Sergei Bulgakov
Fr. Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov ( - July 12, 1944) was a Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n Orthodox Christian theologian, philosopher and economist. Until 1922 he worked in Russia; afterwards in Paris.

Early life

Sergei Nicolaevich Bulgakov was born on 16 June 1871 Old Style to the family of an Orthodox
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

 priest (Nikolai Bulgakov) in the town of Livny
Livny is a town in Oryol Oblast, Russia. Population: The town apparently originated in 1586 as Ust-Livny, a wooden fort on the bank of the Livenka River, although some believe that a town had existed on the spot previous to the Mongol invasion of Rus...

, Oryol
Oryol or Orel is a city and the administrative center of Oryol Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River, approximately south-southwest of Moscow...

A guberniya was a major administrative subdivision of the Russian Empire usually translated as government, governorate, or province. Such administrative division was preserved for sometime upon the collapse of the empire in 1917. A guberniya was ruled by a governor , a word borrowed from Latin ,...

, in Russia.

He studied at Orel seminary
A seminary, theological college, or divinity school is an institution of secondary or post-secondary education for educating students in theology, generally to prepare them for ordination as clergy or for other ministry...

, then at Yelets
Yelets is a city in Lipetsk Oblast, Russia, situated on the Sosna River, which is a tributary of the Don. Population: -History:Yelets is the oldest center of the Central Black Earth Region. It is mentioned in historical documents as far back as 1146, when it belonged to the Princes of Ryazan...

 gimnasium. In 1894 he graduated from the Law School of Moscow University
Moscow State University
Lomonosov Moscow State University , previously known as Lomonosov University or MSU , is the largest university in Russia. Founded in 1755, it also claims to be one of the oldest university in Russia and to have the tallest educational building in the world. Its current rector is Viktor Sadovnichiy...

, where he had also undertaken a serious study of political economy
Political economy
Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy...


During his study at the seminary Bulgakov became interested in Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 and took part in the Legal Marxism
Legal Marxism
Legal Marxism was a Russian Marxist movement based on a particular interpretation of Marxist theory whose proponents were active in socialist circles between 1894 and 1901. The movement's primary theoreticians were Pyotr Struve, Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Mikhail Tugan-Baranovsky and Semyon...

 movement. Studying Marxism, Bulgakov eventually became convinced of the impotence of this theory. Under the influence of works of Russian religious thinkers (Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Vladimir Solovyov
Vladimir Solovyov (philosopher)
Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov was a Russian philosopher, poet, pamphleteer, literary critic, who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry at the end of the 19th century...

, etc.), in the course of his meetings and arguments with Leo Tolstoy he found his religious beliefs again. He wrote a book about his evolution (Sergey Bulgakov, From Marxism to Idealism
In philosophy, idealism is the family of views which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing...

, 1903). Such an evolution was common for the Russian intelligentsia
The intelligentsia is a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them...

 of the time, and he soon became one of their recognised ideologists. A primary contributor to the books Problems of Idealism (1902), Vekhi, Problems of Religion, About Vladimir Solovyev, About the Religion of Leo Tolstoy, The Religion of Solovyov's Philosophical Society, he participated in the journals New Way (Новый Путь) and Questions of Life (Вопросы Жизни). He was a leader of the publisher Way (Путь, 1911–1917), where he printed many important works of contemporary Orthodox theology.

From 1906 to 1922

In 1906 he was elected as an independent Christian Socialist to the Second Duma. He published the important original monographs Philosophy of Economy («Философия хозяйства» 1912) and Unfading Light («Свет Невечерний» 1917), in which he first offered his own teaching based on the combination of sophiology
Sophiology is a philosophical concept regarding wisdom, as well as a theological concept regarding the wisdom of God...

of Vladimir Solovyov
Vladimir Solovyov (philosopher)
Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov was a Russian philosopher, poet, pamphleteer, literary critic, who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry at the end of the 19th century...

 and Pavel Florensky
Pavel Florensky
Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky was a Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher, mathematician, electrical engineer, inventor and Neomartyr sometimes compared by his followers to Leonardo da Vinci.-Early life:Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky was born on January 21, 1882, into the family of a railroad...

, the later works of Schelling, and his own intuition
Intuition (knowledge)
Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference or the use of reason. "The word 'intuition' comes from the Latin word 'intueri', which is often roughly translated as meaning 'to look inside'’ or 'to contemplate'." Intuition provides us with beliefs that we cannot necessarily justify...

-based ideas about the Orthodox Christian faith.

In 1918, having returned to the Orthodox Church, he was ordained to the priesthood, and rose to prominence in church circles. He took part in the All-Russia Sobor
A sobor is a council of bishops together with other clerical and lay delegates representing the church as a whole in matters of importance...

 of the Russian Orthodox Church that elected patriarch
Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

 Tikhon of Moscow
Tikhon of Moscow
Saint Tikhon of Moscow , born Vasily Ivanovich Bellavin , was the 11th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church during the early years of the Soviet Union, 1917 through 1925.-Early life:...

