The Transitional Period 18561867

With the death of Protosov in 1856, and in the previous year that of his patron, Nicholas I, Russian theology began to change once again in style, approach, and methods of narration. The period from 1856 to 1867 can be regarded as transitional, when "Protosov" tendencies in academic theology were still strong, but changes were becoming not only more noticeable but also more necessary. The first sign of the new regime was the recommencement in 1858 of the project of translating the Bible into contemporary Russian, a task which was finally finished in 1876. This took place mostly under the influence of Metropolitan Philaret, who in 1845 presented a paper to the Holy Synod entitled On Dogmatic Dignity: Preserving the Greek Language of the Seventy Interpreters, and the Slavic Translations of Holy Scripture. In this paper, not finally published until 1858, Philaret insists that respect for the Septuagint should not exclude the interpretation of Scripture according to the Hebrew, for the Hebrew text must also be given full dogmatic dignity.

This period also saw major changes in the program of teaching at seminaries. Peter the Grave's textbook was removed from seminary syllabuses in 1860-1862, while Patristic courses were shortened. Then, in the 1860s-1870s, the task of translating the Old Testament into modern Russian was begun, even though the so-called Russian Septuagint did not coincide completely with the Greek or with the Slavic.

One of those who opposed the translation of the Bible from the Hebrew was St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894, canonized 1988). However, Theophan is more widely known as a representative of the ascetic monastic tradition, which sharply criticized the spread of materialist and positivist tendencies in Russian society. In his principal though unfinished book, An Outline of Christian Moral Teaching, Theophan offers a highly psychological description of the Christian life journey. He does not view the Christian life as in any way a "natural" life, for the nature of fallen humanity is more inclined to evil than to good, and not even free will and a desire for the good can change that. Thus, Theophan speaks of the necessity of grace to awaken us from what he describes as a "sinful dream." Sin shrouds a person in blindness, apathy, and carelessness; nevertheless, the torments of conscience can make a person determined to devote him or herself to God. This is the beginning of the Christian life journey, which Theophan defines as an internal struggle against the self and the natural passions.

As St. Theophan describes it, the first stage - that of turning to God - purifies the human spirit only; meanwhile, the body and soul remain slaves to natural passions, the persistence of which means that despite conversion, the struggle against the self continues almost uninterrupted. The source of this internal struggle is the ontological difference between the human spirit and the phenomenological world to which the flesh (defined as body and soul) belongs. But when God breathes a spirit into an individual, this is what raises him or her above mere nature into a realm which cannot be entered by nature. This spiritual existence is now manifested by holy passions, such as fear of God, conscience, and the will to strive toward God. This three-part typology of human nature is somewhat atypical of Russian theology in general, which usually considered the human person as a two-part structure consisting of body and soul, with "spirit" understood as the highest part of the soul. This was the view of St. Ignatius as well as the majority of dogmatists. Theophan, by contrast, tended to distinguish the embodied and mortal world of the passions from the bodiless and immortal human spirit. The spirit alone is created in the image of God and is called to return to God and restore human nature to its unfallen state. Thus, according to Theophan, fallen humanity is restored first of all in the spirit, which then returns to us power over the soul and the body, purifying them both from sinful passions.

As it happens, both St. Ignatius and St. Theophan had a very similar understanding of the Christian journey as an internal and practical struggle against the passions, victory to be accomplished by means of spiritual works and prayer. Likewise, they both considered repudiation of the world and the forgetting of self to be conditions of spiritual victory. However, they were sharply divided in their understanding of the ontological differences between the spiritual and natural realms, coming at the question from two entirely different angles. St. Ignatius' brand of spiritual mysticism emphasized the possibility of direct spiritual communication with God even from within the natural world. By contrast, St. Theophan's outlook was derived from a "natural science" materialism, stressing as he did the "thing-ness" of the phenomenological world and its absolute separation from the spiritual realm.

St. Theophan's theology is characterized by his distinctive combination of traditional Orthodox ascetics with a re-worked "European" psychology, in particular the monadic philosophy of Gottfried Leibnitz. However, more critical voices where materialism, German rationalism, and Protestant historical criticism were concerned led to the production of a number of important academic treatises, among them several by another Philaret, the Archbishop Philaret Gumilyovsky (1805-1866). In Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, published in 1864 but composed of lectures from the latter half of the 1830s, Philaret Gumilyovsky proposes that dogma is an unalterable truth derived directly from Holy Scripture and subsequently worked out in Holy Tradition, which acts as a kind of theological arbitrator. Tradition should, of course, be tested against Scripture and repudiated unconditionally where contradictions arise. However, the witness of tradition should be joined to that of Scripture, particularly where the meaning of the words of Scripture is subject to dispute. In the three-volume Historical Teachings of the Church Fathers (1859), Philaret Gumilyovsky asserts that the Holy Fathers explain the Word of God in a true sense, and thus guard against false teachings. However, given that the Holy Fathers, unlike the apostles, are subject to the Zeitgeist and so can be mistaken, they must be read against the Word of God in Scripture as the contemporary church understands it.

In this way Philaret Gumilyovsky formulated a conception of the harmonious combination of Scripture and tradition which has been the general outlook of Russian theology since the 1860s. As a result, the main focus ever since has been on the historical development of church and dogma, which is understood as the condition both for an authentic understanding of Scripture and for the very existence of the arbitrator, tradition. Importantly, Philaret Gumilyovsky does not consider tradition to be absolute, unchangeable, and self-verifying. Rather, he introduces an element of historical analysis into his dogmatic teachings, supposing that the church did not present the dogmas of faith in an equally complete way in all eras, but that it always did adapt them somewhat to the needs of believers in a particular historical context. However, Philaret Gumilyovsky does not consider such shifts in dogma to be especially significant, arguing that they affect only the subjective and human aspect of dogma and leave the divine aspect untouched.

These shifts in theological emphases were reflected in new charters drawn up for seminaries in 1867, and for academies in 1869, both of which the other Philaret (Drozdov), the by-now frail Metropolitan of Moscow, helped prepare. These new charters set out a methodological reform in Orthodox dogmatics, placing them side by side with the study of the history of dogma. This reform marks a transition from the earlier Scholastic "systems" of theology to historical analysis -a move which had been anticipated to some extent by Western European historical criticism and the ideas of the Slavophiles. Now in St. Petersburg Theological Academy could be found a teacher such as A. L. Katansky (1836-1919), who in his article "On the Historical Narration of Dogmas" (1871) proposed that although dogmas reveal an unchangeable truth, nevertheless the historic formulations and terminology of the church can be changed, given that not even the most perfect form of words can correlate exactly with the divine idea.

Even more instructive in respect of methodology is the book Dogmatics by Archimandrite Silvestr (1828-1908). Silvestr follows strictly the usual historical and methodological approach, sticking to the same general categories of God in relation to God' self and God in relation to the world. Like his predecessors, Silvestr asserts the necessity of complementing Holy Scripture with Holy Tradition on such issues on which Scripture is silent. If this is done within the context of the governance of the church, then these dogmas, far from being "dead," contain within their own essence the dialectic that exists between their absolute and eternal content and their historically conditioned form. Dogma, then, is more even than the indisputable and unchangeable rule of faith: it is, crucially, the beginning of a true spiritual life journey as opposed to dry Scholastic immobility.

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