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Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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La querelle de la Sophiologie

Sophiology (from the Greek Σοφια, sophia, wisdom) is a Christian philosophical and theological development, concerning the wisdom of God itself deified, which has its source in the Hellenistic religious tradition, Platonism and certain forms of Gnosticism. It allows us to understand in an original way the possible relationships between faith and reason. The essential problem of sophiology is that of the relationship between God and the world, the question of how an imperfect world was created and continues to be produced by a perfect God. The Sophia is understood in this problematic as an intermediate principle between the perfection of God and the finitude of the world. For a long time Sophiology appeared as an original theory of a few thinkers little known to the general public. Father Serge Boulgakov, himself influenced by the work of Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, is the most outstanding representative of Russian Sophiology.

It was during his exile in Paris from 1922 that Serge Bulgakov developed most of his work. Until 1935 the sophiology of Father Boulgakov, although criticized by the most conservative circles of the Orthodox Church, never received official blame. It was not until September 1935 that Metropolitan Serge of Moscow, residing in the USSR, condemned the doctrines of Archpriest Bulgakov. A few weeks later, the Synod of Karlovtsi, which politically represents the right wing of the Church of Emigration, also condemned the sophiological doctrines of Father Boulgakov, declaring them "foreign to the tradition of the Church and heretics ”. Monsignor Euloge refused to be associated with these condemnations and kept Father Boulgakov in his post of vice-dean of the theological academy of Paris.

Partisans and opponents of the Sophia have sometimes reached, following the example of certain Fathers of the great councils, to the point of exchanging punches! We allude to these quarrels only to situate sophiology in its true place, that of a free, interesting theological opinion, characteristic of the spiritual concerns of a certain part of the Russian intelligentsia, but in no way expressing the faith unanimity of the Orthodox Church, nor even a conviction generally held among its members.

Contemporary sophiology has come under heavy criticism. Fr. Georges Florovsky and the theologian Vladimir Lossky opposed it and criticized this introduction, within Christian theology, of the Wisdom of God understood as a divinity. For Florovsky, the iconographic references concerning Sophianic versatility (the different ways of representing the Sophia) are due to a misunderstanding of their original meaning. Lossky, for his part, sees sophiology as an “unfortunate union” between the “Holy Spirit” and the “Virgin Mary” in a single divinity or hypostasis of God. For him, there is no real basis to this doctrine in the patristic tradition.

In current orthodox theology, Lossky's "patristic neopalamism", opting for a distinction between essence and energy of God, is opposed to the sophiological current, which implies the existence of an intermediate principle between God and the world.

The philosopher Bertrand Vergely sums up the quarrel of sophiology in the interview below (in French).

Read also Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's article "The Sophiology of Father S. Boulgakoff" (in French)