Initial Notes on Solovyov’s Epistemology

I’m leaning heavily on Matt Johnson’s lecture on solovyvov. . His lecture is a bit abstract (though the parts I understand are very important). I’m trying to boil this down to simpler terms, if possible.

The outside world cannot be proven. It must be taken on faith. What we are actually aware of are sense impressions. Sense impressions, though, are not material. Sense impressions are not reducible to matter. They are reducible to psychic states–all we are aware of are our states of mind. Sense data do not prove the reality of the outside world. They prove that are senses are registering sound, sight et al.

Secondly, the empirical scientist faces a difficult when he looks at reality and calls it “a thing.” He is arbitrarily singling out one aspect of reality when in fact at any given moment there is a multitude of forces and energies–be it electric or magnetic acting around him. Therefore, any object in nature is actually millions of particles and forces.

Vladimir Solovyov and Johnson are rebutting the unbelieving scientist who says that “science and matter are all there is.” Yes, that’s putting it crassly but there you have it. The unbelieving scientist (or psychologist, or sociologist, or politician in D.C.) is saying “I’m just looking at the facts and data. I don’t have time for religious or moral considerations.”

To which Solovyvov (and his disciple, Dostoevsky) would respond, “No, you are specifically not looking at the empirical data. You are actually going off of sense impressions that your current pyschic state is registering. Unfortunately for your empiricism, you can’t prove this. You can’t put your psychic states under a microsoft, or run them across with the scientific method. You have to take them by faith.

Now we move the discussion back to theology and philosopy.

(At this point Johnson and Solovyov talk about Christ the Logos; cf. Colossians 1:17-19). Lord willing, I’ll try to talk about that later.

I don’t think Bulgakov was a modernist

I began reading the Russian masters after reading Robert Letham’s book on the Trinity. That’s where I met Bulgakov. It is true Bulgakov’s Sophiology met with fierce resistance. I’ll try to state the pros and cons of his theology (I’ve read ab out 800 pages from Bulgakov). And then see if the outcome warrants the term “modernist” or “heretic.”


  • Exactly what is he talking about? To be fair to Bulgakov’s critics, Bulgakov himself uses some of the most ambiguous terminology imagineable. What does he mean by “Created Sophia” versus the “uncreated” aspects of Sophia? I’m not sure.
  • He’s part of the Paris School of Theology. While “modernism” in Orthodoxy is a far cry from modernism in catholicism or Protestantism (the latter seek to deny most aspects of the faith), it’s debatable how “in-line” Fr Bulgakov is.
  • In terms of general usefulness, I prefer Vladimir Lossky over Fr Bulgakov. Lossky is clearer and touches on more relevant points.


  • He did genuinely respond to numerous criticisms of the faith advanced by modern philosophy.
  • Contra to some of his critics, Fr Bulgakov really didn’t oppose Tsarism.
  • He did anticipate and respond to many feminist criticisms of the faith. No, he didn’t make Sophia into a goddess. And the the figure of Sophia hasn’t really received good exegesis throughout church history. I’ve read what Sts Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus say about Proverbs 8. I just don’t find it convincing. If you make this refer to Christ, and according to their exegesis, Christ’s human nature must have been created from the beginning of creation, but that’s not true.

Fr Bulgakov saw the horror of Socialism and called it for what it is:

A question slithers like a serpent over the earth: whose world is it, the god-man’s or the man-god’s? Is it really true that Christ came to save the world and that the prince of this world h as been expelled, that we are now witnessing the last times and the final convulsions of Satan, who is in the agony of frenzy, knows his time is short? This blasphemous question of semifaith receives its theomachic answer of rebellion against holiness: the war of the beast and the false prophet, Gog and Magog, surrounding the camp of the saints and stamping their mark on people by seduction and terror, the mark without which no man may buy or sell, without which no man can find a place on this earth. And the entire power of evil, heresy, and unbelief is concentrated entirely around this lie, which serves as the stronghold of the rebels: this world is not Christ’s but our own!

The Lamb of God, xiv.

