LEV SHESTOV \ Speculation and Revelation \ Nikolai Berdyaev

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     We have now reached the most important but at the same time the most enigmatic and difficult moment of that which Kierkegaard calls existential philosophy. Kierkegaard also takes the Book of Job as the point of departure in his reflections. But in contrast with Kant and Berdyaev, the "demands" of the much-plagued old man do not appear to him only as a blameworthy maximalism; he sees in Job's audacity and lack of restraint the only correct attitude of man towards God. Of course, he knows just as well as Kant and Berdyaev how little the denouement of the Book of Job agrees with the ideas about the "possible" and "impossible" that are rooted in us. He also knows that it deserves moral condemnation as "a violence upon the spirit." However, this not only does not embarrass him but inspires him to a new struggle that is truly desperate and unprecedented in its intensity. "Gnosis," the whole self-sufficient knowledge that is "emancipated" from God, does not appear to him, as it does to Berdyaev, as a breakthrough from other worlds. Following Holy Scripture, he connects gnosis with man's fall into sin and speaks of a "suspension of the ethical."

     "All that is not of faith is sin," Kierkegaard tirelessly repeats the words of the apostle, and he interprets them in the sense that the concept opposite to sin is freedom. But not that uncreated freedom about which we have heard so much from Boehme, Schelling, and Berdyaev, not the freedom that harmonizes, with holy necessity; not the freedom to choose between good and evil. Such an understanding of freedom, in Kierkegaard's view, would decisively contradict Holy Scripture. Freedom is possibility. And faith is a mad struggle for the impossible - precisely that which Job undertook and about which Berdyaev and Kant are silent. Faith begins where, according to all evidence, every possibility comes to an end, where both our experience and our reason testify unhesitatingly that there is not and cannot be any hope whatever for man. Greek philosophy, Kierkegaard writes, began with "wonder," while the existential philosophy begins with despair. Faith is the source of the existential philosophy, and precisely insofar as it dares to rise up against knowledge, to put knowledge itself in question. The existential philosophy is a philosophy de profundis. This philosophy does not ask, it does not inquire, but appeals, by enriching thinking with a dimension that is completely alien and incomprehensible to speculative philosophy. It awaits an answer not from our reason, not from insight - but from God. From God, for Whom nothing is impossible, Who holds all truths in His hands, Who rules over the present as well as over the past and the future.

     "Kierkegaard's friend" (Kierkegaard almost always speaks through a mediator) flees from Hegel to the private thinker Job, in whose brief remarks he finds more than in the systems of German idealism, than in the "Greek symposium." Perhaps we find in his reflections on the Book of Job the most irritating and challenging and, at the same time, the most attractive and fascinating of everything that Kierkegaard wrote. When his friend, after he has turned away from Hegel, goes to Job, he goes to him not for moral consolations, not for a theodicy. He has already tested and rejected all moral consolations. And theodicy, that is, the justification of God before reason, appears to Kierkegaard as the most unsuccessful, most unfortunate, most fateful idea of all that human wisdom has ever conceived. He seeks "repetition," that is, the same thing that Job aimed for and that, in Kierkegaard's opinion, will in the future philosophy take the place of the Greek recollection (anamnesis). He begs Job - and he hopes that Job will not reject his request - to take him under his protection. Although he did not have as much as Job and lost only his beloved, this was nevertheless everything for which he lived, as for the poor youth of the fairy tale, who fell in love with a princess, his love was the substance of his whole life. Everyone knows that the poor youth will never see the princess as his wife. Kierkegaard also knows this and speaks of it just as decisively as all. But everyone also knows that Job, crushed by fate, must not hope for any "repetition." So long as knowledge, so long as experience and reason preserve their sovereign rights - there can be no talk of repetition. So long as knowledge preserves its rights! So long as we seek the truth in experience and in our reason! But what impels us to turn to knowledge? What binds us so much to experience and reason? Kierkegaard raises the same question that Dostoevsky raised in his time: I am not able to break through the stone wall with my head, but does this mean that the wall is an insurmountable obstacle for all eternity? Experience and reason answer this question affirmatively - but who has given experience and reason the right of final decision? Who has suggested to us the certainty that our knowledge, even the knowledge of facts, is something final and irrevocable? The Greek symposium? German mysticism? Hegelian philosophy? And so Kierkegaard proclaims with senseless audacity: Through reason Job lost everything, through reason the poor youth lost the princess, and he himself Regina Olsen. But not to reason is it given to decide human fate. Through the Absurd everything was given back to Job, through the Absurd the poor youth will obtain the princess and Sören Kierkegaard his bride.

