WHAT I BELIEVE


by Leo Tolstoy


◄Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12►




The doctrine of Christ establishes the kingdom of God on earth.  To think that it is difficult to fulfill His doctrine is an error.  It is not difficult; indeed, he who has once clearly understood it cannot do otherwise than fulfill it, and the fulfilling of Christ’s doctrine does not involve us in suffering; it really saves us from nine-tenths of the suffering that we must bear for the world’s sake.

And, when I had understood this, I asked myself why I had never followed Christ’s doctrine, which leads to salvation and happiness, but had followed a contrary teaching that had brought me nothing but suffering.  There could be but one answer to that question – the truth had been hidden from me.

When Christ’s doctrine first grew clear to me, I did not think my having understood it would lead me to renounce the teaching of the Church.  It seemed to me only that the Church had not arrived at the conclusions that the doctrine of Christ leads to; but I did not think that the new light, which was revealed to me, and the conclusions that I drew from it, would separate me entirely from the Church.  Not once did I try during my researches to discover any error in the teaching of the Church; I intentionally closed my eyes to the views that seemed strange and ambiguous to me, as long as they did not absolutely contradict what I considered to be the basis of the Christian doctrine.

But the further I advanced in the study of the gospel, and the clearer the purpose of Christ’s doctrine grew, the more inevitable it became for me to choose between the doctrine of Christ, which was rational, clear, and in harmony with my conscience, and a teaching that was in direct opposition to it and that gave me nothing but the consciousness of my own peril and that of others.  I could not help throwing each of the Church theses aside, one after the other.  I did it most unwillingly, often struggling with my feelings, longing to soften the discordance between my reason and the teaching of the Church.  But when I had ended my work, I saw that however hard I might try to keep something, at least, of Church teaching, nothing really was left for me.

As I was drawing toward the close of my work, it happened that my son, a boy, told me that two of our servants, perfectly uneducated men, who hardly knew how to read, had been disputing about a passage in some book, in which it was affirmed that it is no sin to kill criminals, or to kill men in war.  I could not believe such a statement could have been published, and asked to see the book.  It was An Exposition of the Book of Prayer, third edition (eightieth thousand), Moscow, 1879.  I read page 163.

Q.  ‘What is the sixth commandment?’

A.  ‘You shall not kill.’

Q.  ‘What does God forbid by this commandment?’ 

A.  ‘He forbids our killing, that is, depriving a man of life.’

Q.  ‘Is it a sin to punish a criminal by death, according to the law, or to kill our enemies in war?’ 

A.  ‘It is no sin to do so.  A criminal is put to death in order to put a stop to the evil that he does.    Enemies are killed in the war in which we fight for our sovereign and our country.’

These are the only words that explain why this commandment is repealed.  I could hardly believe my own eyes.

The disputants asked my opinion upon the subject.  I said to the one who maintained that the text was quite right that the interpretation was incorrect.  ‘Then how is it that incorrect statements are printed?’ he asked.  I could give him no answer.  I kept the book and looked through it.  The book contains:  (1) prayers, with instructions concerning genuflections, and the way the fingers are to be joined in making the sign of the cross; (2) the interpretation of the Creed; (3) extracts from the fifth chapter of Matthew, without any explanations, in which the sayings contained in the chapter are, for some unknown reason, called the ‘beatitudes’; (4) the Ten Commandments, with explanations that annul them; and (5) anthems for feast days.

As I have said, I had not only tried to avoid finding fault with the teaching of the Church, but I had tried to view it in its best light, and had not sought to discover its weak points.  Though well acquainted with its academic literature, I was completely ignorant of its books for the use of schools.  The enormous circulation of a prayer book, which excited doubt even in ignorant men, struck me.

I could not believe that a prayer book, the contents of which were quite pagan, was the Church teaching, propagated among the people.  In order to see if it were really the case, I bought all the books published by the Synod, or that it allowed to be published, in which there were short explanations of the Church Creed, for the use of children and uneducated people, and I read them.

