On the Sophiological Controversy of the 1930s

Father Georges Florovsky

Among the many consequences of the Bolshevik take-over of Russia, one was the appearance of an unprecedented Russian ecclesiastical diaspora outside the borders of what became the Soviet Union. Increasingly embattled and isolated by a fiercely hostile regime, the Russian Orthodox Church in the USSR was able to communicate only intermittently with bishops who found themselves abroad following the Russian Civil War. Attempts to set up jurisdictional boundaries for émigré Russian Orthodox Church bodies became fraught with unresolved controversies and disputes. This was exacerbated by incompatible theological tendencies among eminent representatives of the émigré Church organizations. The most intellectually explicit instance involved the polemics between “liberal” views promoted by the Theological Academy in Paris under Metropolitan Evlogii and the “conservative” theologians under Metropolitan Antonii in Serbia. This difference came to a head in the mid-1930s, with the voluminous writings of Fr. Sergii Bulgakov becoming the chief item of contention.

While the term “Sophia” (Greek for “wisdom”) has stood for a variety of allegorical concepts in mystical and occult teachings over the centuries, the most significant attempt to develop a doctrine of Sophia within an explicitly Christian framework belongs to a trio of Russian thinkers:  V.S. Solov’ev (1853-1900), P.A. Florenskii (1882-1937), and S.N. Bulgakov (1871-1944). 1 Sophiology, as the doctrine elaborated by these men has come to be known, is pre-eminently concerned with the way in which the link between God and His created world is effected and manifested.  In contrast to the dominant patristic view whereby Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, is identified with Christ in accordance with a well-known scriptural passage (I Cor. 1:24), the proponents of Sophiology argue that the mediation between God and world is accomplished through the quasi-personal entity they call Sophia, the exact nature of which (or whom) has however never received a clear definition and has for this reason been open to charges of incompatibility with accepted Orthodox teaching. 2

Indeed Sophiological theories have given rise to controversy from the start, although it took several decades before official Orthodox Church bodies subjected Sophiology to a formal examination.  The reasons for the slow reaction can be briefly indicated. In the case of Vladimir Solov’ev, it has been pointed out that his mystical visions, partially embodied as they were in poetry and a treatise published only abroad, were not taken seriously by professional philosophers and theologians of Solov’ev’s day, gaining adherents mostly in literary circles. 3 Florenskii, who developed Solov’ev’s Sophiological themes in his Stolp i utverzhdenie Istiny (1914), avoided official criticism by submitting a special abridged edition of his book to his examining committee when he stood for the theological degree of magistr bogosloviia: the chapter on Sophia was here simply omitted. 4 And the turbulent events set off by the Russian Revolution in the following years, above all the catastrophes that befell the Russian Orthodox Church as a result of Bolshevik persecutions, understandably enough delayed any careful institutional examination of the multifaceted issues raised by Sophiology, which had meanwhile gained a forceful and productive champion in the person of Bulgakov. 5 Only after Fr. Bulgakov (who was forced into emigration in 1922) had published a number of treatises in the 1920s and 30s in which he attempted to reinterpret major aspects of traditional Christian doctrine in Sophiological terms did Russian Orthodox church bodies — both in Russia and abroad — undertake a formal review.  But by then the entire Russian Orthodox diaspora was embroiled in bitter jurisdictional disputes, and the virtually simultaneous 1935 condemnation of Sophiology by the Moscow Patriarchate and, independently, by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad inevitably lost force by being all too easily ascribable to non-theological motives. 6 With the seemingly abstruse theological debate thus politicized, the issue attained great notoriety in émigré communities, especially in Paris.

At the time of the 1935 events Florovsky was an ordained Orthodox priest and a member of the teaching faculty of the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris where Bulgakov (also a priest) was his administrative superior as well as a faculty colleague. 7

The two men had met in Prague in 1923.  Bulgakov arrived in the capital of the new Czechoslovak republic a few months after his banishment from Soviet Russia in late 1922, having been invited to occupy the Chair of Canon Law [tserkovnoe pravo] at the Russian School of Law that had been established in Prague under the auspices of the Czech government’s so-called “Action Russe.” 8 Florovsky was more than twenty years Bulgakov’s junior, and his station in life was accordingly much more modest. In 1921 he had received a scholarship to pursue a graduate degree at the above-named Prague institution and in 1923 he successfully defended a thesis on Herzen and began his career as a teacher. 9

Florovsky’s familiarity with the writings of Bulgakov dates from well before the time of their first meeting. 10 Moreover, in reviews published in the immediately preceding years, Florovsky had expressed reservations about the Solov’ev-inspired trends in modern Russian theology — which included Bulgakov by implication, as will be shown below. Nevertheless his respect for Bulgakov the man is evidenced clearly enough by his decision, soon after meeting Bulgakov, to choose him as his father confessor [dukhovnyi otets]. 11 We know from Bulgakov’s diary that there were unresolved disagreements between him and Florovsky on this level, but Bulgakov has not spelled them out beyond recording his chagrin at the inability to convince Florovsky of a certain point of view. 12 It seems probable that this involved philosophical differences rather than mundane pastoral matters; in any case, disputes of this kind were characteristic of the relationship between the two men from the beginning of their acquaintance and are reflected in the surviving correspondence. 13

Two episodes from the early period will serve to illustrate the tensions that existed between them. In the fall of 1923 Bulgakov was chosen to head the newly-formed Brotherhood of St. Sophia, an organization uniting a small number of émigré intellectuals who pledged to devote themselves to the study and propagation of Orthodox Christian beliefs. 14 Florovsky was one of the fourteen original signatories of the statutes, but within only a few months — and to the considerable dismay of Bulgakov — he was ready to quit the Brotherhood due to his unease about the philosophical views of the other members. 15 A very similar situation arose in late 1924 when Florovsky, once again to the great annoyance of Bulgakov, expressed doubts about the possibility of accepting a position at the Paris Theological Institute (then in the planning stage) due to what he felt would be his philosophical incompatibility with the other members of the teaching faculty. 16

Not explicitly mentioned in the above instances but quite clear from the context was a profound disagreement in evaluating the legacy of Vladimir Solov’ev. Bulgakov regarded the Russian philosopher with sincere gratitude for having guided him away from the materialism of his youth. 17 In his eyes Solov’ev also deserved enormous credit for having been the first to formulate an Orthodox concept of Sophia, however imperfect this pioneering effort might have been. 18

Florovsky saw things very differently. Although he exhibited a scholarly interest in Solov’ev throughout his life — his first published article was a survey of several new books on the philosopher, and the full bibliography of Florovsky’s works contains nine other entries focused on Solov’ev 19 — he viewed the influence of Solov’ev on Russian intellectual history as unequivocally pernicious. In his correspondence with Bulgakov (after the latter had moved to Paris), Florovsky voices this judgment with a harshness which leaves little doubt that the criticism is meant to include the post-Solov’evian theological ambience to which Bulgakov very much belonged.

The first of these letters is dated 30 December 1925. Florovsky here relates that his continuing studies of Solov’ev as well as the discussions he has had with N.O. Losskii about the philosopher’s religious evolution have convinced him that his former critical attitude toward Solov’ev had been too mild. And he continues somewhat playfully: “Do you know who propelled me toward greater intolerance? The author of Tikhie dumy.” 20The author in question is of course Bulgakov himself, and his 1918 collection of essays referred to here includes a lengthy article on some of the least “orthodox” aspects of Solov’ev: the quasi-erotic longings for the Eternal Feminine-cum-Sophia expressed in his poetry and an account of his bizarre relationship with Anna Schmidt. 21 Florovsky continues: “As far as I am concerned, I see the rejection of Solov’ev in toto [po vsei linii] as a personal religious duty and as a task that needs to be undertaken in due course by contemporary Russian religious and philosophical thought. By virtue of this rejection we shall liberate ourselves from the whole murky tradition […] for I believe that it has been this very tradition that has shackled our creative powers. […] What Solov’ev needs now are not panegyrics or the well-nigh religious adoration [chut’ li ne akafisty], but tearful prayers beseeching God to grant rest to a troubled soul.” 22

Bulgakov responded to this letter with considerable delay: he had fallen gravely ill and was at one point thought to be near death. 23 The experience affected him deeply, causing him to rethink many aspects of his past, including his intellectual debt to Solov’ev. In his extraordinarily irenic letter to Florovsky, he granted virtually all of the latter’s criticisms of Solov’ev but confessed that for emotional and psychological reasons Solov’ev would remain one of the “fathers” to him personally. As for the task of ridding the Church of Solov’ev’s influence which Florovsky had set for himself, Bulgakov continues, this must be done gently so as not to antagonize those individuals (“our contemporaries”) in whose hearts Vladimir Solov’ev “continues to live” and who are in need of help rather than prohibitions. 24

Florovsky’s long reply dealt mostly with a proposed course that he might have to teach in Paris in view of Bulgakov’s illness. But it ends with a few sentences on Solov’ev which evidently take their cue from the mild tone of Bulgakov’s letter and in this sense seem to suggest a shift toward a more moderate view of the Russian philosopher. Florovsky restates his position that Solov’ev is “extrinsic” to the spirit of the Church, but then adds the following notable qualification: “no matter how much we love him, or how much we are (or should be) grateful to him.” 25

Not surpisingly, Bulgakov read these words as signaling a change of heart. In his response he expresses joy that Florovsky seems to have moved beyond his stubbornly held anti-Solov’ev position [Vy sdvinulis‘ s meli svoego antisolov’evstva]  and is — so Bulgakov hopes — on the way to recognizing the importance of the Sophia concept. 26 Evidently Florovsky protested strongly against such an interpretation, for in his next letter Bulgakov expresses regret at Florovsky’s “Sophiaclasm” [sofioborstvo], and warns that this will inevitably lead him to dubious conclusions. 27

This in turn led to the most militant of Florovsky’s letters that have come to light.  Written two weeks after the last-quoted letter of Bulgakov, this text combines an uncompromising condemnation of Solov’ev’s concept of Sophia with a carefully phrased criticism of Bulgakov. I cite two passages from this lengthy document:

