Petre Tutea (1902-1991): the Urban Hermit of Romanian Spirituality

Petre Țuțea (Romanian: [ˈpetre ˈt͡sut͡se̯a]; October 6, 1902 – December 3, 1991) was a Romanian philosopher, journalist and economist.
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Alexander Popescu, Petre Tutea: Between Sacrifice and Suicide (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004), 325 pp.
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“Petre Tutea (1902–91), a Romanian intellectual and Orthodox Christian, was imprisoned in Romania for most of his adult life. He spent thirteen years as a prisoner of conscience and twenty-eight years under house arrest. In a second phase of “reeducation”—the aim of which was to annihilate the personality and the national identity of those who had opposed communism (the first phase was physical torture)—Tutea was asked to collaborate with his torturers by teaching a course on Marxism to the other prisoners. Tutea replied that to understand Marxism, one would have to begin with antiquity, with Aristotle, and that such a preparation might take a few years: “So it was that he found himself as a political prisoner inside a Communist prison teaching pre-Socratic philosophy.” In another subversion of communist reeducation, Tutea, placed in solitary confinement, used the pipes in his cell to tap out prayers and messages in Morse code to his fellow prisoners. However, submitting to the lessons of a divine reeducation—which Tutea counterpointed to the reeducation of the torturers—exacted severities: “In prison I enabled my comrades in suffering to see” that “only by faith could they be saved from the huge temptation of the political prison where at every step you have an opportunity to betray faith and principles for a bowl of food.” Tutea called himself a “monk without a monastery.” (He had been trained as a lawyer; he had worked as an economist; and, after his release from Aiud prison, when he was unemployed, he was known as the “street philosopher of Bucharest.”) Tutea added: “My vocation has been that of legislator, not preacher, nevertheless I have spread faith as the wind scatters microbes.” Tutea’s epigrammatic style—and his ideal of redemptive suffering—have affinities with Simone Weil’s writing, although Weil held fast to her outsider status, while for Tutea “the Real” was lodged within the institutional, in what Mircea Eliade called “the sacred space of the Church and the sacred time of the religious festivals which enable humans to escape the emptiness of the infinite.”
Written by Alexandru Popescu, a psychiatrist—and Tutea’s former pupil and scribe—this cross between a biography, an intellectual history, and an homage is vexed by its reiterative Christian ideology. Yet one must forgive Popescu much, including vestiges of dissertation detail and the expression of his own pieties, because he makes the monumental figure of Tutea (and Tutea’s astonishing writing) available to a Western audience.”
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“Petre Tutea (1902-91) was one of the outstanding Christian dissident intellectuals of the Communist era in Eastern Europe. Revered as a saint by some, he spent thirteen years as a prisoner of conscience and twenty-eight years under house arrest at the hands of the Securitate. This book explores his unique response to the horrors of torture and ‘re-education’ and reveals the experience of a whole generation detained in the political prisons. Tutea’s understanding of human needs and how they can be fulfilled even amidst extreme adversity not only reflects huge learning and great brilliance of mind, but also offers a spiritual vision grounded in personal experience of the Romanian Gulag. Following the fall of the Ceausescus, he has begun to emerge as a significant contributor to ecumenical Christian discourse and to understanding of wider issues of truth and reconciliation in the contemporary world.

As Tutea’s pupil and scribe for twelve years, as a psychiatrist, and as a theologian, Alexandru Popescu is uniquely placed to present the work of this twentieth-century Confessor of the faith. Drawing on bibliographical sources which include unpublished or censored manuscripts and personal conversations with Tutea and with other prisoners of conscience in Romania, Popescu presents extensive translations of Tutea, which make his thought accessible to the English-speaking reader for the first time.

Through his stature as a human being and his authority as a thinker, Petre Tutea challenges us to question many of our assumptions. The choice he presents between ‘sacrifice’ and ‘moral suicide’ focuses us on the very essence of religion and human personhood. Resisting any ultimate separation of theology and spirituality, his work affirms hope and love as the sole ground upon which truth can be based. At the same time, hope and love are not mere ideal emotions, but are known and lived in engagement with the real world – in politics, economics, science, ecology, and the arts, and in participation in the Divine Liturgy that is at once the traditional offering of the Church and the cosmic drama of the incarnate Word.”
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“This remarkable study of the philosopher Petre Tutea describes matters fundamental to Eastern Orthodox theology through the medium of an enthralling (often appalling) story of a man’s resistance to totalitarian brutality and oppression. Tutea found that the renewal of his Christian faith saved his identity, even as dark forces were attempting to rob it from him. Never has there been a more pressing need to find a capacious and religiously grounded philosophy of freedom for an emerging ‘new europe’ squeezed between the Scylla of redundant totalitarianisms in the East, and the equally oppressive Charybdis of the global consumerisms of the West. Alex Popescu leads the reader through harrowing pages, to an underlying sense that Orthodoxy, a message re-pristinated in Tutea, speaks to the human soul in its existential needs, by constantly offering the challenge to rise into freedom; to become the divinely graced self’.” Revd Dr John A. McGuckin, Professor of Early Church History, Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Byzantine Christianity, Columbia University, USA
“Secular history has not been kind to the subject of this unique book, Petre Tutea (1902-1991), neither during his life nor in the larger annals of philosophical history. In life, he spent decades oppressed by communist authorities, spending years in Stalinist jails in his native Romania; in history, he has often been dismissed as a Socratic gadfly, known mainly as a minor member of philosopher Emil Cioran’s early cosmopolitan circle. Although sympathetic to Marxism in his early days, by 1980 Tutea was saying, “As things are now, Socialism is nothing but systematic organisation of all that is inconvenient. . . . What we seek we do not find, what we find we do not need” (p. 87). In his mind, “Sacred and profane history co-exist, the truth of the former being unaffected by the dialectical illusions of the latter,” with his concept of “supra-history” being defined as the intervention of God’s grace into human history, that is, through Christ (p. 150).
For holding such suspect views, Tutea had been first imprisoned (from 1949 to 1953 and then again from 1956 to 1964), and then unemployed and closely watched as the “secret philosopher” of Bucharest until the Revolution of December 1989, after which he was rediscovered and embraced by intellectuals until his death two years later. He used the infamous “re-education clubs” in Romania’s prisons to teach his fellow prisoners the interconnections between “classical philosophy” (the official course) and the gospel (the unofficial course). His “Creed” was defined thus: “Theology is knowledge of the Real, of divinity manifest in theophany [God the Father], theandry [the Incarnate Christ], and trinity [definition abridged on purpose to avoid static idol making] transmitted through sacred history and sacred tradition” (p. 145). Deification consists of the sacred and profane being ultimately linked in an “ontic triangle” via supra-history, a unified God-creation-humanity realm, despite human attempts to separate the spheres in the modern age. When such artificial compartmentalizations are transcended, sainthood can result; hence, Popescu’s subtitle for his study. “The saint is the one who is rooted in eternity, who sacrifices himself and becomes a martyr through his sacrifice. He is distinct from the genius, from the talented and from the ordinary human being, all of whom are dominated by time. . . . Lack of vocation in the natural realm-where equality between individuals does not exist-is irrelevant to our truth before Christ” (p. 101).”

See also Alexandru Popescu “Petre Tutea (1902-1991): the Urban Hermit of Romanian Spirituality” “Religion, State & Society”, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1995
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