Dostoyevsky is the artist of passion who has searched out the depths of God and the depths of humanity. Nicholas Berdyaev’s book on the Russian novelist [‘Dostoyevsky’, New American Library, 1974] is probably the most useful, because it comprehends the existential temper of Dostoyevsky’s quest for faith, and realises that the confrontation with the Daemonic marks the deeper meaning of modernity, and the new spirit of humanity that will come out of the ashes of modernity. Modernity’s struggle with the loss of faith, the loss of God, the loss of morality, the loss of all the old cosmic beauties and doctrinal certainties, will eventually forge in suffering and fire a new Christianity of heart depth. In the heart depth of humanity the Spirit will plant the heart depth of God.
But to reach this new spirituality, we must embrace the ‘hell’ that has characterised modernity’s loss of faith in anything– and not try to run ‘back’ to the old beauties and certainties which we leaned on in simpler — less ambivalent, less ambiguous — ages. Time is the vehicle of the Daemonic; there is no going back to what once was in unawareness– there is only going forward, by taking on the hellishness modernity has unleashed, towards the greater holiness that will arise out of precisely all the complications, reversals, unknowns, pains, of destruction, of ‘the old ways’..
Dostoyevsky is opposed, equally, to humanism and the older way of religion.. With the old ways of religion gone, and never to return, the only hope is that humanity is moving forward towards a very different kind of religion, a new religion shorn of ‘religiosity’, a religion inherent to the heart and its passion. This is the doing of the Daemonic.
“To Dostoyevsky is due the striking phrase that ‘beauty will save the world.’ He knew nothing higher than beauty, it is the supreme expression of ontological perfection, divine..” [pp 58-59].
This is pure Platonism so far.. But the next is Daemonic=
“..but [beauty] is also antinomian, divided, impassioned, terrifying; it has not the godlike calm of the Platonic idea but is scorching, variable, full of tragic conflict” [p 59].
Beauty becomes full of antimonies when it leaves the great round of the cosmic whole and the impersonal flow of nature, to become part of the human struggle with time, the world, history.
“Beauty did not appear to him in the cosmic order, on the divine plane, but through man, and so it shares the eternal unrest of mankind and is borne along the stream of Heraclitus” [p 59].
One of Dostoyevsky’s characters in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ says, “God makes nothing but riddles.” And again= “Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the human heart” [p 59].
Berdyaev puts his finger on what is radically new, and prophetic, in Dostoyevsky [pp 60-66]=
“Dostoyevsky appeared at the moment when modern times were coming to an end and a new epoch of history was dawning, and it is likely that his consciousness of the inner division of human nature and its movement toward the ultimate depths of [existing] was closely related to this fact. It was given in him to reveal the struggle in man between the God-man and the man-god [or superman, meaning.. the incarnation of the spirit of AntiChrist.. involved in man’s self-deification]– a conflict unknown to preceding ages when wickedness was seen in only its most elementary and simple forms. Today the soul of [humanity] no longer rests upon secure foundations, everything round him is unsteady and contradictory, he lives in an atmosphere of illusion and falsehood under a ceaseless threat of change. Evil comes forward under an appearance of good, and he is deceived; the faces of Christ and of AntiChrist, of man become god and of God become man, are interchangeable..
“..contemporary people have ‘divided minds.’ They are the sort of folk whom Dostoyevsky displayed to us, and it is not the slightest use trying to apply the old moral catechism to them– access to their souls is a far more complicated business. It is the destiny of such people over whom the waves of an apocalyptic environment are breaking that Dostoyevsky set himself to study, and the light he shed on them was truly marvellous. Far-reaching discoveries about human nature in general can be made when mankind is undergoing a spiritual and religious crisis, and it was precisely such a time when Dostoyevsky appeared on the scene; he marks an absolutely new stage in anthropological knowledge, one that is neither humanist nor.. Christian in the [old] traditional sense of the fathers of the church.
