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


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Christianity and Islam in Post-Soviet Russia

When I teach, as I do every semester, my course on Eastern Christian encounters with Islam, I love the time we spend on Russia for it gives me a chance to upend a lot of silly notions that American Christians have about Russia, Russian Orthodoxy, and Islam, including in its Russian embodiment and context where there are many notably different practices from Islamic life in, say, the Arabic world. A recent book helps us further appreciate the unique challenges in the Russian context: Languages of Islam and Christianity in Post-Soviet Russia by Gulnaz Sibgatullina (Brill, 2020), 230pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

In her book, Gulnaz Sibgatullina examines the intricate relationship of religion, identity and language-related beliefs against the background of socio-political changes in post-Soviet Russia. Focusing on the Russian and Tatar languages, she explores how they simultaneously serve the needs of both Muslims and Christians living in the country today. 

Mapping linguistic strategies of missionaries, converts and religious authorities, Sibgatullina demonstrates how sacred vocabulary in each of the languages is being contested by a variety of social actors, often with competing agendas. These linguistic collisions not only affect meanings of the religious lexicon in Tatar and Russian but also drive a gradual convergence of Russia's Islam and Christianity. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Palamite Anthropology

The rediscovery of Palamas in the contemporary period is one that must be regarded with some ambivalence insofar as he has often been used to posit certain polemical and apologetical positions by some Orthodox vis-à-vis the Catholic Church, and vice versa. Nevertheless, interest in him remains high, and we have a recent book that adds to it: Alexandros Chouliaras,

The Anthropology of St Gregory Palamas: The Image of God, the Spiritual Senses, and the Human Body (Brepols, 2020), XVI+243 pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

How are we to regard our body? As a prison, an enemy, or, maybe, an ally? Is it something bad that needs to be humiliated and extinguished, or should one see it as a huge blessing, that deserves attention and care? Is the body an impediment to human experience of God? Or, rather, does the body have a crucial role in this very experience? Alexandros Chouliaras’ book The Anthropology of St Gregory Palamas: the Image of God, the Spiritual Senses, and the Human Body argues that the fourteenth-century monk, theologian, and bishop Gregory Palamas has interesting and persuasive answers to offer to all these questions, and that his anthropology has a great deal to offer to Christian life and theology today.

Amongst this book’s contributions are these: for Palamas, the human is superior to the angels concerning the image of God for specific reasons, all linked to his corporeality. Secondly, the spiritual senses refer not only to the soul, but also to the body. However, in Paradise the body will be absorbed by the spirit, and acquire a totally spiritual aspect. But this does not at all entail a devaluing of the body. On the contrary, St Gregory ascribes a high value to the human body. Finally, central to Palamas’ theology is a strong emphasis on the human potentiality for union with God, theosis: that is, the passage from image to likeness. And herein lies, perhaps, his most important gift to the anthropological concerns of our epoch.

Alexandros Chouliaras, post-doctoral researcher at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Department of Theology, holds a PhD in Theology from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculty of Religion and Theology, under the direction of Professors Andrew Louth and John Behr. Some of his texts have been presented in international theological conferences and published in peer-reviewed academic journals. He serves as a parish priest in Athens, Greece (Metropolis of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki), where he lives with his wife and their four children.

Friday, October 22, 2021

God, Grades, and Graduation

I have taught for almost a quarter-century now at the high-school and university levels in Canada, the United States, and briefly Ukraine. Every year it seems conversation turns to what "today's teens" or "this generation of students" are or are not like, but my own undergraduate background in the social sciences, and my psychoanalytic instincts, make me leery of anecdotal generalizations of so sweeping a scale. But a new book, set for release at the end of this year, has some hard data from a fairly wide survey of students offering some very interesting insights: God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion's Surprising Impact on Academic Success by Ilana Horwitz (Oxford University Press, Dec. 2021), 288pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The surprising ways in which a religious upbringing shapes the academic lives of teens

It's widely acknowledged that American parents from different class backgrounds take different approaches to raising their children. Upper and middle-class parents invest considerable time facilitating their children's activities, while working class and poor families take a more hands-off approach. These different strategies influence how children approach school. But missing from the discussion is the fact that millions of parents on both sides of the class divide are raising their children to listen to God. What impact does a religious upbringing have on their academic trajectories?

Drawing on 10 years of survey data with over 3,000 teenagers and over 200 interviews, God, Grades, and Graduation offers a revealing and at times surprising account of how teenagers' religious upbringing influences their educational pathways from high school to college. Dr. Ilana Horwitz estimates that approximately one out of every four students in American schools are raised with religious restraint. These students orient their life around God so deeply that it alters how they see themselves and how they behave, inside and outside of church.

This book takes us inside the lives of these teenagers to discover why they achieve higher grades than their peers, why they are more likely to graduate from college, and why boys from lower middle-class families particularly benefit from religious restraint. But readers also learn how for middle-upper class kids--and for girls especially--religious restraint recalibrates their academic ambitions after graduation, leading them to question the value of attending a selective college despite their stellar grades in high school. By illuminating the far-reaching effects of the childrearing logic of religious restraint, God, Grades and Graduation offers a compelling new narrative about the role of religion in academic outcomes and educational inequality.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Who Produced Early Conciliar Acta and How?

I am endlessly fascinated by historiography, not least the exploration of how certain reputations in ecclesial history get traduced and trashed as "heretics." Yes, I'm thinking of Origen here, and derivatively of his ostensible follower Evagrius of Pontus (on whom, in this connection, the definitive "rehabilitation," as it were, has been written by Augustine Casiday. I interviewed him here about his book on Evagrius which everybody must read.) But we could ask such questions of every person of prominence, and especially of every council in ecclesial history--though it seems we rarely do ask such questions. 

As someone who has over the years often played secretary to various academic committees, I am only too aware of how one can shape the record for good or ill. I alert my colleagues to this problem by making them watch two clips of the invaluable and hilarious Yes, Prime Minister, as here and here

But we rarely--in my experience at least--pay sufficient and critical attention to the crucial question of who was involved in the writing of the minutes or acta of councils in the Church. How much credibility ought we give to such people if we can even find out who they were in some cases? How reliable is their record? How many machinations were going on behind the scene to make sure something was or was not on the agenda (and when!), did or did not get minuted, came up for discussion or was then decided or shelved, etc? 

Perhaps more rarely do we attend to the socioeconomic conditions in which councils were held and their records produced. (John O'Malley's great book on Vatican I, as I showed here, is a recent and prominent exception.)

If you read the uproarious diaries of Congar, as I did here, you get the low-down on all these things: committees that overran their time, leaving everyone hopping on one leg with full bladders; people furiously pulling levers behind the magic curtain to promote or forbid discussion of certain things, to get their favourite candidates onto drafting committees (or have their enemies on them silenced or evicted), and to ensure that their hands remain on the levers of power, not their enemies'. Other diaries, including those of Bouyer, even more shocking in some respects than Congar's, or of Hermaniuk's (much the tamer of the three), all show this. 

Every time I am doing a clinical intake with a patient, I am asking myself the question "How reliable an historian is this person" in telling me of, say, their childhood, or the violence they saw, or any other thing? For human memory is malleable and fallible, and that includes the memories of churchmen gathered in council. But too many Christians seem blithely unaware of these difficulties, and too anxious to press too far into inquiring about them. 

