Category: Sergius Bulgakov

The Submerged Reality: Sophia

by Andrea Elizabeth

the Introduction

“On the one hand, Sophia seems to bring out the best in those who have claimed immediate experience of this divine reality. This was the case with … and Sergius Bulgakov, for example, who were all noted for their kindness, maganimity, and even, saintliness. On the other hand, their respective sophilogies have often brought out the worst in their critics and continue to do so. I expect no less from this book.

This book is not a cultural history of Sophia. Even though, as a poet, I find the Gnostic mythos of Sophia and her metaphysical kidnapping a fascinating story, to be honest, the theologians and critics who tend to view anything remotely sophiological as flirting with “Gnostic heresy’ bore me. Nor am I at all interested in the conspiratorial projections of the vast number of unstable individuals and groups who hold out Sophia as “the goddess who was erased” from Judeo-Christian consciousness, a neurotic sensibility that internalizes the Gnostic mythos to an almost surreal degree. There is something inherently ugly about the hermeneutics of suspicion and the scholarship of heresy hunting. Likewise, myth-making steeped in paranoia proves an especially sterile enterprise… Other ways, I think, are more useful. So I say again: Let us start a war.” (P. 2)

I will defer the defense and distinguishing characteristics of his position to the rest of the Introduction, as I am not interested in engaging the detractors.



I’m averting my eyes, Oh Lord

by Andrea Elizabeth

Sometimes when I read a violent scene in a book I sort of glance quickly at the words and try not to dwell on them. Such was the case during the parts in Brothers Karamazov when various tortures were talked about. Such also was the case during the chapter on “Modern Academic Theology” in this book on Father Seraphim Rose’s Life and Writings. I understand that it was referencing Father Seraphim’s mid-’70’s point of view when the ROCOR was bitterly against the newly autocephalous status of the OCA, but I think the broad brush painting of the Paris émigrés needs a more refined touch. Nevertheless I’m glad I made it to the end of the chapter when this point is made,

These were strong words indeed about the academic theologians of Fr. Seraphim’s day. That was how Fr. Seraphim saw things in 1975. In succeeding years he continued to see modernism in academic theology as a significant problem, but he began to focus greater attention on yet another problem that he came to regard as more immediate: phariseeism among the traditionalists. As his faith matured and he experienced ever more deeply what it meant to be a Christian, he saw more clearly not only the need to be faithful to tradition so as to avoid the pitfalls of modernism, but also to need to cultivate the fundamental Christian virtues of compassion and humility so as to avoid the pitfalls of a self-serving “traditionalist” mentality. As we shall see, this deepening of perception brought about a change in the tone of his published writings. In his later years, as he continued to address problems in the Church, he would do so not so much with a polemical spirit as with a spirit of sorrow. As he was to write in those years: “Discourses against current follies don’t work unless one puts oneself into it – seeing it as our common problem.” (p. 486)

For a more nuanced perspective on Frs. Florovsky and Bulgakov in particular, I just found this translation of a letter from the former to the latter quite helpful. Thank you, Father.

The Trouble with Pronouns

by Andrea Elizabeth

A while back I did a few posts based on Sergius Bolgakov’s The Comforter as explained in a paper by Nadia Delicata, Th.D candidate. A lot of the Bolgakov’s contents are still over my head, and I have no doubt that Ms. Delicata understands him much better than I. However I had taken some exception to her use in her paper of the pronoun “she” when referring to the Holy Spirit, which I understand is not in Father Sergius’ writings. Somehow she found my reference and graced me with the following clarification which includes some interesting points,

“I wanted to clarify that in the article in question, I used the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit in line with the Syriac tradition. I might also add that in my native semitic tongue “Spirit” is feminine, so I also wanted to honour my personal religious roots. However, I certainly do not associate the Holy Spirit with the Mother of God, nor with Sophia, (which would be theologically erroneous), nor was my intention to “feminize” the Holy Spirit. Having said that, nor do I believe that it is theologically correct to “masculinize” the Holy Spirit or any other person of the Trinity. Ultimately when speaking of the persons of the Trinity (or of Sophia), neither male nor female pronouns are helpful, but we exist within the limits imposed by our languages, which, of course, colour our “imagination” of God.”

I responded that I need to quit “imagining” God in an anthropomorphic way and be more apophatic about His gender.

