Snippets of Bulgakov


I am beginning a slow run through Sergius Bulgakov’s Great Trilogy, On Divine Humanity. While I don’t have recommendations for it pro or con yet (and might not ever have any one way or another :wink: ), I did want to write down snippets along the way.

So I thought I would share. :smiley:


These portions (this and the previous quote are from Bulgakov’s preface to Book 1, The Lamb of God), reminded me strongly of themes that I am working with in my series of novels.

(Note: not often you see a high-ranking EOx theologian implying that the Desert Fathers were seriously misguided in their basic approach!)


Despite the mystical tone of Bulgakov’s preface, his first chapter is a fairly straightforward (even perhaps a bit dry) look at the introduction of formal Christological controversies among theologians from the 4th century (after Nicea) onward; anchored on heterodox Nicean defender Apollinarius, who set the stage for all future consideration of the question of how best to accurately consider the two natures of Christ. (Bulgakov recovers Apoll as a defender of orthodox trinitarianism whose attempts simply weren’t detailed enough for later exponents, and so whose intentions were often misunderstood although his formulations were rightly rejected in places for more precision later.)

While interesting for those interested in councilor church history and the development of orthodox trinitarian theology, the presentation so far isn’t systematic in the sense of considering scriptural data and synthesizing a coherent set of theological doctrines from them. So, I wouldn’t recommend the book so far for that purpose (among some others).

Most of the material I’ve read so far isn’t very quotable, or edifying in any general way (interesting though it may be to specialists like myself)–a situation I fully expect to improve later, based on his preface material. But I do have one short paragraph to report today, which succinctly dots Apoll’s key shortcoming, while explaining why this was considered important in a broadly theological sense [all emphases originally Bulgakov’s; but I’ve slightly rearranged sentences for contextual purposes in brief quotation]:


Continuing through chapter 1, this snippet is a quotation by Bulgakov in agreement with C. E. Raven. It captures very aptly the struggles of the patristic theologians in trying to relate what they are reasoning about; and also aptly summarizes problems and dissatisfactions I have when I read them myself. :wink: (Emphases are my own addition.)

I wouldn’t have said that a lack of “abstract terms”, per se, was the problem – even the early patristics (especially post Nicea) had such terms in abundance! But a lack of focus, in their Christology (or proto-Christology) on the active interrelationship of love between Creator and, in active response, His Creation? Yep, that nails it quite well. (There are occasional exceptions, of course, even common exceptions. A widespread tone and form is what is being complained about here, however.)


Near the end of his exposition on Apollinarius, Bulgakov takes a moment to focus on his achievements (such as they were):

[emphasis original]

“Presupposed” is an ill-chosen word. And notion of the heavenly Man could be misunderstood without context. (Bulgakov notes that Apoll was in fact misunderstood, among other things, to mean that he thought a heavenly body descended from heaven, for example, even though a check of the surviving fragments of his writing indicate he didn’t actually believe that.) But I agree with the importance of the focus on interrelationship: an interrelationship that has to be built-in from our creation, in order for us to be at all, and so which in our relationship with God, as in the Incarnation itself, is not “a unification of two things that cannot be united”.


There hasn’t been much quotable from Bulgakov in the past couple of days (which is why I didn’t post up one yesterday :wink: ) But he’s been busy discussing how three strands of Christology followed in response to the work of Apollinarius: a line emphasizing the duality of God and Man in Christ (which Bulgakov will be discussing more directly later), a line emphasizing the unity of God and Man in Christ (which Bulgakov is dealing with currently), and a line emphasizing and synthesizing both ideas as having important merit (which is where Bulgakov will end up later, i.e. the ‘orthodox’ theology group in both the East and West.)

Currently Bulgakov is discussing St. Cyril of Alexandria, who inadvertently set up the line of monophysitism among an eventual minority of trinitarians, by his stress on opposing the increasingly severe emphasis of the duality of God and Man in Christ (ultimately exemplified by Nestorius and his group.) Bulgakov quotes St. Cyril’s concern about this dichotomization:


Thanks for these snippets Jason. I have a feeling that this guy’s work is a little too metaphysically heavy to me. It’s not that Christianity doesn’t make metaphysical claims, it does of course, but I think that metaphysical speculation is a little afield of what we are called to do. I’d prefer a systematic theology that was more focused on ethics.


Yah, it’s pretty heavy going. Unlike the MacD excerpts, which are strongly relationship based.

