Ways of Russian Theology

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Return to Scholasticism.

The “uprising” of 1824 was directed not only against the Bible Society, but against the whole “new order.” Filaret of Moscow correctly defined the purpose of the “uprising” as “a return to the time of scholasticism.” Yet, the chief defender of the new order during these years turned out to be none other than Filaret. Filaret (1782-1867) had a long life, literally from the annexation of the Crimea to the “Great Reforms.” But he was a man of the Alexandrine age. He was born in sleepy, oblivious Kolomna and studied in a pre-reform seminary where students were taught in Latin from Latin books. However, at the Holy Trinity monastery seminary, where he finished his studies and became a teacher, the spirit of Protestant scholasticism was mitigated and moderated by the winnowing of that churchly pietism so typically exemplified in Metropolitan Platon Levshin. 131

Archimandrite Evgraf (Muzalevskii-Platonov), the rector, taught from Protestant texts. Filaret recalled that ”Evgraf would assign selected passages to be copied from Hollatius."132 Lessons consisted of translating and commenting on these dictated passages. “Those doctrines which Orthodox and Protestants have in common, such as the Holy Trinity, Redemption, and so on were studied systematically, but others, for example, the doctrine of the Church, were not read at all. Evgraf did not receive a systematic education, although he recognized the necessity for studying the church fathers and he studied them.” Evgraf typifies a generation in transition. He loved mystical interpretations of the Bible and would become quite transported by such explanations. “The Kingdom of God is contained not in the word, but in strength.” He attempted a transition to Russian language instruction. Subsequently he served as rector of the reformed St. Petersburg Theological Academy, but he died soon after his appointment.

Filaret did not judge him too harshly when he said that: “An inexperienced teacher instructed us in theology, but he did so with great application.” Filaret's personal recollections of the “pre-reform” seminary were wholly negative. “What was there to admire?” Filaret himself acquired a brilliant command of classical languages and a sound preparation in stylistics and philology from such a school. As a consequence he knew ancient languages better than modern ones and never studied German at all. For the rest, he could thank his personal talents and dedication to hard work. Thus, in an important sense, there was some basis for his fond description of himself as a self-educated man.

In 1809 the newly tonsured hierodeacon Filaret was summoned from the quiet refuge of a Holy Trinity Monastery bathed in the spirit of pious reverie to St. Petersburg “for inspection” and for service in the newly reformed ecclesiastical schools. For Filaret the startling contrast and the sudden transfer gave St. Petersburg a strange appearance: “The course of affairs is entirely incomprehensible to me,” he admitted in a letter to his father. He could recall those first impressions of St. Petersburg for the rest of his life. The Synod greeted him with the advice to read “Swedenborg's Miracles” [Shvedenborgovy chudesa] and learn French. He was taken to court to view the fireworks and attend a masquerade party in order to meet Prince Golitsyn, the Over Procurator of the Holy Synod, quite literally “amidst the noise of the ball.”

Then a short man, his breast adorned with stars and medals, entered the room and began threading his way through the hall. He was wearing a three-cornered hat and some sort of silk cape over an embroidered uniform. Then he ascended to the balcony where the clergy were decorously seated. He mingled politely with the members of the Synod, nodding to them, shaking their hands, briefly murmuring a word or two first to one, then to another. No one seemed surprised either at his attire or his familiarity. This was Filaret's first masquerade ball, and he had never before seen a domino. “At the time I was an object of amusement in the Synod “ Filaret recalled, “and I have remained a fool.” Filaret received a cool welcome in St. Petersburg, and he was not immediately permitted to teach at the academy. But by early 1812 he had become the academy rector and an archimandrite, with the task of supervising the Iur'ev Monastery in Novgorod. He advanced primarily through his ardor, his distinguished “preaching of the Word of God “ and his “edifying and eloquent homilies on the truths of faith.” Filaret had already attracted attention as a stylist and a preacher while at the Holy Trinity Monastery. He truly did have a gift and feeling for words.