A new book, however, does not shy away from doing so but instead looks set to draw some welcome and overdue attention to this problem: The Acts of Early Church Councils Acts: Production and Character by Thomas Graumann (Oxford UP, 2021), 352pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The Acts of Early Church Councils Acts examines the acts of ancient church councils as the objects of textual practices, in their editorial shaping, and in their material conditions. It traces the processes of their production, starting from the recording of spoken interventions during a meeting, to the preparation of minutes of individual sessions, to their collection into larger units, their storage and the earliest attempts at their dissemination.

Thomas Graumann demonstrates that the preparation of 'paperwork' is central for the bishops' self-presentation and the projection of prevailing conciliar ideologies. The councils' aspirations to legitimacy and authority before real and imagined audiences of the wider church and the empire, and for posterity, fundamentally reside in the relevant textual and bureaucratic processes. Council leaders and administrators also scrutinized and inspected documents and records of previous occasions. From the evidence of such examinations the volume further reconstructs the textual and physical characteristics of ancient conciliar documents and explores the criteria of their assessment. Reading strategies prompted by the features observed from material textual objects handled in council, and the opportunities and limits afforded by the techniques of 'writing-up' conciliar business are analysed. Papyrological evidence and contemporary legal regulations are used to contextualise these efforts. The book thus offers a unique assessment of the production processes, character and the material conditions of council acts that must be the foundation for any historical and theological research into the councils of the ancient church.

We are also given the table of contents: 

Abbreviations and Conventions

Introduction

Part I: The Quest for Documentation

1. The Earliest Church Councils: A Documentary History

2. 'Council Acts' and the Variations of Conciliar Documentation and Recording Patterns

3. The Conference of Carthage (AD 411): An Imperial Model Case

Part II: 'Reading' and 'Using' Acts

4. Examining the Records: Two Inquiries into Eutyches' Trial (AD 449)

5. Original Acts and Documents at Chalcedon (451)

6. 'Authentic' Documents: Visual Features, Annotation, and Administrative Handling

7. Assessing and Performing Authenticity: A View from Later Councils

Part III: 'Writing' Acts: The Council's Secretariat in Action

8. All the President's Men: Administrative Aides and the 'Official' Secretariat

9. The Stenographic Protocol: Professionalism, Conventions, and Challenges

10. 'Transferring' Shorthand Notes to Long-hand Transcript

Part IV: The Written Record

11. The Hypomnemata: Production and Qualities

12. Documents Incorporated: Incorporating Documents

13. Abstracting and Summary Records

14. Collecting and Appending Signatures

15. The Structure and Elements of the 'Ideal' Session-record and the Role of 'Editing'

Part V: Files, Collections, Editions: Dossierization and Dissemination

16. Council Acts Gathered and Organised: Minutes, Case Files and Collected Records

17. Ancillary Documentation and the Beginnings of Dossierization

18. The Preparation of 'Editions' and the Dissemination of Documentation

Conclusion

Bibliography

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Politics of Persecution

Questions of religious persecution, both historic and current, are often presented tendentiously as a part of current political jockeying. Christians are not immune to treating such phenomena as "chosen trauma," in the words of Vamik Volkan. That does not mean that we should not pay attention to persecution, nor that it is not a source of real and genuine suffering, often on an astonishingly large scale today. 

A new book looks at the history of persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, taking an historical and critical eye to these challenges: Mitri Raheb, The Politics of Persecution: Middle Eastern Christians in an Age of Empire (Baylor University Press, September 1, 2021), 215pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:

 Persecution of Christians in the Middle East has been a recurring theme since the middle of the nineteenth century. The topic has experienced a resurgence in the last few years, especially during the Trump era. Middle Eastern Christians are often portrayed as a homogeneous, helpless group ever at the mercy of their Muslim enemies, a situation that only Western powers can remedy. The Politics of Persecution revisits this narrative with a critical eye.

Mitri Raheb charts the plight of Christians in the Middle East from the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 to the so-called Arab Spring. The book analyzes the diverse socioeconomic and political factors that led to the diminishing role and numbers of Christians in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan during the eras of Ottoman, French, and British Empires, through the eras of independence, Pan-Arabism, and Pan-Islamism, and into the current era of American empire. With an incisive exposé of the politics that lie behind alleged concerns for these persecuted Christians―and how the concept of persecution has been a tool of public diplomacy and international politics―Raheb reveals that Middle Eastern Christians have been repeatedly sacrificed on the altar of Western national interests. The West has been part of the problem for Middle Eastern Christianity and not part of the solution, from the massacre on Mount Lebanon to the rise of ISIS.

The Politics of Persecution, written by a well-known Palestinian Christian theologian, provides an insider perspective on this contested region. Middle Eastern Christians survived successive empires by developing great elasticity in adjusting to changing contexts; they learned how to survive atrocities and how to resist creatively while maintaining a dynamic identity. In this light, Raheb casts the history of Middle Eastern Christians not so much as one of persecution but as one of resilience.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Theological Work and Witness of Matthew Baker

I only met Matthew Baker once. He also happened not long after to contribute an essay to the journal I edit, Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. And then suddenly he was gone, killed in a car accident, leaving a lovely family and many other lives and loves behind. It was clear to everybody that had he lived, he would have been a very prominent and influential academic theologian. 

In September of this year, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press gathered together and published a Festschrift for him: Faith Seeking Understanding (2021), 368pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

This book offers a collection of the essays, letters, interviews, and correspondence of Fr Matthew Baker, exploring the works of Fr Georges Florovsky and the writings of the Church Fathers.

‘The Fathers are ahead of us, with Jesus—it is we who should be running to catch up to them.’ Thus Fr Matthew Baker, in one of the interviews included in this volume, summarizes and defends the understanding of Orthodox theological method espoused by his hero, Fr Georges Florovsky, known as neopatristic synthesis. We tend to be programmed in Western societies into thinking that simply by virtue of living in the twenty-first century, we are somehow ‘ahead,’ that we are intellectually, morally, and theologically superior to our forebears just because we happen to live later than they did, and in an age of technological marvels. But the measure of what puts us ‘ahead’ as human beings is neither time nor technology, but our proximity to Jesus Christ. This is what allows the category of the Fathers to remain a steadfast one in Orthodox theology: not simply because in the distant past they forged lasting and faithful expressions of the Gospel, but because in doing so they assimilated the very life of the One they sought to defend and glorify, the Coming One, thereby becoming living witnesses before us (not just behind us) to the only truth that can save human beings….

Monday, October 11, 2021

From the Depths of Gregory of Narek

Just in time for you to order for all the Armenians on your Christmas list (and everyone else interested in learning from this pivotal figure in Armenian Christianity) From the Depths of the Heart: Annotated Translation of the Prayers of St. Gregory of Narek trans. Abraham Terian (Liturgical Press, 1 December 2021), 568pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

St. Gregory of Narek (ca. 945–1003), Armenian mystic poet and theologian, was named Doctor of the Church by Pope Francis on April 12, 2015. Not so well known in the West, the saint holds a distinctive place in the Armenian Church by virtue of his prayer book and hymnic odes—among other works. His writings are equally prized as literary masterpieces, with the prayer book as the magnum opus.

