Review of Sergii Bulgakov: Toward a Russian Political Theology

Rowan Williams has given us a masterful reading of Bulgakov’s political theology. There are introductions by Williams to each section, followed by some of Bulgakov’s most key works. Unlike many annotations and summaries, Williams does not water down Bulgakov’s ideas with artificial selections. The book roughly follows Bulgakov’s own theological timeline, beginning with his slow rejection of Marxism to the more polished Sophiological readings of economics.

In “The Economic Ideal” Bulgakov still accepts many Marxist categories as normative, but already doubt has formed. It is a basic summary of 18th and 19th century European economic thought, and quite valuable at that. He is able to give a post-Marxist account of Marxism without the usual capitalist arguments.

In “Heroism and the Intellectual Struggle” Bulgakov follows Dostoevsky’s narrative ideas in *Crime and Punishment.* The Russian intellectual of this time is a (so he perceives himself) heroic individual persecuted by the Tsar and religious authorities. But he’s also a revolutionary in whom the seeds of atheism are already sown. As Bulgakov is writing this, Russia is facing a crisis: to whom will she turn in the post-Tsarist age: Father Zosima or Vladimir Lenin?

Over against the intellectual revolutionary is the “podvizhnik,” or ascetic. He is the one who conquers by suffering. Following the Lord Jesus and Dostoevsky in *The Brothers Karamazov,* he is the one who conquers and lays low the powers by taking his cross and dying to himself. This is prophetic for Russia as Bulgakov writes this, for both prophecies come true.

“The Unfading Light” is Bulgakov’s own theological autobiography. Here he introduces Sophia, or the beginnings of Godmanhood. The influence of Solovyov and Florensky is obvious, though Bulgakov will correct both. This essay is not quite as polished as S.B.’s later stuff own Sophia.

“Godmanhood” is the more polished essay on Sophia. Sophia is set as the glory-beauty of the Trinity. It is not a 4th hypostasis (SB later rejects that problematic language). It is the relation of God to the world and God to man. It allows for proper deification of man (the revolutionaries were not entirely wrong in seeking the uplifting of man) by providing the proper channels to him.

The final essays in the book point towards a Russian political theology by critiquing socialism. It is arguable that Bulgakov would have accepted the Christian Socialism of John Ruskin and John Milbank, but given that state socialists in Russia had just murdered 30 million people, it probably wouldn’t have been the best question to ask him!

We see the true, utter brilliance in Bulgakov here. He is known as a Sophiological thinker. And as a truly brilliant thinker, he ties Sophia into economics. Sophia determines politics. Sophia is an active agent in the world (the act of the Trinity loving the love). Sophia, as has already been noted, parallels the “energies” of Gregory Palamas and the “logoi” of St Maximus. Thus, Sophia is God manifesting himself in the world. If this is true, the the world must reflect God and its structures must be called to account and remade.

This book is called a Russian Political Theology because it fashions a new way to think about politics while remaining firmly committed to the truth and revelation passed down to us. It rejects Enlightenment values and even conservative values that have been compromised. Opening itself to the work of the Spirit, Bulgakov’s project has immense implications for America today. As many are seeing Bush and Obama destroy America with socialism, and (rightly) rejecting socialism, some think the only proper alternative is anarcho-capitalism. Bulgakov gives a sustained critique of both and against both offers to us the Sobornost of the Body of Christ.

Partakers of the Divine Nature (review)

I recently picked up Partakers of the Divine Nature, a book with essays by Roman, Orthodox, and Protestant writers. Not all essays are created equal, and it’s certainly true here. Still, some good stuff. I’m focusing mainly on the Eastern guys at the moment.

One essay is dealing with the neo-Palamism of Vladimir Lossky. Lossky is taking Gregory Palamas’s essence/energy distinction and offering a new and more thorough critique of Thomism and Augustinianism. While the author disagrees with Lossky, I commend him for recognizing what is at stake in this debate. He goes after the strongest opponent of his position and gives his best argument. Let’s look at it.

Lossky argues that Augustine’s view of Absolute Divine Simplicity, making God’s attributes identical with his essence, ultimately means that one either, when given the promise of 2 Peter 1:4, becomes part of God’s essence (which means one becomes *the* unknowable essence of God), or one participates in God via created intermediaries (the sacraments, habitus grace, the created grace of Reformed imputationism). So, Lossky puts the dilemma: if you don’t accept essence/energies distinction, you either say you become part of God himself (like his arm, I guess), or you never actually commune with God at all.

This is a devastating argument if true. Our author in this book goes to great pains to show it false. First he says Lossky has set up a false dilemma. More on this later. Then he points out areas where Lossky has taken his neo-Palamism to an almost overreactionary mania (there might be some truth here). Third, he notes where Palamism mirrors medieval Judaism in hypostasizing the divine attributes in the world (this may be true on one level, but I think there are responses to this). Fourthly, he notes that Thomism and Augustinianism posit different ways of participating in God (in other words, they deny that God is simply some glob of essence).

While I disagree with this author, it is a very fine chapter. Now, a response. Per points (2) and (3), I agree. I doweq54n’t know enough about point (1) to speak authoritatively. As to (4)

So what gives? Well, what he says about (4) might be true. I have rhetorical problems with Augustine calling the Holy Spirit “the grace inside an individual.” This relieves the Augustinian from the problem of “created grace” (!!!), but there’s just something wrong-sounding about this. Another problem is while they don’t like the neo-Palamites saying the Augustinian-Thomists believe God is a big glob of essence, a lot of Augustine’s statements sound exactly like that! Let’s look at what Augustine actually says.

