Sunday, 14 August 2016

Russia and the Universal Church, by Vladimir Soloviev

The great Russian thinker, Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900) was a convert to Byzantine-rite Catholicism. This book calls for the unification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Papacy and the Catholic Church. It provides a powerful apology for the Petrine Supremacy and a critique of the particularism and other failings of the Russian Orthodox Church, but also goes beyond this to offer a Trinitarian picture of the cosmos upheld by divine wisdom.

Soloviev points out the role of the Papacy in helping the Church of the Byzantine east to resist the errors of Nestorianism and Monophysitism. Yet though the Byzantine Church ultimately rejected these heresies, he argues that they affected her mentality, causing her to fail to allow the Gospel to truly transform her society and this failing was inherited by her daughter, the Russian Church. In response, our author offers a vision of the Medieval idea of a universal Christian monarchy. The Byzantine and Russian empires had such an aspiration, yet a Christian empire needed to be united to the universal Christian Kingdom of Christ, which was headed by the Pope. There could be no universal Christian emperor without a Pope.

Like many Russian writers, he locates the glory of Russian spirituality in the faith of the peasantry. He points out that the peasants faith was about loving and worshiping Christ and his blessed Virgin Mother. In this, their faith was entirely akin to that of the Catholic peasants of western Europe. It was the bishops and hierarchs who had made the Orthodox faith a primarily negative one, defined by those Latin doctrines that it rejected. Yet while opposing the Russian Church's particularism, our author still sees a particularistic role for Russia and the Russian people. He sees a role for Russian in building a universal Christian empire to make known Christianity to the world, a little like the manifest destiny of the United States. I do think there is something unique about the Russsian people's capacity to endure suffering that has a Christ-like quality.

This book is a little difficult to read in the last chapters, where Soloviev's tone becomes more philosophical, but it is a truly beautiful book. The introduction and appendices connect Soloviev's ideas to the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in the Twentieth Century. Our Lady promised at Fatima that Russia's conversion would bring an age of peace. The appendix also sees in Our Lady of Fatima the revelation of Sophia, the manifestation of divine wisdom which haunted and fascinated Soloviev.

I count myself as a Russophile, being one who loves Russian culture, while not being terribly happy with the sort of things the Russian government gets up to. I do think there is a danger with Russophilia that one can get confused between the romantic notion of 'Holy Russia' and the current Russian regime. One of the appendices offers some praise for Putin, which I found a little worrying. There is an unfortunate tendency among some Christian conservatives to see Putin as the saviour of Christian civilization, which I think is unhelpful. One might ask whether a Catholic Russian empire would actually be less aggressive and more respectful of the right of self-determination of other peoples than an Orthodox or Communist Russia? Whatever the case, Catholics must never give up praying for the conversion of Russia.

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