SOLOVYOV AND HESYCHASM: TWO WAYS OF JOINING
MYSTICAL AND SOCIAL LIFE

S.S. Horujy

#1.
Both the activity of Solovyov and his personality were deeply Christian in their essence and structure, as they were always determined by two basic Christian strivings, love to God and love to one's neighbour. Both these strivings took their most active and radical forms in him: love to God reached the intensity of mystical experience, while love to the neighbour expressed itself both in his strikingly self-sacrificial behaviour and in his views, as the fervent enthusiasm for social Christianity. Solovyov was a mystic, but he was a social mystic , a person who states equally the life in God and action in the world as his goals. This religious type is well-known and richly represented in the West, while in Eastern Christianity it is virtually absent. In my talk I'll try to trace the roots of this fact in structures of the Eastern-Orthodox mystical experience.

Two orientations of a person, resp., to mystical life and social action, are sharply divergent: one is vertical and the other horizontal, in an obvious metaphorical sense; one is individual and intravert, self-concentrated, while the other extravert and directed to other people; and the opposition can easily be continued. Hence their combination presents a problem, which is one of the ancient and basic problems of religious life. In various times and various traditions, various solutions to this problem were proposed, and Solovyov has put forward a solution as well. In his "Spiritual Foundations of Life" it is formulated as follows: "Uniting his will with God and starting the life in grace by means of true prayer, a religious man cannot stop at this start ... renovated and enlightened, he must come down to the world ... A man liberated internally by God's grace should use his freedom for the task of creating a Christian society"[{1} ..쥢. 客 ᭮ // .., .1. ....1..306,378]. Thus he supposed that the joining of the two tasks could and should be achieved in a successive way, nacheinander: first, a person achieves the religious-mystical goals (unites his will with God, becomes liberated by grace), and then he turns to social goals. And also one can see clearly that the fulfillment of the first task is considered as a kind of the prelude, or preliminary stage, while the bulk of one's time and effort are expected to be given to the second task.

This solution cannot be purely abstract, having Solovyov's own experience behind itself. However, it is well-known from the religious history that mystical union with God may be totally absorbing and governing completely all the mind and will, energies and actions of a person. For such all-absorbing kind of mystical experience, the Solovyov solution is obviously unacceptable, which proves that it is not universally valid for the whole sphere of religious life. This fact brings us to a typological problem: we have to find out, for which types of religious experience Solovyov's successive strategy is possible and for which it is not. We'll try to solve this problem by means of comparative analysis: namely, by comparing the types of mystical experience inherent in Solovyov and the Orthodox tradition.

# 2.
It is recognized firmly that the Orthodox type of spirituality is represented quintessentially in the Orthodox ascetic school, that is, Hesychasm. Thus we'll describe briefly what is the kind of mystical experience in Hesychasm and what is the hesychast attitude to socium and social problems. The crucial fact is that Hesychasm, like yoga, zen, sufism, etc. belongs to a class of phenomena called spiritual practices. In the shortest definition, such a practice is a holistic anhtropological process directed to the anthropological border. Holistic means that the process involves all the levels in the human organisation, somatic, psychic and intellectual, while the anthropological border means the region where actual changes start in the nature ( f'usis) of man and in basic predicates of human existence. In the case of Hesychasm, the final goal, or telos of the practice is the deification ( j'ewsis), i.e. the union of all man's energies with the Divine Energy (Grace). The way to this telos is a ladder of spiritual ascent, each step of which is a certain configuration of man's energies, created specially in the process. Examples of such steps are metanoia, hesychia, apatheia, etc. This way of the ascent is a highly unique process, based on an intricate discipline of the incessant prayer and attention training. The discovery and elaboration of such a process required a total concentration on inner reality and its mechanisms and this implied the complete withdrawal from the socium and rejection of all social functions. Unavoidably, the formation of the ascetic tradition starts with condemning and rejecting the worldly life. But with the ripening of the tradition, its relationship with the world undergoes a profound rethinking.