The contents were almost new for me.  At the time when I learned the Bible history and the catechism, these books did not exist.  There was, at that time, as far as I can remember, neither any explanation of the beatitudes, nor were we told that to kill a fellow-creature is no sin.  This was not to be found in the old Russian catechisms of Platon[20]; neither is it to be found in the catechisms of Peter Moguilla, or of Beliakoff[21].  It was an innovation made by Filaret, who likewise wrote a catechism for the military classes.  The Exposition of the Book of Prayer was taken from that very catechism.  The book that serves as the basis is A Complete Christian Catechism for the use of all Orthodox Christians, published by order of his Imperial Majesty.

The book is divided into three parts:  on faith, hope, and love.  The first part contains an analysis of the Nicene Creed.  The second, an analysis of the Lord’s Prayer, and of eight verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew, which form the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, and which are, for some unknown reason, termed ‘beatitudes.’  Both of these sections treat the dogmas of the Church, prayers, and sacraments.  The third part treats of the duties of a Christian.  We do not find the commandments of Christ expounded in this part, but the Ten Commandments of Moses.  These commandments are expounded in a way that seems to enjoin men to leave them unfulfilled, and to act contrary to them.  In reference to the first commandment, which enjoins us to worship God alone, the catechism teaches us to worship angels and saints, as well as the Virgin Mary and the three persons of the godhead.  (The Complete Catechism, pages 107, 108)  In reference to the second commandment, ‘You shall not make for yourself any graven image,’ the catechism teaches us to worship images (p. 108).  In reference to the third commandment, ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,’ the catechism tells men it is their duty to take an oath every time the legal authorities may require it of them (p. 111).  In reference to the fourth commandment, ‘To keep holy the Saturday,’ the catechism enjoins us to keep Sunday holy as well as thirteen great holidays and a number of smaller ones, and to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (p. 112-115).  In reference to the fifth commandment, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ the catechism tells us it is our obligation and duty to honor our sovereign, our father-land, our spiritual pastors, and all those who are put in authority over us; and about three pages are taken up with the enumeration of the authorities we are to honor – schoolmasters, civil commanders, judges, military commanders, masters (sic) for those who serve and whose property they are (p. 116-119).  I cite from the 64th edition of the catechism published in 1880.  Twenty years have gone by since slavery has been abolished, and no one has taken the trouble to remove the sentence that was added to the commandment, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ in order to uphold and justify slavery.

With regard to the sixth commandment, ‘You shall not kill,’ men are taught from the very first lines to kill.

What does the sixth commandment forbid?

Murder; or taking away our neighbor’s life in any way.

Is taking a man’s life always illegal murder?

Murder is not unlawful, when it is our duty to take away a man’s life; for instance:

When we punish a criminal by death.

When we kill the enemies in fighting for our sovereign and our native land.

And further on:

What other instances can you cite of murder?

… When a man harbors a murderer or sets him free.

And that is published in hundreds and thousands of copies, and instilled into the Russians by violence, by threats and fear of punishment, under the pretence of its being the Christian doctrine.  This is taught to the whole Russian nation.  This is taught to innocent children, in speaking of whom Christ said, ‘Allow little children to come to Me, for theirs is the kingdom of God’; to children whom we must be like, in order to enter the kingdom of God; like them in knowing nothing of all this; to children, in speaking of whom Christ said, ‘Woe to him who tempts one of these little ones.’  And these children are made to learn this; they are told that it is the sacred law of God!

Such things are not proclamations secretly propagated, under fear of being sent to hard work in the mines; but they are proclamations, acting contrary to which leads men to hard work in the mines.  While I write, a chill creeps over me at my daring to say what I must say – that we have no right to annihilate the commandments of God, which are written in all His laws and in all our hearts, by adding such words as ‘duty,’ ‘our sovereign,’ ‘our father-land,’ etc., which explain nothing.

Yes, what Christ warned us against has come to pass, for He said (Luke 11:33-36, and Matt. 6:23), ‘Take heed that the light that is in you is not darkened.  If the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!’

The light that is in us has indeed become darkness; and that darkness is an awful one.

Christ said, ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees; for you shut up the kingdom of God against men.  For you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow others to go in.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; therefore you are still more guilty.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you search seas and lands to make one proselyte, and when you have done so, you make him worse than he had been before.  Woe to you, blind guides!’

‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you build up the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous; and you suppose that if you had lived in the days when the prophets were martyred, you would not have joined in shedding their blood.  Then you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are no better than those who killed the prophets.  Fill up then the measure begun by those like you yourselves.  And behold, I will send to you wise prophets and scribes, and some of them you shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall you scourge in your synagogues and drive them from city to city.  And may all the righteous blood shed since the days of Abel fall back upon your heads.

‘Every blasphemy may be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven.’

Isn’t it as if this had been written only yesterday against those who now force men to accept their faith, and persecute and destroy all the prophets and just men, who try to bring their deception to light?

And I saw that though the Church calls its teaching a Christian doctrine, it is in truth the very darkness against which Christ strove and enjoined His disciples to strive.


The doctrine of Christ has two parts.  First, it bears upon the life of each individual and upon our social lives; or it has an ethical mission.  Second, it points out why men ought to live in the way it enjoins and not otherwise; or it has a metaphysical mission.  One is the effect and, at the same time, the cause of the other. Man must live thus because such is the purpose of his creation; or the purpose of his creation is such, and therefore he must life thus.  These two sides of every doctrine are to be found in all the religions of the world.  Such is the religion of Brahma, Confucius, Buddha, and Moses, and such is the religion of Christ.  It teaches us how we are to live and explains why we are to live thus.  But what befell all these other doctrines has befallen the doctrine of Christ also.  Men have turned aside from it, and there are many who try to justify their having done so.  Sitting down in Moses’ seat, they explain the metaphysical part of the doctrine in a way that makes the ethical requirements of the doctrine no longer obligatory, and they replace them by outward worship, rites, and ceremonies.  The same occurs in all religions, but it appears to me that never has the evil influence been so striking as in Christianity.  It acted with peculiar force, because the doctrine of Christ is the most sublime of all doctrines; it is the most sublime just because the metaphysical and ethical parts of the doctrine are so indissolubly bound together, and so bear upon each other that it is impossible to separate one from the other without depriving the whole doctrine of its true sense.  The doctrine of Christ is ultra-Protestantism, for it rejects not only all the ritualistic observances of Judaism, but also every outward form of worship.  This rupture in Christianity could have no other effect than to completely pervert the doctrine and deprive it of all sense.  And it did so.  The rupture between the doctrine of life and the exposition of how we are to live began with the sermon of Paul, who did not know the ethical teaching expressed in the gospel of Matthew, and who preached a metaphysically cabalistic theory, foreign to Christ.  The rupture was definitely accomplished in the time of Constantine, when it was found possible to array the whole pagan course of life in Christian clothing, without any change, and then to call it Christianity.  From the time of Constantine, the heathen of heathens, whom the Church has canonized for all his vices and crimes, began ‘councils,’ and the center of gravity of Christianity was transferred to the metaphysical side of the teaching alone.  And this metaphysical teaching, with the rites that form part of it, losing more and more of its fundamental sense, reached its present point.  It has become a teaching that explains the mysteries of life in heaven, and gives the most complicated rites for divine worship, but at the same time gives no religious teaching at all concerning life on earth. 

All religious creeds, except that of the Christian Church, enjoin, besides the observance of certain rites, good deeds and forbearance from evil ones.  Judaism requires circumcision, the keeping of the Sabbath, the bestowing of alms, the keeping of the year of jubilee, and many other things.  Islam requires circumcision, daily prayers five times a day, the tenth part of a man’s riches to be given to the poor, the adoration of the tomb of the prophet, and so on.  We find the same in all other religions.  Be the duties good or bad, they are deeds.  Pseudo-Christianity alone exacts nothing of its followers.  There is nothing that is obligatory to a Christian, if we exclude fast-days and prayers, which the Church itself does not consider as obligatory; there is nothing that he must refrain from.  All that is necessary for a pseudo-Christian is never to neglect the sacraments.  But the believer does not administer the sacraments to himself; others administer them to him.  No obligation lies on the pseudo-Christian; the Church does all that is necessary for him:  he is baptized and anointed, the sacraments of Holy Communion and Extreme Unction are administered to him, his confession is taken for granted if he is unable to make it orally, prayers are said for him, and he is saved.  From the time of Constantine the Church never required any deeds of its members; it never even enjoined a man to refrain from anything.  The Christian Church acknowledged and consecrated all that had existed in the pagan world.  It acknowledged and consecrated divorce, slavery, courts of law, and all the powers that had existed before, such as war and persecution, and only required evil to be renounced in word at baptism.  The Church acknowledged the doctrine of Christ in word, but denied it in deed.

