Berdyaev and Religious Freedom

During my quiet week, I leave you with this meditation on freedom by the great Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev, one of my favourites. I scanned this text from the book I have owned for many years. I suspect that most Christians are not free, but addicted to a religious system that distorts their perception and enslaves their intelligence. It is the problem I encounter all the time, and the most cogent accusation made against Christianity by atheists. Is our faith an illness or an expression of our spiritual freedom at its most sublime?

I continue to get my translating orders done and my boating stuff ready for the weekend. I’ll leave the comment box open, but read and meditate the text rather than jump into a reaction. What you write will make the difference between an addict in the Matrix and a free soul soaring with the Angels and the Saints even before dying and passing on. The choice is yours.

* * *

Nicholas Berdyaev, Freedom and the Spirit, translated from Russian by Oliver Fielding Clarke, London 1935.

Does Christianity recognize freedom of conscience and religious toleration ?

This is a question with a history written in blood and tragedy. The Christian world has gone astray. While fire and the sword, the most hideous of passions, and all the extremity of violence have found employment in the service of the religion of love and freedom, it has been left to men utterly indifferent to all religion to defend freedom of conscience and religious toleration.

For one who believes in nothing and is indifferent to truth it is easy to be tolerant towards every belief. But the real problem is how to reconcile an ardent faith and devotion to sovereign truth with a toleration for erroneous belief and a denial of that truth ? Is not religious toleration always a proof of indifference ? So at any rate those Christians think who deny liberty of conscience. The defence of the spirit of toleration has become the prerogative of liberalism and of a humanism which possesses no religious faith. Freedom of conscience is affirmed as a formal principle having no relation to any positive truth whatsoever. Religious men believing in a positive truth free from all error have only defended freedom of conscience when their own faith was persecuted and oppressed. The Roman Catholics, who are the least inclined to recognize the principle of freedom of conscience, appealed in Russia to that principle when the Roman Catholic faith was oppressed and its rights restricted. Christianity in the person of the apologists and doctors of the Church during the period of the persecutions before Constantine the Great maintained the cause of freedom of conscience in matters of religion. But when Christianity became the dominant religion we hear no more of these arguments in favour of religious freedom, and, on the contrary, we find appeals to force against heretics and dissenters and to the intervention of the sword of the State in questions of-faith. This, then, is how the question arises historically and it has been a fruitful source of lying hypocrisy and a gross utilitarianism.

But how are we to put this question of religious freedom from the Christian point of view ? How can it be stated in its inner essence and free from all human interests and from all the positivism and utilitarianism which are historically interwoven with Christianity ? Christianity is exclusive and cannot tolerate any approach to error. It cannot be indifferent as to whether men prefer a lie to the truth, because it cannot recognize them as being of equal value. A formal liberalism which is indifferent to truth is alien to Christianity, which cannot therefore defend freedom of conscience by recourse to its arguments. Christian liberty is not the formal and meaningless liberty of the natural man ; it is not a right as in humanistic liberalism ; it is an obligation and a duty to God, and if Christians have to maintain the cause of freedom of conscience it certainly cannot be by appealing to liberalism, and to the formal and juridical arguments which are employed by a world which is indifferent to faith and truth of every kind, and which clings to the freedom of untruth and evil. Those who deny the very existence of the religious consciousness cannot defend the liberty of religious thought except in a purely external fashion, for it is only useful from their point of view as a protection for their own right to atheism and untruth and to preserve their tranquil enjoyment of error. But is is only in Christianity that freedom of conscience has any inner meaning or religious justification. Christianity demands toleration for the inner experience and spiritual development of the human soul, because freedom is part of the Christian faith, and because Christianity is the religion of freedom. God Himself is infinitely tolerant towards the evil of the world. He bears with the greatest of wrong-doers for the sake of freedom. Christianity asserts freedom of conscience materially and in no formal sense, and it does this, not because it is indifferent to truth nor because it is tolerant of untruth, but rather because it believes in truth which is the revelation of the freedom of the human spirit. Christ opened up for us a freedom of the spirit which knows no limits and sealed it with His blood for all eternity. Faith in Calvary is faith in freedom.

