Ways of Russian Theology



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Protestant Scholasticism .


Feofan's influence in education did not become immediately apparent. He taught for only a short time in Kiev and he left no disciples behind him. His “system” remained uncompleted, while his notes were prepared and published much later. Feofan's system penetrated the school routine approximately at mid-century (in Kiev after Arsenii Mogilianskii 54 became metropolitan in 1759). During the first half of the century theology continued to be taught in the earlier Roman Catholic manner. 55 Course plans written by Feofilakt (that is, on the basis of Thomas Aquinas) usually constituted the theology taught in the new seminaries. At that time peripatetic philosophy 56 — Philsophia Atistotelico — Scholastica-was taught everywhere and usually from the same textbooks as those used by the Polish Jesuits. Philosophy passed from Aristotle to Wolff 57 almost simultaneously with the passage of theology from Aquinas to Feofan Prokopovich. Baumeister's textbook long remained required and widely accepted. 58 The sway of Protestant Latin scholasticism began. Latin remained the language of the schools, while instruction and study went unchanged. Direct use was made of the systems and compendiums written by Gerhard, Quenstedt, Hollatius and Buddeus. 59 Compilations, “abridgments,” and “extracts” were made from these Protestant handbooks in the same manner such books had been compiled from Roman Catholic texts. Few of these compendiums were published. The lectures of Sil'vestr Kuliabka, Georgii Koniskii, or Gavriil Petrov 60 were never printed. Only much later did such compendiums appear in print: Feofilakt Gorskii's Doctrina (published in Leipzig in 1784 and based on Buddeus and Schubert); Iakinf Karpinskii's Compendium theologiae dogmaticopolemicae (Leipzig, 1786); Sil'vestr Lebedinskii's Compendium (St Petersburg, 1799 and Moscow, 1805); and finally Irinei Fal'kovskii'a compendium published in 1812. 61 All of these authors followed Feofan. One looks in vain for any free expression of thought in these books and compendiums. They were textbooks: the fossilized “tradition of the school” and the weight of erudition. The eighteenth century witnessed the age of erudites and archaeologists (more as philologists than as historians), and such erudition found expression in their teaching. The whole purpose of eighteenth century education resided in compiling and assembling material. Even in the provincial seminaries the best students read a great deal, especially the classical historians and frequently even the church fathers more often in Latin translation than in Greek, For the Greek language did not belong to the “ordinary” course work, that is, it was not one of the chief subjects of instruction and was not even required. 62 Only in 1784 was any attention paid to instruction in Greek out of “consideration for the fact that the sacred books and the works of the teachers of our Orthodox Greco-Russian Church were written in it: A more likely explanation for this decision is to be found in the political calculations related to the “Greek Project.” 63 The reminder about Greek produced no direct practical results and even such an advocate as Metropolitan Platon of Moscow 64 found only ten or fifteen students willing to study in his beloved and well tended Trinity Seminary) Platon himself learned Greek only after finishing school. He hoped the seminarians might achieve the ability to speak “simple Greek and read “Hellenic Greek.” He succeeded, for some of his students did acquire the ability to write Greek verses. The works of the church fathers as well as other books were translated from Greek and Latin at both the Zaikonospasskii Academy and the Trinity Seminary. Greek, along with Hebrew, became compulsory with the reform of 1798.65

Among the Russian Hellenists of the eighteenth century first place must be given to Simon Todorskii,66 the great authority on Greek and Oriental languages and student of the famous Michaelis 67 Todorskii's students in Kiev, Iakov Blonnitskii and Varlaam Liashchevskii, both worked on the new edition of the Slavic Bible. 68 This was no easy task. The editors needed genuine philological tact and sensitivity. A decision had to be made about which editions to use as a basis for corrections. The Walton Polyglot, 69 to be consulted in conjunction with the Complutensian Polyglot, 70 was finally decided upon. No immediate solution was devised on how to deal with cases of faulty translation in the old and new editions. One suggestion involved fully printing both editions — the old one and the new corrected one — in parallel columns. The printed Bible, however, merely gave an extensive index of all changes. The editors took the Septuagint as their guide. Feofan had opposed comparing the translation not only with the Hebrew text, but also with other Greek texts “which did not come into common use in the Eastern Church.” His argument was to be repeated a century later by the adherents to “the return to the time of scholasticism.” Iakov Blonnitskii at one time served as a teacher in Tver' and Moscow. Without completing the work on the Bible, he secretly journeyed to Mt. Athos, where he lived ten years in the Bulgarian monastery of Zographou 71 and continued his study of Slavic and Greek.

