Tag Archives: Sergius Bulgakov

Sergei Bulgakov and the Economics of Tradition

by Daniel Nicholas | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Written in 1912, Sergei Bulgakov’s Philosophy of Economy: The World as Household surprises in its embrace of a certain kind of materialism. Giving credit largely to the heavyweights of the German idealist tradition with an occasional nod to Marx, it quickly becomes evident that this materialism is rooted in a sense of embodied action and historical metamorphosis that might have characterized some of the revolutionary politics of the earlier half of the nineteenth century. Eschewing the armchair philosophizing of post-Kantian idealism and relying especially upon Schelling in order to articulate a yet highly original vision of the relation forged between the subject and the object through purposive activity, Bulgakov’s philosophy of economy can offer us some surprising insights toward developing an understanding of tradition as a living process.

Organicist thinking with regard to tradition and ecclesiology is of course nothing new. The romanticist reaction against the assertoric dogmatism of medieval ecclesiology is well documented in the work of Möhler, Khomiakov, and, to some extent, John Henry Newman. But how many of these organicist theories were so bold as to consider a theory of metamorphosis under the aspect of the human being as a creature of basically economic activity, who realizes itself through a complex interplay of pragmatist models and idealist projections in the vivification (or resurrection) of dead mechanism through a living process? Herein lies Bulgakov’s special relevance for us today.

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Bulgakov’s Theological Defense of Western Religious Art
An Orthodox Minority Report

by Roberto J. De La Noval | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Hans Holbein, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb

“Since the time of the Renaissance, the religious painting of the West has been one massive untruth.” So wrote Fr. Pavel Florensky in his Iconostasis, one of the most important works of 20th century Orthodox iconology. The heart of Western religious painting’s “untruth” was its naturalism, understood as the attempt to depict figures and scenes in as life-like a manner as possible. As Evan Freeman has shown, theological critique of Western naturalism was a staple of late 19th and early 20th century Orthodox reflections on the icon that elevated Eastern iconography in order to diminish Western religious art.

However, if we turn to the theological reflections on art offered by Florensky’s erstwhile disciple, Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, we find an outlier to this dominant trend. For in the course of his lengthy 1930 essay Icons and Their Veneration, Bulgakov does not shy away from linking, linguistically and so also conceptually, artistic production as a whole with the idea of the icon, so as to ground his broader argument that the condition for the possibility of the theological icon lies in the fundamental iconicity of the cosmos, in the latter’s transparency to the ideal proto-images of being that reside in the mind of God and that grant actuality to the flesh of the world. Thus all art that succeeds in representing these ‘proto-images’ is iconic, though not every piece of religious art is a theological icon. Still, Bulgakov’s argument here places Western religious art and Eastern icons on a spectrum together, thereby relativizing the—nonetheless real—distinction between them.

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Father Sergius Bulgakov: Personhood, Inequality, and Economics

by Fr. Robert M. Arida | български | Ελληνικά | ქართული | Русский | Српски

Fr. Sergius Bulgakov

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie writes:

Our society was built on the racial segmentation of personhood. Some people were full humans, guaranteed non-enslavement, secured from expropriation and given the protection of law, and some people – blacks, Natives and other nonwhites – were not. That unequal distribution of personhood was an economic reality as well. It shaped your access to employment and capital; determined whether you would be doomed to the margins of labor or given access to its elevated ranks; marked who might share in the bounty of capitalist production and who would most likely be cast out as disposable. (“Beyond ‘White Fragility’“)

These words are a vivid backdrop for reflecting on the economics of Father Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944). They provide the social parameters for appreciating the insights of one of the most profound and creative Orthodox theologians of the 20th century. While Bulgakov does not pretend to solve the problem of poverty, he offers a prophetic voice for how the Church can address, in an industrialized context, the social structures that foster it. He extends the work of previous pastor theologians who recognized that social structures perpetuate social and economic disparity.

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The Soviet Genealogy of “Orthodox Morality”

by Regula Zwahlen

The term “Orthodox morality”—in combination with “traditional values”—is unquestionably a neologism. A passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” gets right to the point of Aristotle Papanikolaou’s recent essay on Public Orthodoxy: “We need a critique of moral values, the value of these values is […] to be called into question—and for this purpose a knowledge is necessary of the conditions and circumstances out of which these values grew, and under which they experienced their evolution and their distortion.” One does not have to agree with Nietzsche’s conclusions in order to agree on the validity of his endeavor, especially if one aims, like Papanikolaou, to answer contemporary questions without threatening the internal coherency of the tradition. On that note, I would like to draw the attention to the fact that in Russia, the term “Orthodox morality” has not only a modern, but also a Soviet ring to it.

As for its “modern ring,” one of the commonplaces about Russian thought in general is its “concentration on ethical problems.” According to the Slavophile Alexei Khomiakov, “Russia should be either the most moral, that is the most Christian of all human societies, or nothing,” and the concept of ethics as the cornerstone of Russian mentality was shared by the “Westerners” and most Russian philosophers of the Silver Age. Russian literature is famous for treating moral questions, and Dostoevsky has been praised for having anticipated Nietzsche: “If God does not exist everything is permitted” Continue reading