The End of the Bulgakov Conference and Beyond

by Andrea Elizabeth

Speaking of finishing things, I’ve finally gotten around to reading the last two installments of the Bulgakov Conference on The Land of Unlikeness. I am not qualified to offer a detailed scholarly analysis, but I would like to jot down some impressions. When I initially read Joshua Delpech-Ramey’s report (see my previous posts under the Sergius Bulgakov Category to the right), I was thinking he was going in the right direction, and without reviewing why I thought that, I’ll go on to say that I think he veered off course in his latest post. I would have agreed more with him a year or two ago. He seems to speak of transcending our personhood into Absolute Divine Simplicity while simultaneously recovering the magic dormant in the created universe. And while my previous impression of Janet Leslie Blumberg was of Augustinian defensiveness, I found her to tweak Joshua’s point a bit to a more personalized, humbly Derridian (whom I am inclined to interpret gently), respect for the amazing cosmos, while maintaining her own personhood in a desire for union with God, but perhaps along a too deterministic path.

So my ignorant, less informed view which is probably based on misinterpretation, is that they are right to open themselves to union with God which will lead to transcending fallen humanity, but their method seems to be alchemistic – seeking to combine physical properties in the right combination to do this. Maybe Janet redeems the goal by saying it should be done by embracing tradition rather than leaving it behind, and I am not sure if she is talking about Credal Christian tradition only, or Sacramental Tradition, which is how we find God in the elements. And maybe her determinism is about uncovering the logos in everything, which is predetermined in Christ, rather than the over-riding of free will.

And as I brought out at the end of my last post on the Conference, I am becoming more sensitive to the off-balanced method of putting the ideas “transcendence”, “Cosmic union”, “latent power” before Person. We are not to throw ourselves into the abyss of ideas expecting an explosion of power and awareness (gnosticism), though perhaps I am neglecting a proper understanding of apophaticism. Instead we are to focus on the Person of Christ, and how He reveals Himself and ourselves to us. I have enjoyed the positive attitude conveyed in works like the above, and think there is merit to it. We are to be joined to love and awareness, but I am beginning to think it will be more concrete than how it came across. I’m thinking a hierarchy of God in Trinitarian relation (which Bulgakov has some valuable things to say about), repentant man, the powers, and material creation will keep us from going off the deep end.

Which brings me to the latest post, Revolution, Paradox, and the Christian Tradition: A Chestertonian debate between John Milbank and Slavoj Zizek, which may make the corrections, or maybe just clarifications, I have begun to intuit. I also value the scholarship in the above posts as I am coming to appreciate reading a wide range of bright people, even if we don’t have the same order of idealogical priorities. I also find their dispassionate and calm relating of atheists’ points very refreshing.

Bulgakov’s Sophia

by Andrea Elizabeth

Now I’m caught up, having finished the rest of day 10 and day 11 of The Bulgakov Conference, I read 12 previous to the rest (link in the previous post). Day 11 compares Augustine to Bulgakov and that put me in a defensive state, which the author could also be in. I’ll just, as dispassionately as possible, reiterate one of the criticisms in my last post, that there is a confusion in Augustine and perhaps in Bulgakov’s Sophiology between created and uncreated, and the humility required of the former to not only keep from prelest, but theoretical annihilation into Divine Simplicity.

In defense of Sophia, not having read Bulgakov’s works except the parts which are quoted by very engaged commentators who seem to agree with each other (I like discussions from multiple people because I think individual biases and passions get better sifted out, which is why I like the internet. Back to defense of Sophia), I think Bulgakov is valuable because he speaks of intimate relationship, kenotic love, and what was intended for our fallen, now buried in sin, nature. Sophia’s union of the divine and creaturely seems to me a poetic expression of the union in the person of Christ of His divine and human natures. The feminine personification of wisdom in Sophia also speaks to the union of divine and human accomplished through theosis, most evident in our greatest human Saint, Mary, the Theotokos. I get lost when it is described in more abstract and novel ways, but when I think of Christ and His Mother, I believe I gain an understanding of the beautiful, loving, intended relationship that is possible between God and man, which strict theological language can make too dry. Yet a foundation in the dogmatic proclamations of the Church, especially Chalcedon, and the explanations of Sts. Maximus and Gregory Palamas, is a necessary prerequisite so that one does not go off the deep end with this stuff.