Biblical realism — the effort to grasp and understand the sacred text in its concreteness and even in historical perspective — constitutes the positive side of the new Biblical instruction. Moralistic and didactic allegorism formed a powerful element in eighteenth century exegesis. Nevertheless, above all else the Bible was regarded as a book of Sacred History. An ecclesiastical apperception began to take shape.

In 1798 church history became part of the curriculum. Since there was no “classical” book (that is, textbook), Mosheim, Bingham, or Lange were recommended. 72 Translation of historical works occupied considerable attention at the Moscow Academy in the 1760's. Pavel Ponomarev the rector of the academy in 1782 (later archbishop, of Tver' and then Iaroslavl'), translated the Memoires of Tillemont 73, but the work met with the censor's disapproval. Ieronim Chernov, prefect at the academy in 1788, published his translation of Bingham. Mefodii Smirnov rector from 1791 to 1795 (later archbishop of Tver'), prefaced his theology lectures with an historical introduction. His Liber historicus de rebus in primitiva sive trium primorum et quarti ineuntis seculorum ecclesia christiana, the first survey of church history in Russia, appeared in 1805. The book's style and content wholly belong to the eighteenth century. Petr Alekseev (1727-1801), archpriest of the Archangel cathedral, a member of the Russian Academy, and a man of very advanced views, taught for many years at Moscow University. His chief work, the Ecclesiastical Dictionary [Tserkovnyi slovar'], which provided explanations for church articles and terms, went through three editions. 74 He began to publish the Orthodox Confession [Pravoslavnoe ispovedanie] and had printed the entire first part and thirty questions of the second part when the printing was halted “because of bold remarks, which have been appended.” His own Catechism [Katikhizis] was also subsequently detained.

Mention should also be made of Veniamin Rumovskii, 75 who became widely known as the author of New Table of Commandments [Novaia skrizhal'], which first appeared in Moscow in 1804. He also translated Jacobus Goar's Euchologion. 76 Veniamin died in 1811 as archbishop of Nizhegorod. Irinei Klement'evskii 77 (who died as archbishop of Pskov in 1818) was known for his commentaries and translations from the Greek of the church fathers.

Very early in the century a new dimension — pietism — was added to the older Protestant scholasticism. Simon Todorskii (1699-1754) must once again be invoked in this connection. As he says himself, after leaving the Kiev Academy, “I traveled across the sea to the Academy of Halle in Magdeburg.” Halle at that time formed the chief and very stormy center of pietism (Christian Wolff was expelled in 1723). At Halle, Todorskii studied oriental languages, especially Biblical languages. Such intense interest in the Bible is highly characteristic of pietism, which rather unexpectedly fuses philosophy and morality. 78 At one time Todorskii served as a teacher in the pietists' famous Orphan Asylum in Halle. 79 While at Halle, Todorskii translated Johann Arndt's On True Christianity [Wahres Christentum].80 The book was published in Halle in 1735. He also translated Anastasius the Preacher's Guide to the Knowledge of Christ's Passion and the anonymous Teaching on the Foundation of the Christian Life. 81 These books were forbidden in Russia and removed from circulation in 1743, so that henceforth no such books would be translated into Russian.

Todorskii did not return home directly from Halle. “Having left there, I spent a year and a half among the Jesuits in various places.” He taught for a time somewhere in Hungary. He acted as a teacher for Orthodox Greeks and then returned to Kiev in 1739.

Pietism and sentimentalism became quite widespread during the second half of the century. Both became fused with mystical freemasonry. The impact of such dreamy moralism became quite noticeable in the ecclesiastical schools. Probably it was most visible in Moscow in Platon's day. Even “Wolffianism” became sentimental and Wolff's theology justifiably came to be known as the “dogmatics for the sentimental man.”

