N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)

THEOSOPHY AND ANTHROPOSOPHY
IN RUSSIA

(1916 - #252b)

Russian text

I.

The trend of this type, which I should want to characterise, only conditionally can be called religious thought. It does not have any separate outstanding representatives in Russian literature and it is impossible to define it regarding any particular one thinker. 1 We do not here meet with the psychology of an individual’s thought, [as with Bulgakov and Merezhkovsky], but we endeavour to uncover the psychology of a thought typically impersonal. The founder of the Theosophic society was the notable Russian woman, E. P. Blavatskaya, but the theosophic trend itself cannot be called characteristically Russian, or essential to our religious thought. And if all the same I want to speak about theosophy in the characterising of the types of religious thought in Russia, then it is only because theosophy has begun to play a remarkable role in Russian spiritual life, within our cultural strata, and its role undoubtedly will grow. Theosophy and its chief variant -- anthroposophy -- are peculiarly refracted within the Russian soul. Russian theosophy as regards its spiritual provisions has little resemblance to German or English theosophy, and not rarely there can be discerned in it features of an apocalyptic construct, completely foreign to Western theosophy and even contradicting the foundations of the theosophic doctrine. In investigating the religious searchings of our time, it has become impossible to bypass theosophy, since for certain of the strata of the contemporary cultural society it is quite the easiest to pass over to religion upon the ground of theosophy. Upon the theosophic pathway are demanded not the least intellectual sacrifices and forbearance. It is not necessary to forswear the habits of rational thought, the cultural wonts, and it is possible to reconcile all the contradictions. Popular theosophy purports to be the national supplement to positive science and positivist culture, the extension of naturalism onto a new plane. Theosophy does not promulgate any type of creative religious thought, and evidently, makes no pretenses to creative significance. Theosophy is contentious against creative natures and repels them from itself. Theosophic literature is but the popularisation of ancient wisdom, primarily bestown through its teachers. Theosophy first of all posits itself pedagogical, and not creative tasks. And it is difficult to find creative thinkers among the theosophists. The median level of theosophic books is not very high. Theosophists fight independent thoughts and are little interested by the multiplicity of creative processes, that occur outside their circle. The seclusive closed-in circle is very characteristic for the theosophic and anthroposophic setting. But all the same it mustneeds be said, that theosophy responds to some very deep needs of contemporary man, deeply unsatisfied by official science, official philosophy and official religion. The spreading about of theosophy is a symptom of the crisis of official knowledge, at the basis of which should be not an abstract philosophising, but rather a concrete mythologising. And theosophy popularises, not infrequently in a dry and dull form, the great mythic-creative knowledge of former times. Theosophy is a contemporary gnosticism, it wants to give the human soul neither a religious faith nor abstract scientific knowledge, but rather an entire all-wise knowledge. The soul of contemporary man at a certain step of development thirsts for an all-wise knowledge, which is satisfied by neither a scientific, nor religious faith. But is it possible to acknowledge contemporary theosophy, as presented in the theosophic literature, as indeed the highest gnosis?

If there be taken up books of two of the chief theosophic writers of the present time -- Anna Bezant and Rudolf Steiner, then the knowledge presented there is a descriptive knowledge, like geography or mineralogy, gainable not through personal creative efforts nor personal revelations, but receivable through scholarly study. Theosophy books in their style and character have nothing in common with mystical books, nor philosophical books. Upon them lies no imprint of personal creative inspiration nor personal creative thought. Theosophic writers, evidently, timidly avoid having their own thoughts and ideas. They want to give a map of the construct of the world on all its planes, to give the pure description of objects and things. There flows the river, there stands a mountain. In this type is to be constructed the beloved contemporary book per theosophy. Theosophy as it were does not strive to grasp the meaning of the mountain, to unravel its riddle, to discover its ends and purpose. In this, contemporary theosophy is like contemporary science, but it describes another plane of the cosmos, it discovers deeper levels. But problems of the origin of the world and the problem of the Divinity, and the meaning of the world process, are not only not decided, they are not even presented in contemporary theosophic books. Theosophy is but a descriptive, science-like and empirical knowledge of the cosmic structure and cosmic evolution. Least of all is it any knowledge of meaning, the creative signification of being. At the very least theosophy would seem unjustifiable, since there is no knowing of God and even the name of God rarely is mentioned in contemporary theosophic books. And thus in this contemporary theosophy does not come close to the theosophy of J. Boehme and other great theosophists of former times, with whom there was an actual Divine-wisdom and Divine knowing. If in the contemporary theosophy it is difficult to find a teaching about God, then also in contemporary anthroposophy it is no less difficult to find a teaching about man. Both theosophy and anthroposophy are concerned not with God and not with man, but with the cosmos. Theosophy and anthroposophy do not posit the question about the meaning of cosmic evolution, about its beginning and end, since the question about the meaning of cosmic evolution is already the question about God and about man, not derivative from the cosmos, but rather into it bearing its own light. Ultimately, theosophy is compelled naturally to apotheosise the fact of cosmic evolution, having neither end, nor beginning, and it demands from man an obedience to a process meaningless to him. The fate of man therein is not illumined by the light of God-knowing, -- he is instead smothered by the fact of world-knowing. Theosophic knowledge is too oriented to the natural sciences and it demands only their extension to the other planes of being. Contemporary popular theosophy is very deferential towards science, but almost completely it ignores philosophy. From the natural sciences it borrows a naive realism. Theosophy does not possess its own gnosseology and uncritically it makes do with the concepts of a gnosseologically naive realism. With ease contemporary theosophy conveys the supra-sensual into a sensual terminology and it materialises the spiritual. But rarely does it reveal the symbolic nature of the material. The vulgar mindset of theosophy is tainted by a completely uncritical materialism. Popular theosophic knowledge defines itself as being the knowledge of the non-creative, the passively-descriptive, as pure empiricism. This -- is an extended positivism. Theosophy provides an eclectic synthesis of bits of the old religious knowledge together with bits of the new scientific knowledge. The pathos of theosophy is directly contrary to all subjectivism and individualism. In theosophy contemporary man seeks salvation from psychologism, from self-absorption, from solitary volition. Theosophy allures with the promise to unite contemporary man with the ancient world wisdom, to bring the modern soul into the chain of the Divine world evolution and the Divine world hierarchy. And for many, theosophy is the sole bridge, over which they can cross over to spiritual life, by which they can withdraw from the soulless and meaningless life of the contemporary world. Modern theosophy is not great, but it is connected with the great and upon it falls a reflection of the ancient Divine wisdom. This cannot but allure. There is too great a spiritual hunger in our days, and man senses himself forsaken. Contemporary man is alienated from the sources, and theosophy promises to unite him with the [true] (sources). Theosophy warily leads modern man to the ancient sources of life, whilst taking consideration of the habits of his thought and the terrors of his soul, afront the miraculous and the catastrophic. And the growing popularity of theosophy is not occasional and superficial a mode, -- it signifies a deep process in the spiritual life of our times.

