NIHILISM : The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age
by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose
I. Introduction: The Question of Truth
II. The Stages of Nihilistic Dialectic
4. The Nihilism of Destruction
III. The Theology and the Spirit of Nihilism
1. Rebellion: The War against God
2. The Worship of Nothingness
IV. The Nihilist Program
1. The Destruction of the Old Order
2. The Making of the "New Earth"
3. The Fashioning of the "New Man"
V. "Beyond Nihilism"
Eugene's Proposed Outline for the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God
In a basement apartment near downtown San Francisco in the early1960's, Eugene Rose, the future Fr. Seraphim, sat at his desk covered with stacks of books and piles of paper folders. The room was perpetually dark, for little light could come in from the window. Some years before Eugene had moved there, a murder had occurred in that room, and some said that an ominous spirit still lingered there. But Eugene, as if in defiance of this spirit and the ever-darkening spirit of the city around him, had one wall covered with icons, before which a red icon-lamp always flickered.
In this room Eugene undertook to write a monumental chronicle of modern man's war against God: man's attempt to destroy the Old Order and raise up a new one without Christ, to deny the existence of the Kingdom of God and raise up his own earthly utopia in its stead. This projected work was entitled The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom, of God.
Only a few years before this, Eugene himself had been ensnared in the Kingdom of Man and had suffered in it; he too had been at war against God. Having rejected the Protestant Christianity of his formative years as being weak and ineffectual, he had taken part in the Bohemian counterculture of the 1950's, and had delved into Eastern religions and philosophies which taught that God is ultimately impersonal. Like the absurdist artists and writers of his day, he had experimented with insanity, breaking down logical thought processes as a way of "breaking on over to the other side." He read the words of the mad "prophet" of Nihilism, Friedrich Nietzsche, until those words resonated in his soul with an electric, infernal power. Through all these means, he was seeking to attain to Truth or Reality with his mind; but they all resulted in failure. He was reduced to such a state of despair that, when later asked to describe it, he could only say, "I was in Hell." He would get drunk, and would grapple with the God Whom he had claimed was dead, pounding on the floor and screaming at Him to leave him alone. Once while intoxicated, he wrote, "I am sick, as all men are sick who are absent from the love of God."
"Atheism," Eugene wrote in later years, "true 'existential' atheism burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God Whose ways are so inexplicable even to the most believing of men, and it has more than once been known to end in a blinding vision of Him Whom the real atheist truly seeks. It is Christ Who works in these souls. The Antichrist is not to be found primarily in the great deniers, but in the small affirmers, whose Christ is only on the lips. Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ...."
It was in such a condition of intense hunger that Eugene found himself in the late 1950's. And then, like a sudden gust of wind, there entered into his life a reality that he never could have foreseen. Towards the end of his life he recalled this moment: "For years in my studies I was satisfied with being 'above all traditions' but somehow faithful to them.... When I visited an Orthodox church, it was only in order to view another 'tradition.' However, when I entered an Orthodox church for the first time (a Russian church in San Francisco) something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or other Eastern temple; something in my heart said that this was 'home,' that all my search was over. I didn't really know what this meant, because the service was quite strange to me, and in a foreign language. I began to attend Orthodox services more frequently, gradually learning its language and customs.... With my exposure to Orthodoxy and to Orthodox people, a new idea began to enter my awareness: that Truth was not just an abstract idea, sought and known by the mind, but was something personal--even a Person--sought and loved by the heart. And that is how I met Christ."
While working on The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God in his basement apartment, Eugene was still coming to grips with what he had found. He had come upon the Truth in the Undistorted Image of Christ, as preserved in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but he yearned to enter into what he called the "heart of hearts" of that Church, its mystical dimension, not its boring, worldly, organizational aspect. He wanted God, and wanted Him passionately. His writings from this time were a kind of catharsis for him: a means of emerging out of untruth, out of the underground darkness and into the light. Although they are philosophical in tone, much more so than his later works, these early writings were born of an intense suffering that was still very fresh in his soul. It was only natural that he would write much more about the Kingdom of Man, in which he had suffered all his life, than about the Kingdom of God, of which he had as yet only caught a glimpse. It was still through the prism of the Kingdom of Man that he viewed the Kingdom of God.
Of all the fourteen chapters Eugene planned to write for his magnum opus (see the outline below), only the seventh was typed in completed form; the rest remain in handwritten notes. This seventh chapter, which we present here, was on the philosophy of Nihilism.
Nihilism--the belief that there is no Absolute Truth, that all truth is relative--is, Eugene affirmed, the basic philosophy of the 20th century: "It has become, in our time, so widespread and pervasive, has entered so thoroughly and so deeply into the minds and hearts of all men living today, that there is no longer any 'front' on which it may be fought." The heart of this philosophy, he said, was "expressed most clearly by Nietzsche and by a character of Dostoyevsky in the phrase: 'God is dead, therefore man becomes God and everything is possible."'
From his own experience, Eugene believed that modern man cannot come to Christ fully until he is first aware of how far he and his society have fallen away from Him, that is, until he has first faced the Nihilism in himself "The Nihilism of our age exists in all," he wrote, " and those who do not, with the aid of God, choose to combat it in the name of the fullness of Being of the living God, are swallowed up in it already. We have been brought to the edge of the abyss of nothingness and, whether we recognize its nature or not, we will, through affinity for the ever-present nothingness within us, be engulfed in it beyond all hope of redemption-unless we cling in full and certain faith (which doubting, does not doubt) to Christ, without Whom we are truly nothing."
As a writer, Eugene felt he must call his contemporaries back from the abyss. He wrote not only out of his own desire for God, but out of his concern for others who desired Him also--even those who, as he himself had once done, rejected God or warred against Him out of their very desire for Him.
Out of his pain of heart, out of the darkness of his former life, Eugene speaks to contemporary humanity which finds itself in the same pain and darkness. Now, three decades since he wrote this work, as the powers of Nihilism and anti-Christianity enter more deeply into the fiber of our society, his words are more needed than ever. Having faced and fought against the Nihilism in himself, he is able to help prevent us from being captured by its soul-destroying spirit, and to help us cling to Christ, the Eternal Truth become flesh.
--Monk Damascene Christensen