(1917 – #257)

…for ye have not received the spirit of servitude,
so as to again live in fear, but have received the
Spirit of adoptive sonship, by which we exclaim:
Abba, Father! For this selfsame Spirit doth witness
to our spirit, that we — are the children of God.
Apostle Paul.  Rom. 8: 15-16


The article of Fr. P. Florensky concerning Khomyakov (in the “Bogoskovskii Vestnik” (“Theological Messenger”) for July-August 1916), written in the form of a review upon the tremendous research of Prof. V. Zavitnevich, — is not only the larger of the two events, but reflects also the present scandal within the Orthodox Slavophilising camp. Here this teacher of the Church of the Neo-Slavophils, this head and inspiration of the Moscow circle of the revivers of Orthodoxy, has made an act of renouncing the teacher of the Church of the old Slavophils — Khomyakov. Fr. Florensky has not only repudiated Khomyakov, but also has called his ideas dangerous in their consequences for the Orthodox Church, and has proclaimed him an immanentist of the German type. In Orthodox circles up to the present time they have considered Khomyakov the greatest and perhaps even the sole Orthodox theologian. Fr. Florensky now denounces his theology as non-Orthodox, and accuses him of a Protestant proclivity. In the opinion of Fr. Florensky, Khomyakov hazards the risk “to tear from the soil also the wheat of Orthodoxy, as for example, by his denial of authority in the Church, as though it were not possessed within Orthodoxy, and together with it consequently, neither the principle of fear, the principle of power and the requirement of a canonical structure” (p. 528). It is clear, that Fr. Florensky wants to set a limit to the boundless freedom within Orthodoxy, which Khomyakov perceived and expressed. Khomyakov indeed posited very great significance in the life of the Church to man, to human freedom, the same too to human love. In this, Fr. Florensky sees most of all his frightening proclivity towards immanentism. And here he questions Khomyakov: “Did he indeed found a new school of theology, ultimately in truth Orthodox, and non-Catholic and non-Protestant, or is this his teaching — but a refined rationalism, a system extraordinarily of nuances and therefore most poisonous formulae, sundering the foundations of churchliness? And furthermore, in the civil realm was he indeed a faithful servant of autocracy, of this foundation of the Russian state, did he indeed wish to strengthen and exalt the imperial throne, or on the contrary, ought there to be seen in him the creator of a more populist and therefore more dangerous form of egalitarianism?” (p. 529). “Khomyakov’s thought slyly eludes ontologic definition, pouring forth with a mother of pearl play of colour. But this colour-play is one of superficial hues, dazzling, but not substantial, and therefore there are alterings and changes of the outline with but the slightest turn of the head, which provides not a stable grasp of thought and it leaves within the heart anxiety and question. Immanentism — suchlike is the flavour of the theory of Khomyakov” (p. 536). “The free self-affirmation of man, — the manner of life, immanent to man, — manifest within the organisation of love, for him is the most dear of all” (p. 539). “The essence of Orthodoxy, — according to Fr. Florensky, — is ontologism — the acceptance of reality from God, as given us and not wrought by man, in humility and thankfulness”.