We know the Holy Spirit by His Economy

And by “economy” I do not mean market and prices, but the operations/actions of the Trinity within history. Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky writes that given the language of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, all that we know of him is by his working in history/revelation in Scripture. In other words, we don’t speculate the existence of the Holy Spirit from a set of deduced axioms. “All that we know of the Holy Spirit refers to his economy” (In the Image and Likeness of God, 75). We know the Holy Spirit, not from abstract “proofs”, but from his actions and workings in sanctification and history.

I had written earlier, summarizing a section of God, History, and Dialectic

Ordo Theologiae:

First Europe (and generally the East today): Persons, Operations (energies), Essence. The Persons are understood to have done certain things (operations, energiae), and on that basis, we can conclude certain things about the essence.

The Second Europe: Essence, Attributes, Persons.

The First Europe’s vision is not only “linear” but also recapitulatory. Certain signal events are contained within later events which recontextualize familiar motifs. The repetition of these motifs helps us understand liturgy and history.

1) History is important. The Church is historical (and hence physical and visible).
2) God is active in history.

A new look at eschatological tables

A while back someone suggested to me that the Tsar was the restrainer of evil mentioned in Thessalonians. I liked the idea, being a monarchist and all, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Lately, though, I am taking it a bit more seriously. Ultimately, I will have to synthesize this with a larger scheme, but I really believe it can be done. I am not dogmatic on it, but hold it as theologumenon.
It is from the book Ultimate Things: An Orthodox Look at Eschatology. I am taking this from an amazon reviewer.

Ultimate Things_ is written as a response to the pre-tribulation rapture propaganda so widespread in the Christian churches in America today. The question is what did the ancient Fathers of the Church understand and teach of the coming of the Antichrist? How does it differ from modern day interpretations? A key discrepancy is of the idea of suffering for Christ in the Church. The “rapture” will supposedly whisk away all true Christian believers and leave the world’s unbelievers to suffer God’s wrath with the rule of the Antichrist for three and a half years. This is contrasted to the traditional Orthodox teaching where the Church is severely persecuted under the Antichrist and Christ returns at the end of time and Judgement Day commences. Chiliasm is the ancient heresy of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ over the earth after his Second Coming. This heresy is dangerous because not only will the “rapture” not happen but the man who will reign posing as the Savior of the World will mimic Christ, creating a one world government with signs and wonders, “deceiving even the elect.”

St. Paul refers to the satanic force that is hurtling the world to Apocalypse as the “mystery of iniquity.” Fr. Seraphim Rose is cited explaining that “mystery” in this sense is something that is not working out in the open, but exercising a covert, unseen influence. The Book of Revelation speaks of a “seal” that kept Satan “bound” for the figurative 1,000 years of Christ’s reign, understood as being from the time of the Crucifixion and the period when the Church was free of political opposition and oppression. This seal, explains Engleman, is the Christian Monarchy of the Roman Empire, the “legs of iron” and “fourth beast” in Daniel’s prophecy. It was established when Constantine saw the Sign of the Cross in the sky, and was ordered marked on his soldiers’ uniforms. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium in Greece, which was renamed Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire lasted into the 1400s until the Ottoman Turks overthrew it. By this time, however, Russia and large tracts of Eastern Europe had been converted to Christianity. The Grand Duke of Moscow took the title “tsar/czar” meaning “Caesar” and Russia became the “Third Rome.”

With a Christian monarchy in political power, the forces of rebellion against God had to be kept secret (the cabals of Rabbis, Masons, Illuminati and Alchemists come to mind). The first outward manifestation of Satanic government was the French Revolution and the proclamation of Atheism and “Reason” as the state religion, and the persecution of the Church for “counter-revolutionary” activity. The Roman Empire itself fell in 1917 with the Communist takeover of Russia and the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family. Bishop Theophan the Recluse and Father John of Kronstadt both warned the Russian people in the late 1800s and early 1900s about what would happen if the monarchy were to fall. “…When the monarchy falls, and everywhere nations institute self government (republics, democracies) then the Antichrist will be able to act freely. It will not be difficult for Satan to prepare voters to renounce Christ as experience taught us during the French Revolution” (p76). Engleman looks forward to a possible repentance in the future of Russia, followed by a brief return to a monarchy under the Czar. This will be short-lived, the “peace in Heaven for half an hour.”

