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Author Topic: Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov: by Paul Valliere  (Read 3180 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: June 11, 2006, 12:00:23 AM »

Has anyone read this book, or does anyone know if it is a good exposition of the theologians covered?
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« Reply #1 on: June 12, 2006, 10:55:15 AM »

I haven't really read this book (I browsed it at a book store). It looks solid as far as its sources, prose, etc. So, I would venture to say that it is a decent introduction to these three Russian theologians.

HOWEVER, the orthodoxy of these three Russian theologians is an entirely different matter!! In general, they are less Patristic and more speculative than one would like, and they have some flat-out heretical and astoundingly novel ideas, e.g. sophiology. So, read the book if you want, but don't necessarily consider it a reflection of the Church's consensus or experience.
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« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2006, 10:58:02 AM »

I have never understood what is so flat-out heretical about Bulgakov's "sophiology". I guess that's a topic for another thread though.
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« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2006, 11:30:51 AM »

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they are less Patristic and more speculative than one would like

It depends how you define “patristic”. For Fr. Bulgakov, the patristic era is not static and closed, but rather endures till this very day; the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Father’s legitimate use of the rational and philosophical instruments of their day to better understand and define theological truths, continues to inspire the Church in this very day. Fr. Bulgakov is not innovating anymore than the Fathers were innovating when they first introduced the metaphysical categories of ousia, physis, hypostasis, and prosopon to define the Holy Trinity or the Nature of the Incarnate Christ.

NB: I personally do not (cannot) consider Fr. Bulgakov to be a Father of the Church for mere ecclesiological reasons, thus I am not suggesting that he is.
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« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2006, 11:36:27 AM »

I have never understood what is so flat-out heretical about Bulgakov's "sophiology". I guess that's a topic for another thread though.

Mainly its origins and affiliations. At any rate, I wasn't thinking of Bulgakov's sophiology (which is comparatively more nuanced and ecclesial), but of Soloviev's, which is far more speculative and bizarre. Personally, I rather enjoy reading a certain Russian who wasn't included in this study, Fr. Pavel Florensky, whose synthesis of such Soloviev-like speculation is at least entertaining. Nevertheless, I sometimes have to agree with what Metropolitan Vitaly said about Florensky (which can also be applied to Soloviev, if not Bulgakov):

Quote
If one makes an analysis of Fr. Pavel Florensky's book with a pretentious title "The Pillar and an Affirmation of Truth" and of his other works then an Orthodox reader is confronted with an image of this outstanding priest with a turbulent soul who threw himself into the sea of theology without a compass and who is sailing towards a goal which is not known to anyone including himself. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavel_Florensky)


It's all quite impressive and full of intellectual vitality and skill, but, what exactly, is it doing for the Church (aside from allowing us to showcase an impressive Russian philosopher)? It's certainly not representative of the Church's homiletic, catechetical or mystagogical traditions.

More generally, I personally find this school of Russian thought quite fossilized in time. Supposedly its thinkers are so relevant today (according to certain academics) because they adopted all of the questions and concerns of modernity and then tried to answer them from a peculiarly eastern and orthodox perspective (and are therefore better than the Neo-Patristic school, which is lost in the past and -- most importantly -- doesn't offer any amazingly novel or interesting insights into age-old questions). When I read these particular Russians, however, I see a bunch of 19th century questions and answers, most of which are indeed amazingly novel, but is that a good thing? Even if it is, we are still only left with novel answers to currently irrelevant dilemmas.

The Neo-Patristic school, however, has applied the Fathers' thought in all kinds of "hip" and "relevant" postmodern ways, e.g. the social Trinity, Patristic anthropology and human rights, St. Maximos and ecology, Trinitarian theology as a solution to the tension between the One and the Many, etc.

So, if Russian relevance falls by the wayside, what's left? Curious originality, which is certainly interesting and fun, but is it edifying and orthodox?

For Fr. Bulgakov, the patristic era is not static and closed, but rather endures till this very day; the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Father’s legitimate use of the rational and philosophical instruments of their day to better understand and define theological truths, continues to inspire the Church in this very day.