Fr. Florensky sets the dot atop the i, and in this is the purpose of his article. He accomplishes this with his reknown process of religious thought, oriented within Orthodoxy. His article is very incisive for representatives of contemporary Orthodox thought. He puts it to them to make a decisive choice between Fr. P. Florensky or Khomyakov, to elicit a decisive preference for one or other of the teachers of the Church, to go either to the right or to the left, towards freedom or towards compulsion. The path of Fr. Florensky and the path of Khomyakov — are incompatible. Within our Orthodox religio-philosophic movement there has already occurred the repudiation of Vl. Solov’ev, — and now there occurs the repudiation of Khomyakov. But Vl. Solov’ev and Khomyakov — have been our most important people in the sphere of Christian thought. Khomyakov and Vl. Solov’ev — were forerunners of the thereafter impending Russian religious renaissance. For them Christianity was a religion of freedom and a religion of love. Khomyakov interpreted Orthodoxy as a religion of freedom, and the pathos of love for freedom breathes in every line of his theological work. In the boundless freedom of spirit he saw to be all the uniqueness of Orthodoxy, its at-heart essence. This indeed unprecedented freedom of spirit, freedom in Christ, was also affirmed by Dostoevsky in his Legend about the Grand Inquisitor, this unsettling hymn to religious freedom. Both Khomyakov and Dostoevsky wanted to see within the Russian people suchlike a freedom of spirit, freedom in Christ, which they did not find in the nations of Western Europe. Fr. Florensky breaks not only with Khomyakov, but also with Dostoevsky, and he is compelled to seek out new sources, in Bishop Theophan the Hermit, in Metropolitan Philaret, in the official Orthodoxy; and even the Apostle Paul he is obliged to acknowledge as insufficiently Orthodox! He consequently expounds on Christianity as a religion of necessity, of compulsion and submission. He is not faithful to the traditions of the Russian great literary figures, he turns himself away from their religious content, and away from the religious thirst revealed by them. He, and particularly it is he, — is that apostate, having betrayed the covenants of the Russian religious soul, its spiritual longings, its searchings for the adventive City to Come.


Very characteristic is the attitude of Fr. P. Florensky towards the teachings of Khomyakov about the “Iranian” and the “Kushite”. In the “Iranian”, Khomyakov saw the principle of the freedom of the creative human spirit, whereas in the “Kushite” he saw the principle of necessity, the force of nature, of the lower magicism. These two basic lines, of freedom and of necessity, have defined the history of religion and the whole scope of culture. Orthodoxy, for Khomyakov, as a very pure expression of Christianity, is situated wholly within the lineage of the “Iranian”, in it triumphs the “Iranian” spirit, the freedom of the human creative spirit. Father P. Florensky dwells within the Kushite element, in necessity, and in Orthodoxy he sees the triumph of “Kushitism”. “The “Iranism” of Khomyakov he regards with suspicion, as a deviation towards immanentism and Protestantism. Orthodoxy and autocracy for Father Florensky are totally immersed in the Kushite element, in the magicism of the necessity of things. And it mustneeds be acknowledged, that in actual fact regarding historical Russian Orthodoxy and autocracy, in many regards it stands much closer to the construct of Father Florensky, than it does to the construct of Khomyakov. Khomyakov’s philosophy of history is completely out of date, and it is only his religious concepts that remain alive. Father P. Florensky wants consequently and ultimately to humble himself before the factual and to worship the factual, he apotheosises the factual as the ab-original mystical. He flees his own freedom towards instead necessity, with every factual datum. In the worldwide struggle of freedom and necessity he decisively stands himself forth on the side of necessity. And this pathway can lead — not to Christ, but to the Grand Inquisitor. The path, chosen by Father Florensky, is apparent from his questionings concerning Khomyakov: “What sort actually was Khomyakov? — a guardian and a deep root of Holy Rus’, or on the contrary, an eradicator of its ancient foundations, in the name of an imaginary image projected of Russia in the future? Did he humbly receive the holy things of the Russian people, wanting to cleanse it from all the accidental dirt, imposed upon it from outside, or was it with the pride of a reformer that he attempted to prescribe for Rus’, whether on behalf of himself or those others — the Moscow circle of Slavophils — something contrived? And indeed for him to direct for the Church, how it should be, though it be of purest impulse, this would signify not to avow the Church, but to avow oneself; to prescribe for the Tsar his duties, even though they should result for demands of the imperial autocracy, — this signifies to negate autocracy” (p. 529). Very consequently here is a religion of slavery and the degradation of man. But the slavery of submissiveness always leads to the slaves’ revolt. The pathway of Father Florensky is very dangerous in particular for the conservative churchly and state elements; it would lead up to the greatest degradation of the Russian Church and the Russian state, and indeed be favourable only for the revolutionary negative segment. When they close off the pathway of creativity, the pathway of renewal and rebirth, then there triumphs instead the paths of destruction and negation. The demands for a servile bowing-down before the factual churchly activity, obedience to what is at present, all this leads only to a falling-way from the Church, either to unbelief or to the fragmentation of religious energy off into the manifold sects. It befits and becomes the Church to remain in this situation, only if the dynamic stirring within it were to be impossible, if creativity were to be impossible.

