Ways of Russian Theology

The St. Petersburg Revoltuion

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4. The St. Petersburg Revoltuion.

The Character of the Petrine Reforms.

Reform of the church was not an incidental episode in Peter's system of reforms. The opposite is the case. Church reform constituted the principal and the most consequential reform in the general economy of the epoch: a powerful and acute experiment in state-imposed secularization. As Golubinskii once noted, “[it was] so to speak a transfer from the West of the heresy of state and custom.” The experiment succeeded. Herein lies the full meaning, novelty, incisiveness, and irreversibility of the Petrine reform. Of course, Peter had “predecessors,” and the reform was in “preparation” prior to his reign. Such “preparation,” however, is hardly commensurate with the actual reform. Moreover, Peter scarcely resembles those who came before him. The dissimilarity is not confined to temperament or to the fact that Peter “turned to the West.” He was neither the first nor the only westerner in Muscovy at the end of the seventeenth century. Muscovite Russia stirred and turned toward the West much earlier. In Moscow Peter encountered an entire generation reared and educated in thoughts about the West, if not in Western thinking. He also found a firmly settled colony of Kievan and “Lithuanian” emigrants and scholars, and in this milieu he discovered an initial sympathy toward his cultural enterprises. What is innovative in this Petrine reform is not westernization but secularization.

In this sense, Peter's reform was not only a turning point, but a revolution. “He produced an actual metamorphosis or transformation in Russia,” as one contemporary put it. Such is the way in which the reform was conceived, accepted, and experienced. Peter wanted a break. He had the psychology of a revolutionary and was inclined to exaggerate anything new. He wanted everything to be refurbished and altered until it passed beyond all recognition. He habitually thought (and taught others to think) about the present as a counterpoint to the past. He created and inculcated a revolutionary psychology. The great and genuine Russian schism began with Peter. The schism occurred between church and state, not between the government and the people (as the Slavophiles believed). A certain polarization took place in Russia's spiritual life. In the tension between the twin anchor points — secular life and ecclesiastical life — the Russian spirit stretched and strained to the utmost. Peter's reform signified a displacement or even a rupture in Russia's spiritual depths.

State authority underwent an alteration in its perception of itself and in its self-definition. The state affirmed its own self-satisfaction and confirmed its own sovereign self-sufficiency. And in the name of such primacy and sovereignty, the state not only demanded obedience from the church as well as its subordination, but also sought some way to absorb and include the church within itself; to introduce and incorporate the church within the structure and composition of the state system and routine. The state denied the independence of the church's rights and power, while the very thought of church autonomy was denounced and condemned as “popery.” The state affirmed itself as the sole, unconditional, and all-encompassing source of every power and piece of legislation as well as of every deed or creative act. [...].

The acts of the ecumenical councils were also to be employed. Moreover, modern books by non-Orthodox authors could be used on the unswerving condition that Scripture and patristic tradition provide confirmational testimony in the exposition of even those dogmas where no direct disagreement between Orthodox and “non-Orthodox” exists. “However, their arguments are not to be believed lightly, but shall be examined to determine if there is such a phrase in the Scriptures or in the patristic books, and whether it has the same meaning as they assign.” Of course Feofan understood “non-Orthodox” to mean “Romanists” and all of his warnings are directed against “Roman” theology. “And a misfortune it is that these gentlemen scholars [panove shkoliariki] cannot even hear papal tidbits without exalting them to be infallible.”

Feofan himself profusely and sedulously used “modern” and “non-Orthodox” books, but these were Protestant books. His theological lectures most closely approximate those of Polanus von Polansdorf, the Reformation theologian from Basel.16 One frequently detects the use of Johann Gerhard's compendium Loci communes theologici (first edition Jena, 1610-1622). 17 In the section on the Holy Spirit, Feofan does little but repeat Adam Zernikav. 18 Bellarmine's Disputationes 19 was always ready at his fingertips and not simply to be refuted.

