Dostoyevsky as Prophet of Depth Spirituality

Berdyaev says it is very instructive to compare the three ages of [1] Dante, [2] Shakespeare, and [3] Dostoyevsky. Dante represents the classical world of antiquity; Shakespeare is post-Renaissance humanism stretching all the way into modernity; but Dostoyevsky is the step beyond modernity, which was taken by the existentialists as well, but very few others. This step is a third way beyond the polarisation of opposites that happened as a consequence of modernity’s collapse: both reactionary ‘fundamentalism’ [a totalising and combative absolutism] and sophisticated ‘post-modernism’ [an ironic and playful relativism] are reactions against modernity that presuppose it, but Dostoyevsky blazes a different trail out of modernity. For, instead of a depth position that is merely psychological, Dostoyevsky inaugurates a depth that exceeds the psychological because it is spiritual.

This was anticipated in antiquity by a few very depth oriented spiritual people; for example, St Macarios of Egypt= “The human heart is an unfathomable abyss” [or= “has unfathomable deeps”]. But in a vital sense this is what the whole Biblical anthropology of ‘heart’ was wrestling with, without realising it. For already in the Psalms, David says “deep cries to deep.”

Berdyaev:

“For Dante, man is an organic part of the objective order of the world, the divine cosmos. He is one of the grades in the universal hierarchy: heaven is above him, hell below; God and Satan are realities belonging to the universal order, imposed on man from without.. [Man lives in] an objective divine order.

When the humanist era was established.. ..an infinity of worlds was opened. There was no longer a single cosmos with an ordered hierarchy.. [Man] turned inward to himself, entering the [psychological] realm.. This is the humanistic period of modern times, in the course of which man’s creative forces have been played out. He is no longer bound by any objective world-order, given from above: he feels free. This is the Renaissance, and [Shakespeare’s] work set forth for the first time the [psychological] human world, endlessly complex and varied, full of emotion.. strength and energy, boiling over with the play of man’s powers. [This] was.. the humanistic conception of the world, ..directed towards its [psychological] and not its spiritual aspect, away from man’s ultimate spiritual self..

[In the] modern age.. human freedom and man’s powers were given full opportunity, but at the end of that period this experiment in liberty was carried over to another plane and another dimension, and it is there that man’s destiny is now working itself out. Human freedom abandoned the [psychological] world in whose daylight it had existed since the Renaissance and plunged into the depths of the spiritual world. It is like a descent into Hell. But there man will find again not only Satan and his kingdom, but also God and Heaven; and they will no longer be revealed in accordance with an objective order imposed from without but by way of a face-to-face meeting with the ultimate depths of the human spirit, as an inwardly revealed reality. All Dostoyevsky’s work is an illustration of this.”

In modernity, the human breaks away from what had contained it, and tries to fly with its own wings. This spawns all the grand systems, from Freud through Marx to Darwin, trying to investigate the human as to what its ‘underlying’ ultimate is; this ultimate is not recognised as spiritual, but simply as the ‘basis’ to the expansive powers of the human [intelligence, creativity, vitality], and thus the key to removing the problems blocking that expansion [psychological neurosis, social disharmony, physical illness], so that it can proceed in an unending ‘progress.’

But as modernity fails in this quest, so both the crusading of fundamentalism and the ennui of post-modernism give up on the human, albeit in converse ways. Dostoyevsky does not give up on the human, but grounds it in the deeps where a mystery other to yet undergirding of the human encounters the mystery of the human; in this encounter the heart meets God and wrestles in its passion toward the meaning of being thrown into the world.

Berdyaev’s three ages—antiquity, modernity, beyond modernity—clarify that ‘depth’, ‘passion’, ‘spirit’ are so closely related as to be one and the same. The depth that is spiritual and announces itself through its impact on passion brings apprehension, anguish, torment, trouble, to the human heart; but this same depth also inaugurates realities of the coming kingdom in the very midst of its mysteries, paradoxes, ambiguities, contradictions, contentions, absurdities. Reversal is basic to depth spirituality: nothing is as it seems, and everything that seems will be overturned. The great will be made small, and the small will be made great, by this reversal. The broken will be made whole, the whole will be broken; the lowly will be exalted, the exalted will be brought low; the sated will be rendered hollow and empty, the thirsting and hungering for life and truth will be filled. The happy and contented will sorrow and mourn, the savagely pained will be brought to a wholly inconceivable, dark joy.

Dostoyevsky, and 19th Century Russia, constitute the only tradition within Christianity where depth rather than height is the spiritual focus, and where this focus entails the heart and passion are make or break.

Passion gives the heart to the spirit, or withholds the heart from the spirit, in the depth. This then becomes decisive for the quality, temper, nature, of the heart passion that is offered to the world. A new enworlded heart and a new enworlded passion become the arena and battleground of Spirit.

Nietzsche= “The world is deep.”