. Bulgakov rejected the October revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

 and responded with On the Feast of the Gods ("На пиру богов", 1918), a book similar to the Three Talks of Vladimir Solovyov.

During the Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a...

 he was in Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

, where he worked in the field of philosophy. He wrote books Philosophy of the Name ( "Философия имени", 1920) and Tragedy of Philosophy ("Трагедия философии", 1920) in which he revised his views about the relation of Philosophy to Dogmatism. He concluded that the Christian views can be expressed only by dogmatic theology. Thereafter his works were devoted to dogmatic theology.

On December 30, 1922, the Bolshevik government expelled some 160 prominent intellectuals on the so-called Philosophers' ship, Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev
Nikolai Berdyaev
Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev was a Russian religious and political philosopher.-Early life and education:Berdyaev was born in Kiev into an aristocratic military family. He spent a solitary childhood at home, where his father's library allowed him to read widely...

, and Ivan Ilyin
Ivan Ilyin
Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin was a Russian religious and political philosopher, White emigre publicist and an ideologue of the Russian All-Military Union.-Young years:...

 among them.

Bulgakov in Paris

In May 1923, he became professor of Church Law and Theology at the school of law of the Russian Research Institute in Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...


In 1925 he helped found St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute
St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute
The Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint-Serge in Paris, France, or St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute is a private school of higher education in Orthodox theology, founded in 1925, in conformity with French legislation and the norms of European university education, accredited by the...

 (l'Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge), in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, France. He was the head of this institute and Professor of Dogmatic Theology
Dogmatic theology
Dogmatic theology is that part of theology dealing with the theoretical truths of faith concerning God and his works, especially the official theology recognized by an organized Church body, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Dutch Reformed Church, etc...

 until his death from throat
In vertebrate anatomy, the throat is the anterior part of the neck, in front of the vertebral column. It consists of the pharynx and larynx...

Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

 on July 12, 1944. His last work was devoted to the Apocalypse
An Apocalypse is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted. The Apocalypse of John is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament...



Bulgakov’s teaching on sophiology
Sophiology is a philosophical concept regarding wisdom, as well as a theological concept regarding the wisdom of God...

 is highly controversial. The attempt to understand it properly is hindered by the highly political controversy surrounding it in the 1930s.

Ecclesiastical situation in Russian Orthodoxy

By 1931 there existed three separate Russian Orthodox jurisdictions in Europe: the Russian Church Abroad/Sremski Karlovtsy Synod
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia , also called the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, ROCA, or ROCOR) is a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church....

 (ROCA or ROCOR) under Met. Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev
Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev
Metropolitan Antony of Kiev was a Russian Orthodox metropolitan bishop, founder of Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.-Biography:He was born Aleksey Pavlovich Khrapovitsky in Vatagino to a family with a noble background. and studied theology at Saint Petersburg Theological Academy. In 1885 he...

; the "Patriarchal" Church answering ultimately to Met. Sergius I of Moscow (of which the young Vladimir Lossky
Vladimir Lossky
Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky was an influential Eastern Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. He emphasized theosis as the main principle of Orthodox Christianity....

 was a member); and the Russian Church in Western Europe (Bulgakov’s own jurisdiction as well as the church of Georges Florovsky) under Met. Evlogy (Georgievsky)
Evlogy Georgievsky
Yevlogy Georgiyevsky was metropolitan of Western Europe of the Russian Orthodox Church.His jurisdiction began operating independently of the mother church in Moscow in 1931, because of the intense persecution of the Russian Church by Communists...

 that was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

 -- though in 1934, Met. Evlogy was privately reconciled to Met. Antony, and in 1935 he went to Karlovtsy
Sremski Karlovci
Sremski Karlovci is a town and municipality in Serbia, in the autonomous province of Vojvodina, situated on the bank of the river Danube, 8 km from Novi Sad...

 for a special reunion conference, at which time the schism between him and ROCOR was healed In 1936, Met. Evlogy again cut his ties with ROCOR, quite possibly because of the controversy over .

Reaction to Bulgakov's writings

In an ukaz of 24 August 1935 of Met. Sergius, Bulgakov’s teaching on ‘Sophia’ was described as ‘alien’ to the Orthodox faith. This ukaz was largely based on the epistolary reports of Alexis Stavrovsky. He was also the president of the Brotherhood of St Photius (Alexis Stavrovskii was president; Vladimir Lossky
Vladimir Lossky
Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky was an influential Eastern Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. He emphasized theosis as the main principle of Orthodox Christianity....