“I have long insisted that there exist two doctrines of Sophia, one might even say two Sophias, or, more exactly put, two images of Sophia: a true and genuine one on the one hand, and an illusory one on the other.  In the name of the former, holy temples were erected in Byzantium and ancient Rus, while the latter served to inspire Solov’ev and his Masonic and Western predecessors, all the way back to the Gnostics and Philo. Solov’ev simply had no knowledge of Sophia of the Church;  he knew the Sophia of Boehme and his followers, the Sophia of Valentinus and the Kabbalah. And this Sophiology is heretical and uncanonical [ereticheskaia i otrechennaia]. What you have found in Athanasius belongs to the other Sophia [i.e. to the Sophia of the Church -A.K.]. There is even more about Her in Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa — the direct predecessors of Palamas.” 28

There follows a densely written passage in which Florovsky cites various theological assertions about the nature of Sophia, and denies the validity of all those that have arisen in the wake of Solov’ev. He continues: “Putting it bluntly, in Solov’ev everything is superfluous, while the main thing is completely absent [u Solov’eva vse lishnee, a s tem vmeste glavnogo net vovse].  […]  I believe that in your case, too, Solov’ev long hindered you in your search for the main thing. For the road to discovering it lies through Christology, not through Trinitology, since only with Christ Jesus did the worship of the Trinity become a reality. The point here is that only in history, in the realm of historical experience, are we capable of understanding the creaturehood of creation [tvarnost’ tvari].” 29

The total rejection of Sophiology together with the entire tradition leading from Solov’ev to Bulgakov could not have been more plainly expressed than it is in this and the earlier letters. Remarkably, however, Florovsky adopted an entirely different strategy of approaching the issue in his printed works. And it is particularly startling to discover that there seems to be absolutely nothing in the corpus of writings published by Florovsky in his lifetime that could qualify as an explicit attack on Sophiology.

Florovsky comes closest to direct criticism in two early essays in which he rejects the ambivalent attitude toward evil that he considers a philosophical corollary of Solov’ev’s view of the world. In a 1921 address on Dostoevsky as well as in a 1922 survey of Russian works on religious philosophy, he takes issue with what he believes is Solov’ev’s inadequate understanding of sin, evil, and tragedy. He notes that Solov’ev saw evil as ultimately part of the divine plan, in this sense justifying it, and argues that Solov’ev’s conclusion is based on the profoundly mistaken notion that the “Divine Wisdom” can be grasped by human reason. The contrary is true, states Florovsky, since the Divine Wisdom [Premudrost’ Bozhiia] must remain unknowable in principle [ved’ Ona nedovedoma cheloveku], and attempts to claim otherwise will inevitably produce such unacceptable results. 30

But beyond these rather sparse critical comments dating from a period before his meeting with Bulgakov, Florovsky’s writings after the mid-1920s abound in what can be characterized as indirect criticism of Sophiology. These are scholarly studies which aim to expose weaknesses in the theoretical or historical underpinnings of the Sophiological edifice, doing so, however, without referring to Sophiological teaching by name. The overall intent is nevertheless quite unmistakable, and the late Fr. John Meyendorff has argued that opposition to Sophiology was in fact the principal motivating factor throughout Florovsky’s scholarly career.  In support of this view, Meyendorff recalls what had been Florovsky’s frequent comment in his lectures on patrology at the Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris (where Meyendorff had been a student). The great theologians of the early Christian centuries, Florovsky had constantly reminded his listeners, were almost invariably moved to theologize by the need to oppose some heretical teaching.  In the same way, Meyendorff contends, Florovsky was spurred to produce many of his works in protest against Sophiology and the non-Orthodox influences which he felt to be its source and inspiration. 31

Meyendorff’s hypothesis is entirely consistent with the orientation of a significant proportion of Florovsky’s writings both before and after 1935. A few examples dating from the earlier period are sufficient to illustrate this point.

In 1928 Florovsky published a densely written and massively documented article entitled “Tvar’ i tvarnost’,” rendered as “Creation and Creaturehood” in the English version. 32  There is no mention in the text of Sophia, of Solov’ev, Florenskii, or Bulgakov, and for readers unversed in theology it might seem to have no polemical intent whatever.  The point, however, is that Bulgakov’s Sophiological system is grounded upon a very specific theory of creation, one that cannot be reconciled with the patristic views on this subject. Florovsky stresses the radically free nature of the act of creation in traditional Christian thought (God had no need to create the world), as well as the “utter and ultimate hiatus” between God and the created world. This contradicts Bulgakov’s Sophiological views on both counts, since Bulgakov contended that God created the world in order to apply His love and, of course, held to the fundamental tenet of the Sophianic vision according to which Sophia acts as a link between God and the world. 33

Another example.  At a 1930 conference in Bulgaria, Florovsky presented a detailed account of the historical context in which churches were dedicated to St. Sophia and icons thought to be associated with Sophia, the Wisdom of God, were venerated. 34  Once again, Bulgakov and his predecessors are not explicitly mentioned, although the essay appears to be a point-by-point rejoinder to Bulgakov’s 1927 attempt to establish the traditionality of the Sophiological enterprise. 35 By amassing historical evidence which demonstrated — contrary to Bulgakov’s claim — that in Byzantine and early Russian practice, “Sophia, the Wisdom of God” was in the overwhelming majority of cases identified with Christ, and that, furthermore, the extant iconographic images of a feminine Sophia are almost certainly the result of Western influences, Florovsky was denying Sophiology any authentically Orthodox roots. 36

In the same year, 1930, Florovsky published a theoretical article in which he focussed on what he considered the irreconcilable differences between the abstract categories of German idealistic philosophy and the historically-grounded concepts of Christian belief. 37  The opposition of historicism to abstract theorizing would soon become one of Florovsky’s principal criteria in evaluating religious constructs like Sophiology.  Thus, in a review also published in 1930, Florovskii asserts that Pavel Florenskii’s celebrated Stolp i utverzhdenie Istiny fails because its author has no feeling for Christian history and no appreciation for the crucial fact that the Incarnation had been an irruption of real historical time into absolute categories.  And this accounts for the Christological shallowness which Florovsky considered the most striking feature of Florenskii’s book. 38  Florenskii is also accused of an inordinate interest in the occult, a correlative feature of his non-patristic inspiration. 39

The principal objections of Georges Florovsky to Sophiology could be summarized as follows:

• Sophiology diverges from traditional (patristic) Orthodox teaching on fundamental questions like creation;

• It falsely claims to be sanctified by historical precedent;

• It represents a retreat from the reality of a historical religion into the abstractions of speculative philosophy;

• Its sources are not only non-patristic, but to a significant degree non-Orthodox (Protestant mysticism) and non-Christian (the occult).

Yet it is true that to make up a list of this sort, one has to go a step beyond Florovsky’s actual words.  Nowhere in his published writing is there any sustained — to say nothing of systematic — criticism of the Sophianic vision. Even more noticeable is the complete absence of the name of Sergius Bulgakov in the polemically-charged essays of Florovsky to which I have made reference.  To say that this is unexpected is to say very little, for Bulgakov the theologian was known above all as the most prominent and persistent champion of Sophia, the Wisdom of God.

One can suggest three plausible reasons why Florovsky refrained from open public polemics with Fr. Bulgakov. The most obvious is Florovsky’s sense of loyalty to a senior colleague who always treated him with respect and generosity of spirit despite their difference in views. 40  Of undoubtedly equal importance was Florovsky’s desire to stay clear of the political and jurisdictional disputes that had become intertwined with the Sophiological controversy.There is also the related issue of Florovsky not wishing to be associated with what he has characterized as the flagrantly dishonest campaign to vilify Fr. Bulgakov launched by Florovsky’s erstwhile colleagues in the Eurasian movement.  In fact he cites this as one of the reasons for his break with the Eurasians.  I quote from a previously unpublished section of Florovsky’s letter to Iurii Ivask in which Florovsky refers to the early 1920s:

“Despite my highly critical view of the Sophiological orientation, I  shall never forget or forgive the despicable hounding [travlia] of Fr. Sergius.” 41

But by the 1930s other factors began to affect what had been Florovsky’s carefully maintained stance of public deference to Bulgakov.  Both men had become active in the ecumenical movement, with particular emphasis on dialogue between Anglicans and Orthodox.  The establishment of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius in 1928 led to yearly conferences in which both Florovsky and Bulgakov regularly participated. 42  It is in this context that the theological disagreements between them began to acquire an increasingly public dimension.  One can safely assume that their differences came to be highlighted by virtue of the fact that Bulgakov’s persistent emphasis on Sophiology did not receive much understanding or sympathy from his Anglican audiences, who were far more attracted to the biblical and patristic orientation of Florovsky. 43 There was also the major episode at a Fellowship conference in 1933, when Bulgakov startled his listeners by arguing for the need to begin intercommunion within the ranks of the Fellowship without waiting for formal sanction from Church authorities.  Both Anglicans and Orthodox reacted to this proposal with consternation and uncertainty, while Florovsky’s opposition to the idea was so outspoken and strenuous that one commentator has described his role as that of an “anti-Bulgakov.” 44  It seems very likely that it was with this controversy in mind that Florovsky wrote his 1934 essay entitled “Sobornost:  The Catholicity of the Church,” where he argued — once again without direct reference to Bulgakov — that true Catholicity must always entail unity in truth, not empirical universality. 45

The official condemnation of Bulgakov’s Sophiology by the Moscow Patriarchate and, independently, by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in the fall of 1935 brought the relationship between Bulgakov and Florovsky close to a breaking point.

It is important to note, however, that a number of commentators apart from Florovsky had voiced grave reservations about Bulgakov’s theological constructs for some years before 1935.  To a surprising extent a lack of sympathy for the Sophiological enterprise was present even in the academic institution where Bulgakov taught dogmatic theology.  Thus Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who was a student of Bulgakov’s during the last three years of Fr. Sergius’ teaching career, writes tellingly of the incomprehensible gulf which he and many others perceived between the saintly and luminous personality of Bulgakov on one hand, and his ponderous philosophical edifice on the other.  As Schmemann puts it, his own intuitive reaction at the time was that Sophiology was unrelated to the central concerns of Orthodoxy: “ne to, ne tak, ne o tom.46  Looking back, he judges Bulgakov’s major philosophical preoccupation to be in some essential way misguided and even tragically unnecessary.  And Schmemann concludes that posterity may well judge Bulgakov’s charismatic presence, prophetic fervor, and authentic Christian witness as far more significant than what he characterizes as the Teutonically elaborate philosophical system on which he had labored for many decades. 47

Other commentators, especially those belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, were much less understanding, and harsh criticism of Sophiology began to appear in print by the second half of the 1920s. Detailed surveys of the controversy exist. 48  The major polemical texts bearing on the condemnation of Bulgakov are also all readily available, some in recent reprint. 49 What needs to be noted here, however, is that the purely theological arguments had become inseparately linked to issues of political orientation and disputes over jurisdictional matters.