Instead of pointing out to the world what life ought to be, the Church expounded the metaphysical part of Christ’s doctrine in a way that required no duties, and did not hinder people from living on as they had lived before.  The Church, having once given way to the world, followed it ever after.  The world organized its existence in direct opposition to the doctrine of Christ, and the Church invented metaphors according to which it appeared that men who really lived contrary to the law of Christ lived in accordance with it.  And the world began to lead a life that rapidly grew worse than that of the pagans, and the Church began to justify this way of living and to affirm that it was strictly in accordance with the doctrine of Christ.

But a time came when the light of the true doctrine, which lies in the gospel, penetrated among the people in spite of the Church, which had tried to conceal the doctrine by forbidding the translation of the Bible; the time came when this light penetrated among the people through so-called sectarians, and even through free-thinkers, and then the falsity of the Church teaching grew evident to all, and men began to change their former lives and live up to that doctrine of Christ that had reached them independently of the Church.

Thus men annihilated slavery, which had been justified by the Church; annihilated religious executions, which had been sanctioned by the Church; annihilated the power of sovereigns and popes, which had been consecrated by the Church; and now the turn of property and kingdoms has come.  The Church never rose in defense of anything, and cannot do so, because the annihilation of these false principles of life is based on the Christian doctrine that the Church has preached and still preaches.

The doctrine of life has emancipated itself from the Church, and has established itself independently of it.  The Church retains the right to interpret Christ’s doctrine; but what interpretation can it give?  The metaphysical explanation of the doctrine has weight only when it explains what life is, or ought to be.  But no such teaching is left to the Church.  It could only speak of the life that it had organized of old, which is now no more.  If any of the old interpretations remain, as, for instance, when the catechism tells us that we must kill when it is our duty to do so, nobody believes them; and nothing is left to the Church but its temples, images, brocades, and words.

The Church has carried the light of the Christian doctrine of life through eighteen centuries; and while trying to conceal it in its raiment it has been burnt itself in this light.  The world, with its social adjustments consecrated by the Church, has now thrown the Church aside in the name of the same Christian truths that the Church unwillingly carried along with it, and the world now lives without it.  The Church is done with, and it is impossible to conceal the fact.  All those who really live, and do not drearily vegetate, in our European world have left the Church.

All Churches, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, are like sentinels keeping guard over a captive, while the captive has escaped and even walks about among the sentinels.  All that now forms true ‘life’ in the world, Socialism, Communism, theories of political economy, utilitarianism, liberty and equality, all the moral opinions of men, all that governs the world and that the Church considers to be inimical to it, is a part of the very doctrine the same Church unwittingly brought in together with the doctrine of Christ that it tried to conceal.

The life of the world in our time follows its own course, independently of the teaching of the Church.  That teaching has remained so far behind that men of the world hearken no more to the voices of the teachers; and, indeed, there is nothing worth listening to, because the Church only gives explanations that the world has already grown tired of – explanations of an organization that is rapidly decaying.

Certain men set out in a boat, while a man at the helm steered.  He was a skilful pilot, and the boat glided rapidly on; but a time came when a less skilful helmsman took his place.  Finding the latter incapable of steering well, those in the boat first ridiculed him and then drove him away.

That would not have mattered much if the men had not forgotten, in their anger against the useless helmsman, that without one they would not know in what direction they were going.  So it was with our Christian world.  The Church does not stand at the helm any more; we row rapidly on, and all the progress of knowledge on which our nineteenth century prides itself is only the result of our floating without a helmsman.  We do not know where we are going.  We go on leading our present lives absolutely without knowing why we do so.  And yet it is as unreasonable to live without knowing why we do so as it is to set off in a boat without knowing to where we are bound.

