Florovskii, Georgii Vasil'evich (1893–1979)

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Georgii Vasil'evich Florovskii was a Russian clergyman, theologian, patrologist, and historian of culture. A descendant of several generations of Orthodox priests, Florovskii graduated from the Department of History and Philology of Novorossiyskii University in Odessa (1916), and taught in Odessa until January 1920, when he emigrated to Sofia, Bulgaria. There he became a member of a group of five Russian émigrés who, in 1920 and 1921, founded the so-called Eurasianism. The Eurasian doctrine was first presented in the collective work "Exodus to the East," for which Florovskii wrote three articles.

"Exodus to the East" presented what was essentially a cultural morphology of Oswald Spengler's type (i.e., the botanized view of history as a process of development and interaction of ethnic and cultural organisms) and a geopolitical theory stating that, because Europe had exhausted its spiritual energies, Russia should break with it and cultivate cultural and political ties with Asia. Eurasianists sharply criticized European civilization and argued that in all principal aspects Russia belongs neither to the European nor to the Asian world; rather, it occupies its own continent "Eurasia" and has its own type of culture that borrowed much from the Mongols in the thirteenth to the fifteenth centurieswhen Russia was their vassal state. In politics, they propounded the principle of ideocracy, very close to that of the one-party rule in Bolshevik Russia.

During the next several years, Eurasianism became popular among young Russian émigrés, evolving from a cultural theory into a political movement that had a pro-Soviet orientation and engaged in secret activities. Florovskii made a significant contribution to the initial form of the Eurasianist doctrine that gravitated toward philosophy of history and philosophy of culture. However, as early as 1923 he began to object strongly to his fellow Eurasianists' growing tendency toward ethnic and geopolitical concerns, favoring instead the opposite orientation toward Orthodox Christianity. This line was rejected by other Eurasianist leaders and, as a result, Florovskii left the movement. In 1928 he published the article "The Eurasian Temptation," in which he presented a profound critical analysis of Eurasianism, and in later years he invariably minimized the scale of the Eurasian episode in his biography.

Neopatristic Synthesis

From 1922 to 1926 Florovskii lived in Prague, where he received a doctorate in philosophy for his study on Alexander Ivanovich Herzen's philosophy of history and wrote a number of essays on Russian cultural history, including works on Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Fyodor Tytchev, and Mikhail Gershenzon. In September 1926 he moved to Paris to become Professor of Patristics at the St. Sergius of Radonezh Theological Institute that was founded in 1925 and developed quickly into the leading Orthodox theological school. Though a self-taught theologian, Florovskii found in patristics his true calling. He focused on the Greek Fathers of the Church and developed brilliant survey courses, marked by a pioneering presentation of the subject. The teachings of the Greek Fathers also became the cornerstone of the theories that he started to develop in philosophy of culture, theology, and ecclesiology.

At the core of these theories was the concept of Neopatristic Synthesis. According to its main thesis, a permanent creative renewal of ties with patristic thought is a necessary condition for Christian culture; in fact, such a renewal defines the mode of the latter's existence. This thesis has manifold implications. Firstly, it is a restatement of the basic tenet of the Orthodox doctrine that establishes a permanent and all-embracing normative role of the Tradition of Fathers. Secondly, it is a polemic reformulation of the claim that Greek philosophyrather than theologyis an eternal source for all subsequent philosophical thought, so that keeping ties with it is necessary for philosophy of all ages. And thirdly, it is a viable premise for constructing a new philosophy or theology of culture of the archeological typethat is, one based on the permanent generating and productive role of a certain source. Florovskii's theory stated that Greek patristics made Hellenism not simply Christian or Christianized, but "ecclesianised" (votserkovlenny )integrated into the life of the Church with all its mystical and sacramental dimensions. This new transfigured Hellenism replaces the old pagan one and should serve as the generating source of a new "ecclesianised," Christocentric culture. The principle of this culture is a sui generis creative traditionalism, which is open to all contemporary problems and tries to solve them, drawing upon Fathers not for ready answers, but for the mental, cultural, and spiritual attitudes required to meet the challenge.

Seeing in the concept of Neopatristic Synthesis an original and universal criterion, Florovskii applies it to many cultural phenomena. He elaborates a critique of German Idealism and of the mainstream European metaphysical tradition in general, charging them with gnosticism and a mere continuation of the primordial pagan, untransfigured Hellenism. This critique of European thought (likened by himself and others to the philosophy of Charles Renouvier) did not gain much popularity.

By contrast, Florovskii's discussion of the Russian intellectual tradition in the Ways of Russian Theology (1937)which he described as an "attempt at an historical synthesis"became a widely acknowledged masterpiece. The book is a systematic and enormously erudite exposition of Russia's cultural and spiritual evolution from the fifteenth century until the Bolshevik revolution; many of its sections are of independent value as brilliant critical essays. In his conceptual analyses Florovskii strictly applies the criterion of Neopatristic Synthesis, which renders most of his assessments mercilessly critical. In particular, Russian religious-philosophical renaissance and its main figuressuch as Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky and Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaevare severely reprimanded. Another such figure, Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, the dean of St. Sergius Institute and author of a controversial teaching about Sophia Divine Wisdom, became Florovskii's target during the so-called "Dispute over Sophia," a heated debate over Bulgakov's teaching in émigré theological circles in the mid-1930s.

The Ecumentical Movement

Another important dimension of Florovskii's work was his participation in the Ecumenical Movement. During his Paris period, he was ordained as a priest and took an active part in inter-religious contacts. Beginning with the Edinburgh Conference of 1937, he was a member of various ruling bodies of the Movement, playing a significant role in its formative period and recognized as a leading Orthodox voice in theological discussions. In connection with this activity, he produced a significant number of texts on the Church, its nature and tasks. Taken together, these texts form a self-consistent ecclesiology that eventually became widely known and influential. In September of 1948 Florovskii moved from Paris to the United States to take up the position of Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Patristics at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. The concluding American period of his biography is chiefly that of brilliant teaching career: at St Vladimir's (until 1955), Columbia University (19511956), Harvard University Divinity School (19561964), and Princeton University (19641972). During these years, his reputation as a theologian and church historian reached its peak. Although Florovskii was not a founder of a school, his numerous disciples include many prominent personalitiesand not only from the Orthodox world. He can be considered as the most influential Orthodox theologian of the last decades of the twentieth century.

See also Eurasianism; Philosophy of Religion; Religion; Russian Philosophy.


Blane, Andrew, ed. Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1993.

Florovsky, Georges. Collected Works of Georges Florovsy, Vols. 15. Belmont, MA: Nordland, 19721979.

Florovsky, Georges. Collected Works. Vols. VXIV. Vaduz (Lichtenstein), Germany: Academic Books, 19871992.

Florovsky, Georges. Ways of Russian Theology, edited by Richard S. Haugh, translated by Robert L. Nichols. Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1979.

Horuzhy, Sergey S. "Neo-Patristic Synthesis and Russian Philosophy." St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 44 (34) (2000): 309328.

Sergey Horujy (2005)