The New Religious Consciousness and History


The New Religious Consciousness and History

(1916- #244)


The article by A. Meier [or Meyer, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich; 1875-1939] concerning my book, “The Meaning of Creativity” [Engl. title: “The Meaning of the Creative Act”], impels a reply.1  It demands explanations on my part. I am fully in agreement with A. Meier on this, that the new religious consciousness can be based only upon a new aspect, a new fact within the religious life of mankind, and outside of this fact it would totally remain an abstract ideology. I also have a sense of basing myself upon suchlike a fact, upon a certain creative surge within human nature, within the structure of the spiritual experience of man, of mankind in general, of Man with a capital letter. But, as it always happens, this fact, stirring up within the mysterious depths, is not known by all, is not conscious a matter for all. For A. Meier it remains unnoticed, and therefore his discussion with me — relates totally to the external. And his objections to me involve objects more visible and even on the side of being more perceptible.

The basic reproach, which A. Meier proffers me, is this, — the reproach of having an “obdurate insensitivity” towards history. This is a reproach, which I not only cannot take seriously into account, but which I am quite compelled to retort in return to A. Meier and to those of like mind with him. There exist vital determinants of our sense of history, of our real relationship to it. The greatest testing for the genuineness of a sense of history and the vital determinant of a real attitude towards it is the world war — an event historical to the extreme, in which all the threads of history converge. And while here in relation to the world-historical events of the present day war it is that some have had discernment of an acute sense of history, an acute consciousness of the historical hour, others however have but discerned an “obdurate insensitivity”. A. Meier, evidently, is of like mind with and a follower of D. S. Merezhkovsky, or in any case very close to the circle of his outlook and ideas. This is evident from the session of the Petrograd Religio-Philosophic Society, devoted to rendering an opinion on my book, and from all the comments of A. Meier. And herein I have decisively to say, that it is Merezhkovsky namely and his adherents that have displayed an “obdurate insensitivity” in relation to the world war. They tend to say nothing about one of the most shaking and most answerable moments of world history, they cannot deal with world history, since it moves not according to their schemes and outlines, their thought fails to produce new creative work over completely new and unforeseen historical events. Over the course of the war I have written sufficiently many an article (amidst others also in “Birzhevye vedomosti”, wherein occurs my conversation with A. Meier) and, they tend to remark, that they have found in them a certain feel for history and historical events. More than once I happened to express the very thought, that the Russian intelligentsia always possessed a weakly developed feeling for history, and it had not the wherewithal for purely historical thought and historical appraisings. For concrete an history, which presents quite original a reality within the hierarchy of being and possesses values quite unique, Russians have been wont to substitute instead values abstractly-moral, abstractly-sociological and abstractly-religious. Within Russian ideologies the historical values always get replaced by sociological and moral categories. Our theocratic ideologies are anti-historical the same, as are our socialistic and anarchistic ideologies. The “sociologism” of the Russian intelligentsia, which so captivates Meier, and to which he would want to ascribe a religious character, always has been bound up with a weak sense of history and with almost a completely atrophied sense of historical responsibility. This is the traditional sociological mindset, behind which lies concealed an extreme moralism, with no love for history, it recoils from everything historical and shews an “obdurate insensitivity” towards such purely historical values, as nationality and the state, as concrete historical tasks within the life of peoples. But this is a very great mistake. “Sociologism” — is anti-historical, hostile to the creatively-concrete, quite insensitive to the fate of peoples, to their tasks within the world. For “sociologism” such abstract categories, as classes, the international proletariat, are closer and more real, than are such historical concretenesses, such living realities, as nations. The philosophic working of thought long ago already has undercut the sociological world-view. And it has ultimately been swept away and cast beyond the pale by the worldwide conflict of peoples. What now remains of international socialism — this by-product of “sociologism”? The “religious social aspect” of Merezhkovsky and his like-minded associates is anti-historical and utopianism the same, as is the old international utopianism of the Marxists, or the more recent syndicalism or anarchism of Bakunin etc. Social utopias upon religious a grounding always have manifest an insensitivity towards history and historical fate. All people confessing a social utopianism, either positivist, or upon a religious basis, tend to become castaways left behind by historical events and discarded beyond the pale of history. The coming unknown, to which we approach, belongs not to them, for they imbibe but the dregs of ideas from the XVIII and XIX Centuries.