The Theological Institute in Paris where both Bulgakov and Florovsky held teaching positions was under the direct supervision of Metropolitan Evlogii, who had become embroiled in acrimonious disputes first with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) and then the Moscow Patriarchate. The conflict with ROCA came to a head due to irreconcilable disagreements about the extent of jurisdictional authority of each party over the Russian Orthodox diaspora in Europe, but what was basically a power struggle was simultaneously depicted (and perceived) by ROCA as a defense of pure Orthodoxy against the inroads of questionable theological innovations that were said to be flourishing at Evlogii’s Institute, while the Parisian camp found the monarchist pronouncements emanating from ROCA as unpalatable as the hard-line theological conservatism that was espoused in ROCA circles. 50

In 1927 Metropolitan Evlogii formally broke relations with the Church Abroad, placing himself in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. 51  However the new affiliation entailed a commitment to “remain neutral” on political matters relating to the USSR, a position that soon became morally untenable in view of the furious onslaught on the Church in Russia that was unleashed by the Soviet regime in the late 1920s. Evlogii spoke out against the persecutions, was immediately condemned by the Moscow Patriarchate, and turned to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, who duly received him in his jurisdiction in 1931 52 In 1935 Evlogii travelled to Serbia at the invitation of Patriarch Varnava of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who hoped to bring about a reconciliation between Evlogii and the Church Abroad.  And indeed at the Serbian meeting Metropolitan Evlogii signed a document that was perceived as at least a partial restoration of the status quo ante, yet upon his return to Paris he yielded to the protests of his entourage, repudiated the agreement, and reaffirmed his link to Constantinople. 53  These jurisdictional conflicts had by now become matters of passionate public debate, with the 1935 accusations against Bulgakov immediately interpreted as a thinly disguised attack on the legitimacy of Metropolitan Evlogii and the Theological Institute he had co-founded with Bulgakov. 54

A couple of incidents will give an inkling of the overwrought atmosphere that prevailed in Paris at the time.  When it became known that the Moscow statement condemning Bulgakov had been precipitated by a report submitted to the Moscow Patriarchate by the Paris theologian Vladimir Losskii, reaction was so bitter that after a public debate chaired by Berdiaev on the theme of “intellectual freedom inside the Church” [svoboda mysli v Tserkvi], one of Losskii’s colleagues was physically assaulted by a professor of the Theological Institute in the midst of a verbal altercation. 55 And when Losskii presented a copy of his published critique of Bulgakov to Mother Maria (Skobtsova), she returned the brochure to him unread, inscribed with the following indignant message: “I refuse to read texts signed by writers of denunciations!!” [Literatury, podpisannoi donoschikami, ne chitaiu!!] 56

Given this highly charged context, one would have expected Florovsky to take pains to avoid being drawn into the controversy.  And although this was indeed the stance that Florovsky soon adopted, his papers reveal just how far removed he was from any detached scholarly view of the matter.

The most striking evidence in this regard is contained in a letter to Florovsky from Militsa Zernova (the wife of Nicolas Zernov), dated 3 November 1935.  Mrs. Zernov here voices her anguish at the harshness with which Florovsky had reacted to the news of the two official condemnations of Sophiology.  The letter is extremely emotional in tone, but there seems to be no reason to doubt the essential accuracy of the facts conveyed. 57

Zernova claims to have been “stunned” [oshelomlena] by Florovsky’s militant position.  She writes that at the time of Florovsky’s visit to the Zernov home she had intended to ask him what he could propose in the way of defending Bulgakov.  To her dismay and horror she instead heard Florovsky pronounce Bulgakov guilty of heresy and to proceed to the following conclusions:  Bulgakov should be permanently stripped of his public position [svesti so stseny do ego smerti] and separated from his activities in the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius [ottesnit’ iz raboty].  Such views are not only grossly unfair and devoid of Christian love, Mrs. Zernov protests, but would, if implemented, result in terrible damage to the Paris religious community, especially to the Theological Institute.  She then throws out a grave accusation by insinuating that Florovsky’s views had been motivated by raw personal ambition:  “Don’t think that you will become head of the Institute” [ne dumaite, chto Vy stanete rektorom].

It is not surprising that there are no further letters from Militsa Zernova in the Florovsky files:  one may safely assume that Fr. Georges did not respond.

Because there are no other documents reflecting anything like the militancy of spirit on the Bulgakov affair that is here ascribed to Florovsky, it would seem that this angry outburst represents a very brief phase of his response.  But that Florovsky was sorely agitated there can be no doubt.  Several letters from his Anglican friends indicate that he had communicated a sense of acute distress. 58  And letters from his sister Klavdiia (“Dusia”) show that he had exchanged messages with Archbishop Serafim, the author of the book attacking Sophiology. 59

Florovsky had also asked his sister to extract an unnamed manuscript of his on Sophia from the files of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. 60

But it would seem that by the end of 1935 Florovsky had already resolved to abstain from public comment.  Thus we have a 22 December letter from Arthur Dobbie-Bateman, an aquaintance active in the St. Sergius and St. Alban Fellowship, who voices relief at Florovsky’s decision to stay clear of the conflict: “My detailed views would have been, and are, decidedly in favour of the line you have yourself chosen, to avoid all controversy.” 61

While I am not aware of any explicitly stated reasons for Florovsky’s change of mind, it seems probable that the alarm expressed by his Anglican friends contributed to Florovsky’s decision.  In two letters, Dobbie-Bateman characterized the potential scandal as a “disaster” and urged Florovsky to avoid all involvement. 62 And the Rev. Ivan Young, another acquaintance in the Fellowship, counselled extreme caution in what he called “this most unfortunate and difficult situation.”  Stirring up the affair, Young warned, “would make things very difficult in the Russian Clergy and Church Aid Council,” and could threaten the very existence of the Fellowship as well as “the cause of Reunion with the Orthodox as a whole.” 63 When added to the unhealthy public agitation of which Florovsky would of course have been only too aware, and the potential for a gross misrepresentation of his views that had been brought home by the Zernova letter, the arguments of his English friends were bound to be significant, especially since Florovsky set great store by his contacts with ecumenically-minded Anglicans.

Yet Florovsky was nevertheless unable to avoid highly visible further involvement in the Bulgakov controversy.  In late 1935, Metropolitan Evlogii appointed a commission to look into the charges of heresy that had been levelled at Fr. Bulgakov.  The commission was drawn primarily from the teaching staff of the Theological Institute (where, awkwardly enough, Fr. Bulgakov was Dean) and included several prominent Paris theologians and Church historians. 64  Florovsky relates that he strenuously resisted being inducted into this body, but finally had to yield to the behests of the Metropolitan, who argued that without Florovsky’s presence the work of the commission would be seen as a whitewash of Bulgakov’s theories. 65

The deliberations of the Bulgakov Commission proceeded in two phases.  Meetings began in February 1936, 66 and were chaired by Fr. Sergii Chetverikov, a priest attached to the Vvedenskaia Chapel of the Russian Student Christian Movement in Paris where Fr. Florovsky also frequently conducted services after his ordination in 1932. 67  The minutes of these meetings have not been published and are not represented in the Florovsky papers housed at Princeton, but we do have a number of letters from Chetverikov to Florovsky commenting on the ongoing work of the Commission.  The very fact that such letters exist tends to corroborate the claim of one commission member, Fr. Vasilii Zen’kovskii, that Florovsky took part in the deliberation of only one formal session. 68

The Commission quickly became polarized, with the majority defending Bulgakov against the charge of heresy, and the minority, represented by Chetverikov and Florovsky (the latter usually in absentia), expressing grave reservations.  By June 1936, the Commission was ready to draw up its preliminary findings, albeit a determination that reflected the unresolved split in opinion.  Chetverikov wrote three letters to Florovsky asking, then begging him to set down his thoughts on paper or else to comment on a draft statement Chetverikov had prepared. 69  Florovsky resisted and Chetverikov produced the minority report himself, finally persuading Florovsky to sign it by arguing that if he wished to sign neither the majority nor the minority report, he would have to draw up his own document. 70

The minority report, dated 6 July 1936, and bearing the signatures of Chetverikov and Florovsky was presumably submitted to Metropolitan Evlogii shortly thereafter. 71 It stated that although the charges of heresy against Bulgakov had been presented in an inadequate and hasty manner, his views did indeed “provoke great anxiety” [vyzyvaiut bol’shuiu trevogu] and constituted a danger to Orthodox thinking, a danger the Commission’s majority had chosen to ignore.  (The majority report had been prepared some weeks earlier by A.V. Kartashev, V.V. Zen’kovskii and others.  It flatly rejected the charge of heresy but brought foward serious objections to certain aspects of Sophiology.) 72

Although neither report has ever been released for publication, Florovsky would seem to be in error when he suggests that nothing was submitted to the Metropolitan. 73 In any case, when Metr. Evlogii spoke to a diocesan conference on 14 July of that year, he gave an account of the Commission’s work, noted the unresolved differences among its members and asked them to continue their examination of Bulgakov’s views in the hope that they might reach a unanimous determination. 74

One potentially awkward aspect of Florovsky’s position at the time these texts were being worked out was that he found himself in close daily contact with his philosophical opponents in various non-academic contexts.  In the spring and summer of 1936 he was engaged in Fellowship work in England together with Bulgakov, Kartashev, Zen’kovskii, and others.  This involved presentations on, and discussions of, topics of presumed mutual interest to Orthodox and Anglican participants in various English cities.  To Florovsky’s sorrow and annoyance, Bugakov in his speeches and comments dwelled on the Sophia theme so incessantly that (as Florovsky wrote in one letter to his wife) the Russian delegation had become restive and sought to demonstrate its independence from Sophiology. 75 And in a letter a few days later he reports that his friend Dobbie-Bateman was actively trying to prevent the publication of Bulgakov’s English-language summary of Sophiology because he feared that beyond doing great damage to Bulgakov’s reputation, this book could compromise Russian theology as a whole by giving the impression that Russians think in obscure and incomprehensible ways. 76