The demand for freedom of religious thought in Christianity is far more profound than it is in liberal, humanist, and non-religious circles. Every form of coercion of the human soul in matters of faith is a betrayal of Christ, a denial of the very meaning of the Christian religion and of the nature of faith itself. Man has to be tested through freedom in order that he may know how to win the victory freely over the things which try him. Man must seek diligently for the truth. The denial of religious freedom, fanatical intolerance, and coercion in things spiritual all spring from the idea of salvation by compulsion, an idea opposed to the whole meaning of Christianity. God Himself could have saved the whole human race by force had He wanted to, and in a far more radical fashion than the hierarchy or the State could ever do. But God does not wish to impose salvation upon anyone, for it is quite contrary to His plan for man and for the world. God awaits man’s free response to His call, He wants the unforced love of His other self. God might say as man does, ” You cannot love to order.” Force cannot open the way to Paradise.

The idea of salvation by compulsion, which has had such fatal consequences in history, is due to a false identification of the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Caesar, by which the spiritual world is degraded to the level of the natural. In the kingdom of Caesar coercion and slavery are everywhere in evidence, whereas the spiritual world, the Kingdom of God, is an order of liberty. Nobody can be saved by coercion because salvation presupposes an act of freedom and because it is the inner illumination of freedom.

The history of Christianity is full of acts of violence, but these form no part of the spiritual order of things, nor have they any connection with the inner history of Christianity; they belong rather to the social activity of mankind and are determined by the prevailing condition of the natural man. Though mediaeval Christianity witnessed only too many acts of violence and bloodshed, Christianity itself is not responsible for these things but rather human nature, which was only being Christianized with some difficulty. The things for which the Catholic Church has been commonly blamed should rather be laid at the door of the cruelty of human nature. But the question of religious freedom is not a historical problem, it is the question of the very essence of the Christian faith. From this point of view religious toleration is not the tolerance of the erroneous opinions of man, but a feeling of love and solicitude for every human soul.

Man comes to God by many arduous ways and through much suffering, through the experience of life’s tragedy, and through spiritual struggle. Trials beset his path in those personal experiences which belong to each individual alone. None of us can claim to possess truth in its fulness while regarding our neighbours as completely in error. Fulness and completeness are to be found in God alone, and all we can grasp is but a fragment of the truth, for only a few stray beams of its light become visible to us. The restriction and denial of freedom of conscience means the mechanization and the materialization of the religious life and the denial of the spirit and spiritual life which are essentially free. The present-day revolt of man against coercion in matters of faith and religion is completely justifiable. This revolt can and does bring in its train certain fatal consequences and may mean a loss of faith, yet it contains an inner moment of truth, namely the truth of freedom.

It is impossible to build the Kingdom of God by force ; it can only be created in freedom. It was the use of force which brought to an end the various historic theocracies and their fall was providential. Without man and without human freedom God cannot and will not establish His Kingdom, which is of necessity human as well as divine in character ; and here we have a truth which man must pursue to the very end. Nothing in this world can arrest its progress because God Himself wills that man should completely fulfil his freedom and come through liberty into the divine fulness. Man must pass through the tragedy of freedom in order to reach its final issue in the freedom of Christ, that is, in the third kind of freedom. Freedom is man’s fate and destiny, however paradoxical that may appear. The fanaticism which inspires to violence is only a form of madness which proceeds from the incapacity of the natural man for receiving into himself the truth of the spirit and of Christianity in all its divine fulness. Fanaticism means the imprisoning of the spirit within the passions of the soul and the body, the stifling of the spiritual man by the natural, and it is in continual conflict with even the most elementary laws of spiritual hygiene. For when man nourishes hatred in the name of. love, when he has recourse to violence on behalf of freedom, he is quite clearly mad, and has lost his ” psychical” equilibrium as a result of his powerlessness to receive within himself the truth of Christianity. Nothing is more difficult for man than to accept the freedom of truth within himself and to remain faithful to it. His ideas become confused and his heart burns within him. The evil which he compasses appears to him to possess a good motive. Now it is true that the Greek world was certainly more balanced and less prone to violence than is the Christian world, but that was because it did not have to accept for itself the supreme truth of freedom. It is this truth which has proved to be too heavy a burden for humanity, and having remained for long unapprehended it has been the origin of hitherto unprecedented violence.

