Berdjajews Briefe an Lieb


The Letters of Nikolaj Berdjajew to Fritz Lieb






ed. by Klaus Bambauer

a) Introduction

Not very well-known is the correspondence of N.Berdjajew with his close friend Fritz Lieb (1892-1970). (1)

This article involves the relationship of both N.Berdjajew and his friend Fritz Lieb, who died some 30 years ago. F.Lieb did considerably much to encourage the Eastern Christianity by his many essays, and he wrote the book entitled "Sophia and History" - articles on the Eastern and Western history of spirit and theology (published Zuerich Switzerland 1962). He was spiritually situated between the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth and the Russian philosophy of religion, and as professor of theology he lectured often on this subject at the University of Basel/Switzerland.

In this introduction we shall first of all consider the connections between Berdjajew and Lieb. In his mentioned book Lieb wrote an article "Nikolaj A.Berdjaev and his Christian-socialistic philosophy". (2) In his autobiography "Selbsterkenntnis", published in Germany in 1953, Berdjajew himself remembered of Lieb with deep cordiality. (3) Also Lieb recalls: "The last time I saw Berdjajew, with whom I have preserved a long friendship, was when he returned from his last holiday in Switzerland to Clamart near Paris. He took part in Geneva at the "Rencontres internationales", and there he gave a lecture on the "Man face to face with the present civilization".

b) Biographical notes to Fritz Lieb. (4)

F.Lieb was born in the family of a pastor in Rothenfluh/Switzerland. After the study of Oriental languages at the universities of Basel and Berlin, he began the study of theology and he became familiar with the protestant theologian Karl Barth, moreover as a friend also. Barth asked that the assistant Lieb come to Safenwil, where Barth at this time was working at the second edition of his famous "Roemerbrief". In 1930 Barth supported the proposal, that Lieb should become extraordinary professor for Eastern Christianity at the University of Bonn/Germany. In 1923 Lieb completed his study by his doctoral thesis "Baader and Kant". (5)

Along with many other young intellectuals of the time after the Russian Revolution, Lieb learned the Russian language and he began to buy Russian books of religious, philosophical and historical content. And thus he collected large parts of a singular intellectual heritage. In 1937 he presented his uniquely famous Slavic library to the University of Basel. He enlarged this library, and after his death his widow Ruth Lieb-Staehelin (1900-1986) extended it. Today the "Fritz Lieb" Library comprises more then 13000 books. To specialists this library has become known as one of the most famous Slavic libraries of the world. (Cf. his article: Die russisch-slawische Bibliothek in der Universitaetsbibliothek Basel, in: Sophia und Historie, pp. 19-30.)

During his time as an university lecturer, F.Lieb came in contact with many of the exiled Russians and in 1924 he visited with N.Berdjajew in Paris through the Swiss YMCA-secretary Gustav Kullmann (1894-1961). Between them there developed a long friendship, which deepened still further in the period from 1934 to 1937. In Basel, F.Lieb organized lectures of Berdjajew and of other religious philosophers from Paris. We can assume, that Berdjajew became familiar with Karl Barth by means of F.Lieb. But between Barth and Berdjajew a long-term association did not materialise. They had too different a way of approach, in spite of their "dialectical" claims of outlook. Lieb supported the publication of Berdajew's book, "Freedom and the Spirit", in 1930 in the German language. (6) In a letter of 20th of July 1948 the translator J.Schor wrote to Lieb: "I think, that you by your nearness to Berdjajew you have become the trustee of his heritage for the Western world". (7)

During his time in Paris, F.Lieb founded also the anti-Fascist "Freie deutsche Akademie" (Free German Academy). And in 1937 F.Lieb got the appointment as extraordinary professor in dogmatics and church-history with special regard of the Eastern churches at the University of Basel.

c) The journal "Orient and Occident"

