Ways of Russian Theology

The Moral-Rationalistic School

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The Moral-Rationalistic School.

Another clearly defined and directly counter movement may be distinguished from the very outset in the reformed schools. Undoubtedly its best representative was Father Gerasim Pavskii (1787-1863), a graduate of the first class of the reformed St. Petersburg Academy, a remarkable Hebraist, a long time professor of Hebrew at the academy, and a doctor of theology at St. Petersburg University. He was also court chaplain, confessor, and tutor to the Tsarevich, the future Alexander II.186 Above all, Pavskii was a philologist — a man with a real philological gift and artistic flair. With all the ardor of scholarly passion he adored the Hebrew Bible. He studied Semitic philology prior to the printing of Gesenius' grammar, 187 and his intellectual outlook was formed under the influence of eighteenth century authorities. During his first years as a teacher at the academy, Pavskii composed and printed his own Hebrew grammar. However, the Hebrew and Chaldean dictionary of the Old Testament which he also compiled in those same years was not published.

Pavskii soon joined the Bible Society and was greatly enthusiastic about the translation. “It was not the language which was important for me,” he later stated, “but rather the pure Holy Scriptures undistorted by commentaries. I wished to achieve a true exegesis of Holy Scripture by language alone. A true understanding of Hebrew leads to an understanding of theology.” For the Bible Society he translated the Psalter (he wrote his own classroom text on the Psalms) and supervised the printing of the Pentateuch. Even after the Bible Society was closed he continued to translate: this work constituted his students' lessons at the academy. After Pavskii left the academy, the students lithographed his translation on their own initiative. It immediately enjoyed wide circulation in the ecclesiastical school milieu. The appearance of this “secret” translation aroused fears, especially among Synodal authorities. The translation was suppressed, the copies sought out and collected (this was in 1824).

There were grounds for such fears and accusations. Translation of the Bible could not long remain merely a literary exercise, and for Pavskii it was not such an exercise. Translation is always interpretanon. The lithographed translation was divided into sections with chapter headings and explanations, and with introductory and explanatory notes. In doing so, Pavskii most closely followed Rosenmueller. Pavskii left the impression that he accepted messianic prophecy in a very limited way and doubted the authenticity of various books and texts. There is no use to argue now: those were Pavskii's actual views, although he completely disavowed them under investigation. This liberal and critical approach to the Old Testament corresponded to his general religious outlook. Pavskii was neither a philosopher nor a thinker, but he had very definite religious-philosophical convictions. At the university he first lectured on “the history of the development of religious ideas in human society.” Under Runich 188 this was replaced by the instruction in Church history in conformity with Innokentii's textbook. Pavskii recommended Draeseke's Glaube, Liebe und Hoffnung 189 as a hand-book for students. Subsequentiy, he wrote Christian teaching in a brief system [Khristianskoe uchenie v kratkoi sisteme].

Pavskii professed a highly personal and undefined religious moralistic idealism. Religion is the feeling by which man's spirit inwardly embraces and is blessed by the Invisible, Eternal, and Holy. The study of religion is designed only to awaken, enliven, and nourish this holy feeling, so that it might strengthen, enlighten, and enflame the inner man, and give of itself the strength, light, and life to the entire man, his complete understanding, his thoughts, desires and acts.

Thus, positive religion is simply a kind of transfer of this innate feeling into a very clever but inadequate rational element. Ritual and even dogmas are only an outer shell, only a “hint,” and the dogmas of reason might even suppress or drown this immediate “holy feeling.” In Pavskii's understanding, religion approaches morality. And Christ for him was barely more than the Teacher. Pavskii limited the “substance” of Christianity by the direct testimony of Scripture.

I thank God that the Church in which I was born and educated does not compel me to believe in something without proof. It permits me to delve into the pure and holy Word of God, and if it prescribes a thing it always indicates the basis for its prescription in the Word of God and the common voice of the enlightened teachers of the Church.

The Church embraces all confessions in so far as they contain the “true essence” of dogmas. Palmer was very surprised when he heard of it Pavskii was very open in his conversation with Palmer. The priest is in no way distinguishable from the pastor, and thus, for example, “succession” was unbroken among the Lutherans.

The Christian Church is merely the shadow of Christ's invisible and unobtainable kingdom. Among the Christian churches the one which most purely expresses the idea of Christ's kingdom is nearest to perfection. Each visible church must understand that it is only on the way to perfection complete perfection is still far distant in the invisible church, in the kingdom of heaven.”

