New on the piety of yore.
David B. Miller, St. Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity, 1322-1605. 329 pp. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010. ISBN-13 978-0875804323. $38.00.
Sergius (Sergii) of Radonezh (d. 1391) has stood as Russia's most important national saint and a savior of the country for about 600 years. Iosif Volotskii (1439/40-1515) is recognized as Russia's most incisive and influential theologian, defender of Orthodoxy, and overall ideologist from the time of the country's emergence as a fully independent, regional great power. The books under review here, each at least 20 years in the making, reveal the continued interest in and vitality of current research into Russia's late medieval and early modern religious life. (1) Miller's prizewinning monograph concerns the development, social history, and long-recognized, singular public role of the Troitse-Sergiev (Trinity--St. Sergius) Monastery and the cult of its celebrated founder, St. Sergius of Radonezh, over a period of almost 300 years. (2) Alekseev's is a contextual study of Iosif Volotskii's life, writings, and veneration, followed by some minute textology of his major work--the first of its kind in Russia--the Book against the Heretics, or Prosvetitel', as it came to be known. Almost completely ignoring the former Soviet-Marxist emphasis on large monasteries as "feudal" seigneuries, (3) Miller credits and builds on two key predecessors: Boris Kloss for the analysis of the convoy of Sergii's vitae and Pierre Gonneau for the history of the monastery itself up to 1533. (4) Alekseev, in contrast, plunges the reader into scholarly controversy and boldly attempts a more fundamental revision of Iakov S. Lur'e's earlier analysis and Andrei Pliguzov's attempted modifications of the dating of and interrelationships among Iosif's works. (5) Miller's book fills an important historiographic gap and is now the standard work in English on Trinity's first centuries. Alekseev's represents the first serious attempt to restore a Jewish content to the so-called "Judaizers" since Lur'e's debunking of almost 470 years of received wisdom, following Archbishop Gennadii's initial characterization of these "Jewish-reasoning Novgorod Heretics" in 1487. Both books will be useful as prologomena to further related studies.
Miller's overall goal is to grasp the social essence of Trinity as a community writ large, the significance of the cult of the founder, and the role of cult and cloister in the development of Russia's national consciousness. Attempting to strip "accretions of legend" (12) to the hypothetical, pure Epifanii Premudryi vita of Sergii (composed in 1418, but not extant as such) from the edits and augments by Pakhomii the Serb (1430s and 1440s), the author is most convincing concerning Sergii's conciliating actions relative to princely quarrels. Addressing the celebrated coenobitic reform, which the hagiography claims was mandated by the patriarch and instituted by Sergii and then became a model for new foundations, Miller does not probe how fully communal these measures were. Some monks certainly owned their own books, as they later would in the more strictly regulated Iosifov-Volokolamsk Monastery. Perhaps, only the common daily liturgies and meals figured in this reform. Nor is it true, pace Miller, that Metropolitan Aleksei (r. 1358-78) promoted the Sabaite or "Jerusalem" Typicon (28), which is still in use today but seems to have been adopted in Russia gradually in the 15th century. Nonetheless, treating recognized sainthood as a posthumous social transaction, Miller properly assigns a central role to Sergii's second successor, Nikon (r. 1395-1427), and to the accretions of miracles in the hesychastic-minded Pakhomii's several rewrites of Epifanii's original, which become historical markers for the reframing of Sergii's sanctity. He soon became a hero of Kulikovo (Dmitrii Donskoi's mythologized 1380 victory over the Tatar emir Mamai, followed in 1382 by the oft-neglected devastating, punitive sack of Moscow by Khan Tokhtamysh). Later, Sergii would be celebrated as a helpmeet in resistance to the Church Union of Florence-Ferrara (1439) and a guarantor of Vasilii II's crucial alliance with Tver' against his cousin and rival Dmitrii Shemiaka. Trinity's becoming a national shrine was further facilitated by icons--most notably Bogomaters (the Virgin, usually with Child), Andrei Rublev's celebrated Old Testament Trinity, and likenesses of Sergii. Furthermore, Miller utilizes donations to specify the saint's and cloister's place in the dynastic-political history of Russia starting around 1460, and he pinpoints the future Vasilii III's September 1504 pilgrimage to Trinity as the first of many such royal peregrinations in the 16th century. Examining five major works written under Ivan IV "that codified notions ... of what we can call a history of Russia" (98), Miller argues that the role of Sergji and the Holy Trinity likewise became central factors in the depiction of Moscow's conquest of Kazan. (6)
In the social realm, Miller uses a database of 3,507 grants to detail the elite donors and their geographic spread and engages in a serious, informed discussion of commemoration culture, consolidating his long-standing interest in the monastery as a national "community of venerators" (105) composed of all (free) social orders. Connecting the nature of commemoration gifts to economic and political developments, he depicts Trinity, especially after depredations during the oprichnina, as purchasing "debt ridden estates ... many no doubt at fire sale prices" (120). Borrowing from scholarship on the medieval West, he postulates that donations constituted an affirmation of social identity. His commemoration database poses an admitted challenge, since the lists contain some names of laymen, while an indeterminate number of plebeian brothers may have gone unrecorded. He is on his surest footing when he takes us through the elite elders, from the time of Sergii's first companions through the death of Boris Godunov. En route, Miller provides fascinating details of the major cloister edifices as they went up. He also shows that Trinity's experiences somewhat mirrored Muscovite politics after Ivan IV'S death in 1584, when a coterie of leading boyars took over power in Russia. For that year, the council of elders issued a solemn assertion and decree that they, not the archimandrite, supervised financial and other temporal affairs. Later, Boris Godunov was able to place his favorite elders in the key posts, just as he dominated the Muscovite government.