Khomyakov affirmed the idea of Orthodoxy and the idea of autocracy, but much of the factual in Orthodoxy he regarded negatively and critically, reserving for himself the right of evaluating and opposing. This means, that he all the while allowed for the possibility of a creative regeneration of churchly and state life. The Slavophils ultimately did not adhere to this path and they therefore have come into morbidity and decay. And in several of the ideas and concepts of Khomyakov there are contained other possibilities. But Father P. Florensky wants ultimately to affirm it all upon a mystique of fact, of givenness, and to constitute for himself the responsibility for creative stirring within the Church. He wants to receive everything from without, from others or an other, and only but for his own humility and obedience. For him the mystical is not freedom, but rather necessity, the mystical is not immanent for man, but rather transcendent for him. Father Florensky imperceptibly confuses the mystical with the magicism of things, for the spiritual he substitutes that of the soul-body. Yet from the genuinely mystical, which is always immanent, both Father P. Florensky and Khomyakov are distant, though in varied ways.


Khomyakov preached Orthodoxy as an idea. It was not for any lack of grounds that they raised against him the objection, that in his Orthodoxy everything seemed wonderful, since he always had in view an ideal Orthodoxy, whereas in Catholicism everything for him was quite very bad, since he always had in view the factual Catholicism. Yet the remarkable Catholic theologian Moehler too had an ideal conception of the Catholic Church as a free unity in love, with which Khomyakov’s conception of the Church was very similar.1   Moehler and Khomyakov simultaneously revealed the eternal essence of the Universal Church. But this did not hinder Khomyakov from being in his lifestyle Orthodox in the most immediate and simple sense of this word. With all his being, he sensed himself dwelling not only in the bosom of the Orthodox Church, but also in its enveloping manner of life. His idea of Orthodoxy he preached from within, as a dynamics of life within Orthodoxy itself. Father P. Florensky presents the direct opposite of Khomyakov. He preaches Orthodoxy as fact, as a given. But in him there is sensed not so much the fact of Orthodoxy, as rather the idea of this fact, very complicated and not at all an immediate construct of Orthodoxy as a fact, before which one mustneeds yield. Father P. Florensky as regards his sources is not at all of an Orthodox mannerism, he is not simply and directly-immediate an Orthodox, like Khomyakov; he orients himself to Orthodoxy totally as to something for him transcendent and remote. Father P. Florensky indeed — is a styliser of Orthodoxy, an aesthete of Orthodox mannerisms to the point of pettiness. And all the while there is the feeling, that he is a parvenu in Orthodoxy, particularly indeed since he wants to be more Orthodox than Orthodoxy itself. This produces as unpleasant an impression, as does the fervid parvenu in the highest bureaucratic posts. Aestheticism in the reconstruction of the lifestyle of Orthodoxy always transpires very anti-aesthetically. Such approaches, as with Fr. P. Florensky, are bound up with an aesthetico-mystical delight and matter of taste, with his decadence, and in them there is sensed a tremendous weariness. Factual Orthodoxy, as immediate to life, was indeed closer for Khomyakov. And in contrast Father Florensky lives with an idea of the fact, its secondary, aesthetic reflection. Khomyakov could venture to affirm an idea of Orthodoxy, to posit tasks for Orthodoxy, since he himself was a creative participant in the life of Orthodoxy. Fr. Florensky however is not capable of a creative participation. The factual he guards statically, and not dynamically, and he is fond of it, like any languid decadent. He thus is not capable of creative life within the Church, just as Huysmans was incapable of it. But he does not possess the integrity of an ultimate and sufficiently fine sense of taste, and therefore he goes astray in his preaching. He — is a man of restoration, with all the complexity of restorated thought. He is poisons with toxins, begotten by complex accountings for himself. And that what is begotten of his fleeing from himself, he makes the object of his preaching for others.2  He should have remained a subjective writer, but his transfer over to teacher is his downfall.

