(Regarding the Ukaz of Metropolitan Sergei,
Condemning the Theological Views of Fr. S. Bulgakov)

(1935 – # 404)

The princes of the peoples lord it
                                                                   over them, and their magnates hold
                                                                   power over them, but let it be
                                                                   not thus amongst ye
(Matthew 20:25)

We are not with Thee,
                                                                          but with him,
                                                                       and this herein be our mystery“.
                                                                          “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor
The Ukaz-Decretal of Metropolitan Sergei, condemning the views of Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, has far broader a significance, than the mere dispute about Sophia. It touches upon the fate of Russian religious thought, it puts forth the question about freedom of conscience and about the possibility itself indeed of thought within Orthodoxy. Is Orthodoxy a religion of the freedom of spirit or of inquisitional torture-chambers? Since Metropolitan Sergei evidently avows, for both himself and his Synod an infallibility, exceeding the papal infallibility, and wants to introduce the Catholic practice of the Index [i.e. the Index of Forbidden Books], then let him speak out, that Orthodoxy is indeed suchlike. The significance of the Ukaz, condemning Fr. S. Bulgakov, is not only very much compromised, but also quite totally annuls itself by the very fact, that Met. Sergei has not even read the book of Fr. S. Bulgakov and has comprised his judgement on the basis of an interpretation of a certain Mr. Stavrovsky and the communique of the Fotiev brotherhood, i.e. on the basis of a denunciation. If within the scientific or philosophic literature there be constituted a judgement against the views of whatever the author, without having read his book, this would then be termed a matter of bad faith and morally reprehensible. But within the administrative-governing literature, be it churchly or state, matters too often are based upon denunciations and spy reports, and there the ethics, evidently, are otherwise. There exists no charism, permitting of judgement over books not to be read. We have here a matter with a trait characteristic to our era. This is a churchly fascism. Fascism is a dictatorship of the youth over thought. If fascism with its violence and lack of respect for the dignity of man be loathesome in political life, then all the more abominable is it in churchly life. The Ukaz for me reeks with the staleness of the seminary. And I well understand, how serious ought to be the conflict over Fr. S. Bulgakov, a man of eminent intellectual culture, against the old seminary mindset, which both at the same time denies thought, and demands an unthinking faith, such as is imbued with a most vulgar rationalism. In the ukaz with its rebuke and censure Fr. S. Bulgakov is termed “a veritable Intelligentsia-type” and to this, evidently, are attributable his “heretical” tendencies. If it had been a matter, where Fr. S. Bulgakov had been a merchant or consistory official, then to him, evidently, would have opened the mysteries of Orthodoxy, hidden away for a man of the Intelligentsia-type. Orthodoxy, apparently, is to be understood as a religion contingent upon social class. The Orthodox way of life always did have a particular affinity for the merchants and petite bougeoise. Fr. S. Bulgakov was descended from the clergy class, he is the son of a priest and was educated at seminary, but he possesses a lofty intellectual acumen, he passed through the convoluted path of searchings, his name is inscribed within the history of the Russian Intelligentsia, and for this never is he to be forgiven by the old class-encumbered and philistine-seminary Orthodoxy. But at the same time this makes of Fr. S. Bulgakov a man of remarkable discernment. Towards such a man is impermissible an attitude, as was promulgated in the Ukaz, totally bereft of Christian and appreciation. It is perfectly clear, that Met. Sergei is for a denying of theological thought, a denying not only of the freedom of thought, but of the thought itself. Theology has to conform to the writings of the seminary school-manuals. But the understanding of Christianity in the spirit of these seminary school-manuals has been also one of the principal reasons for the falling-away from Christianity by a significant portion of mankind. With such a slave-like and morbid religion cannot be reconciled a more developed human consciousness and conscience. The Ukaz of Met. Sergei seeks to return Russian Orthodoxy back to that condition bereft of thought, in which it was situated in the old Moscow tsardom, it wants to blot out the Russian religious thought of the XIXth and XXth Centuries, the sole happening transpiring within Orthodoxy after the Greek Patristic and Byzantine currents of the XIVth Century. The whole entirety of Russian religious thought from the perspective of this Ukaz is considered to be not “ortodoks” enough, all of it has this or that other “heretical” deviation. The condemnation of Fr. S. Bulgakov is simultaneously together with this a condemnation of Khomyakov, of Bukharev, Dostoevsky, Vl. Solov’ev, Nesmelov, N. Feodorov, although they also differed quite much between them. There remains but an empty vacuum. By not making any sort of distinction between dogmas and theological teachings, theologoumena, which is the Catholic way of approach, Met. Sergei is compelled to deny all theological creativity. Creative thought demands talent, a talent given by God, but towards this talent there exists ressentiment. This is an Orthodox nihilism, an hostility towards culture. There exist not only the binding dogmas of the Orthodox Church, but there also has come to exist a binding single theological doctrine of the Orthodox Church, and the infallible guardian of this theological doctrine appears to be Met. Sergei and his Synod. It is incomprehensible, from whence such an understanding of Orthodoxy has been taken. In Orthodoxy there are not even any binding “credal-like” books. Fr. S. Bulgakov can take comfort in this, that he is not the lone only teacher of the Church, accused of this or some other heresy. Every creative manifestation of theological and religio-philosophic thought, every new problematic is met with by accusations of heresy. To me the Ukaz seems as though issued from the religion of the synagogue, from the religion of the Scribes and Pharisees. Christianity within history has constantly been reborn and degenerated into a religion of legalism. The Orthodox metropolitans, though they set themself in opposition to Catholicism, yet still constantly strive for infallibility, for a collective papism, which is far worse a thing than the papism of an individual. The sinful will to power, for domination and tyranny has constantly lacerated Christian history and there is too much connected with it. And here finally it is time to set straight an injustice regarding Catholicism.

