The Root of all Heresies, Divisive and Destructive of the True Teaching of the Church

Journal Put’,  1927, No. 7, p. 122-124.
Under Section:  NEW BOOKS

The Root of all Heresies, Divisive and Destructive
of the True Teaching of the Church.
Dogmatic Sketches.  1926.

(1927 – xxx)

The publisher of this extraordinarily interesting booklet has declared: “The religious stirring within the territories of the U.S.S.R. are set in a framework, amidst which every uncovered teaching, not approved by the censor, has no sort of chance of appearing in print. Such a situation leads to the recourse of hand-written distribution of the relevant works. The work printed below belongs to the number of suchlike in particular a collection”. We cannot but have an especial interest for religious thought inside Russia. Every disclosure of this thought is so fraught with difficulty, that it assumes an especial value. The not-large and anonymous booklet, “Death-Idolatry” [“Smertobozhnichestvo”] (this is only the first installment), received by us by roundabout paths, witnesses to this, that the Russian religious stirrings have been permeated by the ideas of N. F. Fedorov, a man of genius and a bold thinker, til now little known and appreciated (fifteen years back I happened to publish an article about him, “The Religion of Resuscitation”, in the journal “Russkaya Mysl'”). And even with the Bolshevik revolution in full swing there has taken hold amongst the youth an interest in Fedorov’s idea, though sometimes, regretably, in distorted form. The central idea of N. Fedorov’s “The Philosophy of the Common Task” was the grandiose and dizzying idea of the resuscitation of all the dead ancestors. For the realisation of this in-common and sacred deed there would have to be a brotherly uniting of mankind, there would have to be established kinship. The discourse of N. Fedorov is not about the resurrection of the dead, in which all Orthodox Christians believe, but about a resuscitation, which would have to be a deed not only of Divine Grace, but also of conscious human activity. This is a fulfilling of duty towards dead ancestors. N. Fedorov calls for an heroic struggle against death, as the source of evil in the world, and in this struggle he ascribes significance not only to religion, but also to science and technology. Another, truly an idea of genius of N. Fedorov is his idea about the conditional character of the apocalyptic prophecies. In his interpretation, the apocalypse is only a threat, that the end of the world and the Dread Last Judgement will ensue, if mankind does not unite as brothers and does not direct all its energies towards a victory over death and towards resuscitation. If however this occurs, then the end of the world will not happen, the Dread Last Judgement will not transpire and mankind will directly enter into eternal life. With N. Fedorov we see the combining of ideas of genius and unprecedented moral loftiness together with a boundless sense of fantasy. A most valuable assertion by him is that of the activity of man, which derives from the dogma concerning the God-Manhood of Christ. The “Death-Idolatry” text was undoubtedly written by a follower of N. Fedorov, though the author nowhere refers to him. But the ideas of N. Fedorov receive moreso definite a dogmatic interpretation. The author possesses theological insights and in his book there is many an interesting thought regarding the history of dogmas and heresies.