If men did nothing themselves, but were placed in the position they occupy by some outward power, then they might answer the question, ‘Why are you in such a position?’ by saying that they did not know why.  But men make their own positions for themselves, for each other, and especially for their children, and they must therefore be able to answer when asked why they assemble into armies, to cripple and to kill each other; why they waste the immense strength of millions in erecting useless and pernicious cities; why they organize their petty courts of law, and send men whom they call criminals out of France to Cayenne, out of Russia to Siberia, and out of England to Australia, while knowing that it is senseless to act thus.  When they are asked why they leave the fields and woods they love to work in factories and sweatshops that they hate; why they bring up their children to lead the same lives though they disapprove of them; they ought to be able to give some reason for their conduct.  Even if all this were pleasant, men should be able to give their reasons; but when it is the hardest possible work, when men groan over it, how can they go on acting in this way without trying to find adequate reasons.  Men never have lived without trying to solve these questions; men cannot live without making the attempt.

The Jew lived as he lived – he made war, he executed men, he built temples, he organized his life thus and not otherwise – because it was enjoined him by the Law, which, according to his conviction, came from God Himself.  It is thus likewise with the Hindus and the Chinese, it was thus with the Romans and the Muslims, it was thus with the Christians a hundred years ago, and it is thus now with the ignorant crowd.  The unthoughtful Christian now solves these questions in this way:  soldiery, war, courts of law, and executions exist according to the commandments of God, transmitted to us by the Church.  The Church teaches that the world, as we know it, is a lost world.  All the evil that fills it exists only by the will of God as a punishment for the sins of men, and therefore we must submit to it.  We can only save our souls by faith, by the sacraments, by prayer, and by submission to the will of God.  The Church teaches us that each must submit to the sovereign, who is the anointed of God, and to those who are in authority over us; that each must defend his own property by violence, make war, and execute or be executed according to the will of the authorities placed over him by God.  It does not matter if this explanation good or bad, it formerly explained all the various phases of life to the believing Christian, and man did not renounce his own reason while living according to the law that he acknowledged as divine.  But now the time has come when only the most ignorant believe in this, and even their number decreases with every day and every hour of the day.  There is no possibility of stopping this progression.  All eagerly follow those who are in front, and all will soon reach the point where the foremost now stand.  But the foremost are standing upon the brink of an abyss.  The position of the foremost is an awful one.  They point out the path to those who are to follow them, and are themselves completely ignorant both of what they are doing and of the things that impel them to act as they do.  There is not one man among them who could now answer the direct question, “Why do you lead the life that you lead?’  ‘Why do you do what you do?’  I have addressed such questions to hundreds of men, and have never received a direct reply.  Instead of a plain answer to the question, I always received an answer to some question that I had not asked.  Whenever I asked a Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox believer why he lived as he did – so contrary to the doctrine of Christ, which he professed – instead of a direct answer, each would begin to talk of the lamentable want of faith of the present generation, of the wicked men who propagate irreligion, and of what awaited the Church in future.  But the answer why the man did not do what his creed enjoined was never given to me.  Instead of answering about himself he would speak of the general state of mankind, and of the Church, as if his own life was of no importance whatever, and as if he were engrossed by the idea of saving all mankind, and especially the institution called ‘the Church.’

A philosopher, whether an idealist, a spiritualist, a pessimist, or a positivist, would answer the question of why he did not live according to his philosophical teaching by talking of the progress of mankind and of the historical law of that progress, thanks to which mankind was rapidly advancing toward perfect happiness.  But he would never give a direct answer to the question, why he himself, in his own life, did not fulfill what he considered rational.  The philosopher, like the believer, seems to be taken up with observing the general laws of all humanity rather than with the ordering of his own individual life.

If you ask an average man, a representative of the great majority of the civilized men who are half believers, half unbelievers, and who are all, without a single exception, dissatisfied with their own lives and with our social adjustments, and who always foresee approaching ruin – such an average man, on being asked why he leads a life that he himself finds fault with, and why he does nothing to improve it, never gives you a direct answer and never speaks of himself, but turns the conversation to some general question about justice, trade, the state, or civilization.  If he is a policeman or an attorney he will say, ‘And how are things to go on if, in order to better my own life, I take no part in the affairs of the country?  How will trade progress?’  If he is a merchant he will say, ‘What progress will civilization make, if I do not cooperate in its advancement?’  Each speaks as if the problem of his life did not lie in attaining the happiness toward which he strives, but in serving the state, commerce, or civilization.  The average man answers exactly as the believer and philosopher do.  He answers a personal question by a general one; and the reason why the believer, the philosopher, and the average man retort by a general question is that not one of them has any true notion of life.  And each of them really feels ashamed of his ignorance.

