Khomiakov, Aleksei Stepanovich (1804–1860)

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Aleksei Stepanovich Khomiakov (18041860), was a Russian philosopher, theologian, poet, and writer, a founder of Slavophilism. Born into a wealthy Muscovite family of landed nobility, Khomiakov was educated in Moscow University. In his youth he took part in the Russo-Turkish War of 18281829. In his mature years, he preferred to live as a "private" gentleman in Moscow and on the family. He traveled abroad on two occasions: in 18251826 to Paris to study painting, and in 1847 to Germany and England. In the Russian social order he preferred the niche of an independent writer, poet, and playwright. Before his death, he revived The Society of the Lovers of Russian Literature (first founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century) at Moscow University, and served as its head. He died when he contracted cholera while treating peasants on his estate.

Khomiakov was a man of encyclopedic knowledge and diverse talents who brought his polemical style to bear on discussion in several fields in the humanities. Perhaps of greatest significance is his contribution to the philosophy of history. In his Semiramida, a three-volume work in the genre of universal history that he began writing in 1837 and continued writing to the end of his life, Khomiakov's goal is to explore the prehistory of nations. His conclusion is that culture as a whole is an expression of a higher spiritual principlethat is, religion. The vista of universal history represents the action upon humanity of cultural-religious archetypes, combined with ideas of freedom and necessity. There initially existed, according to Khomiakov, two types of nations: "conquering nations" and "agricultural nations":

In accordance with their original character, conquering nations permanently preserve the sense of personal pride and contempt not only for those who are conquered but also for all those who are foreign When they are victorious, they repress those they have enslaved and do not mix with them; when they are defeated, they stubbornly resist the influence of the victors and preserve in their souls instincts engendered in them by epochs of former glory [By contrast] agricultural nations are closer to universally human principles. They have not been affected by the proud magic of victory Because of this they are more receptive to all things that are foreign. They do not experience aristocratic contempt for other nations; instead, they feel sympathy for all that is human. (1900)

Universal history, Khomiakov believes, unfolds according to the laws of the conflict between two opposite spiritual principles. Khomiakov calls the "agricultural" principle "Iranism," and its opposite "Kushitism." The spiritual history of humanity is viewed as the battle between Iranism and Kushitism. Such a conception was not entirely novel: Friedrich Schlegel had divided humanity into two opposed racesthe Cainites and the Sethitesand in Hegel's Philosophy of History the Iranian "principle of light" is opposed to the Egyptian "principle of mystery." What was new was that Khomiakov did not base this antinomy on the principle of "good-bad"; instead, he viewed Iranism and Kushitism as two equally necessary forces in history.

Further, Kushitism consists in analysis and rationalism, whereas Iranism tends toward a synthetic and integral reception of the world. Therefore, these two types of national psychology are equally natural. Based on necessity, Kushitism engenders the state as a community based on convention. All of the civilizations of Kushitism were remarkable for being based on powerful state structures: Egypt, Babylon, China, Southern India. In contrast, Iranism proclaims the natural union of people and therefore rarely takes the form of a powerful political state. Thus, Khomiakov affirms that the historical process tends toward "the inevitable triumph of the Kushite principle" and to a "gradual decline of Iranism." "Iranism has always been reestablished," writes Khomiakov, "by the particular efforts of great minds, whereas Kushitism has crept into the historical process by the unceasing action of time and of the national masses." If it happens that in Iranism there is an admixture of Kushitism, the latter is inevitably victorious (we find this, for example, in the history of ancient Greece and ancient Rome): Spiritual freedom must be absolute, and any concession to necessity leads to the death of freedom. The appearance of Christianity was the critical point of history: Christ represented a heroic effort to oppose the Kushitism of the world. But Christ's victory did not signify the victory of Iranism: Kushitism "closed itself up into the logic of the philosophical schools" (1900). And Hegelianism, which Khomiakov rejected, became the triumph of Kushitism in the nineteenth century. The Slavs belong to the Iranian type; that is what defines their place in history.

In Khomiakov's opinion, humans possesses the ability to strive toward being, toward God; but to preserve this striving, a special state is necessary: "true faith," where the diversity of a person's spiritual powers are gathered into a living, ordered wholeness. From this point of view, faithwhich is simultaneously knowledge and life ("life-knowledge")plays a special role in one's life.

Khomiakov's central conception is sobornost' ("catholicity," integrity, inner fullness), which characterizes not only the Christian church but also the nature of humans, society, and the processes of cognition and creativity. Sobornost is the organizing metaphysical principle of all being; by the power of love it gathers diversity into a "free organic unity" (in this it is distinct from "collectivity"). It was Khomiakov who introduced the principle of sobornost into the Russian thought of the nineteenth century. He defines sobornost as "a free and organic unity, whose vital principle is the Divine grace of mutual love." (1900) The foundation of sobornost is grace, a notion Khomiakov derives from Metropolita Ilarion's eleventh-century "Sermon on Law and Grace." Khomiakov also insists that divine grace is likewise the foundation of the real church, which can only be known from within, through one's lived experience.

Khomiakov based his theological conception on personal experience ; and therefore affiliation with the church essentially became a prerequisite for knowing reality in general. Thus, Khomiakov extends the doctrine of sobornost beyond theology to the entire domain of Russian culture. Khomiakov wrote that "Christianityeven with all its purity, with all its elevatedness over all human individualstakes different forms for the Slav, for the Roman, and for the German" (1900). It often happens that the aggregate of national beliefs and convictions is reflected neither in "verbal monuments" nor in "monuments of stone," and can be understood "only by looking at the entire life of a people, at its total historical development." Khomiakov elaborated this broad conception in his theological works, which, for reasons of censorship, in his lifetime could only be published abroad.