II.

Modern theosophy, in contrast to the revival of Orthodoxy with Bulgakov or the new Christianity of Merezhkovsky, goes from below upwards, from the contemporary consciousness, from contemporary science towards a Divine consciousness, towards spiritual knowledge. Theosophy is very much the pedagogue, it trains modern man on evolution, and it does not want to let go of him. Popular theosophy is intended to be on a not very high level. It is intended not for creative people, not for thinkers and artists and not for saints, -- it takes hold with the centre of the cultural masses, endowed with spiritual claims. Theosophy is connected with occultism, with ancient traditions and customs. But its esoteric core remains hidden, and it itself is exoteric. In contemporary theosophic literature has been formed a peculiar exoteric esotericism. The method of theosophy is always spiritual-evolutionary, and not spiritual-revolutionary, nor spiritual-catastrophic. The pathway of theosophy -- is a graceless path, on this path not a single ray of Divine light falls from above, everything is gained from below. In theosophy nothing is gratis, everything is difficult, nothing is through love, everything is through justice. There is nothing Divinely bestown through theosophy, and therefore there is nothing giftedly bestown. The human soul is doomed to wander through the cosmic corridors, and its fate -- is a fate under law, it has to live by the law, which likewise also is Divine justice. Theosophic consciousness, in distinction to the old-Christian and the new-Christian consciousness, is a decisive and extreme immanentism and monism. Theosophy identifies the Creator with the creation, God with nature. This immanentism and monism is received from the ancient religious consciousness of India, it is purely Aryan and does not accommodate the Semitic religious graftings. But the immanentism and monism of modern theosophy bears the characteristic of the evolutional-naturalistic. Thesosophy, as a system of spiritual knowledge, carries over the laws of naturalistic evolution onto other planes and other worlds, into the life of spirit. Not in vain does Steiner connect himself so with Haeckel, and desire to transport Haeckel to new worlds. In the philosophy of Steiner there is quite much from naturalistic monism, not the philosophically-refined monism of Drews, but the popular naturo-scientific monism of Haeckel. 2 And in the beloved popular theosophic book it is possible to discern elements of the vulgar naturalistic monism. In this also theosophy seeks a centre external to man and his depths, it objectifies and materialises everything. The human spirit is posited in a servile dependency upon a cosmic evolution of quite thousands of years, upon tremendous intervals of time. Theosophic-naturalistic evolutionism leads to a denial of the non-mediated connection of the human spirit with the Absolute. Theosophy denies the dualism of freedom and necessity, of spirit and nature.

