Bulgakov, Sergei Nikolayevich

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(18711944), political economist, philosopher, and theologian, whose life and intellectual evolution were punctuated by sharp breaks and shifts in worldview.

Sergei Bulgakov was born into the clerical estate. His father was a rural clergyman in Livny (Orël province); his mother, of gentry background. Like Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Nikolai Dobrolyubov a generation earlier, Bulgakov lost his faith at age fourteen and transferred from the seminary to the secular gymnasium at Elets, and then to Moscow University, where he studied political economy. His book On Markets in Capitalist Conditions of Production (1897) established him, together with Nikolai Berdyayev, Peter Struve, and Mikhail Tugan-Baranovsky, as one of Russia's foremost Legal Marxists. While researching his doctoral thesis ("Capitalism in Agriculture") in Europe, Bulgakov experienced a spiritual crisis, breaking down in pious tears before Raphael's canvas of the Sistine Madonna in Dresden. Upon his return to Russia, he spearheaded the movement from Marxism to idealism (including among others Berdyayev, Semen Frank, and Struve). Over the next twenty years he became a key participant in the seminal collections of articlesProblems of Idealism (1902), Landmarks (1909), From the Depths (1918)that charted the collective spiritual evolution of an important segment of the Russian intelligentsia. Bulgakov's idealism translated into political involvement in the Union of Liberation (founded in Switzerland in 1903) and included the drafting of the Cadet (Constitutional Democrat) party's agrarian program. During the Revolution of 1905, Bulgakov founded a small but intellectually sophisticated Christian Socialist party and was elected to the Second Duma.

Like his fellow liberals and radicals, Bulgakov experienced severe disappointment following Peter Stolypin's June 3 coup, formulated in his article in Vekhi, criticizing the intelligentsia. But by 1912 he had regained his sense of direction, finally completing his doctoral dissertation in a completely new tone. Philosophy of Economy: The World as Household (translated into English for the first time in 2000) is a work of social theory, and fully part of the "revolt against positivism" (H. Stuart Hughes) characteristic of European social thought in the period from 1890 to 1920. The book established Bulgakov's prominence as a thinker of the Russian Silver Age. In Philosophy of Economy and his next major work, The Unfading Light (1917), Bulgakov became a religious philosopher, bringing the insights of Orthodox Christianity, and particularly the concept of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, to bear on problems of human dignity and economic activity.

Following the February Revolution, Bulgakov became a delegate to the All-Russian Council of the Orthodox Church; in 1918 he was ordained as a priest. Bulgakov was among the two hundred or so intellectuals Vladimir Lenin ordered shipped out of the new Soviet Union, across the Black Sea to Istanbul, in 1922. In his "second life," first in Prague and then in Paris, Bulgakov became arguably the twentieth century's greatest Orthodox theologian, crafting two theological trilogies modeled on the pattern of the liturgy: the "major" (e.g., Agnets Bozhy ) and the "minor." Bulgakov was founder and dean of the St. Sergius Theological Academy in Paris and active in the ecumenical movement, including the Brotherhood of St. Alban's and St. Sergius and the Russian Christian Student Movement. Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, became a unifying principle in his writing, even leading to the development of a doctrine known as Sophiology. A tragic controversy over Sophia erupted in 1935; Bulgakov's views were condemned by both the Soviet Orthodox Church and the Synod of the Orthodox Church in Exile in Czechoslovakia. Bulgakov's final work was a commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine. In 1944 he died of throat cancer in Paris.

Banned for seventy years in the Soviet Union, the writings of Bulgakov and his fellow Silver Age philosophers experienced a resurgence of popularity beginning in 1989.

See also: berdyayev, nikolai alexandrovich; constitutional democratic party; silver age


Evtuhov, Catherine. (1997). The Cross and the Sickle: Sergei Bulgakov and the Fate of Russian Religious Philosophy, 18901920. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Valliere, Paul. (2000). Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov: Orthodox Theology in a New Key. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Catherine Evtuhov