A further delicate circumstance was that the Orthodox delegation consisted almost entirely of individuals who had been inducted into the Bulgakov Commission.  The very men charged with evaluating Bulgakov’s ideas thus found themselves exposed to his thoughts on a daily basis, at times discussing the issues right after Bulgakov had made a presentation.  Florovsky reports on two such semi-formal meeting in which he seems to have taken an active anti-Sophiological role. 77

At some point soon after Florovsky had received copies of both majority and minority reports, he shipped them, together with a number of other documents bearing on Sophiology, to A.F. Dobbie-Bateman with the request that the latter give a candid and strictly confidential opinion of these materials.  Dobbie-Bateman responded with a lengthy analysis that is a model of clear thinking and lucid writing.  He found the minority report technically and logically flawed (“anxiety is not a judicial category,” he noted) but considered the criticisms of Bulgakov’s theories contained in the majority report essentially fatal to Bulgakov’s entire conception, a conclusion he appeared to welcome.78  Writing again in the fall of that year, Dobbie-Bateman made what strikes me as a very cogent summary of the split inside the Commission:  “They divide,” he wrote of the commission members, “into those whose sincere purpose is to vindicate sound theology, and those whose equally sincere purpose is to defend Fr. Sergius.”  Such incompatible aims cannot be meaningfully reconciled, Dobbie-Bateman suggests, and he concludes: “Perhaps after all your own idea for the future is the best:  namely — silence.” 78

Meanwhile the commission on Bulgakov resumed its deliberations in the fall of 1936, beginning its work with the discussion of a detailed statement in which Fr. Chetverikov had attempted to lay out the most controversial aspects of Sophiological teaching. 79  Chetverikov’s 48-page-long summary of what he modestly calls his “perplexities” [nedoumeniia] in fact reproduces most of the charges made against Bulgakov by the Church Abroad in 1935 (“Opredelenie Arkhiereiskogo Sinoda…”), but presented in a quieter tone and without the earlier document’s conclusion that obvious heresy was involved.  Florovsky evidently found Chetverikov’s text very much to his liking, writing to Chetverikov that he had read it “with great satisfaction” [s bol’shim udovletvoreniem]. 80 However Florovsky did not heed Chetverikov’s repeated requests to submit written answers to a series of questions on the whole issue of Sophiology which Chetverikov had attached to his statement. 81 Florovsky’s stubborn “passive resistance” to all attemps to draw him into a meaningful participation in the Bulgakov Commission was presumably a manifestation of his hope that he could thus avoid being associated with the Commission’s findings, whether pro or con.  For while it is obvious that Florovsky rejected Sophiology, he was clearly convinced that a negative pronouncement on Bulgakov would only feed unjustified jurisdictional and political passions.  It was a moral position that one can appreciate, but it certainly did nothing to allay the frustration that must have been felt by Chetverikov.

Florovsky spent the fall and early winter of 1936 in England and Greece and could presumably evade taking part in the formal deliberations of the Bulgakov Commission for that reason alone.  But a glance at Florovsky’s scholarly activites of this period reveals that he continued to be very much concerned with the issues raised by Bulgakov, doing so, however, in the indirect way that had been his method all along.  The most significant theme in Florovsky’s work at this time was his emphasis on the unceasing relevance and ever-salutory role of the patristic tradition in religious culture.  That is the central motif of his Puti russkogo bogosloviia (completed in England in the fall of 1936) 82 as well as the explicit subject of Florovsky’s speech at the Congress of Orthodox Theology in Athens in December of that year. 83  To a very significant degree this emphasis represents a polemical reaction to Bulgakov’s insistence that the patristic legacy is in many ways inadequate to the problems of the contemporary world. 84

Florovsky’s clear-cut philosophical opposition to Bulgakov on this and other matters however stopped short of active participation in the ongoing quasi-judicial review of Bulgakov’s works, which continued into 1937. The Commission’s chairman, Fr. Chetverikov, evidently did not grasp the depth of Florovsky’s conviction on this score, and the Princeton collection holds letters in which Chetverikov pleads with Florovsky to take part in drawing up the final report, even appealing to his wife to intercede. 85  Chetverikov finally declared that he would have to resign his chairmanship if Florovsky continued to withhold his participation, and, with Florovsky remaining implacable, he appears to have carried out his intention. 86

As far as I could establish, no final report of the Commission’s work has been published anywhere.  Igumen Gennadii Eikalovich however cites the formal resolution of a bishop’s conference which had been convoked by Metropolitan Evlogii on 26-29 November 1937 with the express purpose of closing the Bulgakov affair. 87  This text states that the bishops had reviewed a report prepared by Fr. Chetverikov, augmented by a more detailed descriptive account of the Commission’s work written by Archimandrite Cassian.  On the basis of these materials the bishops concluded that the accusations of heresy against Bulgakov were unjustified, but that his theological opinions nevertheless exhibited serious flaws and stood in need of correction.  The text ends with an exhortation to Bulgakov to subject those aspects of his teaching which have provoked criticism to a close scrutiny, and “to eliminate whatever could prove troubling to simple souls unversed in theology and philosophy” [iz”iat’ iz nikh to, chto porozhdaet smushchenie v prostykh dushakh, kotorym nedostupno bogoslovsko-filosofskoe myshlenie]. 88

But the bishops’ statement as published by Eikalovich does not include any request that Bulgakov make an actual repudiaton of Sophiology, to say nothing of a public renunciation, and I am not aware of any documentary evidence in support of Florovsky’s contention that Bulgakov had to undergo such a procedure. 89 We have only Fr. Zen’kovskii’s brief mention in his memoirs that Bulgakov made a formal declaration to Metropolitan Evlogii to the effect that he would not promote Sophiology in his lectures at St. Sergius Theological Institute.  In truth, however, as Zen’kovskii notes with some bitterness, Bulgakov continued to champion his theories exactly as before. 90 The official discussion of the whole painful issue was however at an end.

Although the formal examination of Bulgakov’s works was now closed, the repercussions for Florovsky were far from over.  The decision to distance himself from the work of the Commission had exacted a heavy psychological toll, all the while doing nothing to repair his standing with colleagues at the Paris Theological Institute who considered him to have “betrayed” Bulgakov. 91  Letters received by Florovsky during this period show that he had complained bitterly to his correspondents about his unhappiness and had expressed his desire to leave Paris for good. 92 As it happened, the extensive ecumenical contacts Florovsky had established in England during the preceeding years now bore fruit and made frequent departure from Paris possible. 93 On one of these occasions, furthermore, there was an incident directly linked to Bulgakov which seems to have been instrumental in propelling Florovsky from the relatively minor activity of the Fellowship of St. Sergius and St. Alban into the ecumenical big leagues. This occurred in Edinburgh in 1937, where Florovsky, Bulgakov, and two other professors from the Theological Institute had traveled as delegates to the Second Conference of Faith and Order, a body that was later transformed into the World Council of Churches. The Paris delegation was accompanied by Metropolitan Evlogii, who writes that he had decided to go along in part due to his anxiety about possible dissention within this group. 94 And indeed these fears were soon realized. As Evlogii describes it, Florovsky delivered a “pointed and caustic” attack on the concept of “pure-hearted” piety that lacks any sound philosophical basis — this right after Bulgakov’s speech in which the latter had downplayed the importance of doctrinal differences in the ecumenical enterprise. The Metropolitan was scandalized by what he considered an attack on Bulgakov, but notes that a number of influential non-Orthodox delegates were much impressed by Florovsky’s tough stance. 95 The result was entirely unexpected: Florovsky was elected to the Executive Committee that was charged with drafting a constitution for the proposed World Council of Churches. 96 One can thus legitimately speak of a causal relationship between Florovsky’s stance in the entire Sophiological controversy and his ever-increasing involvement in ecumencial affairs.  While these activities were necessarily curtailed during the war years, it was ventures of this kind that came to predominate in Florovsky’s life in the two decades following World War II.  Yet despite this major shift in emphasis, a number of publications from Florovsky’s later years are unambiguously linked to his polemic with the Sophiological orientation.

Of the several post-war essays that relate most clearly to this theme, I shall comment very briefly on four. In “The Ever-Virgin Mother of God” (1949) 97 Florovsky rejects the abstract manner in which the Incarnation has all too often been treated in modern times. He asserts that Mary must be recognized as a co-actor in the Incarnation, as a historically real human being endowed with free will who consciously agreed to serve the divine purpose. This is in opposition to the tendency to envisage Mary in purely symbolic terms as a perfect manifestation of the Sophiological principle. 98

In 1951 Florovsky published “The Lamb of God,” an essay in which the title clearly suggests a response to Bulgakov’s 1933 monograph Agnets Bozhii. 99 This is a vigorous restatement of a theme central to Florovsky’s theological vision throughout his career: an assertion of the historicity and personal nature of the Christian religion, and of the fundamental inadequacy of metaphysical speculation in this regard.