In his article "Berdjajew and Switzerland", Erich Bryner summarizes the details of the growth of this Journal. (8) He notes, that people in Switzerland had paid more and more attention to the thought and books of Berdjajew since 1930. The theologian Fritz Lieb gained support for Berdjajew in the journal "Orient and Occident", published by the theologians Paul Schuetz (1891-1985) and F.Lieb, edited in Leipzig 1929-1934 by the Hinrich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

After his going into exile to Paris, Lieb met his friend daily and he felt honoured, that Berdjajew offered to him the "Du", very exceptional for Russian aristocrats. But in 1934 the publishing house stopped the co-operation, after 17 issues (1929-1934). Lieb had to find a new publisher and after long efforts he engaged the Swiss publishing house, Gotthelf-Verlag Bern, to print "Orient and Occident". But here were published only three issues [new series No.1-3, 1936], since in Switzerland there had been only 35 subscribers, while in Germany the journal was not allowed to appear by political reasons. The publisher Gotthelf-Verlag published Berdjajew's anthropological work "Die Bestimmung des Menschen" ("The Destiny of Man") in 1935.

In the leading article of the first number of "Orient and Occident" in 1929, Lieb presented programmatically his view of the connection between Orthodoy and Protestantism. For him the Church has to exist as "una sancta". But he pointed out likewise: A true meeting of the churches presupposes a stocktaking and repentance. After the death of Berdjajew, F.Lieb wrote to Eugenie Rapp: "With time he really became a father". And he continued: "He gave me the greatest possible enlightenment among all my friends". (9)

Preliminary remarks

The letters of N.Berdjajew to F.Lieb are all written in German language. The few mistakes in German style of these letters have been corrected by this translation. Some indistinct or unreadable words are put in brackets [...]. The letters are accompanied by foot-notes, to put them in the necessary historical circumstances of Berdjajew's life and his philosophical work. The question of the formulation of the letters is sometimes vague. In this case the time of formulating is put in brackets, the additions too. The messages of the Russian religious thinker were written in normal letters and – if very short – on simple post-cards.

The place of discovery of these letters is the Department of Autographic Letters, within the Library of the University of Basel/Switzerland (Bequest Fritz Lieb, call number Aa 101, 1-42. Cf. also: Michael Stricker, Nachlass Fritz Lieb (Publikationen der Universitaetsbibliothek Basel No. 9, Basel 1990). Cf. also: the article by Hans-Peter Friedrich: "Dear Feodor Iwanowitsch...". From the letters of Nikolaj Berdjajew and Georges Florowsky to Fritz Lieb (In: Stimme der Orthodoxie [The Voice of Orthodoxy] no. 3/1997, pp. 166-171).

Notes: Introduction

(1) Cf. Bequest Lieb, edited by Michael Stricker, Basel 1990. There can also be found letters of Lydia Berdjajew and Eugenie Rapp, who lived since 1914 with the Berdjajews in Moscow, to F.Lieb.

(2) Cf. p. 202-211.

(3) Cf. p. 306. See also D.Lowrie, A life of Nikolai Berdyaev p 210, 247. "Among other associates was Fritz Lieb, Swiss professor and connoisseur of things Russian. Leaving his post at the University of Bonn because he could not endure Hitlerism, Lieb lived for several years in Clamart, partly because he sought personal contact with Berdyaev. The two men had met before, and durings Lieb's stay in Clamart they saw a good deal of each other – to the great pleasure of both".

(4) Cf. S.Reichelt, Nikolaj A.Berdjaev in Deutschland 1920-1950 (A historical study on his reception); Leipzig 1999, pp.119.

(5) This work was published as: "Franz Baaders Jugendgeschichte. Die Fruehentwicklung eines Romantikers", Munich 1926. F.Baader influenced Berdjajew also – especially in view of the ideas of J.Boehme.

(6) In a letter of 2th of January 1928 to Lieb N.Berdjajew returns his thanks to his friend for this promotion of the book.

(7) Bequest Lieb.