In the chapter focusing on gender, our author utilizes a source base of over 600 donations, land transfers, and sales from female venerators. Here he not only encapsulates the fusion of the spiritual, social, material, and political but also examines "the degree to which and under what circumstances women exercised control over property" (170). He likewise discerns in commemorations of the wives' and widows' families, starting in the 1530s, a rise of individuality among the elite and a capability, rather unique for Europe, of those women who "acted tenaciously" to "preserve" their "property ... in the female line across several generations" (201). What is more, Trinity controlled subsidiary convents for older female donors who wished to end their lives as nuns. Retracing Isolde Thyret's earlier analytical steps regarding female royalty, Miller underscores Sergii's and Trinity's supreme value for women of the ruling house. (7)
Miller's exciting conclusion reviews Trinity's role in the Time of Troubles and sketches some of the highlights of its history down to the present, thereby providing a bridge to Scott Kenworthy's recent, prizewinning monograph on the cloister in the modern era. (8) Treating the monastery as a "memory site" (225), even while it continued as a "community of venerators" (233), Miller also elucidates its functioning as an economic powerhouse: in 1590, it owned roughly an eighth of the entire realms cultivated land. In the 17th century, Trinity held about as many households as court and patriarchate combined. (9) Some of Miller's claims are overstretched, such as where he attributes a specific "pioneering" role to Trinity for its "generation of practical literacy" (243). Still, he makes a strong case for the monastery's pivotal role in the life of the realm during the 15th-17th centuries and for "Sergii's cult and his Trinity Monastery" as "integral" to the bases from which "later generations created and recreated their identity as Russians" (244).
Alekseev's Sochineniia Iosifa commences with our most factually rich narrative of Iosif's (knowable) biography--in scholarly and analytical terms--and extends beyond his death to his veneration via vitae, services, and icons. (10) Three well-documented explanations of the stimulus for Prosvetitel' follow: "eschatological uncertainty around the 'year 7000' (September 1491-August 1492), the 'heresy of the Judaizers,' and Ivan III as a possible 'unorthodox ruler of Holy Rus''" (135). (11) The book's second part analyzes the relationship of Prosvetitel' to Iosif's other writings. To the extent that space allows, in the body and in endnotes, the author discusses the views of many other scholars and recent works.
To highlight a few biographical specifics, Alekseev dates Iosif's birth to 12 November 1439. Our author eschews the usual, simple placement of Iosif as Pafnutii of Borovsk's (d. 1477) single great disciple, instead situating him among a nexus of important acolytes, including Archbishop Vassian Rylo of Rostov (r. 1467-81), author of the famed "Epistle to the Ugra" calling for resistance to Khan Akhmed in 1480, and Bishop Nifont of Suzdal' (r. 1484-1504), recipient of antiheretical epistles from both Archbishop Gennadii of Novgorod (r. 1486-1504) and Iosif. Alekseev also shows the contradictory nature of the sources regarding the time when Daniil formally succeeded Iosif as superior: as early as 1511 and as late as the eve of Iosif's death in 1515. The timing is a serious issue, since this four-year period was crucial in the history of the monastery and Iosif's key writings, the long versions of both his Rule and Prosvetitel'.