Another thing about Sophia and other treatments of female personifications of wisdom and beauty by Dante and others, which I’ve barely studied, is that such a device, if it is not literal, builds a more normal human relationship than abstract concepts do. I read recently in Father John Romanides’ Patristic Theology that Hebrew tradition describes truths metaphorically with natural elements like rocks and rivers, and that the early Church described truths mostly through concepts using philosophical language. These both point to the difficulty of description that has to employ alternate means of communication. “Sophia” is a more direct thing that seems more accurate or containable than metaphor or allegory. But since there isn’t a forth person of the Trinity and she is more about the border (semi-permeable membrane?) between the created and uncreated, then I think it is safer to think of Mary, yet call her Sophia because the description is second-hand, to avoid presumption. The only way to say it is an accurate depiction of Mary would be to draw from Patristic witness, and since some of it would not apply, it can be criticized as speculation. About the charge of speculation in regards to Bulgakov, which I believe Romanides makes, btw, I do not discount that Sophia is based on supernatural encounter, as I believe he had a feminine visitation, that seems to my inexperience and lack of thorough memory and study, to be similar to Dante’s. I know that we are to be highly skeptical of stories of visitations, but when such love accompanies the description, it lends credibility, from my point of view. A lot of people’s “relationship” with Mary can be discounted as speculative. Indeed I think it is highly likely that impure imaginations and focus on the sensual aspects of loving femininity can distort and misdirect this relationship. This is why we need Orthodox icons, to show us the nature of Mary’s humanity, love, and relationship with Christ. The Church also guides us in our communication to her and the nature of her intentions toward us, loving intercession. Bulgakov invites us to take this further, and the Church cautions us against some of the inaccuracies, but at the same time, we are to grow in intimacy and love with God and His Saints. Perhaps it is safer to keep this relationship on the level of our human personhood, and the human personhood of Christ and the Saints, and not speculate about the interaction of the divine which is everywhere present and fills all things, beyond what the Church has revealed already. I know when I contemplate these things I can sort of get in an abstract mode of possibilities, and it seems I can neglect my own realities of fighting against my passions and loving my own family. Plus trying to get into mystical realities can get kind of weird. I trust more when the actual sunlight makes lovely patterns through the leaves or an interesting angle on the icons, to reveal that God is love, warmth, and light. I need actual physical manifestations, though they can be deceptive too. But I think personal love is such a deeply recognizable thing, that as long as it is in the context of the Church’s teachings, we can trust it. Feminine beauty though… I think it has been so misused in our generation especially, that we all, male and female, need to be retaught how to relate to it properly. And maybe reading Bulgakov, Dante and Donne would help.

It only took until 1am

by Andrea Elizabeth

Now that I’ve finished the last half of the paper based on Bulgakov’s The Comforter, I’ll say that I like the expansion on the self-emptying and deifying role of the Holy Spirit, but am still bothered by the feminine pronoun and am not sure Bulgakov used it since it’s often in brackets. Also the end goes into universalism and though not quite dogmatic about it, they seem to promote it along with it’s necessary limitation on free will. I like the optimism, but we are taught against it and it’s better not to offer false assurances.

On to other things, we just purchased Dr. Farrell’s God, History and Dialectic which is being talked about over on Energetic Procession. I look forward to reading more about Recapitulation and hope my son who may attend the University of Dallas next year (since he has been offered a 4 year half-tuition scholarship) will get a chance to look at it.

The Holy Spirit’s role in deification

by Andrea Elizabeth

The second half of The Comforter and Divine-Humanity is about God’s union with creation. Here’s a sample,

The Holy SpiritТs Kenosis for us: Sanctification in Creation and Inspiration for Divine-Humanity

The kenosis of the Holy Spirit in the immanent Trinity, her becoming copula of the Father and the Son, their hypostatic Love, is paralleled in the created realm: the SpiritТs sophianic sanctification of the world, and her personal descent in creation for the inspiration of humanityЧto become copula that binds in love all human relationships in the self-offering love of friendship. Thus from the beginning of creation the Holy Spirit is the Artist, the Giver of life, bathing creation in beauty; but in the fullness of time, in the Christ event, the Holy Spirit accompanies the descent of the Son and is poured on all flesh (Acts 2:17). In turn, the apex of time of the earthly ministry of Jesus becomes a special moment for the labor of the Spirit in creation: a personal labor, but shrouded in a special hiddenness. Each of these three kenotic moments of the Spirit in creationЧsince the beginning of time, in the life of the man Jesus, and in PentecostЧwill be pondered in turn.