It is only in our Christian world that, instead of the doctrine of life, the explanation of what our life ought to be – which is religion – there is only the explanation of why life must be such as it was of old; and the name of religion is given to a teaching that nobody needs.  Nor is that all; science has acknowledged this same fortuitous, defective position of society as the law of all mankind.  Learned men, such as Tillet, Spenser, and others, argue very seriously about ‘religion,’ understanding by the word the metaphysical teaching of the ‘origin of all,’ without suspecting that, instead of speaking of religion as a whole, they speak of only a part of it.

The result of all this is that, in our century, we see wise and learned men who are ‘naively’ convinced that they are devoid of all religion, only because they do not acknowledge the correctness of those metaphysical explanations that were, in some past time, given as explanations of life.  The idea never occurs to them that they must live in some way or other, that they do live in some way or other, and that it is exactly the principle on which their lives are based that is their religion.  These men imagine that they have very elevated convictions and no faith.  But, whatever they may say, they have faith if they accomplish any rational work, because rational work is always the result of faith.

We may live according to the teaching of the world; we may lead an animal life without acknowledging anything higher and more obligatory than the decrees of the existing authorities.  But he who lives thus cannot be said to live rationally.  Before saying that we live rationally we must answer the question, ‘Which doctrine of life do we consider as a rational one?’  Miserable beings that we are, we have no such doctrine; we have even lost all consciousness of the necessity for gaining any rational doctrine of life.

Ask the men of our day, whether they are believers or unbelievers, what doctrine they follow.  They will be obliged to confess that they follow only the laws written by the officials of the Second Section, or by the Legislative Assembly, and put in practice by the police.  This is the only teaching that our European world acknowledges.  They know that this teaching does not come either from heaven or from the prophets, neither was it taught by the sages.  They blame the regulations of these officials and of the legislative assemblies but submit to its executors, who are the police, and obey the most barbarous exactions without a murmur.  The legislative assemblies have decreed, and officials have written, that each young man must be ready to submit to insult, death, and murder; and all the fathers and mothers who have grown-up sons obey that law.

But all notions of there being a law that is indubitably rational and that each feels in his inmost soul to be obligatory are so lost in our world that the existence of a law among the Hebrews, which defined the whole order of life, for them, a law that was rendered obligatory by the moral feeling of each, is considered as existing exclusively among the Hebrews.  It is regarded as a peculiarity of the Hebrew nation that they obeyed what they considered in their inmost souls to be the indubitable truth, received directly from God, and they knew it to be such because it was in unison with their conscience.  The position of an educated man, a Christian, is considered to be a normal and natural one when he obeys what he knows was only written by despised men and is enforced by policemen, that is, when he obeys what he feels to be unjust and contrary to his conscience.

It was in vain that I looked in our civilized world for some moral principles of life that should be clearly expressed.  There are none.  There is even no consciousness of such principles being necessary.  There is even a firm conviction that moral principles are unnecessary; and that religion only consists in words about a future life, about God, about certain rites that, as some say, are necessary for salvation, while others consider them as totally unnecessary, and say that life goes on independently of all rules – that all that is necessary is to obey passively.

The main points of faith are the doctrine of life and the explanation of what life is and ought to be.  Of these the first is considered as unimportant and as having nothing to do with faith, while the second is only an explanation of a life that was, in some past time, together with some conjectures about the historical progress of life, and this is considered as the most important and serious point.  In all that really enters into the life of man – for instance, how he is to live, is he to commit murder or not, is he to condemn his fellow-creatures or not, in what way he is to bring up his children – men submit without a murmur to the rule of others who know no more than they do themselves why they themselves live as they do, and why they insist upon others living the same way.

