(1915 – #192)


   Tradition can be alive and active even for our time. But tradition can also be ossified, deadening and moribund. Frequently even the words of a great tradition sound lifeless and dead, evoking nothing, except the memory. A tradition finds justification, as a living, a creative energy. But as a mere remembrance, now already powerless to create life, it cannot make pretense to being a guide for life. And truly there is much in tradition of the ossified and vapid: from dead lips and already repeated dead words. The article of Vyach. Ivanov, “Living Tradition”,1  written in reply to me, has produced upon me the impression of a refurbished stylisation of the old, already moribund Slavophilism. The words no longer sound alive, they are neither energised nor dynamic. V. Ivanov has not succeeded in conveying the feel of a living tradition. He attempts to write in the style of the old Slavophilism. And so deadened already have become so many of the old thoughts and words, that they bestow upon this article by one of the most significant of modern poets, a ponderousness, surmounted only with difficulty. It is difficult to feel, that Slavophilism continues to live in the article of V. Ivanov. This article is striking with its abstractness, it is not connected with the concrete Slavophilism, it repeats the Slavophil ideas, but it nowise conveys the Slavophil feeling for life. And the authentic, the formerly alive Slavophilism was, first of all, a manner of soul, a feeling within life, a tradition familial and of the national way of life, and only thereafter a doctrine and ideology. I tend to think, that Slavophilism played an enormous role within the history of our national self-awareness, and I believe, that within Slavophilism there was something quite fine, and that from it even still til now have remained vital seeds. Slavophilism was more remarkable of idea than Westernism. But Slavophilism — was complex a phenomenon, and from it emerged various lines. Certainly even Vl. Solov’ev originates from Slavophilism, and not from Westernism, though he was a fierce critic of a degenerated Slavophilism.

But from Slavophilism has remained also a moribund tradition, dead concepts and words. And from this corpse-like poison we ought to free and cleanse ourself. The living, the creative energy of any current of ideas never degenerates into a mere repeating of the ideas, of the doctrines and teachings of this current. This energy — is the seed of new life. To continue on with the living, the creative deed of the Slavophils and Dostoevsky — means to develope and cultivate the seeds cast forth by them, to go not only further than they did, but also to surmount them, sometimes even to scorch them. However, to merely repeat the teachings, the doctrines and the platforms, signifies fidelity to a dead, and not living tradition.

V. Ivanov provides such an abstractly-metaphysical definition of Slavophilism, that amidst it vanish all the sorts of distinctions and oppositions. If the Slavophil — is everyone, who believes in the mentally-posited and noumenal soul of Russia, then not only am I — a resolute Slavophil, but the rather that the Slavophil is everyone, who does not recourse to the grounds of positivism and phenomenalism. To admit of the nation as a metaphysical reality, an organism, concealed behind the currents of the phenomena of national life is something possible also for the “Westerniser”. The metaphysician and the mystic can also not be a Slavophil. The Russian mystical movement at the beginning of the XIX Century was a matter “Western”, and not “Slavophil”. And this movement has left behind a legacy within the religious life of the people.2  On another hand also, V. Ivanov is too keen on wanting to connect his definition of Slavophilism in context with Platonism, with the Platonic world of Ideas.

This however is nowise characteristic of the concrete  Slavophilism, which was grounded more within the historical, than the abstract-metaphysical.

The attraction to Platonism — is moreso the result of contemporary philosophical currents, quite alien to the Slavophils. Quite strong in them was the customary lifestyle, the connection with the historical national flesh. Modern mystical mindsets are totally inapplicable to the Slavophils. The Slavophils — were not mystics and they did not know the mystics. These were people of a solid earth, the customary lifestyle, attached to everything historically-concrete, with a great deal of sobriety in outlook, and rationality in thinking.

Dostoevsky — is a man of altogether different a sort, a different type, of different an era. He was already not a Slavophil in the precise meaning of the word, though he also made use of many of the moribund Slavophil concepts. In Slavophilism there was nothing of the catastrophic, there were no apocalyptic outlooks, which are so characteristic of Dostoevsky and Vl. Solov’ev.3  The since begotten catastrophic sense of life ultimately cuts us off from the Slavophils and makes it impossible to return to their accustomed felicity and their solid footing.