Two essays dealing with patristic issues also appear to be linked to the polemic with Bulgakov. “Saint Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers” (1960) 100 seeks to reaffirm the place of Palamas within mainline patristic tradition, in this sense refuting Bulgakov’s claim that St. Gregory can be seen as one of the originators of Sophiology. 101 And in “The Concept of Creation in St. Athanasius” (1962) 102 Florovsky builds on his earlier works on creation but includes what seems to be the very deliberate attempt to counter Bulgakov’s detailed argument that St. Athanasius could likewise be considered a precursor of Sophiology. 103

The self-imposed taboo against publishing remarks openly critical of Bulgakov qua theologian remained in force, however, reaching some sort of extreme in 1971, when Florovsky wrote an entry on Bulgakov for a handbook on Church history in which he managed to avoid mentioning the Sophia concept entirely. 104 In a 1975 letter to Paris, Florovsky confirms that his critical silence in this respect was a conscious and deliberate policy. He chides his friend for believing rumors about him:

Myths are being generated in that Paris of yours. The late Paul Evdokimoff asserted in print that I had “furiously” [iarostno] attacked Fr. Sergius. The fact is that I have never written on Fr. Sergius and have tried to avoid oral criticism. 105

But one must note that the ban on public comment that Florovsky had imposed on himself did not extend to informal conversation and private correspondence, and in conclusion I quote from a 1976 letter to Iurii Ivask in which Florovsky openly addresses a theme that was clearly never very far from his mind:

[Florenskii] wrote a book on Christianity which lacks even a short chapter on Christ.  As a result the whole picture is skewed.  The late Fr. Sergii Bulgakov dedicated a whole volume to the theme of “The Lamb of God,” but he nevertheless began with the periphery — the Virgin, John the Baptist, angels. 106

In a private conversation he admitted that he had turned to Christology  under my influence.  But I do not consider his Christology to be very satisfactory.  In his early book, Svet nevechernii [1917], only the beginning chapters are Christological — they were written before he was swayed by Florenskii. 107  The point is not that they both occasionally do understand Christ, the point is that He does not stand at the center.  […]

Bulgakov was very much saddened by my independent spirit.  I followed and chose my own themes and methods.  One of my colleagues at Harvard was correct in his comment about me: my principal trait is independence in everything. 108

It is striking indeed that this proud affirmaton of the significance of his own intellectual achievement, expressed near the end of Florovsky’s life, should have been cast in terms of his decades-long polemic with Bulgakov.  The Princeton papers thus substantiate Fr. John Meyendorff’s thesis: Sophiology had been the “irritant” that had shaped Fr. Georges Florovsky’s career as scholar and public figure more than any other single factor.