When Orthodox have criticised Catholicism, they then have accused it of authoritarianism, of a denial of freedom of conscience and thought, and of employing the Inquisition. Tyutchev wrote about the pope: “His undoing the fateful utterance: freedom of conscience is nonsense”. The Slavophils, Dostoevsky, and indeed all the official theologians, in writing against Catholicism, have denounced the Catholic clericalism, with the abuse in assuming to oneself an infallibly hierarchical authority over the conscience and thought of believers. It was presupposed, that in Orthodoxy there was a greater freedom of spirit, that there is not such clericalism. But this was the case only as long as they were assailing Catholicism. When however things are turned round towards the inner life of the Orthodox Church, then it seems there is no sort of freedom found, and even less so, than in Catholicism. Khomyakov, who taught about freedom as the basis of the Orthodox Church, could not publish in Russia his own theological works, and he had to have them printed in the French language. Bukharev endured outright persecution. Nesmelov had to redo the conclusion of his dissertation on St Gregory of Nyssa into opposite a meaning, in order to have it accepted at the Theological Academy.1  Vl. Solov’ev was not much able to publish in Russia and he was always under suspicion. Religious censorship made impossible the developement of Russian theological thought within Russia. It cannot all be attributed to the dependence of the Church upon the state. The episcopacy has always been distinguished by its grovelling in regard to the state power. But if the bishops had their own way, the spiritual oppression would then be all still the greater. Freedom was asserted not by the official Orthodoxy, not by the ecclesial hierarchy, but by Russian Orthodox “modernism”, more faithful to the wellsprings of Christianity. It was quite the same thing with Sobornost’-Communality. Khomyakov had intuitions of genius concerning freedom and Sobornost’, but they did not correspond to the factual position of the Orthodox Church. Sobornost’ has existed as an idea, but not in practice. It mustneeds definitely be said, that with the Catholics there is quite more a freedom of thought, than there is with the Orthodox, and namely so not in some abstract conception, but in practice. Therefore within Catholicism has been possible a rich and varied theological literature. I am not speaking still about the Western Middle Ages, when the freedom of thought within Catholicism was great, greater than at the modern time. And it is because in the Middle Ages there had been possible the flourishing of very diverse theological, philosophical, mystical schools fighting back and forth amongst themselves. There was nothing similar to this in the Orthodox East. And at present Catholic thought finds it possible to bestir itself, and to reply to the problems of our era, without being completely smothered. Thus for example, among the French Catholic Thomists, i.e. people indeed of an esteemed orthodoxness, there has been created an entire neo-humanist movement, very radical in questions both social and cultural, at the very summit of contemporary problematics. In this movement participate priests, Dominican monks and others. And they remain at peace. It is impossible to propose anything similar in the Orthodox midst, amongst the Orthodox clergy and monks, which foremost of all are in need of culture and enlightenment. A very obscurantist clericalism has grown up amongst the Orthodox. For us it is only the solitary, situated in tragic a position. I consider most unsettling for this tormentive theme the fate of the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”. It was highly acclaimed by K. Pobedonostsev, whom the whole of thinking Russia regarded as the Grand Inquisitor. This misunderstanding was possible only because, that it relegated the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor exclusively to Catholicism and did not suggest to think, that it might apply also to Orthodoxy. Dostoevsky apparently himself insufficiently understood what he had written with such genius in the Legend, and was perhaps as it were afraid of the inferred consequences. In actuality, Dostoevsky in the Legend rose up against every religion of authority, as being a temptation by the Anti-Christ, wherever and whenever it should appear. This was an unprecedented hymn to the freedom of the Spirit, a most extreme form of religious anarchism. The Legend has the setting of Catholicism, but it relates not only to Catholicism, it relates also to Orthodoxy, just as it relates also to the authoritative religion of atheistic Communism. For Dostoevsky, authority within religion is of the spirit of the Anti-Christ, the acceptance of the temptation, spurned by Christ in the wilderness. All the historical Church has been subjected to this temptation. And always it is justified thus, just as the Grand Inquisitor did, with being concerned for “these little ones”. The Ukaz of Met. Sergei is fully within the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor, but without the poetry and the final melancholy. It is necessary to stop with the denouncing of Catholicism, and better to take a look at oneself. If there is any renewal ahead for Russian Christianity, then it has to surmount its self-smugness, its suffocating provincialism, its un-Christian nationalism, it has to enter out upon the expanse of the world.