Feofan must be termed an epigon, but he was not a compiler. He fully commanded his material, reworking it and adapting it to his purpose. A well educated man, he moved freely in the contemporary theological literature, especially Protestant writings. He had personal contacts with German theologians. And. it must immediately be added that Feofan did not simply borrow from seventeenth century Protestant scholasticism, he belonged to it. His writings fit integrally into the history of German Reformation theology. If the title of Russian bishop had not appeared on Feofan's “treatises,” it would have been most natural to imagine they were written by a professor of some Protestant theological faculty. These books are saturated with a western Reformation spirit. Such a spirit can be detected through out in his turn of mind and choice of words. Feofan stands forth not as a westerner, but as a western man, a foreigner. It is not an accident that he felt more at home with foreigners, foreign pastors, and learned German scholars at the Academy of Sciences. 20 He viewed the Orthodox world as an outsider and imagined it to be a duplicate of Rome. He simply did not experience Orthodoxy, absorbed as he was in western disputes. In those debates he remained to the end allied with the Protestants.

Strictly speaking, Feofan's theological system contained no instruction on the church. The definition of the church which he provides is wholly insufficient.

God desired to unite His faithful, who were established in Christ, as a civil society or republic, which is called the Church — in quadam certum republicam seu civitatem compingere, quae dicitur ecclesia — so that they might better know themselves, give mutual assistance, rejoice, and with God's aid defend themselves against their enemies.

Feofan neither experienced nor noticed the mystical reality of the church. For him the church was merely a union for Christian mutual assistance and identity of outlook. Such an attitude makes comprehensible his entire ecclesiastical-political program and activity.

Feofan begins his system with a treatise on Scripture as the impeccable and wholly self-sufficient primary source of religious instruction. In doing so, he closely follows Gerhard's theological system, whose section on the Scriptures practically replaces the section on the church. Feofan ardently inveighs against Roman Catholic authors, while insisting on the completeness and self-sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture fully contains and utterly exhausts the entirety of all necessary truths and beliefs. In theology, and in faith itself, only Scripture is principium cognoscendi. Scripture alone, as the Word of God, possesses authority. Human thoughts and reflections can achieve no greater force than that of theses or “arguments” and certainly cannot become a standard of “authority.” Scriptures are subject to exegesis and analysis. Rather than lower the level of reliability through auxiliary and human commentaries, the most promising method is to use Scripture to interpret itself. The ecumenical councils possess a subordinate right to provide interpretation. Even the consensus patrum is merely humanium testimonium as far as Feofan is concerned. Such testimony represents only an historical witness about the past, about the opinions of the church in a given epoch. Feofan reduces the theologian's function to juxtaposing and arranging texts. In this sense, following his western teachers Feofan speaks of theology's “formal” character and, meaning. For all of his distaste for Roman Catholic “scholasticism,” Feofan, like the majority of Protestant theologians during the seventeenth century and earlier (beginning with Melanchthon), remained a scholastic. Despite his great familiarity with “modern” philosophy (he read Descartes, Bacon, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Wolff), Feofan was much closer to Francis Suarez, 21 who had so many Protestant successors. At no point did Feofan leave that entrancing sphere of western academic theological polemic which fossilized the whole tragic problematics of the Reformation debates.

Among Feofan's special “treatises,” numbers seven and eight dealing with man innocent and fallen are particularly important and interesting. Feofan wrote another treatise in Russian on this same theme entitled The Dispute of Peter and Pau1 on the Unbearable Yoke. 22 Feofan's teaching about justification in this pamphlet served as the first opportunity for his opponents to speak about his “points contrary to the church,” his corruption by “the poison of Calvinism” and his introduction of Reformation subtleties into the Russian world. Such reproaches and suspicions were fully justified. Feofan proceeded from the strictest anthropological permission which explains his tendency as a young man to completely discount any human activity in the process of salvation. Therefore, he limited the significance of theological reflection. Man had been broken and reviled by falling into sin; he had been imprisoned and entangled by sin. Will itself had been incarcerated and deprived of strength. Feofan understood “justification” as a juridical concept — justificatio forensis. Justification is the action of God's grace by which the repentant sinner who believes in Christ is freely accepted by Him and declared righteous. His sins are not attributed to him, but Christ's justice is applied (“gratis justum habet et declarat non imputatis ei peccatis ejus, imputata vero ipsi justitia Christi”). 23 Feofan emphasizes that salvation “is effected” through faith and that human actions have no power to achieve salvation.