  1. Sergei Averintsev gives a brief history of the term “Sophia” in Filosofskaia entsiklopediia, vol. 5 (Moscow, 1970), 61-63. Vladimir Solov’ev’s attempt to formulate the Sophia concept in theological terms received its most consistent form in La Russie et l’église universelle (Paris, 1889). Fifteen years later Fr. Pavel Florenskii developed the theme in his monumental Stolp i utverzhdenie Istiny (Moscow, 1914). And Fr. Sergii Bulgakov devoted a large proportion of his numerous publications to a detailed elaboration of this idea. His views evolved considerably over time, and the last of his formulations is contained in a book so far available in translation only: Sergius Bulgakov, The Wisdom of God: A Brief Summary of Sophiology (New York and London, 1937). An overview of the concept in the Russian context appears in Frederick C. Copleston, Russian Religious Philosophy: Selected Aspects (Notre Dame, 1988), 81-99.
  2. In the words of Paul Valliere, a recent student of the problem, the “Sophia” of Sophiology has been variously interpreted as “revisionist trinitarian doctrine, or as an expression of the feminine devine, or as a metaphysical concept, or as a gnostic or kabbalistic category.” See his “Sophiology as the Dialogue of Orthodoxy with Modern Civilization” in Judith D. Kornblatt and Richard F. Gustafson, eds. Russian Religious Thought (Madison, 1996), 176. Needless to say, each of these interpretations presents a challenge to traditional Christian doctrine, which is precisely the point Valliere attempts to generalize.
  3. See A.F. Losev’s “Filsofsko-poeticheskii simvol Sofii u Vl. Solov’eva,” in his collection Strast’ k dialektike (Moscow, 1990), 204-5.
  4. Florenskii’s bishop had warned him that these and several other sections in Stolp could prove unacceptable to the traditionally-minded hierarchs who would be reviewing the text. The bishop’s letter is quoted in Igumen Andronik (Trubachev), “Sviashchennik Pavel Florenskii — professor Moskovskoi Dukhovnoi Akademii i redaktor ‘Bogoslovskogo Vestnika’,” Bogoslovskie trudy, 28 (1987): 297. On the separate edition produced for this purpose, see Florenskii’s explanations, including his statement that the excluded chapters had in his view constituted “the philosophical and theological telos of the book” (Ibid., 298).
  5. Bulgakov’s diary entry on 21 September 1921 expresses his genuine sense of mission: “God has chosen me, a weak and unworthy man, to be a witness to the Divine Sophia and to Her revelation.” See Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 170 (1994): 32. A complete bibliography of Bulgakov’s writings appears in Kliment Naumov, Bibliographie des oeuvres de Serge Boulgakov (Paris, 1984). For a brief introduction to Bulgakov’s views, see James P. Scanlan’s essay in Paul Edwards, ed. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 1 (N.Y., 1967), 421-23. S.L. Frank gives an excellent one-page summary in the collection S.L. Frank, Russkoe mirovozzrenie (St. Petersburg, 1996), 640.  For more detailed surveys with a focus on aspects of Sophiology, see V.V. Zen’kovskii, Istoriia russkoi filosofii, vol. 2 (Paris 1950), 430-57; Barbara Newman, “Sergius Bulgakov and the Theology of the Divine Wisdom,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 22, no.1 (1978): 39-73; Winston F. Crum, “Sergius N. Bulgakov: From Marxism to Sophiology,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 27, no. 1 (1983): 3-25; Aidon Nichols, “Bulgakov and Sophiology,” Sobornost 13, no. 2 (1992): 17-31; S.V. Mosolova, “Sofiologiia: Chelovecheskoe prochtenie knigi Bozhiei,” Vestnik Moskovskogo universiteta. Seriia 7. Filosofiia 1994, no. 1: 43-54; Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, “The Nature and Function of Sophia in Sergei Bulgakov’s Prerevolutionary Thought,” in Kornblatt and Gustafson, eds. Russian Religious Thought, 154-175. Polemical literature will be cited below.
  6. The dispute is chronicled through 1936 with exemplary evenhandedness by Dom C. Lialine in “Le Débat Sophiologique,” Irénikon 13, no. 2 (1936): 168-205 and in two addenda in subsequent fascicles of the same volume: no. 3: 328-9, and no. 6: 704-5. The only English-language account of the controversy is the rather partisan narrative by Samuel D. Cioran in his Vladimir Solov’ev and the Knighthood of the Divine Sophia (Waterloo, Ont., 1977), 247-272.
  7. Mitropolit Evlogii, Put’ moei zhizni. Vospominaniia, izlozhennye po ego rasskazam T. Manukhinoi (Paris, 1947), 450. Bulgakov’s administrative title was “Inspektor,” which is roughly equivalent to “Dean” in the American context. Bulgakov taught dogmatic theology at the Institute, while Florovsky specialized in patristics.
  8. Monakhinia Elena,”Professor protoierei Sergii Bulgakov (1871-1944),” Bogoslovskie trudy, 27 (1986): 140; Thomas Riha, “Russian Émigré Scholars in Prague after World War I,” Slavic and East European Journal XVI, no. 1 (1958): 22-26.
  9. Andrew Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” in Andrew Blane, ed. Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman (Crestwood, NY, 1993), 40-45.
  10. See his 1911 letter in Marina Skliarova, ed. Sosud izbrannyi: Istoriia rossiiskikh dukhovnykh shkol (St. Petersburg, 1994), 111 and his 1918 review of Bulgakov’s Na piru bogov [later part of the collection Iz glubiny] listed in the bibliography section of Blane, ed. Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman, 377. The text of Florovsky’s review was not available to me.
  11. Noted in Bulgakov’s Prague diary on 29 September, 1923. See Aleksei Kozyrev and Natal’ia Golubkova, “Prot. S. Bulgakov. Iz pamiati serdtsa. Praga (1923-1924),” in Issledovaniia po istorii russkoi mysli. Ezhegodnik za 1998 (Moscow, 1998), 156. In a letter written in October of that year, Florovsky tells a friend that he feels very close to Bulgakov. (Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 168 [1993]: 66.) At this time Florovsky had not yet been ordained to the priesthood.
  12. “... ne mogu postavit’ na rel’sy G.V.F.” – “Iz pamiati serdtsa,” 171.
  13. Catherine Evtuhov has published substantial excerpts from Bulgakov’s letters to Florovsky in “The Correspondence of Bulgakov and Florovsky: Chronicle of a Frienship,” Wiener Slawistischer Almanach 38 (1996): 37-49. Her very positive reading of the relationship between the two men is based on one side of the the correspondence. Several answering letters by Florovsky have meanwhile appeared in print, and together with the materials cited in the present essay they produce a considerably less sanguine picture.
  14. “Bratstvo sviatoi Sofii: Dokumenty (1918-1927)” in Issledovaniia po istorii russkoi mysli. Ezhegodnik za 1997 (St. Petersburg, 1997), 99-113.
  15. “Iz pamiati serdtsa,” 234 and M.A. Kolerov, “Bratstvo sv. Sofii: ‘Vekhovtsy’ i evraziitsy (1921-1925),” Voprosy filosofii, 1994, no. 10: 150-1. See also Catherine Evtuhov, 39.
  16. S. N. Bulgakov to G. V. Florovskii, letter of 18/31 Aug. 1924. In the Georges Florovsky Papers, Princeton University Library, Special Collections, Box 12, Folder 9.  Subsequent citations from this source will have the form “GFPrin.”  All materials from the Princeton collection are published by permission of the Manuscript Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Libraries
  17. As Bulgakov puts it in the English language edition of The Wisdom of God, 24: “I regard Soloviev as having been my philosophical ‘guide to Christ’ at the time I was moving ‘From Marxism to Idealism’ and even further, to the Church.” (Bulgakov refers here to his 1903 collection of essays entitled Ot marksizma k idealizmu which includes a piece on Solov’ev.)
  18. Bulgakov subjected his evaluation of Solov’ev to a critical review in 1924, possibly influenced by his polemic with Florovsky. See Aleksei Kozyrev, “Prot. Sergii Bulgakov. O Vl. Solov’eve (1924)” in Issledovaniia po istorii russkoi mysli. Ezhegodnik za 1999 (Moscow, 1999), 199-222. See also “Iz pamiati serdtsa,” 199.
  19. “Novye knigi o Vladimire Solov’eve” (1912). Cited in the bibliography section of Andrew Blane, ed. Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman, 349 under number 5. (This item was not available to me.) See further the bibliographical entries numbered 132, 140, 155, 171, 175, 176, 213, 278, and 337. Florovsky also taught a course on the philosophy of Solov’ev while in Prague. See Georgii Florovskii, Iz proshlogo russkoi mysli (Moscow, 1998), 208n.
  20. Quoted in Kozyrev, “Prot. Sergii Bulgakov. O Vl. Solov’eve,” 206.
  21. The three essays, originally published separately, were here presented as three parts of a larger piece entitled “Vladimir Solov’ev i Anna Shmidt.” See Sergei Bulgakov, Tikhie dumy (Moscow, 1918; reprinted, Paris, 1976), 71-114.
  22. Quoted in Kozyrev, “Prot. Sergii Bulgakov. O Vl. Solov’eve,” 207.
  23. Bulgakov, “Moia bolezn’,” in his Avtobiograficheskie zametki (Paris, 1946), 136-9.
  24. Letter of 21 February 1926. Quoted in Evtuhov, 43.
  25. Quoted in Kozyrev, “Prot. Sergii Bulgakov. O Vl. Solov’eve,” 207.
  26. Letter of 27 Apr./10 May 1926. GFPrin, Box 12, f. 11.
  27. Letter of 7/20 July 1926. Quoted in Evtuhov, 42.
  28. Quoted in A.M. Pentkovskii, “Pis’ma G. Florovskogo S. Bulgakovu i S. Tyshkevichu,” Simvol [Paris] no. 29 (1993): 205-6. Solov’ev’s interest in occult notions of Sophia is well attested. See, for example, Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, “Solov’ev’s Androgynous Sophia and the Jewish Kabbalah,” Slavic Review 50, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 486-96.
  29. Quoted in Pentkovskii, 206-7.
  30. Georgii V. Florovskii, “Blazhenstvo strazhdushchei liubvi,” Transactions of the Assn. of Russian-American Scholars 25 (1992-3): 98, and “Chelovecheskaia mudrost’ i Premudrost’ Bozhiia,” Mladorus‘, no. 1 (1922): 51-53. In a recently discovered section of Florovsky’s dissertation on Herzen, Solov’ev’s vision of the world is characterized as “completely deterministic.” See G.V. Florovskii, “Istoricheskaia filosofiia Gertsena. Zakliuchenie,” Issledovaniia po istorii russkoi mysli. Ezhegodnik za 1997 (St. Petersburg, 1997), 249. It is relevant to add that the problem of justifying evil arises with special force in Bulgakov, who has argued that the Apostle Judas in his betrayal of Jesus must have been fulfilling a divine mission, the purpose of which was to make the Atonement possible [chtoby posluzhit’ delu Iskupleniia]. See Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 123 (1977): 25.
  31. Prot. I. Meiendorf [John Meyendorff], “Predislovie,” in Prot. Georgii Florovskii, Puti russkogo bogosloviia, 4th ed. (Paris, 1988), vi-vii. Meyendorff’s essay first appeared in Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 132 (1980).
  32. Georgii V. Florovskii, “Tvar’ i tvarnost’,” in Pravoslavnaia mysl’ [Paris], vyp. 1 (1928): 176-212. English translation in Georges Florovsky, “Creation and Redemption” (The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, vol. III) (Belmont, 1976), 43-78, 269-277.  Speaking about his life’s work, Fr. Florovsky named this essay as one of his two most significant scholarly achievements. See Andrew Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 154.
  33. Florovsky has articulated the distinctive features of the patristic doctrine of creation in somewhat briefer form in “The Idea of Creation in Christian Philosophy,” The Eastern Churches Quarterly 8, no. 3 (1949): 55-77, which is a free English version of a French article published in 1928: “L’idée de la création dans la philosophie chrétienne,” Logos: Revue internationale de la synthèse Orthodoxe, no. 1 (1928): 3-30. See further Winston F. Crum, The Doctrine of Sophia According to Sergius Bulgakov, Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Harvard University, 1965, 118-120. Rev. Crum reports in a personal letter to the present author that Florovsky, the director of his dissertation at Harvard, had characterized his Eastern Churches Quarterly essay on creation as the “gist” of his response to Bulgakov. (Quoted with permission.)
  34. G. V. Florovskii, “O pochitanii Sofii, Premudrosti Bozhiei v Vizantii i na Rusi,” Trudy V-go s”ezda russkikh akademicheskikh organizatsii za granitsei v Sofii 14-21 sentiabria 1930 goda (Sofia, 1932), Pt. I, 485-500. Reprinted in the collection Georgii Florovskii, Dogmat i istoriia (Moscow, 1998), 394-414. See also the abstract of a related study, “Christ, the Wisdom of God, in Byzantine Theology,” originally in Résumés des Rapports et Communications, Sixième Congrès International d’Études Byzantins. Supplément. Alger 2-7 octobre 1939 (Paris, 1940), 255-260. Reprinted under the title “The Hagia Sophia Churches” in Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History (The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, vol. IV) (Belmont, 1975), 131-135. This resume contains no footnotes, and the full article has not been published. See further in Note 60.
  35. Bulgakov, “Dokladnaia zapiska, predstavlennaia professorom protoiereem Sergiem Bulgakovym mitropolitu Evlogiiu vesnoi 1927 g.” in his brochure O Sofii Premudrosti Bozhiei (Paris, 1935), 61-3.
  36. This issue continues to provoke controversy.  Lev Zander, a devoted follower of Bulgakov, has challenged Florovsky’s historical arguments in “Die Weisheit Gottes im russischen Glauben und Denken,” Kerygma und Dogma 2, no. 1 (1956): 33-36, 40-46.  In more recent years, Florovsky’s essay became the springboard for an attack on Sophiology in an essay by Antonii, Mitropolit Leningradskii i Novgorodskii, “Iz istorii novgorodskoi ikonografii,” Bogoslovskie trudy, 27 (1986): 61-80.  This called forth vigorous responses: A. B., “Usta pravednika izrekaiut premudrost’,” Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 149 (1987): 12-45, and an emotional attack on Florovsky’s credibility by Evg. Ivanova, “Nasledie o. Pavla Florenskogo: A sud’i kto?” Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 165 (1992): 121-138. On the iconography of Sophia, the Wisdom of God, see further John Meyendorff, “Wisdom-Sophia:  Contrasting Approaches to a Complex Theme,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, no. 41 (1987): 391-401, and Donald M. Fiene, “What is the Appearance of Divine Sophia?” Slavic Review 48, no. 3 (1989): 449-476. The claim that ancient iconography prefigured, and thus confirmed and justified, modern Sophiology was first made by Vladimir Solov’ev in his 1898 essay on Auguste Comte: Sobranie sochinenii, ed. S.M. Solov’ev and E.L. Radlov, 2nd ed., vol. 9 (St. Petersburg,  1914), 187-8. The idea was developed into a major thesis by Pavel Florenskii in his Stolp i utverzhdenie Istiny (Moscow, 1914), 370-383, 554-576. The point was echoed by Bulgakov, for example in his response to criticism (see Note 35 above) and in the English-language summary of his system, The Wisdom of God:  A Brief Summary of Sophiology, 16, 186.
  37. Georgii Florovskii, “Spor o nemetskom idealizme,” Put’, no. 25 (1930): 51-80. Reprinted in Georgii Florovskii, Iz proshlogo russkoi mysli, 412-30. It is relevant to add here that Florovsky has singled out Bulgakov’s lack of interest in history as a major failing. See Andrew Blane, “A Sketch…” 216, n50.
  38. Georgii Florovskii, “Tomlenie dukha,” Put’, no. 20 (1930): 102-107. With some changes and additions this review was incorporated into Florovsky’s Puti russkogo bogosloviia, 495-498. (The original essay was a review of a 1929 reprint of Stolp.)
  39. Puti russkogo bogosloviia, 497. The charge of occult influences on Florenskii are more explicitly formulated in Florovsky’s much later review of Nicolas Zernov’s The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century. See Christianity Today  8, no. 25 (Sept. 25, 1964): 29. Florenskii’s interest in the occult has been noted by two commentators. See Leonid Sabaneeff, “Pavel Florensky  — Priest, Scientist, and Mystic,” Russian Review 20, no. 4 (1961): 312-25, and the memoirs cited in R.A. Gal’tseva, Ocherki russkoi utopicheskoi mysli XX veka (Moscow, 1992), 177, n55.
  40. The Bulgakov letters at Princeton give ample evidence of this spirit.  See also Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 66-68.
  41. Georgii Florovskii to Iurii Ivask, letter of 8 April 1965. In Iurii P. Ivask Papers (Box 3, folder 15), Special Collections Department, Amherst College Library. Quoted by permission of Amherst College Library. The greater part of the 8 April letter appears in Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 130 (1979): 45-47. Together with P.N. Savitskii, P.P. Suvchinskii, and N.S. Trubetskoi, Florovsky had participated in the founding of the Eurasian movement in 1921. See Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 38-41. On the deterioration of Florovsky’s relationship with Savitskii and Suvchinskii, see Florovsky’s letters from this period in Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 168 (1993), 61-71. Savitskii seems to have been the most persistent ideological critic of Bulgakov. See M.A. Kolerov, “Bratstvo sv. Sofii: ‘Vekhovtsy’ i evraziitsy (1921-1925),” Voprosy filosofii, 1994, no. 10, 163-6.
  42. See Nikolai Zernov, “Russkii religioznyi opyt i ego vliianie na Angliiu,” in Nikolai P. Poltoratskii, ed. Russkaia religiozno-filosofskaia mysl’ XX veka (Pittsburgh, 1975), 128-129.
  43. Ibid., 129, and Blane, “A Sketch of the life of Georges Florovsky,” 64.
  44. A. F. Dobbie-Bateman, “Footnotes (IX),” Sobornost, no. 30, N. S. (December 1944): 8.  See also Roger Lloyd, The Church of England in the Twentieth Century, vol. 2 (London, 1950), 280-286.  The Princeton papers contain Florovsky’s written objections to Bulgakov’s proposal, dated 16 October 1933 (GFPrin, Box 51, f.4). Although Sophiology does not seem to have been explicitly addressed in this dispute, it is worth noting that Bulgakov had earlier published a Sophiological reading of the Eucharistic doctrine:  “Sofiologicheskoe istolkovanie evkharisticheskogo dogmata,” Put’, no. 21 (1930): 21-31.
  45. In E. L. Mascall, ed., The Church of God (London, 1934), 51-74.  Reprinted in Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, vol. I) (Belmont, 1972), 37-55, 121-122
  46. Prot. Aleksandr Shmeman [Alexander Schmemann], “Tri obraza,” Vestnik R.S.Kh.D., no. 101-102 (1971): 12, 20-21.
  47. Ibid., 22. Even the most sympathetic commentators on Bulgakov note that he had virtually no followers as far as his Sophiological theories were concerned. See, for example, the unsigned memorial article in Pravoslavnaia mysl’, 14 (1971): v. And Bulgakov’s bishop, Metropolitan Evlogii, while always remaining a stalwart defender of Bulgakov against his accusers, seems nevertheless to have been a sceptic in regard to Sophiology. That is certainly the impression one gets when Evlogii explains Bulgakov’s unconventional theorizing by the fact that he had come to theology as a mature secular philosopher, one who lacked the basic foundation that would have been provided by a thorough theological education. See Evlogii’s Put’ moei zhizni, 449.
  48. Apart from the accounts of Lialine and Cioran cited in Note 6, see Bernhard Schultze, S. J., “Der gegenwärtige Streit um die Sophia, die Götterliche Weisheit, in der Orthodoxie,” Stimmen der Zeit, no. 137 (1940): 318-324; the brochure by Igumen Gennadii (Eikalovich), Delo prot. Sergiia Bulgakova: Istoricheskaia kanva spora o Sofii (San Francisco, 1980); and Prot. Vasilii Zen’kovskii, “Delo ob obvinenii o. Sergiia Bulgakova v eresi,” Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 149 (1987): 61-65.
  49. The first significant public criticism of Sophiology was voiced by Metropolitan Antonii (Khrapovitskii) of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in a 1924 article published in the Belgrade émigré newspaper Novoe Vremia. (Cited by Bulgakov in his “Dokladnaia zapiska” of 1927, 55; the full reference appears below). The criticism escalated markedly in 1927, when Metropolitan Antonii together with six other bishops of the Church Abroad signed a formal letter addressed to Metropolitan Evlogii protesting against the “modernism” of the Paris Theological Institute in general and the teachings of Fr. Bulgakov in particular. (Text reprinted in Issledovaniia po istorii russkoi mysli. Ezhegodnik za 1997, 115-121.) Bulgakov replied to the charges with an equally formal rebuttal: “Dokladnaia zapiska, predstavlennaia professorom prot. Sergiem Bulgakovym Mitropolitu Evlogiiu vesnoi 1927 g.” Bulgakov’s response was reprinted as an appendix in his later brochure, O Sofii Premudrosti Bozhiei: Ukaz Moskovskoi Patriarkhii i dokladnye zapiski prot. Sergiia Bulgakova Mitropolitu Evlogiiu (Paris, 1935), 54-64.