Platon and Anastasii Bratanovskii o among Russian preachers influenced him. In St. Petersburg he became acquainted with seventeenth century French sermonists, especially Massillon, Bourdaloue, and most of all, Fenelon. 134 But the influence of the eastern fathers, Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian, whom Filaret always particularly loved and valued, is quite pronounced. Filaret chose contemporary themes for his sermons. He spoke about the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, the mystery of the Cross, “a voice crying in the wilderness"-the favorite topics of pietism and quietism. He frequently preached in Prince Golitsyn's chapel, even on weekdays. Grigorii (Postnikov), 135 a former student and friend, commented rather unfavorably on these early sermons. He wrote to Filaret, frankly saying that these sermons displayed “a studied concern for wordplay, ingenuity, and circumlocution, which could truly vex a heart seeking the unalloyed and edifying truth.” In fact, during those first years, Filaret spoke with an overly intense and ornamental style. Later he became calmer and more cautious, but his language always remained complex and his phrases were always arranged as if in counterpoint. Such features do not diminish the expressiveness of his sermons. Even Herzen 136 admitted Filaret possessed a rare control over language. “He masterfully commanded the Russian language, skillfully interweaving it with Church Slavic.” This “mastery” of language provides the principal reason for his powerful style: he writes with the living word, a word which seems to be thinking, an inspired and vocal pondering. Filaret always preached the Gospel and never tried to achieve mere rhetorical effect. Precisely during those early St. Petersburg years, he produced his original and exemplary sermons on Good Friday (in 1813, and especially in 1816). Filaret's scholarly and pedagogical duties during those years display a still greater intensity. A burdensome and severe ordeal awaited him. “I had to teach what I had never been taught.” In the short time from 1810 to 1817, he had to prepare himself and construct practically an entire course in theology in all of its branches, including exegetical theology, canon law, and church antiquities. It was not surprising that he complained of extreme exhaustion. Nor is it surprising that these first attempts did not always succeed or represent complete originality. They often produced diverse and overly fresh impressions. “Influences” would be too strong a word. Filaret's first books, An Outline of Church-Biblical History [Nachertanie tserkovnobibleiskoi istorii, 1816] and Notes on the Book of Genesis [Zapiski na knigu Bytiia, 1816], were modelled on Buddeus. 137 He also borrowed Buddeus's scholarly apparatus. Such borrowing was simply unavoidable given his deadline and the haste of the work. The students had to be given textbooks and other manuals in order to take the examinations.

Filaret was an inspiring and brilliant professor. He spoke distinctly with an incisive, lofty, and intelligent manner; but [he spoke] more to the intellect than to the heart. He freely expounded Holy Scriptures, as if the words simply flowed from his mouth. The students became so taken by him, that when the time came for him to stop teaching, a great desire always remained to go on listening without regard for food or drink. He produced a powerful impression through his lessons. Those lessons seemed truly pleasing and perfect to everyone. During class, he appeared as a wise and eloquent speaker and a skillful writer. Everything indicated he devoted much time to scholarship.

This is Archimandrite Fotii's own assessment. He adds that Filaret strongly advocated monasticism “and was very compassionate.” Fotii had an opportunity to experience that compassion during his difficult and troubled year at the academy. As Sturdza noted, at that time Filaret was “agitated by the promptings of many quite diverse influences.” Along with everyone else, he read Jung-Stilling, Eckartshausen, Fenelon, and Guyon, as well as Kerner's The Seer of Prevorst. 138 Traces of such reading unquestionably remained an indelible part of his spiritual and intellectual make-up. Filaret could find a common language not only with Golitsyn, but also with Labzin and even with itinerant Quakers. Every dimension of religious life interested him and attracted him. However, for all such interests, Filaret stayed squarely within the church and inwardly remained untouched by this mystical awakening. Because he was always so impressionable, Filaret inclined toward suspicion: he noted everything and probed and reflected deeply on each detail, a discomforting habit for those around him. But he preferred a certain reserve, while subduing and disciplining himself above all others. Even Fotii, who in his memoirs reproached Filaret for many things and strongly disliked him, admitted that, while a student “living under the sharp eye of Archimandrite Filaret,” he “never noticed, or could have noticed, even the slightest blemish on the teaching about the church, either in classes at the academy or in private.” Fotii furiously attacks Filaret for only one thing: his excessive patience and extreme taciturnity.

