Nikolay Berdyayev

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

A Marxist in his youth, Berdyayev moved steadily toward religious idealism. After failed attempts to revitalize Russian spirituality by reconciling the intelligentsia with the Russian Orthodox Church, he distanced himself from the main socialist and liberal reform movements and investigated teleological and eschatological approaches. While retaining traces of his early Marxism, he combined mystical elements taken from early Christian theology, the Reformation theologian Jacob Boehme, and the Moscow philosopher Vladimir S. Solovyov with the idealistic philosophy of Immanuel Kant to develop a Christian existentialist philosophy. In numerous writings, he criticized the materialism and spiritual impoverishment of the Russian intelligentsia, promoted intuitive, mystical modes of investigation, and rejected logic and rationality. To Berdyayev, the value of humanity lay in its capacity for creation. The act of creation illuminated truth and helped to bridge the gap between God and human being, Creator and created. The key element in Berdyayev’s God/human relationship was the way in which freedom was used. If it was used in the service of enlarged awareness and capacity, God and humanity became co-creators in a continually progressing universe; if it was turned toward material products instead of being, humanity and society remained in turmoil and confusion.


Calian, C. S. Berdyaev’s Philosophy of Hope: A Contribution to Marxist-Christian Dialogue. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969.

Copleston, Frederick C. Philosophy in Russia: From Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986.

Davy, M.-M. Nicolas Berdyaev: Man of the Eighth Day. Translated by Leonora Siepman. London: Bles, 1967.

Lowrie, Donald A. Rebellious Prophet: A Life of Nicolai Berdyaev. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974.

McLachlan, James M. The Desire to Be God: Freedom and the Other in Sartre and Berdyaev. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

Shragin, Boris, and Albert Todd, eds. Landmarks: A Collection of Essays on the Russian Intelligentsia, 1909. Translated by Marian Schwartzed. New York: Karz Howard, 1977.

Slaatte, Howard Alexander. Personality, Spirit, and Ethics: The Ethics of Nicholas Berdyaev. New York: Peter Lang, 1997.

Slaatte, Howard Alexander. Time, Existence, and Destiny: Nicholas Berdyaev’s Philosophy of Time. New York: P. Lang, 1988.

Vallon, Michel A. An Apostle of Freedom: Life and Teachings of Nicolas Berdyaev. New York: Philosophical Library, 1960.

Wernham, James C. S. Two Russian Thinkers: An Essay in Berdyaev and Shestov. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968.