Sunday, 9 April 2017

Vladimir Soloviev: A Russian Newman, by Michel D'Herbigny

This is the classic biography on Vladimir Soloviev, at least from a Catholic perspective. D'Herbigny was the first to make the comparison between the great Russian convert to Catholicism and the famous convert from Anglicanism. Our author acknowledges that there are significant differences between Soloviev and Newman, most especially in that Newman was a clergyman, while Soloviev was a layman. However, they were akin in their deep attachment to the traditions from which they had come. It may also be said that they are alike in the influence they have had on their respective traditions; Newman greatly influenced Anglicanism, while Soloviev had his influence on Orthodoxy, especially in the theology of Sergius Bulgakov.

This book provides some useful background to Russian thought in the 19th century and explains how Soloviev engaged with contemporary debates between Westernizers and Slavophiles, as well as Tolstoy and Soloviev's views on his ideas. It provides a good sketch of Soloviev's intellectual career, looking at his philosophy and ethical views, before dealing with his theology over the course of three chapters. The last of these theological chapters deals with his master work, Russia and the Universal Church, which should be on the reading list of every Catholic. The book ends with a chapter about the ascetic character and personal qualities of the man.

My only significant complaint about this is that it never brings up Soloviev's Sophiology, his ideas about divine wisdom. Nor does it mention his strange mystical encounters with 'Lady Wisdom,' both as a child and as an adult. Sophiology was a key part of his thought and proved to be one of his main influences.

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