Innokentii Smirnov advised Fotii to pay Filaret frequent visits, where he might learn what silence means. Such a trait actually was one of Filaret's characteristics. He appeared secretive and evasive. In is memoirs, Sturdza writes that there was “something enigmatic” in his entire being. Completely open only before God, and not before men-at least not indiscriminately-"Filaret never allowed himself moments of unguarded confidences.” With partial justification, he might be accused of excessive timidity and caution, for he did not wish to risk challenging powerful authority. (“We two archimandrites of the Iur'ev and Pustynsk monasteries will not save the Church, if it contains some defect,” Filaret told Innokentii). But Filaret's caution had another dimension. He had no faith in the utility or reliability of harshly restrictive measures, and he was in no hurry to meddle or pass judgment. Always able to distinguish the error from the person making it, he looked benevolently on every sincere impulse of the soul. Even in the yearnings of the mystics he sensed a true religious thirst, a spiritual restlessness which stumbled along errant paths, only because “the rightful path had been poorly constructed.” Thus, for polemical purposes, prohibitions alone would not be sufficient. Above all, education was needed. For that constructive and creative struggle with error which Filaret wished to wage, one must teach, reason, and refrain from impatient quarrels.

Behind the facade of mystical seductions, Filaret could recognize a vital need for religion, a thirst for religious instruction and enlightenment: hence his enthusiastic participation in the work of the Bible Society. The work attracted him, for he believed that the church should expend its energies on translation of the Bible, “so that the bread might not be taken from the children.” He firmly believed in the power of renewal found in the Word of God, and forever linked his name with and his selflessly dedicated life to, the translation of the Russian Bible. His labor on behalf of the Bible is difficult to value at its true worth. For him personally the work meant great personal trials and humiliations. At the height of the “uprising” against the Bible in St. Petersburg, Filaret, in Moscow, replied that “such a desire to read the Bible, is already a sign of moral improvement.” If some prefer to live on roots rather than pure bread, the Bible cannot be held responsible. To the anticipated question: “Why this innovation in a matter so ancient and unneedful of change as Christianity and the Bible?” Filaret replied, Why this innovation? What is new? Dogmas? Precepts living? But the Bible Society preaches none of these things but instead places into the hands of those who desire it a book from which the truths of the Church always have been drawn, and from which Orthodox dogmas and also the pure precepts for living continue to be derived. The Society is a new one? Yet it introduces nothing new into Christianity or produces the slightest alteration in the Church . . . .`Why this innovation of foreign origin?' they continue. In reply to that question, one might point out for our worthy compatriots many things and ask a similar question: `Why are they not only of foreign origin, but even entirely foreign'? . . .

As one contemporary put it, “some of the most devout people held the unfortunate belief that people would go mad from reading this sacred book.” For a time students in the military schools were officially forbidden to read the Bible, ostensibly as a precautionary measure, for two cadets had already become addled. Many others “regarded it as a book only for use in church and suited solely to priests.” From fear of mystical errors and excesses, people suddenly began to shun the writings of Macarius of Egypt and Isaac the Syrian, whose “wise prayer of the heart has been destroyed and derided as a pestilence and a ruination.”

Somewhat later Filaret had to prove that it was permissible to write new commentaries on St. Paul's epistles, despite the fact that Chrysostom had long ago provided explanations. “Smoke consumes one's eyes, arid they say `the light of the sun consumes them.' Choking from the smoke, they gasp, `how poisonous is the water from the spring of life.' “

Such a spirit of timid theological endeavor always disturbed Filaret, wherever and whenever it appeared. “Human nature contains a strange ambivalence and contradictory tendencies,” he. once said. On the one hand exists a sense of need for the Divine and a desire for communion with God; on the other hand, there is a mysterious disinclination to occupy oneself with Divine matters and an impulse to avoid any discourse with God. . . .The first of these tendencies belongs to man's original nature, while the other derives from a nature blemished by sin.

Possession and preservation of faith are not sufficient: “perhaps you have doubts you actually possess faith, or how you possess it. . . .” Filaret continues. As long as your faith resides in the Word of God and in the Creed, then your faith belongs to God, His prophets, Apostles, and Fathers of the Church and not to you. When you hold your faith in your thoughts and memory, then you begin to acquire it as your own; but I still fear for your acquisition [of it], because the living faith in your thoughts is, perhaps, still only a token of that treasure you have yet to receive, that is the living power of faith.

