(1935 – #399)

        The problem of history, which interests this gathering in regard to Christianity, is in its philosophic depths a problem of time. In my book, “I and the World of Objects” 1 ,
I devoted a special chapter to the problem of time, much which bears repeating. The problem of time is not only a basic problem of the philosophy of history, but also of contemporary philosophy, which has taken an especial interest in the problem of time (Bergson and Heidegger posit the problem of time at the very centre of their philosophy). The problem of time — is at the basis of the creativity of Proust, and he posits it at a very great depth — “le temps retrouve”. The problem of time — can be approached from two points of view: 1) as it is dealt with in a mathematical philosophy, wherein time vanishes mathematically, or 2) as it exists for existential philosophy, where time is not objectivised and is not subject to a numeric category. In this instance the problem of time is a problem of the inner human destiny. The problem here arises about the relationship between time and change: does change happen because of time or does time exist because, that change occurs? It is naive to think, that time is some sort of external form, in which existence is situated. On the contrary, time is a condition of realities. With a certain correlation these realities overwhelm the world, they create the conditions of time. Our historical time is a sickness, a downfallen eternity (present, past and future). Time makes possible the creativity of the new, and creative processes exist in the world because, that there is time. And at the same time, time engenders angst (Heidegger) and fear. Our attitude towards the future is defined by fear and by hope. With hope for the new, the creative and the better, and fear and terror afront the death-bearing torrents of time. Changeability (presupposing the newness of the moment) is not only something positive and valuable, but also indispensable for the fullness of life. But in the process of change which occurs in our life, there consists not only a certain change-izmenie, but also a betrayal-izmena. It is because that at the basis of our existence there leis a twofoldness: the impossibility of change without betrayal, the impossibility of the creativity of the new without rendering a betrayal to the old. Actually, time impels us to a betrayal: to the forgetfulness of that which ought not to be forgotten, to the loss of the connection between the future and the past, etc. In regard to time and to history there exists a tremendous difference between Indian philosophy and Christian philosophy: in Indian philosophy time is illusory and ambiguous, and therefore history is deprived of meaning. Christianity affirms however the meaning of the existence of time and of history. But the attitude of Christianity towards time is quite entirely twofold and paradoxical. On the one side it acknowledges the Incarnation of God within history. But on the other side history is the death-bearing rushing torrent of time, in which is impossible any sort of realisation. Time is therefore a sickness and a paradox. The morbidity of human existence is connected with the tragedy of time — the future dying threatens man, he becomes cut off from the past and the present and cannot hold on to them. Remarkable thoughts about time were expressed by Blessed Augustine in his “Confessions”. In it he shows the illusion of time: the past already is not, the future is not yet, while the present continuously disintegrates into the future and the past and is therefore elusive; in each of its parts time is elusive, and by this is illusory. Blessed Augustine speaks about 3 types of the present — the present present, the present past and the present future. This elusiveness of time is connected with the process of objectivisation, in which the inner reality of existence cannot be caught hold of. The paradoxical quality of time shows itself here in the relationship between the present and the past. The judgement of the present about the past is a judgement, subject to illusion, since the past, about which we speak in the present, is itself a past within the present, into which it enters as a component part. And this present-past is altogether not that present, which was in the past. And between that past, which once was a genuine present, and the genuine present itself, there exists a transfigurative act of memory. Memory is a marvelous thing within human existence, for this is a transfigurative act of a change of the past (an idealisation of the past or the other way round); in the past it was never actually thus, as we in the present affirm it about the past. The creative act of memory unites us to the past… In regards to the future there is likewise a creative act. But this ultimately is not a determinisation of the future. For us the past is determined, and for us it is terrible to carry over the determinisation of the past into the future. The creative relationship to the future is as a time not determined, but prophetic. This relationship towards the future, although in but various degrees, is present for every man, who is in a small degree a prophet. The essence of prophecy is not in a foreknowing on the basis of determinisation, but in a foreseeing of the future outside the torrents of time. Propheticism is in this sense an exiting from time. In our relationship to the past there is a demand on us: on the one side, to be freed from what was evil in the past, to wash it away, to consign it to oblivion, and on the other side — to preserve everything good and beautiful and positive, i.e. our relationship to the past is defined by memory and forgetting. (With the demand of consigning evil to oblivion in the spiritual life is connected the sacramental mystery of repentance, the absolution of sins.) In regard to the future, insofar as time is a sickness, it is deadly, death-bearing, i.e. it is a process of a constant swallowing-up of the past by the future. Therefore in time there is present sorrow. In general, sorrow and melancholy are connected with being overwhelmed. Sorrow is bound up not only with regard to the death-bearing future, but also to the unreturnably elapsed past, to the leave taking separation. Sorrow and melancholy would seem unconquerable within time. Victory over them consists only in a creative act, since only the creative act is a victory over the burdening-down of human existence. Sorrow tends to arise then, when man falls into a passive condition in regard to time, whereas the creative act is an active resistance to time. The results of the creative act are to be found within time, but it itself is outside of time. With this is connected that which is called the search for the instantaneous, in which the power of time has ceased to be (the Augenblick-moment of Kierkegaard). The Augenblick-moment is not situated within the order of mathematical time, but rather in an emergence from it. Herein is attained the fullness and joy of the eternal present… For the eternal present there is an emergence from the order of the past-present-future. Therein is the meaning and value of the experienced moment situated within it itself. With this is connected the sacred within time, which is situated within the moment external to the temporal order. It is not in the past and not in the future, though also within the past and within the future.

