Sophia: Problems of Spiritual Culture and Religious Philosophy, 1923, p. 155-160.


(1923 – #60,3)

The unfinished reminiscences of Andrei Bely concerning A. Blok read with a gripping interest. Though at the centre of these reminiscences stands the figure of A. Blok, they are immeasurably broader in their scope. And the theme of these reminiscences is very profound. This — is a theme about far-sightedness, things beheld at the beginning of the century by the souls of the poets, alert to the coming, and prophetic in disposition. And it is possible still further to delineate this theme: the revelation concerning the Sophia of Vl. Solov’ev, of A. Blok and A. Bely, and the relationship of these revelations to the presentiments of the coming revolution. But is the Russian Revolution an authentic revelation of Sophia within Russian life? Herein it becomes necessary to radically expose a growing lie, connected with a tempting confusion, the mixing up of an expected revelation of spirit, of a revolution of spirit, with the Russian external Revolution of 1917. A. Bely — is the greatest Russian writer of the last decade, unique with genuine glints of genius. And A. Blok — is actually the most remarkable Russian poet after Fet. A. Bely as an event is larger and more significant than Blok, but Blok is more the poet. And here they both in the year after the Revolution are in the grip of the tempting lie, captivated by fraudulent figures, and unable to discern spirits. Both became obsessed with the elements of the Revolution and failed to find in themself the powers spiritually to rise above it and surmount it.

The prophetic character of Russian literature is amazing. Over the course of all the XIX Century it was full of forebodings of the coming revolution, it was extraordinarily alert to the underground rumblings. Pushkin even was agitated by the possibility of revolution in Russia, and he foresaw its character. Lermontov writes in a jolting verse: “There will come a year, for Russia a black year, when the tsar’s crown will fall”. Tiutchev was all the time distressed over the problem of world revolution. Konstantin Leont’ev, during the decade of the 80’s, in an era seemingly auspicious for the Russian monarchy, predicts, that Russia would infect Europe with Communism and it would result in Europe infecting China with Communism. And finally there appears Dostoevsky as an authentic prophet of the Russian Revolution, and to the very depths he exposes its spiritual foundations and gives it an image. Dostoevsky ultimately became conscious of what was transpiring with the revolutionary spirit, he revealed its inner dialectic and foresaw its inevitable consequences. The revolution of the spirit began first of all in Dostoevsky, with him began the new epoch, as it were a new world aeon. Even Vl. Solov’ev in this regard is not so characteristic. For A. Bely and A. Blok, Vl. Solov’ev is merely a front for the expression of their own sophianic experiences and presentiments. In the actual and total assimilation of Vl. Solov’ev they are both very distant, and he would not have recognised them. What has A. Blok in common with Vl. Solov’ev as a philosopher, as a Catholic or Orthodox, with strivings towards an unification of the Churches? Vl. Solov’ev believed first of all in Christ, and moreover in Sophia; A. Blok believed first of all or wanted to believe in Sophia, whereas in Christ he never did believe. What in common do the optimists of the coming future, A. Bely and A. Blok, have with the remarkable work of the prophetic spirit of Vl. Solov’ev — in the “Tale about the Anti-Christ”? In this turning towards what is to come, to the coming catastrophe, Vl. Solov’ev, as an apocalyptic pessimist, exposes that Anti-Christ spirit, which so captivates A. Blok and A. Bely. Only a few sophianic verses of Vl. Solov’ev correlate with those of A. Blok. Vl. Solov’ev is very interesting as regards his themes, but is all the same a second-rate poet, and much gets lost along the way in the poetry of A. Blok, and it is impossible that he can be a Solov’evite, as only several of his verses would even suggest it. There is only one thing in Vl. Solov’ev that A. Blok and A. Bely have heard:

The Eternal Feminine now
In body incorrupt to earth is come.
In the light unfading of the new goddess
The heavens merge with the watery deeps.