The popular theosophic teaching about Karma is a teaching about the naturalistic evolution of the unredeemed soul, about the wanderings of the soul, which draws behind it infinite threads from the past. Karma is the law of nature, identified with the law of Divine justice, the naturalisation of Divine mysteries. And the Eastern teaching about Karma is a denial of graced love, of creative surfeit. Everything comes forth and everything is given only in the measure of justice. But Divine love is not a matter of justice, in it is given immeasurably more, than in justice ought to be given. This also is of the mystery of Christ, of the mystery of supra-abundant graced love, which to the Good Thief promises today the gaining of the Kingdom of God. The Good Thief in justice and in necessity is not worthy to be with Christ and behold the Kingdom of God, it becomes him yet to live through a thousand tormentive reincarnations. Theosophy does not want to know this mystery of Christ, this miraculous and graced deliverance from the oppression of the past, from the might of time, of this shrinking of infinite time into a single instant. Everything in theosophy is based on the terrible and irreversible measure of law, and it carries over into the very depths of Divine life. Karmic fate -- is just and commensurate with law, but it knows neither forgiveness nor mercy, it knows neither love nor freedom. Christianity however is first of all the religion of love and freedom, and not of justice and commensurability with law. From Eastern theosophy, from the teaching about Karma wafts a nightmare of the unredeemed past, and stretches its threads into the endless future. For the human soul there is no exit from the endless cosmic evolution, into the Absolute and Divine life. Betwixt God and me there always lies the endless evolution of uncountable worlds. Man remains under the power of the bad infinitude of the developing. There is no graced deliverance, no overcoming of all time with an exodus into the Absolute, Divine life. The mystery of redemption is not effected over the soul. Eternally, endlessly must the soul stumble about through the dark corridors, living out its Karma. This -- is the bad infinitude of the natural order, carried over as well into Divine life. The old Christian consciousness knew an ending, an exodus, a victory over time, paradise and hell, for which things there was no yet natural evolutionary process. Hell also was that dear value, which ransomed from the nightmare of the bad infinitude of reincarnation, of endless evolution. But an eternal hell is (even) better, than this endless process. In the religious consciousness of India a tremendous role is played by the thirst for deliverance from the nightmare of endless reincarnation. Bliss in Divine love or torment in the Divine fire, but at least there is an ending within the Divine, and not an infinitude within the natural. In hell itself there is (as it were) a Divine absoluteness. In this old Christian consciousness there is a limitedness of the field of vision, but there is also the great truth of an exiting from the natural order into the Divine order. Theosophy however does not know of an eschatology. Its immanentism -- is naturalistic, and not Divine. And for theosophy God is even farther from man, than with the transcendent dogmatics of the Church. But this -- is the distancing of an infinite natural evolution. In popular theosophy altogether unresolved is the question about time and eternity, about the relative and the absolute. Eternity and the absolute are naturalised, they are made suitable for this world. In the teaching about reincarnation is a great truth. Karma is the law of the natural life of the soul. Theosophy penetrates deeper into the structure of the cosmos and its developing, than does the traditional churchly metaphysics. But the natural truth about reincarnation is transformed within Christianity, it is transfigured, redemptive grace alters the ultimate naturalistic evolution of souls, time is abridged and can be condensed into a moment. The Good Thief, having turned himself to Christ, in a single instant lives out more, than he would live out within infinite cosmic evolutions. And mysticism always knows this victory over time and over the world, since it is oriented towards the depths of Divine life. This however is not known by an occultism, oriented towards the infinitude of cosmic life.

III.

Theosophy, having its sources in India, in the non-Christian East, does not constitute anything uniquely unrepeatable, it does not know the mystery of the facial countenance, the countenance of Christ and the countenance of each man. For the theosophic consciousness nothing is unique, everything is endlessly repeated, of Christ there are many, and the human countenance is splintered into a multitude. Eastern theosophy is not the revelation about the “I”, about man. 3 It knows only an impersonal, non-human spirit, solely alone. But the impersonal pantheism is conjoined in it with a cosmic multiplicity, with a much-recurring repetition. A personalist metaphysics is completely alien to theosophy. The ancient religious and philosophic wisdom of India in modern theosophy is popularised and simplified. In the Indian God-consciousness there is something inexpressible in our language, not able to be translated into our European concepts. Being and non-being do not at all mean in Indian wisdom, what it means in European philosophy. Theosophy however adapts the wisdom of India into modern language and modern concepts and by this simplifies it. But we are all however aware, that the Christian truth about the person, about man, was foreign to ancient India. This -- was the original stage of development of the religious revelation of the One. And it is but the one-only and unrepeatable appearance of Christ that reveals the uniqueness and unrepeatability of every human countenance. Eastern theosophy does not know the God man. For theosophy man is but a tool of cosmic evolution, he is transitory. Man is enveloped within the cosmos in various membranes, from the splinterings of the planetary evolution. And so man is dissected into his component parts. Christ also is dissected and de-composited. There is no undissectable, no primordial and eternal countenance, nor Divine image. Theosophy does not know the First-Adam, the First-Man, coming forth prior to cosmic evolution and not derivable from it. J. Boehme taught about the First Adam and connected it with the New-Adam -- Christ. His theosophy was Christian. Christology and anthropology have an inseparable connection between them, -- this is a matter of two sides of one and the selfsame truth. Our teaching about man depends totally on our teaching about Christ, they are completely similar. And here the unbelieving Christology in modern theosophy, representing a giant step backwards in comparison with the theosophy of J. Boehme, begets also an unbelieving anthropology. In this type of theosophic thought there is no religious anthropology. Theosophy knows man and Christ only as capsizings within cosmic life, within the cosmic evolution. In the cosmic evolution everything is formed and decomposes, and nothing unique and unrepeated comes about. The unique and unrepeatable countenance dwelleth in God, and not in the world. It is in God, and not in the world that there mustneeds be seen both Christ, and man. And truly man through Christ -- the Absolute Man -- dwelleth within the very bosom of the Holy Trinity. Man is primordial and prior to the world, he is greater than the world and cannot be but its implement-tool. In the evolution of the world there forms and decays only the outward envelopings of man, and not his solely unique and unrepeatable facial-countenance, not his image of God. Thus ought a Christian theosophy to teach, one very distinct from that, which is expounded in the contemporary theosophic books. But God they all shun and separate off from the theosophic consciousness, He is to be attainable at the end of the cosmic evolution, which is not to have an end. The theosophic consciousness, totally oriented towards cosmic evolution, does not know of an end, does not know of Divine eternity. The knowledge of the end or of the actual infinity is indeed that knowledge, which is knowledge of the uniquely-personal. Bad infinity and bad repetition -- are of nature alone. Theosophy credibly teaches about the complexity and manifold-composition of man, about the connection of his fate with the cosmic evolution, about the envelopings of man. But the deficiency is in this, that for theosophy I as an human appear ultimately at the end of a long evolutionary process, and it is subjoined to other component parts. Theosophic immanentism does not liberate man and does not bring him nigh to God; God is not at all immanent for man, not in his depths, God is separated off from man by the cosmic evolution. And thus there appears a new transcendent, transcendent for man, -- the infinite and remote cosmic evolution.