And men consider such a life as rational, and are not ashamed of it.  This state of things would be awful, were it universal.  Fortunately, there are men in our days, the best men of our time, who, dissatisfied with such a creed, have a creed of their own concerning the life that we ought to lead.

These men are considered as pernicious and dangerous unbelievers; and yet they are the only believers.  They are believers in the doctrine of Christ, or at least in a part of it.

These men often do not know the whole doctrine of Christ.  They do not properly understand it, and indeed they often reject the chief basis of the Christian faith, which is non-resistance of evil; but their faith in what life ought to be is derived from the doctrine of Christ.  However these men may be persecuted and slandered, they are the only men who do not passively submit to all that they are ordered to do, and therefore they are the only men who do not vegetate, but lead a rational life, and they are the only true believers.


The link between the world and the Church grew weaker and weaker, according as its teaching flowed more and more into the world. 

And now the last link, which bound us to the Church, is breaking, and an independent process of life is beginning.

The teaching of the Church, with its dogmas, councils, and hierarchy, is unquestionably bound up with the doctrine of Christ.

Our European world, outwardly so self-confident, bold, and decided, and yet in the depth of its consciousness so terrified and confused, is undergoing what a new-born babe does; it tosses about, turning from side to side crying, and not knowing what it is to do.  It feels that the source of its former nourishment has dried up, but does not yet know where to look for a new one.

It is thus with our European world.  See what a complicated, seemingly rational, energetic life there is in our European world.  Art, science, trade, and social activity – all are full of life.  But all this only lives because its mother has recently fed it.  The Church brought the rational doctrine of Christ into the world.  It has done its business, and now has withered away.  All the organs of the world are full of life, but the source of their former nourishment is stopped, and they have not found a new one.  They seek it everywhere.

The world now has to comprehend that the former unconscious process of nourishment has outlived its time, and that a new, conscious process of nourishment is necessary.

This new process consists in admitting those truths of the Christian doctrine that had formerly flowed into the world through the medium of the Church, and that are the sources of life.  Men must again lift up the light that was hidden from them, and they must place it high before themselves and others and consciously live in that light.

The doctrine of Christ as a religion that defines life, and gives an explanation of human life, stands now as it did 1800 years ago before the world.  But before, the world had the interpretations of the Church, which, while hiding the doctrine from their eyes, seemed to suffice for its life; but now the time has come when the Church has served its time and the world has no one to explain to it the problem of its new life, and feeling its helplessness, must accept the doctrine of Christ.

Christ teaches us, first of all, to believe in the light while the light is in us.  Christ teaches men to place this light of reason above all else, to live up to it, and not to do what they themselves acknowledge to be irrational.  If you consider it irrational to kill Turks or Germans, do not do so; if you consider it irrational to force poor creatures to work hard, in order that you may wear fine hats or have fine drawing rooms, do not do so; if you find it an irrational proceeding to shut up those who have been depraved by idleness in a prison, in this way to condemn them to the worst possible company and to complete idleness, then do not do so; if you think it irrational to live in an infected town when you can live in the fresh fields, do not do so; if you consider it irrational to make your children study the dead languages more than they do anything else, then do not do so.

The doctrine of Christ is ‘light.’  The light shines.  It is impossible not to accept the light when it shines.  It is impossible to struggle against it; it is impossible to refuse to accept it.  It is impossible to refuse the doctrine of Christ because it encompasses all the errors in which men live, and, like the ether, which those who study the philosophy of nature speak of, it penetrates all.  The doctrine of Christ is essential for each, whatever position he may be in.  Christ’s doctrine must be accepted by men, not because it is impossible to deny the metaphysical explanation of life that it gives (we may deny all we choose), but because it alone gives us rules of life, without which mankind cannot live, if, at least, they wish to live as rational beings.

The power of Christ’s doctrine does not lie in the explanations it gives of the sense of life, but in the doctrine of life that flows out of it.  The metaphysical teaching of Christ is not new.  It is a teaching that is written in the hearts of men and that all the truly wise men of the world preached.  But the power of Christ’s doctrine lies in the practical application of this metaphysical teaching to life.