And this goes with my byline quite nicely,

a. The Sophianic action of the Holy Spirit

That matter is energy and energy is matter is one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our times. It also retells the story in contemporary language of how GodТs Ruah swept over Уnothing,Ф over tohu-bohu, birthing Уlife.Ф The inherent УpotentialityФ or energy created by the Father is breathed upon, preparing УnothingФ to receive its form, to be molded into matter, to become the rich diversity that mirrors the beauty of God. In the Spirit, matter becomes, evolves, is crafted, according to its design given by the Logos. Breath is the energy inherent in matter, Уexist[ing] in the very flesh of the world, in the matter of the world,Ф[73] enabling it with the dynamism to gradually become Уsomething,Ф beauty, the rich diversity of creatures. The Spirit who fulfills, who completes, empties herself in an ongoing sophianic action towards creationТs fulfilment, towards creationТs completion, but that requires the very participation of creation according to its particular freedom or УmeasureФ: УThis multistage or gradual character of being is proper to the life of the world, for the creative Сlet there beТ always resounds in the world in its different forms; creation is always the future too, not only nata, but also natura[74] Not only the apparent, but also the imaginedЧsince the transcendence of this divine imagination is the telos of creation; its becoming not only natura, but supranatura, the resplendence of God.

The sanctification of matter is then explained, and I want to quote the whole thing, but will commend the link instead. This is what I’ve been looking for. I’m reminded of the “what happens” in St. Maximus, but this seems to be the “how”.

There occurs a mysterious, i.e. invisible, transfiguration of creation, in which the latter, while ontologically remaining itself, becomes transparent for the Spirit, receives the faculty of communion with God, is deified.

If I’m understanding Bulgakov rightly, the personified Sophia is sort of like the Derridian ‘membrane’ where Spirit meets creation. But this membrane is transparent, or at least becomes so upon deification/union with God, whereas Derrida’s remains opaque, or when breached still remains other, whose brightness is beheld from a distance. And Derrida is talking about creature to creature, with Truth as a silent, though bright witness. But Bulgakov is talking about the inherent Spirit in creation, who is indeed everywhere present and fills all things. Creation becomes transparent through being sanctified in the Church, so until that happens, I think perhaps Derrida may be disappointed, and if not, is he in prelest? Non-Christians can appreciate the glory of nature, but they probably are in danger of becoming Pantheists. Still, I’d take a Pantheist over a Gnostic. I think. I don’t know, praise God that I don’t have to choose, but I hope the Pantheists help clean up the smog in the Grand Canyon.

The Comforter and Divine-Humanity pt 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

I find the author’s statements and quotes from Bulgokov compelling in respect to our Triunified God and the non-subordination of the Son and the Holy Spirit. It seems that the paper is also an attempt at Ecumenism so it points fingers at the East and the West, but the criticism of the East is of incompleteness and too much focus on origination, while the West is critiqued in it’s structure of procession and Ecclesiastical ramifications. I really like the descriptions of the Persons of the Trinity’s relation(s) to each other, but don’t know where to put Bulgakov’s “Sophia” as I haven’t seen a consensus for that idea/personification.

My favorite words used in this first half are perichoresis, transparency, revealed, self-sacrificial love, beauty, bliss, comfort, joy, and dissolving of love into.

The Comforter and Divine-Humanity

by Andrea Elizabeth

Theandros - An Online Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy

Volume 5, number 1, Fall 2007
The Comforter and Divine-HumanityNadia Delicata, Th.D. candidate
Regis College, University of Toronto

So far in this paper on BuIgakov, about a sixth of the way down, I am bothered by the use of a feminine pronoun in referring to the Holy Spirit, though I think I have read before that the Holy Spirit can have a sort of feminine function. This is a paper drawing from Bulgokov so I’m not sure how much of it he would agree with.

Another thing that bothers me is that the paper seems hyper-critical of the Church Fathers. It claims that they had a deficient knowledge of the Holy Spirit. I can see how one could surmise this from reading the dogmas presented in the Church Councils in isolation from the Liturgy and the lives and prayers of the Saints, especially the Desert Fathers.

I agree with its criticisms of Origen, Tertullian and Arius, and the scholarship makes me keep reading when it gets to St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians and makes me wonder if she has a point.