righteousness of human nature in common. The appearance of Christ was a continuation of the creation. “Recognising Christ’s resurrection as the efficacious basis and first expression of a general law of the resurrection of the dead, we ought obviously to recognise in Christ suchlike a Man, Who being a true possessor of human nature, did not bear only an individual human person-ness, since that His righteousness was the righteousness not of a separate man, but the righteousness of human nature, completely independent of those who in particular partially possess this nature”. 23

Christ is also the appearance in the world of the God-like Man, a revealing of the religious mystery of the human being. The redeeming of the world by Christ is as it were a new creation: man comes to be in that position, in which he was situated before the fall, but enlightened and deified with experience. The Person of Christ is also a God-revelatory answer to the enigma of man: Christ is absolute and the Divine Man, the praeternally existing image and likeness of the Father. But the appearance of Christ in the world and His death on the Cross do not of themselves save, but rather only create the conditions for the possibility of salvation. Salvation is a deed of the will, and not of coercion by God. 24 Christ cleanses from sin those, who freely desire to be cleansed by Him, those who love in Him the image of the existent Divine perfection, to which man was fore-ordained.

“The death of Jesus Christ in actuality is not a ransom-payment to God for people’s sins, but rather the sole means towards the possibility of the cleansing of people’s sins, and furthermore not only of people’s sins, but of the sins also of all the transgressive world in general. It actually and unconditionally cleanses all and every sin, yet still the sins of only those sinners, which Christ the Saviour seeks out, and He seeks out only those sinners, which acknowledge the need in the redemption of their sins and who believe in the actuality of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Whoever does not acknowledge the need in redemption, that one also cannot ultimately desire, that his sins be taken from him by Christ, and therefore he likewise remains in his sins. At the opposite, whoso desires the redemption of his sins and believes in the actuality of Christ’s sacrifice for sin, and turns himself towards the saving help of Christ, that one, even though he should emerge from amidst the hosts of fallen angels, and even though he be Satan himself, it is all the same -- he can be cleansed and saved by the holy blood of Christ; since that even the devil likewise -- is a creation of God, since that he likewise was created by God not for perdition, but for life eternal in the radiant world of God’s saints”. 25 According to the noble teaching of Nesmelov, there can be cleansed and saved both pagans, and the dead, and even the fallen spirits. With a pervasive power of psychological intuition, Nesmelov repudiates the fear of hell’s torments and the terror of perdition as un-Christian feelings, although (eternal perdition he does not deny) also he defends the Christian character of fear of its own non perfection and terror of its own beast-likeness. He saves the thirst for perfection, for God likeness, he saves the love for Christ, the love for the Divine in life, but not the thought about punishment, chastisement, hell’s torments, etc. “Whoso actually believes in Christ, and for whom the living source of moral energy in every instance is lodged not within thought about the Dread Last Judgement of Christ, but in the thought about the love of Christ beyond intellection, such that he would fear Christ’s Judgement over himself only in this one regard, that with his own sinful impurity he might be manifest unworthy of Christ, and Christ might separate him off from living communion with Himself. This separation off for him is more terrible than any punishment, since the life with Christ is higher than any reward, and since he can conceive of his own life in Christ, evidently, not as a desire for heavenly rewards and not in terror of hell’s torments, but exclusively and only through the moral imperative of his own pure and reverent love for Christ. Such a man, reasonably, never would permit the immoral thought to this effect, that people might sin in hope on God’s mercy, since that in this hope he could affirm only the undoubtable truth of his faith, that through the great mercy of Christ the Saviour that people should be saved from sin. Consequently, whoso recourses to God’s mercy on the path towards licentiousness, such an one knows Christ not at all and thinks about the mercy of God not at all, -- he simply commits sacrilege through the ignorance of foolish people, and already it is reasonably apparent, that to put oneself upon the path of truth and render oneself virtuous is not a matter set upon the future threat of universal judgement, but only one’s spiritual enlightenment by the ethical light of Christ’s truth”. 26

Nesmelov raises Christian consciousness to an high degree, he cleanses the Christian consciousness from admixtures of crude paganism, from dark superstitions, from degrading fears, for those seeking the truth of Christ. Nesmelov teaches, that the eternal truth of Christianity is identical with the eternal truth of the ideal and God-like human nature.