Again, I wasn't really thinking about Bulgakov per se, but, that aside: Simply because Bulgakov believed he was following the same Spirit, does not mean that he actually did so in every respect. The Neo-Patristic theologians of the 20th century define "patristic" in the same way (up to this very second), but they don't produce the same theologies. Thus, the only unique thing about Bulgakov is where his "inspiration" takes him (not that he somehow had an exclusively great insight into the continuing and Spirit-led nature of Tradition). Furthermore, according to his own definitions of sobornost, Bulgakov's more speculative ideas have not been embraced by the Church at large and are thus, still, curious private opinions (at best). In contrast, one can't help but notice the markedly different reception which the hierarchy, clergy and laity (of all jurisdictions and even different communions!) have given the Neo-Patristic theologians.
« Last Edit: June 12, 2006, 11:48:43 AM by pensateomnia » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2006, 07:26:55 PM »

I have read some of Lossky and Meyendorff, but what other Neo-Patristic theologians would you recommend? Dumitru Staniloae looks really good (although I haven't read him yet), is he considered Neo Patristic?

And point taken on reading about these theologians with a grain of salt.
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« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2006, 10:14:31 PM »

A bit off topic, but I'd like to throw this book and author into the ring, as there is mention of Florensky, Solvyiev, and Bulgakov, and a brief praise for Sophiology's contemporary relevance:  Woman and the Salvation of the World by Paul Evdokimov?  Neo-Patristic author / book / subject matter or speculative?
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« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2006, 10:19:36 PM »

A bit off topic, but I'd like to throw this book and author into the ring, as there is mention of Florensky, Solvyiev, and Bulgakov, and a brief praise for Sophiology's contemporary relevance:  Woman and the Salvation of the World by Paul Evdokimov?  Neo-Patristic author / book / subject matter or speculative?

I have looked at "Ages of the Spiritual Life" by Evdokimov and he seems really good. He is also well respected here in the West. Dominican Theologian Aidan Nichols had a chapter on him in one of his recent books on 20th century spirituality. I have not read or heard anything on that particular book though.
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« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2006, 10:31:38 PM »

I have read some of Lossky and Meyendorff, but what other Neo-Patristic theologians would you recommend? Dumitru Staniloae looks really good (although I haven't read him yet), is he considered Neo Patristic?

Well, the quintessential Neo-Patristic theologian is Fr. Georges Florovsky. He it was who actually coined the phrase "neo-patristic synthesis" and set about developing most of the questions and methods that still concern modern Orthodox theologians. Fr. Florovksy taught at many prominent institutions (including Harvard and Princeton -- not to mention St. Vlad's and Holy Cross!). A decent online selection of some of his works are available here: http://pages.sbcglobal.net/c.parks/florovsky.html

As for Dumitru Staniloae: A great theologian and a holy priest, but -- unfortunately -- not well translated. Part of the problem comes from his personal style (influenced as it was by a time when philosophical thought and literary expression were much more complex), but most of the difficulty comes from the fact that Romanian prose style calls for very long, elaborate periodic sentences with many subordinate clauses. Thus, all translations of him are a mere shadow of the original -- and often times quite unreadable (unless you happen to be used to 19th century German-style philosophical prose...in which case, go for it!).

Quote
And point taken on reading about these theologians with a grain of salt.

Most certainly. For what it's worth, the Moscow Patriarchate actually condemned Bulgakov's sophiological writings in 1935; the ROCOR synod condemned them as outright heresy; and the Exarchate in Paris commissioned an official inquiry into the matter that (I believe) did not officially condemn the writings, but came very, very close to doing so.
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« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2006, 10:39:32 PM »

A bit off topic, but I'd like to throw this book and author into the ring, as there is mention of Florensky, Solvyiev, and Bulgakov, and a brief praise for Sophiology's contemporary relevance:ÂÂ  Woman and the Salvation of the World by Paul Evdokimov?ÂÂ  Neo-Patristic author / book / subject matter or speculative?

Haven't read this one in particular, but I wouldn't classify Evdokimov as "Neo-Patristic" per se. In the beginning of his other major work, The Sacrament of Love, he says something like: The Fathers didn't understand love and marriage.

That's the difficulty now post-Florovsky. Florovsky convinced everyone that we have to go back to the sources; we have to read the Fathers in the original languages; we have to read the primary sources and know the historical contexts. Thus, everyone does that now (including Evdokimov), but there are other presuppositions and methods that underline Florovsky's particular vision.
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