Studies of Iosif inevitably address the problem of monastic property and its place in the controversies of his era. Alekseev does not raise the obvious question of whether the total rejection of personal possessions in Iosif's Brief Rule could be consistent with the individually financed commemorations, which he promoted from the date he founded his monastery; instead, Alekseev envisions this provision as reflecting the reality of the early period of his cloister, and not merely an ideal, as I would suggest. Like the majority of specialists, including Miller, our author gives credence to later, contradictory sources and believes that a synod in 1503 raised the issue of monastic landholding, with Nil Sorskii among the "nonpossessors," whom Iosif disputed (31-33). (12) Alekseev considers the deepening of Christianity among the Rus' people and the development of parish life in the late Middle Ages as essential for eschatological fears to have taken hold within society, which he believes they did, as the year 7000 approached. Among his interesting observations (which I cannot judge) is that actual dates carried more significance in Rus' than in the medieval West--one example being the special attention that Rus' annalists paid to 6887 (1388/89), since this was the only time "until the Second Coming" (i.e., 7000), that Annunciation and Easter would coincide (87 and n. 609). (13) Aware of the pitfalls of generalizing from the scanty source bases, he nevertheless shows that Russia's Orthodox thinkers were not all of one mind concerning the year 7000.
Regarding the elusive "Novgorod Heretics," as they were usually called in earlier times, Alekseev stands squarely in the camp that classes them as genuine Judaizers (zhidavstvuiushchie), as they came to be called on account of the accusations against them. (14) In fact, he sees the "heresy of Judaizers ... as a successful example of conversion to Judaism of a small but significant part of the clergy and laymen of Novgorod and several individuals in Moscow from among Ivan III's court people" (106). If credible, not to say actually verifiable, Alekseev's thesis would force us to rethink the religious and intellectual history of Moscow and Novgorod at the time of Ivan III. Essentially bypassing Lur'e's detailed analysis of the accusers' tendentiousness, Alekseev trusts the veracity of all the heretical views imputed to these dissidents by Gennadii and Iosif (106-7), notwithstanding their inner contradictions as a package. In so doing, Alekseev envisions almost every extant period translation from Hebrew into the Western Rus' or Ruthenian dialect within the context of the "necessary proselytism of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe" (107), which I consider an unprovable and unlikely assertion. (15)
His strongest argument is that--in light of the anti-Judaic content of Gennadii's and Iosif's writings, of the monk Savva's "Episde against Jews and Heretics," and of the archbishop's commissioned translations of Western anti-Jewish treatises--the burden of proof lies with those who envision this whole "polemic against not a real but a mythic danger" (109). Alekseev likewise points to the "appearance in Russian book life of a significant number of antiJewish polemical pieces in the second half of the 15th century" (132) and believes that the struggle exerted "considerable influence on Russian literature" (133), Prosvetitel' standing as Russia's first such original theological treatise. (16) Yet Alekseev does not trust Iosif's vicious accusations of heresy and hedonism, leveled at Metropolitan Zosima (r. 1490-94). Instead, he suggests that Zosima may have allied with the dissidents as an opportunistic, careerist move (118), then operated as a central figure around 1504/5 in the thoroughly Orthodox, "Transvolgan" opposition to persecuting accused heretics (128). This merits pondering, as does Alekseev's take on the theologically undereducated but opportunistically savvy and ruthless Ivan III, whom our author presents as sharing the "typical piety" of the majority of his Moscow predecessors, balanced by "considerations of the flow of politics" (150).
Alekseev's analysis of the composition of Prosvetitel' represents the most original part of his monographic research. This is the most thorough revisiting of Iosif's magnum opus since Lur'e's work in the 1950s and the surprising discovery in the 1970s that Nil Sorskii had copied about 40 percent of the earliest complete recension, a finding that ought to have put paid to the enshrined notion that Nil and Iosif were rivals. (17) Alekseev revises Lur'e's proposed stemma of redactions and their components and sources, but his revision, while certainly meriting minute attention by specialists, is too sparse in literary analysis to convince this reviewer. (18) Using the jigsaw puzzle as a metaphor, we ought, rather, to admit that we lack several key pieces for a definitive solution to the composition of Prosvetitel' over time. We might imagine the monastery as containing a workshop that steadily generated Iosif's antiheretical writings in various combinations, subject to further revisions on the outside. For this imagining, Alekseev's comprehensive textual comparisons, regardless how one judges his specific interpretations of them, are invaluable.