The metaphysical foundation of the teaching of the ancient Hebrews and of that of Christ is the same:  ‘love to God and love to our neighbor.’  But the application of this doctrine to life, according to Moses and according to the law of Christ, is very different.  According to the Law of Moses it was necessary to fulfill 613 commandments, including some most senseless and cruel ones, all based upon the authority of the scriptures.  According to the law of Christ the teaching that flows out of the same metaphysical basis is expressed in five rational commandments, which carry their own meaning and their own justification along with them, and which embrace the life of all mankind.

The doctrine of Christ would not be rejected either by Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, or others, even if they doubted the truth of their own creed; still less can it be rejected by our Christian world, which has no other moral law.

The doctrine of Christ does not disagree with men in respect to their view of life, but, including it, gives them what is wanting in it, what is indispensable.  It points out to them a path that is not a new one, but one familiar to them from their childhood.

You are a believer, whatever creed you may profess.  You believe in the creation of the world, in the Trinity, in the fall and the redemption of man, in the sacraments, in the efficacy of prayer, or in the Church.  Christ’s doctrine does not tell you that your creed is wrong; it only gives it what is wanting.  While you keep to your present creed you feel that the life of the world and your own life are full of evil, and you see no way of escape from this evil.  The doctrine of Christ (obligatory to you, being the teaching of your God), gives you simple rules that will deliver you and others from that evil.  Believe in resurrection from the dead, believe in paradise, in hell, in the pope, in the Church, pray as your creed enjoins you to do, keep the fasts, sing psalms, and all this does not prevent you from fulfilling what Christ tells you to do in order to attain true happiness, namely, avoid anger, do not commit adultery, do not swear, do not defend yourself by violence, never make war.

It may, perhaps, happen that you will not always fulfill all this.  You will yield to temptation and transgress one of these laws, just as you violate the rules of the civil law or the laws of good breeding.  You will, perhaps, in a moment of impulse, swerve from the rules laid down by Christ.  But in your calmer moments do not act as you do now, do not organize your life in a way that renders it difficult to avoid anger and adultery, to abstain from swearing and using violence or making war; but organize it in a way that should make all these things difficult to do.  You must admit the duty of acting thus, for these are the commandments of God.

You are, perhaps, an unbeliever or a philosopher.  You say that all goes on in the world according to a law that you have discovered.  The doctrine of Christ fully acknowledges the law that you have discovered.  But, independent of this law, which will bring good to mankind after thousands of years, is your own individual life.  Now you have no rules at all for your own individual life, except those written by men whom you despise, and enforced by the police.  The doctrine of Christ gives you rules that decidedly agree with your law, for your law of altruism is nothing but a bad periphrasis for the doctrine of Christ. 

Or you are neither a believer nor an unbeliever, you have no time to seek the purpose of life, and you have no definite creed; it is enough for you that you act as all others do.  Then Christ’s doctrine says in effect to you, you are unable to verify the truth of the doctrine that is preached to you – you find it easier to follow the example of those around you; but, however humble you may be in mind, you have a judge in your heart who sometimes makes you feel that you have acted rightly, and at other times shows you that you are wrong.  However modest your lot may be, you cannot help sometimes asking yourself, ‘Ought I to act as all around me do, or according to my own feeling?’  And no sooner does the question arise in your mind than the precepts of Christ are found to answer both your reason and your conscience.  If you are more a believer than an unbeliever, you act according to the will of God by following the precepts of Christ; if you are more a free-thinker than a believer, by obeying Christ’s precepts you follow the most rational laws that ever existed in the world, as you will see yourself, because the precepts of Christ bear their own justification in themselves.

Christ says (John 12:31), ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.’

He says likewise (John 16:33), ‘These things I have spoken to you that in Me you might have peace.  In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’

And it is in this way that the world, or the evil that is in the world, is overcome.

If a world of evil still exists, it exists only as something that is dead.  It lives only by inertia; there is no force of life in it.  It does not exist for him who believes in the commandments of Christ.  It is conquered by the rational consciousness of the son of man.

‘For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.  The victory that overcomes the world is your faith’  (1 John 5:4).

The faith that overcomes the world is faith in the teaching of Christ.


◄Chapter 10

Table of Contents

Chapter 12►




[20] The Moscow Metropolitan, 1785.

[21] The Moscow Metropolitan, 1826-1868.