Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev

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POBEDONOSTSEV, KONSTANTIN (18271907), procurator of the Holy Governing Synod of the Russian Orthodox church. Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev was the last procurator effectively to control the administration of the church according to the stipulations of the Ecclesiastical Regulation of Peter the Great. Although this regulation remained on the statute books until the collapse of the tsarist regime in 1917, the upheavals of 19051906 in the church and the government necessitated adaptation in its application during the final decade of the old order.

Pobedonostsev served as procurator from 1880 to 1905, during which time he oversaw a major restructuring of ecclesiastical education and an impressive expansion of the parish school system. His purpose was twofold: to provide basic education to the Russian masses as they emerged from the shadow of serfdom and to ensure that that education firmly supported the tsarist political system. Within the seminaries and theological academies under his control he both raised the general level of education and tried to maintain control of its content. Unintentionally, he stimulated a major controversy over reform in the church and spent the later years of his career attempting to contain and stifle this controversy.

Among the forceful personalities Pobedonostsev dealt with in the controversy over church reform were Antonii Vadkovskii, metropolitan of Saint Petersburg (18981912), Sergei Witte, chairman of the Committee of Ministers (19031905) and prime minister (19051906), and Antonii Khrapovitskii, bishop and archbishop of Volhynia (19021914). The bishops were determined reformers, seeking to free the church from the bondage of the Ecclesiastical Regulation. During debates in the Committee of Ministers on proposed changes in legislation affecting non-Orthodox religious groups in the Russian empire, Witte was persuaded by Vadkovskii and others that termination of the Petrine regulation and restoration of autonomy of administration (possibly reviving the patriarchate of Moscow) were essential for good government of the church.

Pobedonostsev attempted to halt the momentum for reform and abolition of the Petrine system by having Tsar Nicholas II transfer deliberation of the question from the Committee of Ministers to the synod itself, where the procurator's agents would be able to control the debate. Vadkovskii, Khrapovitskii, and their allies outmaneuvered the synodal bureaucracy, however, and the synod itself declared for reform. As a result of the synod's decision, the procurator ordered the polling of all the bishops of the church in the hope that they would be opposed to a sobor (council) of the church and to the restoration of the patriarchate. But when the bishops had completed their replies, the overwhelming majority were found to favor a sobor and a sweeping reform.

During the months that the poll was being taken, Russia was wracked by violence and revolution. From the turmoil came the October Manifesto (1905), which granted a limited constitutional government. Pobedonostsev resigned as procurator, protesting against the manifesto, against Witte's having been appointed prime minister, and against the tsar's promise to summon an all-Russian sobor. He died within two years, convinced that his work of twenty-five years as procurator was being destroyed and that both the Russian church and the Russian state were doomed to collapse. He had been unyielding in his opposition to parliamentary forms of government, believing that they were the cause of the decadence of the West and that their introduction into Russia in any form would lead to corruption and disintegration.

Pobedonostsev's voluminous writings reflect his training as a lawyer. Among them are Lectures on Civil Judicial Procedures (Moscow, 1863), History of the Orthodox Church until the Schism of the Churches (Saint Petersburg, 1896), Historical Juridical Acts of the Epoch of Transition of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Moscow, 1887), Course of Civil Law, 3 vols. (Saint Petersburg, 18681880), The Questions of Life (Moscow, 1904), Annual Report of the Over-Procurator of the Holy Synod concerning the Administration of the Orthodox Church (Saint Petersburg, 18811909), and a number of articles published in journals during his public career.


The definitive biography of Pobedonostsev in English is Robert F. Byrnes's Pobedonostsev: His Life and Thought (Bloomington, Ind., 1968). In German it is Gerhard Simon's Konstantin Petrovic Pobedonoscev und die Kirchenpolitik des Heiligen Synod, 18801905 (Göttingen, 1969). Other useful books are John S. Curtiss's Church and State in Russia: The Last Years of the Empire, 19001917 (1940; reprint, New York, 1965), Igor Smolitsch's Geschichte der russischen Kirche, 17001917 (Leiden, 1964), Russian Orthodoxy under the Old Regime, edited by Robert Nichols and Theofanis Stavrou (Minneapolis, 1978), and my Vanquished Hope: The Church in Russia on the Eve of the Revolution (New York, 1981).

James W. Cunningham (1987)

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(18271907), conservative statesman, professor and chair of civil law at Moscow University (18601865), senator, chief procurator of the Holy Synod (18801905).

Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev has often been seen as one of the primary conservative influences on Alexander III and Nicholas II. Although the "grey eminence" undoubtedly exerted influence upon domestic policy and was influential in bringing about a new version of "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality," historians have disputed the degree of his direct influence on policy formation.

