Von Balthasar on Soloviev: The meaning of Dostoevsky’s “beauty will save the world”

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