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Category: Solovyev, Vladimir

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.

 

 

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Solovyev’s idea of the universal

by Andrea Elizabeth

I find much of Vladimir Solovyev’s thought compelling and am not willing to dismiss it on the basis of disagreement with some of his premises, such as Absolute Divine simplicity. This inspirer of Dostoyevsky’s Alyosha possesses a universal outlook that is important. According to the excerpts found on this link of his book, Russia and the Universal Church, Solovyev believed that the western Church is part of a universal organism called the Church. He does not eliminate the distinctions between the east and west, but he believes that the east can learn from the west’s willingness to get their hands dirty.

St. Cassian [symbolizing eastern purists] need not become a different person or cease to care about keeping his clothes spotless. He must simply recognize that his comrade [symbolizing the western chuch] has certain important qualities which he himself lacks, and instead of sulking at this energetic worker he must frankly accept him as his companion and guide on the earthly voyage that still lies before them.

(bold unavoidable in copy and paste) I part with him on his validating the western Church as part of the universal Church, but I think he has a Christological, cosmological point. I believe Dostoyevsky parted with him too on this point or he wouldn’t have written “The Grand Inquisitor“. But there is a tendency among purists to dismiss those who do not live up to certain idealogical standards. These standards are well and good, and fully realized in heaven, but in humility we must accept that others may have a point or two to teach us, and not dismiss them out of hand. Solovyev’s statements about imperfection on earth are well taken, but I think the Orthodox Church on earth has preserved Orthodoxy in word, if not fully in deed. He does seem to disagree with the more isolated forms of monasticism, which seems too dismissive, but I think the criticism can still be valid regarding some isolationist views. It made me think of the cranky hermit monk in Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky redeemed too extreme a caricature in Elder Zosima.

Regarding the universal Church as an organism, perhaps Solovyev uses the wrong term by defining at least Catholics and Orthodox as a single body. I’ll sidestep discussing whether every individual in the eastern Church comprises The Body of Christ. I’m focusing for the moment on the Incarnation, and what Christ joined Himself to in becoming “created”. In a sense Christ recapitulated the whole cosmos when he became and redeemed mankind (if I understand St. Maximus correctly). I’ve read a couple of statements about panentheism lately, but Wikipedia gives a more positive approach to it. God is not divorced from his creation, even those who are not baptized into His body (I may be minimizing the importance of baptism in this post, but that is due to neglect and not intention or personal belief in the unique grace of Holy Baptism). The opposite tendency is to believe in universalism which is not espoused by the Orthodox Church. This type of universalism deals more with salvation, which I’m not talking about. I am not responsible for determining if Catholics or Protestants, or even individual Orthodox, are “saved”. But being open to “others” teaching us how to be more like Christ is what I think Solovyev also espouses in his book. How could others teach of us if they are not connected to Christ in some way? I’ll not try to explain further how that can be so.

Ideal Eros

by Andrea Elizabeth

Some ascetic literature emphasizes the need to detach from earthly things. Abstinence and fasting are common words in this literature. Solovyev’s Eros is not elaborated on in great detail in Transformations of Eros, but does entail loving a corporeal thing. He writes about a higher and a lower eros, a Christ-like one and an “animalistic” one. Thankfully he doesn’t elaborate on the latter. Perhaps with a fallen nature comes a tendency toward the latter. Fallen is probably a better word because I don’t like to criticize animals. Fallen love is materialistic and seeks to consume. I saw, I wanted, I took, I ate. It is this impulsive, base or fallen love that only considers the material and how it satisfies sensual appetites. The Church teaches us to fast and to abstain, perhaps at least to provide a space in between the object and our craving, for the spiritual, or the invisible, intangible. I see, I consider, ask God’s will about, and seek a new unselfishness in my appreciation before I speak or act. Pausing to pray before meals is a first step towards this. (I once saw a video of a dog who was trained to pause and bow his head before he ate.: ) The next step involves more deliberate consecration of one’s whole life and the people and things one encounters for the sake and glory of God.

Monasticism is held up as an example of a life detached from the world. They remain, however, in very close contact with and care for people and things. I sense that they love their ryassa, angelic dress. They love icons, the Gifts, their buildings, blessed bread, each other, and their visitors. It is an arms out, turned-up palm type of love. A giving to the Lord and those He created. The gifts that they receive are received with calmness, stillness and through waiting. It’s an arms crossed over their heart, eyes closed type of love. A passivity that the dead learn. Not my will but Thine be done.

