On Occasion of 25 Years from the Day of Death



(On Occasion of 25 Years from the Day of Death)

(1925 – #307)

All more or less acknowledge, that Vl. Solov’ev was a most significant Russian thinker. But in the current generation there is no gratitude for his spiritual exploit, there is neither understanding nor esteeming of his spiritual manner. And indeed it mustneeds be recognised, that the manner of Vl. Solov’ev remains enigmatic. He not so much revealed himself in his philosophy, his theology and his publications, as rather that he concealed the contradictions of his spirit. There is a Vl. Solov’ev of the day and another of the night. And the contradictions of the Solov’ev of the night are only in externals to be reconciled to the consciousness of the Solov’ev of the day. About Vl. Solov’ev it might just as truly to be said, that he was a mystic and a rationalist, an Orthodox and a Catholic, a churchly man and a free gnostic, a conservative and a liberal. The contrary tendencies claim him as their own. But he was in life and he remained after death both a solitary and misunderstood. Vl. Solov’ev was of an universal mind, and he strove to surmount the contradictions within the concrete all-unity. His creativity is rich with ideas and envelopes a large manifold of problems. But there was one idea central to all the life of Vl. Solov’ev, with which was connected his pathos and his unique understanding of Christianity. With it is connected his night-time mysticism and poetry and his daytime philosophy and publications. This was the idea of God-manhood. Vl. Solov’ev was first of all and most of all a defender of man and of humanity. All the peculiarities of the Christian act of life in Vl. Solov’ev mustneeds be sought out within this, that he returned to the faith of the fathers and he became a defender of Christianity after the humanistic experience of modern history, after the self-affirmations of human freedom within knowledge, within creativity, within social organisation. He perceived this experience at a peculiar depth, and having overcome its evil fruitions, he introduced a living-through of it within his Christian world-concept. For him freedom and the activity of man are an inalienable part of Christianity. Christianity is for him the religion of God-manhood; it presupposes not only faith in God, but also faith in man. He introduces into Christianity the principles of dissolution and progress, he defends the freedom of the mind, the freedom of conscience no less than do the Slavophils, and in this he was distinct from Catholicism. The essence of Christianity he conceives to be in the free uniting within God-manhood of the two natures, the Divine and the human. Man is the connecting link betwixt the Divine and the natural world. There were several periods to the creativity of Vl. Solov’ev, and it is necessary to distinguish them, in order to apperceive the complexity of his world-views. But in all the periods there stood at the centre for him the question about active expression of the human principle within God-manhood. The first period, to which belongs the “Lectures on God-manhood”, is characterised by an extremely optimistic outlook on world history and on the path of the realisation of universal theocracy. Vl. Solov’ev does not see the tragic aspect in world history and he believes in the realisation of the Kingdom of God by way of progressive evolution. There is for him an exodus from the crisis of contemporary godless civilisation, from the crisis of positivism begotten within consciousness, and from the crisis of socialism begotten within social life. He wants religiously to overcome this crisis and he sees its surmounting to be within free theocracy. But together with this Vl. Solov’ev acknowledges a positive significance to the falling separate of the natures of the human powers from God, since after the falling separate there is made possible the free co-uniting of man with God. The Kingdom of God cannot be realised by way of compulsion and coercion. Compulsory theocracy ought to collapse, and man ought to enter upon the path of a free revealing of his powers. Vl. Solov’ev surmises, that the world ought to proceed through freedom and freely come to God. Vl. Solov’ev himself went through the school of German Idealism, which was a school of free thought and which indeed had great significance for Russian religious thought, just as formerly Greek philosophy, — in particular Platonism, had for Eastern Patristics.

Vl. Solov’ev always understood Christianity not only as a given, but also as a task, oriented towards human freedom and activity. In this was his great merit. The deed of Christ in the world is love, first of all. And the deed of love, as Solov’ev conceives it, ought not to be for justification whether by works or by faith, but for the realisation of the Kingdom of God. “Mankind, — writes he, — ought not only to accept grace and truth, as something posited in Christ, but also to realise this grace and truth in his own particular and historical life”. “The perfection of the Church or the creation of a Christian culture in the world demands, beyond the guidance of an universal power, likewise the free activity of personal human powers”. In God-manhood collectively there ought to occur suchlike a co-uniting of the two natures, as individually did occur in the God-Man Christ. According to his original schema, Solov’ev thought, that God-manhood will appear as a result of the co-uniting of the Divine principle, preeminently expressed in the East, with the human principle, preeminently expressed in the West. He affirmed this, while he was yet close to Slavophilism. The sympathies of Vl. Solov’ev for Catholicism were defined by his conviction, that an organised human activity is stronger in Catholicism, whereas Orthodoxy is rather too passive. These Catholic sympathies were defined for him by externals, and not from within by the dogmatic system of Catholicism itself. Solov’ev was fond of the idea of the dogmatic developement of the Church, in which he saw a manifestation of human activity, and he saw greater suchlike developement in the West rather than in the East. In this idea on dogmatic developement Vl. Solov’ev was in agreement with Cardinal Newman, himself a remarkable Catholic individual of the XIX Century. “The essential and core distinction of our religion from other Eastern ones, — writes Vl. Solov’ev, — in particular from the Mussulman, consists in this, that Christianity, as a religion Divine-human, presupposes the activity of God and together with this demands also human activity. From this perspective the realisation of the Kingdom of God is dependent not only on God, but also upon us, since clearly, the spiritual regeneration of mankind cannot happen except with mankind itself, it cannot be merely an external fact; it is a deed, imposed upon us, a task, to which we mustneeds attend”.

