Theocratic Illusions and Religious Creativity


Theocratic Illusions and Religious Creativity

(1917 – #258)


The paper of A. V. Kartashev, “Reform, Reformation and the Fulfilling of the Church”, read at the Petrograd Religio-Philosophic Society and not long ago appearing as a separate brochure, is very interesting. In this brochure can be sensed the spoken version, expressed with great enthusiasm. Kartashev — is excellent an orator. Particularly precious in Kartashev is his passionate push towards a new religious life. His theme — is poignant and fiery. But the thought of Kartashev is unclear and confused, it is laced with contradictions, and is all the time twofold. Kartashev uniquely and with great a religious seriousness tends to posit the theme of Merezhkovsky. He is infected with all the poisons of Merezhkovsky, is fascinated with his setting of religious themes, and has an inclination towards his heresies. Yet Kartashev himself is nonetheless altogether different, he has different sources and a different religious nature. In him is sensed a man truly Orthodox and churchly both by flesh and blood, and by spirit. In him there is no sort of abstractness not literary affectation. He is not a convert from culture to Christianity. He is fond of the fleshly aspect of the Orthodox Church, its way of life, its unique aesthetics. The Church for him is moreso a matter in the blood, than in thought. And he is a master at providing a physiologically aesthetic feeling of Orthodox churchliness, he is proud of his forever belonging to the churchly flesh. But he has wanted as though to free himself from his too great an attachment to the old churchly flesh, he flees from the aesthetics of the Orthodox cultus, as might one from a temptation. A dividedness, a dualism in regard to the Orthodox Church tears at Kartashev — within him there is no integral religious mindset, no integral impulse, he is not free, filled with fears he flees from himself, he vacillates between temptations of the old churchliness, taken in its wholeness and organicity, and the temptations of the innovations and heresies of Merezhkovsky. All this tends to muddle the thought of Kartashev and leaves its impress upon the brochure of interest to us. His churchly theocratic conception is not organic, is not integrally whole, and within it become objectified the contradictions of his own spirit.

I begin my critique with the observation, that Kartashev has aspired towards the Universal Church, and all his pathos — is in the expectation of a new universal Christianity, yet he however with all his religious experience, with all the positing of that religious thought, he dwells exclusively upon the Eastern, the Orthodox Church, both parochial and national. This is already evident from the fact, that he bestows such an enormous and central significance upon the theme concerning Orthodoxy and autocracy, a theme not universally Christian, but instead purely Russian, of interest merely for Russian Orthodoxy and the Russian state. Concerning Catholicism, Kartashev speaks externally, formally and only for propriety’s sake. He desires “to sense the very heart of Orthodoxy, to overhear its golden dreams”. And herewith he asserts, that “Orthodoxy, in its maximum and prime, esteems autocracy, the connection with the religious bearer of the power of the state, with the Anointed-Caesar; esteems it by virtue not only of moral a lifestyle conservatism, but also by virtue of necessity — to religiously hold mastery over the world, by virtue of the theocratic tasks of the Church” (p. 15). Kartashev is ready to admit, that the instincts of the churchly Black-Hundredists run deeper and more vigourous, than the aspirations of church liberals. This is the method of deliberation, by which Kartashev in following upon Merezhkovsky wants to demonstrate the inevitability of a new revelation (and not reform and reformation). That, which Kartashev terms as “the fulfilling of the Church”, is too exclusively bound up with the Russian Church, with Russia. Merezhkovsky even directly ties in this “fulfilling” with the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, in which he sees the engendering of a new religious societal aspect. This — is a Slavophil offshoot, a revolutionary variant of the Slavophil ideologies. Kartashev is not free from the illusions of a religious populism. But such a mindset and trend of the religious will is contrary to the spirit of universal a Christianity and its hopes. The assertion of a mystical aspect of autocracy, of its faith-confessional significance, though as a topic of contention and polemic, is already a deviation away from the paths of universal a Christianity. This assertion cannot be formally juxtaposed against the papal theocracy, which in any case assumes a character universal and essentially religious. Some tend even to see in papism the Anti-Christ principle. The Russian autocracy however is a phenomenon entirely local, nationally historical. It cannot be something mystical by virtue of its objectively historical position and role, but only by virtue of the psychology of people having accepted it with reverence. Kartashev, just like Merezhkovsky, also thus does not explain, why Orthodoxy is mystically connected with autocracy. For this it would be necessary to go at depth into religious psychology, which they fail to do. The reverently accept the idea, hostile to them, of a mystical aspect of autocracy, and against its wishes they seek to reinforce this venomous idea. They essentially fail to discern the lie underlying this idea, the prelest’ delusive going astray, upon which it is grounded. They themself are situated in this delusively straying prelest’. And this occurs from a false identification of the Church with the theocracies, inherited by Christianity from Judaism and from pagan Rome. The Church for them is first of all a kingdom within the world and over the world. “The full and living Orthodoxy is theocratically indestructible in the same measure, in which it is truly churchly. It is because that theocracy and the Church — are inseparable concepts. That which is not a theocratic church is not a church particularly” (p.15). Hence “the fulfilling of the Church” is something Kartashev thinks of in terms of a new theocracy, albeit of revolutionary democratic a type.