III

From the time of the infancy of mankind to our own time pagan idolatry and pagan superstition have been part of religious life. Paganism, ultimately, is not identical with idolatry and superstition, in paganism there was also a positive truth, a genuine sense of God, but the residue of paganism in the Christian world customarily bears an idolatrous and superstitious character. The strangest thing of all is this, that the most external aspect of Christianity, the most official ecclesiality not only does not heal this ulcer of religious life, but rather irritates it the moreso and intensifies it. The consciousness of the extra temporal and ideal values is frequently strengthened in the mystic, in art, in creativity, outside the circle charted out by the official ecclesiality, and the organ of its conscious expression is found in the heights of philosophy, which by this serves no little in the matter of the cleansing of the religious consciousness of mankind. The theoretical God-knowledge and the practical God-communion have taught about the higher, the God-like nature of man, while at the same time the representatives of the official ecclesiality and the official religiosity have fallen too often into an heavenly utilitarianism -- this as a projection of earthly utilitarianism. The pagan experiences within Christianity teach man to be guided by his own interests, they sustain within him the sense of fear and terror and by this they corrupt man, they evoke within him an indifference to the truth and the right. The rightful truth however of the eternal Gospel within the human heart and consciousness, the reflection of light from Christ teaches man to be guided by the thirst for perfection, by the striving towards God-communion and towards God-likeness, and it liberates from superstitious fears and terrors. The pagan superstition within Christianity is recognised wherein God is worshipped as an idol, rather than as the source of perfection, of truth, of true life, of value. And towards the Living God there can be an idolatrous and superstitious attitude, and it always is so, when the superstitious fear of perdition or the superstitious hope, that the interests of man be satisfied, takes precedence over the reverent love towards God and the striving towards that absolute perfection, which is reflected in the nature of man himself. The will towards the realisation of perfective value, towards the God-like manner of being is also the source of an authentic, a free, a non superstitious and non-idolatrous religious life. The will towards value, towards the extra-temporal in regards to its own significance, the will towards the Divine, towards the true and the free is at the basis of life of all the great people as regards religion, of all the saints, the apostles and the prophets. Within their soul love hath conquered fear, the striving for perfection hath conquered private interests. The consciousness of extra temporal values, the consciousness of their own higher nature provides deliverance from the pagan superstitions and fears, which abase and pervert the Christian faith. We cannot yet believe, that a man, deprived of consciousness of values, a man, never sensing in the depths of his nature the reflection of God, of filial sonship to God, -- that such a man by a superstitious and idolatrous falling to the levels of the external ecclesiality by this itself yet frees himself from guilt and sin and is rendered a member of the Divine world order, of the Kingdom of God. Nor can we likewise believe, that a man with a rare escaping out of the ranks here by a consciousness of values, and having discovered within himself the Divine nature, is excluded from the Divine world-order, if he transgresses some aspect of the official ecclesiality. Nesmelov deeply understands this problem, and he says straight out, that everything of value, and true, and good in life is saved for eternity. 27 Nesmelov with a noble indignation repudiates the superstitious-magical attitude towards the sacramental-mysteries of the Church. The sacramental-mystery is not a conjuring, a magic spell, it is not a relict of the pagan darkness, and towards it there cannot be a mechanical attitude. A man, the whole life of whom is beast-like, does not become God like through a mechanical communing of the mysteries. The partaking of the sacramental-mysteries is connected with an inner rebirth into new life, though the sacrament itself is independent of anything human. Evil-doers, who hope to receive pardon and absolution through a mechanical touching-upon by the Church, and who go to the sacramental-mysteries as a means to continue with their beast-like life and therein be freed of the fear of perdition and punishment, suchlike a malefactor does not participate truly in the sacramental-mysteries nor get truly into the Church. The Church is the world soul, conjoined with Christ the Logos, it is the congregate Divine consciousness of mankind, as a centre of the world, and it comprises all the positive fullness of being. The mystical essence of the Church cannot be confused with the historical sins of the empirical Church. The abomination of desolation can also be in the place of the holy. [About this one ought to bear in mind both the “right” and the “left” in the church question]. The Church has preserved the image of the Crucified Christ and for the sacramental-mystery of communion to it -- only in this also mustneeds be sought the mystical sanctity of the true Church. Nesmelov -- is a pious member of the Orthodox Church, and yet is a merciless critic of the official religiosity, the exposer of the lie of the state church. The book of this faithful son of the Orthodox Church helps to surmount the crude paganism within “Orthodoxy”.

