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Reading Selections from The Problem Of Man (Towards the Construction of a Christian Anthropology) Part Two by Nikolai Berdyaev

November 16, 2010

In this selection Berdyaev deals with the realization of the Person and its relationship with Death. It is an amazing tour de force, one that took me almost completely by surprise. To say that I hadn’t realized the consequences of Life in Christ and realization of personhood is one way of saying I had been staring it in the face for so long that life had numbed me to its significance. These are wonderful thoughts and a bold philosophy to bear.

Person — A Stirring Within The Indefineable And Infinitude
There is within man a sub-conscious elemental basis, connected with cosmic life and with the earth, a cosmic-tellurgic element. The very passions, connected with the natural-elemental basis, would seem to be the material, from which also are created the greatest virtues of the person. The intellectual-moral and rational denying of the natural-elemental within man leads to the desiccation and stoppage of the wellsprings of life. When consciousness chokes off and squeezes out the sub-conscious element, there then occurs a dividing of the human nature and its petrifying and ossification.

The path of the realization of the human person runs from the sub-conscious through the conscious to the supra-conscious. Simultaneously impropitious for the person is both the force of the lower sub-conscious, wherein man is wholly defined by nature, and also the petrifying of the consciousness, the locking off of consciousness, the closing away for man of the whole world, limiting his horizon. Consciousness needs be thought of dynamically, and not statically, it can shrink or it can expand, it can hide away whole worlds or it can reveal them. There is no absolute nor impassable boundary, separating the conscious from the sub-conscious and the supra-conscious.

That which presents itself to this median-norm consciousness, with which is connected the commonly-binding and the measure of law, is but a certain degree of petrification of the consciousness, relative to certain norms of social life and the sociality of mankind. But an egress from this median-norm consciousness is possible and with it is connected all the utmost attainments of man, with it is connected sanctity and genius, contemplation and creativity. Only therein can man be termed as a being which surmounts itself. And in this egress beyond the limits of the median-norm consciousness, of being drawn into the social ordinary, in this egress there is formed and realized the person, before which always there ought to be realised the perspectives of infinitude and eternity.

The importance and the interesting aspect in man is connected with this opening up in him of the path towards the infinite and the eternal, with the possibility of breaking through. It is very mistaken a thing to connect person primarily with the limited, with the finite, with definition obscuring off the indefineable. The person is diversity, it does not permit of getting dissolved and mixed away into the impersonal, but it likewise is a stirring within the indefineable and infinitude. Wherefore only with person is there also a paradoxical conjoining of the finite and the infinite.

Person is a going out from itself, beyond its limits, but not allowing of dissolution and being mixed away. It opens up, it permits within itself whole worlds and goes out into them, whilst remaining itself. Person is not a monad with closed-off doors and windows, as with Leibnitz. But the opened doors and windows never signify a dissolving away of the person into the surrounding world, never the destruction of the ontological core of the person. There is therefore within the person a sub-conscious foundation, there is the conscious and there is the egress to the supra-conscious.

The Relationship Within Man Of The Spirit To The Soul And The Body
Of tremendous significance for anthropology is the question about the relationship within man of the spirit to the soul and the body. It is possible to speak about the triadic makeup of Man. To present himself as man constituted of soul and body, while bereft of spirit, — this is a naturalization of man. There undoubtedly has been suchlike of the naturalistic in theological thought, and it is for example characteristic to Thomism. The spiritual element was as it were alienated from human nature and transferred exclusively to the transcendental sphere.

Man, constituted exclusively of soul and body, is a natural being. The basis for such a naturalization of Christian anthropology appears to be in this, that the spiritual element within man cannot at all be posited alongside and compared with the soul and body element. Spirit cannot at all be set opposite soul and body, it is a reality of another order, it is reality in another sense. The soul and body of man belong to nature, they are realities of the natural world.

But spirit is not nature. The opposition of spirit and nature — is the fundamental opposition, which namely is of spirit and nature, and not of spirit and matter, nor of spirit and body. The spiritual element within man signifies, that man is not only a natural being, but that within him there is a supra-natural element. Man unites himself with God through the spiritual element, through spiritual life. Spirit is not in opposition to soul and body and the triumph of spirit does not at all signify the negation or lessening of soul and body. The soul and body of man, i.e. his natural being, can be in spirit, brought into the spiritual order, spiritualized.

The Integrality Of Human Existence And Spirit Possessed By Soul And Body
The attainment of the integrality or wholeness of human existence also signifies, that spirit is possessed of by soul and body. Quite especially it is, that through the victory of the spiritual element, through spiritualization is realized the person within man, there is realized his integral image. As regards the archaic and very ancient meaning of the word spirit (pneuma, rouakh), it signified breath and breathing, i.e. it had almost a physical meaning, and only later was spirit spiritualized.  But the comprehension of spirit as a breathing also signifies, that it is energy, coming into man as it were from an higher plane, and not from the natural substance of man.

The False Dualism Of Soul And Body
Completely false is that abstract spiritualism, which denies the genuine reality of the human body and its belonging to the integral image of man. It is impossible to defend this dualism of soul and body, or of spirit and body, as sometimes they express it, and which derives from Descartes. This point of view has been abandoned by modern psychology and is inconsistent with the currents of contemporary philosophy. Man presents himself as an integrally whole organism, which includes soul and body. The very body of man is not a mechanism and it cannot be conceived of materialistically.

At present there has occurred a partial return to the Aristotelian teaching about the entelechies (“innate-ends”). The body belongs inalienably to the person, the image of God in man. The spiritual principle vivifies both the soul and the body of man. The body of man can become spiritualized, can become a spiritual body, whilst not ceasing to be a body. The eternal principle within the body is not in its physical-chemical constitution, but its form. Without this form there is no integrally whole image of the person. Flesh and blood do not inherit life eternal, i.e. the materiality of our fallen world does not inherit, but the spiritizing bodily form does inherit.