     At this point the existential philosophy becomes for Berdyaev completely unendurable. To be sure, he leaves Job in peace - Job who demands his riches and his wealth and his children back from God (and received them - according to the Bible, of course). But with all the more force does he fall upon the poor youth who seeks to obtain the princess, and on Kierkegaard himself who cannot forget his Regina Olsen. And it must be said that his reasonings are irreproachable. "Perhaps," he says, "God prefers that Kierkegaard should lose his bride and that the poor youth should not obtain the princess... I even allow myself to think that perhaps this would not be so bad. Regina Olsen would probably have become a quite ordinary bourgeois woman and Kierkegaard, with a happy life, would have written banal theological books but we would not have had his brilliant works." Of course one could and should say the same thing about Job: if his misfortune had not occurred, then there would not have been the incomparable book of Job, But, indeed, Kierkegaard "knows" this just as well as all of us.[7] He knows that Regina Olsen, seen with the eyes "of all," is a very ordinary creature. Yes, seen with the eyes of all! But how many flaming pages has Berdyaev written against "all" and "omnitude," how enraged he has been, following Nietzsche, over the pretension of the "many, all too many" to trample and to annihilate individual evaluations! But now, when an opportunity presents itself really to take the side of the "individual person," Berdyaev goes over the side of his hereditary enemy in the most decisive fashion. Kierkegaard would not have written his brilliant books. This, of course, is correct: both wisdom and ordinary common sense speak for this. Pushkin expressed it in his well known verses: "If banishment, incarceration befall a poet - so much the better, say lovers of art. So much the better: he draws and transmits to us new thoughts and feelings." But Gogol, indeed, burned the second volume of his Dead Souls, Tolstoy rejected his War and Peace, and even Shakespeare related to his similarly "brilliant" works with "sovereign contempt." Yes, if Berdyaev had only spoken about common sense or human wisdom! But he speaks in the name of God Himself, sets forth his judgments as a breakthrough from the realm of the spirit. It might have been expected that he would here rise up against "omnitude" and rejoice over the opportunity to stand on the side of the "aristocratic" ("aristocratic" is one of the favorite qualifications of Berdyaev, bringing him close to Nietzsche), solitary personality. And one must think that he would have liked to do this. But, despite the fact that he transferred the center of knowledge from the object to the subject, "gnosis" preserved all of its coerciveness: it stands on the way and does not yield. God is powerless, He is able to do nothing against mighty Nothingness.

     "Kierkegaard died," Berdyaev writes, "without having obtained Regina Olsen as his wife, Nietzsche died without being cured of his terrible sickness, Socrates was poisoned, and that is all." All this, of course, is correct, all this is irreproachable, all this is convincing. But, again, does not Kierkegaard "know" all this just as well as all of us? If he nevertheless asserts that the poor youth obtained the princess, that Job had his children, etc. returned to him, he does this not because he did not know what all of us know but because he feels de profundis that our knowledge, knowledge in general, cannot be the source of final, definitive truth. The existential philosophy bases itself on the Absurd and not only does not conceal this but emphasizes it at every opportunity. The poor youth believes that the impossible, that which, according to our convictions, is absolutely and eternally impossible, will become possible under the protection of the Absurd. Faith is freedom. Not that uncreated freedom which joyfully harmonizes with "holy necessity," not the freedom which chooses between good and evil, not the freedom the very idea of which already presupposes the intrusion of evil into life and which for Kierkegaard signifies the utmost bindingness taking its rise from the fruits of the forbidden tree - but that created freedom which is born out of the biblical "very good" and the great promise: "Nothing will be impossible for you."

     I will say it again (no matter how often one repeats it, it is always too little): all the considerations that are brought forth by wisdom and common sense in favor of the idea that there is no such freedom, that such freedom belongs in the realm of the utterly fantastic and of crude superstition (Kant's Schwärmarei und Aberglauben), are very well known to Kierkegaard. Over against Kierkegaard's poor youth Berdyaev sets another youth who dreams about "knowledge of the mysteries of being or of scientific discovery of the mystery of nature" and remarks ironically that "God cannot satisfy the wishes of this youth." But does one really go to God for knowledge? And has knowledge really ever introduced a man to a "mystery?" Kierkegaard's youth (more precisely: Kierkegaard himself) sought with all the ardor of which a man is capable such knowledge and such discoveries, and he was everywhere that one could learn anything at all - he listened to the speeches of the Greeks at their symposia, visited the mystics, studied modern philosophy right up to Hegel and Schelling - and ran from them to the ignorant, half-wild Job (who, according to the Bible, was a righteous man) for what he needed more than anything in the world but what, according to the "knowledge" of the renowned teachers, nowhere existed and nowhere can exist: "repetition," which, indeed, is the fulfillment of the promise, "Nothing will be impossible for you."