And here arises the question about the significance and meaning of the sophianic dispositions in the Russian mystic, of Russian religio-philosophic thought, of Russian poetry. The sophianism of Vl. Solov’ev indeed has influence not only on A. Blok and A. Bely, but likewise upon Florensky, Bulgakov, Ern. The cult of Sophia is very characteristic of the Russian spiritual currents. And it is remarkable, that the sophianic attitude towards Russia and the Russian people assumes two polar opposite tendencies: the one sees the sophianic aspect in the Russian autocratic monarchy, while the other sees it in the Russian Revolution. In both the one and the other instance there is made a god of the wise feminine element of the people, be it white or red, the white waits for the elemental feminine principle within the life of the people, and not for the masculine spirit, not from the spiritual activity of man. With Vl. Solov’ev himself there was not this making a god of the people’s primitiveness, he was never a mystical populist. But his intimate cult of Sophia is prepared to use him for the basis of a mystical populism.

In the teachings of Vl. Solov’ev about Sophia and in his mystical poetry there was promulgated a sort of lie, which tended to engender the murkiness in our spiritual currents. Vl. Solov’ev mixed up and confused Sophia, the Wisdom of God, the Heavenly Virgin, with an earthly goddess, with an earthly femininity. And therefore there became possible the acute sentiments over Sophia Petrovna, Vl. Solov’ev’s object of love, in whom with the Third Testament — Sophia becomes combined with the Second Testament — of Peter. And therefore only possible became the notes under the inscription “Sophie”. And therefore so tormentive for Vl. Solov’ev was the meeting with Anna Schmidt, an image of femininity of the greatest genius, the likes of only whom he was to know in his entire life, and yet so unattractive, so repelling for him. Sophia was seductive and alluring for Vl. Solov’ev, in his romantic languor and swooning, an eternal thirst for meetings and encounters with the Unknown, and an eternal enchantment, an eternal possibility of confusion and substitution. Sophia for Vl. Solov’ev was not the Virgin of his soul, his virginity, of his purity and chastity, as it was in the teachings of Jacob Boehme, a verymost profound and pure teaching concerning Sophia. The Sophia of Vl. Solov’ev was not the Virgin, which man had lost and which he again has to find as his Virginitat, his virginalness; this — is the femininity, in which the heavens get too confused with the watery deeps, with the earthly element. And this cult of Sophia does not strengthen, but rather weakens man, it does not restore the integral wholeness of his androgynic image, but rather separates its apart. Such a Sophia therefore can appear in whatever the guise pleases it, it can be rendered not only as Heavenly Virgin, but also as the earthly dissolute feminine, it can turn out either as “reactionary” or “revolutionary” an element of the Russian land. And upon this soil there are cultivated irrational mystical currents, hostile to the Logos, the Word. And striking indeed is this passivity of the Russian religious mystical searchings. Russians await a new Revelation, a revelation of the Spirit, of Sophia, they sense themselves pervaded by mystical currents, they surrender themselves to the callings of an unknown and mysterious what is to come, they bow before the mystique of the element of the Russian people, of the Russian earth. This is difficult for the Western peoples to comprehend. Western peoples tend to set themselves an active task and they make the spiritual efforts to accomplish it. Their mysticism teaches them with ways of spiritual ascent. Their theosophy teaches them to develope new organs of perceptivity. And least of all do they understand a condition of expectation, of a passive mystical trembling in facing what is to come. They either make a revolution, or they struggle against it, but they do not give in passively to its undiscerned mystical meaning. Russian boys however, those of a mystical disposition, await a revelation of what is to come, they strain their sight towards new horizons, they sense themselves wrapped up in a mystical element, the meaning of which remains for them incomprehensible and inexpressible. A. Blok most of all is obtrusive with his “inarticulateness”, his “gut-feeling”, his incapacity in the Logos, the Word, to express his presentiments. This also is a fertile soil for all sorts of confusions and substitutions. And this too is reflects a decisive preference for astral fate over spirituality. When the revolutionary turmoil broke out, A. Blok and A. Bely had it not in their powers to manifest a manful activity of spirit, could not make a discernment of spirits, they proved to be wrapped up in the irrational element of the Revolution, flooded with its currents, they passively gave in and attempted to see in the Revolution the “It”, with which they waited to meet. But is this an appearance of that which for so long they waited in a passive condition, what they had presentiments of still back then, when at the beginning of the century they espied new horizons? How so very tempting, so very comforting! Finally something great has happened, the mysterious element has unfolded, powerless to be resisted. This then — is the eternally feminine element, wise in its profundity, the sophianic element. It seems formless only at first glance, merely for the rationalistic consciousness. It is necessary to await from it the truth and beauty of new life. It is amazing, that the “Russian school-boys” (I use Dostoevsky’s expression) display not a manly active attitude towards the feminine principle, but rather one that is femininely-passive.