Theosis is an ontological notion, it is the ontological destination of man as such. Hence the way to it is also intended for man as such, i.e. it should be an universal anthropological strategy. But man is a social being, zo'on politik'on: this aristotelian thesis was never disputed by Christianity. The social dimension is a part of human nature and is not ranked among passions, those elements of this nature which the ascesis aims to eradicate. Hence, if the way to theosis is a universal anthropological strategy, it should be open to zo'on politik'on\ and compatible with the social dimension of human existence. In order to realise its universal character, Hesychasm should go back to the world -- and it does it. Modern scholars, in contrast to the old views, find in the asceticism not antisocial and extreme individualistic attitude, but a kind of the paradigm of return: to withdraw from the world, in order to come back in a new quality. As the bishop Kallistos Ware puts it, "it is a flight followed by a return, and solitude followed by leadership".[{2} Kallistos Ware. The Way of the Ascetics: Negative or Affirmative? // Asceticism. Ed.by V.L.Wimbush, R.Valantasis, with the assistance of G.L.Byron, W.S.Love. Oxford University Press.1995.P.6.]

But the return was creating numerous problems for the Tradition. On a social plan, it demanded a deep transformation of the relationship between the monastic and worldly medium; while on the individual plan, it was bringing forth a new and quite problematic task. One had to develop such a refined form of the hesychast practice which would preserve completely the final goal of Theosis and all the ladder leading to it, but would at the same time admit of the participation in the worldly life. Mere translation of the fine ascetic art in its integrity being already a hard task, it is easy to understand that the Tradition was able to advance in solving the new problem only in the periods of its maximal creative activity. These were the periods of Hesychast Renaissance in Byzantium in XIV c. and Russia in XIX-XX c. In XIV c. st. Gregory Palamas has outlined the anthropological foundations of the solution. Human mind must reach a state which Palamas calls the "mind-bishop": in this state the mind is completely in control of all the energies of a man, and, using this control, it directs the most part of the energies to the tasks of the ascent to Theosis, but still it manages to save some part of the energies in order to direct them to social tasks. The Russian contribution included the propagation of the hesychast spirituality to large strata of the society, chiefly, by means of a new form of the ancient ascetic institute of spiritual eldership (⢮). It is worth noting that this process had only very little connection with the cultural development and, in particular, with the Russian Religious-Philosophical Renaissance.

Thus the problem of joining mystical and social life was stated in Hesychasm, but the solution which was taking shape was strongly different from the Solovyov position. What is entirely unacceptable for Hesychasm, is the main principle of this position, the idea of successive stages when the Spiritual Process moved by mystical Godstriving ends and gives its place to social activity. The core of the Hesychast Method is the incessant prayer, and this quality of being incessant is the key to all the spiritual practice, since it produces not stable states but energetic configurations which should be watched over and reproduced permanently. To stop the Process means to lose its fruits, so that joining of the two tasks can only be not successive but simultaneous and parallel. This kind of joining is incomparably more difficult to achieve, and it can only be achieved, as Palamas finds, by means of a long and subtle transformation of mind and even the whole constitution of human being. This means that the practice should be not stopped but deepened, and the work of developing this deeper form of it was never brought to the end so far. It is obvious, however, that the result of the work cannot coincide with the social Christianity in Solovyov's sense. Solovyov is thinking in social categories and means, in the first place, the activity which transforms social life and is addressed to social groups, institutions etc. But Hesychasm is addressing the world with social activity of a different kind: this activity is directed to transforming one's personality and realised in the dialogical paradigm, in the direct person-to-person communication. Rudiments of such activity were present in the Russian eldership, and it is characteristic that Solovyov never paid any attention to it: obviously, he didn't consider it as "social Christianity", though it was both christian and social. (One can draw a historical parallel here. The alignment of social positions that we found reminds closely the famous conflict between the Josephites and non-possessors in Muscovite Rus' of XVI c. In this conflict, the non-possessors were strictly following the hesychast attitude, and so in the Russian ideological history, the "social Christianity" of Solovyov stands in the Josephite line. Another point of resemblance is that the views of both Solovyov and the Josephites were often likened to those of the Catholic Church.)

# 3.
The question is: why Solovyov's views turned out to be so much divergent from Hesychasm, that is the Orthodox type of mystical experience? A partial answer we find in his judgments on the Orthodox asceticism. They are sharply critical, as a rule. Naturally, Solovyov rejects the incesant and endless character of the ascesis, since this is exactly what contradicts his idea of the transition from mystical practice to social action. "Advocates of all-embracing asceticism should remember that the Perfect Man spent just forty days in the wilderness ... that true prayer and contemplation are nothing but supports for the life in action"[{3} ᥫ᪠ મ. .1911..81,82.]. He asserts also that Hesychasm "is the expression of the worldview which is inherent not in Christianity, but in Ancient East and, chiefly, India"[{4} ᯮ ⨠᪠ ⨪. ...4..42.]. And, of course, he also criticizes the social position of ascetics; once he even presented his criticism in his inimitable style, by a calembourt: a monk who goes to a desert evades his social duties and thus he is nobody but a deserter (see the article "Vladimir the Saint and Christian State"). -- From all this it is clear that Solovyov does not try to reveal the specific character of Hesychasm, its goals or means, but judges from outside and makes demands incompatible with this character.

