(1939 – #441)

“Ye became like the little and will be all
the smaller: this Your teaching about
humility and obedience hath done”.
Paraphrase from Nietsche’s
                                                                   “Also sprach Zarathustra”.  N. B.

It has become time already, when it is necessary to stop with the double-talk and back-biting and to give a straight-forward and clear answer, — does the Orthodox Church recognise freedom of thought and of conscience? Is it equitably just on the part of the Orthodox constantly to accuse the Catholics, that they have no freedom, an accusation, based on the premise, that with the Orthodox themselves there is this freedom. And there arises still another question: is Orthodoxy bound up with some definite political system, e.g. with monarchism, with nationalism, with a class social order, on the sort of the present day with Fascism, or does it permit of varied points of view? Can an Orthodox, having become professor of an Orthodox theological school, be a democrat, a socialist, can he be a defender of freedom, of social justice, of the dignity of man? This question becomes very acute with the grievous circumstances regarding G. P. Fedotov. At the suggestion of the metropolitan, the professors of the Theological Institute gave G. P. Fedotov an ultimatum: either leave off being a professor at the Theological Institute or stop writing articles on political themes in “New Russia” and other organs of a “leftist” persuasion. This resolution was carried out by people, who had not actually read the articles of G. P. Fedotov, and who were guided exclusively by meaning-distortive citations in one newspaper, itself representing a very ugly example of a jaundiced yellow press. I shall not dwell at length upon an analysis of this unsightly history, which witnesses to a shocking absence of manliness and slave-like sentiments which, alas, are very traditional. What interests me here is the question on principle. The matter involved not articles on theological themes, but is on political articles. And the accusation was in this, that the articles were “leftist” and that the author could not be numbered in amongst “those thinking nationally”. It is considered improper for a professor of the Theological Institute to get involved with politics. But this is not true. Professors of the Theological Institute are permitted to indulge themselves as they may please with politics, but exclusively with “rightist” politics. No one would have suggested to a professor of the Theological Institute to resign his position as professor, had he written an article in defense of the restoration of the monarchy and extremist national positions. One of the professors has even headed a rightist nationalist organisation. The Church in the emigration in the person of its hierarchs has constantly done political acts with demonstrations of moliebens, panikhidas and preachings. And by this it has inflicted grievous wounds on the Church inside Russia. The Church has not completed the great act of breaking its bonds with the Old Regime, nor has it cleansed itself. No, the prohibition to concern oneself with politics relates exclusively to “leftist” politics. G. P. Fedotov — is a Christian democrat and an humanist, a defender of the freedom of man. He cannot tolerate Communism. He is likewise an undoubtable Russian patriot, which is far worthier a thing, than to be of “those thinking nationally. He is not at all given to extremist views. But it would seem, that the defense of Christian democracy and the freedom of man is not allowable for a professor of the Theological Institute. An Orthodox professor ought even to be a defender of Spain’s Franco, who betrayed his fatherland to foreigners and drowned his people in blood. It is perfectly clear, that the censure of G. P. Fedotov as a professor of the Theological Institute was a political act namely, an act deeply compromising this institution, casting upon it a tone of reaction. They demand of G. P. Fedotov, that he be of “those thinking nationally”, though he least of all can be suspected of sympathies for internationalism. Nothing is more hideous than the very expression “those thinking nationally”. We know, what it means to be of “those thinking nationally”. In practice this means to be inhuman, greedy for gain, coercive, spiteful, a provocateur of war and often of war against one’s own people. The world at present perishes from nationalism, it is choking in blood from “those thinking nationally”. The Church ought to condemn nationalism, and to its honour the Catholic Church is close to this censuring. Nationalism is a paganism within Christianity, a debauchery of the instincts of blood and race. Christians, who do not betray Christ and the Gospel (a large part of Christians do betray it), do not have the right to be of “those thinking nationally”, to be in accord with the Gospel morality or still in any case with human morality. And indeed among the contemporary “those thinking nationally”, there is nothing rational, they do not at all esteem the national culture, as for example “those thinking nationally” among the Russians do not esteem the traditions of Russian literature, and “those thinking nationally” among the Germans do not esteem the traditions of German philosophy. About “those thinking nationally” amongst the Russians in the emigration it is best also not to speak, for with great ease they would hand over Russia to its mortal enemy Hitler. General Franco they would likewise reckon among “those thinking nationally”, although he led a devastating war against his own people with the assist of the Italians and the Germans. It is shameful to pronounce the words “those thinking nationally”, “national politics”, for the vileness of the things concealed behind this. There is only one criterion for a Christian attitude towards politics — humanness,  i.e. freedom, justice, mercy, the dignity of the person. Communism comes under a Christian censure not because those condemning it are “rightists” and “those thinking nationally”, but because of its denial of humanness and freedom, for its absence of mercy and its cruelty. “Those thinking nationally” would themselves with glee annihilate every freedom, nor in the least would they have any regard for the dignity of man and assuredly they would show no less cruelty. The hideous effects of the Russian Communist revolution is first of all the fault of the “rightists” and “those thinking nationally” of the Old Regime.