The attitude of Father P. Florensky towards the Church is the attitude of a slave, full of fears and terrors. But this servile fear is also the greatest poison for our churchly life. And our churchly life is in need of nothing so much, as rather the manifesting of people of the utmost religious worthiness and the utmost religious freedom. Serfdom has already brought the Russian Church to dreadful ruin. Father Florensky wants as though mystically to justify and intensify the condition of grovelling. Upon all his concepts there lies the seal of a spiritual plebianism. For him the religion of Christ is a religion of obedience, and not a religion of love. And the spirit of Christ, the intimate sense of Christ, is impossible to find in a single one of his lines. He believes more in the Anti-Christ  and with such he frightens both himself and others. Khomyakov was one of the most high-minded people, known to the history of Russian thought.3   He was not an aesthete, but his manner was of an aesthetic excellence. In Khomyakov, very developed was the sense of human worth, and of human integrity. The thoughts of Khomyakov about Orthodoxy are in the highest sense of the word lordly, not servile thoughts. And as a true, a noble and imbued with a sense of gentry worthiness within the kingdom of spirit, he was unable to degrade himself to the extent of a mystical justification of grovelling. In Father P. Florensky there are no such signs of a sense of the worthiness of man, as a lordly gentleman rather than slave. There is not in him even that especial sense of the worthiness of the priest, a pastor of the Church, as such unable to be reconciled with the decline of the Church. He is too caught up with self-salvation. The lordly gentleman, as a spiritual category, — is not a slave-master, but the rather free, self-governing, an immanentist in regard to his own holy matters, a creator in religious life, and hierarchically mature. In Father Florensky however there is the feel of centuries of oppression and submissiveness, a predisposition to a servile condition, fear in the face of his own and others slave revolts. Father Florensky discovers in Khomyakov a dangerous tendency towards immanentism. But in him this was also a tendency towards religious freedom, not ultimately discerned. Immanentism, considered deeply, is also a religion of freedom and the free. Transcendentism however is a religion of necessity. The great spiritual reform, which Russia needs unto salvation both in its churchly and in its civil life, will also be a profound passing over into immanentism, into a radical consciousness of the creative vocation and lordly worth of man.

