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The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay…

The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in…

by Pavel Florensky

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This is an amazing book - and do please bear with it, and let it start to do its magic in your subconscious. The author, Pavel Florensky, published it in 1924, although most of it had been written before the Revolution: he is a striking example of Russian Symbolism, and in this book, it shows. It is conceived as a sequence of Twelve Letters to a 'friend', who may be Christ.
He begins with an assertion that 'the "Trihypostatic Unity", the subject of all theology, the theme of the whole liturgy, and the commandment of all life, is also the root of reason' - which I quote because it is the same place that Christos Yannaras begins in his book, 'Postmodern Metaphysics' (Greek text, 1993; English version 2004): this might alert us to the fact that Florensky isn't quite as nuts as his more fanciful musings make him seem. He goes on to give an account of the way in which ascetic faith defeats and overturns what he calls the 'rationalistic "absurdity" of dogma' [Letter 3]; and he writes about the Russian perception of the 'homoousion' as the 'light' which contrasts with the western disintegrative sense of 'homoiousion' [Letter 4]. Bear with it - because these are important distinctions on which hinge the entirely different nuances of Eastern and Western Christianity, and it is not only a Greek Orthodox thinker like Christos Yannaras who thinks these things still pertinent today. In Letter 5, Florensky outlines his concept of 'sophiology' (which many people will know far better from the much more measured work of Sergii Bulgakov) - he believes that even the Cappadocian Fathers were unable to define the precise content of the Holy Spirit's 'procession' (that fixed-point of contest between east and west); rather, it is something which becomes known in Orthodox (specifically pneumatological, that is 'Spirit-filled') experience. He traces this through the theology of St Symeon the New, St Seraphim of Sarov, and the startsy at Optina as the great charisms of spiritual alertness. Florensky considers doctrine not as a rational system of dialectical propositions (another western misconception), but as 'indescribable experiences which cannot be put into words except in the form of contradictions' - theology being the 'apprehension' of an 'encounter' which requires the apophatic as well as the cataphatic to make accurate sense. Please do not think that any of this is written in a spirit of hostility against western patterns of thought: rather, this is a positive paraphrase of Orthodox heritage as it continues to give life and inspiration. Letter 9 considers the relationship between 'Spirit-bearing', 'asceticism', and 'being-in-love with creation', and contains the remarkable and beautiful 'idea of the body as an absolutely valuable principle in the liturgical literature' - which is to say that this theology is entirely life- and creation-affirming, and that being a 'bearer of the Spirit' is itself, fundamentally about the encounter with God in and through a positive moral engagement with the whole creation. In other words - this is the focus of the tenth Letter, which is possibly the core of the whole book - 'Sophia' is the basic principle of all-that-is, and the means of its 'integration': in another aside to the abstract and speculative tendencies of the west, Florensky writes this - 'The more direct and inspired is the life of the believer, the more integral and homogenous will his faith be. Separate aspects of faith disintegrate atomistically only for scholastic theology'. Letter 11, meanwhile, is a thorough exposition of a theology of 'friendship' as the central category of Christian practice. (Let us not even start on his proposal - a hundred years ago - of same-sex marriage as an embodiment of this!)
What ought we to make of all this? Much of it reads like a half-digested stream-of-consciousness, and it completely betrays its date and generation. But the more I read both of postmodern theology, and, increasingly, of 'emergent' theology in the post-evangelical churches of the west - with their reactions against abstraction and judgementalism, their repudiation of the totalizing tendencies of western dogmatic and speculative theology (and not least its incapacity in the face of the Holocaust), their tentative explorations of 'relational' and apophatic theology, and - strikingly - their 'Spirit-led', ecological and 'friendship'-focused self-articulation - the more I am intrigued by their parallels with a lot of what is written here: this book is the beginning - only a beginning, and a self-evidently scatter-brained beginning - of the tracing of a place of conversation between the 'classic Christianity' of the Patristic Greeks and the postmodern Christianity of today.
At the whacky end of Orthodoxy, Pavel Florensky is one-part bonkers, two-parts inspired - and this book opens up all sorts of lines of thought which nourish new ways of formulating 'Tradition' in an imaginative interplay between inheritance on the one hand, and contemporary actuality on the other. ( )
1 vote readawayjay | Feb 11, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691117675, Paperback)

Pavel Florensky--certainly the greatest Russian theologian of the last century--is now recognized as one of Russia's greatest polymaths. Known as the Russian Leonardo da Vinci, he became a Russian Orthodox priest in 1911, while remaining deeply involved with the cultural, artistic, and scientific developments of his time. Arrested briefly by the Soviets in 1928, he returned to his scholarly activities until 1933, when he was sentenced to ten years of corrective labor in Siberia. There he continued his scientific work and ministered to his fellow prisoners until his death four years later. This volume is the first English translation of his rich and fascinating defense of Russian Orthodox theology.

Originally published in 1914, the book is a series of twelve letters to a "brother" or "friend," who may be understood symbolically as Christ. Central to Florensky's work is an exploration of the various meanings of Christian love, which is viewed as a combination of philia (friendship) and agape (universal love). Florensky is perhaps the first modern writer to explore the so-called "same-sex unions," which, for him, are not sexual in nature. He describes the ancient Christian rites of the adelphopoiesis (brother-making), joining male friends in chaste bonds of love. In addition, Florensky is one of the first thinkers in the twentieth century to develop the idea of the Divine Sophia, who has become one of the central concerns of feminist theologians.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:11 -0400)

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