Theology in the academy and the input of philosophical anthropology 18801900

The question of what it means to speak of the divine humanity of Christ, and the related question of the love of God as the foundation of theology, also preoccupied the Russian academic tradition. From 1850 to 1880, these two questions were still a marginal consideration, being developed only by such controversial theologians as Aleksandr Bukharev, also known as Archimandrite Theodore but later defrocked. Bukharev was one of the few academic teachers who approached secular religious literature with sympathy - see, for example, his famously enthusiastic letters to Nikolai Gogol, his reviews of Dostoevsky's novels, and the similarity between many of his ideas and those of Solovyov.

However, by the 1880s, this marginal interest in the love of God as the foundation for theology had become mainstream. To a certain extent this shift reflected Western European disputes about expiation and salvation under the influence of German liberalism. The year 1880 heralded the appearance of Divine Love by A. D. Belyaev (1852-1919), in which these new, existentially oriented methodological principles are neatly systematized for the first time. In this work, Belyaev demonstrates how to build a dogmatics founded on the principle of love, both as an a priori divine attribute and as the basis of all divine actions.

This reformulated view of divine "home-building" (God making his home on earth) as a matter of divine love leads to a profound reinterpretation of the essence of the saving work of Christ. Now all the actions of the Incarnate God acquire a salvific character: incarnation, life, and suffering, as well as death. Hence Jesus' death should be regarded merely as the final moment in the salvation process, and not as containing the essence of salvation in itself - a position which directly contradicts the Russian theological tradition of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To put it another way, the death of Jesus Christ gives his life its primary meaning, but not its exclusive meaning. Belyaev even goes as far as to assert that his death would not be a saving death were it not for the public activity of his life, although one should also say that his life without this death would have left the process of salvation unfinished. Although he does not specifically deny Jesus' death as the moment of satisfaction and reconciliation, he does criticize the "legal" character of this formulation, because as he sees it, where there is love, there cannot also be formal legal accounts and requitals. Rather, adoption and regeneration are effected through Jesus' life of complete obedience to the Father. Thus the incarnation as a whole becomes the greatest instance of divine love, and not just Christ's death, which should be understood as one example of that obedience.

Divine Love was strongly criticized in 1894 by the priest Pavel Y. Svetlov for underestimating the meaning of Christ's death on the cross, and also for its apparent borrowings from German religious literature. Svetlov's dissertation, The Meaning of the Cross in the Matter of Christ, prepared in 1888-1892 and published in 1893, does in fact include some elements of this new "moral" approach, although he affirms the older understanding of the cross of Christ as the actual moment of expiation and satisfaction. Svetlov likewise considers God as love, but asserts that the organic unity within God of love and justice has its paradigmatic realization in this actual moment of "legal" love - as opposed to Belyaev's treatment of love as a divine attribute. Svetlov maintains the centrality of the cross as redemptive, for he considers that not only does truth combine with love, but it also has its own direct and insistent demand.

In an attempt to avoid the extremes of both the legal and moral approaches, Svetlov divides the objective and subjective aspects of expiation. The former he regards as the reconciliation of a person with God through the satisfaction of God's truth. This is essentially a "negative" process, in that it consists of the elimination of obstacles to the union of God and humanity. By contrast, the subjective aspect consists of moral regeneration, when a person participates in the expiatory sufferings of the Christ by means of the Eucharist and by "taking up the cross" in a spiritual sense. Thus justification and sanctification are merged by Svetlov, who understands them not as a result of expiation, but as part of the process.