There is still another accusation against G. P. Fedotov: he is of the Intelligentsia. It appears thus, that his not being of “those thinking nationally”, and his “leftist” inclination, is explicable by the nature of his being of the Intelligentsia. The obscurantist reaction against the Revolution has perverted the word Intelligent and Intelligentsia into a term of ridicule. The churlishly ignorant segment of the youth know neither the nuance of meaning nor the history of the term employed, and they have no doubt about it, that it was quite bad a thing to be of the “Intelligentsia”. But it is time for this nonsense to stop. What was it that opposed the “Intelligentsia”? It was first of all the organic classes of society: the nobility, the clergy, the merchantry, the petty bourgeoisie and moreover the official ranks. The Russian Intelligentsia had no lack of deficiencies and in its own time I more than once criticised it, when to do so meant it a matter not to be taken lying down. But these classes of society were defending their own greedy interests, they were immersed in their own narrow mode of life, and they outdid themselves in a servile groveling before the powers of this world. The Intelligentsia in their own way sought for truth and justice, they struggled for the dignity of man, for the freedom of the people, they were not guarding any sort of class interests and they rose above class limitations. The truth is, that from the Russian nobility of the XIX Century there emerged people, striking in their lack of avarice, surmounting the prejudices and interests of their class, and who were participants in the liberation movement. From the nobility also there emerged creative artists of Russian great literature. But then they were transformed into Intelligentsia and they followed the flow of the Intelligentsia, into which emerged also those of other classes. I have greater grounds to be proud of this, that I was an “Intelligent”, i.e. I sought for truth and righteousness, than that I am of aristocratic origin. When they say, that the Orthodox ought to be of “those thinking nationally” and ought not to be of the “Intelligentsia”, then always they are anxious to protect the old paganism, which entered into Orthodoxy, with which sprouted forth and from which they do not want it cleansed away. People of suchlike a formation can be very “Orthodox”, but they are very little Christian. They even regard the Gospel as a book of the Baptists. They have no true love for Christianity and they regard it as dangerous for their own instincts and emotions. The customary everyday Orthodoxy also is a paganism within Christianity.

This paganism, long since having lost its ancient poetry, is defended as an old tradition, and it is particularly opposed to humanism. In the Christian sense this tradition is not very ancient, and in any case it did not arise prior to the sources of the Christian revelation, prior to early Christianity, prior to the period of Greek Patristics. But in the pagan sense it is very ancient, it arose for the tribal cults, for the cults of the domestic hearth, even for the totemism of the primitive clans. Beloved prejudices, beloved lifestyle habits are defended, as a sacred tradition. But there are no sort of grounds to assert, that every tradition, is something fine. Tradition can be a betrayal of the present in the past, a conformism with a very ugly merely human and slavish past.  The Gospel is not at all traditional, it is directed against traditionalism, and in this it is revolutionary.

