The Philosophers of Archeomodernity. Part.3

The Philosophers of Archeomodernity. Part.3

Translated by Michael Millerman. Founder of - online philosophy and politics courses on Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Dugin, Strauss, and more.

Sophia, Hesychasm and Imyaslavie

The starting point in their theories should be recognized precisely as the thought of Sophia - sophiology. You could even say that they considered Orthodoxy through sophiology, and not vice versa. This is fundamental; it allows you to clearly identify in their motivation the archaic principle itself, breaking through to the surface from under the tightening and painful fetters of focus B, imitating European rationalism (figure 4).

The attention of the sophiologists in Orthodoxy was focused on the Neoplatonist line - the mystic Areopagiticus, the teachings of the Cappadocian fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximus the Confessor), the Hesychast tradition (St. Simeon the New Theologian), and especially the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas about “divine energies.” In all these sections of Orthodox theology, sophiologists singled out the idea of the direct connectedness of the created world and the Divine world, their inextricable combination, the saturation of nature and human life with angelic and divine powers. This was the core of sophiology, to identify in the valley world the reality of the presence of the highland world, to discover the transcendence of the immanent in all surrounding things, down to the lowest and most ordinary, bodily and “profane,” and to experience it in an impassioned and direct sacred (numinous) experience. The doctrine of St. Gregory Palamas, who formulated the main points of Hesychast mysticism, philosophically emphasized the presence in the Divine Trinity along with the three Persons (hypostases) of non-hypostatic “energies” (literally, “actions”) that pour out of it forever – both when Creation is, and when it is not. Moreover, their outpouring is not strictly connected with the “housebuilding” (“economy”) of each of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, with the housebuilding of the Father (creation), the housebuilding of the Son (salvation) and the housebuilding of the Holy Spirit (comfort, fulfillment); but at the same time they participate in all these housebuildings, just as the Persons of the Trinity themselves, being One, participate in the housebuilding of each of Them. The doctrine of “divine energies” was developed by St. Gregory Palamas in the course of his polemic with opponents of the Hesychast practice of “smart doing” [umnoe delanie] and contemplation of the Light of Tabor, first with Barlaam of Calabria (teacher of Petrarch, Uniate and Platonist, who converted to Catholicism at the end of his life and ended his days in the West as bishop), later with Akindynos and Nicephorus Gregoras. Palamas proved the “uncreated nature” of the Light of Tabor, which was revealed to the apostles at the time of the Transfiguration of Christ, and insisted that with the help of monastic spiritual practices - the creation of the Lord’s prayer, special contemplations based on the immersion of the mind in the heart, immobility - one can comprehend the vision of this Light of Tabor even today. After complex and diverse events, proceedings weighed down by political collisions between the two Byzantine dynasties - the Kantakouzenos and Palaiologos - the Byzantine Church recognized the teachings of Palamas as strictly corresponding to Orthodox dogmas, and after his death he was canonized and elevated to the rank of saints; his opponents were condemned and deposed.

In this, sophiologists saw the possibility of interpreting Holy Sophia as a personified image of the “divine energies” of the Hesychast doctrine, interpreting them as an additional way of connecting the world with God in relation to the three main “economies.” The teachings of Palamas were given extreme expression in the movement of the so-called “name-worshipers,” which began in 1907 with the publication of the book of the schemamonk Hilarion (born Domrachev) On the Mountains of the Caucasus,11 where he described the experience of hesychast practice and espe-cially emphasized the significance of the Lord’s Prayer, capable of working miracles. In his simple and straightforward narrative, this elder, among other things, argued that the miraculous power of this prayer was that “God himself is contained in the name of God.” This theory was regarded as a creed in St. Andrew’s monastery on Mount Athos by the monk Antony (Bulatovich), adopted by many in the St. Panteleimon Monastery and captivated a large number of Russian monks in Russia and, more broadly, representatives of the Russian intelligentsia. Bulgakov, Florensky, and the philosopher Losev also joined the “name-worshippers.” Despite the fact that this teaching was recognized as heresy, and the Russian monasteries on Mount Athos had to be taken by storm in order to eradicate it, Bulgakov remained a supporter of the “imyaslavie” even in 1920-30 (in 1953 his book Philosophy of the Name was published posthumously in Paris).12 These theological motives of the Hesychast (Palamite) teachings brought to their most radical conclusions are closely associated with sophiology. With regard to theological problems, the doctrine of Sophia is a consistent desire to overcome the dogmatic abyss constituted in the ontology of Christianity by the dogma of “creation from nothing” and the strict transcendence of God. This differential of the Creator’s radical transcendence in relation to creatures is directly related to the structure of monotheism as such, and, from Heidegger’s point of view, it is the essence of Plato’s teachings on ideas and the main distinguishing feature of Western European philosophy, which, moving progressively from Plato to Nietzsche, only increases at each stage the gap between the form and the copy (later, the subject and the object) and more and more asserts a referential understanding of the truth. If we accept this position of Heidegger, then we can interpret sophiology as a striving to enter upon the path of building a philosophy (in this case, religious philosophy) that would be different from the main force-line of Western philosophy. In other words, in sophiology we are dealing with the desire to mediate the contrast between the Creator and the creature, characteristic of dogmatic monotheism, but at the same time to deviate from the high (and constantly rising) differential of the main path of Western philosophy, which inherits this vector also in modern times, although in another post-Christian, bourgeois-democratic, progressive and positivist context.

On the Threshold of the Russian Circle

Here we see an almost conscious, reflective desire to leave the B pole of the hermeneutic ellipse and even, perhaps, to destroy this very ellipse, forming an independent circle of autonomous and original Russian thinking around focus A (figure 3). Orthodox mysticism and Hesychasm, including its extreme form, imyaslavie, are seen by sophiologists as quite suitable for this religio-dogmatic platform. Imyaslavie comes from a simple theological process: a genuine, ardent faith in the reality of the transcendent principle (God) removes its transcendence, overcomes it; on this basis, opponents of imyaslavie accused its adherents of “pantheism,” of bringing God down to the world and its elements.

Approximately the same accusations were formulated against the doctrine of Sophia in Bulgakov’s version, since, according to the prosecutors, sophiologists introduce a “fourth hypostasis” into the Holy Trinity, Sophia proper, which is something intermediate between the uncreated God and the created world. And the appeal to this “hypostasis” is called upon to remove the fundamental model of creationist referentiality (Creator-Creation). Identification of the name of God (sign, material - sound - symbol) with God himself as a miracle of smart doing, accomplished in the zone of presence of Holy Sophia (the immanent presence of God, by analogy with the Kabbalistic doctrine of the Shekinah or Sufi theories about the “closeness of the Friend”), was for the sophiologists the most important conceptual element, allowing one to select a thought code to substantiate one’s position as far as possible from the dominant Western European rationality. Alexander Blok, who identified Sophia with Russia, was extremely close to the truth: in sophiology, an attempt was made to ground the possibility of Russian philosophy proper, relying on a specifically interpreted hesychast teaching brought to its logical limits (even going beyond them!)

Here we see that for Solovyov, Bulgakov, Florensky, the name-worshippers, and Fyodorov, an intuition of focus A (figure 3), that is, the archaic core, is closely and inextricably linked with the idea of immanence, with the idea of inclusion, with the desire at any cost and by any means to overcome the division in the nature of thinking, to establish an authority [instantsiya] that could serve as a point of reconciliation of opposites, here and now. And since in “normal” conditions such duality cannot be overcome, philosophy itself and life itself were enlivened by eschatological expectations and forebodings, invested either in the optimism of revolutionary enthusiasm and faith in the “progress” of mankind or in a gloomy interpretation of modernity as the Apocalypse in the spirit of the “Three Conversations”13 of the late Solovyov or the last book of Bulgakov “The Apocalypse of John.”14

Orthodoxy in its mystical core is seen by sophiologists as an expression of this immanence, and therefore they logically support all the tendencies in it that most clearly emphasize the immanence and proximity of the Divine to the world and man.

Russian Questions

Here we come to a very important boundary. The Russian Orthodox Church both in Soviet Russia and abroad reacted to such an interpretation of the Orthodox doctrine extremely warily, and in some cases severely negatively. The name-worshipers were excommunicated and, as we saw, physically defeated (many were imprisoned), and Bulgakov’s teachings on Sofia were formally condemned as inconsistent with the dogmas of the Church and the truth. At the same time, Bulgakov himself was neither excommunicated nor even banned from serving. This means that sophiologists, on their way to building Russian philosophy, reached the border of what could be acceptable to Orthodoxy (at least in its New Believer form), and even took several steps beyond this border. This leads us to an important point: if, we throw away the numerous strata of archaeomodern and Westernist influences among the sophists themselves (Bulgakov at some point in his life was fascinated by Catholicism for a short period of time, and in Paris he was actively engaged in the ecumenical movement, which has little to do with the search for a purely Russian philosophy) and concentrate on their intuitions of focus A (Figure 3), then we will need to re-examine the question to what extent and in what formulations would the archaic principle of Russian thinking and the Russian philosophy potentially elaborated around it correlate with Russian Orthodoxy? The fact that there is a certain connection between them is certain. But the formalization of this connection in the form of sophiological theories shows us the boundaries and limits of this process and attitude.

Let us formulate this problem, taking into account the experience of anathematization and excommunication of sophiological and radical hesychast searches, as follows:

  • — Is it possible to build Russian philosophy on the foundation of Russian Orthodox dogma without entering the zone of “heresy”?
  • — Is a possible Russian philosophy compatible with Orthodoxy in general (at least with modern Orthodoxy)?
  • — Is it necessary to search in the future for that structure that could serve as a transitional module between the intuitions of the Russian focus and ecclesiastical Orthodox dogma?

Such questions, extremely important for a new approach to elucidating the possibility of Russian philosophy, can be raised because of the vibrant and extremely important path that Russian sophiologists took in their tragic and complex fate, which was nevertheless extremely colored by the archaeomodern (from which they essentially did not free themselves).

Konstantin Leontiev: Byzantianism

Slightly distinct from the schools of Russian thought at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries that we have been examining is another Russian philosopher, Konstantin Nikolaevich Leontiev (1831-1891). From the point of view of philosophical and dogmatic problems proper, he is significantly inferior to Soloviev, Bulgakov, and Florensky, but in a number of ways he differs from them in the direction of greater intellectual sobriety and mental poise. The aestheticism and peculiar dandyism of his early period of creativity indicate that in some form neurotic disorders were far from unknown to Leontiev, although they were apparently less profound than those of other Russian philosophers and did not go into the sphere of psychoses, which, most likely, most of them suffered. 15

Leontiev came from among the Russian district nobility; that is, he was a rare Russian philosopher who belongs to the aristocracy on both sides; not a bastard, not a former serf and not a native of the provincial clergy. That is, according to his initial class and sociological characteristics, Leontiev was initially placed in the zone of proximity to the B focus of the Russian hermeneutic ellipse (Figure 4). Leontiev’s early works, mostly literary, are distinguished by liberal aristocratic romanticism and freedom of presentation: their specific libertarian plots served as the reason for their prohibition of publication by the royal censor.

Gradually, a turning point occurs in Leontiev’s views. He connects his miraculous recovery from a deadly disease (presumably cholera) with the appearance of the Virgin and decides after the unexpected recovery to become a monk. In 1891, shortly before his death, he took a secret tonsure in the Predtechev skete of the Optina desert under the name “Clement.”

Leontiev, who belongs to the late Slavophiles, set himself the task of justifying the originality [samobytnost’] of Russian civilization as a completely independent phenomenon in comparison with Western civilization. Without delving into the structure of the popular unconscious and being relatively insensitive to the archaic elements, he tried to give a rational description of what Russian intellectual and sociological originality [samobytnost’] could be. Leontiev’s path is unique in that at all stages of his fate he is characterized by a certain rationalism, which even during the period of fascination with Orthodox mysticism and his entering a monastic path does not change him, keeping him from the direct influence of the archaic pole A (Figure 4) in its various expressions, despite the fact that he was personally acquainted with Solovyov and heatedly argued with him about faith and religion.

Leontiev’s type is more reminiscent of European conservatives such as Donoso Cortes or Maurice Barres, who in their youth actively participated in liberal-modern politics and belonged to revolutionary-romantic circles, and later switched to conservative and counter-revolutionary positions. Leontiev traversed a similar route, taking the side of the uniqueness [samobytnost’] of Russian civilization consciously and rationally. The structure of the western pole was crystal clear for him; the general logic of Western European culture, which he did not try to “idealize,” “reinterpret,” or “improve” (like many other Russian philosopher-archaeo-modernists) was clear (within certain limits) but he simply proposed to completely discard it, focusing on the search for Russian culture’s own spiritual and intellectual foundations. We can say that Leontiev performs an extremely important act: he, in fact, breaks with the dominance of the ellipse and offers to consciously and rationally (!) (without the charismatic shamanistic encroachment) erect the building of “Russian philosophy,” that is, create an independent Russian philosophical circle (not an ellipse). He invests in the possibility of Russian philosophy, albeit grounded by him from the outside, quite superficially and approximately, all his faith.

But Leontiev from the very beginning was interested not so much in establishing the Russian archaic focus A (Figure 3), although, as we can see, mysticism plays a significant role in his life, as in sketching the periphery of this possible Russian circle, describing schematically its general structure, the Russian contour. And in this he does not turn to the West, but to the East for the search for inspiration, considering the sociological structure of the Ottoman Empire as a source of inspiration for substantiating his own Russian culture, autonomous from the West. In this Leontiev repeats the historical gesture of Ivan the Terrible’s ideologist Ivan Peresvetov, who admired the Ottoman society back in the 16th century (his famous formula, which claimed that Russia needed “Turkish justice and Christian faith”). Leontiev establishes the similarity and proximity of the imperial culture of the Turks with the Russian Empire and notes that, purely theoretically, a society with its own social structure, culture, philosophical tradition and religious principles, which does not have direct intersections with the fate of the West and follows its own logic, may well exist. Imperial Turkey, where he served as consul for some time, becomes evidence for Leontiev that it is possible to create and maintain for centuries a social order, fully developed and competitive from all points of view, in complete isolation from the Western European cultural tradition. If this is possible in the present and was possible in the past, then why not take it as a model and build on this basis a project for a future social system, entirely based on Russian values, traditions, principles and beliefs, regardless of whether they are Western European standards or not?! In essence, Leontiev calls for the history of civilizations to be considered plurally, justifying the possibility of the existence of several parallel historical and cultural models, each of which flows from its own sources and follows its own paths, colliding and intersecting, but not imposing universal development paths on each other.

Leontiev did not go very far in describing what exactly the structure of Russian civilization and, accordingly, Russian philosophy could be. He only singled out, as its basis, Orthodoxy restored in its original cultural and traditional parameters, which he proposed in the sociological sense to identify with Byzantism. 16 In the spirit of Byzantism, he demanded to revive the spiritually laden (with a historical mission) autocracy, to increase the role of the Church and Orthodox traditions in public life. At the same time, in rejecting of the West, and especially the modernizing tendencies inherent in it in the spirit of bourgeois democracy, he proposed to go all the way, to the point of supporting the anti-capitalist initiatives of socialism, which he intended to unite with the monarchy. In his case, such a combination was not archeomodern, but something directly opposite, a radical and consistent rejection of Westernism, expressed in that period by the main sociopolitical and philosophical paradigm, liberal democratic capitalism.

Leontiev took seriously the possibility of building an original Russian society beyond the dead-end of pathological archeomodernity and formulated several starting points from which he urged that this initiative be implemented.

During his life, and even after his death, Leontiev’s ideas did not arouse much enthusiasm in Russian society and did not receive proper development. His attempt to break out of the archeomodern ellipse to the Russian hermeneutic circle itself was a solitary one and was not picked up by anyone. Nevertheless, it is invaluable. In Leontiev, unlike the sophiologists, we are not interested in intuition, but in fully rational cultural and socio-political statements and anticipations of the description of a coming distinctive Russian society based on completely logical structures, although this logic is fundamentally different from European one. Leontiev does not so much reveal the unconscious core (focus A, Figure 3) as outline, albeit in a fragmentary way, the contours of a possible Russian philosophy, which he designates as Byzantism.

At the same time, though convincing sociopolitically and tempting from a philosophical point of view, this initiative does not tell us anything about the problems of correlating a possible Russian philosophy with the dogmatic content of the Orthodox tradition. Therefore, the proposal of a conscious rational affirmation, restoration, and acceptance of the fullness of the Orthodox tradition and, accordingly, mystical theology, does not give a definitive answer to the question: to what extent and in what form is this possible from the point of view of the ruinous justification of the Russian original identity. And the fate of the sophiologists and sophiology revealed how many difficulties exist along this path.


11. Ilarion Shimonakh On the Caucasus Mountains. St. Petersburg., 1998.

12. Bulgakov S.N. Philosophy of the Name. Moscow, 1997.

13. Soloviev V.S. Works in Two Volumes. Moscow, 1988.Vol. 2.pp. 704 - 762.

14. Bulgakov S. The Apocalypse of John: An Essay in Dogmatic Interpretation, Paris, 1948.

15. Leontiev's wife, Crimean Greek Elizaveta Politova, suffered from a severe form of schizophrenia that allows one to suspect in Leontiev himself a certain pull toward psychopathology.

16. Leontiev K.N. Byzantism and Slavism. // Leontiev K.N. East, Russia and the Slavs: Philosophical and Political Journalism. Spiritual Prose (1872-1891). Moscow, 1996.


The Philosophers of Archeomodernity. Part.1

The Philosophers of Archeomodernity. Part.2