But here the next question arises. Solovyov's approach to the Orthodox experience could be an approach from outside, but it could not mean the rejection of mystical experience as such, because this approach was also based on mystical experience, only of some different kind. The question is, which was this kind?

Available sources elucidate the character of Solovyov's mysticism not so badly, taking into account that the sphere of mystical life can never be wholly open. Of these sources, the early text "Sophie" (1876) is particularly revealing. It was left unpublished by the author and the mystical experience is here not subject to any self-censorship and almost not processed through reflexion so that this text is a kind of a direct personal testimonial; mutatis mutandis, it can even be compared to the famous "Amulet" of Pascal. Taken together, the materials show clearly that Solovyov's experience is determined in its typology by two contrasting features. First and foremost, it is the experience of visions. As numerous materials show, his famous "three [or more] meetings" with Sophia were complemented by many visions of daemons, so that on the whole we have a striking example of visionary mysticism. But no less strikingly the opposite element of speculative and even rationalistic mysticism is presented, since Solovyov had always a strong affinity to logical constructions and schemes. To these two, the third element might also be added, namely, the extreme heterogeneity of his constructions: he finds the sources for them in Kabbala, gnosticism, west-european mysticism, "free theosophy" by Schelling, and so on. And taken together, the three elements constitute very clearly mysticism of the gnostical type.

This is, of course, an old and commonplace conclusion, and it does not yet give us the full answer to the typological question. We need also to clarify the relation of Solovyov's experience to the ascetic experience, the phenomenon of ascesis. This relation is usually supposed to be simple and clear, since Solovyov was famous for his ascetic behaviour. There were the strongest ascetic trends in his personality and his attitude to the world and life. One of his friends (V.L.Velichko) wrote once that he was "an ascetic both in his convictions and his vocation", and this statement was always accepted as something self-evident. But here the advantage of comparative approach shows itself: the comparison to the hesychast practice leads us to the revision of the old views. By the exact meaning of the greek notion, >'askesis\ is a "practice of the Self", to use Foucault's term, having two basic properties: it is methodical and teleological, that is aiming to reach a certain final state (ideal, telos). Different kinds or schools of the ascesis differ from each other by the character of the practice (it may be physical, psychophysical or holistic) and the character of the telos (it may demand or not demand reaching the anthropological border). In the first case the ascesis is spiritual practice (described above) and is linked up with the sphere of mystical experience. Spiritual practice is a mystico-ascetical practice, the unity of the mysticism and ascesis, in which the ascesis directs itself to the sphere of mystical experience and enters it, while mystical experience complements and completes the ascetic practice. It is exactly the combination which is realised in Hesychasm, but in no way is it present in Solovyov.

All the testimonials on Solovyov's personal asceticism are perfectly in accordance with each other: they all depict vividly his habits of extreme abstinence and self-restraint in everything and especially in bodily needs and possession of material goods. At the same time, it is clearly seen that his abstinence had neither the form of a methodical and teleological practice nor was it integrated into some practice of such form. This is enough for the conclusion. The abstinence and self-restraint, >egkrate'ia, is a basic element of the ascesis, but on its own, in isolation from the method and telos principles, it does not yet constitute the phenomenon of ascesis. It only comes near a certain kind of it, known as the encratism and rather popular in Late Antiquity (in that case, the abstinence as such, brought to the limit and absolutised, emerges as a telos). Thus Solovyov's position could be defined as a sui generis "spontaneous encratism", a certain essentially incomplete form of the ascesis. This peculiar solovyovian ascesis was quite separate from his mystical experience and that specific unity of mysticism and ascesis was never formed in him. As a result, we should clearly separate Solovyov's spiritual experience from "spiritual practice" stricto sensu -- and, in particular, from the hesychast spirituality.

