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.

A Review of William Cavanaugh’s *Theopolitical Imagination*

Cavanaugh gives a theological critique of democratic capitalism and the modern state. He reworks the notion of “time” and “space” around the Eucharist, in that the Eucharist, the body of Christ, gives new time and new space for the acting out of public life. He begins with his famous essay on the so-called Wars of Religion. Contra the established myth, says Cavanaugh, the wars were not wars about religion, but came after the creation of the modern state and were tools of the modern state to fight against religion. The state’s goal was to mask its own violence by cloaking the wars as “religious.”

Cavanaugh, while likely an anabaptist in terms of politics (I realize he is a confessional Roman Catholic), gives an unusually astute analysis of different political options. Most anabaptists incompetently rail at “Constantianism” (note this term is almost never defined), usually with some heretical “fall of the church from the apostles” garbage, and then package that off as “a new and bracing political theology.” Cavanaugh is much more mature than that. He notes the Church using the sword is not an option, but realizes that most alternatives to this are either neo-conservatism or privatism. Anabaptists have not been consistently able to give a good alternative to Constantianism without going into pietism. Cavanaugh’s discussion is worth reading on this point.
Per the Eucharist:
The Eucharist is the public acting out of the Christian story. Salvation is the restoring of unity through the participation in Christ’s body (13). The body of Christ is the locus of participation between God and man. The Eucharist overcomes the dichotomy between local and universal (113). It takes scattered communities and re-focuses them towards a center. The whole body of Christ is present in each Eucharistic assembly. The Eucharist “bends” space; the more I am tied to the local the more I become aware of the universal.
In many ways this book is simply magnificent. Unlike many pacifistic and anabaptist thinkers, Cavanaugh is able (with varying degrees of success) to offer a critique of modern liberal society. The critique of the State as mythos is beautiful. His discussions on globalism and the Eucharist offer much food for thought.
Is this 120 page book worth the $50 selling price? No. This is partly why I despise academia. They are largely irrelevant to the rest of humanity because of stuff like this. But, reader cheer up, one can easily get Cavanaugh’s “word for word” arguments by buying two other books that will cost around $40. He writes the same essays in *Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology* and *Being Consumed.* So in a sense, *TheoPolitical Imagination* can be avoided.
Also, I am not quite sure he fully rejects modernity’s values. One instance is when he refers to the medievals using the Eucharist to exclude Jews (116). Is he honestly saying that we should include Jews at the table? To be fair, he doesn’t actually say that, but it’s hard to draw any other conclusion. This is the Lord’s table for Christians. Excluding Jews isn’t bigotry. It is simply a corrollary of the defintion of what it means to be a Christian, something a Jew would agree with!

Free Will and Dialectic

Some notes on Christology

Neo-Platonism Neo-Platonism defined simplicity as the One–the one transcending all things. It is important to note Plotinus’s emphasis that dialectic = opposition and the inability to make distinctions of the One. Origenism: Origen took Plotinus but modified it. Origen had to posit a pre-fall anterior to Creation (and likely an eternality to creation) as well as the possibility of a fall in the Eschaton. To be fair to Origen, though, he does make insights on willing and choosing, insights St Maximus will use while refuting the Origenist system. Maximus has to show how their can be real choices in the Eschaton simultaneously with the inability to Fall in the eschaton. An overview of St Maximus’ position: For St Maximus the one Logos is the many logoi (rational principles of the Logos). This is similar to St Gregory Palamas’s uncreated energies. The Logoi are not reducible to the one Logos, but the Logos is present in the logoi. The Logoi are like the radii of a circle (the Logos) yet extending beyond the circle. Divine prototypes or prederminations. When man chooses, he is “around” the space of the Logos (keep the circular imagery in mind). He can choose these logoi or reject them. Further, the logoi are instrumental in man’s deification.

Will is natural, not hypostatic. There is one divine will in the Trinity; two wills in Christ (per the two natures). This means what is natural is not always compelled, for example, the Trinity is not compelled to create (a refutation of the Origenist conclusion).

The Church Fathers did believe in Divine Simplicity, but not in the Augustinian-Thomist sense. Simplicity is real, but it is not defintional. It is not the One of Plotinus; therefore, one can posit distinctions within the Godhead (for Plotinus, the Simplicity functioned as a great “=” sign; therefore, any one attribute literally equaled another attribute). Simplicity is to demonstrate the divine essence in each of the hypostases, but it is not a definition of the essence itself.

Free Choice:
St Maximus must therefore give a non-dialectical definition of free choice. How is will natural yet not determined? How can there be free will in heaven, yet not the possibility of a fall? St Maximus responds by making a distinction between “will” and the “mode of willing.” Per the latter, in heaven the believer really does will the good (or good objects; unclear whether there will be a plurality of objects to be willed in heaven, doesn’t matter for the point, though). However, the mode of willing is different: the believer doesn’t waver psychologically between a good versus an uncertain good. The latter is gone in heaven.

Likewise, will has its own hypostatic mode, yet it is a quality of nature. As for the famous Gethesamane argument, Christ deliberates, it is true, but St Maximus removes the possibility of opposition between Christ’s human wills. Christ’s will wishes to avoid death, which is natural, yet it is the Person of the Logos that gives this will its unique tropos.

A Critique of Augustinianism:
1. If God is simple and One, then the world is many.
2. If simple = one = good, and granted that the world is many, then the world is evil (1).
3. If God is simple, one, and good, then multiplicity with regard to choice is evil (1, 2).

Milbank on Imputation

Although I am sympathetic to critiques of imputational theology, I don’t agree with everything Milbank has written. Critiques below:

In the second place, the idea of justification as imputation, although muted in Calvin, is still not acceptable. It paradoxically offends the idea of divine glory. If God is simple and omnipotent, then his decision to treat us as just immediately makes us just, because the divine action cannot be ineffective. If the creation is not univocally “alongside” God, as if God and creation were both individual entities, then there is no ontological limbo in which the divine decree can hover. When it reaches us it is already created grace, and as freely accepting us it must make us really again just and with persistence. We must indeed receive, as Aquinas taught, an infused habitus of justitia. Moreover, again because God is simple and also because Paul teaches that agape will survive the demise of pistis, faith in God must be already, and indeed must be primordially, the love of God. So the infused habit of justice is also, from the outset, an infused habit of charity (ST 1-2 Q. 110a.1; Q 113a. 2; 2-2 Q 23 a.2)

Milbank, “Alternative Protestantism,” p.33

What does he mean by God is simple? I accept a form of divine simplicity, though not the later Thomist views of Absolute Divine Simplicity, to which I think Milbank holds. Milbank’s argument from ADS, while consistent, is also subject to earlier critiques made on this blog against ADS. I’m also not sure I would accept an infused habitus of grace. But I don’t know enough about that at the moment. On the other hand, most Calvinists, to the degree that they understand ADS, hold to it, and so Milbank’s critique is effective against imputational theology in that regard.