(By comparison, the MacD excerpts are all taken from two or three pages of one another. These are the most accessible Bulgakov snippets that I can find in about 35 pages so far.)

One thing I’ve been trying to bring out (where I can find it) is that the concern of these theologians is on the salvation of man by God: a salvation that necessarily involves active cooperation by God with man and with the created system of Nature.

Obviously, universal salvation has a bearing on the topic of the salvation of all mankind by God, and the incorporating of all mankind (and indeed all creation) into faithful relationships with God and with each other. From my vantage point I can kind-of intuit where Bulgakov (who was recently recommended by another commentor as a universalistic systematic theologian) is going to end up with all this: he basically tells the reader as much early in his preface (that’s what his phrase “salvation is universal and omni-ecclesial” means.) But still, there’s a lot of historical context to be chewed through, and not much of what I’d call systematic theologizing so far.

(Heck, even my opening bite-sized chunks of metaphysics are more specifically about personal interrelationships than this… :wink: )

Anyway: I’ll probably hold off on more snippets until I get to something more colorful. I am entirely sure that he’ll be focusing on ethics later.


I should add that the dryness of the topic isn’t exactly Bulgakov’s fault; he complains every few pages or so about how the post-Nicene theologians are frequently handicapped by their tendency NOT to work these ideas out in terms of personal relations. “Often making their whole treatment of the experience of religion seem artificial,” as I quoted him quoting someone else favorably, a few days ago.

I agree, I wish he had started almost anywhere else than the Christological controversies (as interesting as those are to me on a technical and historical level). I suspect it’s because he’s EOx, so to him those are the crucial places to start.


Just read through these, I absolutlely love the second quotation you offered:

“A question slithers like a serpent over the earth: Whose world is it? The God-Man’s, or the man-god’s? Christ’s or the Antichrist’?”



Sadly, those initial quotes are the high point of the book so far. :wink: (I’m a little less than halfway through.)

The prefaratory dissertation tracing out the history of Christological controversies post-Nicea was interesting, if not immediately helpful (in most regards) to the vast bulk of readers. The material starting from chapter 1 onwards, however, has vacillated between potentially interesting and foofaraw. I want more grounding in my metaphysics; but at best the grounding and connectives for the material so far (whether generally logical or more particularly scriptural) have been suggestive. At best.

Or, putting it another way, it’s written squarely in the style of typical Eastern Orthodox theologizing. :laughing:

Oh well. I make it a point to read EOx stuff every once in a while anyway, since occasionally they come up with something useful that I can synthesize. I think I may have figured out how to discuss the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit between the First and Second Persons in relation to the Godhead overall, for example, rather than being limited to discussing the procession of the HS in relation between God and Nature. (Bulgakov, being EOx, would doubtless take exception to my application, seeing as it involves the procession being from both Father and Son; but that’s his problem, not mine.)

None of which is going to make sense to you, probably; which also probably sound ironic, given my complaint a moment ago. :wink: But the difference is that I’m not writing this as though I’m expecting you to agree with me on it as being true. I’m only giving an example of some help that I’ve gotten so far from Bulgakov (inadvertent though that help may have been), to offset my annoyance with him by mentioning something positive for which I’m grateful to be reading him.

I am still keeping an eye out for some paragraphs equal in quality and applicability to the better ones I’ve quoted so far in this snippet thread; and I still have hope that I’ll see those again, at which time I’ll mark them and report them. Until then, you aren’t missing anything, believe me. :laughing:


Hey Jason, I’m about to go (October) and do a THEOLOGY degree! For me, it’s not so much about agreeing/disagreeing - it’s about discussing, dialogueing and seeking :slight_smile: So really don’t worry about that

I’m personally always going to benefit more from someone like Aquinas who goes about things in a systematic way, building on each proposition with argument and dialectic with what has gone before, but I can still appreciate mystical approachs on some level. For example, I really like reading people’s faith stories, we have some excellent ones in the introductions section of this site.

(Oh, and I’m sure I’ll understand your post better when I’ve flicked back through a Alister McGrath’s Intorudction to Christian Theology, the section on Christology/Trinitairiansim is very clear and helpful for confused folk like me)


I am highly interested in Bulgakov’s theology and was at the cusp of buying the trilogy, when I decided that it would be worth it to understand more mainline EO theology first in order to determine where it differs. So I got the standard intro to EO text: Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church.