I am not a clergy figure, neither a dogmatist nor a theologian, I am a free philosopher, and therefore in the criticism of the Ukaz of Met. Sergei I shall take a stand upon other grounds, than that, upon which Fr. S. Bulgakov is compelled to stand. The disputes about heresy I do not understand and I venture to give my own psychological and sociological analysis to the concepts of orthodoxness and heresy. But what struck me as a philosopher is this, that Met. Sergei speaks about Plato and Plotinos, the greatest philosophers of antiquity. He considers blameworthy the references of Fr. S. Bulgakov to Plato and Plotinos and he sees in this the explanation of the sources of the theological “heresies” of Fr. S. Bulgakov. It seems clear to him, that these sources are but pagan philosophy. But it is necessary to protest resolutely against this very musty expression of the seminary. The philosophy of Plato and Plotinos is not pagan philosophy, it is simply philosophy. It is inconceivable, what sort of philosophy Met. Sergei would deem acceptable. Not the philosophy of Kant and Hegel and scarcely so the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and Dun Scotus. It is clear, that he denies philosophy in general and considers it an impious matter. But then by the same measure he ought to deny also theology, since theology is impossible without philosophy, without the categories of thought, expressed by philosophy. It is quite well known, that the Greek Patristics were brought up on Greek philosophy, on Neo-Platonism, and St. John Damascene, a foremost authority on Orthodoxy, was pervaded with Aristotelianism, just like the Western Scholastics. Does Met. Sergei perhaps think, that Orthodoxy is a pure fideism, all a matter of faith only, or that it is a kind of religion of feelings? But then he is far closer to certain Protestant trends (Schleiermacher, Ritschl), than to the Greek teachers of the Church. Fr. S. Bulgakov is indisputably a Platonist. I myself am no Platonist and in the eyes of Met. Sergei I actually confess a far worse philosophy, than Platonism. But it would be interesting to know, when was Platonism ever an heresy and crime? Certainly, the theology of Fr. S. Bulgakov is gnosis, religious knowledge, and not an administrative synodal ukaz-decretal. But this does not mean, that he has anything whatever in common with the Gnostics, Valentinus or Basilides. And I think, that he has nothing in common with them. The Gnostics had a dualistic tendency, to which Sophiology is quite contrary. And indeed what is it that is known about the Gnostics, besides what their enemies wrote about them, distorting their ideas in the process? I fear, that about the Gnostics is known just as much the same, as Met. Sergei learned about the ideas of Fr. S. Bulgakov through the elucidation by Mr. Stavrovsky. But in free and civilised states a zealot for orthodoxness is not given the right to destroy the works of those, whom they accuse of heresy. Despite the troubling aspect of the theological ideas, expressed in the Ukaz of Met. Sergei, one thing is clear — he stands exclusively upon soteriological grounds, i.e. he permits of only thought relating to salvation. This is very characteristic and quite understandable. The exclusively soteriological, i.e. an utilitarian understanding of the Incarnation of God, narrowing down the whole of the Christian worldview to soteriology provides the possibility to strengthen the organisational might. Behind this are hidden instincts of domination and power. Those which hold in their hands the keys of salvation, hold power over human souls. This is very advantageous a thing for the theory of the Grand Inquisitor. In the Ukaz, Fr. S. Bulgakov is accused even of denying the eternal torments of hell, although about this there is nothing in his books. The teaching about the eternal torments of hell in particular has always been a chief supporting prop of power, domination and religious tyranny. In the quarrel of Met. Sergei with Fr. S. Bulgakov it seems to me the most important thing is not the question about Sophia, but rather the question about the Incarnation of God. Is the Incarnation of God exclusively a matter of salvation or is it a continuation of the world-creation? Was the Son of God becoming Man something fortuitous, evoked by sin, the correction of a mistake or does it enter into the plan of the world-creation? And is not the Incarnation of God a worldwide Divine process? Met. Sergei denies a basic idea, innate to all of Russian religious thought, the idea of God-Manhood, he denies the correspondence between the Divine and mankind, the humanness of God and the humanness of Christianity. And with this he returns to the pre-Christian consciousness, which moreover has always played a large role in official Christianity.

