Theology in the academy The Protosov period

With the death of Alexander I (November 19, 1825), the era of the Russian Biblical Association came to an end: with the loss of the Tsar's patronage, the group had to give up the project, and disbanded in the spring of 1826. Even so, there were a number of attempts to continue the task of translation up until at least the mid-1850s: for example, by Archimandrite Makarius.6 However, these attempts received little support.

Now in the period 1825-1838, some interesting new theological tendencies began to appear. The significance of natural revelation became much reduced, and was no longer separated from divine revelation as it had been, for example, in the Preface to Philaret's Catechism (which Preface was also later removed). Instead, attention was now directed to the dogmatic meaning of Holy Tradition and the church. In the 1838 dogmatics of the Archpriest P. Ternovsky, for example, while Scripture is upheld as the principal source of doctrinal knowledge, there is also a suggestion that tradition might be a complementary source.

These new theological tendencies come into their own from the second half of the 1830s to the beginning of the 1850s. This was the period when Count Nikolai A. Protasov (1799-1855), the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, influenced considerably the development of the Russian Church. At his initiative, from the late 1830s to the early 1840s, theological seminaries began to teach Orthodox Confession by Peter the Grave, written in the 1640s and translated into Russian in 1838, as a criterion of orthodoxy to measure the truth of various alternative catechisms - Philaret's included. Thus, to Philaret's original Catechism were added sections about predestination, Holy Tradition, and church commandments. (Philaret objected actively to the last of these and replaced them with the so-called Commandments of Bliss.) In addition, included in the Royal and Patriarchal Document on the Foundation of the Holy Synod (1838) was a "Letter from Eastern Patriarchs Concerning Orthodox Beliefs," intended as a leading dogmatic statement. Then a number of new courses were introduced at theological seminaries, beginning with the theology and history of the church fathers. Further developments included the introduction of a course on the Divine Service books, a reduction in the studying of ancient languages, and the withdrawing altogether of Hebrew from the required syllabus. This gave rise in the spring of 1842 to a famous "test case," that of Archpriest G. P. Pavlovsky. Pavlovsky was a teacher of Hebrew at St. Petersburg Theological Academy who insisted on his students reading and translating the Old Testament from the Hebrew original and from that alone. When Pavlovsky had to present a written explanation of the meaning and purpose of translation, a serious scandal resulted. In an internal memorandum to Nicholas I, dated November 14, 1842, Count Protasov insisted that the meaning of Holy Scripture should be explained from the Septuagint only, as this was the text used by the Apostles and by the Holy Fathers.

This memorandum clearly illustrates the attitudes of the so-called Protasov period (1836-1855). Protasov writes of his determination to "exterminate" the Protestant influence which he sees as having penetrated deep into Russian theology and church ever since the time of Peter the Great (1672-1725). He contends that Scripture can in no way be regarded as self-interpreting, and warns against a scientific approach which "kills the soul by abusing Holy Scripture" by subjecting it to historic, philological, or philosophical research. He demands instead that moral theology be taught absolutely according to the church commandments as given in Peter the Grave's Orthodox Confession.

In keeping with these ideals, Protasov oversaw in 1848 the introduction to the academies of Dogmatic Theology, a coursebook by Archimandrite Anthony (1815-1879). This was initially intended to be used as a key coursebook for theological academies, but was shortly afterward replaced by the more basic Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (1849-1853), written by another Archimandrite Makarius, otherwise known as Mikhail Petrovich Bulgakov (1816-1882). However, already in Anthony's coursebook, Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are named together as sources of theological truth. What is more, they are named as equal sources, having one and the same divine origin and thus holding the same degree of dignity. On this basis, Orthodoxy can speak about the twofold nature of Revelation: "written" (Scripture) and "oral" (tradition), both of which are entirely complementary and interdependent. So tradition is necessary not only for interpreting correctly the truths of Scripture, but also for explaining those truths which are either not set out clearly in Scripture or not actually mentioned at all. This particularly applies to the rites of the church. In another famous work, An Introduction to Orthodox Theology (1855), Makarius demonstrates further how tradition is not only essential to the interpretation of Scripture, but also necessary proof of its inspiration and authenticity.

For all the shift in emphasis, Makarius' dogmatic system still shares something with his predecessors, in that he too agrees that reason should be excluded as an independent source of the knowledge of God. Reason is judged as being incapable of serving as the supreme judge of theological truths: that role Makarius assigns to the church as the keeper and transmitter of revelation. In contrast to very fallible human reason, the church possesses absolute infallibility as a result of its divine origin and the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit. In other words, where the school of Theophan Prokopovich assigned ultimate authority to Scripture, Makarius now locates that authority in the church: in his Introduction, he presents the "infallibility of the hierarchy" (the church fathers as a whole) as the highest theological authority. This is a major reconsideration of the Prokopovich school of thought, which had insisted upon the all-sufficiency of Scripture and the different origins of Scripture (divine) and tradition (human).

In summary, the major new themes taking us into the second half of the nineteenth century are the duality of revelation, the infallibility of the church as guardian of that revelation, and the insufficiency of reason. Other aspects of the Prokopovich school were also subject to reinterpretation in this period, although perhaps not to the same extent as the thesis concerning the all-sufficiency of Scripture. In particular, the doctrines of the Fall, expiation, and justification were reconsidered, with the doctrine of the imago dei undergoing a comprehensive revision. Anthony and Makarius regarded the image of God as being reflected in the very essence of the human soul, in its rationality and its freedom - but they separated out from that the "simulacrum," the likeness of God, which can only be attained through the improvement of one's human capacities, the rightful use of reason, and chastity of the will. (Prokopovich himself was not averse to this explanation of human nature, though he tended not to separate out the image of God from the likeness.) Now the image of God is understood as being gifted to an individual at the same moment as the creation of the soul, while the likeness is more the result of a process of sanctification. It follows then that the first humans were created perfect and innocent, reflecting God's image in their souls, but even they did not yet possess the likeness of God. Nevertheless, they were entirely capable under their own strength of growing in virtue until they should become as perfect-in-likeness as their Prototype. The Fall, then, meant the interruption of this process toward actual perfection-in-likeness. However, even if the possibility of attaining likeness to God has been lost, the image of God in the individual soul has not been lost finally, but has only been darkened. For a fallen person has lost neither mind, nor the knowledge of the difference between good and evil, nor the capacity (however restricted) for spiritual kindness, nor freedom of will. Still possessing all these things, fallen individuals are yet capable of recreating the likeness of God in themselves - and this is where the new theology departed radically from that of Theophan Prokopovich.

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