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Khomyakov, Alexei Stepanovich


(18041860), slavophile philosopher, theologian, poet, and playwright.

Alexei Khomyakov was born in Moscow of an old noble family. He was well educated in a pious, traditional, cultivated household, under the particular influence of his devout mother. He was tutored in French, English, and Latin in his childhood and youth, and later added Greek and German. The Khomyakov house burned to the ground in the Moscow fire of 1812, and the family was forced to take refuge on one of their country estates near Ryazan. When Khomyakov first saw St. Petersburg in 1815, the pious young Muscovite allegedly found it a pagan and thoroughly un-Russian place. At the University of Moscow, Khomyakov studied philosophy and theology, but took his kandidat (master's; in some cases equivalent of Ph.D.) degree in mathematics in 1821.

Between 1822 and 1825, Khomyakov served in the military, to which he briefly returned in 1828 as the captain of a regiment, when Emperor Nicholas I appealed for volunteers to fight in the Turkish War. In the early 1820s he also had relations with the so-called Lovers of Wisdom (Obshchestvo Lyubomudriya ) and published several poems in the Moscow Messenger. Following his first stint in the army, he briefly studied painting in Paris and visited Switzerland and Italy before returning to Russia.

In the 1820s and the 1830s, Khomyakov was known primarily as a playwright (Ermak, the False Dmitry ) and a poet. His poetry is "characterized by rhetorical pathos, a lofty view of the poet's calling, and a preview of his later Slavophile ideas." In 1829 he retired from government service to devote himself to literature and his estates, and in 1834 he married Yekaterina Yazykov, the sister of the poet. Unlike most of his Slavophile contemporaries, Khomyakov had strong practical and scientific interests: He concerned himself with the practical pursuit of profitable agriculture on his estates and followed developments in modern science and even engineering. In addition to his growing theological and practical pursuits, he followed contemporary social and political issues closely. Nevertheless, from his childhood on, he felt that science and politics must always be subordinated to religious values.

Khomyakov and Ivan Kireyevsky had known each other since the early 1820s, but in the mid-1830s they became close friends. Khomyakov's "On the Old and New," followed by Kireyevsky's "An Answer to Khomyakov" (1839) are the earliest surviving written documents of Slavophilism, as these traditionally minded aristocrats groped for an answer to Peter Chaadayev's "Philosophical Letter." Khomyakov was more willing than other Slavophiles to admit that the Russian state had been an important factor in Russian history. He thought the Russian state that arose in the wake of Mongol domination showed an "all-Russian" spirit, and he regarded the history of Russia between the Mongol period and the death of Peter the Great as the consolidation of the idea of the statea dreadful process because of the damage it did to Russian society, but necessary. Only through Peter's reforms could the "state principle" finally triumph over the forces of disunity. But now the harmony, simplicity, and purity of pre-Petrine Russia, which had been so badly damaged, must be recovered for future generations.

If Ivan Kireyevsky may be described as the philosopher of Slavophilism, Khomyakov was surely its theologian. His introduction of the concept of sobornost (often translated as "concialiarity" or "conciliarism") as a fundamental distinction between the Orthodox Church and the Western confessions took a long time to be recognized in Russia but has become a fundamental aspect of Orthodox theology since his death. Opposing both Catholic hierarchy and Protestant individualism, Khomyakov defined the church as a free union of believers, loving one another in mystical communion with Christ. Thus sobornost is the consciousness of believers in their collectivity. Contrasting with Catholic authority, juridical in nature, was the creative role of church councils, but only as recognized over time by the entire church. Faith, for Khomyakov, was not belief in or commitment to a set of crystallized dogmas, but a prerational, collective inner knowledge or certainty. An excellent brief statement of Khomyakov's theology can be found in his influential essay The Church Is One, written in the mid-1840s but published only in 1863. He also published three theological treatises in the 1850s entitled "Some Words of an Orthodox Christian about Western Creeds."

Clearly Khomyakov's idea of sobornost had its social analogue in the collective life of the Russian peasant in his village communal council (obshchina ), which recognized the primacy of the collectivity, yet guaranteed the integrity and the well-being of the individual within that collective. Sobornost was particularly associated with Khomyakov, but his view of the centrality of the peasant commune was generally shared by the first-generation Slavophiles, especially by Ivan Kireyevsky. In addition, Khomyakov distinguished in his posthumously published Universal History between two fundamental principles, which, in their interaction, determine "all thoughts of man." The "Iranian" principle was that of freedom, of which Orthodox Christianity was the highest expression, while the Kushite principle, its opposite, rested on the recognition of necessity and had clear associations with Asia.

Khomyakov, unlike Kireyevsky or the Aksakovs, had a special sense of Slav unity, which may have originated in his travels through south Slavic lands in the 1820s. In that limited sense he represented a bridge between Slavophilism and pan-Slavism. As early as 1832 he wrote a poem called "The Eagle," in which he called on Russia to free the Slavs. At the beginning of the Crimean War, he wrote an even more famous poem entitled "To Russia," in which he excoriated his country for its many sins but called upon it to become worthy of its sacred mission: to fight for its Slavic brothers. The message of his "Letter to the Serbs" (1860) was similar. Khomyakov died suddenly of cholera in 1860.

See also: panslavism; slavophiles; theater


Christoff, Peter. (1961). An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Russian Slavophilism: A Study in Ideas, Vol. 1: A. S. Khomiakov. The Hague: Mouton.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas. (1952). Russia and the West in the Teaching of the Slavophiles: A Study of Romantic Ideology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walicki, Andrzej. The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought. Oxford: Clarendon.

Abbott Gleason

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