It’s the encounter with magnificence, all-consuming magnificence, the infinite, which directs the human soul again to God. The sky calls us up; the earth drags us down…
On December 2, 1805, the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte achieved his most spectacular victory at the Battle of Austerlitz towards an allied military of Russians and Austrians. The battle is remembered for its brilliance and savagery and was immortalized in Leo Tolstoy’s Conflict and Peace. On the blood-stained slopes of the Pratzen Heights, Prince Andrei Bolkansky—wounded and searching up at the skies—gazes upon its immense magnificence earlier than he passes out. For the first time in the story Andrei places apart his empty private ambitions and permits the serenity round him raise him as much as the heavens regardless of the chaos of a battle surrounding him.
Prince Andrei is one among the many, and memorable, characters in Tolstoy’s epic. Rightly thought-about one in every of the biggest works of literature and the seminal Russian odyssey, Andrei stands in for Tolstoy, you, and me. The younger prince seemingly has the whole lot going for him. He’s good-looking. He comes from a rich and essential household. He has a profitable profession as the aide-de-camp to Mikhail Kutuzov, the biggest of the Russian generals. But, Andrei has additionally deserted his pregnant spouse to hunt glory in struggle. Main as much as Austerlitz he continuously fantasizes of getting his “Toulon moment.” He idolizes Napoleon to the level of erasing his personal id. Andrei is the tragic man of St. Augustine’s perception, a person turned solely inward to himself and may solely consider himself and his wishes at the exclusion of others.
Throughout the Battle of Schöngrabern, Andrei experiences the encounter as a comparatively indifferent observer. He heaps reward upon Captain Tushin’s remoted battery as the heroic unit that stymied the French advance and allowed the Russians beneath Prince Bagration to withdraw in good order and hyperlink up with Kutuzov earlier than the catastrophe at Austerlitz. In his report he is sort of a giddy youngster, a reproductive picture of the artillerists who have been described as having a child-like pleasure at watching the city catch hearth and blast grapeshot at the French troopers advancing on their place. He’s—like his hero, Napoleon—unable to see the human faces of struggle; the enemy are de-humanized or totally invisible to him. He has misplaced his personal humanity too, in the course of.
Andrei embodies the discontented and alienated lives that many stay. He’s away from residence and, subsequently, away from his household. He doesn’t search the true masculine worth of fatherhood; moderately, he passes it off to his father and mom to take care of his spouse and soon-to-be-born baby. He indulges in vainness and self-centered individualism that borders on a narcissism as he goals of being the lone hero who will lead the Russians to an excellent victory towards Napoleon—his hero—and win the laurels of all Russia. He’s a person together with his face centered on the muck and dirt of the earth relatively than the sky above which illuminates man and calls him to larger issues.
Conflict and Peace is a profoundly Christian novel. It’s a story of the wrestle to seek out pleasure and which means in life. What’s pleasure? How is it discovered? Andrei, like the remainder of the characters at the starting of the novel, are both not sure or looking for to seek out life’s achievement in issues that can’t finally deliver contentment to life. Whereas the story develops and it turns into clear that love is the reply, particularly the love present in marriage—household—the many characters are nonetheless unable to correctly confirm why marriage is that which can convey pleasure. Pierre, the different nice hero, is the first to intuitively collect that love has one thing to do with it regardless of all his flaws and waffling agnosticism throughout his conflicted torment on whether or not to marry Hélène whom he acknowledges he doesn’t actually love although proceeds to marry her which exhausts itself in catastrophe for all individuals concerned; although he later turns into a type of missionary to others as the story develops.
The transformation of Andrei begins as he lay wounded at Austerlitz. Full of an impetuous nihilistic streak when he grabs a fallen normal and expenses the French figuring out that he’ll die, his peering up at the sky after being wounded is one among the most majestic scenes in the novel. His wounding and solemn reflection upon the sky above results in his, admittedly, sluggish transformation away from himself to others. “How quiet, peaceful, solemn, not at all as I ran…How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanity, all falsehood, except the infinite sky.” As an alternative of forcibly altering the world—as was the dream of his hero Napoleon—Andrei lastly accepts the world as it’s and dwells in the marvelous great thing about all of it for the first time.