     Again, it is beyond doubt that Kierkegaard knew better than anyone else what he was undertaking when, under cover of the Absurd, he decided to exchange the symposium and Hegel for Job. Job as a philosopher, Job as a thinker (and precisely the biblical Job, not the Job embellished by enlightened criticism) - -what could be more senseless, more absurd? If Kant had been in a position to read Kierkegaard's Repetition, he would certainly have blushed on account of it and would probably have written some variations on the theme "About the Reveries of a Clairvoyant" or on "What Does It Mean To Orient Oneself in Thinking?" For Socrates was really poisoned, the poor youth either contented himself with a brewer's widow or remained a bachelor throughout his life, Regina Olsen became the wife of Schlegel - all these are eternal truths over which God Himself no longer has any power. All this is "self-evident." But is there really in these self-evidences even the slightest trace of a breakthrough from other worlds? Is not the transformation of "facts" into eternal truths only a matter of the Kantian "synthetic judgments a priori?" The existential philosophy, however, does not consist in the discovery of "self-evidences" but in their overcoming. From this comes Kierkegaard's "maximalism," which Berdyaev qualifies with calm certainty as "without grace." But does not precisely this "maximalism" tell us about a "breakthrough?" Kierkegaard's overcoming of the self-evidences, more exactly, his desperate, senseless struggle against them, is connected, as I have already said, with the good news of the divine "very good" and of the "Nothing will be impossible for you" that broke through to him. But reason does not accept this news: it is perceived and becomes a truth only under the protection of the Absurd - more exactly, of that which Kierkegaard calls faith.

     On this basis there arose that terrible conflict with Bishop Mynster by which the last months of Kierkegaard's life were marked. Mynster was the head of the Danish Church. The whole population of Denmark honored him as a deeply religious, devout pastor wholeheartedly devoted to his task - indeed, almost as a saint. He was also the confessor of Kierkegaard's father and was able to bring peace into his restless and tormented soul. For the information of those who do not know it, I shall report here that Kierkegaard's father, when he was only eight years old, cursed God in an attack of despair and that to his death he could not divest himself of the fearful burden of the consciousness that he had forever damned his soul. Kierkegaard himself, whom Mynster had carried in his arms as a child and who never missed any of the bishop's sermons, knew very well that in the person of Mynster Denmark had an exemplary spiritual leader. But when, after Mynster's death, his son-in-law Professor Martensen, a convinced Hegelian and future head of the Danish Church, called him in his funeral oration a "witness to the truth," Kierkegaard suddenly lost patience and, with an impetuosity that rarely manifested itself even in him with such force, declared a protest against Martensen's words. In doing so he forgot everything: what Mynster had done for the religious development of his native country, as well as how he was able to support and strengthen the soul of his father (whom Kierkegaard revered) and what he had done for himself. It is not given to one who testifies only about the possible to be a "witness to the truth." To a witness to the truth it is revealed, and he reveals this to others, that Job's slain children were returned to him, that Socrates was not poisoned, that the poor youth obtained the princess, that Regina Olsen became Kierkegaard's wife.

     "For God nothing is impossible:" this is Kierkegaard's most cherished, deepest - I am prepared to say - his only thought. But at the same time, it is also that which distinguishes in a radical fashion the existential philosophy from the speculative and gives rise to the threatening and irreconcilable Kierkegaardian Entweder/Oder. Kierkegaard expressed this in another form with the words "the suspension of the ethical." If the ethical is the highest, then Abraham, the father of faith, is lost - he wrote. This, of course, does not mean that he extolled "immorality." But even the noblest morality, if it becomes the "highest," is transformed into the "devilish good and evil."

     It is strange that Berdyaev, who in his book The Destiny of Man comes so near to Nietzsche's Zarathustra and to his reflections on good and evil (even in form the second part of this book, entitled "Ethics Beyond Good and Evil" reminds one of Nietzsche), does not once ask himself what induced Nietzsche, a gentle and soft man by nature, to praise cruelty so frenziedly. Love, compassion, sympathy - these are themes to which so many enthusiastic pages are devoted in all of Berdyaev's writings, but no matter how good and important all this may be, not only does it not solve the tormenting problems of life but it poses them with new force. And here Kierkegaard again approaches Dostoevsky, who in the last years of his life wrote in his Diary of a Writer, "I affirm that love for mankind, with the consciousness that it is impossible to help it, is transformed into hatred." Dostoevsky turned out to be a seer: before our eyes Nietzsche, when he arrived at the conviction that mankind, with all the terrors to which it is doomed in its existence, is left to itself and its insignificant powers and is compelled to seek salvation in morality (he said: "God is dead," "We have killed God."), proclaimed cruelty as the supreme principle. Kierkegaard himself surpasses even Nietzsche when, in his Edifying Discourses, he develops with such ecstasy, almost with voluptuousness, in a thousand different ways the idea of the boundless ferocity of Christianity. To be sure, all this in Kierkegaard is "indirect communications," but the essence of the matter does not change thereby. Love, sympathy, compassion must be preached to callous people, shut up in their petty and worthless interests. And this is a very important, very significant thing, to which Berdyaev not without reason devoted his best powers and talent. But for those who have been "opened up," for whom one's neighbor is neither object nor subject and not even a "personality" but a living being like themselves - love and compassion bring not solving answers but disturbing and tormenting, unescapable questions. In this also lies the meaning of the reflections on the tears of children and the final harmony that Dostoevsky puts into the mouth of his Ivan Karamazov.[8]