It should also be noted that Pavskii spoke with considerable heat against monasticism. “Church history has convinced me that monasticism is unclean and contrary to the law of nature. Consequently; it is contrary to the law of God.” Pavskii was a prominent worker and one of the “directors” in the Bible Society, yet he was always hostile to what he called the “crooked roads” of mysticism. Peter Bartenev 190 rightly noted that Pavskii was “a spokesman for a vague, evasive, vascillating piety,” and in this respect he was quite typical. Pavskii was completely suited to Zhukovskii and General Merder, 191 at whose suggestion Pavskii was invited to be the religion tutor to the Tsarevich (in 1835 he was compelled to leave this post under pressure primarily from Filaret, who found his theological views quite erroneous). This was the sharpest form of westernism not just in theology but in spiritual self awareness: a psychological inclusion in the German tradition. This was particularly true at the St. Petersburg Academy where true monastic life never exerted a necessary corrective. Pavskii was an outstanding philologist, and from the philological point of view his translation was very valuable. He was able to convey the very style and literary manner of the holy writers and the prosodic structure of the Biblical language. The translator's repertoire of Russian words was quite rich and fresh. Pavskii was also a gifted teacher, and imparted a good deal to his audience. However, he had few direct disciples. Only S.K. Sabinin (1789-1863), a priest with the diplomatic mission in Copenhagen and then in Weimar, did any independent work. By way of preparation Sabinin wrote on how to understand the meaning in “The Song of Songs.” He then worked on the “Book of Isaiah.” In Christian Reading he published a series of exegetical essays mostly dealing with the “Book of Prophets.” After Pavskii's translation was suppressed, Sabinin turned to Scandinavian themes. He published a grammar of Icelandic. For him philological intersts were uppermost, just as they were for Pavskii.

In another way, Innokentii Borisov (1800-1855) also belonged to this same “German” current in Russian theology. He was a graduate of the first course at the Kievan Academy, inspector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, rector of the Kievan Academy, and finally archbishop of Kherson and Taurida. In his day, Innokentii was repeatedly suspected and accused of “neology.” An “unofficial inquest” was made into his manner of thought. There were some grounds for one. Innokentii was interested in philosophy most of all. But he was not a thinker. He had a sharp and impressionistic mind, not a creative one. Nor was he a scholar. He was able to phrase questions in an enticing way, and lay bare inquiry at an unexpected point; he could seize his audience's or his reader's attention and transmit the answers of others with great verve and enthusiasm. Only a brilliant delivery masked the persistent lack of creative independence. But it was always delivery and not erudition. As Filaret of Moscow said about Innokentii: he lacks judgment, but he has too much imagination. In fact, Innokentii was an orator, and “eloquence” is the key to his influence and success both in the professor's chair and in the preacher's ambo.

In his theology lectures Innokentii was not independent, but lectured on dogmatics by adhering to the “system” of Dobmayer, 192 as did his theology teacher Archimandrite Moisei. At the time this “system” was used in the Austrian Catholic schools. This was all very characteristic of this “transitional” epoch — from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, from Lessing, Herder, and Kant to Schelling or even Baader. The fundamental and controlling concept of this “system” is the idea of the Kingdom of God humanistically explained as a “moral communion.” The influence of the Enlightenment was ubiquitous and Christianity was depicted as a school of natural morality and blessedness [blazhenstvo]. Christology remained pale and ambiguous. All of these traits can be found in Innokentii. Characteristically, the theme of his senior thesis was “On the moral character of Jesus Christ.” Innokentii's famous book The Last Days of Jesus Christ's Earthly Life [Poslednie dni zemnoi zhizni Iisusa Khrista, 1847] is only remarkable for its literary qualities. It was literature, not theology. Innokentii did not exceed the boundaries of rhetorical and sentimental humanism. In place of theology he always offered psychology; in place of history he offered rhetorics. Innokentii never sounded the true depths of spiritual life. He was eclectic. There were still many elements of the Enlightenment in his outlook, yet he was powerfully attracted by Alexandrine mysticism. In his lectures he often dwelled on the pietist tradition and with great sympathy referred to Fenelon, Guyon, Jung-Stilling, and Eckartshausen, “who had done so much that was useful.” Innokentii often spoke on Schubert 193 themes: dreams and death. Of course he spoke about The Seer of Prevorst. 194 He skirted the cosmological motifs in theology. “All nature is a portrait of the Most High, perfect and complete.” An echo of mystical natural philosophy can be detected in that statement.

