"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, October 5, 2020

Reformation and Enlightenment Influences on Russian Orthodoxy

One of the self-congratulatory illusions (in the strict Freudian sense) that some Orthodox apologists like to tell themselves is that their tradition has somehow been insulated or even inoculated from Enlightenment influences and, to a lesser degree, the upheavals of the various Protestant reformations of the sixteenth century. Neither illusion (which functions, as Freud saw, as a protective device as well as of wish fulfilment: in this case the desire that Orthodoxy be "protected" from what are taken to be nefarious philosophical influences, and the wish that it remain a "safe haven" free of such things after all other Christians have apparently succumbed to them) withstands a moment of scholarly scrutiny, but when has that ever gotten in the way of a good myth? 

In any event, a forthcoming study will add to our understanding of this period: A Spiritual Revolution: The Impact of Reformation and Enlightenment in Orthodox Russia, 1700–1825 by Andrey V. Ivanov (University of Wisconsin Press, November 2020), 320pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The ideas of the Protestant Reformation, followed by the European Enlightenment, had a profound and long-lasting impact on Russia’s church and society in the eighteenth century. Though the traditional Orthodox Church was often assumed to have been hostile toward outside influence, Andrey V. Ivanov’s study argues that the institution in fact embraced many Western ideas, thereby undergoing what some observers called a religious revolution.

Embedded with lively portrayals of historical actors and vivid descriptions of political details, A Spiritual Revolution is the first large-scale effort to fully identify exactly how Western progressive thought influenced the Russian Church. These new ideas played a foundational role in the emergence of the country as a modernizing empire and the rise of the Church hierarchy as a forward-looking agency of institutional and societal change. Ivanov addresses this important debate in the scholarship on European history, firmly placing Orthodoxy within the much wider European and global continuum of religious change.

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