He is called in respect to Himself both God, and great, and good, and just, and anything else of the kind; and just as to Him to be is the same as to be God, or as to be great, or as to be good, so it is the same thing to Him to be as to be a person.

St Augustine, On the Trinity, 7.6.11

Augustine says the Godhead is absolutely simple essence, and the same thing to be is to be wise (idem, 7.1.2).

more quotations are found here .

The point is that Augustine (even if only on the level of rhetoric) believed that God’s attributes, since God was simple, are interchangeable with each other. Then add in that God’s essence was identified with his attributes, and Lossky’s critique seems unavoidable.

The rest of the book is quite interesting. Andrew Louth gives a very brief summary of deification in Orthodox theology, heavily relying on Bulgakov(!). There are good essays explicating deification in the Cappadocians and St Maximus. My particular favorite was the essay dealing with the lyrical poetry of St Ephrem the Syrian. Simply beautiful. Boris Jakim gives us an interesting take on Bulgakov’s Russian theosis.

There are also token essays by Lutherans, Methodists, and Calvinists that will interest adherents of those respective denominations.

The Art of Ilya Glazunov

Mystery of the 20th Century

Above: “Russia Awaken.”

Above: “The Market of our Democracy.” This painting is probably the best refutation of democracy and capitalism. As I’ve suspected for a long time, it is hard (impossible?) to have a glorious culture that can last generations while having a capitalist culture as well. Eastern European proverb: “Our masters lied to us about socialism, but they told us the truth about capitalism.”

Heart-rendingly beautiful stuff.

Above: This is “The Church on the Eve of Destruction.” This is the Church before it was destroyed by Talmudic-Masonic forces.

“Eternal Russia:” From the website: The painting “Eternal Russia” is a textbook of Russian history in its genuine majesty, a song of the glory of our nation. They used to say that “icons are books for the illiterate.” The paintings of Glazunov are open books for all who wish to know and better understand Russia.

Left and Below: “Contribution of Peoples of USSR.”

Stanely the Prophet disses the King: the king disses back

Once there was a prophet named Stanley. He was a bold and faithful man who stood against the powers of the age.

You cannot f&*!__ do that, he would say to the King. You are going to end up in hell and people are going to hate you and sh*!.

One day the king began to listen and see the wisdom of Stanley’s words. When Stanley told him that the weak must be protected from the vicious strong, the king took steps to protect the weak. When Stanley told him that Jesus was Lord, the king bowed his knee. When Stanley told him that “religious freedom” is an idol from the Enlightenment, the king took heed.

And the king made a proclamation, that all in his kingdom should weak sackcloth and ashes and repent of their sins, even to the beast of burden.

And Stanely went out from the city and made a shelter and sat under it and refused to speak again to the king.

“Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life. I am a prophet, not a f**(! chaplain.”

And the Lord said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”

As for the king, he was greatly confused and knew not what to do; for he had done all that Stanley had asked.

The parable ends with questions, not a moral: Will the King always refuse to listen? Says who? And, when the king begins to listen, must the Church fall silent, so as to avoid becoming a chaplain? To keep her integrity, must the church refuse to suceed?

From Peter Leithart, Against Christianity,

I promise. I am not making fun of anabaptists. I actually agree with them on many points. In fact, some anabaptist ideas forced me to rethink what I believe about Russian history.

My Response to Socialism and Anarcho-Capitalism

Marxism and capitalism share one thing in common: they define man in purely economic terms.

I am a distributist for the most part. Most people over-react to socialism and think that the Misesian anarcho-capitalism is the way to go.

Post-soviet Russia is the best example. A bunch of mafia gangsters took over the country and ruled it on hyper free-market principles. They shipped 90% of the Russian capital oversees to Christ-haters in Harvard and other major think-tanks. In Ukraine, several hundred families owned 90% of the land and wealth. Well, when you monopolize like that there is nothing stopping–in Augustine’s phrase–a robber baron from tyrannizing the people.

The way to go is Economic Nationalism. Enter Vladimir Putin. He destroys the Russian mafia (which means leftist and neo-cons in America no longer get that money–thus the reason Americans demonize Putin). He places the weatlh in the hands of smaller entities. He has done what Christian rulers have always done: destroyed the oppressor (Psalm 72 or 73). That’s why his approval rating is between 80 and 85% and he is currently the most popular politician in Ukraine.

The Russian situation has demonstrated to the contrary several things that were supposed to be axiomatic on the Austrian Misesian front: Economic Nationalism really worked. See what Putin did in Russian and Lukashenko did in Belarus. Putin took Russia from a 4th world country to a 1st world country in ten years. Secondly, free market economics is not in and of itself morally neutral.

I would agree heartily with Belloc. Advocate something like Economic Nationalism or Social Nationalism (not, mind you, National Socialism).

Here’s my thoughts on Liturgical Socialism as an alternative to anarcho-capitalism.

Modernity: The Politics of Theological Voluntarism

As John Milbank has argued, modern politics is founded on the voluntarist replacement of a theology of participation with a theology of will, such that the assumpti0n of humanity into the Trinity by the divine logos is supplanted by an undifferentiated God who commands the lesser discrete wills of individual humans through sheer power. The older theology will say that Adam and Eve acted against their true good, which God commands not from sheer will but because God cannot command in any other way than for the good of humanity. In other words, God’s will is inseperable from the good. The loss of a theology of participation is therefore a loss of teleology, the intrinsic ends of human life

Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination, 16.