     In correspondence with this, the redemption promised by the prophets and carried out by Christ is understood differently, depending on the person with whom one happens to talk about it. Berdyaev moves to the forefront the great moral beauty of Christ's act of sacrifice. Of course, in his way, he is right: this moment should not and need not be concealed. In our vale of tears the consciousness that God has shared with us our sorrows and sufferings brings great relief and consolation: everything Berdyaev has written on this theme is excellent and leaves an indelible impression. But he is hardly right when he supposes that all his reflections on this theme are an offense to the Jews and folly to the Greeks. So it really once was, but long, very long, ago. In our times the case is different; Berdyaev himself not without reason talks so much about the disclosure of Christianity in history. At present the "suffering God" is "understandable" to everyone, seems "natural" to everyone, and no one sees in this any folly, no one is offended thereby. The historians even speak of a religion of the suffering God in general and see in Christianity one of many religions of this kind. And for the philosophers the suffering God opens up the possibility of calling themselves bona fide Christians: herein is expressed, to speak in Hegel's words, the unity of the human and divine natures. Man is condemned to suffer, God is condemned to suffer - this is not a breach of the natural order of things, not a miracle, not a "violence upon the spirit." To put it differently: we free ourselves of the idea of God-man and arrive at man-God, in which our reason and our morality recognize their own work that presupposes no revelation whatever. But there is still one moment which Berdyaev almost passes over: God took upon Himself the sins of the world. Luther says, "God sent His only begotten Son into the world and placed upon Him all the sins of all men, in that He said: Be thou Peter that denier, Paul that persecutor, blasphemer of God and doer of violence, David that adulterer, that sinner who ate the apple in Paradise, that thief on the cross; all in all, thou shalt be the person who committed the sins of all men."

     Now this moment, which forms the essence of the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel and defines by itself the content of the great deed of the redeemer that is unprecedented in its enormity, determines the direction of the existential philosophy. If Peter did not deny, if David was not an adulterer, if Adam did not taste the forbidden fruits - then everything that Kierkegaard tells us about the poor youth, about Job, about his rights to Regina Olsen passes from the realm of the eternally impossible into the realm of the real par excellence. Of course, for our understanding all this is the height of nonsense and immorality, as the faith that discloses itself in such impossibilities is also the height of nonsense and immorality. Everything that we have both of common sense and reason - small, great, and very great - all of our moral sense rebels in response to the pretensions of such a faith. Kierkegaard understands this very well; that is why he speaks so much about the Absurd and the suspension of the ethical. That is why he also decided, before all of Denmark (now already before the whole world), to protest when Martensen - it must be said, with all of his heart and in all sincerity - proclaimed Mynster a witness to the truth. A witness to the truth would be that person at whose word mountains begin to move and for whom nothing would be impossible. But, Berdyaev angrily maintains, in that case, faith never existed in the world: no one ever has really moved mountains, and even among saints there have not been any persons who did not take the impossible into consideration. Again this objection is irreproachable, as all of Berdyaev's objections are. But Kierkegaard is really not at all concerned with irreproachabilities and objections; he deliberately does not listen to them and does not wish to do so.[9] He listens to something else: he listens to a voice which proclaims to him that, when he gains faith, nothing will be impossible for him, that Peter will turn out to be one who remained faithful to his teacher, that David will turn out to be not an adulterer but the author of the Psalms, that Socrates will turn out to be not poisoned, and Job one who has received back all that was taken away from him.

     To be sure, Kierkegaard confesses that he could not make the movement of faith. But does this really weaken in any way the importance of that which came to him from Scripture? Is it not rather the other way around? And, in general, could any consideration whatsoever really weaken the importance of that which he had heard? The moment came when all considerations ended: "In order to find God it is necessary to lose reason." And not only that "discursive reason" which the philosophers more or less willingly give up, but all reasons, of every character and rank, whether great or small, that up until now have served and continue to serve as the only source of truth for man. It is necessary to renounce all of them, to free oneself from all of them. The genuine source of truth is faith - faith, which not only does not give but overcomes the most indubitable knowledge ("facts" and "immediate data") and, having overcome it, discloses its superfluity and insignificance. We have heard that freedom existed before God, that God has no authority over freedom - He is powerless before Nothingness. We have heard that darkness is the condition of light; that freedom is freedom of choice between good and evil; that a man who would not choose between good and evil would be an automaton of the good; that he who, having come to know both good and evil, would return to the good has an endless advantage over the innocent man who did not know this difference. And we have heard all this from keensighted, profound, wise people as truths revealed to us by the highest reason, as truths that have broken through from other worlds.