When at a monastery, for the brief periods I have enjoyed, I find it natural to emulate the posture of the monastics. At home it is different. The cares of the world can cause an irritation. Monastics say that living that life 24/7 is not the same as the experience of visiting a monastery. One nun described their communal work in the kitchen as the Arena. Darn that spiritual warfare!

One criticism

by Andrea Elizabeth

Oh, I’ve meant to point out that I don’t agree with all of Solovyev’s premises. His belief in a world-soul and seeming absolute divine simplicity misses the mark a bit, but he is an intuitive, mystical thinker, who are not always the most precise sort.

Solovyov’s third third

by Andrea Elizabeth

Solovyev’s not a gnostic nor an idealist! In the last section of Transfigurations of Eros he sticks with his Plato narrative and points out that he lost his shining moment when he diverted from love, which

in the sense of an erotic emotion, always has corporality as its proper object. Corporality, however, worthy of love, that is, beautiful and immortal, does not grow up of itself from the ground nor does it fall ready-made from heaven. It is acquired by the effort of a spiritually-physical and a divinely-human kind.

Immediately preceding this St. Maximus-like quote is another,

In this relation the whole man is concerned, and the true principle of his restoration is both spiritual and physical. But since it is impossible for the Divinity to regenerate the body and spirit of man without the co-operation of man himself, it is just as impossible for man to create super-humanity out of himself, for this would be like lifting one’s self up by one’s own hair. It is clear that man can become divine only by the active power of an eternally existing Divinity and not of one coming into being, and that the way of the higher love, perfectly uniting male and female, the spiritual and physical, is necessarily by its very principle a union or interaction of the divine and the human, or a divinely human process.

I love this book. I totally agree with his assessment of Plato’s Republic too (it’s the only work of Plato that I’ve read yet). Solovyev criticizes his sterile idealism, his diversion into politics, his promotion of slavery, and forcing women into the military thus disregarding the distinctions. Amen.

Preliminary definitions

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ideals

Rules to correct when real life disappoints. ex. Noahic law after crummy people had to be killed because they were so bad. Plato’s Republic written after the death of Socrates.

Fantasy

Made-up imaginations. Often have elements of idealism in them, but miss the mark due to one’s own delusions, romantic and otherwise.

Reality

No one lives up to ideal rules, except Christ and Mary.

Corrected Realistic Ideals

New rules for dealing with broken rules

Context

by Andrea Elizabeth

Since I used the provocative word, “gnostic”, together with our revered “eastern monasticism” somewhat vaguely in the last post, let me provide the context. First where Solovyev referred to Eastern monasticism,

Socrates abandoned the theoretical speculations about the universe which had formed the study of his predecessors, and brought philosophy down from heaven to earth, to the commonwealth of men. His spiritual successor, the heir to his genius and fame, was, however, fated preeminently to separate himself from life and social activity – to anticipate in principle the ideal of Eastern monasticism.

The whole world is full of evil; the body is the grave and prison of the soul; society is the grave of wisdom and truth; life for the true philosopher is a constant death. But this death to the interests of life does not give place to vacuity, but to a better life of the mind which contemplates that which is in and by itself absolute. Good was what Socrates sought as a moral norm for practical social life. To Plato, however, it now became, for some time, the object of a purely theoretical interest as the supreme idea, the central point in another world which the mind was grasping. (Transformations of Eros, p. 52)

on “gnostic” tendencies,

But it is not these irresponsible manifestations of instinct [referring to Plato’s love verses] which are interesting; it is the emotional crisis consciously experienced by Plato in the middle of his life and immortalized in the Phaedrus and the Symposium which arouses our attention.

I will not say anything of the outer biographical circumstances of this occurrence for many reasons, the main reason being that we know nothing whatever about it. But if history is silent respecting the personal details of this interesting romance, with whom, and in what manner it proceeded, the two dialogues mentioned testify suffieciently both to the fact itself and to its effect on Plato. Only this unknown but necessarily presupposed fact supplies the key to the subsequent change in Plato’s outlook, and by it alone can the appearance and the character of the Phaedrus and the Symposium be explained. These two works, by the bright and happy mood reflected in them, as well as by their very subjects, are quite distinct from Plato’s other writings. Can it by any possibility be admitted that a philosopher, who up to that time had regarded all human activities and interests as “non-existing,” who was occupied in meditation on gnostic and metaphysical questions, should suddenly without reason without some particular impulse, devote his best writings to love – a subject which had not in any form appeared on his philosophic horizon – and expound in them a new theory, for which no support can be found in his previous views, but which left deep and indelible, though indirect traces in all his later order of thought? (p. 54,55)

I may over-generalize the connotation of “gnostic” in these two passages, but I think in both he is talking about the life of the mind. He doesn’t go into the Eastern monastic experience of love however. I’ll save my half-baked (if that) thoughts about idealism for later.