History, as connected with the problem of time, can likewise be considered from two points of view. It can be considered as an objectivised world, situated within the power of time (within the order of the past-present-future), but it can also be as an inward existence, an inner destiny. My existence is connected with history, but history is also as it were the primal-history of my spirit. The meaning of tradition for me consists in this, that it brings me into a communion of history not as of an outward given reality, but to my own existence. Thus, just as there are possible two understandings of time, likewise — there are also two understandings of infinity. There is a mathematical infinity, as a quantity and as a sum-total, and there is an infinity as a non-fractional integral quality. It is clear, that in the first understanding of infinity there cannot be an attainment of eternity, since eternity is not numerically measurable. The measurement of time is something relative. It is measured dependent upon the intensity of human experience. Happiness, for example, can be experienced in an instant, whereas suffering — can be for an endless time. With the problem of time is connected a defining power of our time — technics, which leads to an acceleration of time. The temporal process is speeded up in an intensity of expectation and rushing towards the following moment. The moment already has no self-worth, the actual rushing towards the following moment does not permit any halt in itself. Actualism does not allow contemplation. In this actual on-rush towards the following moment, modern man is subjected to the power of time (though actualism can be on another order and can lead conversely to a victory over time.) The ultimate problem of time — is the problem of the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse — is a paradox of time. The obscureness of this book consists in the impossibility to express in human thought the paradox of time, strained to the limit within the Apocalypse. In the Apocalypse is posited the problem of the relationship between the future and the eternal. In our language it is extraordinarily difficult to let go the position, that eternity is some period of time set in the future; in our turning towards eternity we orient ourselves with hope for the future. In the Apocalypse this is expressed and surmounted with the words: “time moreso shalt not be”, saying in other words — that there will be a time, when there will be no time. This time will not be in our mathematical time, but in another — when time moreso will not be. The Apocalypse is a paradoxical combination of the this-sidely and the other-sidely, transpiring beyond the limits of our history. The end of the world, which will be in the world and with the world, is an event, which signifies an egress from time, a victory of eternity over time. This is inexpressible for all rational pondering, since in the Apocalypse this is expressed in symbols, for which is hidden the truth about non-objectivised time. For each man there is a personal apocalypse. Man undergoes terror not only afront this, that time brings death, but also that it brings hell-hades. But hell-hades cannot be thought of as eternal, rather only as an infinite endless time. Hell-hades is the impossibility to have a stop in time, and the impossibility of an emergence from this time. As regards history Christianity acknowledges its meaning, since that which the Divine introduces into history, is another world which enters into this world, and history therein finds its meaning. Though from another angle, the truth of Christianity is incompatible with history and demands an end of history and a judgement over it. But it only enters into history, it is not accommodated until the end. Secularisation (desacralisation) is a process, holding positive religious meaning, for this is a tragic process, not only inevitable, but also a process, proceeding from God. Within history the process of sacralisation was often a process of secularisation, and with this is connected the historical searchings of Christianity, when the too human takes the place of the Divine. In actuality the relationship between the Divine and the natural world is a relationship of sunderings apart, begetting a series of tormentive contradictions. History therefore is not a process of progress. There exists a judgement of Christianity over history, but also the reverse, history judges Christianity. This judgement of history over Christianity possesses a religious meaning. History judges Christianity because of this, that it has conquered it within time, it judges it for its victory over it (at least that it be obliged to conquer the power of this age). And both in the judgement of Christianity over history, and in the judgement of history over Christianity, there can be seen the judgement of God.

Only by the creative act of man (in that he should lead human existence out from the power of time, from ossification and from isolation) can be realised the authentic meaning of history in its inner change, not knowing the power nor the sickness of time. The mystery of the religious life consists in the victory over the power of time, in the knowledge of human life not from the passive sufferance of the external facts of history, but rather for the active surmounting of time.

Nikolai Berdyaev


©  1999  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1935 – 399 – en)

VECHNOST’  I  VREMYA.  Bulletin of the Russian Student Christian Movement (Vestnik RSCM), 1935, no. 3. Online in Russian.

1. Trans. note: this book was published in English under title “Solitude and Society”.