With this meticulous translation of the prayers, St. Gregory of Narek enters another millennium of wonderment, now in a wider circle. The prayers resound from their author’s heart—albeit in a different language, rendered by a renowned translator of early Armenian texts and a theologian.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Eastern Christian Liturgies Re-Introduced

Liturgical Press just sent me their most recent catalogue, and in it I spy a compendium by two leading liturgical scholars that looks like it will be very valuable to many upon its publication at year's end: Introduction to Eastern Christian Liturgies by Maxwell E. Johnson and Stefanos Alexopoulos (Liturgical Press, December 2021), 480pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:

In Introduction to Eastern Christian Liturgies, renowned liturgical scholars Stefanos Alexopoulos and Maxwell E. Johnson fulfill the need for a new, comprehensive, and straightforward survey of the liturgical life of the Eastern Christian Churches within the seven distinct liturgical Eastern rites still in existence today: Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopic, East Syrian, West Syrian, and Maronite. This topical overview covers baptism, chrismation, Eucharist, reconciliation, anointing, marriage, holy orders, burial, Liturgy of the Hours, the liturgical year, liturgical ethos and spirituality, and offers a brief yet comprehensive bibliography for further study. This book will be of special interest to masters-level students in liturgy and theology, pastoral ministers seeking an introduction to the liturgies of the Christian East, and all who seek to increase their knowledge of the liturgical riches of the Christian East.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Roberto de la Noval on Bulgakov, Sophiology, and Death

Along comes a Monday morning, and what finer time than that to talk about death while starting your week with some Bulgakov? 

We are aided in this task by a newly translated work of the great Russian sophiologist, philosopher, and theologian. This translation is courtesy of the scholar Roberto de la Noval whose labours have fruitfully resulted in the publication this summer of Sergius Bulgakov, The Sophiology of Death: Essays on Eschatology: Personal, Political, Universal, trans. R. Noval (Cascade, 2021), 228pp. 

Following longstanding practice on here, I sent Noval some questions, and here are his thoughts:

AD: Tell us about your background

RJN: I’m a Cuban-American from Miami, Florida; my parents came to America in 1980, as part of the Mariel boatlift. I grew up speaking Spanish and English. Through a set of unique circumstances, I was baptized Roman Catholic but grew up fundamentalist Baptist. In high school I began exploring Catholicism, spent a few formative years in the Anglican church, and eventually returned to the faith of my childhood in graduate school, at the University of Notre Dame. 

I’m currently an adjunct professor of theology at Notre Dame, where I did my masters and doctoral work. I should also mention that I was born with cystic fibrosis, and that this experience of illness throughout my life has shaped the sorts of questions— philosophical, theological, and psychological—that have attracted me my whole life. 

AD: For well over a decade ago now, I have watched interest in Bulgakov climb, and still it climbs with more and more of his works appearing in English translation. What do you think is behind this burgeoning interest in his works?

Bulgakov was a genius of tremendous depth. After Vladimir Soloviev’s thesis defense, a witness exclaimed that “Russia may congratulate herself on having a new genius.” I think the same is true of Bulgakov, only it is Orthodoxy that may congratulate itself, and in fact all of Christian faith. 

This last statement is ironic, of course, seeing as Bulgakov’s sophiology was condemned by the Moscow Patriarchate as “foreign” to the Orthodox faith and then by the ROCOR hierarchy as straightforwardly heretical! So, Orthodoxy has not always appreciated the contributions of her faithful son (prophet’s honor in his homeland, etc., etc.), but it is a real joy to see that this is beginning to be remedied. I find it especially providential, and a sign of the spiritual gifts that theological academy can offer, that it has been Anglicans and Catholics who have led the way in the revival of interest in Bulgakov in the American and British context. Introductions to and translations of Bulgakov by Rowan Williams and Aidan Nichols played a pivotal role in bringing him to public consciousness in our theological circles. This ecumenical convergence on Bulgakov points us towards a brighter ecumenical future, one that Bulgakov worked earnestly for with the means available to him in his lifetime.
But that’s a bit of a digression. To return to the point: Bulgakov attracts interest because he managed to do something that few theologians of his time could pull off: combine critical acumen with palpable devotion to the Lord and the Church. While this is often an ideal espoused by theologians who are “open to the future” and to the world and so forth, few actually accomplish it in practice. 

And so readers continue to turn to Bulgakov to find answers to questions that are as fresh and urgent to us today as they were to him and his contemporaries: how can we understand Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Eucharistic body? What is the meaning of the Christian doctrine of hell? How can we make sense of the dogma of original sin in a post-Darwinian world? Christians turn to icons for prayer, to Scripture for symbols and stories to convert have the Spirit convert their hearts, and to the liturgy to offer themselves up to God in hopes of transfiguration. But they come to theology and theologians for answers to questions “at the level of their times,” to borrow a phrase of Bernard Lonergan’s. Bulgakov in many ways remains at the level of our times, and so I don’t expect his wave to crest for some time. 

AD: I have noted elsewhere how often translators are the unsung heroes of the scholarly world, their kenotic labours often not getting the glory they should. Tell us how you got into theological translation. What are its joys and challenges?

As an overeager grad student I translated texts from Greek and Latin in order to spice up my final seminar papers by appending full translations. My foray into Russian translation, on the other hand, began as a way for me simply to develop my Russian—which had been dormant for years after a brief explosion of interest and learning as an undergraduate—while keeping up with the regular work of a PhD. When I finally decided after my exam year to write my dissertation on Bulgakov, I devoted more time to the translation projects I had taken upon myself for fun. The result is The Sophiology of Death. 

Besides salsa dancing, translating is about the fastest way I have of triggering a ‘flow state’ for myself: I simply find it the perfect balance of engagement and relaxation to settle into the rhythm of the work. It’s always interesting to me to learn what kind of insight people like to devote themselves to; for the psychotherapist it may be the very practical insight of which neurotic conflicts in a patient should be brought to consciousness, in what order, throughout the changing dynamics of the therapeutic relationship. For a teacher it may be the insight into the best presentation of material so as to facilitate understanding in this particular student. 

For me as a translator, it is the distinct pleasure of landing upon just the right word that captures both the connotation and—if you’re lucky—the denotation in the original language. At times I feel I haven’t got it “quite right” yet, some word or phrase I am translating.  Then I sleep on it, trusting that the next day there will be some chance conversation that I overhear that provides exactly the right word I was looking for the day before. This happens so often in translation that I tend to think of translation a full-time job, even if I’m not translating in a particular season. I love this feeling of serendipity and insight and it’s why I try to keep translation in my daily life even when I’m not working directly on a new translation.

Another joy flowing from translation is the possibility of collaboration. I’ve been fortunate to work with two stellar co-translators, Mark Roosien and Yury P. Avvakumov. One thing I bemoan about academic work is how little collaboration takes place. I don’t mean interdisciplinarity as much as the simple possibility of co-writing a paper or a book together with a friend whose questions are the same as yours. Translation has given me the chance to work with people I really like and the opportunity to enjoy the pleasure of linguistic insight together!