The “religious societal aspect” of Merezhkovsky and Meier are detached off from cosmic life just the same, in wanting to isolate themself from cosmic energies, as is the sociological societal aspect of the positivists and materialists. This also is a by-product of utopianism, the ignoring of cosmic evil. The abstraction of the societal aspect off from cosmic life is a tendency also of the abstract “sociologism”.2  Those, who are entangled in this abstract sociologism, truly are doomed to an “obdurate insensitivity” towards this historical hour, in which world life has come upon. The cosmic world-sense is more receptive to history, than is the sociological world-view, since the historical process is concrete and an inalienable part of the cosmic process, and at present in the historical actuality is particularly to be felt the actings of cosmic energies. It is namely those, which have a feel for history and the current historical hour, who ought to sense all the significance of the transition from the sociological consciousness to a consciousness cosmic. The problem of the unification of East and West, of the emergence of culture beyond the boundaries of Europe, the movement beyond the oceans towards other continents, the ultimate formations of enormous imperialistic bodies and the liberation of small national bodies, all these — are problems historical and cosmic. The very growth of technical mastery over all the powers of nature, is set within the cosmic problem and is contiguous with that of cosmic evil. Merezhkovsky and Meier who is like-minded with him stand entirely on the outside of these historical tasks and historical presentiments. They remain locked up in their own socio-religious utopias, they impotently attempt to substitute the absolute for the relative, confusing the various planes. A religious societal aspect, insofar as one can speak about it, is but an inalienable part of the cosmic societal aspect, a certain felicitous communing correspondence amidst all the cosmic hierarchy.


A. Meier totally fails to understand my attitude towards history. With him, we seem to be speaking in different languages and, evidently, we belong to different planets. I have first of all striven to establish religiously and philosophically the distinctions between the sphere absolute and the sphere relative and to render impossible the absolutisation of the relative, which always has been a source of slavery. There has to be religiously admitted the right to existence of the relative, and a defending of the relative from its ultimate being swallowed up by the absolute. The absolutisation of the relative, the substitution of the absolute in place of the relative leads to a denigration of the absolute and a vanishing of the relative. Thus, the substitution of the religiously absolute in place of the historically relative denigrates and materialises the religiously absolute and devastates all the historically concrete within it. The relationship between the absolute and the relative is impossible to think of transcendentally, it can be thought of only immanently. The relative is a manifestation of the absolute, a certain periphery of it, and namely because the absolute cannot be encompassed or contained within the relative and the relative cannot be transformed into the absolute. The relative, the natural and the historical is but a manifestation within the absolute. Within the relative can only be discerned symbols of the absolute, glimpses from within. The whole of the natural and historical life is merely of the sphere of the relative as manifest appearance, and the absolute in this life can only be grasped symbolically. However, the absolutisation of everything natural and historical is slavery and a lie. History and all the historical ought to be admitted namely as of the sphere of the relative — as having been manifest from the depths of the absolute and namely therefore not able to be the engulfing absolute nor a transcendentally-external subordinate for the absolute. History is merely that, what is imposed from the absolute, and is nowise, what is externally positioned for the absolute nor for it having to be from the outside subordinated or engulfed. The entire world process with all its relativity is but an inward-based manifestation within the absolute Divine life. Philosophically I can formulate its significance thus: my dualism (of the absolute and the relative, of the religious and the secular) is defined by my initial radical monism. The consciousness of Merezhkovsky and Meier ought to be formulated thus: their monism (subordination of the Divine absoluteness to the world of relativity, the religious societal aspect) is defined by their initial radical dualism. For a dualism (separation, differentiation, secularisation), which initiates from monism, existent within the depths of spirit, is a liberation. Monism however (the external sacralisation of life, a binding religious norm), which initiates from dualism, of a transcendental opposition between God and man, is an enslavement.