The structure and organization of the church schools experienced no substantive alteration during the entire century, although the spirit of the age changed several times. A small commission for “founding of the most useful schools in the dioceses” had been formed at the outset of Catherine's reign. Gavriil, then bishop of Tver', 82 Innokentii Nechaev, bishop of Pskov, 83 and Platon Levshin, then still a hieromonk, constituted its membership. The commission discovered no reason to modify the Latin type of school and proposed only the introduction of a more complete uniformity and greater coherence in the school system (and curriculum). The successive steps of instruction were to be dismantled; four seminaries (Novgorod, St. Petersburg, Kazan' and Iaroslavl') given an expanded program of study, and Moscow Academy was to be elevated to the rank of an “ecclesiastical university” with a universal curriculum. The commission clearly posed the question of the necessity for improving the social status and condition of the clergy. 84 A new spirit pervades the entire proposal: social development is less accented, while discipline is moderated and manners softened. The proposal aimed “to inculcate a noble sense of integrity in the students, which like a mainspring, would govern their actions.” Modern languages, too, were to be added. A characteristic feature of the proposal would have entrusted all the ecclesiastical schools to the ultimate authority of two protectors, one secular and one clerical, in order to give greater independence to the schools. It became quite clear that genuine reform of the ecclesiastical schools was impossible without “betterment” and support for the clergy. The commission on church properties (Teplov played a guiding role in that commission) 85 had actually pointed out this fact in 1762. The commission's proposals in 1766 had no practical result. However that year a group of young seminarians was sent abroad to study at Gottingen, Leyden, or Oxford. With the return in 1773 of those sent to Gottingen, the question again arose about creating a theological faculty in Moscow under the supervision of the Synod where the returning specialists could be used in teaching. In 1777 a detailed plan was drawn up for such a faculty, but once more nothing resulted. When Moscow University was established in 1755, a department of theology had been rejected: “In addition to the philosophical sciences and jurisprudence, theology should be taught in every university however, the concern for theology, properly speaking, belongs to the Holy Synod.” 86

Only one student who had studied in Gottingen was appointed to a position in the ecclesiastical schools. This was Damaskin Semenov Rudnev (1737-1795), later bishop of Nizhnii Novgorod and a member of the Russian Academy. While in Gottingen as the supervisor for the younger students, he had studied philosophy and history rather than theology and translated Nestor's chronicle 87 into German. However, he did attend theology lectures and in 1772 published Feofan Prokopovich's treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit with additions and commentaries. On his return, he took monastic vows and became a professor and rector of the Moscow Academy. Even by the standards of Catherine's age, he was a “liberal” hierarch, educated in the philosophy of Wolff and natural law. It is said that Metropolitan Gavriil “indicated to him that he should stop all that German nonsense buzzing in his head and more seduously apply himself to fulfilling his monastic vows.” Of those students who studied in Leyden, one, Veniamin Bagrianskii, 88 later became bishop of Irkutsk. He died in 1814.

During roughly those same years, a proposal was made to reform the Kiev Academy. One plan suggested transforming the academy into a university by expelling the monks and subordinating the school to the secular authorities in society (the suggestion came from Razumovskii, 89 Rumiantsev, 90 and at the desire of the Kiev and Starodub nobility in the Commission of 1766-1767). Another plan, that of Glebov, the governor-general of Kiev, advocated the creation of new faculties (1766). The Academy remained unchanged. However, within a short time instruction improved in secular subjects and modern languages “which are necessary for social life” (French had been taught since 1753). Characteristically, during Metropolitan Samuil Mislavskii's 91 administration, teacher candidates were sent to study at the University of Vilna or in the Protestant convent in Slutsk (however, they went to Moscow University).

The 1798 reform of the ecclesiastical schools also left their foundations intact. The seminaries in St. Petersburg and Kazan' received the designation of “Academy” together with an extension and elaboration of instruction. New seminaries were opened; the curricula were somewhat revised.

Metropolitan Platon Levshin (1737-1811) was the most important contributor to church education in the eighteenth century: the “Peter Mogila of the Moscow Academy,” in S. K. Smirnov's 92 apt phrasing. Platon was a typical representative of that ornate, dreamy, and troubled age, whose every contradiction and confusion condensed and reverberated within his personality. “Plus philosophe que pretre,” was Joseph II's 93 judgment of him. Platon attracted Catherine for that very reason. In any case, as a sufficiently “enlightened” man, he discoursed on “superstitions” according to the spirit of the age. Nevertheless, Platon remained a man of piety and prayer and a great lover of church singing and the liturgy. Impetuous, yet determined, both direct and dreamy, easily aroused and persistent, Platon always acted openly and forthrightly with himself and with others. He could not possibly have lasted long at court, nor could he have preserved any influence there.