It is through the tragedy of freedom that Christian renaissance on a world scale will take place. The Christianity of the future will be a Christianity of the freedom of the spirit which has successfully passed through the trials of freedom by overcoming the temptation to refuse them. Christianity can be renewed not through opposition to that which is eternal, but through the birth of a new soul able to apprehend its immutable truth. This new soul can only accept a Christianity of the freedom of the spirit, for the bondage of the spirit and the tyranny and coercion from which it suffers is part of the kingdom of Antichrist. The freedom of the spirit has been the fundamental theme of Russian religious thought. Slavophiles maintained the freedom of Christianity, and the greatest apostle of it was Dostoievsky himself.

The problem of the freedom of the spirit lies at the very centre of the Christian consciousness, and the problems of evil and of redemption, and that of man and his creative powers, are closely connected with it. Creation is impossible under the dominant influence of an authoritarian mentality. Creative life cannot simply consist in obedience and submission to authority. It always presupposes the freedom of the spirit and is indeed the manifestation of this freedom. In creation something else besides humility always has its part to play, for, though humility is an indispensable moment of the spiritual life, it does not mean that there is no place at all for the daring of freedom. The denial of freedom means a curtailing of human individuality and the extinction of the spiritual life of man. Individuality revolts against transformation into an automaton. The idea of Christian freedom, considered fundamentally with all its consequences, presupposes the affirmation of freedom in all spheres of human creativity, in science, philosophy, and art, in social relationships, and in love. Coercion in these matters has no value whatever from the Christian point of view. In all spheres of creation the truth of Christ must be revealed in the very depths of liberty. Science, art, society, like the free love between man and woman, must serve the truth of Christ and must turn their creative forces towards God as the manifestation of a free love towards God. No outward limitations can be imposed on freedom of thought and feeling. The life of Christ must be born within them ; the void and non-being of evil and the nothingness of all forms of atheism must be clearly revealed. This is the line of development, through immanence, the only one which humanity can follow, which has brought it to the very climax of the trials and contradictions of culture. The final separation of the two kingdoms will take place along this line of freedom which will lead definitively either to God or to the devil.

And the time is coming, indeed it has already come, when freedom will be found only in Christianity, when the Church of Christ will defend the freedom of man against the violence of the kingdom of this world, that kingdom of Caesar which has now become definitely irreligious in character. This has already happened in Communism, which has destroyed the freedom of the spirit and denies personality. The denial of the freedom of the spirit is precisely the spirit of Antichrist whose coming will be marked by extreme tyranny and by the absolute autocracy of the powers of this world. Only in Christ’s Church will deliverance from this destructive tyranny, this very incarnation of the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor, be found. In the kingdom of Christ all power and all autocracy, whether individual or collective, are limited, for there only the power of truth and justice are recognized. The Christian spirit of freedom is directed against all tyranny, whether proceeding from “the left,” “the right,” or “the centre,” whether it be monarchist, aristocratic, democratic, socialist, or anarchist in character. It is not the same thing as the spirit of liberalism, which is always indifferent to truth, but it is that of sanctified freedom and the freedom of love. The search for the Kingdom of God is the manifestation of the freedom of the spirit. The Kingdom of God, which is above all the object of our search, is the kingdom of the spirit. In the spiritual world external tyranny and compulsion of every kind, besides that which results from division, are no more. To attain to the Kingdom of God is to pass into a spiritual world where everything differs from that which we find in this natural world. God will be all in all and freedom will triumph over force. To enter into the spiritual world man must make an act of freedom and heroism, and this must not be something which he accepts from without but rather that which he must discover in himself.

About these ads
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Berdyaev and Religious Freedom

  1. Stephen K says:

    This is a particularly lucid extract in my view. There is much to reflect on. I note his statements about freedom and creativity in particular and they reminded me of the reflections of a woman who had been the Deputy for the Bouches-du-Rhone in the late 1940s, Irene Laure. Laure was a committed socialist who became involved with the Moral Rearmament movement and, in a collection of reflections edited by Gabriel Marcel Un Changement d’Espérance à la Rencontre du Réarmament Moral(1958), she writes, speaking of the generosity she encountered, ……. I had always thought of changing the structure of society. For the first time I saw that this change in people would inevitably bring a change in the structure through the suppression of selfishness and pride……..if all the treaties had become scraps of paper it was because men had stayed what they were.