Theocracies have been of significance at a certain stage of developement of mankind. They reflected the childish helplessness of man and assisted man with paternal a guidance. But the associating and identification of the Church of Christ with a theocracy, the interweaving of the Church with an earthly kingdom, is a source of enslaving illusions. And Kartashev is not free from these illusions; he is afraid of freeing the spirit, felt rather as numbing the spirit, as an impoverishment of the Church and denial of its universality. But this means, that he esteems the preserving of the religious immaturity of mankind, esteems within Christianity elements that are of the Old Testament and Judaist a mindset, upon which also theocracies tend to rest. The unfortunate aspect is only, that this experience cannot yet be something immediate and naive, rather it is contrived, in it always can be discerned a romantic utopianism. The prerequisite for theocracy has tended to be an objectified religious materialism, in which spirit remains still submerged within the bosom of organic matter. In this stage of developement of spirit God tends to be presented in the aspect of power and authority. The source of the power of authority is conceived of as totally transcendent to man. The absolute and inorganic power of authority upon earth is merely the image and likeness of the absolute and inorganic power of authority in heaven. Upon this path the principle of the power of authority becomes religiously objectified and materialised. The Kingdom of God gets presented as an outward material kingdom, an object objectively existing within the natural and historical order. The absolute becomes circumscribed within the relative, the relative becomes absolutised. The sources for the conceiving of the mystical aspect of autocracy mustneeds be sought out in the transcendent character of the religious consciousness. A religious slavery is always indeed tied in with an experiencing of the Divine in the transcendent aspect of opposition and distance. A profoundly inward experiencing of the Divine leads to freedom. But Kartashev, despite his religio-revolutionary aspirations, wants to remain in this transcendent and Old Testament sort of religiosity, he bestows mystical a significance to the customary churchliness, a customary organic wholeness, and while he is a populist, he remains essentially a churchly traditional conservative, though he is also an heretic and renegade. And thus in whatever the matter, he desires to have a theocratic, external, material, transcendent power of the Church and guidance of the Church. “We thirst for the positive enrichment of the scope of religious life. For us there is little of that theocratic scope it had, which obtained in the historical embodiment of the Church. We desire the expanding of the power of religion into all the newly discerned mainlands and islands of human creativity, we anticipate a new flourishing of its powers in its application to the new problems of the human spirit and of human society” (p. 26). We cannot fail to sense these aspirations and expectations of Kartashev. These are also our own aspirations and expectations. But why however does Kartashev not think of “the enrichment of the scope of religious life” otherwise, why in the form of an external theocracy, though it be a new, free and democratic theocracy? He wants nevertheless the “power of religion” over all the extent of culture and the societal aspect. And certainly, theocracy always would be a transcendent power of authority over all the “mainlands and islands of human creativity”, for it would be impossible to apply this Old Testament terminology in different a sense. Kartashev creates for himself a tragically inescapable position, since he is himself impelled to say: “Everything immobile and non-creative of history is still under the power, as regards inertia, of the Church; but, alas, everything creatively alive, advanced, actively absorbing and fascinating, truly commanding, bearing upon itself the seal of youth and holding in itself the pledge of the future, cannot find room within the Church” (p. 31). True, Kartashev anticipates new revelations within the Church, which would encompass the entirety of world history, all human creativity, the whole of culture and the societal aspect. But indeed this new revelation would all however be transcendent in regards to human creativity itself, transcendent to culture itself and the societal aspect, to world history itself, would be a power of authority over it, i.e. a new theocracy. But there is indeed possible an altogether different path, the path of acknowledging the immanent religiosity of human creativity itself, the revelations of modern history, the revelations of human culture and of the societal aspect. Upon this path likewise is possible “the enriching of the scope of religious life”, is possible the discernings for religious life of “new mainlands and islands”, but amidst the total freeing from theocratic illusions and from expectations of a transcendent sanction and power of authority. The religious problem of human creativity is not a problem of power of authority and in no sense can it be connected with theocracy. And the religious problem of a free societal aspect can only be posited as an ultimate surmounting of every theocracy, as an immanently religious sanctifying of the societal. The question about the expansion or contraction of the scope of religious life for Kartashev gets too closely bound up with polemics against Protestantism, against which it justly arises. But this question ought to be transferred over to a different plane, in which Protestantism is not of interest.