One challenge in translation concerns the academic politics of translation. When I think about why I’ve devoted my time to translation work, it’s because of the tremendous benefit I’ve gained from the labors of other translators. Boris Jakim’s translation of Bulgakov’s Relics opened up a new world for me as an undergraduate; it literally changed the course of my life. How do you quantify the value of that? And yet in my situation as an adjunct professor trying to decide how much time to dedicate to which projects, in hopes of securing a more permanent faculty position, I know that having translations to my name does not count as much as having a monograph, for example. I find this dispiriting, given the unique skill set that good translation requires and my conviction that translation is a gift to academe as much as it is to the lay public—after all, without translations, what do you assign to your undergrads in so many of the required courses that pay the bills for theology departments? There’s something askew about the perception and reception of translation work in theological academe, and I hope this will change in the future. 

AD: Some theologians (e.g., Maximus the Confessor) have a reputation for writing fiendishly complicated prose in their mother-tongue, making the translator’s task difficult. How is Bulgakov’s Russian in this regard? Were there bits you found especially tricky? 

Bulgakov’s Russian is characterized by a sustained (and often successful!) aspiration for literary polish. Having translated his diaries, his dialogues, and his academic theological works, I’m happy to report that his academic prose is far easier to render in English than the other two! That said, Bulgakov’s speech is so replete with Slavonicisms (given his clerical family background—he grew up soaked in the language of the liturgy) that as someone who studied Church Slavonic only for a semester in undergrad work, I had to be constantly on the look-out not just for real Slavonic words but also for Slavonic neologisms Bulgakov enjoyed inventing. 

He was a man who was quite fond of his own cleverness, and I mean that with the fullest warmth and respect, but it’s true, and you get a sense for it in translating his Russian. One thing I tried to do in my translation was to render the shift in tone when the Slavonic comes to the fore, and I did this by using the KJV and “KJV-ish” language whenever he slips into that register, attempting to replicate for the English reader something of what the change in language would have felt like to Bulgakov’s Russian audience. This was a challenge, but also quite fun for me, as someone who grew up with the KJV in my ears and who still thinks of it as what the Bible really sounds like.  
Though now that I think about translation challenges, I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight my unique (to my knowledge) translation of the word soobraznost’, a very important word for Bulgakov’s theology. A straightforward translation would be “correspondence,” but I have not preferred this term because it fails to render the obraz, or “image,” that shines forth when you see the word in Russian. Bulgakov regularly speaks of humanity and God existing in a relationship of soobraznost’, which I’ve translated in my book as “co-imaging.” I thought the risks of producing a clunky English neologism worth it, even if for a Russian speaker of Bulgakov’s time the obraz in the word may have already been a dead metaphor. Still, this word does a lot of work in Bulgakov, and I’m convinced that he meant to revive the dead metaphor, assuming it was truly dead. The reader of my translation will experience the obviousness of the word obraz or “image” in soobraznost’, which should naturally draw the mind back to Genesis 1:26-27, where humanity is described as being created in God’s image, or obraz. This may be the central verse for Bulgakov’s sophiology, and it is in the background when he describes humanity and God as “corresponding” to or “co-imaging” each other. I hope this translation of the word helps the reader get this pivotal point more easily. 

AD: I half-jokingly said to my wife many years ago that I want to start a Society for the Preservation of Church Funerals because of what seems to be in the increasing and dreadful temptation to abandon funerals and have some booze-up (“celebration of life”) at a local watering hole instead. So naturally I read the very last chapter of your book, “Concerning My Funeral,” first. It’s slightly over a page long, and while weirdos like me find this sort of stuff riveting, I’m wondering what led such a sober scholar and translator as yourself to decide to include it in this collection of weighty and lengthy essays on apocatastasis, eschatology, Augustinian theology, and other topics? Additionally, do you happen to know how many of his wishes were in fact honoured?

Well, sober scholars and translators have to die at some time, too, so I’m quite interested in how people approach their death as they contemplate its arrival! But I share your distaste for this further example of contemporary culture’s inability to take the reality of death seriously; we go to absurd lengths to keep existential facts out of consciousness, but the repressed will always return.

As for why I included it in this brief note in the volume: I think we’ve gotten to the point in Anglophone Bulgakov studies where we need to start shifting from description of Bulgakov’s theology (not itself an easy task!) to explanation. And when you begin the work of explanation, of reduction to causes, with relation to products of human minds and hearts—which is what every theology is— you inevitably have to turn to biography to some degree. 

I don’t mean to reduce Bulgakov’s staggering intellectual output to nothing more than a function of certain biographical experiences, but there’s no theology without the theologian. To that extent, I wish in this text (and in future translation endeavors) to introduce Anglophone audiences to Bulgakov the priest and Bulgakov the man. And so naturally I thought that for readers to catch a glimpse of Bulgakov’s own attitude towards his death would help them get the bigger picture of his magnificent eschatological vision. 

Particularly meaningful to me was the fact that in contemplating his burial, what came to mind for Bulgakov was first his son, Ivashechka, whom he lost before the boy reached four years of age, and then Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane—perhaps the key event in Christ’s life in Bulgakov’s sophiological Christology. 

To know Christ for Bulgakov is to know the Christ who suffered loss, the loss of his will in abandoning himself to the Father’s will. For that reason it is no surprise to me that in anticipating the loss of his life in death, Bulgakov turns to the loss of his son Ivashechka, and, in a moment of metonymy, to the loss of the Russian earth that covered Ivashechka’s remains. This in turn leads him to think of Christ, and together with him of all that we are asked to lose in this life, willingly or unwillingly. This moves me, and I wanted others to see it too.  

As to the second question here: I have yet to visit Bulgakov’s grave in Paris, but from photos I’ve seen of the graveyard, he was in fact buried alongside his wife. As for the depositing of the soils on his grave, I can’t imagine why his wishes wouldn’t have been fulfilled, but I don’t know if anyone knows for sure. 

AD: In his preface, David Bentley Hart notes that Bulgakov was long perceived as “something of an anomaly in Orthodox thought.” Tell us a bit more about this, and whether he is still thus perceived today—and if not, what has changed?

Let me distinguish two ways in which someone’s thinking can be registered by others as anomalous. First, there is anomaly in terms of content and language. Bulgakov was certainly anomalous in his insistence on making the biblical figure of Divine Wisdom or Sophia (Prov 8) the lynchpin for his theological system. For that reason, his language and ideas appear odd to many Orthodox readers, and not just today: in his time, too, few had made the language of ‘Sophia’—and the rich associations (biblical, liturgical, iconographical) attached to it—the heart of dogmatic thinking about the Christian mysteries. That’s the first anomaly. 
But the more significant anomaly was Bulgakov’s theological method. A further subdivision here can help. First, it must be recognized in its full implications that Bulgakov sought to produce a theological system. It is curious that in his introduction to his 1936 text, Sophia, the Wisdom of God, which was intended to introduce the sophiological system to sympathetic and interested readers in other ecclesial communions, Bulgakov notes that sophiology is an Orthodox ‘theologoumenon,’ a way of coordinating Christian doctrines in order to make them intelligible together, like Barthianism in Protestantism and Thomism in Catholicism. Significantly, he doesn’t name any alternative to ‘sophiology’ currently active in Orthodox theology! It is not that Bulgakov’s approach was the only game in town, but the fact that Bulgakov does not name any comparable system indicates that he was attempting something that, while not unprecedented in Orthodoxy, was self-consciously and deliberately pursued in his sophiology: understanding the data of revelation in light of fundamental theoretical—meaning philosophical—principles that determined how the system was cast. 