    The desire to control is very strong in us, I think. It may be innate. It is not so much a problem when it concerns control of oneself, perhaps, but it is when it is directed at controlling others that we run into frequently complicated and potentially harmful results. This desire to control others seems to me to be rooted or at least influenced by the basic emotion of fear. Freedom, of the healthy sort, the kind Berdyaev appears to be talking about, seems to be first and foremost, freedom from fear. But what do others think?

    • I have put your correction into your text.

      We men have a responsibility for showing another side of masculinity – sensitivity, music, art, writing, exploration and discovery, making things. We are not all manipulators and ambitious for control. Many women are more competitive and ambitious than many men. I think you are right about the fear, but it is also the same pack instinct as dogs and other species – some males are alphas. Extreme alphas often become ruthless businessmen or criminals. Genetic or hormonal, or simply psychological – ask a doctor.

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes, all you say seems true. Just a couple of things, though. To be fair to Laure, when she refers to “men” I think she was referring to “humans” (i.e. both men and women). And when I suggest the desire to control others is innate, I do not mean it is always and everywhere insuperable. Indeed the fact that people do so much good is testimony to the fact that it isn’t.

      • We can envy the Germans:
        Mann = human being of male sex
        Frau (Mädchen if unmarried) = human being of female sex
        Mensch = human being of either sex.

      • ed pacht says:

        My sister raises dogs. She tells me that, more often than not, the alpha dog is female. In humans, well … we all know of alpha women, several of whom are currently among the most powerful individuals of contemporary society. I don’t think I need to name names.

      • That is very true. I would not mention any names either.

      • Stephen K says:

        I don’t think Berdyaev is thinking of freedom etc. in alpha-personality terms. If we think in those terms I think it’s too easy to ignore the central point he makes that coercion of any kind has no place in Christian thinking or life. That seems to me to be a very universal challenge, no matter how passive anyone may habitually be. If the proposition is true, it immediately means that even the very assertion of a doctrine such as “outside the Church there is no salvation” or ”mine is the true Church” is un-Christian at its very core. It means that the 2,000 years of coercion and barbarism in the name of true faith is nothing but a testament to the un-Christianity of Christian institutions or their leaders at all levels. No part of human action is free from taint: even the act of martyrdom is capable of being a kind of passive-aggressive act – you know, along the lines of this’ll show’em even if nothing else does!”. This was touched on in the fourth temptation of Thomas a’Becket in Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. Even attempts to persuade in dialogue can reflect this. The difficulty of the challenge lies in making a judgment in any particular circumstance whether it is the better thing to persist or not. The drive to control is a useful motivation in the stakes for physical survival. Berdyaev appears to be saying that it has no place in Christian religion at all.

      • Dale says:

        Stephen, I am going to agree with you on this one. I think that Berdyaev’s position is more akin to Voltaire’s plea for tolerance for others. When I was in seminary I was enthralled with him, although he is NOT popular with the Russian Orthodox of today; well he was not all that popular with many during his own lifetime either. Before the Russian Revolution he was actually imprisoned and sent to Siberia for a strong criticism of the state church and its quest for political and social power, but he remained a loyal churchman his whole life; able to separate the institution from the Faith (something which is very hard to do). What I especially liked about him was that he was not anti-western at all and was a supporter of especially French Enlightenment philosophers (a group now actively despised by most Byzantine Orthodox). In many ways his Sacramentalism and catholicity are very much how I perceive traditional Anglo-Catholicism, which has not historically suffered too much from the drum of WE ARE THE ONLY TRUE CHURCH OUTSIDE OF WHICH EVERYONE ELSE IS GOING TO HELL.

        I would also like to mention that both Vladimir Lossky and his son, Nicholas (my dissertation adverser), were strong supporters of Berdyaev and his principals of religious liberty.

      • ed pacht says:

        When Stephen, Dale, and ed are all in agreement, as it appears we are here, the angels must be dancing. Seriously, coercion is so out of place among God’s people, and yet so very common in all branches of the Church. It’s endemic, and that is sad.