A. Bely constantly all the time mixes up and identifies the “revolution of spirit” with the external, the socio-political revolution. A. Blok does the same. And here in this is a great lie and a temptation, which has to be exposed. This — is an Anti-Christ substitute. In the introductory article to Issue No. 1 of “Epopeia”, A. Bely chatters here that: “Christ is inscribed upon the proletarian “I”: the ideology of the proletariat — is the ideology of the unrecognisable Christian Paul, rising up equally against both the Christianity of Peter and against the bourgeois “I”, seeking to hold the monopoly on the freedom of Christ”. And further on he declares, that the revolution of spirit is a transition from the person, always hedged in and limited, to the collective, “to the collective individualism and to the heroic cosmism, having clearly cut its way through to the proletarian culture”. The revolution of spirit is to be disclosed via the class revolution. The Christianity of Paul — is a class Christianity. But what such is the proletariat, is this an economic category and does it signify the class of factory workers or, perhaps, is this a spiritual category? A. Bely bases his justification of the Revolution upon a play of words and ambiguities. Upon the proletarian “I” can be inscribed Christ only in the instance, if it surmounts its own “proletarianess”. “Proletarianess” and bourgeoisness” stand opposite each the other, these are two sides of one and the same spiritual malady. When the proletarian finds himself in most “proletarian” a state, he is malicious, envious and vengeful, and Christ is not in him. But a worker cannot find himself in such a “proletarian” condition, and then have it possible for Christ to live in him. Christ is inscribed only within the human “I”, and not in the proletarian or the bourgeois. But the revolution of spirit, which A. Bely awaits, ought evidently to surmount and abolish man, to replace him by the supra-human collective. This too is a temptation of the Anti-Christ. Within Christ the man, the human person is saved and safeguarded for eternal life, whereas in the Anti-Christ the human person perishes and is replaced by the inhuman collective. Herein is that revolution of spirit, which would destroy the human visage and replace it with an inhuman collective, and we as Christians, faithful to the religion of the God-Man and God-manhood, have to oppose it. This is a revolution, directed at the destruction of the eternal foundations of existence, and it — is anti-ontological. Within the creativity of A. Bely it is man that perishes, it is not humanism, which ought to be surmounted, but rather man, the image and likeness of God, and A. Bely is in agreement with this perishing, he sees in it the arising of a new life, a new consciousness. He surrenders man to the lacerations of cosmic energies and cosmic spirits. He values in anthroposophy also that for him man should appear as a transitory moment of cosmic evolution. It is a cosmic Sophia, and not the Divine Sophia, and it substitutes for and takes the place of Christ, and therefore it has ceased to see man in God. In place of the Divine image of man everywhere instead there have appeared masks.