(8) Cf. E.Bryner, Berdjajew and Switzerland, in the journal: Stimme der Orthodoxie [Voice of Orthodoxy] (published in Germany), No. 3/1996, p. 47-49.

(9) Cf. S.Reichelt, p. 127, foot-note 64.

Letter 1

Clamart (Seine) 2 rue Martial Grandchamps
2. Januar 1928

Lieber Herr Doktor! Danke Ihnen sehr, sehr für die Bücher welche Sie mir so liebenswürdig geschickt haben und besonders für Franz Baader. Ihr Geschenk ist mir sehr teuer. Die Bücher über Böhme ich werde Ihnen bald zurück schicken. Und noch den Buch von Bornkamm. Ich glaube wie früher, daß Böhme ist gar nicht typisch für den Protestantismus. Luther's Weltanschauung war antikosmisch. Ich interessiere mich sehr an Ihren Buch über Baader. Ich danke Ihnen herzlich noch einmahl und wünsche Ihnen alles Bestes für neues Jahr.

Ihr ergebener N.Berdiaeff

Clamart (Seine) 2 rue Martial Grandchamps (10)
2nd of January 1928

Dear Doctor [Lieb]!

Thank you very much for the books, that you sent to me so kindly and especially for Franz Baader. (11) Your present is for me very special. The books concerning Boehme I'll send back to you soon. And still the book of Bornkamm. (12) Like formerly I think that Boehme not at all is typical for Protestantism. The world-view of Luther was anti-cosmic. I am very interested in your book on Baader. Thank you very much once more and wish you all the best for the new year.

yours N.Berdiaeff

Notes: Letter 1

(10) The Berdjajew-family lived in Paris – after a short stay in a simple hotel in Paris – by the efforts of Prince Trubetzkoj in the house No. 2 of the rue Martial Grandchamps for four years. There they lived in three little furnished rooms in the ground-floor. "Then the house was sold and the family had to face the difficult housing problem again" (Lowrie, N.Berdjajew, p. 170). But some weeks later they were able to buy the house 14 rue St. Cloud. There the family should stay from 1928 to 1936. At the end of 1936 the rent was raised, which the Berdjajews were not able to pay. Berdjajew "as usual in a catastrophic situation, was calm" (Lowrie, p. 171). Florence West, an Englishwoman, said: "I wish you might have your own house; life in exile is so difficult" (Lowrie, p. 171). Thus the Berdjajews were installed at 83 rue du Moulin de Pierre in Clamart – "and the home was established which has been, since ever, a place of pilgrimage for seekers of the truth from many lands and races" (Lowrie, p. 171).

(11) This book contains the doctoral thesis of F.Lieb: Franz Baaders Fruehentwicklung. Erster Abschnitt. Jugendgeschichte bis 1792. Munich 1926. As far as we know Berdjajew knew the works of E.Susini on Franz von Baader (who gave his famous lectures on J.Boehme at the University of Munich in the 19th century). Susini published: "Franz von Baader and the mystical romanticism", Paris 1942. Berdjajew wrote on the work of Susini: "This is the most perfect work written until now about the German thinker" (Existentielle Dialektik des Goettlichen und Menschlichen, Munich 1951, p. 28). In this work you can find still more references to Baader.

(12) We can suppose, that the book probably is: Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther and Boehme, 1925. Berdjajew reviewed it together with other books on Boehme in: "Put'" No. 5/1926, pp. 631-633. At this time – from 1925 to 1927 – Berdjajew wrote his: Philosophie des freien Geistes (Freedom and the Spirit). It was published in Russia in 1927 and in Germany in 1930.

Letter 2

Clamart (Seine) 14, rue de St. Cloud
17. Februar [ohne Datum, 1928 oder 1929]

Lieber Fedor Iwanowitsch! Ich kann nicht den Artikel für Pfarrer Cremer schreiben. Ich bin zu [sehr] Philosoph und so eine faktische [?] Themas ist nicht für mich. Das wird sehr gut G.P.Fedotoff machen.