    The next major statement was the ukaze of the Moscow Patriarchate condemning Sophiology as “alien” to the Orthodox faith, but without invoking the charge of heresy. It is dated 7 Sept. 1935 and appears, together with Bulgakov’s response, in the publication cited above, O Sofii Premudrosti Bozhiei, 5-53.  (An excellent abstract of the Moscow statement and of Bulgakov’s rebuttal appears in The Christian East 16, no. 1-2 [1936]: 48-59.) The Paris theologian Vladimir Losskii, whose report to Moscow had precipitated the Patriarchate’s ukaze, thereupon published a critical analysis of Bulgakov’s response: Vladimir Losskii, Spor o Sofii: ” ‘Dokladnaia Zapiska’ prot. S. Bulgakova i smysl ukaza Moskovskoi Patriarkhii” (Paris, 1936).

    The formal charge of heresy against Bulgakov made by the the Church Abroad is dated 17/30 Oct. 1935 and entitled “Opredelenie Arkhiereiskogo Sobora Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi Zagranitsei ot 17/30 oktiabria 1935 g. O novom uchenii protoiereia Sergiia Bulgakova o Sofii-Premudrosti Bozhiei.” The text is reprinted, together with a cover letter from Metroplitan Antonii to Metropolitan Evlogii, in Liudmila Perepelkina, Ekumenism — Put’ vedushchii k pogibeli (Jordanville, 1992), 61-81. As this statement acknowledges (pp. 61, 81), the central arguments marshalled against Bulgakov in the official condemnation are based on a monumental study by Archbishop Serafim (Sobolev) of Boguchar, Novoe uchenie o Sofii Premudrosti Bozhiei (Sofia, 1935; reprinted, Jordanville, 1993).

    Bulgakov rejected these criticisms in a brochure entitled Dokladnaia zapiska Mitropolitu Evlogiiu prof. prot. Sergiia Bulgakova po povodu Opredeleniia Arkhiereiskogo Sobora v Karlovtsakh otnositel’no ucheniia o Sofii Premudrosti Bozhiei (Paris, 1936). This text also appeared under the title “Eshche k voprosu o Sofii, Premudrosti Bozhiei” as a separately paginated appendix to the journal Put’, no. 50 (1936). The indefatigable Archbishop Serafim thereupon published a book-length rebuttal of Bulgakov’s response: Zashchita Sofianskoi eresi protoiereem S. Bulgakovym pred litsom Arkhiereiskogo Sobora Russkoi Zarubezhnoi Tserkvi (Sofia, 1937).

    Other significant critiques of Sophiology written from the positions of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad include two essays by Ieromonakh (later Archbishop) Ioann (Maksimovich). Both have been reprinted: (1) “Pochitanie Bogoroditsy i Ioanna Krestitelia i novoe napravlenie russkoi religiozno-filosofskoi mysli” [1928], in Blazh. Arkhiepiskop Ioann (Maksimovich), Pravoslavnoe pochitanie Bozhiei Materi (St. Petersburg, 1992), 53-95; (2) “Uchenie o Sofii, Premudrosti Bozhiei” [1930] in Episkop Savva Edmontonskii, Letopis’ pochitaniia Arkhiepiskopa Ioanna (Maksimovicha), vol. II (Platina, CA, 1980), 98-142.