In history every abomination has been regarded sacred under the impetus of  “the kingdom of Caesar”, under greedy social influences. Slavery, the owning of serfs, as included in the Catechism of Philaret, a despotic form of governance, the backwardness of scientific knowledge — all this was by sacred tradition. There were no such forms of slavery, despotism and obscurantism, not sanctified by tradition. There is nothing more frightening than those inferences, which were made in historical Orthodoxy from the idea of humility and obedience. In the name of humility they demanded obedience to evil and injustice. This was transformed into a school of toadyism, forming in soul slaves bereft of anything manly, trembling before the power and might of this world. The civil virtues of bravery and the sense of honour were incompatible with such a sort of understanding of humility and obedience. From whence also derives the cringing toadyism in Soviet Russia. The Russian clergy, the Church hierarchs were always atremble afront the state power, they adapted themselves to it and consented to subordinate the Church to it. This remains so also at present, when there is no longer, glory to God, a pseudo “Orthodox state”. And at present the Church people tremble before the rightist emigration, which plays the role of the state power of authority, and they subject themselves to its commands in questions of churchly politics, instead of teaching it Christianity. We see this in the history of events with G. P. Fedotov, to his great honour. Such outstanding people, as Father Sergei Bulgakov, have fallen victim to the prevailing atmosphere. With sorrow it mustneeds be recognised, that the official Orthodoxy shows itself to be very obscurantist and very inert a form of Christianity. There were only two exceptions — Greek Patristics, and the Russian religious thought of the XIXth through beginning XXth Centuries. From Greek Patristics, from Origen, St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, from St. John Chrysostom and others it is possible to gather up quotes, which would serve as the distinct reason for being excluded from among the professors of the Theological Institute. Thus for example, St. John Chrysostom was a genuine Communist in his time, the representative of the Constantinople proletariat. The hapless Russian religious thought officially is not acknowledged, it is accused of being un-Orthodox and at present moreso now than when formerly it could lead to excommunication. But only in Russian religious thought, in Khomyakov, Dostoevsky, Vl. Solov’ev, in thinkers of the XX Century, has there been freedom of conscience and thought. It is not and it never was within the official Orthodoxy, in the official churchliness. Such people, as Sts. Nil Sorsky and Tikhon of Zadonsk were exceptions. Western Christians, however, are interested namely and most of all by Russian religious thought, and frequently they confuse this current of Russian thought with the official churchliness, not knowing our inner conflict. This sometimes produces a genuine mystification. The “rightist” Orthodox all await a “Caesar”, who will defend them and become their protector, wielding the sword upon their enemies. This expectation is to the ruination of Orthodoxy. They await “Caesar” not in the name of the Kingdom of God, to whom long since already they have bestowed their worship in place of God. Let them take comfort, the wished-for “Caesar” can appear, if the Christian spiritual powers do not oppose this, but he will be the fore-runner of the Anti-Christ. Then pity the freedom-loving democrats. The false and servile teaching about sin, the false understanding of humility and obedience leads also to an ultimate kingdom of evil, to the triumph of the spirit of the Anti-Christ in the world.

We need most of all an intrepid honesty in the ultimate casting-down of the conditional lie, in which rots both the official churchliness and also the world. It is necessary to speak the truth. Within the authoritarian Catholicism there is more freedom, than there is in Orthodoxy, which in its words continues to venerate Christ as its sole Head. I shall offer an example. Jacques Maritain, a very outstanding Catholic thinker in France, a professor of the Institut Catholique, defends Christian democracy, Christian humanism, the dignity and freedom of the human person, he denounces the anti-Christian falsehood of anti-Semitism, and with an especial fervour he denounces General Franco for having screened himself behind a veneer of Catholicism, he speaks and he writes almost the same things, that G. P. Fedotov does, and no one bothers him, no one suggests that he quit the supreme Catholic school in France. And what has Pope Pius XI spoken? He defended the freedom of spirit, the dignity of the human person, he denounced the dictators, he denounced racism and anti-Semitism, he defended the peace of peoples. In the emigre Orthodoxy his thoughts would probably be considered incompatible with holding a professorship of the supreme theological school. It is quite clear, that they want to transform Orthodoxy in the emigration into an obedient tool of reactionary politics, and moreover a politics treasonous to the Russian people. Let them openly say, whether Orthodoxy does recognise the personal freedom of conscience, which they have so boasted of regarding us before the Catholics?

In actuality, the conscience is handed over to the collective, altogether just as in Communism, and to the horrid demonically-dark reactionary collectives and to their jaundiced yellow press. But there is no collegial-board that does not make bold to infringe upon the sacred rights of man, upon the freedom of man. Freedom really exists for us only in “modernism”, only in the current striving for reform, beginning with Khomyakov, and to the woe of the stifling reactionary current of the official churchliness, the government-chamber Orthodoxy. It is time to speak the truth on the city squares, hiding nothing and glossing over nothing, the plain frank truth. Orthodoxy needs reform and without a reform it begins to decompose and give off corpse-like vapours. That which they call the “true” the “orthodoks” Orthodoxy, this is also a rot, moribund. Reform does not at all signify reforms on the type of the Lutheran or the Catholic, it should be otherwise. It should defend freedom of spirit, freedom of conscience, the freedom of thought, moreso than did Luther and Calvin, who defended it insufficiently and inconsistently. Reform begins with the acknowledgement of the supremacy of the personal conscience, not subjected to alienation and exteriorisation, i.e. it is the freedom of spirit and the independence of spiritual life from the influences of the “kingdom of Caesar”. The communality of Sobornost’ has no sort of meaning, if it does not include within itself the freedom of spirit and personal conscience. Without freedom, Sobornost’ is nothing more than an outward authoritarian collectivism.