, the vice-president, and Evgraf Kovalevskii whose members had left the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogy for that of Met. Elevthery of Lithuania. This exodus was in reaction to Met. Sergius having removed, on 10 June 1930, Met. Evlogy as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe (since Metropolitan Evlogy had continually refused to agree to the 30 June 1927 Declaration of Loyalty to the Soviet government) and named Elevthery as his replacement. In late 1935, Metropolitan Evlogy appointed a commission to look into the charges of heresy levelled against Bulgakov.

The commission quickly broke into factions. In June 1936 the majority report (prepared by Vasilii Zenkovskii, Anton Kartashev and others) rejected the charge of heresy but had serious objections about Sophiology. The minority report of 6 July 1936 was prepared by Fr Sergei Chetverikov and signed by Fr Georges Florovsky
Georges Florovsky
Georges Vasilievich Florovsky was an Eastern Orthodox priest, theologian, historian and ecumenist. He was born in the Russian Empire, but spent his working life in Paris and New York...

, who despite his personal respect for Fr. Sergius, remained an ardent critic of Sophianism for the remainder of his life. Meanwhile, the Church Abroad formally accused Bulgakov of heresy in 1935.

was based on Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Boguchar’s Novoe uchenie o Sofii (Sofia, 1935), as well as on the arguments of St. John (Maximovitch). St. John, in his book The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, discusses at length why the sophianism of Sergius Bulgakov is heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

, specifically one as destructive as Nestorianism
Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus...

. Speaking of those who attempt to deify the Theotokos, he wrote:
In the words [of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov], when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, she acquired "a dyadic life, human and divine; that is, She was completely deified, because in Her hypostatic being was manifest the living, creative revelation of the Holy Spirit" (Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). "She is a perfect manifestation of the Third Hypostasis" (Ibid., p. 175), "a creature, but also no longer a creature" (P. 19 1)....But we can say with the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus: "There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify Her beyond what is proper" (Panarion, Against the Collyridians). This Holy Father accuses those who give Her an almost divine worship: "Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord" (same source). "Although Mary is a chosen vessel, still she was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. Although the history of Mary and Tradition relate that it was said to Her father Joachim in the desert, 'Thy wife hath conceived,' still this was done not without marital union and not without the seed of man" (same source). "One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, She was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "Against the Antidikomarionites"). The Orthodox Church, highly exalting the Mother of God in its hymns of praise, does not dare to ascribe to Her that which has not been communicated about Her by Sacred Scripture or Tradition. "Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as to all understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov)."

Fr. Sergei's reply and the episcopal conference, 1937

Bulgakov responded to the heresy accusation in his Dokladnaia zapiska Mitropolitu Evlogiiu prof. prot. Sergiia Bulgakova (Paris, 1936). Archbishop Seraphim then rebutted Bulgakov in his Zashchita sofianskoi eresi (Sofia, 1937). No final report was prepared on the sophiology controversy by the commission set up by Bulgakov’s own jurisdiction. However, Metropolitan Evlogy convoked a bishop’s conference on 26–29 November 1937 to bring closure to the matter. The bishops in their statement were working from reports by Archimandrite Cassian (Bezobrazov) and Chetverikov and they concluded that the accusations of heresy against Bulgakov were unfounded but that his theological opinions showed serious flaws and needed correction.

Almost a Universalist

Bulgakov in some respects sympathized with universal salvation, with the reservation that the continuing punishment of the immortal souls of the wicked in hell may be unending since human free choice can never be destroyed.

Further reading

  • N. Zernov, The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century (1963)
  • L. Zander, God and the world (2 vols. 1948) [Russian text] (a survey of Bulgakov's thought)

See also

  • Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov
  • Pavel Florensky
    Pavel Florensky
    Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky was a Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher, mathematician, electrical engineer, inventor and Neomartyr sometimes compared by his followers to Leonardo da Vinci.-Early life:Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky was born on January 21, 1882, into the family of a railroad...

  • Theophilus of Antioch
    Theophilus of Antioch
    Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch, succeeded Eros c. 169, and was succeeded by Maximus I c.183, according to Henry Fynes Clinton, but these dates are only approximations...

  • Sophiology
    Sophiology is a philosophical concept regarding wisdom, as well as a theological concept regarding the wisdom of God...

  • Imiaslavie
    Imiaslavie or Imiabozhie , also spelled imyaslavie and imyabozhie, and also referred to as onomatodoxy, is a dogmatic movement which was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church, but that is still promoted by some affiliated with Gregory Lourie of the "Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church" , and by...

  • Jesusism
    Jesuism is the personal philosophy encompassing the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and commitment or adherence to those teachings. Jesuism is distinct from and sometimes opposed to mainstream Christianity. In particular, the term is often contrasted with the theology attributed to Paul of...

External links

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