The inward and creative religious upheaval within Christianity ought first of all to capsize every theocracy, to get free of theocratic illusions and in the sphere of the secular societal aspect to affirm inwardly instead a religiously grounded anthropocracy, an human self-directing. One can accept the old Christian truth, that every power of authority is from God, i.e. the power of authority also within democratic and social republics. In every principle of power there is a Divine energy, every true sort of power in the final end has Divine a source. But a transcendently-theocratic interpretation of this truth can be replaced by an interpretation immanently anthropocratic. The Divine energy acts within man and through man, and not merely within angelic a priesthood and through angelic a priesthood. The religious societal effort cannot be merely external a task, it cannot be constructed upon but external sanctions and sanctifyings, it can only be an inward sanctioning and sanctifying of human community in the Spirit. An immanent theocracy is anthropocratic, the self-directing of matured man, conscious in himself of the Divine image. All the theocracies have been by way of a training and guiding of the immature, a guardianship over them. And the task of fashioning a free and new theocracy is illusory a task, based upon confusions within the religious consciousness. The secularisation, which is happening in the modern history of mankind, as regards its inner meaning is nowise a contraction of the scope of religious life. Such — would be very external a view. The meaning of the secularisation, snatching away all the transcendent religious norms and sanctions from the human societal effort and from culture, — is religious; it is but the expression upon the surface level of the inward religious upheaval, a passage through a moment of religious dichotomy. But Kartashev, evidently, quite fails to understand and to accept the inevitability of the immanentisation of religion and the inevitability upon this path of a passage through dichotomy. In contradicting himself he has to admit, that “the historical process has not transpired without benefit of Christianity, though also the last century has occurred outside of union with the Church” (p. 40). On the outside the scope of the religious life has contracted, on the inside however has been readied its expansion. The human spirit was given freedom and it created an outwardly fenced enclosure of external churchliness.

Religion is not a Privatsache, not a private matter. To squeeze out religion into some sort of tiny dark corner is something that only unbelieving people want to do, those who are hostile to religion. This — is elementary and beyond doubt apparent. But this nowise resolves the problem of Kartashev concerning the scope of the Church. The scope of the Church cannot be measured by any sort of external signs, it coincides with the scope of the Cosmos. Where are the criteria of churchliness for Kartashev himself? He spreads it out, imperceptibly he extends the scope of the Church to infinity and he is compelled to admit, that what has been transpiring outside the Church has been churchly a thing in the sense of a new revelation. The whole new revelation for him has happened outside the visible, the external Church. But thereupon vanishes the acuteness of his churchly sense of self. And unjustified is his contempt towards people, lacking in understanding of the Church, to which he includes the majority of modern people. It signifies, that there exists an hidden Church, immersed within the inexplicable depths of Divine life. The external church, embodied upon the material historical plane is a projection of the hidden Church. But this hidden Church is nowise a justification for individualism, since the sacramental spiritual life is churchly life. The hidden spiritual life, involving different planes is nowise merely a Privatsache, a private matter, it — is universal, cosmic, and moreso universal, than the external churchliness. Kartashev simplistically makes use of arguments against Protestantism and against the teaching that “religion — is Privatsache, a private matter”. This is all rather more complex a thing and demands an in-depth gnosis. The churchly Christianity indeed in more strict and deep a sense of the word — is non-mystical, it is grounded upon objectification and oppositions. Churchly Christianity always has warred against mystics. Mysticism always has been an experience of identity, of the immanence of the Divinity for man, it is always a concealed and aristocratic matter, and expresses primal revelations. Religion however, in its historical manifestation, is already not primal a revelation, but instead secondary. The nature of every historical religion — is social, in it is always a looking about upon the human multitude, the acceptance of responsibility for the lower stages of life, an entering into mutual security. In this — is the truth of historical religion. Religion — is democratic. Religion implies a certain worldwide bond, it conveys the primal revelations of the hidden life of the spirit within this connection. This mustneeds be clearly perceived, in order to avoid falling victim to illusions arising from a confusion of various planes. There is in Kartashev too much of the Petrograd understanding of Orthodoxy, exclusively social, theocratic, in the aspect of realm. But indeed there is also a different Orthodoxy, there exist the startsi/elders, the wilderness dwelling, mental prayer, the wont for wandering, the communing of the people in the liturgical mysteries. The obliquely indirect mystical side of Orthodoxy mustneeds be sought in this, and not in a theocratic Orthodox kingdom. It is inaccurate and superficial to speak about the individualness of mysticism. Mysticism in the profound depths goes beyond the opposition of the one and the many. The problem of a social multiplicity exists only within secondary an objectification.