This brief review cannot do justice to our authors, who have succeeded in placing the extant research into their subjects on a new plane. From here, the field can plot additional fresh projects. We need, among other things, critical editions of all the works of Pakhomii the Seth, in order better to dissect the vita tradition of Sergii; we also need critical editions of Iosif's writings, with the Slavic versions of the sources specified. Indeed, Alekseev ends his book calling for new, comparative-minded editions of all the "monuments of Russian theological thought of the medieval period" (320). Furthermore, we need an intellectual history of Trinity--St. Sergius into the early 17th century, a potentially massive topic that Miller chose--wisely, perhaps--not to tackle. (19) And, concerning the key question, how Jewish these alleged heretics in fact were, we need a Were They Really Judaizers? monograph. Perhaps Alekseev's immensely ambitious 2011 dissertation on the strigol'niki and the "Judaizers" will supply the pro (one cannot judge fully from the avtoreferat), but we shall also require an update of Lur'e for the con and for a thoroughly balanced assessment. (20)
(1) See the bibliographic listings in Miller, St. Sergius, 318-19; Alekseev, Sochineniia Iosifa, 362-63; and Alekseev, Pod znakom kontsa vremen: Ocherki russkoi religioznosti kontsa XIV-nachala XVI vv. (St. Petersburg: Aleteiia, 2002), 322-23.
(2) Miller was cowinner of the Early Slavic Studies Association Best Book Prize for the 2010-12 period.
(3) For example, I. U. Budovnits, Monastyri na Rusi i bor 'ba s nimi krest 'ian v XIV-XVI vekakh: Po "zhitiiam sviatykh" (Moscow: Nauka, 1966), contrasted to the more recent chapters by B. M. Kloss, E. I. Kolycheva, N. V. Sinitsyna, and E. V. Beliakova in Monashestvo i monastyri v Rossii XI-XX veka: Istoricheskie ocherki (Moscow: Nauka, 2002), 57-162.
(4) B. M. Kloss, Izbrannye trudy, 2 vols. (Moscow: Iazyki russkoi kul'tury, 1998-2001), 1: Zhitie Sergiia Radonezhskogo; and Pierre Gonneau, La maison de la Sainte Trinite: Un grand monastere russe du Moyen-Age tardif (1345-1533) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1993), but not Gonneau's more recent A l'aube de la Russie moscovite: Serge de Radonege et Andre Roublev. Legendes et images (XIVe-XVIIe siecles) (Paris: Institut d'etudes slaves, 2007).
(5) Ia. S. Lur'e and N. A. Kazakova, Antifeodal 'nye ereticheskie dvizheniia na Rusi XIV--nachala XVI v. (Moscow-Leningrad: Izdatel' stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1955); Lur'e, Ideologicheskaia bor 'ba v russkoi publitsistike kontsa XV-nachala XVI veka (Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1960); A. I. Pliguzov, "O khronologii poslanii Iosifa Volotskogo," in Russkii feodal'nyi arkhiv (Moscow: Institut istorii SSSR, Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1992), 5:1043-61; Pliguzov, "'Kniga na eretikov' Iosifa Volotskogo," in Istoriia i paleografiia: Sbornik statei, ed. V. I. Buganov (Moscow: Institut rossliskol istoril, 1993), 1-2: 93-138.
(6) The five works are the continuation of the Nikon Chronicle, Letopisets nachala tsarstva, Stepennaia kniga, Kazanskaia istoriia, and the Litsevoi letopisnyi svod.
(7) Isolde Thyret, Between God and Tsar: Religious Symbolism and the Royal Women of Muscovite Russa (DeKalb; Northern Illinois University Press, 2001).
(8) Scott M. Kenworthy, The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 11325 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), which gained the author the 2010 Frank S. and Elizabeth D, Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History.
(9) According to M. S. Cherkasova, Zemlevladenie Troitse-Sergieva Monastyria XVI-XVII vv. (Moscow: Arkheograficheskii tsentr, 1966), table 10.
(10) Others include A. A. Zimin, Krupnaia feodal'naia votchina i sotsial'no-politcheskaia bor 'ba v Rossii (konets XV-XVI vv.) (Moscow: Nauka, 1977), 37-100; David M. Goldfrank, "A Hagiographic and Historical Portrait of Iosif," in the Monastic Rule of Iosif Volotsky (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2000), 31-49; Ia. S. Lur'e, "Iosif Volotskil kak publitsist i obshchestvennyi deiatel'," in Poslaniia Iosifa Volotskogo, ed. Lur'e and Zimin (Moscow-Leningrad: Izdatel'stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1959), 19-97; and Lur'e, Ideologicheskaia bor 'ba, 24-84.
(11) Cleverly, neortodoksal'nyi in the general sense, not doctrinally or devotionally nepravoslavnyi and hence heretical. Here Alekseev reprises some of his more detailed treatment in his earlier monograph Pod znakom kontsa vremen, 45-107.