IV.

The modern theosophic tendency arose during the second half of the XIX Century, in the epoch of the reign within Europe of positivism and materialism, when man had forgotten about the ancient religious wisdom and had become alienated from all the sacred traditions. To the forsaken man it had begun to seem , that for him there is a gaping abyss opened up, that he has received nothing by way of an inheritance and that everything must be gained by his own dirty work. The vanguard of Western mankind has ceased to feel itself Christian. It has had to proceed through fragmentation and apostasy. When the desolated soul of Western man waxed melancholy and grew aware of spiritual famine, it began to await light from the East. In the West as it were there had dried up the wellsprings of spiritual life, and the gaze of seekers of spiritual life turned towards the ancient cradle of sacred wisdom, to India. The heavy remembrances of the past and the biases of the present gave hindrance to the European man of the XIX Century, who had lost his faith, from returning to Christianity, and he would the sooner instead consent to accept Buddhism or Brahmanism. Eastern theosophy entered into the spiritual life of Western mankind at a very propitious moment for it. The soil was already plowed up. Western man, feeling his spiritual thirst, was unable to put to theosophy any sort of the conditions connected with Christianity, nor those connected with the Christian revelation about the human person. He had lost his especially Christian revelation and was unable to oppose it to the pre-Christian revelation of the East. Theosophy, deriving from the East, happened all at once to adapt itself to the scientific consciousness of the European man of the XIX Century, and to the modern evolutionism, to the contemporary avowal of the measure of law and the denial of miracle. Theosophy declared, that in Christianity is indeed that truth, which is common to all religions, and that it is not the religion of utmost truth. For the apostate to Christianity, theosophy makes it acceptable for his Christianity to be rendered innocuous. But in the subsequent decades there occurred radical changes in spiritual life, both in Western Europe and in Russia. We stand beneathe the standard of religious searchings, of religious renewal. It is already no longer possible to speak seriously, not only about materialism, but also about positivism. 4 Philosophic thought is grown all more and more metaphysical. Science is undergoing a serious crisis, on the one hand -- it has expanded and crashed the artificial limits, and on the other hand -- it has occupied a more modest place suitable to it. Man is made religiously bolder, and his boldness is manifest first of all in that he again dares to be Christian, and he turns himself to his spiritual riches of former times. The human spirit turns itself towards Christian themes, and the impersonal revelation of the East cannot still satisfy it. In theosophy itself there occurs a change. Blavatskaya related negatively towards Christianity. But contemporary theosophists try to soften this attitude, and they all more and more introduce into theosophy, Christian themes and concepts. Theosophy moves from East to West. And the Christian West itself begins to remember its forgotten Western traditions, its connections directly to the wisdom of Greece and Egypt. The Western occult tradition begins to show itself, in contrast to the Eastern occult tradition. The existence of a Christian esotericism is being discovered. Upon this basis there has occurred the separation off of anthroposophy from theosophy and therein has appeared the Steinerian current. The difference of opinion of anthroposophy with theosophy, of Steiner’s current from the current of Bezant is not so accidental and trivial, as it would seem at first glance. This split is deeply symptomatic and characterisitic of the spiritual life of our times, and it is necessary to examine closely this movement of theosophy as regards Christianity and the revelation about the human “I”. Within theosophy itself is being effected a Christologisation and anthropolisation. But with Steiner and the Steinerians is it possible to find a revelation about man?