I shall move on to a basic question about orthodoxness and heresy. For me it is quite clear, that the concepts of orthodoxness and heresy convey sociological a character. Orthodoxness is the religious consciousness of the collective and behind it lies hidden the grip of power of the collective over its members. This is the organisational domination of the genus over the individuum. The nature of orthodoxness and heresy is very clear in Russian Communism. The whole Soviet Communist philosophy stands beneathe the standard of separating apart orthodoxness and heresy, and not truth and error. Through the orthodoxness of the central organs the Communist Party holds power over human souls. This is likewise a peculiar and anti-Christian soteriology. The heretics are consigned to perdition. This is in imitation to what was asserted earlier in the religious sphere. Behind the searchings-out and condemnations of heresies there was always the hidden instincts of power and instincts of sadism, which in general have played an enormous role within religious history. All the whole teaching about hell is the by-product of the sadism of some and the masochism of others. The condemnation of heresies always has churchly-political motives and behind them always was a concealed malice. It would be perfectly a mistake to think, that the pathos of orthodoxness is a pathos for truth. Orthodoxness and truth are completely different concepts and behind them lie concealed different motives. The pathos of orthodoxness is a pathos for ruling, domination and compulsory unity, and not for truth and knowledge. Orthodoxness of doctrine is not knowledge and it negates knowledge. It always bears utilitarian a character. It were better a thing that the conservative “ortodoks” did not refer to the love for truth, for this does not become them. They in particular not only tend to reconcile themself with a dishonest distortion of historical truth by churchly historians, but they have also cut off those, who have defended the historical truth. The German Protestant science has tremendous religious merit, namely because that it has sought the truth. Falsified history is a special by-product of orthodoxness. Marxist orthodoxness here is nowise distinct from religious orthodoxness. Truth, however, is discovered only through freedom, and not through authority smothering thought. The wielding of power in the Church bears a social character and in everything is like the wielding of power in the state or in the primitive hordes and tribes. All here is in reverse to the Gospel, in reverse to the Kingdom of the Spirit, all is based on a lack of faith in the Spirit. Christian reform demands the ultimate surmounting of the concepts of orthodoxness and heresy, which clearly possess a social and utilitarian character, and replacing them with the concepts of truth and error or lie. Truth gives freedom, it sets free, orthodoxness however begets the inquisitional torture-chamber and gives freedom only at the sadistic instincts of those holding power. Christ said about Himself, that He is the Truth, but those thirsting for a concept of a system of rule say, that it is orthodoxness that matters. Christ said likewise, that He is the Way and the Life. Orthodoxness however denies the way and the life. If one must still employ this term, then the sole genuine heresy is the heresy against Christian life, and not heresy against doctrine and this or some other system of concept. The Ukaz of Met. Sergei also is an heresy against Christian life. It is particularly out of a striving for truth and from a love for truth that a man can spurn a system of concept, such as proclaims its orthodoxness, but with which cannot be reconciled the scruples of conscience, cannot be reconciled one’s intellectual integrity. Dogmas are but only symbolic of spiritual experience and the spiritual path, and not a frozen conceptual system, not intellectualistic doctrines, but which bear the mark of their times and can come to be modified. Religious truth can be apperceived only actively by the integrally whole spirit of man, by his enlightened reason and conscience. No one except a slave can accept by binding authority a doctrine, if his conscience does not agree, if the freedom in it is not consentual. Without my freedom nothing for me has meaning. Phenomenologically to freedom belongs the primacy over authority. Authority exists, if there is credibility in it. But this does not mean, that to faith belongs a primacy over authority. And in the Catholic world, when authority attempts to violate the conscience and consciousness of Catholics, then no one at present embraces this violation. They either keep silent and hide their opinion, or they break away. Religious life relates to the spiritual plane of being and this means that nothing in it has meaning without freedom. But authority tends to attempt to hold sway through terror, connected with threats of perdition and an eternal hell. In this is its degradation, depriving the religious life of all value. This is religion on the social, and not on the spiritual plane. In the Ukaz of Met. Sergei, I see that same non-belief in spirit, that same faith in means akin to the means of the state, adopted from the world of the social relations of the state, which is in all the church-administrative and governing acts. The people in churchly authority — are of little faith, they deny spirit, they believe only in the world of visible things and its methods. The Spirit of God acts only through the Spirit. There cannot be criteria of the Holy Spirit, such as might be taken from the lower spheres of being, the Holy Spirit is itself the criterion.