There is no need to engage in a detailed analysis of Feofan's system. A general sense for its inner spirit is more important. On that score there can be no debate or hesitation about the proper conclusion: “Feofan was actually a Protestant” (A.V. Kartashev).24 His contemporaries often said so. Feofilakt Lopatinskii, 25 and especially Markell Rodyshevskii, 26 wrote about it. 27 Both suffered cruelly for their boldness. A crafty and clever man, Feofan knew how to parry theological attacks. His pen imperceptibly transformed any expression of disagreement into a political denunciation, and he did not hesitate to transfer theological disputes to the court of the Secret Chancery. The most powerful weapon of self-defense — and the most reliable one — was the reminder that on any given question Peter approved and shared Feofan's opinion. Thus the Monarch's person came under attack, and Feofan's opponent found himself guilty of directly offending His Majesty: a matter subject to investigation and review by the Secret Chancery and not a matter for unimpeded theological discussion.

“Peter the Great, a monarch no less wise than he is powerful, did not recognize any heresy in my sermons.” Such a reference to Peter was not simply an evasion, for in reality Peter agreed with Feofan on many points. The struggle with “superstition,” begun by Peter himself, was openly proclaimed in the Regulation. Feofan always wrote with a special verve against “superstition.” Characteristic in this regard is his tragicomedy Vladimir, Prince and Ruler of the Slavonic-Russian Lands, Brought by the Holy Spirit from the Darkness of Unbelief to the Light of the Gospels. 28 The play is a malicious and spiteful satire on pagan “priests” [zhretsy], and their “superstitions.” Transparent references to contemporary life abound. Feofan openly despised the clergy, especially the Great Russian clergy, among whom he always felt a stranger and a foreigner. He was a typical man of the “Enlightenment,” who did not conceal his repugnance for ritual, miracles, asceticism, and even the hierarchy. He fought against all such “delusions” with the tenacity of an arrogant rationalist. At any rate, even if he was insincere in this struggle, at least he was forthright. “I despise with the utmost strength of my soul mitres, capes, scepters, candelabra, censers, and other such trifles.” True, he made this remark in an intimate letter to a friend. Of course at that time there was a great deal of superstition in Russian life and customs. But Feofan and Peter wished to war upon it not only in the name of the faith, but in the name of common sense and the “general welfare.”

Prior to Elizabeth's reign, 29 government authority and even state law extended a certain special and preferential protection to Protestantism. Peter's government, not just from considerations of state uttility and toleration, was very often ready to identify the interests of the Protestants with its own interests, thereby producing the impression that Orthodoxy is a peculiar, moderate, ritualistic Protestantism and that Orthodoxy and Protestantism are equally reconciled (“Facillime le itime ue uniantur” as Feofan's friend, the St. Peterburg academician Kol' wrote in his characteristic book Ecclesia graeca lutheranisans, [Lubeck, 1723]).30 Catherine II later maintained that there is “practically no difference” between Orthodoxy and Lutheranism: ole culte exterieure est tres different, mais l'Eglise s'y voit reduite par rapport a la brutalite du peuple & raquo; During Anna's 31 reign, that is, under Biron, 32 the state pursued a particularly harsh policy toward the church.

They attacked our Orthodox piety and faith, but in such a way and under such a pretext that they seemed to be rooting out some unneeded and harmful superstition in Christianity. O how many clergymen and an even greater number of learned monks were defrocked, tortured and exterminated under that pretense! Why? No answer is heard except: he is a superstitious person, a bigot, a hypocrite, a person unfit for anything. These things were done cunningly and purposefully, so as to extirpate the Orthodox priesthood and replace it with a newly conceived priestlessness [bezpopovshchina].