V. Ivanov, in consequence of the Slavophils and Dostoevsky, sees the modern visage of Russia, its mentally-graspable essence, as Holy Rus’. Granted that Russia phenomenal be sinful, but Russia noumenal remains holy, a land of saints, living with the ideals of sanctity. The idea of “Holy Rus'” long since already has lost its freshness and aroma. It becomes all the more and more abstract, bereft of life. The tradition concerning the sanctity of Rus’ — is already a non-living tradition. It is impossible to deny, that in the flourishing of the religious life of the Russian people there have been great saints and ascetics. The image of St. Sergei of Radonezh plays definitive a role within Russian history. And still not so long ago, already yet still in the XIX Century from the bosom of the religious life of the Russian people there appeared the image of the dazzlingly luminous sanctity of Seraphim of Sarov. The sanctity was fundamental to the spiritual life of the Russian people, just as to every Christian people. Our saints — are nationally unique, they — are Russian. But in the sanctity is nothing specifically and exclusively Russian. There were saints in all the Christian lands, and the sanctity represented a flourishing within the life of the Christian peoples. Italy has produced images and visages of sanctity, and it, certainly, has the right to conceive of itself as an “Holy Italy”. Sanctity is something at the point of departure, something initially fundamental within the history of the Christian peoples.

The history of the Christian soul has to proceed through asceticism and sanctity. But it is impossible to see in sanctity  and the saints the exclusively unique vocation of the Russian people. Holy Rus’ authentically exists and has its roots in the life of the people. But not only is Rus’ holy, not only in Rus’ is there sanctity and the sacred. In sanctity there is nothing exclusively and pre-eminently Russian. A Christian people conceives of its inner intimate visage as sacred at a certain step of its religious developement. But in subsequent centuries the sanctity comes to naught, there are saints all less and less and the ideals of sanctity grow bedimmed. Russia represents no exception to this. Rus’ long ago already has ceased to conceive of itself as holy, and this is not a matter of phenomena only, but is in essence noumenal. Holy Rus’ was profoundly bound up with the way of life in Rus’, as its foundational support. At present words about “Holy Rus'” tend to leave one numb, they do not convey the power of active life. The centre of gravity of the spiritual life has shifted elsewhere.

For V. Ivanov there exists as it were a dilemma: either to believe in “Holy Rus'”, as the metaphysical reality of Russia, and to connect in with it the mission of Russia, or to admit of Russia as a metaphenomenon and repudiate its great calling. But no such dilemma actually exists. It is possible to catch sight of a different visage of Russia and differently view its calling. And I no less than V. Ivanov assert, that in Russia one can only believe. And similarly to how the Slavophils believed in Holy Rus’, I believe in the Rus’  prophetic, in the Rus’ seeking for the Coming City, the wandering Rus’. Rus’ prophetic, searching, and wandering is also the mentally positable secret essence of Russia. Rus’ in this is exceptionally unique and dissimilar to any other land in the world. Only in the Russian people is there this searching within everything for the absolute and final, this discontentedness with the relative and mediocre, this prophetic and apocalyptic mindset. And I believe in the prophetic vocation of Russia, in its exceptional destiny to reveal the religiously new within the finalative period of world history.

In the exclusiveness of Russia and its mission I believe no less, than the Slavophils, but differently. I have not the possibility to provide the basis and to develope this line of thought within the scope of a small article. I merely render a contrast of one faith by another.4  I say, moreover, that nationalism to me always appears as something non-Russian, moreso a thing Western, than of Slavophilism. Nationalism places us on a par with all the peoples of Europe and it exists with us, just as there exists with us Capitalism and suchlike phenomena. Contrary to V. Ivanov, I think, that L. Tolstoy — is Russian deep-down, that in him there was nothing of the Westerniser and that Russia is impossible without L. Tolstoy. The religious and Orthodox searchings of L. Tolstoy, his revolt against world history, his absolute valuations in life, all his fate — are a great manifestation of the Russian spirit, worldwide in its significance. And the fact of the existence of L. Tolstoy has a greater significance for the fate of Russia, than does its state mightiness. The Tolstoyan repudiation of nationality is more national, than all the national theories. L. Tolstoy did not merely think about Russia, but the rather, was Russia. The noumenal soul of Russia is always sacrificial and renunciatory. The fate in life of Aleksandr Dobroliubov, formerly a decadent, then a wanderer, is moreso characteristic of the inner visage of Russia, than a life Orthodoxly saddled over, and accepting all the Slavophil doctrines and platforms.