Kartashev is correct, in bestowing tremendous significance to the religious problem of cosmos. “In the modern sensing of the cosmos, in namely its religious perception, lies a central secret of all the modern fates of religion as regards its farthermost history” (p. 47). But the connection of the cosmic problem with the churchly consciousness is very complex. There has been within the churchly consciousness a tendency towards acosmism, towards an ignoring of cosmic mysteries. A religion of the fear of eternal perdition and of the salvation of the soul — is an acosmic religion. On the other hand, the process of secularisation is nowise assuredly a denial of religious an attitude towards the cosmos. Kartashev herein is too oriented towards negative an accounting of Protestantism. The problem of the cosmos was acutely and profoundly posited in the era of the Renaissance, with its theosophy, nature-philosophy and mysticism. The extra-churchly consciousness as regards external indicators of a Giordano Bruno or Paracelsus were more cosmic, than was the Medieval churchly awareness. With J. Boehme, a Lutheran by faith-confession, there was a religious attitude towards the cosmos, and he never narrowed the scope of religious life, he never relegated religion into a Privatsache, into a private affair. And in the modern theosophic trends, possessing no direct connection with the Church, there is first of all an orientation towards the mysteries of cosmic life, in any case, moreso an orientation towards them, than for example, with Merezhkovsky, who is oriented sociologically, and not cosmically. There exists even an opposition of types of a cosmic and sociological world-perception. And what is altogether still inconceivable as such is this, how could Kartashev, so well informed in the history of religion, how could he fall for a crude factual error and admit, that a religious societal aspect is foreign to Judaism. He even makes mention of those, who aspire towards a secularisation of the societal aspect, thinkers of Judaist a type. The striving however towards a religious societal aspect, towards an historical ordering of mankind upon religious a basis he instead ascribes to Aryan religiosity. But indeed the directly opposite is true! A religious societal aspect is an especial doing of the Semitic spirit, the grandiose theocratic idea was indeed engendered upon the soil of Judaism. This is true to the extent, even in modern Judaism, that socialism assumes the character of an inverted religious societal effort. And with great a basis it can be stated, that the idea of a theocratic societal aspect is foreign to a purely Aryan type of religiosity. There is within the Aryan spirit a tendency towards pure monism, unfavourable for theocratic ideas. This is evident in the religion of India, nowise theocratic in its pathos, shunning any religious meaning of history, and also within the German religious consciousness, which is foreign to every eschatological perspective and every apocalyptic prophesying concerning the Kingdom of God. A very vivid example of such a type obtains with the ultra-Aryan religious philosophy of Drews.1  The thesis of Kartashev, which suggests a misunderstanding, is toppled likewise by Chamberlain [H. S., 1855-1927]., in his expressing of an Aryan Anti Semitic outlook. In Judaism, theocracy is bound up with a transcendent awareness of God. The Aryan immanent God-awareness does not however admit of theocracy and allows only for the religious sanctification of the societal aspect from within.

The negative attitude of Kartashev towards secularisation, which has been a freeing of the human spirit from its slavery to the natural, to organic matter, having received religious a sanction, leads to a negation of the religious meaning of all modern history. Here we hit upon a basic contradiction in the consciousness of Kartashev. He thirsts for new prophecies and revelations from the Church and from within the Church. He is almost scornful of those, who make bold to prophesy and reveal the new not from the Church, but rather from culture, from freedom, from the free spiritual life. In him speaks the instinct of the age-old Orthodox lifestyle, almost that of a churchly conservative. He desires only the fulfilling of the Church, which he basically sets in opposition to reform and reformation. But he is compelled however to admit, that prophesyings and new revelations are beginning within secular culture and the societal effort, that they come from humanism, from the free spiritual life. He even goes so far as to proclaim: “The whole social political process of modern times is an unconscious striving towards a new theocracy, is a complex constructing of its outer body” (p. 44). He falls into a religious absolutising of worldly relative processes, since he tends to think only theocratically. It thus results, that the whole creative process of modern history, creating a free societal aspect and a free spiritual culture, is a fulfilling of the Church. This clearly contradicts the initial setting of the theme and is expressed too simplistically.

