Nikolai Berdyaev

Nikolai Berdyaev
Nikolai Berdyaev
Full name Nikolai Berdyaev
Born March 18, 1874
Died March 24, 1948(1948-03-24) (aged 74)
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Russian philosophy
School Christian existentialism
Main interests Creativity, morality, freedom
Nikolai Berdyaev.

Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (Russian: Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Бердя́ев) (March 18 [O.S. March 6] 1874 – March 24, 1948) was a Russian religious and political philosopher.



Early life and education

Berdyaev was born in Kiev into an aristocratic military family. He spent a solitary childhood at home, where his father's library allowed him to read widely. He read Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Kant when only fourteen years old and excelled at languages.

Revolutionary activities

Berdyaev decided on an intellectual career and entered the Kiev University in 1894. This was a time of revolutionary fervor among the students and the intelligentsia. Berdyaev became a Marxist and in 1898 was arrested in a student demonstration and expelled from the University. Later his involvement in illegal activities led to three years of internal exile in central Russia—a mild sentence compared to that faced by many other revolutionaries.

In 1904 Berdyaev married Lydia Trusheff and the couple moved to Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital and center of intellectual and revolutionary activity. Berdyaev participated fully in intellectual and spiritual debate, eventually departing from radical Marxism to focus his attention on philosophy and spirituality. Berdyaev and Trusheff remained deeply committed to each other until the latter's death in 1945.

Berdyaev was a believer in Orthodox Christianity but was often critical of the institutional church. A fiery 1913 article criticising the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church caused him to be charged with the crime of blasphemy, the punishment for which was exile to Siberia for life. The World War and the Bolshevik Revolution prevented the matter coming to trial.

He was a Christian universalist.[1][2] Berdyaev writes with approval that

The greater part of Eastern teachers of the Church, from Clement of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor, were supporters of Apokatastasis, of universal salvation and resurrection. ... Orthodox thought has never been suppressed by the idea of Divine justice and it never forgot the idea of Divine love. Chiefly — it did not define man from the point of view of Divine justice but from the idea of transfiguration and Deification of man and cosmos.[3]

Expulsion from Russia

Berdyaev could not accept the Bolshevik regime, because of its authoritarianism and the domination of the state over the freedom of the individual. Yet, he accepted the hardships of the revolutionary period, as he was permitted for the time being to continue to lecture and write.

His philosophy has been characterized as Christian existentialist. He was preoccupied with creativity and in particular freedom from anything that inhibited said creativity, whence his opposition against a "collectivized and mechanized society".

In September 1922, Berdyaev was among a carefully selected group of some 160 prominent writers, scholars, and intellectuals whose ideas the Bolshevik government found objectionable, who were sent into exile on the so-called "philosophers' ship". Overall, they were supporters neither of the Czarist regime nor of the Bolsheviks, preferring less autocratic forms of government. They included those who argued for personal liberty, spiritual development, Christian ethics, and a pathway informed by reason and guided by faith.

Exile in France

At first Berdyaev and other émigrés went to Berlin, but economic and political conditions in Weimar Germany caused him and his wife to move to Paris in 1923. There he founded an Academy, taught, lectured, and wrote, working for an exchange of ideas with the French intellectual community.

During the German occupation of France, Berdyaev continued to write books that were published after the war—some of them after his death. In the years that he spent in France, Berdyaev wrote fifteen books, including most of his most important works. He died at his writing desk in his home in Clamart, near Paris, in March 1948.


The first date is of the Russian edition, the second date is of the first English edition

  • The Meaning of the Creative Act (1916) 1955
  • Dostoevsky (1923) 1934
  • The Meaning of History (1923) 1936
  • The End of Our Time [aka The New Middle Ages] (1924) 1933
  • Leontiev (1926) 1940
  • Freedom and the Spirit (1927-8) 1935
  • The Russian Revolution (1931)(anthology)
  • The Destiny of Man 1931 (1937)
  • Christianity and Class War 1931 (1933)
  • The Fate of Man in the Modern World (1934) 1938
  • Solitude and Society (1934) 1938
  • The Bourgeois Mind 1934 (anthology)
  • The Origin of Russian Communism (1937) 1955
  • Christianity and Anti-semitism (1938) 1952
  • Slavery and Freedom (1939)
  • The Russian Idea (1946) 1947
  • Spirit and Reality (1946) 1957
  • The Beginning and the End(1947) 1952
  • Towards a New Epoch" (1949) (anthology)
  • Dream and Reality: An Essay in Autobiography (1949) 1950
  • The Realm of Spirit and the Realm of Caesar (1949) 1952
  • The Divine and the Human (1949) 1952
  • Truth and Revelation (n.p.) 1953


See also


  1. ^ Apokatastasis at Theandros, The Online Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy. Accessed Aug. 12, 2007
  2. ^ Sergeev, Mikhail."Post-Modern themes in the philosophy of Nicolas Berdyaev". Religion in Eastern Europe. Accessed Aug. 12, 2007
  3. ^ Berdyaev, Nikolai. "The Truth of Orthodoxy". Accessed Aug. 12, 2007.

Works cited

  • N. Berdyaev. Dream and reality: An essay in autobiography. Bles, London, 1950.
  • M. A. Vallon. An apostle of freedom: Life and teachings of Nicolas Berdyaev. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960.
  • Lesley Chamberlain. Lenin's Private War: The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2007.

External links

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