Andrei’s first transformative second is from the encounter with magnificence amid chaos and particular person needs. That he’s wanting up at the sky, the stars, is just not one thing to miss both. His sluggish march to embodying forgiveness and love of others begins with the clouds and fog of the battlefield giving approach and his discovering, for all intents and functions, that true star which directs one to the incarnate God who preached love on earth and goodwill to males. Andrei’s conversion second, his re-orientation, should remind certainly one of the Annunciation to the Shepherds in the Gospel of St. Luke. It isn’t till Andrei has been introduced low, humbled, that he glimpses eternity. Andrei’s sluggish journey to like of God, culminating in forgiveness and love of others (which is agape, or cohesion), begins together with his wanting as much as the heavens and discovering a wonderous sight earlier than his eyes. In the end he has the eyes to behold and obtain. He’s visited by divine as he lay wounded wanting up at the sky in all its marvel and majesty fairly than the clay to remold right into a shallow parody of politicized and utilitarian life.
The truth is, the Austerlitz transformation of Andrei continues when Pierre visits him for the first time in two years. Whereas Andrei has turn into one thing of a reclusive contemplative monk who seeks to shun the world, Andrei is delivered to life on this crypto-annunciation the place Pierre serves as the angelic determine who snaps Andrei out of his contemplative slumber. As they journey in the carriage and talk about the nice chain of being, Pierre ends his dialog by pointing to the sky—the sky that Andrei skilled in all its glory and majesty as he lay wounded. It’s a sluggish journey with many trials, however Andrei’s transformation started as he crossed the threshold at the Battle of Austerlitz. Of their dialog it turns into clear that Andrei, although confused and nonetheless disoriented in reorganizing his life, is on the path of service to others although he stays adamant he has forsaken that in service to himself.
The orientation of the eyes, that are additionally the home windows to the soul, to the skies is a vital inclusion that isn’t presupposed to be missed. Creativeness is that which is directed to the infinite, and the skies above are the window to the soul of God very similar to how human eyes are the home windows to human souls. It’s the encounter with magnificence, all-consuming magnificence, the infinite, which directs the human soul again to God. The sky calls us up; the earth drags us down.
From Austerlitz to Borodino, Andrei’s pilgrimage to God is accomplished as he lay beside Anatole Kugarin. Anatole, the man who carried on an affair with Natasha whereas married and destroyed Andrei’s and Natasha’s relationship, is moaning and whimpering like a toddler having misplaced his leg in battle. In that second, feeling nice pity for Anatole, Andrei utters unforgettable phrases, “Compassion, love of our brothers, for those who love us and for those who hate us, love of our enemies; yes, that love which God preached on earth.” A lesser man, a vengeful and spiteful man, might have discovered sadistic pleasure in the sufferings of such a person who has wounded one over the course of the years. Andrei takes the larger street. Dying, he asks for the gospels and, in assembly Natasha once more who begs him to forgive her, Andrei’s self-giving love is consummated when he tells Natasha that he already has forgiven her. Andrei’s heroic journey is full; from embodying the picture of Achilles to turning into an image-bearer of Christ.
A part of Tolstoy’s realism is how one should undergo chaotic wrestle to seek out peace—love—in life. Whereas not everybody should undergo an Austerlitz and Borodino to succeed in that place, all want to succeed in the similar place that Andrei arrives at by novel’s finish. He’s at peace with the world, himself, and others. This peace he finds is, as Tolstoy signifies by so many delicate and not-so delicate clues, via God. The removing of the centrality of God, nevertheless “invisible,” in readings of Struggle and Peace can’t, subsequently, come to know the actual coronary heart of the work. Austerlitz and the different nice battles are the battles that each one wrestle towards sin; the reward of operating that race is the bliss present in God which allows a real dwelling and appreciation of the world. Somewhat than conquering and remaking the world one finds peace in the world and is lifted as much as the infinite expanse that’s the heavens which transforms the soul to a love of the majesty (fairly than blandness) of the world together with love of others.
Creation, for Christians, signifies God’s love for humanity. It marks the first step of God’s want to dwell with males—by means of the incarnation and delivery of Christ. Amid chaos, inner and exterior struggles, one might look to the sky to see the mild pointing to the final magnificence and majesty of God’s in-dwelling with man. The incarnation and start of Christ is supposed to be a ravishing and majestic second—the time when God broke into the world of males for all to see. It ought to be the second of humanity’s (re)awakening. It ought to be the second of reorientation of our hearts to the love of others; the second when one finds magnificence, love, and peace in the world.
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Editor’s Word: The featured picture is a element from “The Annunciation” (1501) by Bernardino Pinturicchio (1454-1513), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.