Between culture and religion there exists an irreconcilable contradiction and opposition. Religion creates life. Culture however creates values. Upon this basis is begotten the tragedy of creativity, the thirst to create new life, and not merely new “sciences and arts”. Culture is not a revelation of man, but rather an embellishing of man.2  Culture therefore has to be secular, it cannot but be external to the religious. Religion is but that creative energy, which lies concealed behind culture, merely its creative edifice, and not its realisation. And behind culture can be glimpsed the potential of a new religious revelation. But this never can be caught sight of in the light of a transcendent religious consciousness. Culture and the societal aspect can never be religious in the transcendent-theocratic sense of the word, they have to be free and human. But secular creativity can be immanently of the Church in whatever the concealed sense, outwardly inexpressible. This would be a revealing of the Divine aspect within human creativity itself, a justification of its self-worth, and not a forcible cramming of it into the Church, not an awaiting of sanction from the Church. It is necessary to cease being pre-occupied with trying to reconcile the Church and free culture, he Church and the free societal aspect. This — is a theocratic illusion. We are facing a tragic sort of opposition, which needs to be followed out to its end. The Church exists prior to those times, while it still yet is unfulfilled. The end of culture, its transition to a new religious life will be also an end-point of the Church in the external transcendent sense. This — is a different dimension of being, an apocalypsis of all our worldly backdrop. The fulfillment of the Church is also a finishing completion of the Church, it is needful merely prior to the time, prior to the overcoming of the rift. The fulfilling of the Church in an external and transcendent sense never will occur. Upon such a basis man would be consigned to a bad infinity of waiting. It is impossible to await still a new revelation from the outside, it will be conceived of by man himself and will be a mysterious upheaval within the Divine depths of man. This new revelation can only be as a revelation of man in response to God, and not the fulfilling of the Church in a theocracy, albeit one that is new. This new self-feeling and self-awareness would cease the strain, echoing forth in the words of Kartashev: “And people come to church to bewail their grief or in joy, to create however they go into the open fields, under the solar canopy of the heavens and there they breathe in a bracing whiff of prophetic eschatology. The wellspring of propheticism is not gone dry. It spreads forth and flows in a stormy torrent, beating upon the shores of the Church upon improvised a channel. The religious norm demands its return into a proper to it churchly channel. It is necessary for it to mingle with the encountered churchly languor concerning propheticism” (p. 56). This rift tends to exist in all, situated within the grip of theocratic illusions. But in the Divine depths of man particularly lies the depths of the concealed Church. And the revelation of man, and of his creativity does not abrogate any of the sanctities of the Church, it — is about the other and from the other. In the mysteries of the Church — is the movement from God to man. The new revelation — is movement from man to God.

It would be very superficial to think, that this is Protestantism. Within Protestantism there has been nowise posited the religious problem concerning man, for within Protestantism there has been a tendency towards Monophysitism. And still too, it must be stressed, that only on the periphery does there exist the vulgar opposition between individualism and collectivism, within the depths it is already surmounted. Man — Adam Kadmon — is likewise the human multiplicity. It is needful to religiously admit the responsive revelation of man himself, his creative freedom and domain, i.e. there is need of God in man. This also is that mythos,3  upon which is built the new revelation. But Kartashev wants from the old myth to build a new theocracy. And this is a chasing after phantoms. The path, for which I am speaking, preserves to a greater degree the connection with the unshakable sanctity of the Church, rather than the path advocated by Kartashev. Outwardly in Russia there is needed a reform of the Church, the freeing of the Church from forced connections with the state and the secularising of culture and the societal aspect, as an imperative of religious sincerity. Inwardly however there is needed movement in the depths, and not in a surface superficiality, a spiritual revolution, a revelation of man. The merit of Kartashev, is that he is so keen and fiery, though also insufficiently free, and he posits these themes, suggestive of these tasks.

Nikolai Berdyaev.





©  2009  by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1917 – 258 -en)

TEOKRATICHESKIE  ILLUZII  I  RELIGIOZNOE  TVORCHESTVO. Article originally published in periodical Russkaya mysl’, 1917, march-april, p. 71-80. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, “Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922”, Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moskva, 2007, p. 491-500.

1 Vide his “Die Religion als Selbst-Bewusstsein Gottes”.

2 Vide concerning this in my book, “The meaning of Creativity. Attempt at a Justification of Man” [Engl. title: “The Meaning of the Creative Act”].

3 Myth as a religious reality.