Bulgakov knew that his “major trilogy,” On the Divine-Humanity, was an attempt at such a system. And this aspiration at systematics was not well received in his time. It is a testament to how much has changed in Orthodox thought that an Orthodox scholar like Aristotle Papanikolaou, who generously provided an endorsement for my book, could write in his blurb that Bulgakov “is the Aquinas of our time” and mean it in a positive sense! When Bulgakov’s theology came under ecclesiastical censure in 1935, during the “Sophia Affair” that led to his condemnation as a heretic, Bulgakov was at that time unfavorably called an Orthodox Aquinas. 

This drive for systematicity and total coherence in thought evinced by Bulgakov was even seen by some of his opponents as a manifestation of Bulgakov’s “gnosticism,” his desire to go beyond the simple revelation of Scripture and the fathers in order to write fantastical philosophical poetry akin to what the ancient gnostics produced! These kinds of concerns are extremely illuminating in that they reveal the anxiety at that time about the role reason in the life of faith, and about theological method itself—concerns quite familiar to other Christian communions, and especially the Catholic Church in the early 20th century. I think that the progressive entry of Orthodox scholars into the realm of theological academe has largely left these perspectives on faith and reason in the past, together with the concerns about pursuing a coherent systematic perspective on the Christian mysteries. One need think only of Dumitru Stăniloae’s dogmatic theology to see this is the case.
To return to the second term of the distinction I noted above, Bulgakov was an anomaly in his time not just in his particular doctrines or in his deliberate attempt to construct a systematic theology, but also in his approach to the role of the individual theologian in relation to the sources of Orthodox theology, and most especially towards the church fathers. I touched on this in the previous paragraph, but Bulgakov was doing something new in bringing to explicit consciousness the fact that theological production could not be identical to a repristination of the fathers; Bulgakov argued, paradoxically, that to honor the fathers as our contemporaries meant to see them as champions of the questions that were live in their historical eras, and to imitate their example in seeking to answer the questions that define ours. Bulgakov had largely assimilated the historical turn (though its influence had not touched the whole of this theology) and understood that the authority of the fathers could not be equivalent to that of a naive rendition of the Protestant sola scriptura. 
In Bulgakov’s time, many of his critics took this contextualization of the fathers to be a denigration of the fathers, and therefore of holy tradition itself, with Bulgakov setting himself over tradition as its judge. That such a critique was possible illustrates—sadly, I’d say—what can happen when the subject is neglected, to invoke another phrase of Bernard Lonergan’s. It is theologians who produce theology, and insofar as theology is more than the simple repetition of biblical or patristic phrases, it is necessarily an act of judgment on the basis of the data of revelation, both “general” and “special.” 

Just as the law of universal gravitation is not present as such in a falling apple, so too doctrine is not ‘out there’ to be looked at by theologians who turn their gaze to the Bible or the fathers or church councils. Bulgakov understood this, even while he also firmly believed that the products of any theologian’s mind must eventually be judged in turn by the Church universal, through the proclamation of dogma at an ecumenical council and then by that council’s eventual acceptance by the body of the Church. Still, Bulgakov saw clearly that a truly modern Orthodox theology would not be a simple application of patristic maxims or teachings to contemporary problems but must instead be a rethinking, of the tradition and with the tradition, in light of the questions providence had put before the Church in her sojourn through history. 
As a Roman Catholic who is appreciative of Orthodoxy but not living my life within it, I cannot say whether Bulgakov’s approach on this matter would still be seen as an anomaly. Perhaps one way to gauge the temperature here is to see how Orthodox theologians today would be willing to affirm that development of doctrine is present in the Orthodox tradition, or that it is a category that makes sense in Orthodox theological thinking. It seems to me, based on my anecdotal experiences and reading, that Bulgakov’s posture concerning the method of theology—that it is creative thinking that goes beyond the fathers, by necessity, as it is historically situated in a new context—still sounds scandalous to many Orthodox today, though of course I know many Orthodox who would not bat an eye at this. 

Contemporary Orthodox responses to David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved provide a good example of how some Orthodox may receive Bulgakov’s method today. I don’t say that just because both of these authors were fervent advocates for the doctrine of apocatastasis, but because in many senses their theological methods overlap. If you read carefully the critical reviews of David’s book, you’ll find that the main criticisms concern not his particular theological or exegetical arguments as much as the very fact that he challenged the patristic consensus on the matter of the eternality of hell and sought to provide philosophical-theological reasons for why that consensus makes a mess of other core Christian metaphysical convictions. The dispute, therefore, is really about theological method. 
One Orthodox colleague of mine informed me, in fact, that David’s approach was decidedly not Orthodox, insofar as he sought to answer the question of the salvation of all in the abstract, outside of the context of spiritual direction, where the answer to such a question would depend on the spiritual state of the one inquiring. “Orthodoxy could never produce a summa,” he explained, because summas represent reason’s naked pursuit of knowledge in a supposedly neutral context. 

Well, as I noted above, Bulgakov in his writings attempted something like an Orthodox summa, insofar as Bulgakov relentlessly pursued the answer to questions that divine revelation and contemporary living provoked. And he considered it perfectly Orthodox to seek to answer these questions in an academic context, even while he never lost sight of the personal and spiritual sources of the questioning and the implications they would have for Christian living. These sorts of encounters suggest to me that there remain fault lines in Orthodoxy concerning how we ought to spiritually value reason, and to put it more specifically, how we ought to value reason’s desire to know as manifest in the question. (These fault lines are hardly unique to Orthodoxy, I should add, but the question was about the contemporary Orthodox theological scene, which is why I speak of it here. You can find the same questions in many Christian communions, insofar as the Church in many corners is still reeling from the impact of the 19th century). 
David’s great sin, in my reading of his critics, consisted in daring to question the patristic consensus on the eternality of hell, and to question the intellectual and moral authenticity of those who affirm the doctrine of eternal torments today. So many critics took this as an ad hominem against them, and that’s unfortunate. It reveals we so easily forget the subject that utters theological judgments, which in turn means that we fail to advert to the fact that questioning the specific convictions of another is intimately connected with questioning whether those convictions were reached in a reasonable and responsible way. 

This is why Bulgakov’s critics thought he was making himself the “judge” of the tradition when he posed questions to that tradition; they felt that his judgments put their integrity as reasonable and responsible knowers into doubt, as well as the reasonableness and responsibility of that aspect of the tradition itself, and so the polemical heat eclipsed any intellectual light the debate could have produced as the psychological mechanism of projection was set loose to silence the uncomfortable question that Bulgakov’s theological method puts to all of us, Orthodox, Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, whatever: in the face of the plurality of our traditions, and the fact that we are, all of us, moderns who at times find aspects of our traditions foreign and incomprehensible, both intellectually and morally, how can we reasonably and responsibly affirm the heritage of our traditions for ourselves, today, as we try to carry them forward? For traditions are only carried forward, are incarnated in, the subjects who abide in the Church—though as Christians we affirm that the Holy Spirit is the motivating and sustaining force in this venture of being our tradition. Still, this does not undo the question modernity has pressed upon us with such force: where does faith begin, where does reason end, and is there such a thing as reasonable and responsible faith? 
Bulgakov unswervingly said Yes! to the latter, as many religious thinkers today would, but he took it a step further and actually gave criteria for reasonable faith, as in, for example, his insistence that revelation that cannot be accepted by healthy human conscience cannot be judged to be revelation in that sense. He tried to indicate the boundary that both divides and joins reason and faith. And that’s where I think the anomaly of Bulgakov is located: in his unrelenting commitment to the God-givenness of reason and its questions, and to the spiritual probity, even necessity, of raising them in our pursuit of the God who has graciously gifted us our traditions.