The explanations of V. Ivanov concerning the attitude of Slavophilism towards the state authority merely confirm my conviction, that for every Slavophil the state authority is endowed with a transcendent religious sanction. And that what V. Ivanov says about the immanence of the authority within the people, is but a play on words with “immanent” and “transcendent”. It might be said, that every admitting of the “transcendent” makes it “immanent”. But upon these formal grounds we get nowhere. There remains the acute question: does authority possess an origin sacredly-divine or is it naturo-human?

Is it possible to introduce the phenomenon of state authority into the naturo-social developement? The Slavophil view on the nature of authority I regard as at the root of a false absolutisation of the relative, with the extension of absolute categories to the natural-historical process, a consolidation of the spirit of matter. This — is what is begotten of a religious materialism, confusing together the absolute and spiritual life with relative and material phenomena. This view leads to a confusing of the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Caesar, to a rendering unto Caesar that which is of God. Secularisation, which so displeases V. Ivanov and all the Slavophils, is a fulfilling of the words of Christ: “Render unto Caesar what is of Caesar, and unto God that which is of God”. Christ made the distinction “of God” and “of Caesar” and He secularised the kingdom of Caesar. The kingdom of Caesar is all this relative, natural, material world, in which reigns the law of necessity, and not the graced freedom of Christ.

Secularisation has as its reverse side the freeing of the spiritual life from the fetters of material necessity. It proclaims the truth and rightful propriety concerning this, that the relative — is relative, and not absolute, and that what is of Caesar — is not the Divine. The aspiration towards a secularisation of the state, the family, the economy, science and art is not merely the setting of them loose to freedom, but is also a striving for truth and a repugnance towards falsehood. Truth is the foremost thing of all. And the modern Slavophils tend here to overlook this pathos of the love for truth. They tend not to get choked up over the falsity within the external and visible life. They cling to the conditional life, to words, bereft of content, although totally sincere.

I find it striking, that V. Ivanov considers it possible to repeat the old Slavophil theory, long since toppled by history and having lost all semblance to truth, in regards to this, that in the West the rule of authority was the result from military conquest, but with us in Russia — it derived in origin purely from the people. The nature of the power of authority in Russia is just as little distinct from the nature of the power of authority in the West, as is the Russian commune distinct from the communes of all lands and peoples. The uniqueness of Russia mustneeds be sought in its spirit, and not in its state and economic forms, which are very uniform everywhere upon the earth. To bestow an inordinate religious significance to trends of state and economic manifestations means to situate oneself in a stage of religious naturalism, of which the Slavophils also were culpable. Secularisation represents a triumph of freedom and truth. The religious illumination of the whole of life ought to come from within, not from the outside. Life has to be inwardly sanctified and illumined, and not merely outwardly sanctified and illumined. And thereof open forth the paths for human activity and human creativity.

It remains completely incomprehensible, why V. Ivanov sees iconoclasm in the call for secularisation. I can assure V. Ivanov, that I am not at all an iconoclast, and in nothing ever have I evidenced a tendency towards iconoclasm. I am an opponent of religious materialism, but I stand resolutely upon the grounds of a religious symbolism. Icons, the cult and all the “flesh” aspects of the religious life posses for me a profound symbolic significance. The secularisation perchance is not directed against the symbolism. It merely represents a liberation from the absolutisation of the materially-relative, from the object-oriented realism within the religious consciousness. All these problems demand a radical reconsidering, it is impossible to resolve them traditionally and simplistically. The whole of the material, object-oriented life — involves but symbols and signs of the spiritual life and of the spiritual paths of man. But the human spirit can fall into a slavery to a peculiar objectivisation, it can admit of the object-oriented world as the ultimate ontological reality. Then ensues the slavery and decay, and creative life withers. In the old religious consciousness material objects lord it over the human spirit and hinder free movement. Herein is why secularisation is necessary, behind which lies concealed the process of religious developement.