“He was not content to rediscover ‘the old and eternal Christian truth about man’, which had decayed and been forgotten in the humanist era. The experiment of humanism and the experience of freedom had not been in vain, a negative quantity in man’s history. A new soul had been born, one with new doubts and a new knowledge of evil but also with new horizons, new perspectives, and a thirst for new relations with God: mankind had reached a more advanced state of spiritual maturity. So we find that the profoundly Christian anthropology of Dostoyevsky differs from patristic anthropology. The science of man known to the fathers and doctors of the church, the understanding of the ways of mankind that can be discerned in the writings and lives of the saints, was no longer sufficient to answer all man’s questions or to understand all the doubts and temptations that beset his new stage of spiritual growth. Man has not become better, he is not nearer to God, but his soul has become much more complicated and his spirit has become bitter [troubled, anguished, apprehensive]. Certainly the Christian soul of the past knew sin and let itself fall under the dominion of Satan, but it did not know the rift in the personality that troubles the people that Dostoyevsky studied. In times past evil was more obvious and more simple, and it would be difficult to heal a contemporary soul of its disease by yesterday’s remedies alone.
“Dostoyevsky understood that. He knew all that Nietzsche was to know, but with something added; whereas his contemporary, the hermit Theophanes, a high authority among Russian Orthodox ascetics and spiritual writers, did not know what Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky knew and therefore could not deal with the misery engendered by mankind’s fresh experiences. The thing which Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche knew is that man is terribly free, that liberty is tragic and a grievous burden to him.. ..they had seen the human soul at the moment God was withdrawn from it and so undergoing a religious experience of a very special kind, which after a long period of wandering in darkness will produce a new enlightenment. That is how the religion of Dostoyevsky differs radically from that of Theophanes, and why the ‘startzi’ of the monastery of Optina did not acknowledge him as fully theirs after reading ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’
“Dostoyevsky found that the road to Christ led through illimitable freedom, but he showed that on it also lurked the lying seductions of AntiChrist and the temptation to make a god of man. ..Dostoyevsky had said something new about man.
“Dostoyevsky’s work.. [signified] the defeat of humanism. [He and Nietzsche] have made it impossible to go back to the old rationalistic humanism with its self-affirmation and sufficiency, for it is shown that the way.. lies further on and that man cannot remain simply man.
“Dostoyevsky.., before [Nietzsche], had shown that the loss of man by the way of self-deification was the inevitable goal of humanism. Dostoyevsky recognised that this deification is illusory, he explored the vagaries of self-will in every direction, and he had another source of knowledge — he was a prophet of the Spirit. ..kill God, and at the same time you kill man, and on the grave of.. God and of man there is set up a monstrous image — the image of the man who wants to be God, of the superman in action, of AntiChrist. …For Dostoyevsky there was both God and man: the God who does not devour man and the man who is not dissolved in God but remains himself throughout all eternity..
“..man, with all his dynamism and contradictions, remains himself all through, indestructibly [human]. Here Dostoyevsky avoided ..the mysticism of many Christians for whom man vanished and left only the divine. Man has a part in eternity, and when Dostoyevsky explored the deep places of life he came upon the [deeps] of God as well. All his work is a plea for man. He was in radical opposition to the Monophysite spirit: he recognised not one single nature, human or divine, but two natures, human and divine. He took such a strong line on this point that, compared with him, the Eastern Orthodox and [Roman] Catholic conception seems almost.. to suggest an inclination to absorb the human in the divine nature.
“Dostoyevsky was bound to man more than any thinker before him had been.. But his love for man was not the love of the humanists: ..he foretold a path of man’s suffering, in accordance with.. [human] freedom. Without freedom, there is no man..
“Now the way of freedom is the way of suffering, and man must follow it to the end.”
This new freedom, which searches out everything for what it really is under the surface, and embraces evil not only out of weakness but in a spirit of experimentation, and as an expression of liberty — this radical freedom of no limits, only countered and overcome by the suffering of passion for love — this is the Daemonic.
Following the extreme freedom, deep suffering and deep dark, to the end– this is the way of the Daemonic.
Everything that cradled us, framed us, over-arched us, must be lost– for the sake of finding the heart tested and proved as God’s abiding in time. This new heart is the final deed of the Daemonic which redeems the time.