Platon advanced because of his abilities as a preacher, another trait in keeping with the style of that rhetorical age. He could compel even courtiers to shudder and weep. Yet it is his sermons which vividly disclose the utter sincerity and intensity of his own warm piety. Behind his mannered eloquence, one detects a flexible will and deep conviction. While a teacher of rhetoric at the Trinity Seminary, Platon took monastic vows, and did so from inner conviction and inclination, “because of a special love for enlightenment,” as he himself put it. Platon regarded monasticism from a quite peculiar standpoint. For him celibacy was its sole purpose. “As concerns monasticism, he reasoned that it could not impose any greater obligations upon a Christian than those which the Gospel and the baptismal vows had already imposed.” 94 Love of solitude — less for prayer than for intellectual pursuits and friendships — provided a strong attraction. Platon consciously chose the path of the church. He declined entry to Moscow University, just as he refused offers to other secular positions. He did not wish to be lost in the empty vanity of worldly life. Traces of a personal Rousseauism can be seen in his efforts to leave Moscow for the Holy Trinity Monastery, where he could build his own intimate asylum: Bethany. 95

Platon was a great and ardent advocate of education and enlightenment. He had his own conception of the clergy. He wished to create a new, educated and cultured clergy via the humanistic school. He wished to improve the clerical rank and elevate it to the social heights. He chose to do so at a time when others were trying to reduce and disolve the clergy in the “third estate of men” and even in an impersonal serfdom. Hence Platon's anxious desire to adapt the instruction and education in the ecclesiastical schools to the tastes and views of “enlightened” society. He was able to do a great deal in particular for the seminary at the Holy Trinity Monastery. Zaikonospasskii Academy enjoyed a renaissance under Platon. He founded Bethany Seminary in 1797 on the model of Trinity Seminary. However, Bethany opened only in 1800.

Education of the mind and heart “so that they might excel in good deeds” constituted Platon's ideal: a sentimental novitiate and inversion of the church's spirit. Under his influence a new type of churchman — the erudite and lover of enlightenment — came into being. Neither a thinker nor a scholar, Platon was a zealot or “lover” of enlightenment — a very characteristic eighteenth century category.

Although a catechist rather than a theologian, Platon's “catechisms” and conversations (or Elementary Instruction in Christian Law) which he delivered in Moscow during his early career (1757 and 1758) signify a turning point in the history of theology. His lessons for the Grand Duke Paul 96 entitled Orthodox Teaching or a Brief Christian Theology [Pravoslavnoe uchenie ili sokrashchen khristianskoe bogosiovie, 1765] marks the first attempt at a theological system in Russian. “Ease of exposition is the best feature about this work,” was Filaret of Chernigov's comment, yet his faint praise is not quite just. Platon was less an orator than a teacher; he pondered over education more than he studied oratory. “I never troubled long over an eloquent style.” His determination to persuade educated men provided his expressiveness and clarity, “for the face of truth is singularly beautiful without any false cosmetics.” His polemic with the Old Ritualists is quite instructive in this connection, for tolerance and deference did not preserve him from superficial simplification. His project for the so-called “single faith” [edinoverie] 97 can scarcely be termed a success. In any case, Platon's “catechisms” actually were incomplete. Platon tried to bring theology in contact with life. He sought to do so in conformity with the spirit of the time by converting theology into moral instruction, into a kind of emotional-moralistic humanism. “The various systems of theology now taught in the schools have a scholastic air and the odor of human subtleties.” All of this belongs to an age which preferred to speak of “turning the mind toward the good” rather than toward “faith.” Platon sought a lively and living theology, which could be found only in Scripture. When commenting upon Scripture, when “searching out the literal sense,” above all one avoid any bending or force in order not to abuse Scripture by seeking a hidden meaning “where none exists.” Texts should be juxtaposed in order that Scriptures might be allowed to explain themselves. “At the same time, use the best commentators.” Platon understood this to mean the church fathers. The influence of Chrysostom and Augustine are easily detected in his writing. He hastened to speak more intimately about dogma, and his doctrinal “theology” can scarcely be distinguished from the prevailing vague and moralistically emotional Lutheranism of the time. The sacramental meaning of the church is inadequately presented throughout his theology, while moral appositions (the scholastic usus) are overdeveloped. The church is defined very imprecisely as “an assembly of men who believe in Jesus Christ” (elsewhere Platon adds, “and who live according to his law”). Such imprecision is quite characteristic.

Platon was wholly a part of modern Russia and its western experience. For all his piety, he had too little sense of the church. Yet this limitation does not detract from or overshadow the true importance of his other achievements. The fact that Platon gave attention to the study of Russian church history and encouraged others to do so as well is of great importance. 98 Moreover, he published the first outline of that history (but only in 1805). Much later this sympathetic return to history produced a more profound ecclesiastical self-awareness. Platon's historical limitation is visibly expressed in his attitude toward the Russian language. He himself not only preached in Russian but published his “theology” in Russian. Yet his book on theology had to be translated into Latin for school use. Such was the case, for example, at the Tula Seminary.