Everywhere in the world at present there occurs divisions within Christianity and these divisions threaten to deepen. There is happening a catastrophic path of the cleansing of Christianity from those historical accretions, which have nothing in common with the well-springs of Christianity and represent but inclusions of the social interests of the kingdom of Caesar. This is a spiritising of Christianity, rendering it more inward and sincere, more bound up with the commands of Christ and more creative. There ensues the end of the “mere way of life”, i.e. of the pagan within Christianity, there occurs a sundering off of the pagan traditions in Christianity, the false sacralisation of historical entities, whose origins can be explained sociologically. There is ending the kingdom of the mere conventionally rhetoric, declamatory word-only Christianity. But before its end it can still make much havoc, it can still manifest much wickedness. Christians of a new type, of a new sense of life, creative Christians of all faith-confessions call out both amongst themselves and amongst others for a greater closeness, rather than merely within each faith-confession. They want to get things together.

A Christianity that is cleansed, freed from servility, which is as yet impossible, will be suspicious of the defending of class interests and social injustices, it will face a new social reality and it ought to give creative response to the social problems of our times. And first of all, Christians ought to forsake the bad and equivocating habit of not answering the question, which is put before them. When they ask you, what is your attitude towards a given conflict of workers with capitalists or towards collective contracts, then it is unseemly merely to answer: “We believe in the immortality of the soul”, or “we believe in the God-manhood of Christ”. It is proper to give a concrete answer to the particular question set forth. These evasive answers dodging the point have always produced impressions of wanting to defend whatever the injustice. Closer indeed to Christian truth stand such currents, as the personalist community of the group “Esprit”, and the religious socialism of L. Ragaz, Andre Philippe and others. In the politics of L. Blum I see a greater Christian humanness, than with the “rightists”, who all the time are calling for murder and deeds of violence. But herein is what presents itself to me as the most essential point. It is time to stop talking about words and start talking about realities. The “right” and the “left” — these are conventional standards and these words in our epoch are bereft of real meaning. It is important to determine, what sort of reality is hidden behind the words and the slogans. They demand, that the Orthodox be “rightists”, and they see in this an essential sign of “Orthodoxality”. What is it that is practically and really hidden behind this? In reality, behind the “rightists” is hidden — political amoralism, the denial of the dignity and freedom of man, a grubby cult of power, the practise of coercive violence in the relationships between people and nations, and the making of a mockery of the Gospel morality in social life. I do not see in the “rightists” any noble sitrrings of soul, they are always defending despotic might, national hostility and war, the capitalists and the bankers against the workers, the injustices of privilege; fierceness of punishment, violation of conscience and the suffocating of free thought. The “rightists” readily render themselves traitors to their native land and their people. The romantics of conservatism, the people of ideas, comprise an insignificant group, which has no practical significance, for it is the realistically skilled in business that take the lead. The “left” likewise often is phony, greedy and declamatory with mere words. And even though it is the “leftists” betraying freedom and humanness, for example the Communists, it does not infer from this that freedom and humanness are bad principles. The “rightists” find nothing detestable in the “falsehood” of Communism, the inhumanity and violence, to them it even seems justified and evokes envy. They detest the “truth” of Communism, the principle of a classless brotherly society, not knowing the exploitation of man by man, the ideal of peace between peoples. Christianity can stand only for a politics, which acknowledges the supreme value of the human person, its freedom and dignity and brotherly organisation of social life, and must stand opposed to the idolatry afront the state, nationality, outward churchliness and inhuman collective communities, which serve but as a screen for the real interests of the ruling classes. A cleansed Christianity ought to return to the moral principle of life the sense of its worthiness against the vogues of an Orthodox amoralism, against the pseudo-mystical and pseudo-sacramental amoralism, which stands not higher but lower than the morality of humanness. The supreme principle of the dignity of man shatters the false and immoral theories of obedience, as have permitted such unsightly events in history, as have transpired with the Theological Institute. Amidst all this it mustneeds be said, that the level of standards of a professor of the Theological Institute is sufficiently high and a significant portion of the professors there cannot be termed obscurantists. But they have gotten entangled and proverbially gotten themselves caught in the middle. We come to the conclusion, that it would be a mistake to defend the right of a Christian to defend whatever the political idea that pleases them. Christians do not have the right to hold to a political current that would trample down freedom and humanness, that would be opposed to the Gospel spirit of love, mercy and the brotherhood of people. Christians ought to unite in a struggle for the freedom of man.

Nikolai Berdyaev.


©  2001  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1939 – 441 -en)

In Journal Put’, feb./apr. 1939, No. 59, p. 46-54.  Also Journal “Novaya Rossiya”, No. 68, 30 May 1939.

† The author takes exclusively upon himself the responsibility for this article. This responsibility extends neither to “Put’” at large, nor to individual contributors of “Put’”.