Despite this treatment of moral regeneration, Svetlov still accords to the death of Christ on the cross an essential role in expiation, thus differentiating him from the more "extreme" moral accounts of redemption which were being developed at the turn of the next century. These moral theories were championed particularly by Archimandrite Sergius (Stargorodsky, 1867-1944), whose 1895 Master's dissertation, The Orthodox Teaching of Salvation, was approved, even though it denied completely that expiation should be understood as satisfaction of God's justice. Having begun in the wrong place, he argued, Western theologians then proceeded to work out in a wrong "legal" fashion the details of the problem of justification and merits. This entirely wrong conception of justification has its roots in human self-love, which thirsts for a posthumous reward while simultaneously fearing retribution; and so we submit to the divine will only out of a wholly negative combination of fear and desire for profit.

By contrast, Sergius does not regard God's justice as being somehow opposed to love. Rather, God's justice consists in his presenting to humanity two alternative afterlife destinations, these being decided on the basis of a person's voluntarily chosen way of life. Sergius sees the essence of a true Orthodox life as consisting in a love which moves beyond the boundaries of self, and denies self for the sake of a greater good. Of course, this presupposes the free following of Jesus Christ out of a desire for eternal life in Him - which should not be regarded as a "reward," but as an inner experience of the Kingdom in all its reality. In this way we are purified from the pollution of sin and granted knowledge of and communion with God as we rise to eternal life. In other words, the work of Christ consists in how through grace he has liberated us from our slavery to sin to follow his practical example of repudiating those desires which turn us from God and deprive us of communion with him. The image of God is recreated in us through faith and the sacraments, by means of which we strive to achieve the likeness of God. Meanwhile, being deprived of the bliss of communication with God and excluded from the divine life is punishment enough for the sinner.

Another adherent of this moral theory of redemption was Mikhail Tareev, a teacher of moral theology in Moscow Theological Academy. The theory forms the foundation of Tareev's kenotic theology, as outlined in The Disparagement of Our God, Jesus the Christ (1901), and The Foundations of Christianity (1908-1916). However, this moral theory was not acknowledged by all theologians, and was strongly criticized by a number of representatives of the academic tradition. In his course on dogmatics and in Talks on the Suffering of our God, Jesus the Christ, Archbishop Philaret Gumilyovsky criticized the Socinians7 and other representatives of liberal theology, and underscored the expiatory meaning of Christ's death on the cross as the moment of satisfaction, for otherwise the eternal and inviolable order of divine righteousness would be destroyed.

More detailed criticism of the moral theory of redemption, and a corresponding revival of the legal theory, can be found in Silvestr's course on dogmatics; in E. P. Akvilonov's book, On the Saviour and Salvation (1899); and in the works of N. P. Malinovsky, including his 1906 treatise, On the Saviour-God: A Dogmatic Essay. These critics are particularly anxious to understand justice as a real and distinguishable divine attribute, one which is not subsumed by the attribute of love but is conjoined to it. They are further concerned to stress the distinct reality of sin, which cannot be overcome simply by learning the truth or by Christ's example of a perfect life. Therefore there must be an objective restoration of the communion between God and humanity, which was destroyed by sin. This restoration is impossible without the death of Christ, which once and for all satisfied the divine justice, reconciling God and humanity and transfiguring our moral state. In other words, here too the dual objective and subjective aspects of atonement are drawn out, just as in the works of Svetlov.

In an attempt to answer these criticisms, Victor Ivanovich Nesmelov (1863193 7), a teacher at Kazan Theological Academy, advanced an alternative moral account of expiation, though worked out somewhat in parallel with the ideas of Sergius. To start off, he recategorized dogmatics under anthropology as opposed to patristic scholarship. His point was that references to Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition were ineffective, as they necessarily presupposed a prior belief in the truth of Christianity, whereas in his opinion "the only way to arrive at universal agreement is through a scientific account of the problem of humanity." In his two-volume treatise, The Science of Man (1899-1906), Nesmelov tackles St. Theophan's now-traditional conception of the Fall, arguing that the Fall was in fact nothing more than a mistake of Adam's which he made while still in an "infantile" spiritual state, in which condition a person was absolutely bound to offend God and so lose his or her moral freedom. Because humanity fell, so all creation has lost its rational purpose. Nevertheless, humanity did not change in its essential nature, but only as the elements of that nature are correlated. Clearly, we humans have lost neither mind nor rationality nor free will; but, rather, a fateful contradiction between body and spirit has appeared, which puts us in an abnormal relationship with God and the world. On this basis, Nesmelov suggests that the "legal" understanding of salvation supposes merely the forgiveness of sin, whereas if salvation is truly to be achieved, then the complete elimination of sin is required.