The body of man in this sense is not only one of the objects of the natural world, it has also an existential meaning, it belongs to an inner, non-objectivized existence, it belongs to the integrative subject. The realization of the form of the body leads to the realization of person. This means precisely the liberation from the a rule of body, having subordinated its spirit. We live in an epoch, when man, and foremost of all his body, seem unsuited for the new technical means, conceived of by man himself. 

Man is fragmented. But person is an integral spirit-soul-body being, in which the soul and the body are subordinated to spirit, spiritized and by this conjoined with the higher, the supra-personal and supra-human being. Suchlike is the inner hierarchy of the human being. The shattering or keeling-over of this hierarchy is a shattering of the integrality of the person and is in this ultimately its destruction. Spirit is not a nature within man, distinct from the nature of soul and body, but rather an immanently acting within it gracious power (breath and breathing), the utmost quality of man. Spirit manifests itself as the genuinely acting and creative in man.

Man Ought To Live, Knowing That He Will Die
Man cannot define himself only afront life, he ought also to define himself afront death, he ought to live, knowing, that he will die. Death is a most important fact of human life, and man cannot worthily live, not having defined his relationship towards death. Whosoever structures his life having closed his eyes to death, that one loses at playing the deed of life, even if his life were to be a success. The attainment of the fullness of life is connected with the victory over death. Modern people are inclined to see a sign of bravery and strength in the forgetting about death, and to them it seems a matter of indifference. In actuality the forgetting about death is not bravery and indifference, but vileness and superficiality. Man ought to surmount the living fear of death, for the dignity of man demands this. But a profound attitude towards life cannot be connected with a transcendent terror afront the mystery of death, as having nothing in common with a living fear. It is vileness to be forgetful about the death of other people, not only about the death of those close to one, but about the death of every living being.

In this forgetting there is a betrayal, since all are responsible for all and all have a common fated lot. “The fated lot of the sons of men and the fated lot of living things — this is the same fated lot: as these die, so also die those”, — says Ecclesiates. The obligation in regards to the dead was most acutely sensed by N. Fedorov, who saw the very essence of Christianity to be in the “common task” of a struggle against death.  Without a decision about the question about death, without the victory over death, person cannot realize itself.

And the attitude towards death cannot be twofold. Death is the greatest extremity of evil, the source of all that is evil, the result of the Fall into sin, in that every being had been created for eternal life. Christ came first of all to conquer death, to remove the sting of death. But death in the fallen world has also a positive sense, since as a negative pathway it serves to witness to the existence of an higher meaning. Endless life in this world would be bereft of meaning. The positive meaning of death is in this, that the fullness of life cannot be realized in time, in not only a finite span of time, but neither in endless time. The fullness of life can be realized only in eternity, only beyond the limits of time, because in time life remains without meaning, if it has not received its meaning from eternity.

The Realization Of The Fullness Of The Life Of The Person
But the egress from time to eternity is a leap across the abyss. In the fallen world this leap across the abyss is termed death. There is another egress from time into eternity — through the depth of the moment, comprising neither a fragmented part of time nor subject to numeric quantity. But this egress is neither final nor integral, and constantly again one falls back into time. The realization of the fullness of the life of the person presupposes the existence of death. Only a dialectical attitude is possible towards death. Christ by His death hath trampled down death, and therefore death has come to have also a positive significance. Death is not only the decomposition and annihilation of man, but also his ennobling, a sundering from the dominion of the ordinary. The metaphysical teaching about the natural immortality of the soul, based on the teaching about the substantiality of the soul, does not resolve the question about death. This teaching detours past the tragedy of death, the falling-apart and fragmentation of the integrally whole human being.

Man is not an immortal being in consequence of his natural constitution. Immortality is attained by virtue of the spiritual principle in man and its connection with God. Immortality is an end-task, the realization of which presupposes a spiritual struggle. This is the realization of the fullness of the life of the person. The immortal is in regard particularly to the person, and not to the soul as a natural substance.

Christianity teaches not about the immortality of the soul, but about the resurrection of the integrally whole human being, of the person, of the resurrection of the body of man also, as belonging to the person. Mere immortality is partialized, it leaves man fragmented, whereas resurrection is integrally whole. Abstract spiritualism affirms only a partialized immortality, an immortality of soul. Abstract idealism affirms only the immortal ideal principles in man, only the ideal values, and not the person. Only the Christian teaching about resurrection affirms immortality as the eternity of the integral wholeness of man, of the person. In a certain sense it can be said, that immortality is a conquest of spiritual creativity, the victory of the spiritual person, endowed with body and soul, over the natural individuum.

ImmortalityIs Divine-Human
The Greeks considered man mortal, whereas the gods were immortal. Immortality at first was affirmed for heroes, demi-gods, the supra-human. But immortality always signified that the Divine principle penetrated into man and was possessed of by him. Immortality — is Divine-human. It is impossible to objectify and render immortality into something natural, it is existential. We ought to get completely beyond the aspects of pessimism and optimism, and affirm the heroic efforts of man to realise his person for eternity, irrespective of the successes and defeats in life. The realization of person for eternal life has moreover a connection with the problem of sex and love. Sex is an halfness, a fragmentedness, a non-fullness of the human person, an anguish of incompleteness. The integrally whole person is bi-sexualized, androgynic. The metaphysical meaning of love is in the attainment of the integral wholeness of person for life eternal. And in this is the spiritual victory over the impersonal and death-bearing process of natural-begetting.

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