R. Steiner affirms his theosophy as being Western and Christian, and in distinction from Eastern theosophy, he posits it under the standard of Christ’s impulse. In his later years Steiner has particularly insisted upon the uniqueness of his own path. The Eastern theosophy -- is prior to the cosmic activity of Christ’s impulse, prior to the revelation about the “I”. But a large part of the popular theosophic books by Steiner can only with difficulty be distinguished from the theosophic books of A. Bezant and the other Eastern, pre-Christian theosophists. In the books of Steiner very little can be found particular to him, and in them is impersonally expounded the usual, traditional theosophic teaching. All this is indeed the teaching about cosmic evolution and with a still strongly expressed imprint of naturalism, and then the teaching about the planes, about the complexly constituted man, and then the teaching about Karma and the transmigration of souls, this being the graceless path of the unredeemed soul, each step attained by the weighty task of achieving perfection. One of the best books by Steiner, “The Path to Devotion”, is written such as though the impulse by Christ does not act within the world. In it are prescribed the usual practices of Eastern Yoga. Only in the latter years, when Steiner had turned from theosophy to anthroposophy, have there begun to sound new notes. 5 Christian occultism as it were conquers the Eastern occultism. But in the appearance of anthroposophy, taking its name from man, it is as difficult to find man as it was in theosophy. True, for Steiner all our solar system and all its evolution stands under the standard of Man, it is all Man at large. But the joy at this is small. Man still flounders all the same within the endless process of the past and the future, man is still all the same enslaved by the gathering and the decaying forces of time, he does not have a point of support in eternity, in God, deeper than anything that transpires in the world of creatures. Man -- is the means of the world evolution, the point of the intersection of the cosmic whirlwinds and currents. And for the anthroposophic consciousness the human person is united to absolute being only through world evolution, through the chain of Karmic reincarnation. Cosmic evolution itself is altered in the power of the efficacy of Christ’s impulse, a new cosmic epoch begins, in which everything happens yet differently, than it did before Christ. But Christ Himself is but a cosmic agent, but a moment of cosmic evolution. Steiner sees Christ only as a tilting over within the cosmos, and he does not see Him in God, in the Divine Trinity. His Christ -- is naturalistic, is discovered in chemistry. Christianity for anthroposophy is the revelation of the cosmic, and not the Divine. The anthroposophic teaching about the immanent acting of Christ’s impulse in man includes within itself both doubtless and deep truth. But it does not go to the ultimate and the final, the Divine First-Source, it remains in the midst of the created world process. The attitude towards Christ in anthroposophy is neither religious nor mystical, but exclusively occult. But pure occultism is powerless to behold the Singular Countenance of Christ, and for occultism He is disintegrated into the world. Pure occultism is likewise impotent to behold a singular countenance of man. It is because both the Countenance of Christ, and the countenance of man, reside in God, and not in the world as their basis. This is why the occult orientation of life, conjoined neither with the religious nor the mystical, asserted in its exclusiveness, denies the creative originality and the self-worth of the person, for it does not understand human genius nor greatness. Everything is regulated and directed by hidden cosmic agents, there is nothing creatively-free. Both theosophy, and anthroposophy, extinguish the passionate human nature, the Dionysiac-passionate creative founts of creativity. Everything freely-volitional, irrational, is denied. There is not that freedom and independence of man, which is affirmed in mystery, when it is delimited by occult knowing. Mystery immerses one into the unutterable depths of Divine life. The denial of mystery within occultism puts everything into the endless middle of the world process. The mystery of the Divine depths defends man against being blown to atoms by the cosmic winds. But it must be acknowledged, that in the more recent times within Steinerianism there is being all more and more uncovered the truth about the “I”.

V.

Around occultism has accumulated much charletanism and mystification -- there is too much of the irresponsible in this secret and mystified sphere of human life. And up to now there has existed an insufficiently serious attitude in scientific and philosophic circles, in esteeming themselves as the preservers of the values of European culture. This attitude can be termed not only unserious, but also thoughtless. For truly it is thoughtless to regard something one knows not, with a sneering denial, something of which one is not readied to render a judgement of. The official teachings and philosophies are themselves saturated with a pitiful aridity and bias. The world known to them and avowed by them is but pragmatically created by them and pragmatically a needful activity for them. Entire planes of cosmic life were hidden for the ordinary European scientific and philosophic consciousness, by virtue of a peculiar pragmatic lack of knowledge, which can be set up alongside pragmatic knowledge. For man at a certain stage of his spiritual development not only would it be not necessary, but it would also be dangerous to know certain of the cosmic powers and secrets. He would be defended by his ignorance up to a certain point of growth. Christianity hid this from man with an hierarchy of natural spirits, it freed him from the terror afront the pagan demonology and by this it revealed to man the possibility to get spiritually on his feet. In the pre-Christian pagan world man was enslaved to the demons of nature. By this closing off of the wellsprings of the inner life of nature, and expelling great Pan into the hidden depths, the Christian Church mechanised nature and made possible the science and technology of the XIX Century. Man was alienated from the inner life of the cosmos and resettled onto a restricted territory of natural and social life. In this was the meaning of positivism. But the world and man then enter into that maturity of their existence, when the ignorant lack of knowledge becomes a danger and leaves man defenseless. Man begins to be aware of himself and conscious of himself as a cosmic being, an inhabitant of the great cosmos, immeasurable in its depth and extent. Man emerges from the restrictive provincialism of his existence upon the outer shell of the earth. And if earlier it was a danger for man to see and to hear too much, so as to be neither blinded nor deafened, then for now it becomes a danger not to see and not to hear, since unavoidable and unknown cosmic energies come at man from all sides and they demand from his side a clear-seeing, wise activeness. I see the [tremendous and] serious significance of the theosophic and anthroposophic currents to be in this, that these currents turn contemporary man towards the mysteries of cosmic life, and they extend knowledge upon all the planes of the cosmos. The theosophic type of thought becomes not an anthropologic, but rather a cosmologic problem. To this problem is not oriented [either the Orthodox consciousness of Bulgakov, nor] the Christian consciousness [of Merezhkovsky], since [their] consciousness fears gnosticism and is repulsed by any cryptic-knowledge. [Only] in occultism is it possible to find the true knowledge, that the material congealed subjective world is a temporal Moment of cosmic evolution, and not something absolutely stable and unchanging. Not only for realism, but also for idealism of the Kantian type, all this closed-in and law-governed material natural order is identified with nature, with the cosmos, with its boundaries immutable and unalterable, and there is no way out to other planes of the cosmos, and no sort of energies from other planes can penetrate through into this shut-in and closed-in world. Only consciousness of the theosophic type senses the mysteried spreading-about of the cosmos, the pouring through of cosmic energies from one plane to another, the transitory character of this synthesis of the material natural world order, which the scientific consciousness assumes to be eternal and non-transitory, and with which the religious consciousness also connects itself too narrowly. Thus, for example, the Akasha-Chronika, the Chronicle of the world, a visionary reading of the memory of cosmic history imprinted upon the cosmos -- involves artificial boundaries, isolating the known period of the cosmic process, very frequently being represented by an eternal material world, separate from the preceding periods, in which there was not yet such a physical condensing-out, of our embodiment of the earth from its other embodiments. 6 The problem however is in this, that with Steiner for example in the Akasha-Chronika, the world as it were dematerialises, whereas spiritual knowledge is itself materialised. What is reported is not about the spiritual world, the partial phenomenon of which is our material world, but rather it is about the external, empirical evolution of this material world, having condensed-out and become diluted. The secret-knowledge of Steiner produces an impression not of intuitive knowledge, not of an integral penetration into the mysteries of being, but of an analytical anatomy-study of being. Such a clarity of sight ought to see the corpse-liness of the world. Everything organically whole is decomposed. All the boundaries are erased, all the planes are confused. This is in conformity with some sort of stage of the cosmic process. But the clear-sighted contemplation of the corpse-liness, occasioned by the cosmic decay and accretion, by disembodiment and atomisation, can infect one with the corpsely poison, if a man does not oppose to these processes his own integral countenance and image, extending off into the very depths of Divine being. It is necessary to enter upon the path of the spiritual knowledge of the cosmos, but it is needful also to preserve man within these cosmic whirlwinds. Man has a vocation to be an active creator in cosmic life, and not a passive implement of the cosmic process, the meaning of which is alien and unknown to him.

