Isabela Vasiliu-Scraba, NAE IONESCU AND MIRCEA ELIADE
“Nae Ionescu was one of Romania’s most proeminent minds, the most original Romanian figure in our contemporary history”
Mircea Eliade dedicates his doctor’s degree work -prepared in India and sustained in the Bucharest University -to the memory of the maharaj Maindra Chandra Nandy who granted him the scholarship in India, as well as to professor Nae Ionescu and Surandranath Dasgupta, the only professors he considered to be his gurus, as he noted in his Memories.
Dasgupta, a professor of the University of Calcutta and author of reference books about Patanjali was a great specialist in classical yoga. “To have the great opportunity to work with Dasgupta when you are 22” – the Italian indologist, Giuseppe Tucci had told Mircea Eliade -, “I wished I were, at your age, in the company of such a great man!” (Mircea Eliade, Memorii, I, Ed. Humanitas, Bucuresti, 1991, pg. 189).
Mircea Eliade had easily convinced his mentor, Nae Ionescu, about the necessity to go to India after graduating Faculty of Letters and Philosophy so much the more as Nae Ionescu himself considered that “nowhere else could one understand better a philosophy but where it was moulded” (Ibid., p. 162).
As a student, Mircea Eliade worked as an editor with “Cuvîntul” (“The Word”). The three years he spent in India(1928-1931) were not only a period of intensive studies on the Indian spirituality, but also a period in which young Eliade was a permanent presence in the Romanian culture with his articles dedicated to the Indian culture. Mircea Eliade was sending articles from India and Nae Ionescu, in exchange, sent back his salary, thus allowing the former to buy the books he needed for his studies. On Eliade’s departure to India, professor Nae Ionescu had promised his protégé to get a scholarship from the Romanian government. And he got it.
Mircea Eliade sustained his thesis on yoga, which he had prepared during his the three years spent in India, in front of a committee composed of Dimitrie Gusti, Constantin Radulescu-Motru and Petre.P. Negulescu, all of them rationalistic philosophers. Retrospectively considered, these biographical details of Mircea Eliade seem almost boring.
The fact that things were different, that a thesis on yoga was a great novelty that also generated adverse reactions at the time is clearly seen today when, after the 1989 revolution, Nae Ionescu’s works were published, after being forbidden for 45 years.
Even at the time he published his studies about the Indian philosophy in the Romanian papers and later – after his return from India -, Mircea Eliade’s preoccupations aroused the hostile reaction of the rationalistic philosophers. Young Eliade, who was working on his doctorate thesis about “the origin of the Indian mysticism” was not attacked directly.
At that time he was too insignificant to become the target of the university personalities’ attacks. Only his master, famous professor Nae Ionescu(1890-1940), was attacked, as he was also suspected of “mysticism”, not only of the “guilt” of having protected and encouraged Mircea Eliade, the first propagator – in the Romanian culture- of the Indian spirituality. I called him “the first” because, later on, Sergiu Al-George(1922-1981) -the owner of Mircea Eliade’s indology library that was left in Romania after his exile- was to become another great specialist in the Indian spirituality.
Mircea Vulcanescu(1904-1952), the philosopher, offers interesting details abuot the polemics carried on between the university professor backing up the rationalistic positions and Nae Ionescu. This is what we learn from Mircea Vulcanescu regarding the attacks against Nae Ionescu: “it is known that a cultural polemics has been going on in the University since professor Radulescu-Motru inaugurated his psychology course this year with a direct attack against the so-called “mystical, Oriental, Asian and obscurantistic” trends lately manifested in the Romanian culture and “fostered” by the University itself.
Aware of the attack, Nae Ionescu responded in his inaugural lecture of the metaphysics course by defining his attitude. He also emphasized the success in full swing of the spiritualist orientation among the philosophers of the young generation.” (See Mircea Vulcanescu, “Nae Ionescu’s Philosophical Thought“, article published in “Epoca” newspaper, 30-th January 1931).
It is said that the inaugural lesson in which Nae Ionescu had responded to the rationalist philosopher Constantin Radulescu-Motru would have been about “the fashion in philosophy”. In my opinion, this famous inaugural lesson is not exclusively on “fashion” in philosophy.
As insignificant as the “fashion” in philosophy is, in my opinion, the presence of the polemics itself, since beyond what some people thought to be the impersonation of superficiality, professor Nae Ionescu talked about serious things of great interest such as, in this case, the way to understand the relation of time and metaphysics despite the absolute character of each metaphysical solution.
Here are Nae Ionescu’s statements made at the beginning of his second lesson: “Those who were attended our first disscussion might have thought my lecture was intentionally polemical. I must confess that it was not. The form might have been polemical, but, in fact I want to tell what is on my mind…I wanted to mention the fact that, in principle, there can exist a number of philosophies, and they do exist. As a matter of fact, this is the fundamental fact on which, generally speaking, the possibility of a history of philosophy relies.” (See Nae Ionescu, The History of the Metaphysics, 1930-1931, p. 24).
The polemical appearance had been conferred by the hints made by Nae Ionescu to the attack of the “reason exclusivists” against him or against the doctorate thesis on “the origin of the Indian mysticism” which was to be sustained by Mircea Eliade who had returned from India in December 1931.
Irrespective of its polemical appearances, the first lecture of the course of history of metaphysics in 1930-1931 cannot be reduced to the collateral subject of “the fashion in philosophy”, which was itself wrongly understood.
