Page 6, 29th September 1967

29th September 1967
Page 6
Page 6, 29th September 1967 — ISMS, WASMS, SPASMS
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Misgivings About Berdyaev

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ISMS, WASMS, SPASMS

By RENEE HAYNES Berdyaev's Philosophy, tbe Existential Paradox or Freedom and Necessity by Fuad Nucho (Gollancz, 30s.).

Nicolas Berdyaev, Man of the Eighth Day by M.-M. Davey, translated by Leonora Siepmann (Bles 21s.).

-FIR. NUCHO'S aim is "to elucidate and systematise Berdyaev's philosophy"; an aim difficult to achieve, since this philosophy proclaimed itself to be "intuitive," eschewed definition, and sent ideas up like rockets rather than linking facts, observations and conclusions in reasoned argument. To try to set it in order and assess its intellectual value is like trying to pattern a shower of shooting stars, or to deduce a coherent system of thought from the bright imagery of Rilke's poems.

All the same, though Dr. Nucho's book is difficult and highly technical reading, it succeeds in so far as it makes Berdyaev comprehensible in terms of the time and culture pattern into which he was born, and the trends of thought through which he lived. It also gives a clear exposition of his ideas; but to judge from Mlle. Davey's volume it looks as if this clarity were not intrinsic but had been imposed upon them.

Her study is full of abstract notions, Russian and French, flying high as kites in the gale of her enthusiasm. They have none of the warmth with which Russian life has touched the West, none of the pulsating colour and rhythm of Russian ballet, music, liturgy. They take wing from an abandonment of the earth, a sense that " 'this' world of my actual living is . . . unauthentic, untrue."

Quoted assertions abound, made with an air of incontrovertible authority. "The life of the spirit cannot adapt itself to the world of phenomena." (What about the Incarnation? "Without me, God could not exist" (the only comment is the ancient phrase "Sez you.") "There is no place for rational concepts in connexion with God."

It is all very well to be irritated with such theologians as ignore the essential mystery of their subject, and assume they have safely trapped it, like some vast numinous whale, in a steel mesh of definitions; but even to say Nett, not this, of God, is to formulate a rational concept, and a sequence of such concepts, their inadequacy realised, is no more misleading than paradoxes exploded at random.

The book seems at times like a series of -isms, -wasms and spasms; oracular, non-consecutive—the writer skips lightly to and fro in time—and full of words twisted out of their normal frames of reference.

Thus, the translator (who thinks St. Hildegard was a man) uses "anthropology" to mean, apparently, "human psychology," and employs "gnostic" as the equivalent of "seer"; a signifi cant slip, perhaps, since the constant contrast between "personal religious experience and the socialised spiritual life which is religion's worst enemy" (alas for the City of God!) and the sharp line drawn between "the Church of Peter . . . apostle of the aver age level of humanity" and "the Church of John" patron of mystics, do indeed suggest the cold

illuminated superiority of those who believe they have attained gnosis, condescending to the ignorant and insignificant masses who have not.

• The Suppression of the Religions Foundations of Devon and Cornwall by Lawrence S. Snell (Wardens of Cornwall, Marazion, 30s.) is, as Dom M. D. Knowles says in a foreword to the book, "a valuable study of a section of monastic and social history." It deals in excellent detail with the sudden end of monasticism in the years 1534 to 1540 in its chosen area.

Undiscovered Country by Kathryn C. Hulme, reviewed last week, was published by Muller yesterday.




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