“Be ye perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect”, i.e. realise within yourself the image of God. Herein is the eternal essence of Christianity, a setting in opposition to every pagan superstition and idolatry the thirst for a perfect, true, eternal and full life. But this essential core of Christianity cannot be transformed into moralism. Only through Christ, manifest as Person in the Divine truth of human nature, is to be attained God likeness. By a path exclusively human man cannot attain to a condition of the Divine. Without the concrete truth about man, the abstract truth of idealism -- is dead and is not realism. The pretensions of a philosophic knowing to substitute for religious faith ought to be, not only religiously, but also philosophically repudiated. And the book of Nesmelov brilliantly lays bare the pagan limitedness of contemporary philosophy and of the whole contemporary mindset, for which the faith in Christ is folly and seduction. Nesmelov succeeded in philosophically showing, that faith in Christ is reasonable, and that only this faith is reasonable. Nesmelov speaks all the time about the “scientific” basis of faith, and his work he calls the “science” about man. This is not altogether precise. It would be more correct to speak about the philosophic justification of faith and about the philosophy of human nature. Nesmelov is very contentious against any scholasticism, he strives for a living knowledge and is proud of that his science of man is based on facts, and not on concepts. The tremendous merit of Nesmelov might in brief be expressed thus: the fundamental thought of Feuerbach about the anthropologic mystery of religion is transformed by him into a weapon of defense of Christianity. People come to religion through the twofoldness of their nature, through a lodged within them God-likeness alongside with a beast-likeness or nature-likeness. Man cannot be reconciled with this, not on the strength of his subjective desires, but only on the strength of his objective nature. Positivism, in the broad sense of the word, makes this point as regards another, a perfect world, this thirst of a Divine and absolute life, and for the subjective desires it is something which ought with caution to be explained positively. Positivism is correct, when it says, that the subjective desires never get accomplished fully, that essentially the world is not bound to be, such as we would wish to see it. But actually this manner of speaking addresses not the subjective desires of man, but it is rather about objective nature, and this objective nature proves itself much objectified, this nature is positively inexplicable, a mystery. Man -- is the member of another, a Divine world-order, he is not only of the natural world, and this -- is a fact, a mysterious fact, demanding another explanation. God, as Person, is perceived only anthropologically, within man; but in nature, cosmologically -- He is perceived as an impersonal creative force. A synthesis though of the cosmologic revelation of paganism and the anthropologic revelation of Christianity has religiously yet neither been investigated nor found. In this religious synthesis, which lies beyond the horizon of Nesmelov, 28 and there ought to be revealed the not yet revealed Christian mystery of God’s creation.

Nesmelov reveals a new method of detection 29 of the being of God -- psychologically, or (more accurately) anthropologically. This detection is distinct from the old ontological proof, which was based upon an intellectual concept and beyond the limits of intellectual concept it does not go, and it is distinct also from the rather newer moral demonstrative proof of Kant, which is grounded in subjective duty. Nesmelov’s detection is grounded upon the objective fact of human nature. This, certainly, is not a new discovery of Nesmelov, for the whole religious and philosophic developement of mankind prepared this religious anthropology, it opened up the way to God. Furthermore, the teaching of Kant about the moral-rational nature of man and about its intelligible character has hidden within it the possibility not only of “religion within the bounds of reason”, but also an authentic Christian religious anthropology. But Nesmelov gave clear and deep expression to the truth of religious anthropology. 30 The consciousness of person, as the image and likeness of God, the consciousness of his belonging to a true, perfect and free world objectively demonstrates also the being of God, and the necessity of the redemption of the world by the Son of God. The pathway to a Christian consciousness lies through a mysterious self-awareness of being a person. And there cannot be an understanding of Christianity for one in whom the person, -- the image of the Divine being, is still asleep, is still dissolved within fated being. But when man has become aware of his own person, he becomes conscious within himself of an higher being and a vocation to an higher life, and then there stands forth the image of Christ and nowise more can it be obscured.