AD: Your introduction boldly lays out the claim that Bulgakov’s theology is “decisively and thoroughly eschatological, even apocalyptic.” The historical naïf might think “Well, he lived through (almost) two world wars, and the Russian Civil War and Revolution, and thus saw a lot of death. So what?” But his views are not merely a reaction to such events, however murderous and horrifying they were, are they? What formed his eschatological-apocalyptic theology?

Bulgakov’s interest in eschatology was a natural development from his Marxist period; atheistic Marxism, taken in its totality, represents a secular eschatology. Bulgakov treats this at length in his 1910 work, Apocalyptic and Socialism, from which I took the first chapter of my translation, “The Foundational Antinomy of the Christian Philosophy of History.” That’s where the roots are, as well as in the general religious and philosophical environment in which Bulgakov matured as a thinker: Nikolai Fedorov’s social and scientific plan for raising the dead through technology, Dostoevsky’s depictions of the breakdown of Russian society in the face of religious apostasy and embrace of atheistic socialism, and Vladimir Soloviev’s hugely influential A Short Story of the Antichrist.  Even before any of the events you mentioned took place, many in Russia sensed that something was going to happen, and could happen at any time. So I don’t think that the historical naïf is in fact that naive, though Bulgakov’s involvement in these questions has a more personal anchor in his early career as a “legal Marxist.”

This framework helps us contextualize Bulgakov’s reversion to Orthodoxy; it was not simply a rediscovery of the faith of his childhood, but it was a decisive embrace of one eschatological vision and a rejection of another. I think this must have influenced how he began to hear the liturgy anew, and we see this eschatological vision of the Christian life, and especially the liturgical life, in the second chapter of the book, “On the Kingdom of God.” For Bulgakov, the eschatological impulse in Marxism finds its fulfillment in the personal metanoia encouraged and effected in the liturgy, as well as in the public, societal metanoia that the Christian faith enjoins. I could say more on this, but I think I put it better in the introduction to the book! 

AD: The first chapter on the necessary antinomies one must hold in constructing a Christian philosophy of history is especially noteworthy. Tell us a bit about this.

It’s striking to recognize how Bulgakov predicted described the last decades of American political life with his remark that eschatologism, when it becomes anything more than a personal mood of earnest expectation for the Lord’s coming into one’s life, frequently transforms into a political program executed most frequently on the bodies of others, even while the political oppressor gabs on about the imminence of the world’s demise. 

Bulgakov’s point is that eschatologism (the expectation of the end of the world in Christ’s coming) and the ideal of progress, with its historical tasks that summon us to action, must always co-exist in the Christian soul and in any society that calls itself Christian. The delay of the Parousia that the early Christians experienced therefore has an abiding significance for Christian political theology and eschatological thinking: it is not given to us to know the times and seasons, and while we must wait for the Lord’s coming with the fervor of the early Christians, we cannot abandon history and the world to its own fate, perched away in our secluded ecclesial enclaves. 

While the experiment of Christendom was, in Bulgakov’s eyes, very much a “fall” away from the purity of apostolic Christianity, it was nonetheless right in its impulse to attempt to Christianize society, though it pursued the wrong means to do so. If we fail to keep the balance between eschatologism as personal mood and the ideal of progress in our historical living, we find ourselves forced to choose between an escapist Christianity or a totally immanentizing ideal of the Kingdom of God’s advent among us, which so often has recourse to violence to establish the peaceable kingdom. 
And while Bulgakov doesn’t go into this in great depth, the collapse of this “antinomy” in the life of the individual Christian can have equally disastrous results, I think. Bulgakov’s approach is one that expects failure while encouraging prayer and action; to that extent it resists fantasies of omnipotence and makes possible real human and spiritual growth. 

AD: The chapter on socialism is one I turned to next after the one on his funeral, and then spent the most time immersed in the longest titular chapter, “The Sophiology of Death.” Not many Christians may be familiar with the very term “sophiology,” so, first, give us a brief summary of it and then of Bulgakov’s huge role in 20th-century sophiology, and where this chapter fits into that broader movement. 

Bulgakov always called his sophiology a ‘theologoumenon’ and not a specific doctrine. Critics have questioned the undue modesty of this claim, but I think Bulgakov was essentially right: to read sophiology as a particular doctrine about a figure called ‘Divine Wisdom’ is to completely mistake the point of the project, which is ultimately an attempt to give a metaphysical account of the God-world relationship—and that account is of course explicated in the process of giving explanations of major Christian dogmas. 

In other words, sophiology in its core is a series of theological judgments about the relationship between God and humanity, nature and grace, and these judgments are delivered using the conceptual framework of “Sophia” or “Wisdom,” a notion Bulgakov changed and refined throughout his theological career. But the same judgments that Bulgakov makes on the matters just mentioned can and have been made by other figures in the Christian tradition using quite different conceptual schemes; for that reason I think that Bulgakov’s sophiology can in fact do without the figure of Sophia. But that’s a discussion for another day. 
Let me give a brief description of how it functions in Bulgakov’s thought. The name ‘sophiology’ derives from the biblical figure of Sophia, who was ‘with’ God in creation, who delights in the sons of men, and who is read in the early Church as the Logos. To that extent, there’s an intimate relationship between divine wisdom and the world, and especially between divine wisdom and human beings. There’s a long history of speculation on the figure of Wisdom in both Jewish and Christian thought, and among Christians that speculation can be further divided into the ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ streams. 

Bulgakov inherited all of that, though his most proximate influences were Fr. Pavel Florensky (martyred by the Soviets) and Vladimir Soloviev, who is the father of the Russian sophiological school. Bulgakov took this framework and ran with it in some pretty fascinating ways, though it’s crucial to keep in mind that there isn’t just one sophiological system in Bulgakov’s works, but rather multiple iterations, as Bulgakov continually reformulates his views on the God-world relationship throughout his career. Still, the reader can find the mature version in the “major trilogy,” On the Divine-Humanity. By that point, Sophia refers not simply to the Logos, the second trinitarian hypostasis, but to the divine essence itself, which can be hypostatized, or made actual, in the trinitarian persons who share the divine nature, or creaturely reality, which is a finite image of the Image that is the Son. 

So when we speak of ‘Divine Sophia’ we mean the Most Holy Trinity, and when we speak of ‘creaturely Sophia,’ we mean all created reality that is an image of the Image of God, the ‘logoi’ who subsist in the Logos, to use Maximus the Confessor’s language.
Sophiology’s project is to explain the metaphysical condition for the possibility of the incarnation of God as a human being. Accordingly, its main tenets can be summed up by saying that between God and the world there is no opposition, even while there is qualitative difference. God manifests Godself in the creation of the world as a finite mode of divine self-revelation. This is Christian panentheism, in which it is proper to say that the world is God, but God is not the world. 

