Mikhail Sergeev, Sophiology in Russian Orthodoxy: Solov'ev, Bulgakov, Losskii, and Berdiaev.
In the foreword to this work, the noted scholar Paul Valliere writes that it is the "best introduction to Russian sophiology available in English." Although the author does, indeed, offer basically good expositions throughout, he skimps on analysis, thus not tackling some of the key thorny issues involved in the sophiological enterprise. For instance, in his historical overview of the ancient and then Jewish and Christian sources for understanding Wisdom (Sophia), he does not spend enough time examining Christian Gnosticism and the Kabbala as influences on the development of Vladimir Solov'ev's sophiological views. This is important because charges of Gnosticism against the whole idea of sophiology keep resurfacing and need to be laid to rest. Moreover, the whole notion of a "world soul" in Solov'ev and in Sergii Bulgakov needs analytic review rather than merely being taken at face value, especially in how it can be reconciled with creativity and personal freedom. As for the author's treatment of Solov'ev, he omits a discussion of Solov'ev's lecture on August Comte as one of the loci of his teaching on Sophia. The author does, however, rightly underscore Sophia as being the principle of integration in Solov'ev's system.
Sergeev's selection of authors and themes is based upon his giving preference to the religious-philosophical moment in understanding Sophia and not to the literary-mystical one, as stated in his introduction. He is surprisingly scant in his treatment of Pavel Florenskii's sophiology as a mid-point between Solov'ev and Bulgakov, whom he discusses at length. Even here, however, although the author correctly points to the influence of Kant on Bulgakov in the framing of his philosophy of religion ("how is religion possible?"), he does not note how very un-Kantian is Bulgakov's response, that is, "personal experience of the divine" being the "religious synthetic judgment a priori." More critically, Sergeev misses the whole "Thou art" (Ty esi) ontology central to Bulgakov's presentation. Lastly, in detailing the ecclesiastical controversy over Bulgakov's sophiology, he does not seem to render his own judgment on the theological objections at issue.
The author's selection of the next two authors is puzzling, insofar as neither Nikolai Losskii nor Nikolai Berdiaev would consider themselves "sophiologists." Even the author's own exposition of Bulgakov shows how critical Losskii truly was of the former's philosophical framework. As for Berdiaev, even Sergeev cites Berdiaev's basic statement concerning the two orientations in Russian religious-philosophical thought--the one stressing the primacy of Sophia, the other the primacy of freedom--and the fact that he decidedly belongs to the latter camp.
In the case of Losskii, though he explicitly rejects the metaphysics of total-unity as proposed by such philosophers as Florenskii and Lev Karsavin, he still subscribes to an organic conception of the world in line with the sophiologists he criticizes. Sergeev rightfully notes this without, however, categorizing Losskii's panpsychism as a variant of world-soul theories. A more extended discussion of Losskii's understanding of the Absolute and creation vis-a-vis that of Bulgakov would also have been welcome, in particular from a cataphatic standpoint that would explain how the Absolute can be manifested in creation. As for Berdiaev, Sergeev does offer a judicious overview of his thought, and his criticisms are on target, especially in regard to his conception of the Ungrund or anarchic freedom and to the ultimate implications of his ethics of creativity.
In spite of the misgivings expressed here, the book makes for thoughtful reading and is a welcome contribution to a field needing more study, namely, Russian sophiology.
Robert Slesinski, Holy Trinity Byzantine Catholic Church, New Britain, CT
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|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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