Vl. Solov’ev believed in mankind as of real being. With this is connected a very intimate side of his religious philosophy, his teaching about Sophia. Sophia first of all for him is the ideal, perfected mankind. Mankind is the centre of the being of the world. And Sophia is the soul of the world. Sophia, the soul of the world, and mankind, is twofold in its nature: aspective of both the Divine and of the creaturely. There is no sharp delineation between the natural and the supernatural, as in Catholic theology, in Thomism. Mankind is rooted in God’s world. And each individual man is rooted in the universal, the heavenly man, in Adam Kadman of the Kabbala. The Sophia world soul is free. Prior to the world and prior to time, it fell away from God and freely it ought to return to God. God is absolute being. Mankind, which in Christ and through Christ becomes Divine-human, is an absolute becoming. The appearance of Christ is the appearance of the New Adam, the new spiritual man, it is a new day of creation, an anthropologic and cosmologic process. Vl. Solov’ev is completely foreign to the juridical understanding of redemption, which plays such a role in official Catholic theology. In his understanding of redemption he was closer to the Eastern Patristics, than to the Western. Before Christ, the world process courses towards the manifestation of the God-Man. Afterwards the world process courses towards the manifestation of God-manhood. Both in the understanding of the appearance of the God-Man, and also in the understanding of the appearance of God-manhood, Vl. Solov’ev introduces an evolutionary principle. A series of theophanies, of God-manifestations, prepared for the appearance of the God-Man. The creative fruition of the Divine matter of the Church with the human principle ought to beget the theosis, or deification, of mankind. The idea of the Incarnation of God for Vl. Solov’ev always prevailed over the idea of the Redemption. Vl. Solov’ev never conceived of Christianity as exclusively a religion of personal salvation, but rather always conceived of it as a religion of the transfiguration of the world, a religion both social and cosmic. The Church is not merely the basis of salvation for individual people, but also the Divine-human dispensation for the salvation “of this world”. Vl. Solov’ev ascribed great significance to Judaisim in particular because, that within it is expressed the activity of the personal human principle, and because religious life within it is a drama between God and man.

With the religious affirmation of the human principle, there is connected for Vl. Solov’ev his understanding of prophetic service, of free prophesying, without which for him there would be no fullness to the Christian life. The conception of theocracy in Solov’ev presupposes the existence of the prophet and of prophetic service. The prophetic function in spiritual life is also a free spiritual creativity. The prophet is a God-inspired man, and his prophetic service is a free inspiration, without which religious life would ossify. The priesthood is a conservative basis of religious life, it is an external basis of the life of the Church. Propheticism however is a creative principle, a principle of dynamic, it is oriented towards the adventive. This theme, that within Christianity propheticism is possible, — is an ultimate theme throughout all the spiritual life of Vl. Solov’ev. He conceived himself called to a free propheticising. He was a loner and was not aware of this, since prophetic service also involves this. The prophet is always a loner, always situated in conflict with the religious collective. In the ultimate depths the prophet dwells within the Church and communality (Sobornost’). But he is an organ of creative uncovering within the Church and therefore he proceeds through a sundering with the congealed forms of collective Church life. He is oriented to the as yet unknown adventive. The dogmatic developement of the Church is connected with the prophetic function in Church life.

In progress Vl. Solov’ev sees a Christian principle, in opposition to the Chinese-principle (Kitaism). In his article, “On the Decadence of the Medieval World-Concept”, which in its time caused an uproar and evoked stinging reactions against Solov’ev, he exposed the semi-literate character of Medieval Christianity, and he sees in the progress of human-ness, of social reforms, the realising of great social truth and justice, the realisations of Christian principles, although not deliberately so. Vl. Solov’ev always demanded that Christianity be assimilated in earnest and be realised in all the fullness of life, both personal and social. This is a fundamental motif to which he remained faithful all his life. He would never consent that Christians should consider it possible to be guided in their personal life by Christian principles and commandments, while their social and historical life be guided by principle that are downright contrary to Christianity, by zoologoical principles. He preaches this indisputable truth of Christian morality, that Christians first of all ought to strive to better themselves and to realise the commands of Christ, and that they not despise nor persecute non-Christians. He applies this Christian truth to the consideration of the Jewish question. Christians ought first of all in a Christian manner to have respect for the Jews and give them example of the actualisation of Christianity in life. Already during the first period of his literary activity Vl. Solov’ev writes the article, “A. Comte’s Idea of Mankind”, in which he expounds anew on his primal concept, that mankind is an half of God-manhood, and that esteem for mankind is part of the Christian religion. He contrasts the cult of “the Highest Being-Mankind” of A. Comte with the cult of the Madonna and with the cult of Sophia of the Russian people, as reflected in our iconography. The sin of A. Comte was a sin against the Son of Man, which is forgivable, and not against the Holy Spirit, which is not forgivable. “When our plenipotent representatives of Christianity concentrate their attention on this, that our religion first of all and preeminently is a religion of God-manhood, and that mankind is not something supplementary, but rather essential, imaging the plenitude of God-manhood, they will then resolve to exclude from their historic pantheon some of the non-human, which thither was changed to be over rather many a century, and in place of this to introduce something rather more human”. Solov’ev even suggests to include into the Christian pantheon the name of A. Comte. There is great truth in the fundamental thought of Vl. Solov’ev. But he does not consider, that if mankind be of the plenitude of God manhood, then a cult of mankind, alienated from God and set in direction against God, cannot be the plenitude of God-manhood, but is rather a religion contrary and in opposition to Christianity.