For modern man at the vanguard of awareness, and especially for Russian man among the Intelligentsia, it is (very) difficult to accept Christianity, there are obstacles waiting at every step, obstacles both of mind and of heart. This man has consented at times to accept each religion that pleases him, whatever a form of paganism, the religion of Babylon or Dionysianism, Brahmanism or Buddhism, even Mahometanism, but only not Christianity. In this turning away from Christianity is something strange and mysterious. And the man of our era is quite willing to become a pantheist, if the religious need has not ultimately gone numb within him. Pantheism and pantheistic mysticism is esteemed whether by the positivist, the atheist, the Marxist, or whatever the teaching of the contemporary time. Only Christian theism is esteemed by no one, and modernity does not accept it. Modern man thinks, that under pantheism he preserves his person, and that for mankind it betokens a tremendous significance, and freedom, and also other fine things, would result under it, but that here under Christianity the person is enslaved, and freedom vanishes, and mankind comes to naught. What s strange aberration! In actuality it is all just turned around backwards. Only the Christian consciousness is grounded in the sense of person, only it acknowledges the divineness of human nature and gives a central place in the world-order to mankind, only this consciousness affirms the freedom of man, his worth and his higher nature. Pantheism ultimately abolishes person, and freedom, and mankind, dissolving everything ultimately into the world’s life, and imperceptibly passes over into naturalism and materialism. Pantheism cannot comprehend of our thirst for perfect and true life nor has it the ability to explain our higher nature and the twofoldness connected with it. Only Christianity acknowledges an absolute significance for man and his eternal destiny and no wise is he dissolved away, to nothing is he enslaved. And the profound self-consciousness of man is a Christian self-consciousness: in the depths of his self-consciousness man finds Christ -- the resolution of the enigma of his nature. [But the Christian self-consciousness ought to be cleansed from paganism, the consciousness of person ought to be set off from the consciousness of the impersonal genus. And a sublime philosophy, like Nesmelov’s, serves towards this important task.] The renewed and eternal Christianity transcends the relationship to God as idol, and man recognises within Him the absolute source of his thirst for Divine perfection, and within Christ the praeternally realised, Divinised humanity.

Nikolai Berdyaev

1909

© 1999 by translator Fr. Stephen Janos.

(1909 - 158(4) - en)

OPYT PHILOSOPHSKOGO OPRAVDANIYA KHRISTIANSTVA. (O knige V. Nesmelova “Nauka o cheloveke”). Russkaya Mysl’, sept. 1909, ctr. 54-72.

Included thereafter in 1910 book “Dukhovnyi krizis intelligentsii”, Spb, sect. II-6.
(sic) #158(4) is Berdyaev article #158, book #4.

Reprinted by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III), ctr. 302-328.


1 It is likewise impossible to deny the talent and originality of a professor of the Moscow Spiritual Academy, M. Tareev, who recently published a four-volume collection, “The Foundations of Christianity”. [But his interpretation of Christianity is but one of the forms of a Protestant individualism. The impotence of religious thought on the soil of Protestantism is clearly evident from a recently appeared booklet of
R. Aiken, “The Fundamental Problems of the Contemporary Philosophy of Religion”.]

2 Of the great teachers of the Church it was, evidently, St. Gregory of Nyssa who had the greatest influence on Nesmelov, and who allotted a large place to religious anthropology. (Nesmelov has written a book about St. Gregory of Nyssa.) [Brilliantov has written an interesting book, “The Influence of Eastern Theology upon the Western in the Works of J. Scotus Erigena”, and adeptly points out a distinction of Eastern theologising from that of the West: Eastern theologising is objective and it starts from the absolute givenness of the Divine, whereas the Western -- is subjective and starts from the human.]