Despite their apparently paradoxical nature, Khomiakov's theological ideas were expressed at times with astonishing simplicity: "The Church is one, for two Churches do not exist"; "For there is one God and one Church, and there is no conflict or disharmony in her"; "The Church is not an institution"; "To assert that the Church is an authority is blasphemy." One does not "belong" to the church the way one belongs to an organization. In the church, people live the way they live at home, in the bosom of their family, "humbly conscious of their weakness and subordinating the latter to the unanimous decision of the conscience of all in sobornost" (1900). And only this life in the church gives people freedom, which is the greatest good. In his letter "To the Serbians" (written just before his death), Khomiakov expressed his view on "the meaning and virtue of faith" as follows:

They are in great error, those who think that it [faith] is limited to the mere fulfillment of rituals or even to the relations of man to God. No: faith permeates the entire being of a man and all of his relations to his neighbor. As if with invisible threads and roots, faith grasps and is intertwined into all of a man's feelings, convictions, and aspirations. Faith is like a better air, transforming the earthly principle in a man; or it is like a most perfect light, illuminating all the moral notions of a man and all of his opinions of other people and of the inner laws connecting him with them. Thus, faith is also a supreme social principle (1900)

Taking as his point of departure artistic intuition and "life-knowledge," which he strove to reconcile with scientific knowledge, Khomiakov attempted to unite two apparently incompatible sources: early patristics and ideas of Western romanticism and Western nature-philosophy. The organic principle of the interpretation of spiritual phenomena is evident not only in his ecclesiology, but also in his secular philosophy, as well as in his political and economic essays. The organic principle served as the foundation of his preference for gradual social development and conservatism. With the help of this principle Khomiakov sought to harmonize the Slavophile worldview with philosophical romanticism, bringing together such distinct categories as "the integrity of spirit," "the fullness of perception," and "the "organic character of social development" (1900). This principle was also the source of his doctrine of sobornost and of the view of the church as the regulator of the entire life of the Orthodox Christian.

In Khomiakov's social philosophy the opposition between sobornost and collectivity appears as the antithesis between obshchina (organic peasant community) and druzhina (organized "commune"), between "true brotherhood" and "conventional agreement." In Khomiakov's opinion, Russian history and Orthodox spirituality have manifested instances of true brotherhood, exhibited in the Russian peasant obshchina, which Khomiakov clearly idealizes, seeing in it the closest approximation to the social ideal. Petrine reforms, Khomiakov believes, led to the assimilation of "alien" principles by the Russian nobility and this, in turn, resulted in a split between the educated society and common people. Thus, in Khomiakov's opinion, genuine folk culture in Russia could be created only by returning to original folk principles. Khomiakov devoted to this subject numerous articles that provoked a polemic both in Russia and in Europe in the 1840s. Russian thought began to assimilate Khomiakov's heritage only many years after his death; his true stature became clear only at the end of the nineteenth century, when his major works were published (although not fully), and a Russian religious philosophy began to take shape.

See also Philosophy of History.


works by khomiakov

Polnoye sobranie sochinenii [Complete works]. 8 vols., edited by P. I. Bartenev and D. A. Khomyakov. Moscow, 19001911.

Stikhotvoreniia i dramy [Poems and plays], edited by B. F. Yegorov. Leningrad, 1969.

Sochineniia [Works]. 2 vols. Moscow, 1994.

On Spiritual Unity: A Slavophile Reader. Translated and edited by Boris Jakim and Robert Bird. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne, 1998. This volume includes a translation of Khomiakov's "The Church Is One," translations of three essays with "Remarks by an Orthodox Christian concerning the Western Communions," and the third and fifth letters to William Palmer. This volume also contains an extensive bibliography of works by and about Khomiakov, as well as about the Slavophiles in general.

works about khomiakov

Berdiaev, N. A. A. S. Khomiakov. Moscow, 1912. Excerpts from Chapters 3, 4, and 8 of this work have been translated in Jakim and Bird, On Spiritual Unity. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne, 1998.

Gratieux, A. A. A. S. Khomiakov et le movement slavophile. 2 vols. Paris, 1939. Translated from the French as A. S. Khomiakov and the Slavophile Movement. 2 vols. Belmont, MA: 1982.

Zenkovsky, V. V. Istoriia russkoi filosofii. 2 vols. Paris, 19481950. Translated by George L. Kline as A History of Russian Philosophy. 2 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1953). See volume one of Kline, 180205.

Christoff, P. K. An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Russian Slavophilism: A Study in Ideas. Vol. 1, A. S. Xomjakov. Paris: Mouton, 1961.

O'Leary, P. P. The Triune Church: A Study in the Ecclesiology of A. S. Khomiakov. Freiburg: Universitätsverlag Freiburg Schweiz, 1982.

Khomiakovskii sbornik [Collection of essays on Khomiakov]. Vol. 1. Tomsk, 1998.

Koshelev, V. Aleksei Stepanovich Khomiakov: Zhizneopisanie v dokumentakh, rassuzhdeniiakh i razyskaniiakh [Aleksei Stepanovich Khomiakov: Biography in the form of documents, reflections, and inquiries]. Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2000.

Viacheslav Koshelev (2005)

Translated by Boris Jakim (2005)

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Khomiakov, Aleksei Stepanovich (1804–1860)

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