However, because the world is a proper mode of God’s existence, namely the kenotic mode, it is metaphysically appropriate and in fact perfectly natural for God to live the life of a human being, because human nature and the divine nature “co-image” each other, though in radically different metaphysical registers. If this sounds odd, it is worthwhile remembering that the entire Christological project of the patristic era was an attempt to explain how it made sense to say that God could live God’s life beyond God’s proper divine nature: in other words, it was an attempt to justify why we can coherently, and ultimately not paradoxically, call this crucified man “God.” Sophiology attempts the same, to explain how God can live a life “outside” of God’s nature, in the kenotic divine life that is finite reality, and then in the special hypostatic presence of the Logos on earth as the man Jesus Christ. 
Sophiology thus adds no new dogma to Orthodox teaching, but it does suggest a particular way of connecting the dots between established dogmas in order to produce a rather striking image, one in which any suggestion that God’s life can be understood to exclude the world’s must be rejected as a myth, a sort of optical illusion produced from the side of the creature who has not thought through the fact that “God” really is identical with God’s act. This, of course, has a number of implications for deciding disputed questions in the tradition, such as the question of the soul’s origin and the question of universal salvation. To put it even more provocatively (and in a way that may confirm some Orthodox anxieties over the doctrine of divine simplicity!) Bulgakov’s sophiology is simply the logical outworking of the metaphysical doctrine that God is pure act. 
As for the work “The Sophiology of Death,” it represents a pivotal moment in the outworking of the logic of the incarnation as understood sophiologically. If God has no creaturely opposites, then even death, the “last enemy,” cannot prevent God’s from manifesting Himself. Because God has assumed death into himself through the God-Man, death becomes a place of encounter with God in Christ; death’s victory is undone, as Christ trampled down death by death. This does not mean that death is a positive good in se, only that in the light of grace it is revealed as an evil that can become a good through the sublating power of grace, which is now universal, since Christ has assumed the death we all must die. 

In a sense, we can understand Bulgakov’s sophiology of death as a sophisticated metaphysical exposition of the wondrous and arresting fact that in John’s Gospel, Christ’s death is his exaltation and glorification. Only if death as a creaturely reality admitted by God in the work of creation is capable of being assumed by God can it become the site for theophany. We know that whatever is not assumed is not healed, but Bulgakov teaches us that whatever is assumed is also revealed as one more facet of the mystery of Being, one that is patient to the divine light’s action and refraction, to love’s urge to show itself as universal. That this profound reflection on Christ’s death, on divine-abandonment as a paradoxical site of divine manifestation, was occasioned by Bulgakov’s own experience of dying and divine-abandonment is a testament to what can occur when the heart and head of a theologian are taken up by God’s Spirit: they are taken up to be blessed, broken, and then distributed to the faithful. 
You asked about Bulgakov’s sophiology within the broader sophiological movement. In a significant sense, the sophiological “movement” dies with Bulgakov, if by movement we mean those who explicitly made the figure of Divine Sophia a central component of their theological project. But the sophiological impulse, with its erasure of the strict boundary between nature and grace and its tendency to understand all of finite reality as theophany integral to God’s proper life—that did not die with Bulgakov, and can be found in the writings of many of his students, and even his opponents. I always find it amusing that Vladimir Lossky, for example, could intone so vehemently against Bulgakov’s sophiology in 1936 while in turn decrying the Catholic theological idea of natura pura in his Mystical Theology! But as I wrote above, there are many theologians today who can affirm the core of sophiology while using rather different theological idioms and conceptual frameworks.
 
AD: Bulgakov’s views on socialism are not straightforward it seems to me. Those expecting his experience of the Revolution to have turned him into some kind of howling reactionary spokesman for the bourgeoisie will be disappointed; but those expecting him to submit to a kind of “scientific materialism” without raising eschatological challenges to it will also find him an ambivalent interlocutor. Sum up for us, if you would, his views as you’ve translated them in your third chapter. 

It’s not sufficiently recognized that though Bulgakov did leave behind Marxism as an atheological and anthropological doctrine, he never abandoned his commitment to socialist principles of economic organization; he was elected to Russia’s Second Duma, in fact, precisely as a representative of Christian socialism! But in brief, Bulgakov understands socialism, taken strictly a political policy that aims at eradicating economic inequality and injustice, to be a neutral reality, a potency that can be actualized in various manners depending on which spiritual coefficient is attached to it. 

Of course, when viewed historically, socialism must be understood within the context of the “scientific materialism” in which its political ideals and strategies were first formulated. And that context, crucially, is a historical product that Bulgakov reads as a response and revolt against Christian society that had abandoned the task of historical progress in justice in favor of the eschatologism of the monastery or of political theocracy. And so the phenomenon of atheist socialism, especially in the Soviet Union, functions for Bulgakov like the pagan nations that led Israel into captivity; socialism is a historically expected and providentially permitted punishment for Christendom, condemning it for its dereliction of the duty to build a just society. 
Even while acknowledging the beastly face of atheist socialism as it manifested in his home country, with its brazenly unjust society and the rivers of blood that followed the Soviet takeover, Bulgakov has compassion on socialists, for he sees their longing for equality as a spiritual reality that can find its natural home only in a religious context that would prevent the thirst for justice from becoming an inverted image of the violence of theocracy. Thus socialism by its very nature is unstable, and it requires a religious sublation to preserve its integrity as an appropriate response to a political and economic arrangement that exploits and destroys lives. This is because of how Bulgakov understands the human person, as an innate desire for God; there is no ‘natural happiness’ for man, with God bracketed on one side (Bulgakov takes it that Dostoevsky’s novels had sufficiently demonstrated this natural happiness without God to be an impossibility). 

So it comes down to a theological anthropology that decisively rejects both any atheistic and materialist account of the human person as merely a very clever ape and a ‘two-tier’ understanding of nature and grace; these two false anthropologies are mirror images of each other, in fact. Socialism’s positive religious value, were it to be instituted in a Christian context, would be to allow persons to attend to their deeper desire for God, a desire that is overrun, muted, and much harder to pursue in a context wherein workers have to spend the majority of their waking hours focused on the needs of the body, such as securing lodging and procuring food. Man does not live by bread alone, and that is why atheist socialism will of necessity twist and oppress the human spirit that naturally desires God; but man cannot live without bread, and the desire for bread will rightly distract him from the desire for God. And so socialism has its proper place in any Christian political and economic theory. 

AD: What else of Bulgakov remains to be translated? Are there still major works we are waiting on? Are you working on new ones?

There are a huge number of early essays from before his turn to dogmatic theology that I’m sure would be of interest to many readers interested specifically in his Marxist period, but which would likely not sell as well when marketed to a theological audience. But his From Marxism to Idealism (1903), a collection of his essays that track his move from Marxist materialism to philosophical idealism, would be particularly fascinating for Anglophone readers who want to understand the entire arc of Bulgakov’s political philosophy and theology. 

The period of Bulgakov’s work that would garner most theological interest, however, is that of his Crimean exile, from 1918-1922, when the Soviets barred him from returning to Moscow immediately after his priestly ordination and kept him in Crimea until he left for Constantinople in 1923. It’s a time in Bulgakov’s that has been underappreciated, for it was in these years that Bulgakov began his priestly ministry in earnest, figured out the major questions that would occupy him for decades to come, and settled a number of issues, philosophical and theological, for himself. 