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes, Dale, ed. Religious liberty really seems to be a no-brainer for who could reasonably reject the proposition of Dignitatis Humanae that “in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices, everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonourable or unworthy….”? Yet how widespread are the examples where this is not followed (in liturgical as well as catechetical matters). Archbishop Lefebvre, to take just one example, always identified this decree on Religious Liberty as a particular object of his criticism. In a speech in 1972, published in his Un Evêque Parle he put it this way: “Our Lord did indeed say: “He that believeth not shall be damned.” People must then be shown the light. If they are not told that they will be condemned if they will not believe, how can they wish to believe?”. This is a typical attitude, completely contrary to the idea expressed in the Berdyaev extract.

      • “Our Lord did indeed say: He that believeth not shall be damned. People must then be shown the light. If they are not told that they will be condemned if they will not believe, how can they wish to believe?”.

        I have never seen this face to face with the apparently gentle Archbishop Lefebvre. As it stands, the idea is monstrous. The only motivation for faith is fear of punishment, not love, not searching for truth or meaning of life – but fear of the one who has the political clout, who can put you in prison, enslave you, torture and / or kill you, take away your livelihood and everything else. Some time ago I commented on Captain Bligh’s way of commanding a ship, by fear of punishment, the “whistle of the whip”. The mutiny taught the British Admiralty an important lesson, that a ship is better commanded by a character the men can respect and esteem, rather than by flogging that “breaks a good man’s heart and makes a bad man even worse”.

        In matters of religion, as far as I and the quasi totality of people who live in the country where I live are concerned, coercion in any form or by social convention has discredited any claim to truth of the kind of Christianity that practices such coercion. Take away the coercion and the churches rot and crumble away because nobody cares about them. That is where the “true church” system led – to it’s own death.

        I happen to believe that one can come to believe through desire of truth, love and beauty. That kind of Christianity has a future, but as a minority persecuted by both churches and atheists alike. Read Berdyaev’s The New Middle Ages.

  2. Stephen K says:

    Here’s something I’d like to share with my co-readers. Many years ago, I used to spend time at a Carmelite friary during Holy Week over several years. The friars conducted a retreat for visitors, punctuated by the daily office and Masses of the day. A group of friends and I would sing chant and various motets for these. One Thursday, the prior, a gentle Irishman, gave a homily in the course of which he shared a kind of meditation. It was one of those pivotal insights by which I was struck, beginning to see how many of the concepts we are brought up to conceive solely in terms of historical events actually have their most potent and useful meaning as unscripted dynamic processes in the present. In some way I obtained a copy of the meditation-poem and I have it with me still. Here it is:

    “To love is to GIVE to the one loved: that is CREATION
    To love is to SPEAK to the one loved: that is REVELATION
    To love is to BECOME LIKE the one loved: that is INCARNATION
    To love is to SUFFER FOR the one loved: that is REDEMPTION
    To love is to REMAIN NEAR to the one loved: that is EUCHARIST
    To love is to BECOME ONE WITH the one loved: that is COMMUNION
    To love is to LIVE WITH the one loved: that is PARADISE.”

    I wonder how many of my co-readers find this as beautiful or powerful as I do?

  3. Stephen K says:

    I find that this subject of religious freedom is a fertile soil for spiritual reflection. One of the themes that it evokes is the mystery of our birth, of who we are – in God’s eyes – and why we are who we are. It does not take more than a few moments to realise that the questions – potentially at least – propose themselves to everyone who has ever existed. What they mean to a Neanderthal or early Cro-Magnon – to a Babylonian, Egyptian, Zoroastrian; to a Hindoo, Confucian, a Jew, a Buddhist – to a Christian, and so on – must differ in flavour but perhaps not in essence. All of us are encompassed in the One God. God’s love is universal. At least, to suggest explicitly that God’s love cannot overcome or does not underpin any human – nay, any creaturely (1) – circumstance would seem, to me at least, to militate against the kind of love Christians are called to show to all.