3 In the first volume of his work, Nesmelov gives a gnosseological basis to his religious philosophy, but gnosseology does not appear to be his very strong or original side. With an accurate instinct Nesmelov binds together gnosseology with ontology, but in this he is inferiour to Solov’ev, whom unjustly he ignores. With Nesmelov there is a stronger psychological side.

4 Vide: “The Science of Man” (“Nauka o cheloveke”), Tom I, p. 241.

5 Ibid., p. 242. 6 Ibid., p. 246.

7 Ibid., p. 246. 8 Ibid., p. 256-257.

9 Ibid., p. 261. 10 Ibid., p. 286.

11 Ibid., p. 296.

[ 12 The principal dualism of spirit and flesh, as of the good and the evil respectively, is a teaching not so much Christian, as rather Manichaean and Gnostic. Manichaeanism was ultimately a product of Persian dualism, of two opposed gods, and Gnosticism taught, that matter is created by another, by an evil god, and that matter cannot become deified. Christianity however teaches about deification, transfiguration, the resurrection of the worldly flesh. For Christianity the consciousness of the materiality chaining us down is the result of the sinful corruption of the world, but there is no especial material principle that is of itself evil. This likewise distinguishes Christianity from Platonism. Vide: “The Collected Works of St. Ireneius of Lyons”, 1900 [Russian edition]. [Trans. note: for St. Ireneius in English, vide Vol. I of “The Ante-Nicene Fathers” Series, which is also now Online on the Internet.] St. Ireneius of Lyons with great strength reveals, that it is Christianity namely that saves worldly matter and leads to the resurrection of the flesh, which all the while the Gnostic heresies with their pseudo spiritualism would but suffer and consign to perdition -- all the fleshly world, all the earth. From the Incarnation of God, the Enfleshment of God, St. Ireneius deduces the inevitability of the salvation of the flesh. St. Ireneius was an ardent defender of Chiliasm. Vide Bk. 5 of his “Against Heresies” (“Adversus Haeresis”),
p. 445-548.]

13 Already in Justin the Philosopher it is possible to find an excellent explanation of the Christian teaching about resurrection and the repudiation of a fleshless spiritualism. Vide: “Works of St. Justin”, 1902, p. 479-484 [in English: Vol. I of Ante-Nicene Fathers].

14 Ibid., Tom II, p. 7. 15 Ibid., p. 25.

16 Ibid., p. 248. 17 Ibid., p. 249.

18 Ibid., p. 251-252. And in the source-springs of history evil is all rooted in this superstitious attitude towards material objects.

19 Ibid., p. 257. 20 Ibid., p. 268.

21 Ibid., p. 305. 22 Ibid., p. 306-307.

23 Ibid., p. 350.

24 To Nesmelov was foreign the teaching of Bl(essed) Augustine about grace, which denigrated human freedom. But it would be unjust to accuse Nesmelov of this, that he belittles the significance of grace and falls into Pelagianism.

25 Ibid., p. 337. 26 Ibid., p. 420.

27 Catholics make a distinction between the soul of the Church (anima Ecclesiae), in which belongs everything that is of a will towards the good and towards Divine life, and the body of the Church, to which belongs all the faithful, subject to the hierarchy of the Church and in communion with its sacraments. (Vide the fine book of Abbot Peré, “Entretiens sur l’Eglise Catholique”, Tom II, p. 504-509).

[ 28 Just like Orthodoxy in general, Nesmelov -- is an opponent of Chiliasm. His exceptionally pessimistic view on the end of world history stands in contradiction with his avowal of the meaning of history and the necessity of history for redemption.]

29 I say detection (“obnaruzhenie”), since this word is a demonstrative proof, strictly speaking, and is not applicable to the being of God. In acknowledging the being of God there is nothing logically compelling.

30 I am myself given to think, that the “Critique of Practical Reason” is of Kant’s greater merit, than is his “Critique of Pure Reason”. But the religious rationalism of Kant weakened his profound teaching about the twofoldness of human nature and about man’s belonging to the realm of freedom.


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