The beginning of the nineteenth century saw a move away from the previous century's very Scholastic approach, in terms of both theological system and writing style. By 1810, the influence of Christian mysticism - so-called internal
Christianity - had spread from Europe to Russia. The effects of this were twofold. Positively, Scripture was now acknowledged as having priority when doing theology - a development which led to the reform of theological education in 1808-1814. More negatively, this pietistic emphasis sparked a new criticism of mysticism in Orthodox theology.
A key figure in Russian theology of the period was Archimandrite Philaret (1783-1867),3 the head of the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy and from 1826 Metropolitan of Moscow. From his earliest writings,4 Philaret pays special attention to the role of Holy Scripture as the sole, clear, and sufficient source for teaching doctrine. By contrast, Holy Tradition even in its totality cannot be regarded as a clear source of doctrine, for it has a human element which should not be mistaken for revelation. Neither in his earliest writings nor in his famous Catechism (1823) does he ever raise the question of the particular role of tradition when it comes to issues of doctrine about which Scripture is silent: he seems to assume that such issues are simply nothing to do with doctrine, and if tradition should claim to establish some fact which is not contained in Scripture, then is cannot be regarded as true. Rather, he lays stress on the importance of applying historical and philological analysis to Scripture in order to arrive at its true meaning, given that everything necessary for salvation (dogmatic as well as moral) is contained in Scripture and, moreover, contained in such a way that it is clearly accessible to every reader.
With this conviction, Philaret took part in a famous early nineteenth-century project: the translation of the Bible into contemporary Russian. This project was initiated by the Russian Biblical Association, who in 1812 modeled themselves on a similar English association with the aim of making the Scriptures accessible to the general populace. This they hoped to do without drawing attention to possible disparities between the biblical text and the confessions of the church. Philaret himself devised the general rules for translation, and personally undertook the translation of the Gospel of St. John.
In 1816, with its rules and objectives finally in place, the Russian Biblical Association began the task of translating the Bible, starting with the New Testament. The first full translations were made available from the beginning of the 1820s. However, these new translations were met with severe criticism, both from celibate priests such as Metropolitan Seraphim and Archimandrite Photy, and from devotees of the Old Russian Language, such as Aleksandr S. Shishkov. The root of these criticisms lay in the fact that the Old Testament was now being translated directly from the Hebrew, and so differed not only from the canonical Slavic translation at certain key points, but also from the Septuagint. In an attempt to stave off such criticism, Philaret had written an introduction to the first contemporary Russian edition of the Book of Psalms (1821-1822) in which he explained these apparent contradictions. However, the critical consensus was that such a discrepancy between Holy Scripture and the Slavic divine service books could only lead astray the church's children. Philaret also had to suffer unfavorable criticism of his 1823 Catechism, whose first edition contained the
Decalogue, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer in Russian alongside the traditional Slavic. Such was the controversy it provoked that in 1824 the Catechism was temporarily withdrawn, and the later editions of 1828 and 1839 were published with considerable alterations.
Underlying such criticisms of the translation project lay a much deeper point of division. The Russian Biblical Association placed a heavy emphasis on the moral and spiritual elements of Christianity, but tended toward a certain indifference when it came to church confessions. However, this position was far from widespread. Even Philaret, supporter of the translation project and widely regarded as the most open-minded of all Russian Church figures of the period, did not go as far as to endorse this yet more "liberal" position, maintaining a certain reserve on the question of the significance for salvation of confessional differences between churches. Hence, in his apologetic treatise, Dialogue between a Believer and a Sceptic on the True Doctrine of the Greco-Russian Church (1816), Philaret writes that even when churches alike confess the fundamental truths of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the expiatory nature of his sacrifice, they cannot automatically be regarded as equally "true." Rather, he describes two classes of church: those which are "clearly veritable," that is, which teach what is true and salvific without any admixture; and those which are "not clearly veritable," that is, which mix true teaching with false human reason. The former category is occupied by the Orthodox Church, while in the latter he places the Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, on the basis that these latter churches do indeed teach much that is true and salvific, Philaret argues that human judgment as to the saving ability of other Christian churches should be suspended until the Final Judgement.
Where Philaret differs from his critics is that he does not regard the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches as flawed on the basis of faulty confessions. Rather, he grounds their "inferiority" in his own distinctively mystical ecclesiology. As he sees it, the history of the church began simultaneously with the history of the world: indeed, the very creation of the world can be regarded as a kind of preparation for the creation of the church, given that the telos of the natural world can be found within God's Kingdom of Virtue. Philaret then goes on to combine the traditional "legal" account of expiation with his idea of redemption as the recreation of a person in the image of the Son of God. To an extent, he separates out the image and the likeness of God:5 the "accidental" image of God possessed by a specific individual is not the same as equality with the "simulacrum," the likeness of God. He supposes that the image of God cannot have been completely lost through the Fall, given that we sinners are not separated absolutely from God and can yet find in ourselves some trace of God's image, preserved as we are in God's love and care. Nevertheless, given his understanding of justification, even when good works are the fruits of faith and virtue they do not in themselves impute any merit to a person and so cannot redeem God's image in us. This dual account of redemption is reflected in Philaret's Catechism, where Christ's death on the cross is presented both as a complete satisfaction of the justice of God, and also as a real victory over sin and death leading to unity with Christ in faith. We participate in the suffering and death of Christ in three ways: through a true, heartfelt faith; through the sacraments in which Christ's suffering and death are made effective for us; and through our crucifixion of the passions of the flesh. In this, Philaret's ideas are close to the ascetic monastic tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church as represented by St. Tikhon Zadonsky, who understood salvation as residing largely in the internal struggle against the passions.
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