Unlike other adherents of the moral theory of expiation, Nesmelov places a special emphasis on the death of Christ as an act of divine self-sacrifice. While he does not see this as a payment for human sins, he does regard it objectively as the only way in which the sins of the world might be purified. In other words, while the cross does not actually save a sinner from death, it does give the sinner a real chance to achieve salvation. This is because the death of Christ is the means by which the sinner is returned to the moment of Adam's creation, equally capable now of both good and evil. In the light of the incarnation, everyone is called to salvation and every person is "necessarily a member of the eternal Body of Christ." This becomes the basis for Nesmelov's argument for universal salvation.

Nesmelov's moral theory of expiation lies at the beginning of the Russian existentialist movement, and so became a considerable influence on Nikolai A. Berdyaev and the ideas of the so-called New Religious Mind school. Thus, right at the beginning of the twentieth century, the dispute over expiation theory does not quieten down, but on the contrary, positions become more radical. Criticisms of the moral theory of redemption gain ground through the works of E. A. Budrin,

D. Dobrosmyslov, P. Levitov, M. Vishnetsky, and V. Betkovsky; while adherents of the moral theory include the priest N. V. Petrov, P. P. Ponomaryov, Archpriest A. Tuberovsky, Archimandrite Ilarion, and Metropolitan Anthony. Through these figures, the dispute over expiation went beyond the limits of nineteenth-century Russia and was continued through the theology of the Russian emigration.

The moral theory of redemption, together with its accompanying "secular" variation on the theme of religious community, was sharply criticized by the ascetic monastic tradition. Yet more criticism was directed at Leo Tolstoy, who was seen as moving beyond the scope of Christianity altogether, in that he denied the incarnation and regarded Christ as a mere moral example, thus nullifying the need for any theory of expiation at all. In particular, one Father John Kronshtadsky (1829-1908, canonized 1988) objected most strenuously to the activity and writings of Tolstoy. In his book, My Life in Christ, Kronshtadsky explores the topic of the passions as the source of sin, and regards the essence of the Christian life as an unending struggle against them with the help of the grace of God. While Kronshtadsky holds to the legal concept of expiation, he concentrates on arguing that the purification, sanctification, strengthening, and renewal of an individual simply are not possible in terms of the realization of an ideal, but are made possible only through the sacraments of the church. In his opinion, church liturgy was a sign of the immeasurable love of God for the whole of humanity, and a sign too of our miraculous exaltation to Godlike status through the incarnation of the Son.

Such an accent on the church and the sacramentality of the liturgical life is the antithesis of nineteenth-century "secular" theology's approach. However, the ever-strengthening conjunction of existentialism and "scientific" anthropology in the religious thought of Dostoevsky, Solovyov, and other representatives of Russia's "religious renaissance" meant that traditional theology and ecclesiol-ogy simply had to be reconsidered. Some of the most radical representatives of this "religious renaissance," such as Berdyaev, rejected the dogmatic "immobility of the Church," considering this to be symptomatic of spiritual death; they rejected also the narrowness of historical Christianity as a religion whose only real concern was the afterlife approached through an ascetic ideal. Others such as Bulgakov and P. A. Florensky were not quite so radical, but spoke nevertheless of the necessity of historical progress and spiritual creativity in the church. The church's mission, they argued, was to embrace the whole sphere of culture, and not to confine itself merely to eucharistic or soteriological concerns.

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  • stefan
    How does theology influence philosophical anthropology?
    3 months ago

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