NIKOLAI BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
An Account about Heavenly an Origin
(1916 – #248)
There has appeared a book under the unobtrusive title, “From the Manuscripts of A. N. Schmidt”.1 The name of A. N. Schmidt tends not to attract attention, it is nearly unknown to anyone. The book is prefaced by a short biography of Anna Nikolaevna Schmidt. In her life and in her appearance, apparently, there was nothing remarkable. She spent her whole life at Nizhnii Novgorod, was an unassuming contributor to the Nizhegorod newspapers, she provided reports on Zemstvo gatherings, wrote theatre reviews, and on almost everyone in meeting her, she produced the impression of a good woman, a bit eccentric, drab in the externals. They noticed nothing extraordinary, prophetic, nor visionary in Schmidt. In religio-philosophic circles they tended to say only, that with Schmidt there was some sort of a mysterious regard for Vl. Solov’ev and that their correspondence had been saved. And here now, eleven years after the death of Schmidt, her manuscripts are published with timid an introduction, pouring doubt into the character of the disclosures, formerly told the world, — so extraordinary they are and so absorbing and bold. But the Spirit breathes, whence it will, and it can breathe also in an unassuming woman from Nizhnii Novgorod, earning her bread with newspaper articles. And the modest, unremarkable appearance of this woman renders her book all the more remarkable. Without any exaggeration it can be said, that the book of Schmidt will come to be considered one of the most remarkable works of world mystical literature. This — is the first mystical book in Russia in the strict sense of this word, a mystical book great in style, like to the creative works of Boehme, Swedenborg, Saint-Martin and other classic mystics. With time, Schmidt will be numbered amidst the classics of mystical literature. In Russia there is many a book of mystical bent, but no mystical books strictly in style. And amongst women-mystics Schmidt will occupy one of the foremost places alongside Angela de Folino, St. Theresa and Madame Guyon. But the type of mysticism of Schmidt is gnostic, cognitive, closer to Boehme and in this she is singular and totally unique amidst women-mystics. The mysticism of Schmidt is likewise uniquely Russian, concrete, apocalyptic. And all the more original, is that in this Russian, concrete, apocalyptic mysticism there is so much of an hypnotic appeal. Suchlike a work there has never yet been in the Russian art of writing.
Especially striking and attractive is this extraordinary concreteness of the mystical gnosis of Schmidt. Her mystical treatise, a “Third Testament”, central within all the book, can be termed an account about an heavenly origin, about coelestial marital-unions and multiplications. For Schmidt, being becomes drained, emptying itself within marital-unions and multiplications. From some one point she discerns an initial heavenly conjugal type life within the bosom of the Holy Trinity, and thereafter tells about the history of marital-unions and multiplications in the world. At the basis of everything, which Schmidt discerns, lies a concrete mythologism. No sort of abstraction, no sort of philosophy does she have. There is described a mystical-vegetative process of the divine being, of the divine germination. The arising of the world is a matter of birth, and not of creativity. The description of the forming of matter as a congealing of radiant light-beams reminds one of the teaching about emanation. With Schmidt everything is a matter of birth, and the mystery of birth is always connected with the mystery of the conjugal union. The whole mysticism of Schmidt totally involves the natal and the sexual. The mystical insights of Schmidt — are feminine, but very uniquely feminine. Her style of mystical writing is dry, objective, she is very systematic and schematic, in her is not sensed the feminine attractive allure. The apocalyptic feeling of the impending end of the world does not make her distressed nor unsettled. She — is very calm, content, and satisfied. The dryness and calmness of the mystical book of Schmidt make it unique, dissimilar to the typical for Russia tormentive and tortuous disquiet amongst apocalyptic outlooks. Certain places in the “Third Testament” remind one of the old gnostic books, for example the Pistis Sophia, — it likewise mythologically apprehends the mysteries of the world. There is an affinity in the basic truths, revealed in every mystical gnosis, — the great mystics of all times tend each to echo the other. And this affinity speaks to the genuineness of mystical experience. Schmidt, evidently, did not know the works of the old great mystics, she was not all that well-read, she had not read even Vl. Solov’ev up to the final years of her life and she lived in an atmosphere, into which had penetrated even a single ray of mystical knowledge. It was independently revealed to her much the same, as it was revealed also to Swedenborg, and to Boehme, and the old gnostics. But the light of a singular mystical knowing gets refracted into an individuality, into the psychological aspect of each mystic and often gets bedimmed. There is not only uniqueness, but also a dimness to the light within the individual soul of Schmidt. The mysteries of the Divine and the world life are perceived by her, as a feminine soul, sensing itself as the soul of the world. And already therefore she is unable to see and to know everything. The mystery concerning man is more fully discerned by the masculine nature, than by the feminine nature. And in the mystical gnosis of Schmidt there is an incompleteness and dimness of anthropology. Man, as a mystically autonomous principle, she tends not to see, wherein that man is formed from a conjoining of the angelic principle to a principle beastly. In the description of the Sin-Fall there is a dimness with Schmidt deriving from the feminine nature, from the feminine, and not the eternal-feminine. The root cause of people falling into sin she sees to be in the treachery of Eve, having united herself with beings of a lower nature and evoking the anger and jealousy of Adam.