The Antichrist will use all methods at his disposal to deceive the world–technological wonders, false miracles, signs in the sky, world peace, material prosperity–to set himself up. The world capital will be a “spiritual” one, the holy city of Jerusalem. The Third Temple of Solomon will be rebuilt, the culmination of Masonry. The Jews look forward to their messiah, the one whom Christ said “would come in his own name”, not in the name of the Father. The Pharisees looked for a messiah who would lead the Jews in a revolt against Rome and establish a Jewish kingdom, not Jesus who was rejected and handed over to the secular authorities to be condemned. In Phariseesism were the seeds of Revolution planted and this nihilistic Revolution now has open control of all formerly Christian countries. _Ultimate Things_ concludes by stating the Christ will come, “as a thief in the night” when no one will expect it. The Christians of the last days do not know exactly when Jesus will return but are encouraged to be vigilant and watch so they will not be caught off guard when the “Thief” comes to rob Satan’s house.

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.

Bulgakov on Tsarism (Rowan Williams)

I picked up Archbishop Rowan Williams’ analysis of Sergii Bulgakov (Sergii Bulgakov: Toward a Russian Political Theology). Aside from some of Williams’ own quirkeness, the book is fantastic. Also, I’ve had my own rethinking of many aspects of Russian political thought for today. I am still the same Russophile, and still believe that Russia will play a key role in overturning the New World Anglo Order, but I am beginning to retract a lot of my views concerning Tsarist Russian history.

In short, I reject much of it. Yes, I still believe that Tsar Nicholas II Romanov was martyred Kabbalists. I also take the side of Tsar Alexander over Napoleon. And the Tsarist system was not the retrograde police state that Enlightenment academes take it to be.
That said, the following post will deal with a reworking of Russian dialectic and history. Here is Rowan on Bulgakov,

[Bulgakov] abandoned his republicanism and developed an intense devotion to the ideal of monarchy–indeed, to the person of the Tsar. He was, he says, fully aware of the corruption of the tsarist system and of the personal weakness and suicidal incompetence of Nicholas II; but he was at the same time struck by the sense of the tsar as carrying the cross for his people, of the tsar not as the presiding authority in a police state, but as the symbolic focus of Russia in all its pain and confusion. To be a tsarist in this context was, he says, to share in that pain and confusion.

p. 60

Musings from Bulgakov’s Holy Grail

I had this book on my amazon wish list for over a year. It is proving to be everything I hoped it would be.

Bulgakov argues that when Longinus’ spear pierced Christ’s side, the blood and water imparted a mode of Christ’s humanity to the earth and in a real sense, the earth becomes the Holy Grail, for it caught the blood of Christ. This is noteworthy because it helps solve the antinomy of Christ being with his disciples “always” while remaining in bodily form at the right hand of the Father.
This is not Nestorianism, for Nestorianism posited a duality of the hypostases in Christ, not a duality of the human nature of Christ.

The Holy Grail is not the Eucharist. The Eucharist, while a mystery, is not hidden from the Church. The Holy Grail (whether in reality or in legend) is hidden from the general eye. As I understand Bulgakov, I think he is saying that the “Holy Grail” dissolves the barrier between heaven and earth. It transports nature into paradise and makes it a “holy flesh” (44).

