Literary influences on secular theology

As the century progressed, "secular" theology continued in its established anti-Scholastic vein, concentrating now with peculiar genius and force on Christology and anthropology. The field of secular theology in the latter part of the century was populated mostly by literary figures, philosophers, and publicists, who presented their theological ideas wrapped in an expressive art form. These included Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), LeoTolstoy (1828-1910), Konstantin Leontyev (1831-1891), and Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), amongst others. The theology underpinning the entirety of Dostoevsky's output is described thus by Solovyov: it is the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ as an internal force, best defined as the power of unconditional love and forgiveness, which in turn becomes the foundation of the external realization of the Kingdom of God on earth. (To an extent, this definition can also be applied to Tolstoy at least until the 1880s.) Dostoevsky takes as his starting point the Slavophiles' idea of freedom and love, considering these to be the distinguishing features of the Orthodox Church. He then gives this idea of freedom and love an absolute religious meaning.

Following the Orthodox ascetic tradition, particularly that of St. Theophan the Recluse, Dostoevsky contends that the disruption of relationships has its origin in self-love. However, where the ascetic tradition understood self-love as separating a person from God, Dostoevsky understands it as disrupting our relationships with other people. This disruption might nevertheless be overcome with the help of a religiously understood but generally accepted idea of freedom and love. This theological line of thought, complemented by an understanding of human suffering as a saving catharsis, is noticeable in his novels Crime and Punishment (1866) and Demons (1870), but most outstandingly in The Brothers Karamazov (1879). Here Ivan Karamazov judges and rejects the ugly parody of sacrament, miracle, and authority, by which the church had raised the human inclination to sin to the level of divinity; however, this apotheosis of human peccability is opposed to the "true" Christianity of truth, freedom, and moral authority as represented by his brother Alyosha. Such a true "inner" Christianity is what will ultimately overcome the injustice of the external world, repairing human relationships with the divine love of Christ.

The conservative Orthodox publicist Konstantin Leontyev responded critically to this positing of absolute love as Christianity's most foundational principle. In his article "A Speech of F. M. Dostoevsky on Pushkin's Day" (1882), Leontyev reproaches Dostoevsky for what he sees as an excessive religious optimism. After all, Dostoevsky's faith in the possibility of achieving heaven on earth seems misguided from a historical perspective. Therefore love cannot be the fundamental principle of Christianity: that surely has to be the fear of God, which is the "beginning of wisdom," which Leontyev interprets as faith. Only fear of God can lead us to humility and obedience, from which true love is born, as both a reward for fear and faith, and a special gift of grace.

The artistic output of Vladimir Solovyov marks a kind of synthesis in the development of Russian religious philosophy in the second half of the nineteenth century. In particular, The Spiritual Basis of Life (1884) is an attempt to consider whether anthropological aspects of religious conversion and salvation have any theological significance. As Solovyov sees it, rebellion against God, mutual rejection, and enslavement to nature have all perverted our lives. Nevertheless, Solovyov sees the kingdom of God as present even now in our lives. This onto-logical as well as anthropological optimism of Solovyov is clearly opposed to the ascetic tradition in Russian theology. In works such as The Justification of the Good and Lectures on Divine Humanity, among others, Solovyov presents us with a world whose true meaning is found in unity. Humanity's particular role is to actualize the Kingdom of God by leading this world to a full comprehension of its own truth, blessing, and beauty. This ultimate organic unity is made possible by the Incarnation through which the spirit-filled body of Christ brought the fullness of God into the corporeal world.

In this way, Solovyov introduces his Christological and ecclesiological herme-neutic, through which he reads world and community. In his scheme, Jesus Christ is known not as the historical moment of salvation, but as a continuing force for the unity of all who are inspired by him. This unity can be seen most objectively in the church, which sanctifies and transfigures the earthly life of the community as it mediates the Christian way of being. However, the originality of Solovyov's conception of absolute unity is that through the actions of just one individual, the whole of creation can be opened up to the possibility of a "free union" with God, for when in true prayer we unite our will with God's, then we become one of the links between the divine and the natural realms. The principle of obedience to God's will is not about observation of the Law, even in its moral and Gospel sense. Rather, obedience should be understood as taking place within the "imagination of Christ," that is, within the correlation of our diverse wills with his will as we stand before his face and are unified with him in a state of divinized humanity. The moment when such unity is achieved is the moment of absolute human freedom which, as Solovyov wrote to Tolstoy, can be defined as victory over the meaning-lessness of death and the chaos of a hostile material life, resulting in the transfiguration and inspiration of worldly existence. The paradigmatic example of such a victory is "Christ is Risen": the first of all the dead so to arise, "the One who shows the way, the Sign for us of an active, striving, improving life."

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