VI.

The theosophic type of thought is not oriented towards history nor towards historical tasks. The understanding of the significance of social questions is absent in theosophy and anthroposophy. Steiner is very concerned with the problems of Haeckel, but not at all concerned with the problems of Marx. For him the spirit of the XIX Century is the spirit of the knowledge of nature. But more correctly might it be asserted, that the spirit of the XIX Century is the spirit of sociology. It can even be said, that during the XIX Century theology was substituted for by sociology, wherein all thinking was tinged in a sociological light and in sociality they sought for the ultimate meaning of life. The surmounting of Marx is no less great a task, than the surmounting of Haeckel. Marx was a man of genius, at the same time when Haeckel -- was a mediocre populariser, and his monism was painfully dull. But neither with Steiner, nor with other theosophists, is it possible to find an understanding of the tremendous, directly religious significance of the social problem for mankind. The whole meaning of theosophy -- is in its approach to the cosmic problem, and from this side it could shed light on the social problem. The sociological consciousness has torn off human communality from cosmic life and hidden it on the heights of the narrow expanse of the earth. All the social utopias of an earthly total bliss are unrealisable and deplorable, namely because they want to organise the social fate of mankind independent of the ordering of the huge cosmos, the powers of which influence social life and enter into it. Communality is an inwardly-cosmic manifestation, and there ought to be comprehended the connection of communality with the cosmos. It is thus possible to get at the settings of the problem of cosmic communality, of the world community. But theosophy does not do this and in the sphere of social thought it remains elementary and naive. For theosophy the problem of communality is replaced by the problem of the perfecting of the soul. In theosophy there is an inhospitable moral tendency, which renders the whole theosophic path non-creative. Theosophy replaces social and historical creativity by perfectibility and evolution, and to the very positing of social and historical tasks it replies with a truth about the living-out of Karma and Karmic reincarnations. 7

It is difficult to combine creativity with the practice of Yoga, as preached by theosophists. Entering upon that “path” is deadly for creativity. In the theosophic path there is no inner upheaval in man, there is no true spiritual freedom. And just as theosophy rebels against all the traditional religious authorities and against every faith, as being exoteric, it itself asserts a principle of authority and demands from man a blind faith. The authority of teachers and faith in teachers -- this indeed is the basis of the theosophic path. The disciple must believe that which he (still) knows not, and he knows usually very little, and only the teacher knows much. The clairvoyant reading of an Akasha-Chronika within the memory of the world is a free knowledge. But the devout reading of pocket-booklets of “Akasha-Chronika” as written by Steiner, is a dreadful entangle and mixing up of Saturn with Jupiter, it is not a free knowledge, and it is rather more reminiscent of an authoritarian faith. The problem is in this, that the way of Steiner and the way of the Steinerians have little in common between them. The way of Steiner is a way of gnosis, the way however of the Steinerians is a way of faith. Theosophy and anthroposophy rebel against churchly faith, as being a childish condition, but they themselves demand faith of those lower down in their capacity. It is impossible to demand faith in an occult mere teacher-man, on an equal in faith in Christ the God-man. An uncritical, submissive attitude towards the teacher is recommended as the method, as a discipline and way towards initiation. The theosophic teachings themselves presuppose at first an acceptance on authority, on faith, without criticism and examination by one’s own experience, and they promise that with time all this will be known autonomously and by experience. But why in such case should theosophy look down upon the demands for an authoritarian faith in churchly teachings? Between man and God, and between man and the world there is a whole series of teachers, a whole complex hierarchy. We approach here a very interesting question, for my purposes, about the role and significance of the theosophic and anthroposophic current in Russia, and about the type of thought and the psychology of Russian theosophists and anthroposophists. What interests me is not an analysis of theosophic doctrines nor examination of all the theosophic schema, but rather an uncovering of the basic features of the theosophic manner of thought and experiencing of being.