The consciousness of conservative churchly people, especially people in churchly power, stands prior to any critique of cognition, it is situated in the stage of a naive realism. They therefore do not understand the twofold aspect of revelation, they do not understand the activity of man in the acceptance of revelation, the relationship between the subject and object of revelation they interpret in naively realistic a manner. Revelation however presupposes not only God, but also man. There cannot be revelation to a piece of wood or stone. Spirit is revealed only to spirit. And the human spirit is always active in the acceptance of revelation. Revelation is focused within the human element and is conditioned by it, it is expressed in human language and in the categories of human thought. From whence are the stages of revelation. And from whence the developement. And from whence the relativeness of much that was accepted as sacred in the past, but which is connected with the humanly organic. And from whence also the inevitability of a continual cleansing of Christianity. The structure of human consciousness is altered, and the spiritual composition of man becomes different. Man responds creatively to that, which is revealed to him from above. Facing man, as a free spirit, there arise ever new problems and they demand an answer. There are problems, which were not at all addressed by the OEcumenical Councils. The problems of the cosmos and man, the mysteries of the created world were not addressed by the OEcumenical Councils and the teachers of the Church. There are no dogmas about man and the cosmos, there are only the dogmas about the Holy Trinity and Christ. Therefore dogmatic tumult and struggles are inevitable. I am no adherent of the teaching about Sophia on the basis of complex philosophical grounds, but I recognise the great significance behind the problematics connected with this teaching. For me there is an anxiety, connected with the teaching about Sophia, the opposite to the anxiety of the conservative “ortodoks”, in that I fear possible conservative inferences from this teaching, I fear the sacralisation within history of that, which cannot be sacral, e.g. the theocratic state, or of property, or of the form of an organic lifestyle, etc. But I am solidly with Fr. S. Bulgakov in his new problematics and in his struggle for the freedom of religious thought. It sometimes seems to me, that if they had not employed the Greek word Sophia, but had used only the Russian word Premudrost’, then everything would have remained tranquil. This is an indicator of the insignificance and wretchedness of the human accusations.

The Ukaz of Met. Sergei as it were presupposes, that every member of the Moscow Patriarchal Church has to share in the theological opinions expressed in the Ukaz, and join in the condemnation of Fr. S. Bulgakov. The theme of the Ukaz, I am convinced, does not possess any sort of relationship to the churchly disputes about jurisdiction. But as a member of this Church I definitely have to declare, that I regard the condemnation of Fr. S. Bulgakov with the greatest of indignation, and as to the obscurantist violence against thought and theological ideas within the Ukaz, I not only do not subscribe to it, but I also consider it as standing on very low a level of thought. From whence there can be made the corresponding inferences relative to me. But earlier already I had to say, that I do not submit to any sort of violation of human conscience and thought. It is pitiful to think, how easily the persecuted can transform themself into persecutors.. I prefer to stay within the Church of Christ, based upon love and freedom. There mustneeds be waged an heroic struggle for freedom and creativity within religious life, for the dignity of man. Truth is not a thing, some mere object, a system of concepts fallen down from the sky, rather, it is creatively discovered and won along the way and in life. Truth is not given for mere preservation being buried away in some sort of place, but the rather for realisation within the fullness of life and for its furtherance.

Nikolai  Berdyaev.


©  2007  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1935 – 404 – en)

DUKH  VELIKOGO  INKVIZITORA.  [Po povodu ukaza mitropolita Sergiya, osuzhdaiuschego bogoslovskie vzglyady o. S. Bulgakova.] Journal Put’, oct.-dec. 1935, no. 49, p. 72-81.

1 Nesmelov mentioned about his tribulations under the religious censor, in a personal letter to me.