Upon the ground of the constructs and ideas, such as are maintained by Father Florensky, our Church and state have come to ruination amidst the processes of decay in their evident trappings. The “ontologism” of Father Floensky, now in vogue in fashionable circles, is the reinforcing of everything static within the given, and the negating of every creative enterprise, every dynamic stirring. Father P. Florensky flies along the sloping flats and leaves off speaking here with this: “The Russian tsars are autocratic, he (Khomyakov) suggests, because the Russian people has bestowed upon them suchlike power after the Time of Troubles. Consequently, the people are not — children of the Russian tsar, but rather the tsar-father — issues from the people-children. Consequently, the autocrat is autocrat not through “the mercy of God”, but rather by the will of the people. Consequently, it was not because the people summoned the Romanovs to the imperial throne, and that in the hour of lucidity it caught sight of the accomplished fiat of the will of God, wherein it seemed, that Mikhail Feodorovich had already received from God the imperial crown, but the rather because it chose, having rendered a good judgement most befitting it — to grant to Mikhail Feodorovich the power over Rus’, — in a single word, it did not seek out its tsar, but rather rendered him its tsar. And the first Romanov thus was not raised up because that God had set him there, but rather because he had entered into a contractual “concordat with the people”. Consequently, it is fitting further to conclude, that the “essence of power” is not of the “God-rendered real”, but rather from a contrat social; he holds the throne not from the will of God, but from a suffrage universel — according to the sense of the teachings of Khomyakov” (p. 538). Indeed, Father P. Florensky does not realise, how strongly relevant these thoughts are in these historic hours, which Russia is experiencing. In him there is too much the feeling of an aesthetic delight with a peculiar “Black-Hundreds” radicalism, of not being satisfied with the autocracy of the Slavophils. He — is a man of the hothouse, outside the social and anti-social, and he is more irresponsible, than should be permissible for a priest. The opinion of Father Florensky is sufficiently refined and complex in his own sphere, but in a sphere alien to him — that of the social and the civil — it is on an elementary level, primitive and simplistic. He knows nothing in these areas and he has investigated nothing. All that remains is contemplatively to strive towards primitivism. But in this poisoned, in this thought-out primitivism there is something hideous. There is too much fear and suffering connected with this, in this aesthetic type that Father Florensky delights himself in. It is clear, that for him there is no common path with Khomyakov. Khomyakov in essence was a liberal and a democrat with populist and anti-state hues. The idea of autocracy he affirmed only on the strength of the historical setting. His positive pathos was connected with a free society, based on love. In our time he has been as something other. Our time is bound up with complex social thought. And no one has the right to permit himself suchlike a primitivism, as has Father Florensky, for in this is not our present serious concern.


Facing Orthodoxy there stands the question in deciding about the attitude towards humanism, towards man, towards his creativity, towards his freedom, towards his activity, towards the meaning of human culture. Concerning the decision of this question, the Orthodox Church now is in catastrophic shape. And this question otherwise faces Catholicism. All the coming future life of the Christian Church depends upon the free discovery within it of the human element, of human activity. Humanism ought to be a leading inwards, leading immanently into a religious current. This indeed — is a life or death question both for churchly mankind, and for mankind outside the Church, since in its decomposition it yields both religious anti-humanism, and an anti-religious humanism. Protestantism has not only not decided, but also has not even posed this question, for it — is anthropologised and non-dynamic as regards its religious principle.4  With Luther there was even a Monophysite tendency towards the denial of the self-sufficiency of human nature. And in general it has to be acknowledged, that in German immanentism there has always been a tendency towards Monophysitism, towards the swallowing up of man and the human into the Divine all-unity. And indeed the great religious reform, which ought to occur, will not at all be by Protestant reformationists — it will be even more radical, more creative, and more connected with the Tradition of the Church, and less negative. German monophysitism is not the sole form of religious immanentism. The inner religious upheaval will therefore yet not be Protestant, in that within it the revelation about man will be bound up with the revelation about the cosmos, i.e. Christianity will become both more anthropologic, and more cosmic.

The weakest spot in Khomyakov was his attitude towards the cosmos.