(12) Alekseev worked out his position on the 1503 synod in Pod znakom kontsa vremen, 245-303; against this (and more soundly, I believe) stands Donald Ostrowski, "500 let spustia: Tserkovnyi sobor 1503 g.," Palaeoslavica 11 (2003): 214-39; and Ostrowski, "The Letter concerning Enmities as a Polemical Source for Monastic Relations of the Mid-Sixteenth Century," Russian History 39, 2 (2012): 77-105. See also A. I. Pliguzov, Polemika v russkoi tserkvt pervoi treti XVI stoletii (Moscow. Indrik, 2002).
(13) This according to the mid-15th-century Rogozhskii Chronicle.
(14) Lur'e and Kazakova, Antifeodal'nye ereticheskie dvizheniia, esp. 468-69, 471 (where zhidovtsvovati is used).
(15) For a good analysis of these translations, see the works of Moshe Taube, starting with "The Fifteenth-Century Ruthenian Translations from Hebrew and the Heresy of the Judaizers: Is There a Connection?" in Speculum Slaviae Orientalis: Muscovy, Ruthenia, and Lithuania in the Late Middle Ages, ed. Vyacheslav Ivanov and Julia Verkholantsev (Moscow: Novoe izdatel'stvo, 2005) (= UCLA Slavic Studies 4), 185-208.
(16) Lur'e devoted a section to the implications for Russian literature in Ideologicheskaia bor 'ha, 185-203. In crediting Iosif with the "first systematic exposition of the Orthodox teaching of icons" (133), however, Alekseev overlooks John of Damascus, seven centuries earlier, and hence exaggerates Iosif's originality.
(17) B.M. Kloss, "Nil Sorskii i Nil Polev--'spisateli knig,'" in Drevnerusskoe iskusstvo: Rukopisnaia kniga, 3 vols. (Moscow: Nauka, 1972-83), 2:150-67; G. M. Prokhorov, "Avtografy Nila Sorskogo," in Pamiatniki kul 'tury: Novye otkrytiia. Pis 'mennost', iskusstvo, arkheologiia, 1974 g. (Leningrad: Nauka, 1975), 37-54.
(18) Lur'e's dating of the original composition to 1502-4 remains, but, according to Alekseev, the earliest redaction is not the brief 11-slovo one but rather an initial 13-slovo version represented by the two earliest extant Iosifov working copies of the 16-slovo extended redaction (minus Slovo 12), MSS Eparkh. 340 and Eparkh. 339. Instead of several of Iosif's epistles, the separate copies of Slova 6-7-5 and 8-9-10 and the abbreviated version of Slovo 11, all serving as sources for the corresponding segments of Prosvetitel, these manuscripts contain the originals. This in turn calls into question Lur'e's claims of progressively mounting, purposeful indictments, hyperbole, and mythmaking on Gennadii's and Iosif's parts and hence any doubting of their Judaizing charges. Alekseev does prove that parts of the earliest, full short redaction recension, sis Sol. 346/326, are intermediary between sis Eparkh. 340, with its red-inked corrections, and MS Eparkh. 339, containing most of them within the text itself (215-19). But pace Alekseev, the unique way that the introductory "Account [Skazanie] of the Newly Appearing Heresy of the Novgorod Heretics" signals the core content of Slovo 13 and then Slovo 12, plus their absence from the table of contents in the "Account," indicates that Iosif attached a version of the similarly structured, five-part "Epistle to Nifont" to the earliest 11-slovo codex, somewhat as found in the Rogozhskii recension, rather than that he first produced a 13-slovo Prosvetitel'.
(19) Gonneau's A l'aube de la Russie muscovite provides a useful building block, while Robert Romanchuk's Byzantine Hermeneutics and Pedagogy in the Russian North: Monks and Masters at the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery, 1397-1501 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), almost twice as long as Miller's book, indicates what available sources for such a monastery can yield fur just one century!
(20) A. I. Alekseev, "Religioznye dvizheniia na Rusi poslednei treti XIV-nachala XVI vv.: Strigol'niki i 'Zhidovstvuiushchie'" (Doctor of Sciences diss., Summary, St, Petersburg State University, 2011), a study that, as its title indicates, recalls and revisits the period under consideration, but with a far greater source base, much of A. I. Klibanov, Reformatsionnye dvizheniia v Rossii v XIV--pervoi polovne XVI vv. (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1960).
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|Title Annotation:||The Works of Iosif Volotskii in the Context of the 1480-1540s Debate and St. Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity, 1322-1605|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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