Innokentii is still interesting to read. Naturally, it would be more interesting to hear him. Several passages in Bishop Innokentii's lectures were calculated solely for the effect they might have on the audience and not for their effect on paper; he was a cascading fireworks of talent which one can only view unsteadily from a distance, for, in approaching him in earnest, one receives the unpleasant smell of smoke rather than the pleasant impression of light playfulness. (P.V. Znamenskii) 195 Every attempt to imitate or follow Innokentii seemed false. He neither had, nor could have had, successors, although there were unsuccessful mimics. Innokentii had a real dramatic gift. Filaret of Kiev said it was “religious demagoguery.” Innokentii was able to sway even such a “hardened spirit” as Rostislavov, as well as religious dreamers and seekers of speculative revelations. Innokentii's listeners saw a stern and impressive theological truth in him, dressed in a sparkling attire they never imagined, for they were so accustomed to a scholastic delivery. It was not so much the power of his thought but his “lively imagination” that was striking: “The power of the mind was released in a wealth of images.” Innokentii's daring was largely irresponsible speculation and superficiality. “No matter how dear it was to the famous hierarch, the cast of his mind and the quality of his abilities did not and could not produce a new epoch in theology. Art, the fine art of the human word — that was his calling.” This was written about Innokentii by Makarii Bulgakov 196 in a solemn obituary for the Proceedings [Otchety] of the Academy of Sciences. Makarii added: “One does not encounter Christian profundity and theological erudition.” Strangely enough, Innokentii exaggeratedly praised Makarii's dogmatic theology and his belated effort to return to the scholastic manner with its oddly inert rational thought and lack of curiosity.

When in the 1840's the thought arose to replace Filaret's Catechism with another more ecclesiastical one (that is, a more Roman Catholic one), Innokentii was the first person to come to mind. His old teacher, Archdeacon Skvortsov, 197 put it to him this way: “If you are of a like mind with several of us, then what we need is not a broad knowledge of philosophy, we need only revealed theology [bogoslovie otkrovennoe].” In his younger days Innokentii had been reprimanded precisely because he discussed philosophical formulas rather than positive theology under the rubric of dogmatics. He entranced his audience with them. But he was only emotionally taken up with philosophy and was more interested in the polysemantic answers of the philosophers than he was agitated by their questions. Innokentii was an erudite and an orator. He was not an historian and his efforts at historical exposition were always weak. For several long years he prepared the publication of his Dogmatic Essays [Dogmaticheskii Sbornik] , as he called it, or A Monument of the Orthodox Faith [Pamiatnik very pravoslavnoi] . It was intended to be precisely a collection of essays — a collection of instructions in faith presented and explained in chronological order. But Innokentii did not touch upon the idea of living Tradition with all its manifold dimensions. The essays remained unpublished. Innokentii's undoubted service was founding the journal Sunday Reading [Voskresnoe Chtenie] at the Kiev Theological Academy in 1837. The journal was more didactic than scholarly.

As a preacher Innokentii most closely resembles Massillon. 198 He was connected in every way with western tradition. Patristic motifs are hardly detectable. Moreover, he reworked an entire series of Uniate acathisti under the domination of this sentimental spirit, of this play of pious imagination.

In this regard, Innokentii may be compared with his Kievan contemporary and colleague I. K. Amfiteatrov (1802-1848), in his day a very well-known professor of homiletics at the academy. His Lectures on Church Philology [Chteniia o tserkovnoi slovesnosti] appeared in 1847. Amfiteatrov turned from French models in sermonry to patristic ones. Yet the sentimental strain, practically a “holy melancholy,” was very strong in him. It was a preference for sorrow and dreaminess (“the sun shone, but the light was sorrow to him . . .”).