    Thus, it seems to me, that “true Church” claims, such, at least, as we are accustomed to encountering them, are ruled out by the very historicity of the incarnation in Jesus: such an incarnation, if the underlying theology is to be accepted, is a response to the condition of all creation prior to 4AD; it is a proposition for all creation to the fulfilment of the universe; it is thus a universal proposition that can have meaning for all. But meaning depends on, and takes it character from, the comprehension of the subject to whom the proposition is proposed: a Hindoo must necessarily understand Jesus differently from a Christian – and how diverse are the comprehensions of Christians! I would like to suggest that Christian militancy – in whatever form – is problematic and essentially anti-Christian, and a fortioriany form of Catholic militancy.

    I have been watching a documentary on the Legion of Christ, the conservative RC congregation founded – and disgraced – by Fr Marciel Maciel. It struck me how this related to Father Anthony’s topic of freedom, for the core anti-Christian element in the whole saga seems to me to be not so much Fr Maciel’s sexual and financial abuses, shocking though they are in themselves, but the culture of threat imposed through the “private vows” and the psychology of guilt and dependence following from their way of formation, both for their seminarians and for their Regnum Christi members. Granted that we are all candidates for guilt in terms of sin, there seems to be such a world of difference between neurotic guilt, and the guilt felt by a free, mature person. I am still on the journey towards being a free, mature person and my hope is that one day I will be one.

    So, in conclusion, let me propose that true spiritual freedom is not license for self-indulgence but has nothing to do with conformity or orthodoxy. Let me propose that true spiritual freedom is evidenced by the self-permission to show compassion and not by non-self-commitment, and that membership of any collective will bring us to a crisis of freedom, in some way, at some time.

    (1) I am profoundly impressed by the work of Fr Andrew Linzey; I recommend highly his “Animal Theology”

  4. Michael Frost says:

    All of the above has me thinking of the various thoughts in this regard during the Reformation, which is barely addressed. England would be a fascinating case study. But for me more specifically the Lutherans and their Augsburg Confession.

    I think I focus on them because of their tortured history (pun intended). Luther, who is under his own death sentence from Rome, ruthlessly upholds the power of the German princes to slaughter the masses during the Peasants Revolt of the 1520s. The more peaceable Melanchthon then writes the AC and presents it to the Holy Roman Emperor (1530), who desires to destroy the Reformation (and comes oh so close in the mid-1540s only to lose it all in the early 1550s). The AC reads in so many places as a document for liberty and freedom. First, real Christian liberty. See the discussion about monastic vows, clerical celibacy, auricular confession, and the distinction of foods. Second, in regard to Church-State relations. See the Power of Bishops, which posits that they should not invade the function of the other, nor should bishops lord it over the people, as any temporal power they have is of human right, not divine. Melanchthon then uses his far lengthier Apology (1531) to set out the principle in more detail, as well as his Treatise on the Power & Primacy of the Pope (1537)

    Yet, in the end they remain in the politically-minded trap that mainly limits religious freedom and tolerance to only their co-religionists. Leaving it up to the prince, not the individual conscience. Thus in the 1550s when the Lutherans achieve peace and recognition by the Holy Roman Empire, they refuse to offer same to the Reformed, their “arch enemies”, who can’t achieve same until after the horrific 30 Years War of the next century.

    And then we wonder why there was an Enlightenment and secularization? Which, most unfortunately, leads to the ideological revolutions in France, Russia, and Germany. And then they do the mass killing in the name of their ideology. Also rejecting freedom of conscience. And sadly even after the essential falls of those evil ideologies, it goes on today in places like Nigeria, Sudan/South Sudan. Egypt, Syria, & Iraq, Pakistan, India, Tibet & Sri Lanka; knowing no boundary, religious or otherwise. When will we learn?

    • I think it could well be in the order of Providence that any kind of Christianity that has used secular power to further its agenda is called to disappear. I am reading another piece by Berdyaev on The New Middle Ages written in the 1930′s. We see that the whole 20th century was no different from our own time. Our civilisation has taken too long to come to an end, and we may have to endure decades or centuries of industrialist capitalism. How long, O Lord?

      It has to be said that the problem is not faith or unbelief, religion or the French Republic, Communism, Nazism, etc. The problem is human nature. Churches do not redeem us. We have not learned from Christ’s message.