  50. As the 1927 ROCA statement puts it: ”We see with great sorrow that Metropolitan Evlogii has come to patronize modernism openly” [stal iavno pokrovitel’stvovat’ modernizmu]. See “Poslanie Arkhiereiskogo Sinoda…,” 115. In the same year, 1927, Iurii (later Bishop Grigorii) Grabbe wrote an essay on this theme entitled “Korni tserkovnoi smuty,” reprinted in his Tserkov’ i ee uchenie v zhizni (Sobranie sochinenii, vol. III) (Jordanville, 1992), 75-105. The opposing viewpoint can be judged from Nikolai Berdiaev’s impassioned attack on what he considered the stultifying and generally retrograde nature of ROCA policies. See his “Tserkovnaia smuta i svoboda sovesti,” Put’, no. 5 (1926): 42-54. And for an example of the anti-monarchist theme in the criticism of ROCA see the citation of a 1926 essay in Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 169 (1994): 105-6.
  51. Michel D’Herbigny, S.J. and Alexandre Deubner, Evêques Russes en exil:  Douze ans d’epreuves (1918-1930) (Rome, 1931), pp. 137ff. Metropolitan Evlogii relates his version of the conflict in Put’ moei zhizni, 610-18.
  52. D’Herbigny, Evêques russes, 174-77; Mitropolit Evlogii, Put’ moei zhizni, 618-27.
  53. Mitropolit Evlogii, Put’ moei zhizni, 634-44.  For the Church Abroad’s view of these jurisdictional shifts, see the report made in 1938 by Iurii Grabbe, “Perekhod Mitr. Evlogiia v iurisdiktsiiu Konstantinopol’skogo Patriarkha i otnoshenie k etomu aktu Russkoi Zarubezhnoi Tserkvi,” in Protopresviter Georgii Grabbe, Tserkov’ i ee uchenie v zhizni (Sobranie sochinenii, vol. I) (Montreal, 1964), 222-64.
  54. See, for example, the statement signed by the entire teaching staff of the Institute (but, tellingly, sans Florovsky) cited in Igumen Gennadii, Delo prot. Sergiia Bulgakova, 39. See also Mitropolit Evlogii, Put’ moei zhizni, 637, and the article by Nikolai Timashev cited in Lialine, “Le Débat Sophiologique,” 178.
  55. N. O. Losskii, Vospominaniia: Zhizn’ i filosofskii put’  (Munich, 1968), 266-71.  The debate was chaired by Berdiaev who saw the Moscow condemnation as an attack on free intellectual inquiry, and who also authored a furious article against the accusers of Bulgakov: “Dukh Velikogo Inkvizitora,” Put’, no. 49 (1935): 72-81. See further his only marginally more temperate exchange with Vladimir Losskii and Fr. Sergii Chetverikov in Put’, no. 50 (1936): 27-49.
  56. Cited by N. O. Losskii (father of Vladimir) in a letter to Florovsky dated 29 December 1935. GFPrin, Box 14, f. 3.
  57. Letter of 3 Nov. 1935. GFPrin, Box 14, f. 3.
  58. For example the letter from Rev. Ivan Young of 3 Jan. 1936 [erroneously dated “1935”]. GFPrin, Box 14, f. 2.
  59. Letters from “Dusia” to “Egorik” of 8 and 30 Dec. 1935. GFPrin, Box 14, f. 3.  On Archbishop Serafim, see Note 49 above.
  60. Ibid. Since the point of Florovsky’s request was to get this text published, he could not have been referring to the essay on the veneration of Sophia which had appeared in 1932 (see Note 34 above). It thus seems probable that this was an early version of the 150-page-long manuscript, still unpublished, briefly described by George H. Williams in the journal version of his survey of Florovsky’s career as a theologian (The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 9, no. 1 [1965]: 39). Williams’ article was abridged for inclusion in the Blane volume, where it is published under the title “The Neo-Patristic Synthesis of Georges Florovsky,” with the passage concerning the unpublished manuscript on Sophia not reproduced in the book edition.
  61. Letter from A. F. Dobbie-Batemen of 22 Dec. 1935. GFPrin, Box 59, f. 9.
  62. Letters of 25 Oct. (GFPrin, Box 14, f. 3) and 22 Dec. 1935 (GFPrin, Box 59, f. 9).
  63. Letter of 3 Jan. 1936. GFPrin, Box 14, f. 2.  On Young, see the obituary in Sobornost, Incorporating Eastern Churches Review 6, no. 1 (1984): 79-81.
  64. Mitropolit Evlogii, Put’ moei zhizni, 642. It is curious that the commission was formally charged with reviewing only the accusations of heresy formulated in the resolution of the Church Abroad of 17/30 Oct. 1935 (“Opredelenie Arkhiereiskogo Sobora…,” see Note 49 above) and was not asked to address the similar but less decisive accusations made by the Moscow Patriarchate. One assumes that this reflected a judgment that the explicit indictment made by ROCA demanded a formal institutional response, while in the case of the less specific charges made by the Moscow Patriarchate, Bulgakov’s published rebuttal was deemed sufficient.
  65. Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 66.
  66. Notice [povestka] of the first meeting to be held on 10 Feb. GFPrin, Box 59, f. 9.
  67. Fr. Chetverikov was at first the acting chairman, replacing the ailing Fr. Iakov Smirnov, but upon the latter’s death assumed formal chairmanship.
  68. “Delo ob obvinenii o. Sergiia Bulgakova v eresi,” Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 149 (1987): 64. However Florovsky also took part in some informal discussions while in England.
  69. . Letters of 6, 10, and 12 June 1936. GFPrin, Box 14, f. 5.
  70. Letters of 16 and 26 June 1936. GFPrin, Box 14, f. 5.
  71. A carbon copy of the 4-page long typed text (without signatures) is in the Princeton collection: GFPrin, Box 59, f. 9. The full title is “Osoboe mnenie k otzyvu bol’shinstva Komissii po delu o knigakh o. S. Bulgakova.” Igumen Gennadii Eikalovich in his Delo prot. Sergiia Bulgakova presents a partial and unreliable retranslation of this statement into Russian from an unspecified English version (pp. 36-8). His retranslation contains major omissions and the date is erroneously cited as 1937.
  72. The title is “Otzyv Komissii po delu o sochineniiakh prot. o. S. Bulgakova.” GFPrin, Box 59, f. 9. The 8-page long carbon copy at Princeton lacks signatures like the minority report and is undated. The authors are identified in Chetverikov’s letter to Florovsky of 26 June 1936, from which we also learn that the text was sent from England, where the authors — together with Florovsky — were engaged in Fellowship work. See GFPrin, Box 14, f. 5.
  73. Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 67.
  74. Quoted in Lialine, “L’Affaire Sophiologique,” 704-5. We learn from the minority report that the Commission had held only four formal sessions up to that time.
  75. Letter to Kseniia Ivanovna, 4 May 1936. GFPrin, Box 55, f. 6. On the rising discontent among the Orthodox delegation over Bulgakov’s unceasing emphasis on Sophiology, see also Florovsky’s 28 April letter to his wife, in Ibid.
  76. Letter to Kseniia Ivanovna, 6 May 1936. GFPrin, Box 55, f. 6. Florovsky’s letter makes clear that he did not share Dobbie-Bateman’s concern, and the reason he gives is an interesting measure of Florovsky’s attitude: he sees no danger in publication because “the book will then be open to direct criticism.” The book in question is Bulgakov’s The Wisdom of God: A Brief Summary of Sophiology, published in the following year (1937). There was at least one extremely negative review of it (by John P. Arendzen in Eastern Churches Quarterly 3, no. 1 [1938] :14-18).
  77. Letters to Kseniia Ivanovna of 28 April and 6 May 1936. GFPrin, Box 55, f. 6. That would explain the otherwise puzzling comment in Chetverikov’s letter of 26 June (GFPrin, Box 14, f. 5) to the effect that Florovsky might have had a hand in producing the majority report. I have not found any evidence either to confirm or to deny this supposition.
  78. Letter of 9 Aug. 1936, GFPrin, Box 59, f. 9.
  79. Chetverikov’s cover letter is addressed to the members of the Commission and is dated 20 Sept. 1936. His statement bears the title “O plane raboty Komissii po delu o sochineniiakh professora protoiereia o. Sergiia Bulgakova v nastupaiushchem godu.” GFPrin, Box 59, f. 9.
  80. Chetverikov thanks Florovsky for these words in his letter of 1 Oct. 1936. See GFPrin, Box 15, f. 1.
  81. Letters of 1 Oct. and 1 Nov. 1936 in Ibid.
  82. The preface is dated 2/15 Sept. 1936 and summarizes Florovsky’s conviction that “an Orthodox theologian of our day can find reliable criteria as well as a living source of creative inspiration only in the patristic tradition” (xv).
  83. “Patristics and Modern Theology,” in Procès-Verbaux du Premier Congrès de Théologie Orthodoxe à Athènes, 29 Novembre-6 Décembre 1936, ed. Prof. Hamilcar S. Alivisatos (Athens, 1939), pp. 238-242. On the central role of patristic theology in Florovsky’s entire oeuvre, see George H. Williams, “The Neo-Patristic Synthesis of Georges Florovsky,” in Andrew Blane, ed. Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman, 287-340.
  84. Fr. Bulgakov’s critical comments about what he believes has been an overreliance on patristic authority are sprinkled throughout his works, but are most forcefully expressed in his essay “Dogmat i dogmatika,” in the collection Zhivoe Predanie: Pravoslavie v sovremennosti (Paris, 1937), esp. 12-16, 23-24. The charge that Bulgakov exhibited an unacceptably disparaging attitude toward the Fathers of the Church is one of the major accusations against him in the indictment made by the Church Abroad. See “Opredelenie Arkhiereiskogo Sobora,” 75-78, where several examples are cited. Bulgakov defends his record on this score in Dokladnaia Zapiska, 21-23, but Chetverikov in his review (“O plane raboty,” see Note 80 above) finds the Church Abroad’s charges essentially justified and Bulgakov’s response inadequate (18-22).
  85. Letters of 21 Jan. and 13 Feb. 1937 to Florovsky (GFPrin, Box 15, f. 2), letter to Kseniia Ivanovna of 5 Feb. (GFPrin, Box 56, f. 6).
  86. While the latest dated document produced by the Commission and available at Princeton is marked 14 May 1937 (“Doklad prot. o. Arkhimandrita Kassiana” — GFPrin, Box 15, f. 1), Fr. Chetverikov’s letter of 30 March already speaks of his immense relief at no longer having to “sift through the casuistries of Sophiology” [ryt’sia v ukhishchreniiakh sofiianstva], and the next letter, dated 16 April, makes no more mention of the Commission. (Both in GFPrin, Box 15, f. 2)
  87. “Akt Soveshchaniia Episkopov Pravoslavnykh Russkikh Tserkvei v Zapadnoi Evrope ot 26, 27 i 29 noiabria 1937 g., rassmatrivavshikh bogoslovskie mneniia prot. S. N. Bulgakova o Sv. Sofii, Premudrosti Bozhiei,” in Eikalovich, Delo prot. Sergiia Bulgakova, 33-35
  88. Ibid, p. 35.
  89. Florovsky’s comment in Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 67.
  90. Prot. V. Zen’kovskii, “Moi vstrechi s vydaiushchimisia liud’mi,” Transactions of the Assn. of Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A., XXVI (1994): 26.
  91. See Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 67-68.
  92. See the letter from Dobbie-Bateman of 21 April 1937. GFPrin, Box 15, f. 2.
  93. On Florovsky’s travels out of Paris, see Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 68-78
  94. Evlogii, Put’ moei zhizni, 589, 593. The Florovsky – Bulgakov relationship was presumably the only one in which any conflict could have been possible.
  95. Evlogii, Put’ moei zhizni, 593-4.
  96. Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” 74.
  97. In E.L. Mascall, ed. The Mother of God (London, 1949), 51-63. Reprinted in Georges Florovsky, Creation and Redemption, 171-88. On this point see Priscilla Hunt’s “George Florovsky’s Reading of Muscovite Culture through the Novgorod Sophia Icon” (publication pending).
  98. For example in Bulgakov’s Kupina Neopalimaia (Paris, 1927), 189.
  99. Scottish Journal of Theology 4, no. 1 (1951), 13-28.
  100. The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 5, no. 2 (1960): 119-31; reprinted in Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition, pp. 105-20, 127.
  101. For example in Bulgakov’s Nevesta Agntsa (Paris, 1945), 23.
  102. Studia Patristica 6, no. 4 (1962): 36-57; reprinted in Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History, 39-64, 283-85.
  103. In Bulgakov’s Kupina Neopalimaia, 266-88
  104. The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, ed. Jerald C. Brauer (Philadelphia, 1971), 138-39. Florovsky’s authorship of this unsigned entry is attested by Rev. Winston F. Crum, a former doctoral student of Florovsky’s, who in a letter to the present author states that he had arranged the contact between Florovsky and the editor. Florovsky’s unnatural reticence here may be contrasted with the terse but accurate statement in Puti russkogo bogosloviia to the effect that the teaching of Sophia constitutes the core of Bulgakov’s theology (493).
  105. Letter of 23 June 1975 to Fr. Igor’ Vernik., GFPrin, Box 12, f. 1.
  106. Florovsky is commenting on the sequence of Bulgakov’s books: Kupina Neopalimaia — on the Virgin [1927]; Drug Zhenikha — on John the Baptist [1927]; Lestvitsa Iakovlia — on angels [1929]; followed in 1933 by Agnets Bozhii — on Christ.
  107. On Bulgakov’s close frienship with Pavel Florenskii see Irina B. Rodnianskaia, “S.N. Bulgakov i P.A. Florenskii: K filosofii druzhby,” in Michael Hagemeister and Nina Kauchtschischwili, eds. P.A.Florenskii i kul’tura ego vremeni (Marburg, 1995), 115-27.
  108. Letter of 3 June 1976. GFPrin, Box 12, f. 3. This letter was not included in the selection Ivask published in Vestnik R.Kh.D., no. 130 (1979): 42-52.

3 thoughts on “On the Sophiological Controversy of the 1930s”

  1. In reading over the past years about the Society of Saints Alban and Sergius, seems that Bulgakov wasn’t the only personality interested in “inter-communion” wihtout having to wait for the old, slow Bishops to assent. In fact, I read that intercommunion had been practiced on more than one occasion by the personalities urging it on … dount the “Society” even still exists …
    How it all ended up is illustative for me: Bulgakov is largely forgotten, as is his “Sopianism;” Archbishop Serafim (Sobolev), who wrote on Sophianism, greatly influenced the ROCOR decision to condemn it as heresy, has been Glorified as a Saint of the Church. Unity with the Anglicans/Epsicopalians is only a memory of an era of eccentrics, having been forgotten after the “Philosphers Ship” sunk … all as it should be!

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