V. Ivanov makes an attempt to construct a platform and programme from the image of Alyosha Karamazov and he coins a new term, “Alyoshins”. But the very great deficiency of the image of Alyosha consists namely in this, that it is so easy to transform him into a platform and programme, that for Dostoevsky himself he represented preaching and morals. Alyosha is an exponent for the great searchings of Dostoevsky, but artistically he did not succeed, it is artificial. It is not in Alyosha that there mustneeds be sought the great attainments of Dostoevsky, his genuine insights and revelations. Is it possible to compare Alyosha with the agitated and disconcerting image of Prince Myshkin, — a genuine revealing of a Christian Dionysianism? Dostoevsky was not given the gift to artistically reflect and religiously preach health. Dostoevsky revealed, that in sickness, and not in health is seen the light, is attained the Divine. “Healthy” is something difficult to conceive of and appreciate with Dostoevsky. He never wrote about the healthy, the clear, the simple, the serenely happy. The Slavophil healthiness and Dostoevsky — are two different things, with no point of contact betwixt. And I think, that the “Alyoshins” — are people of spiritual health — foreign to the “Dostoevschins”. Alyosha himself, as a preaching of health, of fullness and a way out from the “Dostoevschins”, is not convincing. And they are not the ones intimately close to Dostoevsky, who merely follow his preachings and adopt his platforms and doctrines, just as the Tolstoyans are not intimately close to L. Tolstoy. The tragedy of the individual fate, the sickness of spirit of Raskol’nikov, Stavrogin, Kirillov, Versilov, Ivan Karamazov — here is where the depths of Dostoevsky is revealed. From Stavrogin it is impossible to construct a programme, and in this is his significance. In the tragedy-novels of Dostoevsky there were prophetic insights, artistic, psychological and religio-metaphysical revelations. Herein is where the genuine Dostoevsky is, and not in the moral preachings and national-church doctrines. The doctrinaire rebirth of Slavophilism preaches a theoretical healthiness, something which preceded the light-bearing sickness of spirit, as experienced and revealed by Dostoevsky. But this healthiness — is dead, is lifeless. To see the essence of Dostoevsky in Alyosha and “The Diary of a Writer” means to bypass the revolutionary and catastrophic concerns of Dostoevsky. I know, that Dostoevsky wanted to invest much of the new within Alyosha. But in this he did not succeed. Alyosha is lacking in the agitated life. And I have experienced too much in Dostoevsky, merely to become an “Alyoshin”. Slavophilism all still remains in the initial healthiness and wholeness, in the natural state of spirit, prior to the catastrophic fragmentation of spirit, prior to the tragedies of Dostoevsky. And the optimism of the modern neo-Slavophils, under the impetus of war, their idyllic view on Russian history and Russian activity disgusts me, as subconscious a lie and an evasion, as an insufficient probing of the tragedies of life both personal and historical, such as have rocked the old idols and shattered the old illusions.

Nikolai Berdyaev.


©  2008 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1915 – 192 -en)

OMERTVEVSHEE  PREDANIE. Originally published 8 April 1915 in newspaper-gazette “Birzhevye vedomosti” (No.14771). Reprinted since in the sbornik-anthology of N. Berdyaev articles under the title, “Mutnye liki (Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii)”, Publisher “Kanon+”, Moskva, 2004, p.102-110.

1 Vide “Bizhevye vedomosti”, 18 March.

2 Up to the present even among the Russian sectarians, the spiritual Christians, the religious seekers among the people, there tends to be read the “Masonic” mystical literature from the Alexandrian era. [i.e. the period of tsar Alexander I]. I myself have encountered mystics among the people, who have read Mme. Guyon, Boehme etc from books in “Masonic” translations.

3 I refer to my book, “A. S. Khomyakov”,  publisher “Put'”.

4 Vide my brochure, “The Soul of Russia” [Dusha Rossii]. Pub. Sytin [1915]. For reading as a public lecture.