VII.

The theosophic community bears an international character. Not without a bit of wit do they compare theosophy with the Volapiuk movement [trans. note: alternately “Volapuk” -- a late XIX Century Esperanto like artificial language]. In contemporary theosophy there are not any sort of traces of creative national thought nor of a creative national experience. This is one of the principles of the amazing drabness of theosophic books, a vivid temperament absent in them. Theosophic ideas are bloodless, and in them is so little of a living colour, just like in the Velapiuk language. The anthroposophic community is empirically and occasionally connected with Germany, but in essence it is likewise international, just like the theosophic. Some make a connection of Steiner with the German spirit. But in Steiner’s theosophy there is no feeling of a vital creative inspiration, which could but be connected with a national spirit, with the sap-juices of a national mode of being. Upon the whole of theosophic literature there lies the seal of a deadness of the international schema, of geographic maps of being. Theosophy makes anaemic. Popular theosophic pamphlets have a formal resemblance to the popular Social Democratic pamphlets. This is not free creativity, but of a “party” or “circle” type of literature, for propaganda. Free creativity is clearly subordinated to this party, or circle’s, propagandistic aims. Theosophic literature cannot bring anything new into national spiritual cultures, it does not participate in the creativity of national spirits. Theosophy speaks much about races, but these races have little in common with genuine historical races. Theosophy fashions cosmopolitan, international types, wandering from land to land, from city to city in search of guidance. And it is quite easy for theosophy to snatch onto souls, suffering in life a serious bankruptcy, and torn away from their own land and their own people. It is difficult for theosophy to actively participate in the spiritual life of its own people and in their unique historical destiny. Theosophy usually renders itself neutral, it does not make a willful choice, for it is forbidden that selective love, always nigh to passion. This then is a process of making anaemic, of extinguishing the passionate human nature. All more and more the direct acceptance of being is replaced by the acceptances of the schemae of being. All the direct immediacy disappears and there appears an eternal apprehension, lest life and the values of life diverge from the teaching, from the doctrine, from the guidance of the teacher. This is to be felt particularly in the Russian theosophists and anthroposophists, readily transformed into abstract beings, into bloodless and fleshless shadows. They become too domesticated and submissive, too passive and timid in relation to all abstract spontaneous creativity. In this popularity of the theosophic and anthroposophic currents in Russia one senses the femininity of the Russian soul, the searching for masculine organisers on the side, on the outside, in the West, in Germany, the inability by its own powers to organise its soul. The Steinerian discipline is especially popular with Russian chaotic souls. The Russian Logos does not penetrate into the chaos of the Russian soul. The organising, disciplinising, light-bearing principle of the Russian soul is felt as (though) transcendent to itself, having its dwelling somewhere afar off. Russian theosophists and anthroposophists [are not at all immanent as regards the stock of their spiritual experience, they are totally transcendentists, they] seek a centre not in their own depths, but on the side, afar off. Among them are not a few “Russian boys”, about which Dostoevsky speaks, and these are the finest amongst them. Much lower stands that half-cultured layer, primarily composed of ladies, which are attracted to theosophy as regards those warmly-cold motifs, which attract them towards charity, towards morality, to the small wonders of personal life. In the anthroposophic current is a great strenuousness and great spiritual depth. The spreading about in Russia of the popular theosophic and anthroposophic currents can [also] play its own positive role, by raising the median spiritual level. Theosophic morals, the preaching of a peculiar path of moral perfectibility, remains for the majority of theosophists its chief attraction. It is difficult for man to bear forsakenness and be left to his own devices, and theosophy speaks about initiations and teachers, helping people. Theosophy gives discipline to the soul, it saves from chaos and disintegration. Many first receive from theosophy initiation into the spiritual moral life. But the wide dispersal of the theosophic currents can be an obstacle on the pathway of our national self-consciousness and national creativity. The Eastern theosophy is a typical Westernism upon Russian soil, in such a degree of Westernism as is, for example, Marxism or positivism. But Russia ought ultimately to emerge from its period of Westernism, it ought to surmount both Westernism and Slavophilism. Theosophy does not rouse to an immanent spiritual activity in Russian man, it does not enable the religious setting-free of person. But with the more creative and original natures, theosophy is uniquely surmounted in the Russian element. Anthroposophy has taken on an apocalyptic hue. This can be observed in A. Bely, perhaps, a very great creative talent in Russia, who has recoursed off upon the apprenticeship to anthroposophy. A. Bely is very Russian, and his path is very characteristic for the Russian soul. But hardly can Steinerism be felicitous for artistic creativity. Creativity presupposes the surmounting of Karma and a victory over it, and not its endless being lived-out. Creativity presupposes a dualism between the world of spiritual freedom and the world of natural necessity. But A. Bely receives creative impulses in anthroposophy, and in this he is an unique case.

VIII.