This can explain the “holy sites” found throughout Christendom (I am not referring to pilgrimages et al; that’s another question). I refer to the places that seem like an aperture into the next dimension, paradise. The English spiritual tradition is particularly noted (cf especially Celtic Christianities). Earlier Irish theologians called this “thin space,” where the veil between heaven and earth is quite thin or non-existent. John Milbank refers to the possibility of could be other “beings” within different folds of our reality. He points to the early Irish theologians for examples,

Recently Celtic scholar John Carey has shown how perfectly orthodox Irish poet-theologians of the very early Middle Ages contrsued the Celtic gods as semi-fallen angels or else as unfallen human beings still mysteriously present in our world, as well as in some cases as evil demons (the more usual option elsewhere). Indeed, few people up till the seventeenth century were so naive as to suppose that Venus simply “does not exist,” while the resurrected Jesus simply “does exist.” People in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance much more tended to acknowledge different levels of reality: for residually surviving gods, for angels, and for God himself

Milbank, Alternative Protestantisms.”

While many university professors laugh at this, this was common parlance until the 18th century (and to embarrass some Reformed folks, Luther believed that his local forests had goblins or demons in it–and Luther was probably right). Milbank writes again,

I have always insisted, after St Paul, that death as well as sin is an intruder upon the original creation and that, after the fall, sinister cosmic forces became (literally) in charge of the world.

Milbank, Foreword to Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 17. Of course, Christ’s death and resurrection qualifies the degree to which this is now true. But I am trying to highlight while even though the Creator/creature distinction is true (I’ve never denied it), the universe is not simply “flat” creation over here with “God” somewhere way up there. It simply cannot be this way. I have to ask, if that is true, what connects God to his creation? Can God interact with his creation? Even better, how (can?) creation participate in God? I think this is what Milbank and others mean when he speaks of “a suspended creation.”


If Christianity refuses “the conflict of the gods,” it does not refuse “other gods” (sometimes spoken of by the church fathers as synonymous with angels) intimated by other traditions, simply because these can in no way impinge upon, but rather confirm, the sovereignty of the One God who is beyond mere oneness and manyness…

Likewise, following the great Russians, RO increasingly insists that the Triune God is the God who in himself brings about the other to God who must also be “created” God (Milbank is following Bulgakov’s reference to Proverbs 8’s “created Sophia;” he is not saying that God is a creature or finite; cf Eriugena). In this case, as the Wisdom literature of the Bible suggests, the gift of God to creation must first be received psychically (by angels and whatever psychic powers sustain the entire cosmos in being) and then to a lesser degree by human beings

But Sophia is not Logos

Although I said that Sophianic categories can play the same roles as Logos categories per Greek philosophy, I do not mean that Sophia is correlate to the Logos. It goes that Christ is the Logos, yes? It does not follow that Sophia (Wisdom) is Logos.

It’s been a tempting interpretation in the Church that Christ is strictly identified with the Wisdom of God per Proverbs 8. I think this is problematic on several levels: First, this wisdom is created wisdom, and Christ isn’t created. Secondly, does this mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit are without Wisdom?

A Plea for Sophianic Categories

I am springboarding from Sergei Bulgakov’s thought.

It’s a common refrain that early Christianity used Greek (primarily Alexandrian Greek) categories to formulate their theology. Not least of which is “Logos” Christology. Fair enough. I agree. From that one could further postulate that extra-biblical categories are not necessarily wrong. Again, few can deny that.

I wonder if today’s Sophia, so beloved by the gnostics, feminists, and New Ager (but I repeat myself), might not offer something similar. Now, I am not advocating “Sophia” worship, and I must point out that Sophiology was in vogue long before these intellectual cretins came on the scene. Vladimir Solovyov, Feodor Dostoevsky, and Sergei Bulgakov used Sophianic categories (with varying degrees of success).

What is Sophia, and what it is not? I need to flesh that out. Basically Sophia, as it is used by the more orthodox Russian Sophiologists, is the bridge between heaven and earth, the interpersonal essence of the Trinity, the border of divinity, the divine glory. And while the next is more speculative (and was not St Gregory of Nyssa a speculative mystic at times?), one could say it is the “energies” ala the essence/energy distinction.

What it is not?
It is not the “fourth” person of the Godhead; it is not a “goddess.” It is not a justification of women dominating the church. It is not a capitulation to “feminism.” All of these are rejected.
Hopefully an outline later.