The Russian literature of the last decade is striking in its very remarkable manifestations of ontological depravity, dissolution and disintegration of existence. The cosmic whirlwinds have blown apart within them the image of man, the image of the world, the image of God, from every stable aspect of being. This — is not a moral, but rather an ontological depravity. And there arises upon this soil a false pseudo-mysticism. Genuine mysticism is a communion with God, a penetrating down to the depths of spiritual life, to the verymost real, the verymost vital. Contemporary mysticism, the kind bound up with contemporary literary currents, has transformed itself into spheres of the crises of man and the crises of culture, of a dissociation of being, and it but reflects the tragic fate of the soul of modern man, as something merely astral. There is an indicator of spiritual incapacity in this terrible mystical self-conceit of contemporary poets and writers. We live in an epoch of a false transvaluation of the mystical significance of art. Too many a poet of our times makes pretense with being endowed of mystical experience and mystical foresights, and they look down upon all the rest of mankind. But in actuality it is easier for a simple mortal to commune a mystical experience, than for modern poets, with people given to a simplicity of heart least of all can there be a duplicitous aspect, least of all murky. The poetic and the mystical experience differ qualitatively. A. Bely and A. Blok make pretense to a mystical acceptance and a mystical comprehension of the Revolution. But this is merely a poetic affection with them, with them least of all can there be found a discerning in the spirits of the Revolution, since they themself are in the grip of its whirlwind elements, whereof they are bereft of freedom of spirit. In the reminiscences of A. Bely can be sensed the spirit of an unhealthy literary coterie, the spirit of having risen to the top of one’s small circle. The reverse side of these literateurs in their coterie is a bowing before “the people”, before its mysteriousness and authenticity. And thus usually it occurs. The religious misunderstanding and self-conceit of A. Bely and A. Blok is rooted first of all in this, that they await a revelation of the Third Testament, the revelation of Sophia, a revelation of the Spirit, without having accepted the First and Second Testaments. They rend apart time and eternity, the past, the present and the future, and they surrender themself to the false idol of the future. They are pessimists in regards to the past and rosy-red optimists in regards to the future. This makes their mysticism, in essence, areligious and anti-religious. Religion is a connection, a finding of kinship and affinity, a surmounting of the rift between the past and the future, the inclusion of every sundered moment into eternity, the resuscitation of venerable forebearers. They however want to remain within the revolutionary fracture betwixt the past and the future. Revolutionaryness is always anti-religious, since it is contrary to the establishing of connections and affinity in eternity between the past and the future. The mystical intoxication with the revolutionaries, i.e. with processes within time, with the sundering of all connections, is always anti-religious. A. Bely does not know the Hypostasis of the Father, to him as though foreign is the experience of a reverent veneration, i.e. a significant part of the religious experience. He draws upon his own spiritually “proletarian” descent of lineage at the point, when a Christian ought to draw upon his own spiritually-aristocratic descent of lineage, i.e. to feel a connection with the Hypostasis of the Father. Herein is why he thinks, that a revolution of spirit, a creative birth of new life, can be accomplished through destruction, through hatred and malice in regards to everything of the Father. But the genuine miracle of the transfiguration of our sinful and woesome life would be in this, if in the world there should be made a revolution of love. And it is only Christians that await it. Marx made the declaration, that through evil can be realised good in the world, that malice and hate is the path to an utmost social harmony, and after him have followed enormous masses of mankind. Christians however cannot accept this path. But A. Bely and A. Blok are not Christians, they are only Sophians, they bow before the cosmic elements, and for them this has proven acceptable. But it is in vain that all mystically accepting of the Revolution think, that they are maximalists. No, they are rather  minimalists, they adapt themselves to the necessary and fatal processes of history, they move along the line of least resistance. It would be proper to term maximalists those, who by the power of their own spirit oppose the elements, the masses, the inevitable movements, and who are spiritually faithful to this, that it is possible not to be vanquished in the future. Fidelity to a vanquished past can be a greater maximalism, than subservience towards a triumphant future. In an exclusively revolutionary striving towards the future always there is an insufficiency of nobility, there is infidelity, the absence of a religious reverence. With Vl. Solov’ev there was both a religious reverence, and a fidelity to the sanctities of the fathers, and a noble resistance to “the spirit of the times”. Which is why both A. Blok and A. Bely have little in common with him. They have replaced the veneration of Sophia as God-manhood with the veneration of Sophia as a cosmic element, not divine and not human.