Every utopianism, every maximalism, every theocratism, reactionary or revolutionary, ought to be toppled, as a false and externalised absolutisation of the relative. The absolute ought to shew and shine forth from within, from the depths, through the relative. History is of the realm of the relative and of multiplicity, and not of the absolute and the singular. The non-mediated direct and real connection of history with the absolute is realised only through the human spirit, through its depths, immersed in the life Divine. The absolute always — is in spirit, and not in nature, and not in history. In the process of the secularisation of all the societal aspect and culture, in the removal of religious sanction be it from the state, from the family, from science and art, there is a liberating truth, possessing religious meaning and significance. All the spheres of life ought to be spiritified and inspired from within, from the depths and ought to be inwardly illumined religiously. The free, the secular societal aspect and the free, the secular knowledge can be inwardly religious, and in the final end ought to be religious. The absoluteness, the religiousness, the sacredness can be only within the human spirit, and not in an objectively object-based world and not within its products (the state, the societal aspect, culture, the sciences and art). This is the setting-free of the religious consciousness, which will effect a change from religious slavery and infancy. Such a religious reform is the greatest historical task of our times. The greatest historical task, facing Russia, I see first of all in a liberation from religious slavery, from the enslaving of spirit by natural and historical matter, and in a transition to spiritual freedom. In Russia, the person has not emerged yet from a condition of natural collectivism, has not surmounted yet the condition of the horde, which for us has been so idealised. Spirit has not yet gained mastery over the dark element of the Russian land, in which person always faces temptations towards dissolution. Russian “socialism” is merely a societal form of religious slavery, the unliberatedness of spirit and the spiritual “I” from the primitive organic collective. We have need most of all in a liberation from populism, and just as the social, so also the religious, in the awakening of the person-spiritual principle within mankind. This stands not in any sort of opposition to a spiritual sobornost’, with churchliness, deepened to an extent cosmic.

The Kingdom of God cometh imperceptibly and unnoticed, unseen it is wrought from within, as a certain mysteried communing with spirit. The Church of Christ also always has been such a mysteried, concealed communing, such an union of reborn souls in Christ. The Church of Christ has been suchlike a concealed cosmic organism, a cosmic communing of all creatures. The Church of Christ has been manifest also within the naturo-historical plane, it had its own physical features. But this is of the sphere of the relative, possessing the same indeed rights to existence, as also all the historico-relative, and subject to the process of developement and change. The Kingdom of God is created neither by a path reactionary, nor by way of a revolutionary theocracy, it is not a matter of an outward societal aspect, it can imperceptibly and unseen dwell and abide. Imperceptibly doth come the Kingdom of God and imperceptibly it leads to this, that the texture of the Kingdom of God becomes the texture of all the world. But this does not free us from the obligation to create within a relative societal aspect, a completely free, and secular societal aspect, eternally incommensurate with the Kingdom of God, since nothing relative is incommensurate with the absolute. The monism of religious life needs to look inwards, and not on the outside, within spirit, and not in the naturo-historical plane. This leads however to a strengthening of a real sense of history with all its concreteness. The religious person, the religious people, the religious mankind can with a religious pathos work at a relative societal aspect and create values, outwardly not subordinated to a religious authority. Inwardly they make of it a religious deed. The societal aspect, just like everything of culture, cannot be something planned out and external-normatively religious, it can only be inwardly-religious, on the strength of the religious rebirth of the soul of the individual man, of the people and of all mankind. The new religious consciousness presupposes a shifting into the depths of human nature as an ontological reality, i.e. it presupposes the birth of the new man and his creative activity.
N. A. Berdyaev


©  2013  by Fr. S. Janos

(1916 – 244 – en)

NOVOE RELIGIOZNOE SOZNANIE I ISTORIYA. Article was first published in the literary gazette “Birzhevye vedomosti”, 18 nov. 1916, No. 15931. Later incorporated into 2004 anthology of Berdyaev articles entitled, “MUTYE LIKI: Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, Moskva, 2004, Kanon+, (Chapter 10), p. 132-139.


1Vide “Birzhevye vedomosti” for 28 October.
2Vide my article, “The Cosmic and the Sociological World-Sense” [1916-Kl.#235] in “Birzhevye vedomosti”.