Nikolai Berdyaev

Berdyaev on the Nature of Spirit and Reality in Relation to Apologetics

From “The Scientific Discipline of Religion and Christian Apologetics” by Berdyaev (notes link to the original page):

Of principal significance for the science of religion is the philosophic problem concerning the character and criterion of reality. There are certain who might suspect me of docetism and monophysitism. This would be, certainly, a misunderstanding, the product of a naturalistic understanding of reality, which has penetrated into Christian theology and Christian metaphysics. Docetism within the confines of the naturalistic understanding of reality regards as illusory the humanity of Jesus Christ and all His earthly life. Monophysitism admits the reality of only one nature in Christ [the Divine] and denies the mystery of God-manhood. But the question about the two natures and the authentic reality of the human nature of Christ ought not to be mixed up with the question about the two orders of being — spiritual being which is primary, and naturo-natural being which is secondary. In primary being also there are the two natures [of Christ], and the human nature is real. Only the spiritual world is authentic and primal being. The world in contrast is symbolically natural, reflectedly a reality. The naturo-historical earthly life if Jesus Christ is just as much symbolistic, as is all the flesh of the world, just as also is the life of Alexander of Macedon or Napoleon, just as is all of history and all our world, but it is no less real, it is altogether not illusory, as Docetism would tend to think it. But in this naturo-historical earthly life of Jesus Christ there is symbolised13  the primal-reality of the spiritual world, of spiritual life. And in this world there is a spiritual order of being, in which there occurs encounter with the primal-realities of authentic life, — this also is the order of being involving the Church. With the appearance of Christ there occurred a singular and unrepeatable encounter and mutual interaction of one order of being with the other, of reality and symbol. But the acknowledging of reality cannot be grounded upon the acknowledging of symbol, it is impossible to become convinced in the being of primal life from proofs, drawn forth from being in reflective life. All the relict historical world we know about we know of its reality through reflected symbol, through the empirical, but in regard to it without spiritual memory, i.e. without any sort of intimate tradition the recognition becomes impossible. In regard however to Christ we make an act of recognition of reality directly within the tradition, within the pathways of primal life. And it would seem, that Christian apologetics ought not to be so dependent upon proofs and the corroborative empiricism of historical science. They might, perhaps, say to me: you are indifferent to the historical reality of Jesus Christ. This again would be a mistake, a misunderstood point of view. I acknowledge the absolute and singular historical reality of Jesus Christ, the earthly life of the Saviour of the world. But this historical reality, symbolic just like all historical reality, is evidenced from the reality of the spiritual world, from the experience of the Church. There is absolutely a precise biography of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, but it cannot be written upon the basis of the historical materials, externally received, it can only be perviewed by spiritual sight, by a mystical sort of contemplation.14  Such was, for example, the contemplation of Catherine Emerich. The churchly consciousness rises above the disputes of historical schools and it cannot base itself upon whatever the sort of trend of historical science. The significance of historical criticism in the pathways of human cognition has to be admitted, and it is impossible to oppose it  with any sort of falsifying pseudo-science, or apologetic history, based upon contortions and upon shreds of the empirical. Our faith is shaky, if it has to be based upon the historically empirical. And indeed within genuine ontologic history itself, the actually existent is known about through a transcending of the outwardly given empirical.15  The empirical itself as regards itself is still not yet history. History is at first given only within discovered meaning. Meaning however is discovered, is discerned by spiritual insight. The meaning of the Gospel history, the meaning of the earthly fate of Jesus Christ is given not within the historically empirical, not in the raw material, which historical science critically reworks, but in spiritual insight, in tradition, in the inner connections of my spiritual depths together with the spiritual depths, hidden beyond the historically empirical. Herein we collide with the philosophic problem of history. Historians usually adopt a naive realism in regard to the historical actuality. But naive realism in regard to history is nowise more sustainable, than it is in regard to all the natural world. The naive realism ought to be replaced by a symbolic realism. The philosophy of history is the uncovering of meaning of the genuinely existent within history, of the existent and its essence. And only herein is history first revealed. Such a phenomenology of history has still not been created. But the phenomenology of Gospel history is in principle and qualitatively distinct from the phenomenology of every other history. It is possible only through the insight, discoverable within the Church, it remains hidden for other forms of view.

Christian theology has been too much infected by naturalism, it naturalises the spiritual reality and in general it has been inclined to conceive of reality naturalistically. The very idea of God was naturalised, and it was conceived of by analogy with the realities of natural objects. This is especially evident within Thomism, which so esteems its analogies with the physical world. The creative developing of theological knowledge ought the more to distinguish the different planes, not confusing them, and thereby overcome naturalism and naive realism. Naturalistic apologetics has had its last gasp and is done for. It is necessary to re-arm with more precise and more powerfully effective weaponry. In a certain sense it can be said, that the theological naturalism gave birth to the naturalism of positivism and materialism. And now there ought to begin and there has already begun a movement against naturalism both in the scientific and in the religious consciousness. When we overcome the naive naturalism in religious thought, we then have no need to fear whether it be the history of religion, or Drews, or Couchoud, or any sort of mythological theory. Christianity draws its assurance in its veracity from an absolute source, from the supernatural and spiritual plane of being, and not from the plane of the natural, not from the historically empirical, which of itself is not even genuinely history. And for Christianity nothing ought to terrify. We religiously know, that the appearance of the Son of God in the world, within earthly history, cannot be imbued with that historical persuasiveness, which the appearance of other people both great and small within history has had. In this appearance there has been discovered heaven upon earth, and heaven proves otherwise different in its reality, is perceived otherwise, than does the earth and all that which doth transpire upon it.

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s