The Revolution has transpired in the spirit of Chernyshevsky, and not in the spirit of Vl. Solov’ev. And it is impossible in any way to combine Vl. Solov’ev with Lavrov, as A. Bely hints at doing. The Revolution is begotten of a century-long process, and in the lineage of this movement we find Belinsky, Bakunin, Chernyshevsky, Dobroliubov, Mikhailovsky, Lavrov, Plekhanov, Lenin, but we do not find Chaadayev, Khomyakov, Kireevsky, Aksakov, Gogol, Tiutchev, Dostoevsky, Vl. Solov’ev, K. Leont’ev. All these, our most important, are consigned to the “reaction”. This indeed is something necessary to ponder. The revolutionaries — are “socratics” in that contemptuous, that Nietzschean sense, in which A. Bely and A. Blok employ this word. The Revolution in its essence is rationalism taken to the extreme. Extreme socialism and extreme anarchism — are rationalistic systems taken to the extreme. Russian Bolshevism is a rationalistic folly taken to the limit. Revolutionism always is inspired not only by a thirst for destruction, but also by a misguided will towards an ultimate rationalisation of society, towards a perfect order, towards an organised collective mentality. Revolutionism does not want to know of the organic-irrational forces in society, although it itself is manifest as an irrational force. In this is the antinomic aspect of Revolution. A. Blok and A. Bely, bound up with Scythianism and the Left SR’s, represent a final transformation of Russian Populism. But the deeply-engrained lie of Populism rests in this, that it worships the element of the masses in place of the soul, quantity in place of quality. Populism is the offspring begotten of the Intelligentsia consciousness and the Intelligentsia frame of mind. For this consciousness and this frame of mind the People is a mystery, and within this mystery lies concealed truth, is hidden God, and before this mystery one mustneeds bow. This — is an heteronomous, and not autonomous a condition. At its basis lies the impotence to sense oneself as of the People and in one’s own depths to discern God and truth. Vagueness and the “inaudible” in one’s own depths is projected from within outwards, into the element of the People. And for those, aware of themself as of the People, Populism is bereft of all meaning. Truth, new life, God are all revealed in one’s own depths, which is of the People, at a supra-personal depth.

The reminiscences concerning A. Blok have not reached their conclusion, and the tragic fate of A. Blok has not been revealed by A. Bely. It is difficult to say, how he will do this, if he finishes with his reminiscences. But the fate of A. Blok — is very significant and remarkable a fate. In it there has transpired the tragic ruin of the false sophianic romanticism, there has been exposed its inward impotence. The “Beauteous Lady” is not real, not ontological for A. Blok. There is not even a remote sense of contact with an existing Sophia here. Everything is submerged in a murky and ambiguous atmosphere. And there is no spiritual resistance against this murkiness and ambiguity. “Balaganchik”, a very remarkable piece by A. Blok, is the ruination of the “Beauteous Lady”. It exposes the non-reality, the inauthenticity, the non-ontologic aspect of everything. The darkness spreads within the soul of A. Blok. But here hardly a year before death has once again appeared the spectre of the “Beauteous Lady”, of Sophia, in a sinister and unprecedented guise. He beheld Her in the image of the Russian Revolution. Here the image of Sophia becomes submerged in a final murkiness and there perishes all aspect of accepting the image as Divine. A. Blok fiercely, and by death, paid for his hallucination, for the dreadful mistake, to which he had given himself. He writes the “Twelve”, a piece amazing and almost of genius, better, than what he had written about the Revolution. In the “Twelve” is given a genuine image of the Russian Revolution with all its terrible viciousness, but its duplicity and equivocation reach the point of sacrilege. Here A. Blok indulges himself taking terrible license with the figure of Christ. The romantic and dreamy sophianism of A. Blok failed to open to him the path to perceiving the image and countenance of Christ. Through Christ only can there be overcome the temptation of duplicity of thought. After this life A. Blok submerges himself into an ultimate gloom. Again there grows dark for him the image of the “Beauteous Lady”, and he remains before an abyss of desolation. He dies off of a spiritual sickness, from his engulfing gloom of soul and non-belief. A. Blok — is of an unbelieving soul, all his life languishing for faith. He caught sight the deceptive flashes, the mirages in the desert and yet failed to see the true dawn. And thus in his tragic fate is exposed the lie of all this path, of all this current in Russian spiritual life. Literature had a presentiment of the Revolution, and the Revolution in literature transpired earlier, than in life. But one can only be called a prophet, if one rises above those elements, about which one prophesies. After his death A. Blok was crowned a foremost Russian poet, and justly so. A poet however is not obligated to be a spiritual teacher and prophet, but blameworthy are those, who want to make him so.

Nikolai Berdyaev.


©  2006  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1923 – 60,3 – en)

MUTNYE LIKI (A. Bely. Vospominaniya o A. A. Bloke). Article originally published in the Bedyaev-editored anthology, SOPHIA, Problemy dukhovnoi kul’tury i religioznoi philosophii. — Berlin, Obelisk, 1923; 3rd article, p. 155-160. 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 Berdyaev’s article of same name contained therein. Moskva, 2004, Kanon+, p. 324-334.