BERDYAEV, Nicolas (1939): Spirit and Reality
(trans. George Reavey), Geoffrey Bles, The Centenary Press, London
“The problem of spiritual life does not consist in explaining or justifying the sufferings of life, but in illuminating and spiritually surviving them. The burden of the Cross is such a spiritually illuminating experience of suffering. Man should bear his own Cross in life and help other men to bear theirs. The notion that every suffering is deserved, and is a just consequence of sin, can lead to a conception of life diametrically opposed to that propounded in the Gospel commandments of love and charity. There are austere ascetics and puritans who are predominantly unfavourable and censorious in their attitude to their fellow-men. They have no wish to lighten the burden of human suffering, which they regard as a just punishment. p. 107 We shall never understand why one man is so unhappy while another seems so happy – I say seems, because there are no very happy men but only moments of happiness. Man’s entire life, from the hour of his birth to that of his death, is but a day of life torn from the whole, infinite and eternal life. The events of a single day, sometimes very important events, are incomprehensible when regarded independently of preceding and succeeding days. And so it is with the whole of man’s life. The doctrine of metempsychosis [transmigration of the soul, especially its reincarnation after death] is an attempt to rationalize the mystery of human destiny, and it may appear to be a more satisfactory and reassuring doctrine than many others. But it involves a denial of injustice and evil in human life and a belief in an all-embracing chain of causality, moral as well as natural. The history of the world as a whole has a fatal tendency to relapse into a bourgeois state. Christianity, spiritual philosophy, socialism, revolution, all revert sooner or later to bourgeois stability. The bourgeois state is the end of the creative spiritual impulse, the extinction and death of fire. The bourgeois makes use of the creative achievements of spirit. To further his ends he will not disdain any great symbol of the past. He does not believe in the world of invisible things, and does not venture to associate his destiny with that world. He believes in the world of perceptible things; and this is the world which he builds and consolidates, and with which his destiny is irremediably bound. He has transformed Christianity into a conservative, visible institution. He fears anything in the nature of uncertainty or a problem. He lives in perpetual fear that his assured and peaceful existence will be abrogated. He has evolved for his use a special type of spirituality which is not at all spiritual. A voluminous myopic literature has grown up to lull him in false security. The reign of the bourgeois is essentially of this world. It is a state to which all things gravitate as if fulfilling a universal law.
The idea that man is a creature longing for happiness is erroneous, just as the idea of happiness itself is invalid, a mere fiction. Nevertheless pessimism is a profounder attitude to life and shows a greater sensitivity to suffering and evil. Optimism is more superficial and lacks this sensitivity. There is, for example, the optimistic theory of progress which regards every concrete human personality as an instrument of future perfection. Pessimism is a more noble philosophy than optimism, because it is more aware of evil, suffering and sin, of the more profound aspects of life. Christianity is opposed to an absolute hopeless pessimism, but a relative sort of pessimism is in accord with the Christian consciousness. This involves the problem of fate. p 114 Man will be no happier when his life is better organized; his suffering will merely manifest itself in more subtle and more intense forms. Happiness cannot be organized. While this world persists, beatitude is a mirage.”