     However, these are not truths from other worlds but Kantian synthetic judgments a priori, which serve as the necessary condition of rational thinking. Uncreated freedom is a fiction; the certainty that he who has come to know the difference between good and evil has "advantages," has more "experience" than the man of paradisiacal ignorance, etc. - these are obsessive ideas connected with the fruits of the forbidden tree. A freedom as well as a Nothingness imperiously deciding our fate do not exist and have never existed, but the free man was brought into being by the Creator and his freedom consisted precisely in his having no need either for knowledge or the distinction between good and evil. Paradisiacal ignorance is by no means poorer than the knowledge of the fallen man. It is qualitatively different and endlessly richer and fuller in content than all our knowledge. Some people (for instance, Dostoevsky in "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man") have been able to catch a glimpse of this mystery and even to tell about it.

     The beginning of all knowledge is fear. When a man, before he turns to God, begins to question: But what kind of God is this, and does He correspond to the exalted idea about the Supreme Being that I have made up for myself? - he repeats anew the sin of Adam, even though he imagines that in this way he is realizing his freedom. He is testing God by means of that "knowledge" which the fruits of the forbidden tree have brought him, without even suspecting that his fear, that all his apprehensions, signify of themselves the loss of freedom. The free man is not afraid, he fears nothing; the free man does not ask, does not look around. That is why his relationship to God is expressed not in knowledge but in faith. Faith is that freedom which the Creator breathed into man along with life. And the existential philosophy - in opposition to the speculative - no longer seeks knowledge and does not see in knowledge the final and only path to truth. For this philosophy knowledge itself is transformed into a problem, becomes problematic. And in that moment when it becomes problematic, it loses its power over man: on the strength of the Absurd the poor youth obtained the hand of the princess, Job's children were restored to him, Regina Olsen fell to the lot of Kierkegaard. For God nothing is impossible: truths as well as reality are in His hands. Human destinies are decided on Job's balances, not on the balances of speculation.


     I have said before that in his last book, Berdyaev, in treating the idea of "God-man," stresses more strongly than in his previous ones the moment of humanity, and that this is the "new" thing in his evolution. But, in a strange way, in this book he emphasizes the existential philosophy to a similar if not a greater degree, despite all his attacks on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, over against whom he persistently sets the German mystics. For the latter every praise seems to him insufficient. "Eternal truth is conveyed by the voice of the prophet: 'Bring no more vain offerings to Me. Learn to do good, seek justice, defend the orphan, stand up for the widow.' And so also resounds the voice of Christ himself." Or: "The gospel is immersed in the Judaic human atmosphere... Jesus Christ does not withdraw at all from the manifold world, he does not renounce the sinful world... He lived among people, among publicans and sinners, he attended banquets," etc. Berdyaev might also have recalled how Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, restored sight to the blind, resurrected the dead, etc. It might seem that that deep humanity with which Berdyaev's writings are animated ought to have directed his attention to this side of Christ's activity, and that, referring, like Kierkegaard, to Jesus' words "Blessed is he who is not tempted because of me," he would have tried at least to some degree to realize in the existential philosophy the idea: "For God nothing is impossible."

     But Berdyaev cannot bring himself to this. Traditional philosophy (or the so-called philosophia perennis) suggested to him the certainty that for God there is also the impossible - and, indeed, much that is impossible. That is why he carefully avoids a confrontation between gnosis and the existential philosophy. But where, against his will, they accidentally collide, gnosis turns out to be the victor. And the temptation of gnosis is so great that Berdyaev even triumphs over its victory - indeed, I am almost prepared to say - gives it his blessing. I would recall once again the words of Berdyaev already quoted above, since under them is hidden the stumbling-block against which every gnosis inevitably runs up. "For what is it possible to hope? That God is unbounded possibility? But Kierkegaard died without having obtained Regina Olsen as his wife, Nietzsche died without having been cured of his terrible sickness, Socrates was poisoned, and that is all."