The refutations, which Father P. Florensky makes against the teachings of Khomyakov concerning the sacraments, are nowise distinguished by any originality: they are taken totally from the arsenal of Catholic theology. In Khomyakov there was a limitedness, which I pointed out in my book about him. I pointed also to this, that in Khomyakov’s teaching about the sacraments there was a tendency towards Protestantism, the prevailing of a moment of the subjectively-spiritual and moral over that of the objectively-cosmic.5  Khomyakov was not oriented towards a revealing of the mysteries of cosmic life and in this he does not stand at the summit of the contemporary tasks of religious knowledge. But it mustneeds be said, that in our traditional Orthodox manner of life, and in our traditional Orthodox theology, there have not been disclosed the cosmic mysteries of Christianity, the mystery of God’s creation, with which are connected the sacramental-mysteries of the Church. In this regard, Vl. Solov’ev was a tremendous step ahead in comparison with Khomyakov. We however ought to go further than Khomyakov, and Vl. Solov’ev. A new revelation ought to be the fulfillment of the promise and the prophesies, and man must take its start upon himself. It will not come from without. It is impossible to await it, since waiting risks it to be transformed into a bad infinity. Father P. Florensky and those like him are stifled and crushed by the idea of sanctity. Every creative and religious impulse is cut short by the demand for a preliminary realisation in the personal life of having a perfect Orthodoxy and sanctity. Such an arrangement is very characteristic to a religious exhaustion. The whole creative life of the Church in times past was never realised along such paths. This — is a decadent order of things, an expression of religious impotence; it consigns matters to a passive dependence upon past religious epochs, to an old sanctity. The daring of a creative start was always with the attainment of a greater religious accomplishment. To the forms of prophecy belongs no lesser a place, than to the forms of sanctity. And we ought to struggle against decadent and retrenching currents and arrangements, in the name of the dynamics of life within the Church. In these contemporary currents and arrangements it is impossible not to see a renunciation and betrayal of the prophetic spirit of Russian literature, of Russian thought, of Russian religious searchings. The triumph of such as Father P. Florensky would involve the crashing down of the Russian idea, which Russia is called to bear to the world. Father Florensky enters quite clearly onto the path of the Grand Inquisitor. “We are not with Thee, but with him, here is our mystery!” And this mystery is a denial of religious freedom. And this Anti-Christ mystery they will not save from exposure by means of a priestly ryasa and humble absolution with downcast eyes. In the depths of its own heart it has cut itself off from the mystery of Christ: “Thou didst desire the free love of man, so that he should freely follow after Thee, enticed and captivated with Thee. In place of the old firm law, — with a free heart instead man would decide henceforth for himself, what is good and what is evil, having in hand but to guide him in front Thine image”. And indeed, there mustneeds be acknowledged the great service rendered by Father P. Florensky, that he clearly sets before the Russian religious consciousness the choice betwixt the two paths.

Nikolai  Berdyaev


©  2002  by translator Fr. S. Janos

KHOMYAKOV  I  SVYASCH.  PHLORENSKII.   Published in Journal Russkaya Mysl’,  Feb. 1917,  p. 72-81.

Article reprinted and included by YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in the Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III),  p. 567-579.

1 Vide the excellent book of Georges Goyau, “Moehler”, in the series “La pensee chretienne”.

2 All this is very much felt, when one reads his remarkable book, “The Pillar and Affirmation of Truth”.

3 Vide the characteristics of the person of Khomyakov in my monograph, publisher “Put'”, 1912.

4  Catholic modernists basically denounce Protestantism in its denial of all the historical development of the Church, i.e. they see in it a desire to return themselves to a first-initial purity. Vide A. Loisy: “L’Evangile et l’Eglise”.

5  “Out of fear of a Catholic magicism Khomyakov falls at times into a Protestant moralism. The sacramental-mysteries take on for him moreso spiritually-moral, than cosmic a sense. The religious consciousness of Khomyakov reveals primarily those sides of the sacramental-mysteries, which are connected with a spiritual rebirth, and for him are almost hidden the other sides, which are connected with a cosmic transfiguration. That which in the revealing of the cosmic nature of the mysteries is revealed as the mystery of God’s creation — this Khomyakov does not sense, this is foreign to his consciousness… Khomyakov was afraid even to stress the objectively-cosmic nature of the mysteries, since he feared this to be a tendency towards pagan magic, of which he always accused Catholicism. But too great a protest against Catholicism easily leads to Protestantism. It seemed to him more Orthodox, and truer indeed to stress the subjectively-spiritual side of the mysteries. Here, perhaps, might be mention of an insufficient sensitivity of Khomyakov towards the mystical side of Christianity. Cosmic mystery does not stand at the centre of Khomyakov’s understanding of Christianity”. N. Berdyaev. “A. S. Khomyakov”,  p. 110-111. Father P. Florensky now says the same thing in more scholastic a form. And I think, that on the question about the sacramental-mysteries he is more correct, than is Khomyakov.