The mystical primal-perceptions of the eternal-feminine soul draws Schmidt towards a misguided concreteness in her attitude towards the Church and to Christ. The Church, to which she gives the new name Margarita, for her is a person, an entirely concrete being, the bride and spouse of Christ. The mysterious fate of Margarita is also the fate of a woman, having gone through downfall and profligacy and having become united with her Beloved. And this is an aspect very powerful, very original in Schmidt. In her final incarnation upon earth Margarita, the bride and spouse of Christ, is called Anna Nikolaevna Schmidt. Such an audacious awareness may tend to repulse and alarm many. But Schmidt is not the first to show such mystical experiences, they are frequent also amongst mystics and almost typical. At a certain depth is snatched away the opposition between the church, as the soul of the world, and the individual feminine soul, standing face to face with its Beloved. The deep, the mystically remarkable souls have a right to such boldness. And this does not at all signify, that there is being presented a superficial view from the sidelines. And howsoever terrible this may seem on the surface, it is not so in the depths, not in that mystical sphere, in which vanishes the antinomy of the one and the many. The coelestial, the divine history is likewise an history of the human spirit, and the mysterious love of Margarita for Christ can likewise be also the mysterious love of Schmidt for Vl. Solov’ev. This — is on that other side of antinomy, safeguarded against suchlike confusions, just like from blasphemy. But mystics frequently have blasphemous a guise. Mystics perceive one and the selfsame divine truth, but each has their own form, their own symbolics, and each perceives with but a varied degree of fullness. Schmidt saw the divine truth in the form of a coelestial family, and heavenly race, and the Holy Spirit revealed itself to her, as the Daughter of God. It is possible to accuse Schmidt of various heresies, but everything was posited by her in very Orthodox a delimited framework. Her mysticism — is churchly and Biblical. She nowhere sees any sort of revelation, except in Judaism and in Christianity, neither in the ancient world, nor in India. Over all the book of Schmidt lies the imprint purely of Jewish religiosity and Biblical apocalypticism. There is little in it of an Aryan spirit. Most original and remarkable of all with Schmidt is the narrative about an heavenly birthing. Of genius is her teaching about the growth of spirits, about spirits odd and even. The mysticism of history with her is rather more weak. She tends to say too much of the commonplace, of the usual about Christian history, about the heresies, about the separation of churches. The feel for history tends always indeed be weaker in women, than in men. When the account of Schmidt gets around to the Apocalypse, to the end of the world, she again is rendered more remarkable and strong. A very powerful impression is produced by the constant hearkening for the destruction of this world. The world has to dematerialise. Christ has to ultimately destroy this world. The devil has wanted as though to uphold it forever. The book of Schmidt is written about the Third Testament, but it would be difficult to say, in what the Third Testament consists. There is as it were no sort of a new revelation. There is a new perception of the mysteries of being, the mysteries of a mystical descent, of birth and multiplicity, there is the extraordinary consciousness of Schmidt herself, with a concreteness unprecedented in boldness, and there is an apocalyptic presentiment of the nearness of the end. The Third Testament is a revelation of the Spirit, as Daughter of God.2 It becomes through the Daughter of God — Anna Nikolaevna Schmidt. But what now does the Third Testament convey with it, what does it signify in the fate of man? A third revelation can only be a revelation of man and concerning man, it will bear into the world an as yet unprecedented religious creativity. But in Schmidt there is not this exceptional self-consciousness of man, there is not an anthropologic revelation. She had presentiment of a new revelation thus, as only a feminine soul of genius could have presentiment of it. It was contemplated by her, as a revelation of femininity and about femininity, and not of man and concerning man.
There is something mysterious in the relations of A. N. Schmidt and Vl. Solov’ev. These relations were short-lived, they continued for all of three months, before the death of Solov’ev, but they were extraordinarily intense and remarkable. The letters of Vl. Solov’ev to Schmidt, supplementing the book, can produce disagreeable an impression. There is in them a peculiar dryness, a desire to hold himself remote, a timidity towards mystical risk. But this is quite understandable. It is not easy to undergo such an attraction towards oneself, as Schmidt had for Vl. Solov’ev, this is very tormentive and can repel. Vl. Solov’ev had to sense a dark rift with Schmidt, when she wanted to see in him the Beloved. But another thing even more essential also, it tends to cast light on Vl. Solov’ev himself. Vl. Solov’ev all his life sought encounters with the Eternal Feminine. He sought the charms in the Eternal Feminine, of a beauty unearthly. She allured him.