     What could be more convincing than these words? And who will bring himself to dispute with reason, which testifies to these truths? Is it not clear - even to a blind person - that everything is as Berdyaev says? But, first of all, is it appropriate to triumph here, is it appropriate to bless reason which testifies about such truths that they are eternal and unchangeable? This question arises with even greater urgency if one discloses the content of what Berdyaev called the "brilliant dialectic of Ivan Karamazov." Before the eyes of his mother a boy was hunted down by dogs, fanatical parents tortured a miserable girl to death, etc. What can be done here? Has God Himself the possibility of changing anything here? Or is He here powerless, because this is the realm in which Nothingness rules? Berdyaev, who turns with his questions to reason or, more correctly, is compelled to turn to reason, submissively and weak-willedly accepts the answer that comes to him from reason: no one, neither men nor God, can do anything here. Here everything is at an end forever. Socrates has been poisoned, the dogs have gnawed the boy to pieces.

     Did Berdyaev wish this? - Berdyaev, one of the most humane not only of Russian but of European philosophers, the lawful spiritual heir of that great tradition which Pushkin, the greatest of the Russians, implanted in Russian thinking? Of course, he did not and does not wish it, but no one takes his will into consideration. But where, then, is the freedom that he so selflessly praised? To put it differently, is "uncreated freedom" which is compelled, according to Schelling, to harmonize with necessity - indeed, even to bless it, to call it holy - is such freedom still a free freedom, or was Luther right when he called it an enslaved freedom? A freedom enslaved, paralyzed by gnosis? In the presence of this question the meaning of the Kierkegaardian Entweder/Oder and the eternal, irreconcilable opposition between speculative and existential philosophy is explained with all terrifying clarity. Kierkegaard raises the same question, but he directs it not to reason but to the Creator - and he does not ask but appeals to Him. No matter how much reason may have tried to convince him that everything is finished, that Socrates has been poisoned, that the boy has been torn to pieces by the dogs - and no matter how much reason may have insisted that there is no escape from its truths, that there is nowhere to flee from them - Kierkegaard continues to repeat: For God nothing is impossible.

     Even the truths proclaimed by God Himself do not become final truths, independent of God, standing on their own. "Ego sum Dominus et non mutor" does not at all mean, as the theologians suppose, that once God has decided anything, He has already thereby bound both men and Himself. On the contrary, the immutability of God means that everything, even the truths created by Him, remain in His power and must obey Him. It will be said that this is arbitrariness - the most terrible thing that it is possible to conceive. Quite true, for us this is arbitrariness, and for us arbitrariness is senselessly terrible. However, "beyond good and evil," for beings - to put it in another way - who have not tasted of the fruits of knowledge, for beings associated with the primordial "very good," arbitrariness coincides with freedom. It is not terrible, it is kindly - preposterous as this may sound to us. It does not harmonize with necessity, does not recognize it as holy; it is itself holy. That is why, according to Kierkegaard, freedom is not the capacity to choose between good and evil, as is commonly thought, but freedom is - possibility.

     Socrates was poisoned, Job's children were slain, Abraham sacrificed his son - all these, reason seeks to convince us, are final, definitive, eternal truths which, although they arose in time, will never pass away and will never be swept out of being by any kinds of winds blowing from other worlds. But is reason the master over truths and being? Are not the apostles and prophets right when they say that human wisdom is foolishness before God? As long as we trust in reason, possibilities are limited and "experience" proudly arrays itself in the garments of eternity. But is reason really all-powerful? Has it the right to dispense titles to eternity? With an audacity almost unheard of in the history of modern thought Kierkegaard proclaims, reason is a usurper and impostor. Truths must be sought not from reason but from the Absurd. By virtue of the Absurd the poor youth obtains the princess as his wife, Abraham receives back the sacrificed Isaac. Kierkegaard knows well that for everyone his words are madness. But the prophets have prepared us for madness.

     I have said that Kierkegaard's audacity is almost unheard of in the history of modern thought. "Almost," for beside him there lived in the nineteenth century still another man who sensed and endlessly loved the "madness" of Scripture. For Dostoevsky, as we recall, the stone "walls," that is to say, the "impossibilities" revealed by reason, are not a counterargument. And again not because he does not know how "all of us" estimate the power of such walls. He knows this extremely well - no worse than the authors of long treatises on the theory of knowledge. "Before the wall spontaneous people and men of action," he writes, "sincerely give up... The wall for them has something calming, morally decisive and final, perhaps even something mystical." I have already had occasion to say more than once: it never occurred to the author of the Critique of Pure Reason to criticize reason in this way. Even the German mystics, to whom Berdyaev devotes so many ardent pages in his books, found in this wall something calming, morally decisive and final. Did they not convert their truths that Deitas is raised as many thousands of miles above God as heaven above earth, that God is powerless before the Nothingness which is not a mere nothing but rather a dark, soulless force that lets evil triumph over good on earth, and that kills righteous men and totally innocent children - did they not convert these truths into a "holy necessity," and did they not find in them something "mystical" par excellence? People desire calming at any price and they find mysticism where they dream of calming.

