This morning I was looking up a passage from Bulgakov’s 1917 foray into theology, The Unfading Light, when I happened upon the following passage:
Moreover, religion, which some wish to reduce entirely to ethics, in its integrity is higher than ethics and hence free from it: ethics exists for the human being in certain bounds such as law, but the human being must be able to rise above even ethics. Let them ponder the sense of those stories of the Bible when God, for the purposes of religious economy, or for testing faith, permitted or even ordered acts that wittingly contradict morality: the sacrifice of an only son, the bloody extermination of whole nations, deceit, and theft.
What Bulgakov says here about ethics, and mention of the sacrifice of Isaac, should raise the eyebrows of anyone who has read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. Did Bulgakov get this from Kierkegaard? Or did he stumble into the teleological suspension of the ethical by accident? This is more than a point of curiosity for me. Those of us who try to figure out what dead people were thinking benefit greatly from knowing who they were reading. Unfortunately, Orthodox theologians in the past did not always cite their western sources, and even more unfortunately, most of what Bulgakov did footnote, Eerdman’s publishing decided wasn’t worth printing. But don’t get me started on that.
I really would like this question answered. So “Like” this post and share it with all your Russian friends.
Soon the Orthodox Church will convoke a Great and Holy Council, the first such council in over a millennium. Though by no means ecumenical in any official sense (at least not yet), it is a historic meeting, for which I have felt a deep and abiding ambivalence.
I am a convert to the Orthodox Church. Unlike many converts, I did not see the deep and rich traditions of the Orthodox Church as providing me with resources to be more fundamentalistic than I was before (such as I hear creationists citing Basil as proof of a young earth). I was never a fundamentalist. What attracted me to Orthodoxy was the ambiguity of it all, which is another way of saying Mystery. Jaroslav Pelikan, another convert, described Orthodoxy as the church of the seven councils that we deem ecumenical. We have a lot of other canons, synods, traditions, and opinions, but they are not finally and firmly authoritative in the same way that those minimum of dogmas are.
The other night, my wife happened to dig up an old notebook. I flipped through its pages and happened upon this quotation from Sergei Bulgakov:
My moving my pen on a piece of paper, thus redistributing the atoms of ink, paper, the steel of the pen, and so on, is in principle just such a cosmic event as astronomical or geological catastrophes, though perhaps of lesser force (and even this is not certain, for we cannot measure these two events against each other).
So now I am going to sum up Part II of Orthodoxy without Empire. Last time I talked about the church-culture limen and two inadequate ways of relating to it. In Part II, I argue that a more coherent account of this limen can actually be found in the rubble of the Byzantine Empire. I know that sounds counterintuitive when you consider that one of the options I criticize is a kind of neo-imperialism, but hear me out, because I think what I am working toward is actually an anti-imperialistic. It’s this socio-political ideal called symphonia.
The following is an excerpt of an invited chapter on intersections between Edwards and Orthodoxy. It is still a bit of a rough draft. Be nice.
Sophiology is the child of Russia’s “Silver Age,” which one might think of as the 1960s of the late 1800s. It was a period of immense religious, philosophical, and artistic experimentation. Intellectual radicalism and political radicalism often go hand-in-hand, and Russia at the time was no exception. Conservative “slavophiles” were engaged in a kind of culture war with the more liberal “westernizers.” The former upheld the old traditions and Christian faith of Holy Russia. The latter wanted to remake their homeland in the image of secular Western Europe. Because the church was effectively an arm of the state, radical intellectuals tended to see it as a backwards and corrupt institution (and rightly so). Vladimir Solovyov broke the mold, navigating between the Scylla of autocracy and the Charybdis of secularism by deploying the metaphor of Holy Wisdom – Sophia – to incorporate culture, and thus openness to its insights, into the stream of church tradition. This made Solovyov something of a radical slavophile; he critically incorporated western philosophy (especially German idealism) and western values (such as individual rights) into a political philosophy that was deeply informed by Russian Orthodox spirituality.