To a certain extent “westernism” was inescapable in the daily routine of the reformed ecclesiastical schools. Foreign books and texts were necessary for study. The first task of a teacher was to introduce the contemporary scholarly and pedagogical materials of the western theological schools into a Russian school idiom. With the gradual transition to Russian instruction, the question of composing or translating “textbooks” became much more pointed than it had been when Latin was the sole language of theological instruction and learning both in Russia and in the West. The Statute of 1814 encouraged teachers to compose their own notes or texts. During the “return to the time of scholasticism” such activities came under suspicion, and control and surveillance made them difficult. In those first decades of the nineteenth century, the students learned from foreign textbooks in translation, in the original, or sometimes in paraphrase. The first Russian books were no more than paraphrases. For Holy Scripture Metropolitan Amvrosii Podobedov's 199 Handbook for Reading Holy Scriptures [Rukovodstvo k chteniiu Sv. Pisaniia, Moscow, 1799], a paraphrase of a book by Hofmann, 200 was used, as was Rambach's Institutiones hermeneuticae sacrae. 201 Ioann Dobrozrakov, 202 at one time the rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, composed his dissertation, Delineation hermeneuticae sacrae generalis (1828) on the basis of Rambach. It was also used as a “textbook.” In “conceptual” theology, that is theoretical or dogmatic theology, all the books of the previous century were retained. Prokopovich was included, but most often it was Irinei Fal'kovskii and only rarely the Russian books of Platon, Makarii Petrovich, or now and then Tikhon Zadonskii's On True Christianity. New authorities appeared in the academies: Dobmayer in Kiev; 203 at the Moscow Academy rector Polikarp lectured from Libermann 204 and made use of the other new courses coming from Germany. Somewhat later Filaret Gumilevskii lectured from Klee 205 and Brenner, 206 “and not without reference to the opinions of German rationalism.” At the same time the works of the Fathers were recommended, but in practice at the time attention was alinost wholly devoted to modern literature. Rector Polikarp had the habit of producing testimony from the Fathers of the Eastern Church, and the students in the upper classes would study these extracts. In moral or “active” theology, the usual textbook was Buddeus, usually as revised by Feofilakt. Sometimes Schubert's theology was used, translated from the Latin by the Kostroma Archpriest I. Arsen'ev 207 (1804) or also the text of Archdeacon I.S. Kochetov, Characteristics of an active study of faith [Cherty deiatel'nago ucheniia very] . This was a Russian reworking of Innokentii Smirnov's Latin lectures compiled according to Buddeus and Mosheim. Filaret Gumilevskii remarked that “the Latin notes of the rector were translated into Russian and that was all there was to it.”

The basic textbook for pastoral theology was the useful but aged book by Parfenii Sopkovskii, bishop of Smolensk, A book on the duties of parish presbyters [Kniga o dolzhnostiakh presviterov prikhodskikh] 208 which some preferred to the translated Catholic text by Giftschutz. 209 In liturgics either the New Tablet [Novaia Skrizhal'] or a book by I.I. Dmitrevskii, An Historical and Mysterious explanation of the Divine Liturgy [Istoricheskoe i tainstvennoe obiasnenie Bozhestvennoi liturgii, 1804] 210 were most often used. It was usual to turn to foreign books on composition. “Besides Latin books, the most important books for writing a dissertation were those in German. Therefore, after entering the academy, the students devoted all their energies to learning German in order to read German books.” This is stated by the historian of the Moscow Academy, and this situation lasted nearly the entire nineteenth century. Under such conditions, the sharpest impact of that confessional milieu in which the theological investigation and labor went forward in the West was absolutely inescapable. It was noted immediately. For many it meant timidity and wavering, sometimes even outright fear. Would it not be better to avoid this encounter completely, refuse contact with the traditions of western learning and science, and not sample the dubious foreign sources? In reality, the constant reading of foreign books was not harmless. However, the chief danger was not that theological thought must wrestle with difficult arguments or become sidetracked. Much more important was the possibility that the very soul would be bisected and cut off from firm moorings. Intimate comments in letters between friends or in diaries are especially instructive and illustrative in this connection. The friendly correspondence between Filaret Gumilevskii and A.V. Gorskii provides interesting examples. Equilibrium could only be restored through ascetic vigil and prayer.

The danger lay in the artificial character of the schools, which were not bound organically with life, with the actual life of the Church. Clerical youths lived for years in the artifical semi-isolation of the half Orthodox, half-Russian schools. Habits of abstract theorizing were cultivated; a self-styled dreamy intellectualism developed. The circumstances of the Alexandrine epoch and the beginnings of Romanticism greatly facilitated it . . .

However, no matter how difficult and dangerous this “western” stage was, it was inescapable. It had to be accepted as such and as a relative truth. For it is possible to save oneself from the dangers of thought only by creativity, not by prohibitions . . .

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