The anonymous author of “Death-Idolatry” begins with the assertion, that there is transpiring an outward unification of mankind upon our planet. This position, too much assumed by him, he considers as a basic precondition for the ultimate struggle against the death-idolatry, inwardly splintering the Christian world, and also as well for the settings of an active task of victory over the death-bearing forces of nature. In Part X there is mention only concerning the theoretical and dogmatic basics, whereas the practical paths of the struggle, evidently, will be revealed in the parts following. “Life and death — herein is that dilemma, before which stands mankind united”. Christianity is the religion of life, but it has been poisoned by a secret worship of death, a deification of death, by the acknowledging of death as holy. Death-idolatry has its own dogma. The basic dogma of death-idolatry can be formulated thus: “Death is unconquerable and insurmountable by man. The victory over it is possible only for the Divinity and the victory over it, accomplished by Jesus Christ, was made by Him as God, and not as Man”. An hidden death-idolatry shews itself as the source of all heresies. The anonymous author is very sharp and with a knowledge of his subject he attempts to show, that the death-idolatry was an instrumental principle whether it be in Arianism, or Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism or Iconoclasticism. Very unique is his view concerning icon-veneration. The icon is a project — a term and concept characteristic of Fedorov. “Human energy can only reflect and be contemplation, but can also manifest itself externally and discover, temporally consolidate and in essence express the Divine energy within material nature”. The author likewise attempts to reveal the significance of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas concerning the light of Tabor and the current teachings of the Imyaslavtsi, the [Jesus] Name-Praisers. He sees in the teaching about the light of Tabor an assertion of the real possibility of human activity for man in the transfiguration of nature, and in the Imyaslavtsi the possibility of human activity with the assist of God the Word, in the energy of the Name. In such manner, a most mystico-contemplative current within Orthodoxy is given an actualising interpretation, exaltive of human energy. Otherwise, for the anonymous author, the Imyaslavtsi can assume a death-idolous and khlysti-like guise. From this point of view however is viewed the the division of the Churches. Here our author, in following upon the tradition of Fedorov, is very hostile to the West and to Catholicism. Alongside many a correct assertion, he says much that is unjust. And it leaves incomprehensible his basic assertion. The author of “Death-Idolatry” himself admits, that in the East there was a Monophysite trend towards the stifling of man and the activity of human nature. In the West there was rather more a Nestorian tendency. But it is impossible to deny, that the human nature was more active and found expression in the West, rather than in the East. That very science and technology, upon which Fedorov proclaimed such hopes in the deed of the resuscitation of the dead, — was created by the West, and not by the East. The anonymous author relates with hostility towards an understanding of Christianity, as a religion of personal salvation of the soul. But such an understanding of Christianity was more characteristic of the Eastern asceticism, of the Byzantine Orthodoxy. The Catholic mysticism was more anthropologic, in it there was asserted more the activity of man, than in the Neo-Platonic mysticism of the East. True, the human activity in Catholicism, just as the human activity in humanism, is not the same as needed by the author of “Death-Idolatry”, but still this is human activity and in this human activity are readied also the elements, necessary for Fedorov’s “Common Task”, for universal resuscitation. Within Orthodoxy there was preserved a dogmatic purity and there were great potential riches, but it has not actualised itself within the human deed. In practice, quite often it is the Monophysitism that has triumphed, foiling man from his active vocation in the world. But one thing is true: in Catholicism, just as in Protestantism, the idea of justification and the cross was central, while completely relegated to a secondary plane was the idea of transfiguration and resurrection. At the centre of Orthodoxy — is the idea of the transfiguration of the world and the Resurrection, a cosmic transfiguration, especially at the centre of Russian Orthodoxy. And the idea of universal resurrection and universal salvation is an idea especially intimate for Russian Orthodoxy, but not the Orthodoxy of the departmental and official form, for which these expectations were always foreign.

The tremendous service of N. Fedorov and the Fedorovites, to which belongs also the author of “Death-Idolatry”, mustneeds first of all be seen in the radical and bold assertion of the activity of man in the religious life, in an understanding of Christianity, as tasks set before man, in the admitting of the possibility of dogmatic development. This in any case is a vitally living current, for which Orthodoxy is not only something conservational, not only the fidelity to an abstract confession of faith, but is also an active vital deed. The “Death-Idolatry” text witnesses to this, that within Russia at present there is a creative religious thought and the thirst for a genuine Christian doing, the realisation of Christianity within life, of a real realisation of Christianity, and not something merely conditionally-symbolic and conditionally-rhetorical. But in this current, deriving from N. Fedorov, there is its own limitation and its own defects. A basic defect mustneeds be seen in a lack of understanding of the mystical significance of death and in the tendencies towards the naturalising of Christian sacramental mysteries. Christ by death hath trampled down death. This means, that the Christian attitude towards death is twofold and antinomic. Death is the final enemy, the penultimate expression of evil. It might possibly even be said, that every evil in the world is of this or some other form of death. Salvation is first of all the salvation of the world from death, begotten by sin. But in the voluntary acceptance of death, in the sacrificial death is the path of salvation. The path of salvation lies through the Crucifixion, i.e. through death, but it is for the ultimate victory over death, it is for the Resurrection, which is the final word for Christianity. The Resurrection has often within the history of Christianity been overshadowed by Golgotha, the Crucifixion, the sacrificial offering. But the modern era in Christianity signifies a turnabout towards the ultimate mystery of the Resurrection. And for the God-manly Christian religion, the deed of the Resurrection has to be a God-manly deed, in which there will be operative both human activity, and human freedom. With N. Fedorov there was too much a naturalistic tendency in the understanding of human activity, in the deed of the Resurrection and resuscitation, but his basic thrust was profoundly true. How the author of “Death-Idolatry” posits for himself the practical struggle against death, — this will become apparent in the following installments of his work, to which one will want to turn attention. This noteworthy book, deserving of serious attention, is however spoiled by its author in this, that he concludes it with an anathema against “death-idolators” in five paragraphs. The outlook given to anathematising is an outlook contrary to the outlook oriented towards universal resuscitation and salvation.

Nikolai Berdyaev.


©  2002  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1927 – xxx – en)

SMERTOBOZHNICHESTVO. Koren eresei, razdelenii i izvraschenii istinnago ucheniya tserkvi; Dogmaticheskie ocherki; 1926.  Section “New Books” in Journal Put’, Apr. 1927,  No. 7, p. 122-124.