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Khomiakov, Aleksei

KHOMIAKOV, ALEKSEI

KHOMIAKOV, ALEKSEI (18041860), was a Russian Orthodox lay theologian. Khomiakov was influential in determining the character of the Russian intelligentsia in the 1840s and 1850s; the emergence of one of its principal schools of thought, Slavophilism, is closely linked with his name. He was a member of the landed gentry and a participant in the salons of Moscow. His skills as a dialectician and debater were respected even by those (such as Herzen) who shared few of his views. Khomiakov's skills as a writer were less evident in his own milieu as the result of censorship or at least the anticipation of censorship. Virtually all his writings on religion were published abroad and in French. Most of these were published posthumously in their country of origin; few were available in Russian before 1879.

Khomiakov graduated from the University of Moscow as a mathematician but never received any formal instruction in theology. In view of the limitations under which Russian academic theology labored at this time, this was probably an advantage. It allowed him to probe church life for the essentials of the Orthodox faith and to delineate them in a remarkably succinct and forceful fashion. Most notable among his theological compositions was the essay The Church Is One (c. 1850).

In this essay Khomiakov adumbrated his celebrated teaching on sobornost', the cornerstone of his theology. The terma Russian neologismdefies translation, and Khomiakov invariably preferred to transliterate rather than translate it. He himself objected to the French translation, conciliarité. In modern times no one word has been found as an acceptable, equally comprehensive, alternative.

Khomiakov derived sobornost' from the ninth-century (and subsequently standard) Church Slavonic translation of the Nicene Creed, where the term catholic (katholikos ) had been rendered as sobornaia. For him, the word denoted more than mere universality. It spoke rather of a church in which free and complete unanimity prevailed. Such freedom could admit of no constraint. Papal authoritarianism was indicative of a profound malaise in Western Christendom, and Khomiakov campaigned vigorously against it. Indeed, for Khomiakov, any kind of authoritarianism contradicted the very nature of the church. His intuition on this subject was to receive confirmation in 1848 when the Eastern patriarchs and bishops replied to the papal encyclical of that year. Their reply was enthusiastically echoed by Khomiakov (1850) in his correspondence with William Palmer: "The unvarying constancy and the unerring truth of the Christian dogma does not depend upon any Hierarchical Order: it is guarded by the totality, by the whole people of the church, which is the Body of Christ" (Birbeck, 1895, p. 94). By the same token, the individualism of the Protestant world was to be rejected. In 1851 he declared that it is in the Orthodox church that "a unity is to be found more authoritative than the despotism of the Vatican, for it is based on the strength of mutual love. There [also] a liberty is to be found more free than the license of Protestantism, for it is regulated by the humility of mutual love " (Birbeck, 1895, p. 102).

In the teaching of the Slavophiles, as of Khomiakov himself, a social expression of such mutuality was to be found in the Russian peasant commune, the obshchina. That the principles of obshchinnost' ("communality") and of sobornostʾ were interrelated, if not interdependent, was emphasized by Khomiakov's use of the one term obshchina ("commune") to designate both the ecclesiastical community (koinonia ) and the peasant commune proper. But with the increasing disrepute and ultimate disappearance of the latter, this strand of Khomiakov's thought was itself to be obscured in later years. By contrast, his teaching on sobornost' was to capture the imagination of Russian religious thinkers throughout succeeding decades and to play its part also in the ecumenical debates of the century to come.

Bibliography

Birbeck, William J., ed. Russia and the English Church during the Last Fifty Years: Containing a Correspondence between Mr. William Palmer Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford and M. Khomiakoff, in the Years 18441854 (1895). Reprint, Farnborough, 1969. Includes also the invaluable The Church Is One.

Bol'shakov, Sergius. The Doctrine of the Unity of the Church in the Works of Khomyakov and Moehler. London, 1946. Originally a doctoral dissertation which juxtaposes Khomiakov's thought with that of his Roman Catholic contemporary J. A. Möhler. The latter's Die Einheit in der Kirche (1825) provides important parallels for Khomiakov's work, even if it cannot be considered as its source.

Christoff, Peter K. An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Russian Slavophilism: A Study in Ideas, vol. 1, A. S. Xomjakov. The Hague, 1961. A wide-ranging study of Khomiakov's work as a whole; the only such study in English to date.

Sergei Hackel (1987)

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