DId you end up making it through the trilogy?


I read Ware’s book before this trilogy, too (by several years), among some other things. So yes, I agree with the progression there. Good idea!

I’ve gotten sidetracked reading other things, so no I haven’t made it through the trilogy yet (though I finished the first book–I don’t recall if I mentioned that already; I didn’t read back through the thread. :wink: ) Coincidentally, or providentially, I had to use the box the trilogy came in yesterday for shipping out something else (college supplies to a cousin :smiley: ), so I got to take the other two books out, and took the opportunity to briefly check the contents and preface of Book 2. I’m certainly looking forward to reading them, even if I don’t end up agreeing altogether with him everywhere; I’m glad I read book 1 for many reasons, including that it (perhaps inadvertently) helped me put together a piece of theology on the relationship of the Spirit to the other Persons within the filioque.

(But as you may remember Bishop Ware saying, many EOx theologians would actually be ready to affirm the filioque if there could be a proper council called on the topic. Dr. Bulgakov indicates toward the end of his preface that in a way he’s going to affirm the filioque, too; just not quite in the way the RCCs do. I’ll be curious to see how he goes with that!)


That being said, looking back through my notes, I was reminded that the best part of his book was the opening (and lengthy) dissertation on the history of the Christological controversies. I was much less impressed with the remaining majority; I thought it wasn’t grounded well enough and griped in frustration that it “vacillated between potentially interesting and foofaraw”. :wink:

Which, now that I recall, explains why I didn’t rush to read the rest of the trilogy… :laughing:

I still do want to do so sometime. But I have tons of other things I would be probably more interested in working through first. (Still, one EOx book a year might be tolerable… :mrgreen: )

If you didn’t live in S. Korea, I might have offered to mail them to you for free. But then again, I did very much like his controversy-history dissertation, and I want to keep that, so… yeah on the other hand maybe not. And the other books might have something that good (or better) in them, too. I try to be hopeful. :slight_smile:


Jason - I can only take so many great new words entering my vocabulary!

I am still thrilled with zorched without you tantalizing me with the heady delights of foofaraw

If your not careful I will counter with the lovely Welsh word ‘dedoreth’



That word looks so cool, I have to ask what it means (so I can decide if/where to use it in my novels somewhere. :mrgreen: )


Slight typo (I haven’t written that word out for an eternity - or do I mean an age :wink: )

anyway it’s spelled didoreth

pronounced dee-DOOR-eth the accent is always on the penultimate syllable in Welsh

It means shiftless, fickle or silly :smiley:

di in Welsh denotes ‘without or lacking’ so di blwm means without lead or unleaded :smiley:

There is a Welsh word Toreth which means an abundance. It is a feminine noun which would change to doreth if it was preceded by di (in the same way as in the example above the Welsh for lead is plwm which undergoes a soft mutation to blwm on contact with the di part of the word). This would give di d(t)oreth
BUT I have no evidence that didoreth is made up like that for it would mean without an abundance (so maybe lacking in work ethic or something like that possibly).


I was going to complain that I liked the previous spelling better; but after your explanation, it seems a good name for a very different type of character. :mrgreen:

(Unfortunately, I already have enough such characters for my 3rd book–I’m about at the point where I’m going to start thinning out the cast rather briskly :smiling_imp: --and even though I can think of a minor one I could rename to this, I would rather save a name this multi-layered for someone a little more plot-important.)


Well another lovely word I have in the past used as an online name is Hiraeth - which is a word in Welsh that has a special place in the hearts of all Welshmen as it expresses the deep longing for one’s homeland of the exile. The Jews in their Babylonian captivity would certainly have understood and felt it

Anyway you need to take these names and figure out a whole new novel :smiley: (p.s. as they wouldn’t be Welsh characters per se then spelling Dedoreth would be fine).

Interestingly in Terry Pratchett’s book ‘Soul Music’ the main character has a Welsh name Imp-y-celyn which Terry discussed with readers on his then forum (asking the Welsh readers for help in naming the character bearing in mind the book is about pop music coming to the Discworld ) - Imp-y-celyn means Bud of the Holly :smiley: (he was delighted not least because the word Imp fitted so well with his fantasy world).

I was always chuffed in school by the idea that, because my Surname, Alderman (which is Saxon), can be translated directly into Welsh and my first name has a Welsh spelling version I could write my name as
Sieffre Henadur - rather neat I thought (and still do) :smiley: