by Jordan Daniel Wood, Ph.D.
In part because others have done so at some length and in part because Roberto de la Noval’s introduction to his translation of these essays does it so well, I will not here offer a summary of Bulgakov’s theological vision. Nor will I speak to the quality of Rob’s translation, except to say that I was often riveted by it and therefore join David Hart’s praise in the foreword that Rob “has given us an invaluable contribution to this still emerging Bulgakovian moment” (x), and that this text “sounds the depths of Bulgakov’s theology in a way that no other text available in English does” (xii). The Sophiology of Death has easily become the best introduction for Anglophone readers to Bulgakov, who ranks among the most insightful Christian thinkers of the last few centuries. I will henceforth recommend it as such.
In place of summary or encomium I offer ruminations on two signature Bulgakovian themes on prominent display across these pages and indeed emblazoned in book’s title. In other words, I’m going to pop off a little. The two themes are Sophia and death. Be warned! I do not claim to be an expert on Bulgakov’s thought; I’ve not put in the requisite work for that. What follows merely limns some ideas that have so far attracted my mind’s eye in reading Bulgakov.
Sophia, the Wisdom of God, signifies in sophiology God’s self-revelation in and for himself and in and for the world. She is the divine splendor, the Shekinah, the entire content of the divine essence resplendently manifest and brilliantly burning with love in and among the Three Persons. Sophia is God’s ebullience, akin to Dionysius’s divine ecstasy or eros gushing forth from divine depths without end or middle or beginning. And her glory discloses the first flits, as it were, of the inexhaustible creativity of the Trinity, for “wisdom is more mobile than any motion” (Wisd 7.24) and thus suffuses all creation as the beginning (Prov 3.19; 8.22) of God’s deeds, and she will be proved right by them (Matt 11.19). It’s evident, then, that Sophia for Bulgakov lies at the very heart of the entire God-world relation.
Fine enough as a general entrée. But how specifically to conceive this relation? There seem to be at least two possible systematic approaches here. Both operate in Bulgakov, and perhaps not always in harmony, though, I’ll try to argue, they ought not to be thought as finally contradictory. In fact the first approach constitutes the necessarily one-sided starting point whose actual perfection lies in the second.
The first approach interprets Bulgakov’s sophiology as articulating “the metaphysical condition for the possibility of the incarnation of God as a human being,” as Rob helpfully expressed it in a recent interview, which would also describe the metaphysical condition for the world as a theophany or manifestation of God. Sophia emerges as something like creation’s primal principle or “foundation” or “ground” in God (e.g., 181), its divine root that buds forth in the moon’s gentle sheen, in the stratified red-hues of autumnal dusk, in a newborn’s pure smile, in the billions of galaxies decorating deep space, in a simple act of generosity or attentiveness (“Wisdom, let us attend!”)—in any and everything beautiful and good and true. This metaphysical interpretation chimes well with a phenomenological one: whenever and wherever you fall silent in gobsmacked wonder at the sheer depth of meaning laid open to your soul by some ineffable perception, then and there you glimpse the divine ground of the created delight, Divine Sophia in creaturely Sophia.
What strikes you is the divine life, divine content, divine glory, “in finite form,” and this means that created Sophia, the splendor of creation, bears as its content (not its mode) the divine essence itself (xxii, Translator’s Introduction). Divine Sophia is not a fourth hypostasis supplemental to the Three. But she can be hypostasized in the Three (Divine) and in the world (created), so that she “unites God with the world as the one common principle” (Sophia 74). Of course, Sophia is eternally and completely hypostasized in the Three without the slightest diminution. She is, after all, the very self-revelation of God as Trinity. Just so Divine Sophia is the eternal condition for the possibility of creation generally and of the human spirit especially. Against the false thesis that human beings possess only “conditional immortality”—and here one might have substituted the notion of “humanity’s natural end” from two-tiered Thomism—Bulgakov maintains that “man possesses in himself an uncreated-created principle, he pertains to the eternity of the divine world. . . . Belonging to the created-animal world, he is at the same time god by grace” (57).
That the human being is “theandric” in its very principle is a necessary implication of the Incarnation, of the God-human. Christ confirms in himself that humanity “co-images” God and God “co-images” humanity. Or as Maximus put it (though Bulgakov does not apparently quote it): “They say that God and man are paradigms of each other, so that as much as man, enabled by love, has divinized himself for God, to that same extent God is humanized for man by His love for mankind” (Amb 10.9). The very event of the Incarnation bids us seek its metaphysical (or transcendental!) conditions: “Only on the foundation of this co-imaging of God and man can the incarnation be understood ontologically” (57). If in Christ God and man become one, this must be because they were “already” one in principle. And that principle is Sophia.
We could multiply passages from Bulgakov’s oeuvre that move very much in the direction of this “metaphysical” approach to Sophia. In the opening sections of The Lamb of God, for instance, Bulgakov praises Apollinarius for being among the first to discern that the necessary task of Christology is to articulate a primordial God-human (and thus God-world) relation in God himself—sometimes expressed as Christ’s “flesh from heaven.” Later Bulgakov argues that the crucial insight behind the (Neo-Chalcedonian) doctrine of enhypostastization—that Christ’s humanity was “enhypostasized” in the Second Person of the Trinity—is that this act “corresponds to a primordial interrelation” between Divine and created Sophia (LG 187). “The real basis of the union of the two natures in Christ,” Bulgakov writes elsewhere, “seems to lie in their mutual relationship as two variant forms of divine and created Wisdom,” so that “the very dogma of Christology rests on sophiological foundations” (Sophia 88). All told, this approach to Sophia as the primordial ground or potency or principle of the God-world relation conceives her as the divine link between the divine and created worlds, a paradox often articulated in the classical doctrine of the “divine ideas.” We’ll circle back to those divine ideas in a moment.
A second approach to Sophia—one I find far more interesting, I confess—would emphasize Sophia not so much or primarily as a divine principle or ground but as the entirely peculiar character of the Three’s tri-hypostatic, personal, determinately revealed life or single act. Mind you, such an approach does not simply negate the metaphysical one; it rather fills it with content that presses well beyond the inherently abstract logic of before-and-after, ground-and-event, condition-and-actuality, which the first approach necessarily assumes.
Bulgakov appears everywhere concerned to resist the distortions that inevitably arise in abstracting Sophia into an essential principle or primordial ground, even that of divinity. I’m not sure it has been sufficiently appreciated that his extensive and mature presentation of Divine and creaturely Sophia in The Bride of the Lamb serves two crucial polemics: his denial of the doctrine of divine ideas in its classical form, according to which God is the world’s “cause,” and also his denial that the divine “nature” as an abstraction is adequate to God’s own self-revelation in Christ and as Trinity. Appreciating these two denials clarifies Sophia’s character. Let’s take them in order.
The classical doctrine of the divine ideas is an obvious place to go when considering the God-world relation since in all its versions it aims to articulate the most intimate link between the world and God without collapsing the two entirely. God eternally knows the ideal-real, the perfection, of everything that God creates (or could create). His knowing these ideas both ground and open the world in its depths to its own divine foundation. We need not descend into the details of the many versions of the doctrine (the Stoic move to elide the Timaeus’s intelligible archetype of the world into the Logos’s interior act of knowing, the Middle Platonic hypostatization of that archetype as the causal mediator between the highest God and lower realms still suffused by the power that is itself an emanation, and so on). The point here is that Bulgakov sees in all the doctrine’s variations the first steps towards a proper sophiology (BL 8–14). Divine ideas, in other words, intimate but do not truly contemplate the fullness of Sophia as at once God’s self-revelation and self-determination in both uncreated and created modes.
The divine ideas classically conceived, though a necessary start, must be both resolved and reframed by sophiology. There are many ways we could see why this is so, and thus why Sophia is not merely creation’s immanent ground or principle in God. I’ll just consider the shortcomings of Aquinas’s basic version, as Bulgakov himself does. I’ve combined my own criticism with Bulgakov’s in hopes of clarifying how Sophia perfects the deficiencies in Aquinas’s (typical) view of the matter.
God is utterly simple and yet his world is profligately manifold. The ideas through which, according to which, and which orient the world’s multiplicity (as their own end) must be as multiple as the world’s own multiplicity. But God himself is not manifold. Rather he knows the manifold as his own creative knowledge (he is not—contra some versions—ignorant of created multiplicity). Yet if an act of knowing is perfected in what is known, and if what is known in the divine intellect is the plurality of creation, then does this not imply that God’s knowledge is manifold and so not simple? And if God’s knowing is the pure act of God’s own essential being (since, surely, God essentially knows the truth of things, for he himself is the truth), then doesn’t the very plurality of divine ideas compromise the simplicity of God’s essence? Thus the very idea of “divine ideas” restates and attempts to redress the ancient question: How from the One, the Many?
Aquinas (at least in ST I.16.2 and thereabouts) denies that the actual plurality or multiplicity of creation causes the plurality in the divine mind. Rather the plurality of ideal-real relations in God—the many ideas—whereby “ideas are multiplied, are caused not by the things themselves but by the divine intellect comparing its own essence with these things” (huiusmodi respectus, quibus multiplicantur ideae, non causantur a rebus sed ab intellectu divine comparante essentiam suam ad res). So the divine essence remains absolutely simple as it knows its own effects, because it is its own knowing of the Many, not the Many itself, that multiplies its own ideas. Aquinas does not think God encounters, as it were, a Many already made plural, which then generates many ideas in God—as if the source of this Many were exterior to God’s own pure act of being (and knowing and loving).
For Bulgakov and for me, however, this account resolves nothing, and really just reorganizes the elements of original problem into a different configuration without thereby elucidating the problematic elements. A thorn removed from my hand and reinserted into my foot still hurts like hell!
For starters, if the plurality of ideas is caused not by the things themselves but by God comparing his own essence to the plurality of things, then we might ask whether this act of comparison is itself or has an idea. In other words, if it’s the comparing that creates ideal plurality, and if this comparing is distinct from the actual plurality of things, then we’re left with the question of whether the idea or ratio of this act is the idea of the plurality of divine ideas. If the idea of comparing is not the very idea of plurality, then the plurality of divine ideas is itself caused by a causeless or unprincipled act in God—which is to say that there exists no intelligible reason for the plurality of intelligible reasons that God knows. Here it is an act of blind will (which is not truly will!) that compares the divine essence to actual things and thus produces the plurality of ideas. Just so we would be forced to confess that the very foundation of being’s intelligibility is itself thoroughly irrational.
Nor will it help here to emphasize the distinction between ratio and forma, as some Thomists think. This distinction holds that a form is the very content of the divine intellect (though not the intelligible species by which God knows anything), while a reason is merely the explanatory principle or intelligibility of the thing known. And so a ratio is the divine essence as the added “likeness” to the thing rather than the divine essence itself. Hence there are many rationes in God but a single essence. It’s obvious that this distinction is partly meant to tidy up the otherwise anthropomorphic notion that the plurality of ideas in God results from his act of comparing his essence to the plurality of things: there is but one act of comparison that appears to us as many “comparisons,” many principles or reasons for the many actual things in creation. And yet the actual manifold of things does not thereby multiply or divide or otherwise affect the simplicity of God’s essence.
But again, far from answering the question of the cause of plurality, such a distinction begs the question. It does so in at least two ways. First, it makes the actual plurality of things constitutive of the conception of a ratio, since a ratio refers always to that which it is reason or principle of. If then the plurality of divine ideas in God is a plurality conceived solely according to the rationes of actual things, then any distinction which has ratio as one of its terms merely supposes rather than explains the plurality of rationes in relation to the plurality of things. Affirming many rationes becomes a postulate rather than the intelligible cause of plurality. And then too, second, this distinction plainly must assume the actual plurality of things (precisely because it is constitutive of one of the distinguished terms, ratio). That assumption begs the question not only because a plurality of things is constitutive of the very idea of many rationes, but also because it is exactly this actual plurality that first raised the question of its one cause. This account assumes what it’s supposed to elucidate. It is therefore a restatement of the original problem.
So then, if God’s act of comparing his essence to the plurality of things causes the plurality of divine ideas, then this act proves at once without cause or principle and ultimately unable to elucidate the plurality because it must assume the plurality in the very idea of God’s act of comparison. To be fair, Thomas might well have accepted all this as the inexorable limit of reason, so that we must simply and simultaneously affirm that actual plurality has no other cause than God and that the fact of this plurality does not retroactively determine the divine essence, even if it retrospectively seems to us to do just that. After all, as Bulgakov notices (BL 21–22), is this account really so different from Thomas’s concession that the world’s eternity remains a legitimate possibility for speculative reason, so that faith alone confesses the world’s creation in time? Is this not a tacit concession that the very idea of creation—and indeed of a positive God-world relation—is properly unintelligible? Two tiers and so forth.
But what if God’s act of comparing his own essence to things really is the very cause of the plurality of divine ideas? It would mean, I think, that this single divine act would be at once the creation of actual things and the generation of the very distinction between the two terms of comparison (the divine essence and the Many). It would be an act that unites the most particular realities with their own universal principles or rationes into a single act of being. It would be a single act that both generates and identifies the two terms, divinity and creatureliness, so that what’s reflected in the divine Word is exactly what exists (or is destined to be) in world—an act that identifies the content of both modes, divine and creaturely, which thereby establishes an absolute reciprocity between God and world every bit as necessary and unbreakable as the divine essence. It would be, in other words, an absolute and thus absolutely peculiar act of infinite Wisdom.
Wisdom, after all, is not finally an abstract essence or mode. Wisdom is an act. Or if it is an essence or mode, it is a personal essence or mode—an act achieved and vivified and executed by a person. Wisdom, actual wisdom, we ought to know from ancient philosophical and theological ethics, names precisely that act which “applies” the universal truth to a concrete, particular situation, such that the former alone (the universal) is thus not the perfection of that concrete act. This is partly why one must imitate wise persons rather than simply define wisdom abstractly: there is no “wisdom” apart from a wise person, and there are no wise actions apart from the determinacy of the particular context within which wisdom is perfected. The antinomy operative in the One-Many problem, then, is one that cannot be resolved abstractly. It resolves in an act of absolute wisdom, God’s living wisdom, which no more finds its perfection, its end, in a mere universal (idea) than truly wise actions performed in this world (BL 30). Wisdom, like prudence and especially love, is actualized and perfected—is at all!—in an utterly peculiar end, since its end bears simultaneously a universal (ideal) and particular (real) character without thereby being the mere sum of the two parts. Wisdom is more determinate than either its universal or particular determinations. The whole truth of true wisdom is therefore unmistakably personal, for only an actual person—a living, rational spirit—is subject (knower) and predicate (idea) and the act uniting the subject with the idea itself and what is the idea of (thing). This absolute unity of opposites, from universal principle to particular relations to the act which unites (and thus mutually determines) them into one is why truly wise deeds and truly wise lives strike us as bearing unspeakable beauty (and conversely that that every performance of art is an act of wisdom). You could not have abstracted the beauty of this or that display of wisdom. You had to witness it to see that and why it was truly wise, truly good, truly the right way. You had to see its glory to know its truth: “Wisdom is the matter of glory, glory the form of Wisdom” (Sophia 50).
Because Sophia is not just a principle but a single act that identifies the content of the ideal and the real, creation cannot be imagined as some secondary or accidental act in addition to God’s pure act of being. God is not without his world, the world could not not have been, Divine-humanity resides eternally in the very depths of God. Of course, these familiar themes in Bulgakov’s theology often attract criticism. Does he not subject God to the world? Does he not make God dependent on creation to be God?
The objections might hold if God were mere divinity, an essence negatively determined by our abstraction of what “divinity” can and especially cannot be. And perhaps if our conception of Sophia remained within the limits of the first approach, it would be difficult to answer these concerns. But Bulgakov’s approach is not so constrained. As I mentioned, his development of Sophia leads inexorably to thinking through the common but somewhat neglected traditional trope that the divine essence is really “above essence” or superessential or, in other words, not confined to our negative abstractions about it. Yet very often and just where it counts most we do delimit God by such abstractions and call this “divinity”: “Thus, only the concept of nature as the combination of divine ‘properties’ or as some force of things, givenness in general, remains. However, ‘nature,’ to be sure, is divinity itself, God’s own life in its self-revelation. In no wise is it a property of this life to be a fact or a givenness of things. On the contrary, this life is divinity’s eternal act. God’s nature is thoroughly transparent for God. In God’s light there is no darkness, and God’s Spirit probes everything, even the depths of God. God’s nature is, in this sense, the creative self-positing of divinity, God’s personal—trihypostatic—act. This act is the Divine Sophia, the self-positing and self-revelation of the Holy Trinity” (BL 42, emphasis original). Divine Sophia is God’s single act of being the Three. She is, as it were, the peculiar quality of the whole divine life as well as the quality of being the divine life’s whole, and the divine life is the very content of the divine (true) world or creation. If Sophia as “divinity” were conceived, say, as the mere “common” or immanent “universal” content shared by the three distinct hypostases of God, then yes, it would require that its proper perfection exclude all that is “not-God” (Sophia 36). After all, nature-as-kind or nature-as-universal/genus is nature conceived according to what it is and is not, rather like “human nature” is determined in part by its not being worm nature or angelic nature or any other kind of being. If this is what divine nature is really like, then its perfection would be characterized just as much by what it is not as by what it is: divinity is truly, perfectly itself precisely to the extent that it is not what is not-God, namely created or dependent or limited or frail or mortal or dying, and so forth.
But God is not made God by any number or combination of dead abstractions. God alone makes God, God. God posits Godself, and this single act just is the Three. Sophia is not a subject or hypostasis. She is not a principle or a bare “given nature”—as if the Father’s essence is passed along to the Son in the Father’s act of generating the Son. She is rather the fullness of the personal act that constitutes the Three, which means that she is the Three’s glory exactly because their single act is self-constituting (self-determining, self-revealing). This pure act is pure light because it possesses no absolute foundation or ground. Divine essence in fact—its infinitely determinate life—bears the peculiar feature of being already determined, as it were, by the hypostases of which it is the common “nature.” Without the Three the one essence has no actual existence. And yet without the common essence there would be no Three, since an abstract hypostasis, as sheer (personal) property, is nothing at all. Once more, the pure act of divinity is neither mere universal nor mere particular, nor their sum total (as if set side by side), but precisely the single and singular whole of their absolute interpenetration. Divinity alive—“God” rather than “divinity,” as Bulgakov often puts it—is an act of infinite wisdom and love. Sophia as the divine essence, though one in herself, is Three for herself; and the Three, though distinct in themselves, are one for themselves (BL 39). A distinctive mark of Divine Sophia is that its “in itself” is already determined by its “for itself,” its possible abstractions by its actual life—its depths are pure light in which dwells no darkness at all. Everything in God is included and intended and known and desired and moved and moving and in itself and for itself. God is love.
Sophiology thus frees us from reifying and idolizing our own pious abstractions about divine “nature.” It liberates us from reducing God to mere divinity or “naked God,” as Maximus put it. And yet Bulgakov knows what Maximus certainly knew: the true conception of Sophia as the glory and self-determination and self-revelation of God as the Three is itself revealed only in Christ. The Incarnation reveals that Divine Sophia is creaturely Sophia; or better, it reveals that the perichoretic whole of the Three’s divine life is in Christ the Son of God, the very same whole of creation itself—that God and the world share selfsame perfection (i.e. deification as incarnation). There is no abstract sophiology, no true sophiology apart from the Son’s Incarnation (BL 15).
“Here is the mystery of the incarnation together with its antinomy: the identity of trinitarian and Filial Sophia. The very same Divine Sophia belongs to the Holy Trinity ‘in the heavens,’ and she is the same divinity of the Son as the God-man on ‘earth.’ Yet there is more to this antinomy: in ‘the heavens,’ Divine Sophia is the very glory of God by which the Holy Trinity is illuminated, as well as the Trinity’s Wisdom. She is the fullness of divine life, which inheres both in the divine triunity in the Holy Trinity and in each of the hypostases, and in particular the hypostasis of the Logos, the Son of God” (121–122).
In the Incarnation Divine Sophia is identical to created Sophia because the very Son whose personal mode both grounds and is grounded by the whole life of the Three is also the human being, Jesus Christ. “The humanity of Christ is created Sophia, permeated by Divine Sophia and in this union with it already pre-deified” (123). He who is ground and grounded as divine becomes ground and grounded as human (and so created). He himself is the God-world relation (102). Not even the logic of cause and effect, which many presume to be fundamental to the Creator-creature relation (but not Bulgakov), proves determinative of the whole creative act: God “is a Doer, not a cause” (BL 36). Wisdom, though two in mode, remains a single act without an absolute ground.
But the profundity of Sophia’s unbroken identity in both its modes proves deeper still, and herein lies the uniqueness (and for me at least, the most moving feature) of The Sophiology of Death. We might frame it in the following way: The flesh the Son assumes from Mary is “pre-deified,” Bulgakov just said, which is to say that it is characterized by the wages of sin even as it is sinless (119). The wages of sin is death. Mortal flesh, humanity in the condition of non posse non mori, is humanity tragically determined by Adam’s sin. So the very mode of the Son’s Incarnation is partly a consequence of humanity’s current state of actual being, of “Adam.” Yet humanity exists at all because the very Person who is, in and for himself, God-human, both in eternity (Divine Sophia) and in spacetime (creaturely Sophia), is therefore the condition of all divine-humanity as the ground (divine) and grounded (human). His divinity is the very life of the Three both in eternity and in time. His humanity is therefore the very life of the Three both in eternity and in time as well—for his Person is equally ground of and grounded by the whole life that God as the Three is. And all of this, we should recall, “just is the very union itself” (122).
Somehow God’s pure act of being God, his glory as Sophia, not only includes his act of creating the world in his own self-determination, but also makes possible and indeed overcomes fallen creaturely Sophia, this flesh riven by death. Christ enhypostasizes our flesh and so, because he is the divine ground, makes flesh possible at all—even fallen flesh. But also and precisely because he is eternally divine-human as their selfsame perfection, the very act whereby he makes fallen flesh possible and also makes it futile. For Adam’s flesh, even in its dying, is here irrevocably identified with and actualized as the resurrected, indestructible flesh of the Son of God.
Hence the possibility of death and dying, and of resurrecting and being deified, becomes an actual possibility for Adam only in the Son’s personal death and dying, resurrecting and deification. Search everywhere, if you will, in heaven and on earth and under the earth—you will find no such thing as an abstract death or an abstract resurrection! This fundamental reciprocity between Incarnation and creation, a reciprocity generated by and as the identity of the God-man, reveals that Sophia’s glory is a kenotic love that makes even my death Christ’s own personal death, so that I might claim as my resurrection and life his own personal resurrection and life.
“We can say that in this fullness of death, or more accurately, in the fullness of Christ’s dying, the death of every human and of all humanity is included. If Christ redeems and raises every person, then it is only because he co-dies in every person and with every person” (132). Christ’s Passion is God’s glory because the glory of God, Sophia, is the Trinity’s absolute achievement of what would seem impossible by any abstract measure—making God’s own perfection the very perfection of what is not God—and by any concrete measure—making fallen and dead humanity, the consequence of ignorance and sin, into the very means of perfection. In other words, the Incarnation ends in a disincarnate state—or rather a falsely incarnate state—because its aim is not simply to conquer “death” in the abstract, which is nothing at all, but rather dead persons. (Even death must be enhypostasized.)
Achieving this requires the Dereliction of the Son by the Father and Spirit, for the work of the Three, their single act of Wisdom, is precisely Incarnation, yet those persons who are to be saved are precisely discarnate and anti-incarnate. That the Incarnation reaches a state of anti-Incarnation and thereby accomplishes the Son’s universal and personal Incarnation in us all reveals the stunning glory of God’s Sophia: it is Christ crucified who has “become for us wisdom from God” (1 Cor 1.30). Christ crucified is the way the Three accomplish their single act by not acting, as it were. The Father ceases to send the Spirit on the Son to make him Incarnate in all through Mary, and yet this very cessation accomplishes the universal Incarnation in, the deification of, all dead persons. This is “Love not loving, as it were, for the sake of love, perfect efficacy abiding in inactivity” (129), which is to say that even the Dereliction and Passion of the Son of God is characterized entirely by the Sophia of the Three, whose whole determinate life just is the absolute Love that alone is the law of what’s possible and true.
“Wisdom will be proved right by her deeds” (Matt 11.19) and “her children” (Lk 7.35)—for her deeds are her children. If then her children should languish in perpetual torment, she is either unwise or unwell. Given all we’ve seen, it’s no surprise that Bulgakov, as many know, cannot abide anything less than the apocatastasis of all things. Even the mere possibility that a portion or majority of God’s creation would perpetually fail immediately implicates the very Wisdom of God, which is God’s own trinitarian life. Wisdom alone unites the universal and abstract with the particular and personal; Wisdom alone discloses the power of infinite love. Wisdom cannot be rationalized as despotism or indifference, as Bulgakov thinks occurs in Augustine’s eschatology (108). After all, what’s more banal and comprehensible than a divine despot? Nor can Wisdom be neatly delimited by ostensible and abstract limits of divinity: nothing less than the achievement of its peculiar perfection will prove its truth and disclose its beauty. Should we even admit the possibility of its failure—indeed its miserable, clumsy failure—we would admit “an ontological absurdity and a truly satanic blasphemy against God’s creation” (88).
But God will not suffer the absence of his beloved. Let the wise believe in Christ’s love, the Sophia of God. “Love believes all things” (1 Cor 13.7).
Well, this is splendid. Jordan and Roberto de la Noval are must reads for me. I’m not able to ponder this sufficiently just now, though these reflections deserve some comment, so I’m dropping these rather rapidly drawn comments here. I’m not sure folks are going to “spark” like I did, but there’s something pretty daring here.
“But what if God’s act of comparing his own essence to things really is the very cause of the plurality of divine ideas? It would mean, I think, that this single divine act would be at once the creation of actual things and the generation of the very distinction between the two terms of comparison (the divine essence and the Many). It would be an act that unites the most particular realities with their own universal principles or rationes into a single act of being. It would be a single act that both generates and identifies the two terms, divinity and creatureliness, so that what’s reflected in the divine Word is exactly what exists (or is destined to be) in world—an act that identifies the content of both modes, divine and creaturely, which thereby establishes an absolute reciprocity between God and world every bit as necessary and unbreakable as the divine essence. It would be, in other words, an absolute and thus absolutely peculiar act of infinite Wisdom.
Wisdom, after all, is not finally an abstract essence or mode. Wisdom is an act. Or if it is an essence or mode, it is a personal essence or mode—an act achieved and vivified and executed by a person.”
One thing I am certain is that “disincarnation” and the resistance of “anti-incarnation” typically embraces the rhetoric of principle, founds its mode of thinking on abstraction. From my earliest days of pondering this mysterious existence we find ourselves amidst and in which we participate, I’ve distrusted abstraction. First as a lover of poetry, then as an artist whose struggles required acquaintance with philosophy and theology, I’ve been dissatisfied with modes of thinking that lost irreplaceable singularity. Bad art is forgettable precisely because it lacks this quality. And the protest of a Shestov seems to me inherently a resistance to abstraction as the acceptance of death.
The unique, existentially personal context of Wisdom is noted by a fella like Maritain, though he will then often retreat into abstractions. I’ve been drawn to some versions of phenomenology as a praxis that attends to singularity. And existentialists or personalists or some such classifying school, let us say a thinker like Gabriel Marcel seems to me to accentuate what is problematic about the personal quality of wisdom. Anyway, reading Jordan’s reflections reminded me of a passage, so I pulled out one of my old books fortuitously not currently packed away. This is from Gabriel Marcel’s Creative Vow as Essence of Fatherhood (included as a chapter in Homo Viator): “the more totally an action involves the personality of the agent, the more it is of the nature of a vocation, and the more it is unique by its essence so that there can be no question of the agent repeating it or of others imitating it from outside . . . this means that the act performed by vocation seems essentially gratuitous to him who judges it from outside, whilst on the other hand the subject himself experiences it as something absolutely necessary”
Of course, Marcel is contemplating primarily the human plane, the ethics of creatures, but it doubles back, points analogously to the source, ultimately to Incarnation and the creative implications of soteriology. Stepping back from ultimate, eschatological themes, Marcel further probes the suprarational scope of vocation, how it evades the ratio of utilitarian conception, of the Good analytically confined to determinate, finite considerations. “Experience shows distinctly that the more imperious it is, the less easily can it be explained by some aim ordinarily recognized as good (money, for instance, power, security, fame, etc.). We might say that this transcendence of the vocation is always bound up with the presence of a generosity which cannot be confined by any possible self-interest . . . ”
Christ’s silence before Pilate is partially the inability of mundane consciousness to even imagine a kingdom of plenitude so generous as to outwit every economy of scarcity and the expedient calculations that derive from such a death-bound and immanent frame. And all this is intimately tied to the specific actions of unique personhood. “You could not have abstracted the beauty of this or that display of wisdom. You had to witness it to see that and why it was truly wise, truly good, truly the right way.” The resonance with the singularity of art rings true . . .
Berdyaev is a fella that concentrates on creativity as a pathway to understanding. The child and the artist resist quotidian closures, maintain ecstatic porosity to being’s revelatory power. Where Wood laments a certain stultifying complacency or resignation to philosophical abstraction in theology, there’s a kind of sleepy intellectual possession that fails to maintain wonder, the thrall of childhood before the lively God as it were. “[Bulgakov’s] development of Sophia leads inexorably to thinking through the common but somewhat neglected traditional trope that the divine essence is really “above essence” or superessential or, in other words, not confined to our negative abstractions about it. Yet very often and just where it counts most we do delimit God by such abstractions and call this “divinity.”
Perhaps the most alluring and provocative elements are the broad claims made for Incarnation:
“His divinity is the very life of the Three both in eternity and in time. His humanity is therefore the very life of the Three both in eternity and in time as well—for his Person is equally ground of and grounded by the whole life that God as the Three is. And all of this, we should recall, “just is the very union itself” (122).
So, one cannot adequately address anthropology apart from Trinitarian life. Efforts that bracket theology obfuscate and lie, produce ideologies of despair. The identity of theosis and creation embraces all our histories of wandering failure, and, one should say, more positively, our efforts at creative expression: “because he is eternally divine-human as their selfsame perfection, the very act whereby he makes fallen flesh possible . . . also makes it futile. For Adam’s flesh, even in its dying, is here irrevocably identified with and actualized as the resurrected, indestructible flesh of the Son of God.”
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Sophia… “Actually, It’s Good”?
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“Achieving this requires the Dereliction of the Son by the Father and Spirit…”
Could you elaborate on what this involves?
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Jordan or anyone else who has the insight.
I’m not sure what Jordan means there, Tom. Christ assuming the derelict lives of fallen humanity is not evidently equivalent to the dereliction of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Balthasar proposes something like the Cross as the Son and Father together enduring the distance of damnation whilst the Holy Spirit maintains “hidden contact,” though he’s been criticized for engaging in gnostic mythology for the speculation.
It’s admittedly bold. Bulgakov (in Sophiology of Death and elsewhere) speaks of the Father’s and the Spirit’s own “co-suffering” in the Son’s suffering, and even of their “co-dying.” What he means, I think, is that even the character of the Dereliction, Descent, and therefore of salvation is trinitarian (which, I’ve argued, is the same as saying it is “Wise” or Sophia). I think the crux lies here, something I first learned from Maximus: death and sin are not in themselves the problem salvation solves or overcomes, since “death” and “sin” do not exist abstractly. The problem is precisely dead and sinful and deceived *persons*. Rational creatures by definition (I’d say “by nature,” but I risk confusion here) actualize themselves in the mode of self-determination, of freedom, and somehow (again I’d go to Maximus here, but not now) that mode can and is in fact misdirected to absurd and absolutely irrational proportions: we make ourselves unmade, we incarnate pure fantasy, we interpret the world and give our very selves, parasitically, to breath life into a world that is against the divine will; and anything agains the divine will is no creation of the divine will. So the “problem” of sin and its wages is that actual persons are in an actual state of pseudo- and anti-actualization, “discarnate” or “anti-incarnate” as I termed it here. And if, as I think, the proper work of the Three is exactly Incarnation, always and in all things, then a sinful state of any person and of the whole cosmos is precisely anti-incarnate insofar as it is a false incarnation of delusion and insanity. But then the “resolution,” the Incarnation in every stage or moment, if it is indeed “recapitulation” as several Fathers (and Bulgakov!) insist, must meet the actual persons to be saved precisely where and how they are: in a state of anti-incarnation. And if this state is precisely the opposition of the proper work of the Trinity (Incarnation), then in *this* sense–and only in this sense–the completion of the work of Incarnation is exactly and most powerfully (wisely!) effected in sinful Adam’s concrete state of anti-incarnation. “He became sin and a curse for us,” and so forth. But such an “act” must then take the form of inaction, of dereliction, of the Father ceasing to send the Spirit upon the Son to become truly Incarnate. This is not an ontological breach–quite the contrary! But it is a paradoxical enhypostasization in the Son of the state wrought only by sinful Adam, an “act” of enhypostasizing the very thing Adam did–sin, delusion, foolishness, despair; in a word, a state bereft of the Father’s approval, the Son’s effective Incarnation, and the Spirit’s perfection of the Son’s Incarnation in all things as the Father’s very will (which is common to the Three). I said this “act” is “paradoxical,” but perhaps I should say it is truly *wise*: the most “universal” truth, the triune love of God, unites itself with the most particular and concrete circumstance for Adam–anti-incarnation–and *thereby* overcomes (judgment) and accomplishes (providence) the Incarnation of the Son in all, the manifestation of the absolute glory of the divine life, Sophia, in and as all creation. In my view, then, sophiology too can and perhaps must affirm that creation is Incarnation, though I do think it fills out some crucial details of that claim.
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John Milbank wrote an article some years ago that equates Bulgakov’s sophiology with theurgy. I’m keen on the role of the imagination in all this; the way “disincarnation” can be tied to idols; the demonic as fragmentation from the integral harmony of the cosmos properly rooted in Christ. Islam speaks of alam al mithal, the imaginal realm. In Jacob’s Ladder, Bulgakov links human artistry to the angels. Also, Eva Brann has a throwaway speculation of sorts where she notes that the unique persistence of characters in fiction, Falstaff, Don Quixote, Elizabeth Bennet, etc., have certain similarities to Thomist angelology — seeming objective perdurance, though non-spatial, et al. To overcome the powers of disincarnation would involve not only ontological victory over parasitical deformation, but imaginative renewal. The way I see it, historical cultural actions are equivocal, but like Tolkien, some elements become “subcreation,” an aspect of eschatological flourishing. So, Incarnation involves both the healing of wounds and the novelty of epektasis; as Catherine Pickstock puts it “a non-repetitive identity” that comes from the dynamism between unique person and the depths of the being of things.
Pardon the dyslexic moment: Pickstock innovating on a term from Kierkegaard talks about non-identical repetition.
Jordan: the “resolution”…must meet the actual persons to be saved precisely where and how they are: in a state of anti-incarnation…
Tom: Thanks for clarifying, Jordan. Appreciate it.
It’s not a position I can manage, if I’m following it. I don’t think Christ has to become the fallen, despairing things we become in order to save us from that state. That he has to face human mortality, suffer rejection and die as a victim, yes. That he must enter the pain and darkness of finite existence which ‘in us’ occasion despairing fear of death, yes – but precisely without it deconstructing his sense of identity and purpose in the ways it does us – for that is to be fallen. To put it simply, I don’t at all suppose we are saved by what God does to Godself on our behalf, but what God endures our doing to him on our behalf.
Jordan: This is not an ontological breach–quite the contrary! But it is a paradoxical enhypostasization in the Son of the state wrought only by sinful Adam, an “act” of enhypostasizing the very thing Adam did–sin, delusion, foolishness, despair; in a word, a state bereft of the Father’s approval…
Tom: If he must assume “precisely where and how we are” to save us, then how is salvation secured if he doesn’t enter into the same ontological breach which is our fallen state? For that breach is our ‘where and how’. Seems to me if we exempt Jesus at this very point, all bets are off – IF, that is, we feel Christ has to ‘become sin and a curse’ in this sense. I don’t suppose Christ must become this, so I’m fine with supposing the incarnation does not mean the Father withholds the Spirit from the Son in this way, or that the Son ever bereft of the Father’s approval.
This is probably where Bulgakov’s Kenoticism becomes unbearable for me, if I understand it, which I may not.
Blessed Advent to you and your fam, Sir!
There’s no ontological breach in Christ’s “discarnate” state precisely because there isn’t in ours either. Evil is literally untruth made “true,” deception made evidence, fantasy made “reality,” and so forth. The paradox is already there: even my state of anti-incarnation is itself a form of incarnation, and it bears that structure because true creation bears the form of the Son’s Incarnation always and in all things. From my vantage, then, if Christ does not assume the very pseudo-existence we ourselves give ourselves to “actualize,” then I’m not sure what it means for him to become “sin” and “a curse” and mortal and corruptible (for surely the Trinity is none of this in and for itself). So the paradox of sin is enabled and overcome by the greater paradox of Incarnation: there is no ontological breach even in the anti-ontology of sin, since, of course, there is no such thing as sin in the abstract, which means that every “actual” sin is an act of enhypostasization (Maximus calls this parupostatos). Privation theory is right but inadequate as an account of what, exactly, *is*, when I enhypostasize delusion. Since, then, the state of sin is an act not just of inactivity but rather of anti-activity, then it is met and overcome by the deeper love of God, which can, in Bulgakov’s words, “become most active in inactivity,” “love not loving for the sake of love,” and so forth. The whole paradox is exactly that the Dereliction is simultaneously the perfection of the Three’s most intimate *ontological* unity in their own proper act of Incarnation always and in all things. And again, we are the ones who make this ontological unity into a version of divine abandonment, since we abandon God and yet remain in God in the abandoning. Put differently, “ontological” is itself abstract; it does not yet specify what act *is*, since all it signifies is “being.” But what is? There you must move beyond ontology to the ontic, and just here the paradox holds from every angle.
Blessed Advent and Merry Xmas.
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Thanks Jordan. That clarifies and helps. I appreciate it, though we (or maybe Bulgakov and I) may just disagree over what is happening on the Cross.
There is another alternative reading of 2Cor 5.21 though, one which sees God turning Jesus over to the violent, scapegoating mechanisms by which ‘we’ (not God) identify the innocent victim with our own sin and its consequences. Jesus becomes what Israel (and we) consider cursed of God, not because we are cursed, but because we are not, so as to demonstrate we are not.
Same with Gal. 3. God isn’t of the opinion that whoever hangs on a tree (however we identify this reference) is cursed of God. That’s Israel’s false belief. But God does give himself to it – i.e., to be treated by it, allowing it to exhaust its resources on him. But if it is not true that whoever hangs on a tree is cursed by God, how can God demonstrate this to be false? He demonstrates it by hanging on a tree without being cursed (or abandoned) by God. Christ’s “becoming a curse” for us is equivalent to Christ’s being treated by us in all the ways we identify with having been cursed by God, not because we’re right in believing God to curse the innocent victims we hang on trees, but precisely because we’re wrong, and so that we can be proved wrong, to have ever thought so.
What did Jesus think of his own Cross? As presented by Jn 16.31-33: “Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace….” Besides explicitly declaring that his Father would be with him in his upcoming ordeal, Jesus’ point (v. 33) is that how God would be with him on the Cross would ground their own peace in upcoming afflictions as a consequence of his having overcome the world. That is, how the Father would be with Jesus in his suffering is how the Father is with us in ours, which is very different from saying Jesus is in fact cursed and abandoned by the Father who withdrawals the Spirit from Jesus.
Heb. 12.1-3 comes to mind (“…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame”). By what power or presence of mind did he “despise its shame” if ‘being ashamed’ is a pseudo-existence we enhypostatize which Jesus assumes as his own?
I’m rambling. Sorry. But one last thought. If the Cross is the kind of exchange you’re describing (and I may be misunderstanding you altogether) then it’s something Christ suffers which we needn’t. That is, he dies on the Cross so we don’t have to. But then the Cross ceases to be participable. And this is a problem, for it is offered to us as participable – we share in his sufferings, bear the disgrace he bore, etc. But if Christ bears a divine judgment instead of us, if he suffers the dereliction of godforsakenness and estrangement we are saved from – we can at best be thankful spectators. But to view Christ as dying not instead of us, but ahead of us, as dying not so that we don’t have to, but so that we are enabled to, this presupposes the Father’s abiding presence and the Spirit’s gracious empowerment.
Forgive the rant. Back to Xmas carols and wrapping.
> if the plurality of ideas is caused not by the things themselves but by God comparing his own essence to the plurality of things, then we might ask whether this act of comparison is itself or has an idea.
It’s quite clear that, for Aquinas, the divine ideas are not really distinct in God. For example:
> If we consider the essence alone, however, there is but one idea for all things; but if we consider the different proportions of creatures to the divine essence, then there can be said to be a plurality of ideas. DV Q III, a 2.
The divine ideas are not distinct things in God. God’s knowledge is not discursive, nor is it comprised of multiple acts of knowledge (knowing himself + knowing things in the world + knowing the relation between the two). Their plurality arises in our imperfect, analogical way of considering God.
If God is absolutely infinite, there’s really no option of God needing an actual multiplicity of ideas or cognitive acts to understand the world.
I said all this in the post. But of course the real issue is that created plurality, which I take does not simply arise in our analogically predication, is still grounded the the interior act of the simple God. So again, simply restating the problem does not resolve it.
> I said all this in the post.
I do not think you did. Much of your treatment of Aquinas is devoted to determining how exactly the divine ideas are multiplied.
For example, you pose the question:
> if the plurality of ideas is caused not by the things themselves but by God comparing his own essence to the plurality of things, then we might ask whether this act of comparison is itself or has an idea.
But this question makes no sense if the divine ideas are not really multiple in God, but are only virtually present in a single, simple act of self-apprehension.
As Aquinas puts it, “ideas are said to be many, inasmuch as many types are understood through the self-same essence.”
The question of how created multiplicity can come from a completely simple God is a different question. But it is only paradoxical if one supposes that the cause of a multiplicity itself contains multiplicity as multiplicity (rather than in a unified higher mode). To argue St. Thomas’ account of the multiplicity in things is incorrect, you would need to consider his explanation of the many arising from the one God (which requires touching on individuation, the types of limitation that attend matter and form, his account of causality, and the role of participation).
I think simply restating the source of a question or problem is not the same as resolving it. It’s more like denying the question is legitimate. You attempt to do that here:
“But this question makes no sense if the divine ideas are not really multiple in God, but are only virtually present in a single, simple act of self-apprehension.”
Of course the question makes sense, since Thomas felt the need to give an answer. His answer, I noted, at least in ST, is that the ideas are multiplied by God’s own act of comparing his essence (which is unified) with the things (ad res) themselves (which are multiple). You’ve yet to mention the character of this act of comparison, and so I think you’ve misrepresented by my point (and Bulgakov’s) and Thomas’s own. Thomas at least thought the question deserved an answer, since while of course the many are not really many in God’s intellect, nonetheless “Plures ideae sunt in mente divina ut intellectae ab ipsa” (q. 16, a. 2). The question is how, and that’s precisely the question I take up in the article, rejecting and creatively reimagining Bulgakov’s constructive criticism of Thomas’s answer.
You also claim:
“The question of how created multiplicity can come from a completely simple God is a different question. But it is only paradoxical if one supposes that the cause of a multiplicity itself contains multiplicity as multiplicity (rather than in a unified higher mode).”
First, it’s misleading simply to say that the procession of Many from One is merely different from the question of divine ideas, since throughout the entire Western tradition, from Plato’s Timaeus to the Stoic reinterpretation of is, to the Middle and Neo-platonic identification of the intelligible model (manifold) with the divine Intellect, and so forth (cf. Plotinus Enn. V.1), the problem of divine ideas has been precisely a prime site to articulate and perhaps resolve the problem of the procession of Many from One. Indeed Thomas himself knows this, which is why I he treats and immediately links two aspects of the divine knowledge (that of “intellectual vision” and “will”) to what God might create (former) and to what God does create (latter). Second, the One-Many problem is not at all paradoxical “only if one supposes that the cause of a multiplicity itself contains multiplicity as multiplicity (rather than in a unified higher mode).” For one thing, simply stipulating that the cause of multiplicity is itself unified (or, as Neoplatonists prefer to say, “in a preeminent mode”; Gk. protōs) explains neither how it is cause *of* many nor how we should understand “higher,” since it is immediately in dialectical determination with “lower,” i.e., with the very multiplicity it transcends. If all we say in answer to the question of how a divine, simple knowledge/will produces Many, is: “Well, the cause itself is not Many,” then we’ve merely restated the original conditions of the problem itself. That is not an answer, and it doesn’t elucidate anything. Of course the cause’s interior or proper mode is more unified than the mode of the Many–that’s precisely the source of the question! As Proclus clearly states around Prop. 15-18 of Elements, the One possesses neither the same mode as the Many (univocity) nor a completely different mode (equivocity), since on either account there would be not procession or emanation or “causation” at all. But then the question is precisely what this “analogical” mode is or means. One of Thomas’s answers, I cited and described, is exactly that it is neither real plurality (univocity) nor absolute transcendence (equivocity), but rather God’s own act of “comparente” his own essence to the real plurality of real things. But here we’re back to the article.
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I have more to say on this, but a few questions first so that I am not hasty in my criticism:
1. What type of distinction, for St. Thomas, do you believe obtains between the divine ideas? Are you rejecting my claim the the ideas are only virtually or logically distinct?
2. Do you believe your interpretation of St. Thomas’ divine ideas represents the standard view of the scholarship on St. Thomas Aquinas?
3. Why are you focusing on a single passage in the ST to characterize St. Thomas’ view, rather than the much more detailed discussions in places like the De Veritate, the Summa Contra Gentiles, etc.? That is to say, are you offering what you believe to be a considered view of Aquinas based on the most relevant discussions in his works, or are you simply limiting your criticism to a single passage?
“Everything in God is included and intended and known and desired and moved and moving and in itself and for itself. God is love.”
I’ve been on a Bulgakov Binge of late. I plowed through the most excellent George Repper article on Wednesday night and then I finished the Jordan Daniel Wood article last night. I am pondering the lively God who loves us — yes, we humans who are shaped in the very form of His image and likeness — with His kenotic love. I think Bulgakov would want to flip the analogia entis on its head, to the dismay of Barthians and Thomists everywhere:
“Between the Creator and the creature, no dissimilarity can be noted – however great – without compelling to note the greater similarity between them.” (my apologies to Erich Przywara)
Yes, we are in God, with all the God-Man rights and privileges pertaining thereto.
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re: analogia – the Bulge is likely waxing poetic and forgetting about technicalities…. if infinity has any useful meaning than the modal disjunction would make dissimilarity by necessity trump (it’s huge!) similarity.
Eberhard Jüngel, the great Tübingen theologian who passed away earlier this year, makes your last point in his remarkable work, *God as Mystery of the World*.
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I had purchased the Eerdmans edition back in the 1980s but I couldn’t mind heads-or-tails of it at the time. But I’m going to give it a second chance. Thanks for the suggestion. Now I need to start a GoFundMe page to buy a new copy.
Haven’t purchased Eberhard Jüngel yet. But I just read this striking and wondrous bon mot in “The Sophiology of Death:”
“If man co-images God, then that means that God too co-images man.” (page 57-58)
Excellent work, JDW. I sometimes wonder if, and maybe especially if, because the divine plumbs its own depths as both a knowing/known moment, and as we are found to be in God as we are made to be Him teleologically, if kenosis is a necessitated act within the sophianic understanding because for all to be all, it would required for all to be explored in toto. Every depth, even the depth of Death itself must be “seen” in any real sense. As you (I think, correctly) point out, there is more than just sin involved here in the actuality of the Incarnation. It is also about “seeing” correctly so as to “see” fully. As the old hymn suggests, “fix your eyes upon Jesus.”
I also do have a question of the use of the feminine in kind. There seems to be an androgynous impulse within many of the silver age thinkers, and maybe even Maximus/Nyssen. (I could wholly be wrong here in my understanding) Does that impulse of uniting the two “sexes” clue us into creation as an act that unifies the whole of being itself? I know Berdyaev in particular gets fixated on some of this in Spirit and Reality/TDOM. I’ve read the rationale behind Sophia in Bulgakov himself for why the feminine needs to be maintained, but, is there a larger connective whole going on?
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Yes, I think Ephesians 5 fits easily into all that. I don’t think, however, and contrary to what some “sophiologists” say, that any of this means essentializing gender, as if the distinction is in God himself. Nor do I think a negation of gender makes much sense (androgyny as neither sex, as in Plato). But rather, since Sophia herself is the whole interpretation of the Three, then her glory in creation is just as manifest in males as in females as in androgynous organisms etc., akin to the way the Church is simultaneously both genders: body of Christ (male) and Bride (female). That might open the way for the notion of gender as a spectrum all have in potency, but I’ll not delve into such controversy at the moment!
As you know, Bulgakov does some interesting things with regards to Son and Spirit as the Father’s Two hands, playing out that metaphor as nuptial dyad. Personally, I adhere to Desmond’s distinction between the primal passio essendi and all our inevitable “secondary constructions.” Culture articulates ways of being masculine or feminine, but it does not operate legitimately as nihilist will-to-power. I think the current ideological project that dominates venues of power utterly lacks reverence for the gift of being with consequent distortions in the ontic realm.
I didn’t mean to bring up the question of Androgyny as either platonic or, for that matter, as a negative distraction in the modern context. It appears that to Berdy, and others, it was a context of a needed whole. Both sides amplify and need what is lacking in the other. I just meant more that it is an interesting thread within the whole of the literature. I think of St. Paul, even in as mundane as it appears, when he says, I have “become all things.” Which means, to me, that it harkens deeper than just a superficial understanding of what’s needed. The depths of divine being forces itself to become all things because all is found only when all is realized….and yet is also already known. It’s a beautiful thought, that the depths of existence are also found to be the depths of our essence.
Logan, I was actually responding to Jordan’s comment. He was reticent to address the contemporary ethos. (It’s a big topic, perhaps, so I understand; but I judge something fundamentally perverse going on.) I agree with your sentiments. Berdyaev has some interesting speculations, Oscar Milosz, too. Christ’s answer to the Sadducees implies much more than common interpretations, imo.
The following is really a question, in the form of a comment, as I attempt to restate a point I think is being made here.
“God alone makes God, God. God posits Godself, and this single act just is the Three. Sophia is not a subject or hypostasis. She is not a principle or a bare “given nature”—as if the Father’s essence is passed along to the Son in the Father’s act of generating the Son. She is rather the fullness of the personal act that constitutes the Three, which means that she is the Three’s glory exactly because their single act is self-constituting (self-determining, self-revealing).”
I may be totally on the wrong track here, but I have been thinking a bit about the relationship between Sophiology and modern Catholic Personalism. As I see it, Sophiology is an utterly personalist theology. This is why Sophia is the Divine Ousia and yet is not a sort of fourth thing or ‘substance’ other than the three persons. Sophia is not somthing ‘hovering onto-theologically between God and creatures’ in John Milbank’s phrase.
I do not have the vocabulary or theological training to express this as adequately as I would like, but again, it seems like what it is being proposed in Sophiology is a radical break or paradigm shift away from some sort of Substanstialist metaphysics toward a truly personal ontology where the Person really is the ultimate metaphysical reality. Since Sophia/ Ousia is not a ‘thing’ a substance defined over against other substances, but the personal act of the Trihypostatic God this opens up the possibility of radical kenosis within God which, even so, is not a change properly speaking within God.
This is why it is possible to say:
“This is “Love not loving, as it were, for the sake of love, perfect efficacy abiding in inactivity” (129), which is to say that even the Dereliction and Passion of the Son of God is characterized entirely by the Sophia of the Three, whose whole determinate life just is the absolute Love that alone is the law of what’s possible and true.”
What appears to be the negation of God, is in fact utterly consistent with God’s innner life. The dereliction of and Passion of the Son are a ‘break,’ a wound, within the life of God which nevertheless is a glorious wound, that points to the even deeper wholeness which is God’s eternal Wisdom. God is still God, because even God’s act of Kenosis is utterly one with God’s act of self-revealing, self-positing love. This would be impossible, however, if God’s nature is conceived of in static or substantialistic terms, for in such a case negation, kenosis, really would be nothing but negation, pitting God’s being against that which is not-God.
I dunno… something like that, maybe?
The question then is: am I following the logic here correctly? Is this a fairish restatement of the argument?
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My own intellectual journey began with poetry and story before philosophy, but then Existential Thomism plus John Paul II’s phenomenologically tinged personalism with Marcel, Berdyaev and the “existentialists” grafted in as it were. Balthasar, Bulgakov, Radical Orthodoxy, et al. have deepened and widened the scope of my interest, but the personalist core remains. I think you are insightfully grappling with the issues, Paul, though some might say the “wound” is “always already” anticipated and healed within the overarching life of God where difference is not in any sense reactive, but fundamentally a product of responsive, flourishing love.
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” some might say the “wound” is “always already” anticipated and healed within the overarching life of God where difference is not in any sense reactive, but fundamentally a product of responsive, flourishing love.”
Thanks, this seems exactly right to me. I take this ‘always already’ anticipated and always already healed wound to be a significant part of what Bulgakov is getting at in the Bride of the Lamb when he speaks of the eternal foundations of Golgotha within the life of the Trinity.
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Thanks for this, Paul. Seems to me you’ve plenty of capacity to state and think these things through.
And indeed you’ve hit upon a really crucial point, namely the deep consonance of sophiology and personalism. It’s really an unfortunate trend in contemporary theology of many traditions to imagine an opposition between, say, Zizioulas and the Neo-patristic thinkers, or Berdyaev and Bulgakov, or “patristic theology” generally and allegedly modern personalist trends derived from, say, 19thc idealism. I have found–unwittingly, I confess–that so much of this supposed dissonance has been implicitly and sometimes explicitly overcome in the so-called Neo-Chalcedonian developments in Christology from the 6th-8th centuries CE, with a special genius allotted to my guy St. Maximus. Already in the 6thc, after all, a Neo-Chalcedonian such as Leontius of Byzantium can take it as a necessary christological implication that no nature “subsists in itself,” but only the hypostasis/person does, and that indeed “person is all that nature is, but nature is not all that person is.” I’m not necessarily claiming, as some did in the 19thc, that Leontius was already a full-blown personalist. But I’m also skeptical that he and other Neo-Chalcedonians were just basically tying up some loose ends from the previous christological controversies. No, their developments worked precisely because they required rethinking the very foundations of so-called “Christology” and so-called “trinitarian theology” (we should know that none of this was so isolated in content as it can appear in later centuries).
All to say, I think that if one properly differentiates and articulates the “logics” proper to essence and person, what seems impossible in one register is actually necessary in the other, and that the only truth is the whole of these two, and yet the whole is not itself simply the sum of parts–since a person, intersubjectivity, love, true knowing, experience, and everything Paul intimates in 1 Cor 13.12, never is.
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By the by, my point above is not that certain thinkers don’t really differ: Bulgakov and Florovsky certainly do and on many basic points, for instance. The point is rather that the presumption that one cannot be a personalist and faithful to the fathers, or that the former is necessarily modern, or that sophiology is but another metaphysical formulation of the One-Many problem (it’s at least that but far more), and so forth–these sort of presumptions are false and lead to interminable red-herrings.
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Very good—except I can’t grasp why you think you’re describing two distinct approaches to Sophiology. Manifestly, these are two inseparable sides of a single approach. The latter without the former would devolve into something like the middle Schelling’s causa sui. The former without the latter would be a God beyond God.
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Thanks! Let me copy-and-paste a portion of the essay, with particular attention to the final sentence:
“There seem to be at least two possible systematic approaches here. Both operate in Bulgakov, and perhaps not always in harmony, though, I’ll try to argue, they ought not to be thought as finally contradictory. In fact the first approach constitutes the necessarily one-sided starting point whose actual perfection lies in the second.”
Insofar as the two are distinguished, as I believe you know certain commentators do in order to criticize the isolated version of the first approach, I thought it useful to erect the target, if only to knock it back down.
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