Referring to the position of the rationalistic philosophers who denied the intellective intuition in metaphysics, Nae Ionescu had stessed that metaphysics does not exclusively resort to reason. This was clear to those who had read his courses of metaphysics.
Things were different with his “opponents” -as he called the rationalistic philosophers – who kept on criticizing him either for not having published his doctorate thesis sustained in Germany (1919), or for not having published books, or for the fact that in their opinion a “healthy” philosophy is the one based only on rationalistic positions.
Nae Ionescu points to the change of fashion in philosophy, starting from the historical reality of metaphysics and taking as example the impact the Oriental spirituality had on the European culture even since the beginning of the 20 -th century. In compliance with this fashion, the Oriental trend in the Romanian culture was not different from the European culture.
About the Oriental trend in Romania, “fostered” – in Radulescu-Motru’s opinion -, by the Bucharest University -as if it were a fraud -, Nae Ionescu stated that such a trend would not be unusual as it was in accordance with the spirit of the time.
In other words, Nae Ionescu had stated, allusively, of course, that Mircea Eliade, with his thesis about “the origin of the Indian mysticism” did nothing but kept abreast of the times he lived what, after all, did not represent so big a catastrophe that the forum of the University could feel disturbed and adopt a hostile attitude.
After Mircea Eliade had sustained his doctorate thesis in 1933, Nae Ionescu took the necessary steps in order that Mircea Eliade could become his assistant to the Chair of metaphysics. “Nae Ionescu had struggled to appoint me his assistant”, write Eliade in his Memories (pg. 237).
Years later, when Mircea Eliade had already become an authority in the field of history of religions, he will not forget professor Nae Ionescu and will speak and often write about him (even in Encyclopaedia Britannica).
In some interviews, published later in a book entitled “The Attempt of the Labyrinth“, Mircea Eliade remembered that Nae Ionescu – professor of logics, metaphysics and history of metaphysics -, not only let him teach the course of history of metaphysics and a seminar of history of logics, but Nae Ionescu also advised him to start first with teaching the course of history of religions and then the history of metaphysics.
Speaking freely in front of his students, as Nae Ionescu used to do, Mircea Eliade notes down in his diary that, in spite of the numerous audience to his courses, he lacked Nae Ionescu’s genius of building the lesson like a symphony, without any superfluous things and resuming in the last five minute all the topics mentioned during the lesson and clearing them up in the light of the whole (pg. 305).
At the age of 20, when he was an editor with “Cuvîntul”, Mircea Eliade had his spiritual portrait made by Nae Ionescu -a highly refined spiritual portrait: “For you, -Nae Ionescu had told his protégé at that time-, existence means, in the first place, a series of spiritual adventures; I think you are wrong, but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is what you will do, what you will create, before and after you realize you are wrong.” (See Mircea Eliade, Memories. I, Ed. Humanitas, Bucuresti, 1991, pg. 146).
The exiled Mircea Eliade will consider later that “creation is the answer we can give to the terror of history” (See Mircea Eliade, The Attempt of the Labyrinth, Ed. Dacia, 1990, pg. 85).
The existence transfigured through a long series of spiritual adventures will be defined by Nae Ionescu in his last course of metaphysics in 1936-1937 as “the way of the accepted suffering”. It might be one of the two faces of the metaphysics I have got used to call “Ullises’ metaphysics” (See, Isabela Vasiliu-Scraba, Nae Ionescu’s metaphysics, in its sole and in its double form, Ed. Starr Tipp, 2000).
God wanted Nae Ionescu to pass away when he was not 50 yet. He did not have the opportunity to find out what happened, later on, with Mircea Eliade. But he did have the intuition about the success Eliade was to have as a historian of religions and as a university professor even since the time when he avoided to advise his protégé to write less literature, as he knew that his disciple would do what his own destiny would advise him to.
After the publication of the short novel “Young lady Christine” (1936), Mircea Eliade was sued. During the trial, Mariana Sora, a student at that time, came to professor Nae Ionescu “as a Walkiria in distress” as Mircea Eliade noted in his Memories, to ask him to save his protégé. Nae Ionescu told Mircea Eliade at the time: “If you have succeeded to arise such devotion in your students, then I am quite certain about your future” (pg. 356).
The academic year of 1936-1937, when tried to fire Mircea Eliade from University, happened to be the year of professor Nae Ionescu’s last course of metaphysics. It was the period he needed to expose his own vision of the world, after he had presented in 1928-1929 and in 1929-1930 the metaphysical knowledge, and in 1930-1931 he had introduced a new perspective over the history of metaphysics.
In the last course of metaphysics (1936-1937), in a splendid arborescence, there will be contoured Nae Ionescu’s metaphysics in its sole feature -as metaphysics of being – and in its double form – the so-called Achilles’ metaphysics and Uysses’ metaphysics.
Ulysses’ myth will later on fascinate Nae Ionescu’s protégé. Mircea Eliade, the famous historian of religions, now at an age that could offer him a good perspective over the spiritual adventures he had experienced, will consider Ulysses “the prototype not only of the modern man, but also of the man tied to his future, as he is the type of the hunted for traveller. His journey is directed to the center, to Ithaca, in other words, to his own self”. But, continues Eliade, “as in the labyrinth, in any other journey is a risk of losing your own self” (Mircea Eliade, “The Attempt of the Labyrinth“, pg. 86).