Ways of Russian Theology

Reform of the Ecclesiastical Schools, 1805-1814

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Reform of the Ecclesiastical Schools, 1805-1814.

Reform of the ecclesiastical schools began during the very first years of Alexander's reign. This reform formed a part of a general reconstruction of the entire educational system and the creation in 1802 of a new department or ministry of “public enlightenment.” On 5 November 1804 a new statute for universities and other public schools was published and implemented. In 1805 Evgenii Bolkhovitinov (1767-1837), then vicar of Staraia Russa, drew up the first “sketch” for a new statute for the ecclesiastical schools. Reports which had been elicited about desired improvements were submitted to him, and he based his proposal on them. Only Metropolitan Platon of Moscow 63 opposed the idea of reform. However, none of the bishops consulted proposed more than specific corrections or changes within the framework of the existing order. Avgustin 'Vinogradskii, bishop of Dmitrov and vicar to the metropolitan of Moscow, provides the sole exception. He proposed that education be divided into distinct levels and that the academy be organized as a school exclusively for the “higher sciences” and not just theology. He also recommended that the Moscow Academy be transferred to the Holy Trinity Monastery.

Even Evgenii Bolkhovitinov made only moderate suggestions, proposing to refurbish the curriculum and reduce the sway of Latin in instruction by reserving it exclusively for theology and philosophy. “But these (subjects] should be taught from translations as we have always done.” The administration of the Aleksandr Nevskii Academy voiced the same opinion. Evgenii's sketch embodies only a single interesting detail, although a somewhat old-fashioned one. He proposed that a special scholarly (or more accurately, scholarly-administrative) department or “learned society” be formed in each academy's district. These societies would have sufficiently diverse responsibilities and areas of competence such as “encouragement of theological scholarship,” publication and censorship of books, supervision of subordinate ecclesiastical schools, and responsibility for textbooks. Evgenii's idea became a part of the subsequent statute. 64

Evgenii was and remained a man of the eighteenth century. His personal tastes gave him a secular outlook, and he did not conceal the fact that he took monastic vows in order to advance his career, describing (in correspondence with a friend, to be sure) his tonsure with almost profane levity: “Like spiders, the monks spun a black habit, is mantle, and cowl around me.” Evgenii studied for a time in Moscow, where he had some connection with the Friendly Society of Learning. In any event, he preferred Shaden's 65 lectures to academy lessons. Theology had little interest for him; his subject was history, although he never became more than a compiler. According to Innokentii Borisov, 66 he had “a chronicler's mind.” Pogodin 67 dubbed him “history's statistician.” “Evgenii's great breadth of erudition is as astonishing as its capacity to stupefy the power of thought,” said Filaret of Chernigov. 68 Evgenii lacked strong analytical abilities; his mind ventured no further than curiosity. As an antiquarian and bibliographer, he rendered many incontestable services, but not in the history of theology. It is not surprising that Evgenii later joined the ranks of those who favored the “return to the time of scholasticism. He disliked theology, and as metropolitan of Kiev, he did not encourage such interests by the students of the Kiev Academy. He considered it more worthwhile to divert the best talents into archival and bibliographical work. At one time he became attracted to modern literature and read Shaftesbury, Diderot, D'Alembert, and Rousseau. 69 He loved Racine and Voltaire's tragedies and enjoyed sentimental novels and tales. He even translated Pope. 70 Yet Evgenii always maintained a guarded hostility toward philosophy. For this reason, then, his “sketches” could not be sufficiently flexible or inventive. Evgenii took no part in the work on school reform.

On 29 November 1807, an imperial directive created a Committee for the Improvement of Ecclesiastical Schools. Metropolitan Amvrosii Podobedov, Feofilakt Rusanov (then bishop of Kaluga), Prince A. N. Golitsyn, Speranskii, and two archpriests, the tsar's confessor and the chief military chaplain, joined the committee. Speranskii played the dominant and decisive role, and in six months the committee had finished its work and received imperial confirmation of its plan entitled An outline of regulations for the creation of ecclesiastical schools. 71 On 26 June 1808, the committee was dissolved and a permanent Commission on Ecclesiastical Schools established with the same membership and as the supreme (alinost autonomous) and chief organ for the administration of the ecclesiastical schools. Speranskii's persistence can be felt in the committee's forced pace, while his influence is readily evident in the symmetry and precise geometry through- out the plan for the entire school network.