Thus our comparison goes deeper. We conclude that Solovyov's mystical experience belongs to a different paradigm than the mystico-ascetical experience of Hesychasm. In his case there is no special method and no incessant process or ladder with the strictly ordered steps. The idea of Theosis as the telos of all the mystical life is absent as well. Being an experience of a chiefly visionary type, his experience has the basic quality of discreteness, being formed by separate spiritual events, beyond the limits of which a person is free for social or any other activity. This experience is also entirely spiritual and even spiritualistic: it has nothing to do with the body and cuts the body completely from spiritual life. As a result, the two kinds of the religious experience represent two different types of "practices of the Self" or two different anthropological strategies. In contrast to the holistic hesychast practice, Solovyov's mysticism is a mysticism of Mind. Together with the disparaging of the body, it brings it closer to the intellectualistic mysticism and dualistic anthropology of neoplatonism.

Now we can also see much better the logic behind Solovyov's critique of the asceticism. Obviously, the philosopher believed that the Christian communion with God is only realised in the paradigm of discreteness, in the form of separate spiritual events (whose fruits are then preserved automatically, on their own); and when the hesychast practice tries to turn this communion into some process, incessant and lasting indefinitely, it can only achieve the endless repetition and stagnation. This is a mistaken view (but in Solovyov's time, the phenomenon of spiritual practices was not understood anywhere beyond their own sphere). The next element in Solovyov's critique, the ranking of Hesychasm in Eastern spirituality, is only partially mistaken, however. The paradigm of spiritual practice, that is a holistic process ascenting to the anthropological border, was born in Eastern traditions and was always characteristic of them. The fact that Hesychasm belongs to this paradigm is noticed long ago and provided to Hesychasm in the West some nicknames like "Christian Yoga". Being not outright wrong, such nicknames are rather misleading, however. The telos of Hesychasm, which is Theosis, means the participation in the Divine Being as a hypostatic and dialogical being, and this is an authentic Christian and patristic concept, radically different from the final spiritual states in Eastern practices. The difference of the telos tells on all stages and parts of the practice so that the latter takes also the authentic Christian character. The most correct formula is probably the simplest one: Hesychasm is not a Christian Yoga, but it is just Eastern Christianity, with the equally strong accent on both terms. As for Solovyov's experience, we should now rank it in Western Christianity, for the precise reason that it is a Christian experience which does not belong to the Eastern-Christian paradigm of the Theosis practice.

# 4.
Now, let us sum up. The theme of joining mystical life and social action brought us to the comparative and typological subject "Solovyov and Hesychasm". We singled out two types of mystical experience, one linked up with ascesis and corresponding to spiritual practice, a methodical process of building up an hierarchy of energetic configurations, and the other amethodical, extatic or visionary, formed by separate spiritual events. The first type is characteristic of Hesychasm and Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole, while Solovyov's spirituality corresponds to the second type. (One should restrain oneself from ranking all the Western mysticism in this type, since it is too versatile; let us remind, for instance, the system of Spiritual Exercises by Loyola.) Our typological division is not restricted by the purely religious sphere, but defines two types of "practices of the Self" or two anthropological strategies. These practices imply, in particular, different attitudes to the socium and social action and the problem of joining the life in God and action in the world takes very different forms in them. For spiritual practice with its incessant and holistic character, the active involvment into the worldly life turns out to be a very deep problem having no complete solution up to this day, while for the other type of experience, joining of mystical and social life presents no big difficulty. That is why Solovyov assessing Hesychasm from the standpoint of his own experience, cannot see its specific nature and criticizes it unfoundedly. In reality, the Orthodox asceticism does not reject social tasks of Christianity, but has its own view of them and develops its own forms of dealing with them, although these forms are different from the "social Christianity" advocated by Solovyov.

We should only make a final proviso. Solovyov is too myriadminded for any typology. All my divisions are well-founded, I believe, but still the views of the great thinker as well as his path do not fit fully the type we described (or any other type). Besides sharp and even hostile criticisms of the Orthodox asceticism, we also find signs of sympathy and understanding, sometimes we even notice the closeness of positions (especially in the late period of "Three Conversations"). Undoubtedly, the world of Orthodoxy was not closed for him; and one important sign of this is that none other than Dostoyevsky was always convinced in the deep affinity between Solovyov and Orthodoxy. The fact that the philosopher was among the prototypes of Aliosha Karamazov, called the "Russian Monk" by his author, should be significant for anybody trying to understand the relationship between Solovyov and the Orthodox spirituality.


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