      I can’t bear to think about it too much!

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have not properly begun to read Berdyaev, though some initial dabbling is certainly drawing me on.

    It is, therefore, worth noting here that the Internet Archive has a scan of English translations of (1) copy of an essay, Christianity and Anti-Semitism (1954) – in effect slighlly mutilated by curiously beginning only on page 2, (2) The Russian Idea (1948); and – presented in ways that so far baffle me, and thus (as yet) inaccessible to me – an apparent transcription of an English translation of The Fate of Man in the Modern World (1935).

    Alas, neither Freedom and the Spirit nor The New Middle Ages.

    Also to be found there, however, are two interesting-looking books about him and his work and thought, one by George Seaver (published in 1950 and subtitled, An introduction to his thought) and another by Evgueny Lampert (Nicolas Berdyaev and the New Middle Ages).

    The English Wikipedia article has an external link to berdyaev.com which has indices with links to translations of works available online.

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Fr. Anthony,

    Lampert, in his list of books by Berdyaev, notes the Russian original translated as Freedom and the Spirit as having been published in two volumes in 1926. Would you be so kind as to give a bit more context for your selection? Is it from a preface or introduction, for instance?

    • The extract I quoted is from the chapter The Freedom of the Spirit, coming between the chapters Revelation and Faith and Redemption and Evil. Each chapter is divided into sections under Roman numerals. The part I quoted from The Freedom of the Spirit is the final part.

      The books I have in English were published by Geoffrey Bles: The Centenary Press, and I bought them many years ago from a second-hand bookshop. I have made no special study of Berdyaev’s bibliography. Don’t hesitate to give us the results of your own research.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thank you!

        The scan of Lampert’s book has no indication of publication date, but I have found a second-hand copy for sale described as a 1945 first edition. It is a fairly short book (86 pages of text), and looks well worth reading.

        Seaver’s book is a bit longer (114 pages of text), and full of many long quotations from the translations published by Bles, making it seem a sort of analytical anthology.

        I wish I could promise results of research, but I am not sure what I am likely to read or how quickly.

        I have a Dutch translation of The Origin of Russian Communism (based on English and German versions: Lampert noted it as only published in French and English (1937), and not Russian), with a new afterword from 1947, and am inclined to read that first, having just finished Sir Rober Bruce Lockhart’s Memoirs of a British Agent, about his first-hand experience of the Russian Revolution.

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Something that is unclear to me from the selection as such is what-all exactly Berdyaev means, here, by (or includes under) “coercion of the human soul in matters of faith”. For example, he clearly distinguishes, and rejects, “appeals to force against heretics and dissenters and to the intervention of the sword of the State in questions of faith.”

    When he speaks of “The fanaticism which inspires to violence” and, where such a fanatical person is concerned, of the “evil which he compasses”, he seems to distinguish such “fanaticism” from the fact that “Christianity is exclusive and cannot tolerate any approach to error. It cannot be indifferent as to whether men prefer a lie to the truth, because it cannot recognize them as being of equal value.”

    But how, then, does he envisage the proper expression of this inability to be indifferent to such preference, and to recognize putative equality where none exists, and to tolerate error – the proper expression of this proper ‘exclusivity’ with its proper recognition that ” None of us can claim to possess truth in its fulness while regarding our neighbours as completely in error. Fulness and completeness are to be found in God alone, and all we can grasp is but a fragment of the truth”?

    And, specifically, what form of proper Church dsicipline does he envisage?

    • This seems to be a dilemma that will always dog humanity whether we are religious or atheists. It is in our nature to hate each other and seek to control others so that we don’t get controlled ourselves. Too much tolerance and we seem to be indifferent to truth, and too much truth and we become intolerant. There seems to be no solution to this quandary, not even atheism which itself becomes a “dogmatic” religion / ideology.

      That is why mankind can’t get over its addiction to fighting wars and committing genocide. The only hope is spiritual.

      Berdyaev remained Russian Orthodox for the whole of his life, even though he had been in such serious trouble in his youth – leading him to be banished to Siberia. How good an Orthodox was he? I haven’t gone into the question about whether he continued to attend Liturgy and receive Communion when he spent the last part of his life in France. You will need to find that out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s