The positive significance of the theosophic current in general for us also in Russia particularly mustneeds be seen in a turning towards gnosis, in the spreading and deepening of knowledge, towards spiritual knowledge. Gnosticism ought to be reborn and forever enter into our life. The modern popular theosophy uncovers the ancient gnostic teachings in a superficial and diluted form, too much adapted to the median level consciousness of the people of our time. But it constantly comes nigh to a new discovery in our time of gnosis, of wise, sophic knowledge. And thus also ought anthroposophy, in a deeper more Boehmean sense of this word, to be nothing other, than a revealing of Sophia, of the Divine Wisdom in man, its immanent discovery within man. We ought to be re-united with the traditions of the theosophy and anthroposophy of J. Boehme, in truth with a Christian theosophy and anthroposophy. And moreover, even more deeply ought we to be re-united with the traditions of the esoteric, hidden Christianity. But the fruition of the great traditions of Boehme and of Christian gnosticism ought to be creative, it ought to guide along the path of a completely new, creatively-active knowledge. Modern people, seeking God and the Divine life, are very afraid of thought and knowledge, and the basic thrust of their will often becomes anti-gnostic. They admit the possibility only of a passive, abstract knowledge. They cannot accept knowledge as a creative act, bearing life into the light of the world, of knowledge as being and life. All the magicism of knowledge either repels or scares modern man, or it seems to him false and charletan. But knowledge ought to be restored to its magic, world-dominant rights. Particularly with Russians there is a dreading of thought in religion, and almost a persecution against thought. For Russians this is connected with an exclusive avowal of moral values. Russian man, having entered upon the religious path, finds himself within the exclusive domain of the cult of sanctity, he believes in only the sanctity of life and he desires only the sanctity of life. The gnosticism of Vl. Solov’ev seems already non-Russian and it repulses many. The moral path and the path of sanctity are acknowledged as the sole path to the light. Although even the ecstatic path in Russian mystic sectarianism is acknowledged. Knowledge however is presented as opposed to being. But indeed true knowledge itself is being. True thought is itself light. Religious thought itself is already religious deed. Gnosis is an organic part of religious life. Life is transfigured from the light of knowledge. A religious lived-experience, deprived of the light of knowledge -- is an elementary, rudimentary lived-experience. The contemporary striving for a primitive unrevealed, uninvestigated, simplicity and elemental spiritual life, as though towards something genuine and authentic, is a creative feebleness and self-delusion, a denial of the theogonic, cosmogonic and anthropogonic process. At present there is a fear of thought and of knowledge in Russian thought, as being rationalisation. But this fear is itself the result of a most extreme rationalism, for which both thought and knowledge are always rational, always abstract, always inactive and non-vital. The great mystics did not fear knowledge, they saw in gnosis not rationalisation, but a communion with God and the working of God. Contemporary irrationalism, alogism, adogmatism, the modern fear of light, the contempt for thought and disdain for knowledge is but the reverse side of modern rationalism, intellectualism, the positivism of contemporary knowledge, the despotic force of contemporary positivist science. From these sore straits it is necessary for us to emerge into freedom, to creative thought, to creative knowledge, to a gnostic light, to a world transfigured. Modern theosophy does not do this, but in souls it indirectly clears the soil, and prepares for this the mid-cultural level. It is with an especial hostility towards religious knowledge, towards gnostic thought, that the representatives of non-Christian religious tendencies avail themselves. They particularly love to insist on the modern irrationality, on the inexpressibility of religious lived-through experiences. What impresses them is the moral, vitally-simple side of religion. Some of them are prepared to affirm the obscure, irrational, the unmanifest, not knowing any sort of actual mysticism, and readily mixing up the experience of the spiritually-mystical with that of the soulfully-psychological. All of these tendencies ought resolutely to be countered by light-bearing religious thought, by creative gnosis, by the revelation in man of Sophia the Divine Wisdom, the magicism of knowledge. This is the type of religious thought and spiritual life, to which we at present approach, and it will all the more convince us of the significance of active religious knowledge.

Nikolai Berdyaev

1916

© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1916 - 252b -en)

THEOSOPHIYA I ANTROPOSOPHIYA V ROSSII. Russkaya Mysl’. nov. 1916.

Reprinted in YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III), ctr. 463-486.

N.B. The Klepinina Bibliographie lists as #252 this article together with the article “Spiritual Christianity and Sectarianism in Russia”, which also appeared in the nov. 1916 issue of Russkaya Mysl’. Neither the Klepinina Bibliographie nor the YMCA 1989 reprint indicate the page numbers for either article in the nov. 1916 Russkaya Mysl’; I however follow the sequence in the YMCA text and also by Y Krotov, and term this latter named article on “Spiritual Christianity...” as the former, encoding it (1916 - 252a - en).


1 The most original and talented theosophic writer for us appears to be P. D. Uspensky.

2 Vide: Steiner: die Philosophie des Freiheit. This book is very characteristic in defining the philosophical sources of Steiner.

3 It suffices to peruse the books of either Brahman Chatterji “The Concealed Religious Philosophy of India”, or of Swami Bivekananda “The Philosophy of Yoga”, “About Raja-Yoga” or “The Voice of Silence”, -- to be persuaded of the truth of this assertion.

( 4 This was written prior to the Russian Revolution, in which has appeared a new blossoming of materialism).

5 Of everything in print by Steiner for sale, most is revealed by his gnostic Christology, “Die geistige Führung des Menschen und der Menshheit”.

6 Vide: Steiner. From the Embodiment of the World.

7 There is a (more) social character in the French occultism of Fabre d’Olive, Sainte Ive d’Alveidre and others.


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