Heidegger habe ich bekommen. Danke sehr. Danke ich sehr auch für [...]. Das Bäumlersche Bachofenbuch hat mir Schütz geschickt. In Russland geht es sehr, sehr schlecht. Ich freue mich sehr, Ihnen im April zu sehen. Gewiß können Sie meine Rezension des Buches von Massis für "O[rient] und O[ccident]" nehmen. Schestoff bittet mir Ihnen zu sagen, dass er wird [...] über sein[en] Vortrag in "Put" schreiben. Wahrscheinlich haben Sie sein[en] Brief nicht bekommen.

Glauben Sie dass Sie werden ein[en] Verlag finden für den Sammelwerk von Russischen Wissenschaftlichen Institut, wo mein Artikel über Fedotoff ist? Das interessiert mich jetzt sehr. Diesen Winter mit meinen Finanzen geht es sehr schlecht, viel schlimmer als bisher. Ich mache ein sehr complizierte Kuhr und fühle mich noch ziemlich schlecht. Mein Artikel über Fedoroff ist groß und ich hoffe, für ihn Geld zu bekommen.

Ich wünsche Ihnen alles Bestes.
Mit freundlichem Gruss
Ihr N.Berdjajew

Clamart (Seine) 14, rue de St. Cloud
17th of February [without date, 1928 or 1929] (13)

Dear Fjodor Iwanowitsch!

I am not able to write the article for pastor Cremer. I am too [much] philosopher and such a real subject is not suitable for me. That will do very appropriate G.P.Fedotoff. (14) Heidegger I have got. (15) Thank you. Thank you very much also for [...]. The book of Bachofen, edit. by Baeumler, I got it from Schuetz. (16)
In Russia the things are very, very bad.
I am very glad to see you in April. Certainly you can take my review of the book of Massis for "Orient und Occident". (17)
Schestoff asks me to say you that he will [...] on his paper in "Put". Probably you didn't get his letter. Do you think that you will find a publishing-house for the collected edition of "Russian scientific Institut", where my article on Fedoroff is? That is very interesting for me. This winter my finances are very bad, things are going from bad to worse as in the past. I undergo now a course of a very complicated treatment and I regard me still rather bad. The article of mine on Fedoroff is large and I hope to get money for it. (18)
I wish you all the best.

yours N.Berdjajew

Notes: Letter 2

(13) At 3rd of February 1928 Lieb wrote a letter to Berdjajew with references to Berdjajew's book "Das Neue Mittelalter" (published in Russian 1924 and in German 1927; in English in 1933 as "The End of Our Time). Cf. to the reception of this book by Lieb: S.Reichelt, Nikolaj Berdjaev in Deutschland, pp 120-122.

(14) G.P.Fedotoff (1886-1951) gave lectures at St. Serge/Paris. In 1931-1940 he edited the journal "Novyi Grad". Since 1943 he lived in USA, where he died. He was burried on the Russian cemetery of Saint-Geneviève-des-Bois.

(15) We can assume, that Berdjajew received "Sein und Zeit" of Heidegger, published in 1927.

(16) Berdjajew refers to the introduction by A.Baeumler to the book of J.J.Bachofen (1815-1857): "Der Mythos von Orient und Okzident. Eine Metaphysik der alten Welt", 1926. Paul Schuetz (1891-1985) established together with F.Lieb the journal "Orient und Occident" and was a member of their editorial staff until 1935 (no. 15 of "Orient und Occident").

(17) Berdjajew here refers to his article "Des Westens Anklage", Zu Henri Massis, Défense de l'Occident, later published in: "Orient und Occident", no. 4 (1930), pp 6-12.

(18) Cf. N.Berdjajew, N.F.Fjodoroff, in: Neue Schweizer Rundschau 21 (1928), pp 839-846.