Bulgakov, Sergei

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BULGAKOV, SERGEI (1871-1944), Russian economist, philosopher, theologian, and Russian Orthodox priest. Sergei Nikolaevich was born in Livny, province of Orel, less than fifty years before the revolutions of 1917. The son of a Russian Orthodox priest, Bulgakov was raised in a pious Orthodox home. Following his early formal education, he was enrolled in the theological seminary in Orel Province, which he left shortly thereafter for secular studies. A convinced atheist, at age nineteen he enrolled in the law school of the University of Moscow. By the time of his graduation in 1894 he was a committed and enthusiastic Marxist, with a special interest in political economy. His master's thesis on the relationship of capitalism and agriculture was published in 1900.

In 1901 Bulgakov was appointed to the faculty of the Polytechnic Institute of Kiev as a political economist. During his tenure there he began to have doubts about Marxism both as a philosophy and as an economic theory. The publication in 1903 of his Ot Marksizma k idealizmu (From Marxism to Idealism) signaled his definitive break with Marxism. In 1906 he was elected to the Second Duma and appointed to the faculty of the Institute of Commerce of Moscow. At this time, along with other members of the Russian intelligentsia, he began to turn from economics to philosophy, theology, and religion. He joined with thinkers such as Pavel Florenskii, Nikolai Berdiaev, and Vladimir Solov'ev in founding and writing for such periodicals as Novyi put' (New path) and Voprosy zhizni (Problems of life). Their movement, which developed in the direction of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, began as an angry attack on the radical intelligentsia through the journal Vekhi. Later, the movement took on a more positive orientation. Bulgakov expressed these emerging views in his works Filosofiia khoziaistva (Philosophy of economics; 1912); Svet nevechernii (The unending light; 1917); and Tikhie dumy (Quiet meditations; 1918).

Bulgakov became fully identified with the Russian Orthodox church after 1917 and was ordained a priest on June 11, 1918. He was elected to the newly formed Supreme Ecclesiastical Council, under the reconstituted patriarchate of Moscow. Because he was a clergyman, he lost the position that he held at the University of Simferopol. In 1922 he was expelled from the Soviet Union.

After a short stay in Prague, Bulgakov moved to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life as dean and professor of dogmatics at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute. He proved a creative and prolific author of theological works, many of which have a controversial and polemical character. Between 1926 and 1938 he produced seventeen major works. Six additional works were published posthumously, including Die Tragödie der Philosophie (The tragedy of philosophy; 1927), The Social Teaching of Modern Russian Orthodox Theology (1934), Agnets Bozhii (The lamb of God; 1933), and Nevesta Agntsa (The bride of the lamb; 1945). There remains a significant corpus of unpublished writings. In striving to present the basic doctrines of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in a contemporary light, Bulgakov provoked more conventional thinkers and became the center of theological controversy.

Bulgakov is remembered particularly for his controversial sophiological teachings, for which Svet nevechernii is a major early source. In 1936 and 1937 he published additional works on sophiology, which was the theological vehicle for his cosmology. In his formulation, Wisdom (sophia ) is the all-inclusive concept of creation. It is the eternal female reality, the maternal womb of being, the "fourth hypostasis," the "world of ideas, the idealist basis of the created world." In Bulgakov's analysis, Wisdom is the pattern for divine creation. His sophiological teachings, which attempt to bring together the cosmological understandings of modern science and traditional theological understandings of creation, were accepted neither by the patriarchate of Moscow nor by the Karlovskii Synod, which represented Russian Orthodoxy outside the Soviet Union. The official Orthodox church condemned Bulgakov's sophiology, especially its conceptualization of the "fourth hypostasis," which was seen as a distortion of the received doctrine of the Holy Trinity. However, he was never excommunicated for this teaching. One of the most powerful and creative theological minds of his era, at his death Bulgakov was buried with full ecclesiastical honors.


For a general understanding of Bulgakov's place in the theological climate of Russian Orthodoxy in Paris, see Donald A. Lowrie's Saint Sergius in Paris: The Orthodox Theological Institute (New York, 1951). For his general place in the range and dynamics of Russian intellectual history, see Nicolas Zernov's The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century (London, 1963) and N. O. Lossky's History of Russian Philosophy (New York, 1951). A full bibliography of his works is found in L. A. Zander's Bog i mir: Mirosozertsanie Ottsa Sergiia Bulgakova, 2 vols. (Paris, 1948).

The most helpful of his own writings in understanding his intellectual history is his autobiography, Avtobiograficheskie zametki (Paris, 1947). The following are representative writings in English translation: A Bulgakov Anthology, edited by Nicolas Zernov and James Pain (Philadelphia, 1976); The Wisdom of God: A Brief Summary of Sophiology (New York, 1937); and Karl Marx as a Religious Type, edited by Virgil Lang and translated by Luba Barna (Belmont, Mass., 1980).

Stanley Samuel Harakas (1987)