     But how did it happen that the heartfelt humanity of Berdyaev agreed to purchase calming - even if only a mystical calming - at the price of those horrors that Ivan Karamazov portrays in Dostoevsky? Is it not obvious that his freedom is enslaved by "gnosis," that this freedom is, to express it in the words of Kierkegaard, in a swoon? Freely Berdyaev would not for anything in the world - this I do not for a moment doubt - have accepted the judgments of reason about the data of experience as definitive truths. Freely no one of us would hand Socrates over to the power of Anytos and Meletos, the defenseless boy to the general, the miserable girl to her fanatically cruel parents. If Berdyaev agrees to this, it is only because some alien and hostile force has suggested to him, as to all of us, the ineradicable conviction that it is given neither to man nor to the Creator to struggle against the verdicts of reason. And it has bewitched him to the point that in the attempts of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and their like to cast off the power of reason and its compelling truths he sees a "maximalism without grace," an "unclear prophetism," etc. The "spasms and cramps" of those truly superhuman exertions of the will that are felt in Kierkegaard's writings frighten him (although, when an opportunity presents itself, this does not prevent him from talking about the quietism of the existential philosophy). It may even be assumed that in Kierkegaard's dispute with Professor Martensen about Mynster, Berdyaev would have taken Martensen's side, and precisely because Mynster in his activity never strove for the impossible. And it is quite indisputable that Martensen, had he had occasion to read Berdyaev, would have joyfully hailed his words about Kierkegaard's maximalism without grace and would have found them fully corresponding to his own judgments.

     For Berdyaev an existential philosophy in the style of Kierkegaard is not at all a biblical philosophy: its biblical ideas, as he expresses himself, are "too short." As "long" biblical ideas he considers those of traditional philosophy and of the mystics. And precisely because in the philosophers and mystics he does not find any striving for the impossible. Even their breakthroughs from another world do not insult and offend reason: "Quam aram sibi parare potest, qui Rationis majestatem laedit?", "What altar can he who offends the majesty of reason build for himself?" They, however, do not appeal but inquire, that is, they do not even make the attempt to introduce a new dimension into thinking; but this is the conditio sine qua non of the existential philosophy. Properly speaking, if Berdyaev wished to be strictly consistent, he would have to charge the prophets and apostles, who proclaim that human wisdom (gnosis) is foolishness before God, with a maximalism lacking grace. But he nowhere and never says anything like this. On the contrary, he himself is more than once enraptured by the audacity of this kind of testimony about the truth. What is the situation here? Why is Berdyaev so up in arms against Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, and why does he pay no heed to Dostoevsky's critique of pure reason? I think that it is because Berdyaev - as is clear from what has been said above - is, first and foremost, a teacher and a philosopher of culture. His task is to raise the level of human consciousness and to direct the interests of people to high, but nevertheless realizable, ideals. In this he sees the destiny of man; in this he also sees his own destiny as a writer and preacher. And, of course, he is, in his way, indisputably right. In our troubled and dark time Berdyaev's warning and instructing voice, his noble struggle against obscurantism, against attempts to smother the spirit, have an enormous importance; thousands listen to him and lovingly submit to him. Nevertheless, this hardly justifies his striving to "reconcile" the existential philosophy with the speculative, God-man with man-God, as Leibniz,[10] Kant, Schelling, and Hegel did this. And who knows? Perhaps in the depths of his soul he feels that the questions brought forward by Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky nevertheless speak about the ''one thing necessary" and that the "short" idea that for God all things are possible and that concerning the truth it is necessary not to inquire of reason but to appeal to the Creator ("The righteous man shall live by his faith" according to the prophet's words) bring us closer to Scripture than the long ideas about Deitas, about uncreated freedom, about the necessity of evil, etc., developed by the German mystics and philosophers. Perhaps Berdyaev also feels that the day may come when his "humanity" will reveal to him the true meaning of that mad struggle regarding the impossible and of that freedom - not as the capacity to choose between good and evil but as the presence of totally unlimited possibilities - about which Kierkegaard, following Scripture, bears witness to us in his books and diaries.

     It cannot be denied: "to believe against reason is martyrdom." Kierkegaard understood this no worse than others. He also knew that, according to the teaching of the scholastics and according to general opinion, "vituperabile est credere contra rationem", "it is blameworthy to believe against reason." However, he felt with all his being the staggering dilemma: in order to find God it is necessary to overcome reason and to suspend the ethical. So long as reason rules over being, Job's children will not be returned to him; if the "ethical" is the highest, then Abraham is lost; if speculative philosophy, which has placed its Deitas above God, is right, then one will have to admit, following Hegel, that all that is real is rational and that the horrors of existence are unavoidable.