Vl. Solov’ev was a peculiar Christian humanist. Christianity, as the Divine-human religion, is immeasurably higher than humanism, but humanism in turn is altogether higher than bestialism. Many Christians indeed defend bestialism in social life, with a zoological politics. Vl. Solov’ev struggled all his life with this and in this struggle he sometimes over simplified the complexity of the problem. He was not free from the illusion of progress, he underestimated the power of evil in the world and he relied too much on an evolutionary realisation of the Kingdom of God. But when we propose the realisation of theocracy as the result of an inevitable developement, we deny the freedom of man, which can produce not only good, but also evil. Solov’ev’s universal theocracy is a purist utopia, which in the final period of his life suffered a collapse within his consciousness. He cast aside his theocratic concept and ceased to be an optimist. Nigh to the end of his life Vl. Solov’ev writes his work most imbued with genius, the “Narrative about the Anti-Christ”. In this narrative the historical perspective vanishes, the boundaries between the two worlds are erased and everything is presented in an apocalyptic light. The eschatological understanding of Christianity replaces the historical understanding. Vl. Solov’ev no longer believes in historical tasks nor does he await the realisation of theocracy within history. His pervasively great optimism is replaced by a pervasively great pessimism. The image of the Anti-Christ presents itself to Solov’ev as the image of philanthropy, of a love for mankind, the realisation of socialism, and the universal peace and happiness of mankind. The devil, akin to the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky, is seen by Vl. Solov’ev as the massing of evil under the guise of goodness, of evil tempting by means of goodness. The power of rule ultimately passes over to the Anti-Christ. The unification of the Churches takes place beyond the bounds of history, at the end of time, on an apocalyptic plane. The Orthodox starets-elder Ioann is the first to discern the Anti-Christ as such, and by this he affirms the particular mystical perceptivity within Orthodoxy.

The whole matter of the life of Vl. Solov’ev presents a tortuous problem for Christian consciousness. Christians ought, with all their powers of spirit, to realise the truth of Christ in the world, not only in personal life, but also in social life, and they ought to strive for the Kingdom of God not only in Heaven, but also upon the earth. But the Kingdom of God upon the earth can easily prove to be fraudulent and a front for the kingdom of the Anti-Christ, a temptation beneathe the appearance of good. Communism indeed tempts with an apparent striving towards the realisation of social truth, but it is manifest in an apishly primitive way, and as the obverse to Christian truth, it manifests itself as a deed of Anti-Christ. The new age as it were has not created heresies, like to the heresies of the first centuries of Christianity, and has been indifferent to dogmatic questions. But all the same it created one great heresy, the heresy of humanism, which was possible only within the Christian world, an heresy of religious anthropology. All the heresies left behind some sort of important and unresolved problems for Church consciousness; though they gave false answer to their problems, the heresies also always summoned forth the creative developement of Church thought, in which the problems found positive resolution. The truth about man and his creative vocation in the world still has not been completely unfolded within Christianity, and this has evoked the free self-affirmation of man in modern history. This is likewise a question about Christian culture and Christian society. Vl. Solov’ev did quite much for the positing of the religious question about man and humanity, though he did not always resolve it accurately. He was one of those, who believed in the prophetic side of Christianity, and he prepared for a positive resolution for the problem of religious anthropology.

And when the hour transpires of a churchly resolution of this problem, of a churchly surmounting of humanism from within rather than from without, then they will recollect otherwise about Vl. Solov’ev than they at present remember him, and he will be called a great activist upon the paths of the fulfilling and uplifting of the Church of Christ.

Nikolai Berdyaev


©  2000  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1925 – 307 – en)

IDEYA  BOGOCHELOVECHESTVA  Y  VL. SOLOV’EVA.  Perezvon, 1925, No. 7/8, p. 180-182, & No. 9, p. 240.

Reprinted in YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III), ctr. 205-213, but given under a renamed and different title:
“Osnovnaya ideaya Vl. Solov’eva” (“The Fundamental Idea of Vl. Solov’ev”).