Solovyev’s second third

by Andrea Elizabeth

The first third of Vladimir Solovyev’s Transformations of Eros is about Socrates’ dialectical quest for the Good. The second is about the idealism of Plato. Solovyev frames this as Plato’s reaction to Athens’ killing of Socrates, who was almost(?) good incarnate. If this world kills the good, then the good must exist in another world. Therefore the disillusioned Plato renounces this corrupted physical world and seeks to dwell in the realm of pure ideas. Solovyev compares this to what eastern monastics do. I think he even used the word, gnostic. I have not yet read the last third on eros yet, but I think he’s going to focus on a bridge between the ideal world and the real one.

Solovyovian Dialectics

by Andrea Elizabeth

Preliminary Solovyovian question: He seems to use the type of dialectics where synthesis between two opposing bodies is achieved. One criticism I’ve heard about this type of synthesis is that it makes compromise the goal. I’ve been an extraneous party to a court-ordered mediation session where that did not work out at all. But I consider this to be because one person was honest and trustworthy and the other wasn’t. That would be an unequally yoked situation that we are warned against. The example Solovyov in Transformations of Eros is explaining is between the Sophists and the Traditionalists. When Socrates is involved, the two parties are no longer fighting each other but are united against a common enemy. Their synthesis comes about by ignoring their points of disagreement. But once their enemy is vanquished, so it seems their unity would be. Socrates’s synthesis is drawn from both of their systems. He cafeteria-style picks and chooses the merits of the Sophists and the merits of the Traditionalists, while pointing out that the followers of both systems are pretty inept. His new system seems like a compromise between two other systems, but if the two opposing systems are based on invalid segregations of thoughts, then pulling out the gold from both rocks is not compromise, but salvage.  The gold is presented as Truth. I wont get into the allegation of Platonism at this point. I’ll just say that I think there’s some gold in Platonism to be mined as well. 🙂

Charity

by Andrea Elizabeth

My interest in Vladimir Solovyev was piqued upon reading on Wikipedia that Dostoevsky’s Alyosha Karamazov was partially inspired by the Russian philospher. For Christmas George gave me his Transformations of Eros. So far I have read Janko Lavrin’s Introduction which provides an overview of Solovyev’s thought: “Solovyev’s entire work can best be defined as a continuous endeavour to reconcile philosophic, religious, and scientific thought in an organic synthesis.” I do not wish to critique him at this point, as others have done, but to point out positives or at least connections. Firstly I note the similarity between his thought on the connectedness of mankind and Charles Dickens’.

[O]ur final conduct should be determined by the norm of the highest good as represented by Christ and by that love which alone can weld mankind into one organic whole. For in the same way as the spirit of man can find its perfect expression only in a perfect physical organism, the spirit of God can be expressed only through the most perfect social body. The creation of such a body should be the aim of true Christianity. In a social body of this kind no man could be used as a means, because all its members would realize the absolute worth and significance of each individual. In other words, “Christianity has revealed to us our absolute dignity, the unconditioned worth of the inner being, or of the soul of man.. This unconditional worth imposes upon us as unconditional duty – to realize the good in the whole of our life both personal and collective. We know for certain that this task is impossible for the individual taken separately or in isolation, and that it can only be realized if the individual life finds its completion in the universal historical life of humanity.” (from the Introduction)

Now Jacob Marley from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the duty of mankind,

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.  It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling.  “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.  Is its pattern strange to you?”

Scrooge trembled more and more.

“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself?  It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago.  You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

“Jacob,” he said, imploringly.  “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more.  Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied.  “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men.  Nor can I tell you what I would.  A very little more, is all permitted to me.  I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere.  My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house — mark me! — in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”

It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his breeches pockets.  Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.

“You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,” Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.

“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.

“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge.  “And travelling all the time!”

“The whole time,” said the Ghost.  “No rest, no peace.  Incessant torture of remorse.”

“You travel fast?”  said Scrooge.

“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.

“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Scrooge.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

“Oh!  captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed.  Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.  Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!  Yet such was I!  Oh!  such was I!”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  “Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said “I suffer most.  Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!  Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”

Instead of interpreting the above as a social guilt trip, I believe focus can instead be trained on gaining awareness of others by connecting with them as equals, while not dispelling hierarchies. The problem I have with “social programs” is in taking too much responsibility for others which can lead to burn-out and enabling. We must stay aware of our own responsibilities and at least seek a charitable understanding of others.