A system of levels was introduced and those levels were used as divisions in the individual educational institutions, a complete contrast to the old order. There were to be four such levels beginning at the bottom with parish schools, followed by district schools, diocesan seminaries, and then academies. Territorial considerations constituted one of the bases for these divisions. The system of consecutive levels formed a unity based on subordinate relationships. The entire school network was divided into districts, with an academy at the head or center of each, thereby freeing the local educational institution from the authority of the local bishop. The new plan closely approximated the general system of “public enlightenment” outlined in the statute of 1803-1804. Even more certain is the fact that the plan was modeled after Napoleon's reorganization of the Universite de France, which greatly suited Speranskii's taste. 72

The intention had been, above all, to establish an autonomously existing second and parallel system of schools. The chief argument was adduced from the specific aim of the ecclesiastical schools, for the “sort of enlightenment” should correspond to a school's particular goal. Church schools should prepare servants for the church, not for the state. In practice, the very fact of this long existent and highly developed church school network carried no less weight in these considerations, since the public school system still awaited reinstitution. One unexpected qualification had already been made in the original Outline: the seminaries were to prepare students not only for the priesthood, but, if possible, also for the medical-surgical academies.

The aim of clerical education is undoubtedly a sound and fundamental study of Religion. An understanding of a Religion which bases its dogma on Holy Scriptures and ancient traditions requires a knowledge of those same ancient sources as well as the disciplines directly related to them. Such disciplines include the study of classical languages, especially Greek and Latin; basic knowledge of Church Slavic and Slavono-Russian; an understanding of ancient history, particularly that of the Bible and the Church; and finally, the study of theology in all its branches. Hence, it is apparent that “erudition” proper is the chief aim of this religious education. That is the primary foundation on which the church schools must be built.

The higher levels of the old school were transformed into a separate middle school with the name of the seminary. The seminary curriculum comprised three two-year courses or “divisions”: a lower division for literature, an intermediate one of philosophy, and an upper one for theology. History and mathematics supplemented the curriculum. A completely new academy was added to the entire older system. Under the new plan the academy became a complex institution containing, first, a higher school of education; second, a scholarly corporation or collegium with the task of organizing a special “conference” with participation by admirers and patrons of education from outside the academy; and third, an administrative center for the entire school district. 73 The higher school of education for the first time became a separate and autonomous educational unit.

With this division, the theological academies, no longer constrained in their development by their original obligation to provide elementary instruction in grammar and history, will engage in the broadest study of philosophy and theology as befits them, and devote themselves to an appropriately advanced theological education. An increase in the number of teachers accompanied the preparation of the new statute: six professors and twelve instructors, or baccalaureates, for each academy.

The committee had only prepared a plan for reform and established the basic principles and tasks. The newly formed commission had to devise a statute. Speranskii's actual participation in the work of the commission did not last long, and during that time he managed to formulate only one portion of the statute governing the academies, namely their administration and the organization of instruction. He very soon withdrew from the commission, and the task of completing and elaborating the academy statute fell upon an intelligent and influential man, Feofilakt Rusanov, 74 “who is not very dedicated to the office [of bishop],” as Platon described him. Feofilakt brought to the commission his own personal experience as well as a rather lax and even secular spirit. He was somewhat reminiscent of Evgenii, except that rhetoric and esthetics rather than history attracted him.

The academy statute was provisionally accepted and, in 1809, introduced experimentally at the St. Petersburg Academy. Only one academy was to be opened at a time. Speranskii had once remarked that “no matter how carefullv all relevant aspects of this matter are assembled and considered, experience alone can give them the seal of certainty.” On the basis of the experience derived from the first graduating class at the St. Petersburg Academy (1809-1814) and the observations of its rector, Filaret, 75 the provisional statute received one more revision. Confirmed and published in 1814, it was introduced in a second academy, the Moscow Academy, which opened that same year. 76 The Kiev Academy opened only in 1819, while the opening of the Kazan' Academy was delayed until 1842. The short supply of teachers and professors provides the chief reason for this gradual creation of academic centers. Platon's prediction that enough people were not to be had came true. Rarely could those who taught in the pre-reform schools be used in the new academies, for they had to teach what they themselves had never studied, and suitable teachers were generally not to be found in Kiev and Kazan'.

Despite its defects and gaps, the new academy statute constituted an undoubted success. The entire system was now constructed on a genuine educational foundation, thereby displacing the eighteenth century ideology of state service. Education no longer aimed to communicate a specific amount of information or knowledge to the students and compel them to memorize or assimilate it.

A good method of teaching consists of revealing to the students their individual abilities and intellectual capacities. Therefore, extended explanations in which the professors strive more to exhibit their learning than to awaken the minds of their audience contradict this good method. Similarly, dictation of lessons during classtime also contradicts it.

Therefore, the new statute placed special emphasis on composition and on written exercises by the students generally at all levels of education. Moreover, a wide reading of sources beyond the textbooks was encouraged. In view of the lack of books and texts, this postulate often had to be abandoned, a fact which points out the worst and most general flaw in the new statute: its architects failed to take sufficient notice of the means available for realizing their ideals.

Very important was the fact that the dominance of Latin had been condemned in principle. “Although the introduction of Latin in the schools in certain respects had proved to be of great worth, its exclusive use was the reason why study of Russian and Greek, so necessary for our Church, little by little declined.” Nevertheless, Latin remained the language of instruction and only a few dared to shift to Russian. They did so much later. Greek continued to be one subject among many. The “textbooks” by necessity remained in use for a long time, and not all newly compiled texts represented improvement. All the while, the new statute unhesitatingly required teachers and texts to “always keep abreast of the latest discoveries and achievements in each field of learning.”

Other difficulties compounded these problems. Upon its opening under the new statute, the St. Petersburg Academy, in its first four years (1809-1814), provided living testimony about the abstract program designed by the reformers. “Only the special mercy of Providence enabled the first class of the academy to complete its work successfully,” Filaret later remarked. He had been rector since 1812. He had the Fessler affair primarily in mind. Fessler (1756-1839) taught at the academy long enough to establish contacts and produce an impression, all the more so because he was an inspiring and able orator, who spoke “with a fiery tongue and with captivating inspiration,” and because he introduced students to the mysteries of contemporary German philosophy and preached of “the blessed clairvoyance of that truth gained through the inner eye of the mind.” In his later memoirs, Fessler enumerates G.P. Pavskii 77 (through his study of Hebrew) and Irodion Vetrinskii 78 among the circle of his student followers at the academy. “Fessler enthralled the students with his learning,” recalls Filaret, “but it must be accounted an act of Providence that because of certain disputes and complications he was soon dismissed from the academy, for, as later investigation showed, he was a man of dangerous views.”

Mystical currents or epidemics proved no less dangerous. A Latin captivity could be replaced by a German or even an English one, and now the sway of German philosophy and pietism threatened to displace scholasticism. At that time, and for a long time to come, German learning cast its shadow over Russian theology, to the detriment of many. Nonetheless, the reform of the ecclesiastical schools during those troubled years produced a genuine vitality in theology. A creative turmoil and awakening began. Any sickness was that of growth and life, not of death or degeneration, although the disease was real and of the most dangerous sort. Yet the steep, narrow path of Orthodox theology gradually could be discerned amidst the extreme mystical and philosophical enthusiasms on the one hand and the fears and suspicions of them on the other. Those years witnessed quarrels, clashes, and struggles — a struggle for theology — against those who disliked and feared it, against those who distrusted thought and creativity. Debate over the Russian Bible provides the opening act in that dramatic struggle.

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