Thine eyes emerald I behold,
Radiant the visage set before me…
All saw I, and all alone but twas, —
One only image of feminine beauty…
But by day thou forget or by midnight
Here who… we be two, —
Straight in soul peer the gleaming eyes
The dark night and the day.
Not only once did the deceptive image of Femininity appear to Vl. Solov’ev and allure him. The attitude towards the Feminine was also the tragedy of his whole life. He did not know consummation and satisfaction. The image of Femininity was twofold for him, in this he was a man twofold in thought. And here close to the end of his life there appeared for him a very remarkable and genius-endowed image of Femininity — A. N. Schmidt. And this image of Femininity proved not alluring, almost repulsive. In the image of Schmidt was nothing alluring. In Schmidt Vl. Solov’ev found a mystical gnosis, which he considered his own matter, not a feminine matter, and the allure he did not find. This is the final episode in the tragic attitudes of Vl. Solov’ev towards Femininity. Thus can be explained the reticence of the Solov’ev writing.
The anonymous editors3 of the manuscripts of Schmidt approached publication with a great sense of peril. The preface was written timidly and to little effect. The author of the preface does not know, what to think of the mystical revelations of Schmidt, it awaits the decision of church. This author stands decidedly for a dividing of mystics into the graced and churchly, and the ungraced and natural. The mysticism of Schmidt he relegates to the type of ungraced and natural, and this type of mystic frightens him, evokes suspicion. He awaits a churchly sanction for indigenous free mystical revelations. It seems to me idle and unnecessary, these timid questions, as to whether or not follow through on publishing the manuscripts of Schmidt and tell the world about her revelations, and not whether she was an heretic, not whether it be a matter of seduction, with what was revealed to her. The source of mystical revelations is always singularly one, always in the Divine depths, and, it is always through the human that the revelation is made. Orthodox or heretical, harmful or useful, dangerous or non-dangerous — all these are secondary questions of totally utilitarian human categories. The division itself of mystics into the graced and the ungraced — is conditional and exoteric. Mystical works always are becoming but for few. The church on the outside has never sanctioned mystical revelations and has always been suspect of mystics. And this externalised church will simply ignore the revelations of Schmidt, it is not interested in such questions. But the voice of the inward church ought to sound forth within the preface-author himself for Schmidt. If there be possible a new revelation, then it will resound forth through Schmidt, through the preface-author for Schmidt, through everyone, in whom the Spirit intends to breathe, — it does so freely. The greatest testimony, however, in favour of the genuineness of Schmidt I tend to see in this, that she hid within herself her revelation, she did not seek the glories of this world, she did not seek to form sects, did not seek after followers, she remained unassuming and unknown to the world. And this is great a thing in her. Her book is extraordinary and merits a pervasive reading.
© 2006 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1916 – 248 – en)
POVEST’ O NEBESNOM RODE (Iz rukopisei A. N. Shmidt). Article originally published in the Journal “Russkaya Mysl'”, March 1916, p. 5-9. Contained in the 2004 anthology of Berdyaev articles (some previously unavailable in recent reprints) under the cover title “Mutnye liki” [“Murky Figures”], taking its name from title of one of Berdyaev’s articles contained therein. Moskva, 2004, Kanon+, p. 140-146.
1 Iz rukopisei A. N. Schmidt. With letters to her of Vl. Solov’ev, p. XV+288. 1916.
2 N. F. Fedorov likewise taught about the Holy Spirit, as about the Daughter.
3 Translator note: The editors of this 2004 anthology of Berdyaev articles, printed under the title “Mustnye Liki”, suggest that the “anonymous authors” penning the so very timid preface to Schmidt’s manuscripts are none other than Frs. S. Bulgakov and P. A. Florensky — based on information contained in E. Gollerbakh’s book, “K nezrimomu gradu. Religiozno-philosophskaya gruppa “Put'” (1910-1919) v poiskakh novoi russkoi identichnosti”, Spb., 2000, c. 210-211.
Against the dark mid-WWI year of 1916, it is difficult to gauge Berdyaev’s jestful tweaking of the extreme churchly timidity of these two noted but anonymous editors of Schmidt’s manuscripts, as well as the perhaps extent of hyperbole employed by Berdyaev as regards the significance of Schmidt as a world-class gnostic mystic. Certainly her concept of the Holy Spirit as “Daughter of God” is peculiarly unique, to say the least. Perusing private correspondence, such as between Schmidt and Vl. Solov’ev, evokes a feeling of indecency peering into private lives. Thus, as a newspaper theatrical reviewer, Schmidt’s identification of herself with being the personification of the Church, assuming the name of Margarita, and also of Vl. Solov’ev (finally finding a concrete personification of his visions of Sophia) as the Christ-figure, the Church’s Beloved — one might suggest represents but a bit of metaphorical flirtation and poetic license, more appropriate to private indulgence than public consumption. This is all speculative, of course, without having seen Schmidt’s manuscript. But no wonder, then, that there were all these dark rumours circulating about Schmidt and Vl. Solov’ev in the years after their deaths!