Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ivan Kireyevsky on Russian Orthodoxy and the West

An excerpt from an appendix to "Elder Macarius Of Optina" regarding the views of Ivan Kireyevsky on Western thought. It is clearly Slavophile, but useful I think to Western converts. The original text was written by Prof. Ivan M. Kontzevitch.

"In his service to the publishing work of Optina, Ivan Vasilievich had the opportunity to study Patristic literature in its entirety. Having earlier received an excellent philosophical education at home and having supplemented it during his stay in Germany (bloggers note: he studied under and was acquainted with Hegel), he was thus entirely familiar with Western culture. In him the Western philosophical tradition met the tradition of the Eastern Church. How was this encounter of two opposing principles resolved?

The answer to this question is given in his essay "On the Character of European Enlightenment in its Relationship to the Enlightenment of Russia," printed in 1852 in Moscow Anthology, the publication of a Slavophile circle. This essay incurred censorship prohibition against the anthology; but there was not in it anything against the state. The sense of the essay is as follows:

Being trained in the West and knowing it perfectly, Kireyevsky harshly criticized its culture. The West had reached a spiritual dead end. The spiritual disease of Western culture was the "triumph of rationalism." In this lies its essence, as Professor V. Zenkovsky testifies: "The accusation of rationalism brought against the entire West arose in the West itself in the 18th century, both in France as well as in Germany."

Kireyevsky spoke in greater detail about this malady of Europe: "European enlightenment has now reached the fullness of its development, but the result of this development has been an almost universal feeling of discontent and betrayed hope. The very triumph of the European mind has revealed the one-sidedness of its fundamental aspirations...Life itself has been deprived of essential meaning." "The cold analysis of many centuries has destroyed the foundations upon which, from the very beginning of its development, European enlightenment has rested. As a consequence, its own basic principles (i.e., those of Christianity) have become strange and alien to it. And this analysis which has destroyed its roots- this self-propelling knife of reason, this syllogism, recognizing nothing except itself and individual experience, this despotic rationality, this logical activity- is cut off from all man's other cognitive powers" (Vol. II, p. 232). "The Western world, just as the East, originally lived by faith, but faith itself was impaired when Rome placed syllogisms above the consciousness of the whole of Christianity" (Vol. II, 285). Kireyevsky showed that this impairment resulted in the "development, first, of scholastic philosophy within faith, then of a Reformation of faith, and finally a philosophy outside of faith" (Vol. II, 284). "The Western Church substituted the outward authority of its hierarchy for the inner authority of truth (when arbitrarily and without the consent of the East it changed the Symbol of Faith)." This "has led to... rationalism, i.e., the triumph of autonomous reason," which in turn has led to the inevitable disintegration of spiritual wholeness. "Dualism and rationality are the ultimate expressions of Western culture."

The West overlooked Eastern wisdom. Its scholars mastered in detail all the ancient philosophies: Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Hindu, etc. But the mysticism of the Orthodox East was closed to them. Russia, on the other hand, inherited from Byzantium great treasures of this spiritual wisdom contained in the writings of the Holy Fathers. Hence, Russia's historical task was to build on the rich Byzantine heritage a new spiritual culture which would impregnate the whole world. Kireyevsky posed the whole problem in all its fullness. According to him, Russian philosophy was to be built on "the deep, living and pure love for wisdom of the Church Fathers, which is the embryo of the higher philosophic principle" (Vol. II, 332).

The task of Russian philosophy is not to reject Western thought, but to supplement it with what is revealed in higher spiritual vision- the living experience of 'higher knowledge'- in which wholeness of spirit, which was lost in the Fall and impaired by the triumph of logical thought in Western Christianity, is recovered."

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