Additionally, Bulgakov also writes in his journals that in these years his thinking moved in a much more decidedly orthodox direction. As for texts from this period, we’ve just recently seen Angelico Press release The Tragedy of Philosophy, though we’re still waiting on The Philosophy of the Name to appear in English. There are a few essays from this period on gender and sex that definitely deserve a translation, and which I would be interested in doing for some publication, though I don’t know if it would add up to enough for a book. Looking beyond the Crimean period, the Chapters on Trinitarity from 1928 would also be very happily received by Anglophone audiences.
The other major work from the Crimean era, however, is Bulgakov’s literary and theological platonic-type dialogue, At the Walls of Chersonesus. While this is no secret to scholars of Bulgakov, Bulgakov spent some years of his life as a crypto-Catholic, having embraced a Solovievian Catholic ecclesiology. That this happened so soon after his ordination to the Orthodox priesthood was deeply troubling to him, of course, and it provoked a time of deep unrest—intellectually, spiritually, and interpersonally. Though Bulgakov eventually overcame what he calls his “Catholic temptation,” the ecclesiological argument that Bulgakov accomplishes in Chersonesus is a stunning intellectual achievement, I think, and one that plays a significant role in his future development as an Orthodox churchman and ecclesiologist. 

It’s fascinating to read Bulgakov’s (to my mind) devastating critiques of Khomyakovian “sobornost’ ecclesiology” only to discover the very same pro-Khomyakov argumentation a decade and change later in Bulgakov’s influential introduction to Orthodoxy, The Orthodox Church. Any earnest study of Bulgakov’s ecclesiology cannot do without a serious engagement with the ecclesiological problematic that Bulgakov sets up in Chersonesus, for while he changes his answer to the question of Rome a few years later, the problematic is central for his later sophiological ecclesiology. 
All that to say that I have been translating Chersonesus for the last several years with my brilliant friend, teacher, and co-translator Yury P. Avvakumov of the University of Notre Dame (who, as it happens, was just appointed to Pope Francis’ International Theological Commission!). Chersonesus is a brilliant work not just theologically but also literarily, as Bulgakov writes in the voice of several characters, in a fascinating register of “chatty academic” that mixes Russian colloquialisms from the 1920s with Slavonic neologisms and obscure literary and historical references. It’s a massively learned work, and we have worked for years now to perfect the translation, to give the Anglophone reader a taste of the feel of this delightful text. We expect it to be published in 2022. 
My other current translation project, which will see the light of day in the nearer future, is Bulgakov’s Spiritual Diary, 1924-1925. My good friend, extremely talented liturgist, and fellow Bulgakov scholar Deacon Mark Roosien (translator of Bulgakov’s Eucharistic Sacrifice) and I have translated this unique diary of Bulgakov’s, a diary that he kept simultaneously with his other, more personal and quotidian diary. In this journal, written at a time when Bulgakov has confidently overcome his “Catholic temptation” and was settling into his new life as an Orthodox priest in Europe, Bulgakov assumes the literary voice of the priest-confessor who reflects on the readings of the liturgical year and on the burdens and privileges of priestly life. It represents a side of Bulgakov that is often missed when scholars focus on the vaunting heights of his sophiological system: the personal side of daily life with Christ. We translated it because it’s beautiful, because it’s edifying, and because we think Bulgakov has much to teach us about how to live the Christian life today. It is, you could say, a glimpse of the sophiological vision put into practice.
Lastly, and more distantly, I continue to work little by little on translating the major texts from the “Sophia Affair,” the theological controversy surrounding Bulgakov’s condemnations as a heretic. I translated a decent amount of this while I was working on my dissertation. Some truly fascinating literature arose in response to Bulgakov’s sophiology, and so I very much desire to bring the best of it together between two covers so that readers can get a real sense of how Bulgakov’s theology reverberated in its immediate context. But that one is probably a few years out. 

AD: Having finished this book, what are you working on now?

Besides the translation projects mentioned above, which are taking much of my time, I’m currently working on a few other things. In addition to articles on Bulgakov’s theology of doctrinal development and theology of embodiment and sex, I’m revising for publication my dissertation, a theological study of Bulgakov’s condemnations and the resultant Sophia Affair. It’s provisionally entitled The Theological Condemnations of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov: Sophiology in Suspension. Its companion volume will be the translations of documents from the Sophia Affair I mentioned above. I expect that it won’t see the light of day until 2023. 

Additionally, I’m little by little turning my lecture notes for my Foundations of Theology course at Notre Dame into a book on general revelation and natural theology. It’s provisionally titled, “Know Yourself, Know God,” and is a series of exercises intended to get students to begin a phenomenological exploration of conscious intentionality that opens up to a transcendent horizon. I hope that will be done by late 2022. 

Lastly, I’m headed this upcoming spring to Boston College for a six-month fellowship at the Lonergan Institute, where I’ll be doing a comparative study of Lonergan and Fichte’s philosophies of consciousness. This will serve as the foundation for my exposition and critique of Bulgakov’s Christology in a monograph I hope to have out in 2024 or 2025. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

In Praise of Robert Slesinski (III): Ecclesiology

In this category of Slesinski's works we place not only Holy Mother Church, but several other works as well. But to begin with this one, here is the publisher's blurb:

Holy Mother Church is the latest of Fr. Slesinski’s contributions in mystagogical catechesis, which already include ten other books, all published by Eastern Christian Publications. The Christian Faithful throughout the world at every Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass profess a creedal belief “in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” This catechetical study directly examines the full meaning of these constitutive marks of the Church–the Church in her oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. It covers the universal aspects of the Church at the opposite end of the spectrum from ECP’s recent book The Home Church which examines mixed marriage of Catholics and Orthodox. Color icons enhance the meaning of the book throughout.  

We also have A Primer on Church and Eucharist: Eastern Perspectives, from 2007, which is also available in Spanish.

I would also put in this category some of his other books that look at crucial parts of the Church's life, starting with Holy Tradition: An Essay in Reparation from 2018. About this book we are given a short blurb befitting a short (50pp.) book: An Eastern examination of the meaning of Tradition in the context of today’s problems for the Church.  

The Church lives in, from, and with her tradition, including sacramental and liturgical traditions, which are not meant to be exclusively inward focused, but to take Christians out to The Holy Apostolate: The Liturgy After the Liturgy (2013). 


The liturgy is of course intimately connected to the sacraments, treated in The Holy Mysteries: Celebrating Christ's Sacramental Presence (2018). 

But liturgy must also give rise to new and different ways of living, well treated in this introduction to moral theology: The Holy Decalogue

Moral and liturgical life both are led in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the light of the resurrection, both well treated in The Holy Pentekostarion: Catechesis on Holy Week, Pascha, and Pentecost from 2010. 

Finally, to speak 'patristically,' we can say that all sacraments, all liturgy, all ecclesial life culminate in the one who is the Ark and Temple of the Most High, The Holy Theotokos: In Festal Commemoration, published in 2012 and one of Slesinski's longest books in this category. 


About this book the publisher tells us this: 

This book continues the series of adult education on the feast days of the Byzantine Churches, their theology and liturgical texts. 200 pages with icons.




Series ended.

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