In other words, faith, in the fullness of its dogmatic content, must become the vital principle or focus in life. Each person must not merely remember the content of that faith, but acquire it with the labor of the mind and with the entirety of the soul. Filaret was not afraid to awaken thought, although he knew temptations could only be overcome and conquered by the creative act and not by frightened concealment. Subsequently he wrote: “The necessity to do battle with enemies and with teachings contrary to dogma is quite a sufficient task. What purpose is served by combatting options which are not inimical to any dogmatic truth?” Filaret always emphasized the necessity to engage in theology as the single and immutable foundation for a complete religious life. “Christianity is not being a fool for Christ's sake [iurodstvo], nor is it ignorance, but it is the wisdom of God.” Hence no Christian dares halt at the beginning or remain only at an elementary stage. Christianity is a path or a way. Filaret constantly recalls that “[we] should consider no wisdom, even that which is secret and hidden, to be alien and unrelated to us, but with humility we should direct our minds toward contemplation of God.” Christian personality is shaped only through such reasoning and understanding; only in this manner is the “perfect man of God” shaped, and formed. Filaret's favorite aphorism, “theology reasons,” is a commandment “to reason” given to everyone and not to the few. He considered overly detailed textbooks harmful, and for quite characteristic reasons. “A student having before him a large textbook, that he cannot absorb even that which had been prepared for him Consequently, the possibility of constructing something for himself seems impossible. Thus the mind is not stirred to activity and the memory retains the words rather than the ideas from the pages of book.” What is actually needed is to arouse and exercise the “mind's ability to function,” and not simply to develop the memory. Herein lies the solution or explanation for the fervor with which Filaret all of his life fought on behalf of the Russian language, both for the Bible and for theological instruction. He wished, and strove to make theology accessible to everyone, and for that reason he seemed terrible and dangerous to his opponents. General accessibility is just what they did not want. “Translation of the New Testament into the simple dialect left a permanent and indelible stain upon him,” wrote Fotii.

It was necessary to wage war on two fronts in order to achieve the use of Russian in school instruction. First, one had to combat the civil authorities (and during Nicholas I's reign all “thought” was regarded as the embryo of revolution). The so-called Committee of 6 December (1826-1830) 139 completely opposed the proposal for instruction in Russian, arguing that the necessary addition of new Russian language textbook editions for dogmatic and hermeneutical theology might attract the attention of unenlightened people to questions about faith: “Providing an opportunity for unfounded explanations and conjectures.” Second, one had to debate with the represeritatives of the old learning about the use of Latin in theological instruction. Very many such representatives still survived. After Golitsyn's departure, Metropolitan Evgenii of Kiev 140 had been summoned to the Synod. He was entrusted with a new construction of the ecclesiastical schools, “for the establishment of ecclesiastical schools on the firm and steadfast foundation of Orthodoxy,” as Metropolitan Seraphim wrote. Fotii recommended Evgenii and openly counterposed him to Filaret as “wiser than Filaret and at the same time an Orthodox and great man and a pillar of the Church: ' (Fotii gave Evgenii a solemn greeting). However, once in St. Petersburg, Evgenii became too preoccupied with his personal and archeological interests to be able to devote much attention to the large questions of church politics. Nevertheless, a reactionary spirit could be felt quite strongly among the new membership of the Commission on Ecclesiastical Schools. Filaret of Moscow did not attend the sessions of the Synod during those troubled years (if one does not count the brief session of the Synod in Moscow at Nicholas's coronation). He occupied himself with the affairs of his diocese, and only in 1827 did he return to St. Petersburg. During the first weeks after his arrival, he was called upon to discuss the question of church reform. Someone had presented the emperor with a proposal for fundamental reforms aimed at “saddling the Church with a kind of Protestant consistory composed of clergy and laymen,” in Filaret's understanding of the proposal's intent. Apparently General Merder, 141 Nicholas's former tutor, had transmitted the proposal. Filaret believed the author to be A. A. Pavlov, the cohort of Fotii and Shishkov during the “uprising” of 1824. The Synod struggled to compose a reply to the substance of the proposal. Filaret also presented a personal note, which was submitted by the Synod as the opinion of one of its members. The Emperor wrote the word “just” [spravedlivo] on this report, in which Filaret had once again raised the question of Biblical translation. But Filaret's suggestion could make no further progress in view of Metropolitan Seraphim's unqualified opposition. Filaret did not insist. “I do not wish to produce a schism in the Church.”

In the next few years, Filaret had one other opportunity to set forth in detail his views on the question of church schools. Once again the opportunity came in connection with those same proposals for reform. He roundly condemned the scholastic schools, and still more emphatically castigated the belated attempts to return to such superannuated models. Before the reform several ecclesiastical schools were distinguished by a knowledge of Latin. . . .As a result, priest knew Latin pagan authors well, but hardly knew religious and Church writers. They could speak and write in Latin better than in Russian. With their exquisite phrases in a dead language, they were more able to shine in a circle of scholars than illuminate the people with the living knowledge of truth. Only dogmatic theology was taught, and then in the school manner. The result was a dry, cold knowledge, a lack of a sufficiently practical capacity to inform, a forced tone, fruitless teaching, and an inability to speak to the people about the truths which seem so familiar in the schools. Since the reforms of the church schools in 1814, instruction in practical theology [deiatel'noe bogoslovie] has been introduced, thereby making the study of theology closer to the demands of life. . . .The Russian language was permitted in teaching theology. Knowledge of Latin became weaker, but at the same time the school terminology began to give way to a purer and cleaner exposition of truth. The extension of true knowledge was strengthened and its communication to the people made easier. . .

Filaret emphasized that: “Theological understanding, crushed by the great weight of school terminology taught in Latin, did not freely act on the mind during the period of study, and after study only with the greatest difficulty was it transposed into Russian for communication to the people.” He then criticized the latest directives from the Commission on Ecclesiastical Schools. True, he agreed, not all teachers constructed their courses successfully, but should teaching from “one's own lectures” be totally prohibited for that reason? Must Latin once again become compulsory and Feofilakt's theology textbook, 142 “copied from Buddeus's Lutheran theology,” be assigned once again? Filaret once more adduced an argument based on effectiveness. “Return to Latin scholasticism from instruction in a comprehensible native language cannot facilitate the improvement of education. It is surprising that a time which is being praised for its zeal for Orthodoxy should prefer a return to Latin.”

Another Filaret, the archbishop of Riazan' and later metropolitan of Kiev, responded to this determined note. Without quarrelling directly with Filaret of Moscow, he insisted upon preserving Latin for various reasons: as a defensive measure for scholarship, but more importantly as a precaution, so that errors and heresies refuted in dogmatic theology would not gain public attention through Russian books. Nevertheless, he did agree with certain points, and proposed that catechisms, particularly the Orthodox Confession, be published for popular use in Russian and Church Slavic. He also admitted that practical theology could best be taught in Russian. Finally, he thought it desirable to organize the translation of patristic writings into Russian from Greek and Latin. Filaret of Moscow had to give way. The final report did not include a proposal for theological instruction in Russian.

I proposed that theology be taught in Russian at the seminaries in order that its study and its transmission to the people might be made easier and so that those who are distrustful will not ask why we conceal the Holy Gospel in a non-Orthodox language. I stated that it is strange and crippling to give sway to Latin in the Greek Church and that Feofan Prokopovich, by doing so, had disfigured our learning, contrary to the general opinion of the Russian hierarchy at that time, and contrary to the example of all Eastern antiquity; but I had to be silent, in order to end those disagreements which could impede our work.

However, Filaret did achieve one thing: a special point was added to the Synodal resolution; “in order that instruction conducted in the ecclesiastical schools might be more fruitfully directed toward the goal of popular education in faith and morality by means of an educated clergy, to that end capable people should be encouraged to prepare theology textbooks which expound truths in a precise way, unobscured by scholastic subtleties, and which modify [theology] to suit the circumstances of the Eastern Greco-Russian Church.”

The dispute over the language of instruction was decided with out preliminary debate. Despite the prohibition, in a short time Russian became the language of the schools everywhere. Filaret had already lectured in Russian at the St. Petersburg Academy, as did his successor Grigorii (Postnikov). Kirill (Bogoslovskii-Platonov) 143 did so in Moscow. Both Grigorii and Kirill were graduates in the first class at the St. Petersburg Academy. Moisei, the rector at the Kiev Academy, 144 had already taught in Russian. Meletii (L.eontovich), 145 and later Innokentii, followed his example. Gradually Latin fell by the wayside in the seminaries so that by the 1840's scarcely any school still taught, theology in Latin. Nevertheless, the transition to Russian still did not signify a genuine liberation from the captivity or slavery of scholasticism. In the 1840's Russian theology had to suffer still another relapse of Latin scholasticism. Once again the initiative belonged to the vising Over Procurator.

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