Platon attempted to improve the instruction in Russian for the lowest grades. Russian grammar and rhetoric on the basis of Lomonosov's 99 writings replaced Latin. However, he feared that elementary instruction in Russian grammar and composition might impede progress in Latin subjects. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the greatest emancipation which could be achieved in theology lectures at Trinity Seminary was the interpretation of texts from Holy Scripture according to the Slavic Bible without translation from Latin. (Znamenskii) Mefodii Smirnov was the first to do so, and then only in the 1790's.

Rare experiments had been attempted earlier. At the time Platon became archbishop of Tver' in 1770, he discovered theology being taught in Russian. Makarii Petrovich 100 introduced this innovation in 1764. His lectures were published posthumously as Orthodox Teaching of the Eastern Church, Containing Everything which a Christian seeking salvation needs to know and do (St. Petersburg, 1783).101 Makarii translated scholastic disputations into Russian, trying to refashion them as conversations with people holding different views and remold them on the patristic model (“whenever reading of the holy fathers is relevant”). Makarii's successor at the Tver' Seminary, Arsenii Vereshchagin 102 followed his example. Platon's appointment altered everything and restored the Latin routine.

Much later (1805), when discussing a new reform of the church schools, Platon strenuously objected to Russian as the language of instruction. He feared a decline in scholarship and especially an erosion of scholarly prestige.

Our clergy are regarded by foreigners as nearly ignorant for we can speak neither French nor German. But we maintain our honor by replying that we can speak and copy Latin. If we study Latin as we do Greek, we lose our last honor, for we will not be able to speak or write any language. I beg you to retain it.

Platon's statement very clearly demonstrates how greatly his outlook had been restricted by scholastic tradition and how little he sensed the church's needs.

At the same time, the weakest feature of the eighteenth century ecclesiastical school derived precisely from its Latin character. Somewhat later Evgenii Bolkhovitinov, 103 another man of the Enlightenment, justly noted that “our present curriculum, prior to the course philosophy, is not one of general education, but merely a course in Latin literature.” Education conveyed in the Russian language was regarded with a strange lack of confidence during the eighteenth century. It seemed to be an impossible dream, if not actually a dangerous one. The bold hope expressed in the foundation charter (16 March 1731) of the Kharkov Collegium remained unfulfilled. That hope was “to teach the Orthodox children of every class and calling, not only poetics and rhetoric, but also philosophy and theology in the Slavonic, Greek and Latin languages, while at the same time endeavoring to introduce these subjects in native Russian.” Latin prevailed.

In 1760, when the metropolitan of Kiev, Arsenii Mogilianskii, 104 ordered that the Orthodox Confession be read in Russian, his directive was considered a fruitless concession to weakness and ignorance. Basic theological lectures continued to be delivered in Latin, “preserving the pure Latin style and guarding it from the vulgar common dialect.” Archimandrite Iuvenalii's 105 System of Christian Theology (Sistema khristianskago bogosloviia], 3 parts, (Moscow, 1806), published in Russia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was not intended for school use. The western example, with a certain time lag to be sure, inspired this tenacious school Latinism. As a result the Russian language atrophied.

The educated Russian theological language, a sample of which can be seen in the theses presented at school disputations at the Moscow Academy, had so little development that it occupied an incomparably lower position than even the language of ancient Russian translators of the holy fathers and of the original theological works of ancient Rus'. (Znamenskii).

Things reached such a point that students were unable to write easily in Russian, but first had to express their thought in Latin and then translate it. The students even copied in Latin or wrote with a substantial admixture of Latin words the explanations given by the teacher in Russian.

Whatever argument one used, whatever fundamentum one put to his opugnae, each argument sovendus by the defendant and his teacher.

“From such [an environment] came priests who knew Latin and pagan writers adequately, but who knew poorly the authors of the Bible or the writers of the church” (Filaret of Moscow). Such a situation was not the worst feature: still worse was the inorganic character of an entire school system in which theology could not be enlivened by the direct assistance and experience of church life.

The scope and significance of the scholarly and even educational achievements of the eighteenth century should not be underestimated. In any case, the cultural-theological experiment was quite important. An elaborate school network spread throughout Russia. But Russian theology . . . all of this “school” theology, in the strict sense, was rootless. It fell and grew in foreign soil . . . A superstructure erected in a desert. . . and in place of roots came stilts. Theology on stilts, such is the legacy of the eighteenth century.




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