“Dostoevsky not only preached, but, to a certain degree also demonstrated in his own activity this reunification of concerns common to humanity–at least of the highest among these concerns–in one Christian idea. Being a religious person, he was at the same time a free thinker and a powerful artist. These three aspects, these three higher concerns were not differentiated in him and did not exclude one another, but entered indivisibly into all his activity. In his convictions he never separated truth from good and beauty; in his artistic creativity he never placed beauty apart from the good and the true. And he was right, because these three live only in their unity. The good, taken separately from truth and beauty, is only an indistinct feeling, a powerless upwelling; truth taken abstractly is an empty word; and beauty without truth and the good is an idol. For Dostoevsky, these were three inseparable forms of one absolute Idea. The infinity of the human soul–having been revealed in Christ and capable of fitting into itself all the boundlessness of divinity–is at one and the same time both the greatest good, the highest truth, and the most perfect beauty. Truth is good, perceived by the human mind; beauty is the same good and the same truth, corporeally embodied in solid living form. And its full embodiment–the end, the goal, and the perfection–already exists in everything, and this is why Dostoevsky said that beauty will save the world” (Vladimir Soloviev, The Heart of Reality, trans V. Wozniuk, p. 16).
“The major character is a representative of the view that any powerful man is a master to himself, and everything is permitted to him. In the name of his personal superiority, in the name of the fact that he is a force, he deems that he has the right to commit murder, and he actually does so. but suddenly a matter that he considered only a violation of a meaningless law and a daring challenge to social prejudice turns out to be for his personal conscience somehow much greater–a sin, a violation of intrinsic moral truth. A violation of the external law receives legitimate retribution outwardly in exile and hard labor; but the inner sin of pride, of self-deification, separating a powerful man from humanity and leading him to murder, can be atoned only be an inward moral act of self-abnegation. Boundless self-assurance must vanish before a faith in that which is greater than self; and self-made justification must become humble before God’s supreme truth, living in those very simple and weak people upon whom the powerful man gaze as upon worthless insects” (Soloviev, The Heart of Reality, Trans V. Wozniuk, p. 10).
From the very beginning, Soloviev wanted to complete his theosophy with a universal aesthetics. He prefaced his essay on natural aesthetics with Dostoyevsky’s dictum that “beauty will save the world.” The Critique of Abstract Principles had proclaimed that ‘the realization of pan-unity in its external actuality is absolute beauty’, so it is as little something ‘given’ as is ‘pan-unity’ itself; it is a task assigned to humanity, and human art is a vehicle of its realisation. Soloviev promises to develop, at the end of his work, ‘the common axioms and rules of this great and mysterious art that brings all beings in the form of beauty’. According to another declaration, the sphere of aesthetic realisation should be divided into three areas: the material (technology), the formal (the ‘fine arts’) and the absolute (mysticism). For Soloviev, however, mysticism is not only passive devotion to the divine or direct contact with it; it also is the active art of bringing the divine from Heaven to earth, and, in this sense, ‘theurgy’—it is concerned, that is, with the realisations of the ideal: this is why Soloviev becomes a bitter opponent of classical idealist aesthetics, according to which beauty is allowed to be ‘only’ appearance, not reality, only an illusory reflection, not even a true promise or foretaste. ‘An infinity that existed solely for an instant would be an unbearable contradiction for the spirit; a bliss existing only in the past would be a torture for the will.’ Continue reading “Von Balthasar on Soloviev: The meaning of Dostoevsky’s “beauty will save the world””