Such is the Elizabethan preacher Amvrosii Iushkevich's 33 recollection of Anna's reign.

Peter became dissatisfied with Stefan Iavorskii for raising the issue of Tveritinov 34 and for his critical and forthright statement on the points of difference between Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. Rock of Faith [Kamen' very] 35 was not published during Peter's lifetime precisely because of its sharp polemical attacks upon Protestantism. The book was first published in 1728 under the supervision of Feofilakt Lopatinskii and with the permission of the Supreme Privy Council. This edition of the Rock of Faith received many blows in Germany. Buddeus' “apologetic” rebuttal appeared in Jena in 1729. 36 Gossip ascribed this rejoinder to Feofan. Johann Mosheim 37 criticized Rock of Faith in 1731. In Russia, Father Bernardo de Ribera, the household priest of the Spanish envoy Jacobo Francisco, Duke de Liria, came to Iavorskii's defense. The quarrel, becoming evermore entangled and complex, was finally resolved in the Secret Chancery. A decree of 19 August 1732 again suppressed Rock of Faith and removed it from circulation. The entire edition was seized and sealed up.

Our domestic enemies devised a stratagem to undermine the Orthodox faith; they consigned to oblivion religious books already prepared for publication; and they forbade others to be written under penalty of death. They seized not only the teachers, but also their lessons and books, fettered them, and locked them in prison. Things reached such a point that in this Orthodox state to open one's mouth about religion was dangerous: one could depend on immediate trouble and persecution. (Amvrosii Iushkevich) Iavorskii's book was restored to free circulation by imperial order only in 1741.

Rock of Faith was persecuted and suppressed precisely because it contained a polemical rejoinder to the Reformation. For this reason however, even those Orthodox who had no sympathy or enthusiasm for Iavorskii's Latinism greatly valued his work. Pososhkov was one such Orthodox. 38

The book Rock of Faith composed by His Holiness the Metropolitan of Riazan' Stefan Iavorskii of blessed memory should be published in order to affirm the faith and preserve it from Lutherans, Calvinists, and other iconoclasts. Five or six copies of it should be sent to each school, so that those aspiring for the priesthood might commit this very valuable Rock to memory in order to reply automatically to any question.

Pososhkov was sincerely worried and confused by this “iconoclastic” danger, by “senseless Lutheran theorizing,” and by the “idle wisdom” of Lutheranism. He enthusiastically supported Peter's reforms, but he did not believe that it was either necessary or possible to repudiate one's own ancestral religion for the sake of any such renovation or for the “general welfare,” or replace it with something newly conceived and superficial. As vigorously as Feofan and Peter, Pososhkov criticized the religious ignorance and superstition of the people, even the clergy, as well as the widely prevailing poverty and injustice. He insisted on the general introduction of schools; demanded the “ability to read” [grammaticheskoe razumenie] from those seeking to become deacons; and invited those pursuing a monastic life to study and “become skilled in disputations.” However, Pososhkov's ideal remained the “religious life” and not lay or secular life. Thus, despite Stefan Iavorskii's Latinisms Pososhkov felt a closeness to and a confidence in him. Above all, Stefan provided him with a good deal of useful material.

In this way circumstances unfolded in which Stefan, writing theology on the basis of Bellarmine, by the same token was able to defend the Russian church from the introduction of the Reformation. Those circumstances became so complex that the fate of Russian theology in the eighteenth century was resolved in an extended debate between the epigoni of western post-Reformation Roman Catholic and Protestant scholasticism. Feofan eventually emerged victorious in that debate; he did not do so immediately. Due to a certain historical inertia, the earlier Roman Catholic Kievan tradition persisted until mid-century, even in the newly created schools. New ideas only slowly gained wider currency. Feofan conquered as a scholar; this was a victory for Protestant scholastic theology.

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