     In order to support his paradoxical ethic, Berdyaev refers to Moses and his laws - and again it seems that through his mouth truth itself speaks. But Luther also remembered Moses. This, however, did not prevent him from saying: As long as Moses stood on the mountain face to face with God there were no laws, but when he came down to the people he began to rule by means of laws. And not without reason do we read in the apostle, "The law entered, so that the offense might abound." Before the face of the Creator there are no laws, no "you ought," no compulsion; all chains fall away from man, and sins cease to exist. Before the face of the Creator there revives in man the authentic freedom created by God, that freedom which is boundless possibility limited by nothing - like the freedom of God Himself. When and only when man finds genuine freedom are all apprehensions and fears, and especially those fears before Nothingness about which we have heard so much from the philosophers and mystics, revealed (this is one of the most striking "revelations" taken from Scripture by the existentialist philosophy) as the result of gnosis, of knowledge, and, therefore, as that terrible fall into sin about which the first chapters of the Book of Genesis tell. But Berdyaev thinks differently. He is prepared to struggle and in fact does struggle against "legalism," but both the paradoxical ethic and the ordinary ethic are alike afraid to renounce the idea of obligatoriness. He repeats tirelessly that the first commandment is that man ought to love God, but not once does he recall the passages in the gospel (Mark 12:28,29) where the question, What is the first of all the commandments? is answered by Jesus: "The first of all the commandments is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord."' Commandments, not good news, break through from other worlds and reach man: gnosis requires this.

     Of course, all this appears to the ordinary understanding so senseless, incredible, and absurd that to "teach" it, to build culture on it, seems just as hopeless as to count on the possibility of the greater dissemination of Scripture, which is not at all adapted to that level of development at which contemporary mankind finds itself. How is it possible to demand of educated (and even of uneducated) people that they seriously listen to stories relating that Job's slain children were returned to him, that the sacrificed Isaac was restored to Abraham, that the poor youth obtained the princess as his wife, etc.? Although I have already said this more than once, in conclusion I nevertheless consider it necessary to repeat still again: Kierkegaard knew all this just as well as Hegel and the participants in the Greek symposium. On the plane of customary thinking all this is impossible; on the plane of customary thinking reason or common sense flatten out revealed truth and press it into their dimension. That is why Kierkegaard turns - more precisely, bursts - toward the "private thinker" Job. Where for reason and its dimensions everything is at an end, there the great and final struggle for possibility begins. At Job's cryings and wailings, as at the sound of the trumpets of Jericho, fortress walls collapse; a new dimension of thinking that never existed before is revealed. This dimension of thinking, which defines the difference between the speculative and the existential philosophy, we shall seek in vain among the Greeks or the great representatives of German idealism. No matter how much they may talk about freedom, how greatly they may extol reason, the truth remains for them a compelling truth: God has no power over Nothingness. If you desire freedom, you must be satisfied with the Stoic "fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt." A man ought to value only that which is in his power (the "possible") and be indifferent to everything that is not in his power (the "impossible"). And knowledge about what is possible and impossible is given to us by reason.

     But the freedom created by God, which does not suffer and cannot bear any compulsion, has an altogether different source that does not coincide with our knowledge. It scorns knowledge and seeks not only what is in our power but also what lies outside our power. And I think that when and if Berdyaev will have to bring gnosis and existential philosophy to a confrontation with each other, he himself will not hesitate in his choice. Then he will no longer apply such terms as "lacking in grace" and "unilluminated" either to Kierkegaard or to Nietzsche, but will save them up (if he still should find it necessary to keep them) for Hartmann, Jaspers, Hegel, and Kant, perhaps also for Tauler and Eckhart, despite their great, even immeasurable services to world culture. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, not fear before Nothingness. And freedom comes to man not from knowledge but from faith, which puts an end to all our fears.

[7] One must say that, in general, all of the objections directed against Kierkegaard by Berdyaev are irreproachable. The only reproach that one could make against him is that he forgets, as it were, that Kierkegaard himself develops all these objections in his writings with enormous force ("to self-laceration") - like Dostoevsky. Against my will I must recall this time and again.

[8] In this also lies the meaning of the famous letter of the "eternal student" Belinsky in which, in defiance of Hegel, he dares to demand an account of all of the victims of the Inquisition, of chance, etcetera.

[9] Here again the striking similarity between Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky is revealed. Dostoevsky responds to the "arguments" that are presented to him by making a derisive gesture and sticking out his tongue. And he considers this a "counter-objection." It is true that we find this in Notes from the Underground, which, as is known, no one ever took into consideration. Nevertheless, Dostoevsky - even though in an indirect form - said there everything that he needed to say.

[10] Leibniz's assertion that the eternal truths entered God's understanding without asking His permission is an anticipation of Schelling's assertion that freedom harmonizes with holy necessity: the precritical philosophy sought to reconcile faith with reason just like the postcritical.

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