Pobedonostsev, son of a Moscow University professor, grew up in Moscow in an atmosphere of scholarship, discipline, and close family ties. He was the youngest of eleven children, and his father closely supervised his early education before sending him off to the School of Jurisprudence from 1841 to 1846. Pobedonostsev graduated second in his class and upon graduation was assigned a position in the eighth department of the Senate in Moscow. He worked diligently in his position while also pursuing scholarly research and writing. Throughout his life Pobedonostsev remained a prolific writer, publishing articles on law, education, philosophy, and religion in book form and in journals such as Grazhdanin (The Citizen ), Moskovskie Vedomosti (Moscow News ) and Russky Vestnik (Russian Newsletter ). In 1853 he became secretary of the seventh department of the Senate, and in 1855 he served as secretary to two Moscow departments. By 1859 he had received a lectureship in Russian civil law at Moscow University.

His scholarship, publications, translations, and reputation as an interesting and respected professor brought him to the attention of the court in 1861, and he was asked to tutor Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich, heir to the throne. In that capacity he went on a tour of Russia with the heir and his entourage in 1863. According to several scholars, this journey profoundly influenced Pobedonostsev's view of Russia and his ideas about its future. When Nicholas died in 1865, Pobedonostsev was asked to tutor Grand Duke Alexander and became executive secretary to the first department of the Senate. Although Pobedonostsev was honored by his appointments and felt bound by duty to accept them, he apparently missed Moscow and felt uncomfortable in court life. According to Pobedonostsev's biographer, Robert Byrnes, this appointment "removed him from the library, the study, and the classroom and placed him in a position in which he was to develop a most inflexible political and social philosophy and to exert profound influence upon the course of Russian history" (p. 35). Pobedonostsev served in the senate from 1868 and in the State Council from 1872. He received his most important post, Ober Procurator of the Holy Synod, in 1880 and was to remain in it until his retirement in 1905.

Pobedonostsev worked closely with education ministers as well and was instrumental in developing policies he hoped would prevent radicalism in the universities. Contemporaries and historians have usually felt that Pobedonostsev worked for the appointment of Ivan Delyanov (Minister of Education, 18821898) and that together they worked toward establishing a quota system in order to restrict the numbers of non-Russian and non-Orthodox students admitted to Russian universities. He also reestablished a separate network of primary schools, which came under the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod rather than the Ministry of Education. Despite concerns about the level of education that could be delivered in church schools, Pobedonostsev believed that the moral benefits of church schools would outweigh any intellectual deficiencies.

Pobedonostsev has been considered one of the "most baleful influences on the reign" of Nicholas II and the ultra-conservative and reactionary force behind many of Alexander III's and Nicholas II's manifestos. Peter Banks, minister of finance from 1914 to 1917, noted that Pobedonostsev was the teacher who had the most influence on the tsar. Despite Pobedonostsev's reputation as an archconservative, he was actively involved in work on preparing the liberal judicial statute of 1861. He also read widely, communicated with Boris Chicherin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Slavophile thinkers, and was aware of the intellectual debates of his day.

The year 1881 was a significant one for Pobedonostsev and for Russia. After the assassination of Alexander II, Pobedonostsev became one of the strongest forces arguing against the Mikhail Loris-Melikov constitution and Western-style reforms. He was responsible for drafting the manifesto that Alexander III read in April 1881 pledging to "preserve the power and justice of autocratic authority from any pretensions to it." Pobedonostsev is usually assumed to be the writer responsible for Nicholas II's "senseless dreams" speech in 1895 when he proclaimed "it is known to me that voices have been heard of late in some zemstvo assemblies of persons carried away by senseless dreams of the participation of zemstvo representatives in the affairs of internal government."

If the height of Pobedonostsev's influence was after the assassination of Alexander II, his influence had significantly waned by 1896. His last years were quiet ones. He had never enjoyed court life, and in his later years he went out even less frequently. He did not officially retire until 1905, but by then younger men had been appointed, Nicholas II had ascended to the throne, and many of Pobedonostsev's policies were once again being disputed. Pobedonostsev died of pneumonia in 1907. By the time of his death, other statesmen had assumed power, and his funeral was little noticed, with only a few in attendance.

See also: alexander iii; holy synod; nicholas ii; slavophiles


Byrnes, Robert F. (1968). Pobedonostsev: His Life and Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Michelle DenBeste

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Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev

The Russian statesman and jurist Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev (1827-1907), as director general of the Holy Synod, became a champion of czarist autocracy, orthodoxy, and Russian nationalism.

Konstantin Pobedonostsev was born on May 21, 1827, in Moscow. His father, Peter V. Pobedonostsev, a professor at the University of Moscow, educated Konstantin at home until he enrolled at the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence in 1841. From his father, he learned to read Old Church Slavonic, French, Latin, and German. He also studied the Bible, the writings of the Russian Orthodox Church Fathers, Greek and Roman classics, Russian history, and Russian literature. He graduated from the School of Jurisprudence with a wide knowledge of Western judicial institutions, laws, and literatures.

Pobedonostsev first won acclaim as a historian of Russian judicial institutions and as a specialist in Russian civil law. In 1846 Pobedonostsev was assigned to the eighth department of the Senate in Moscow. In 1853 he became secretary of the seventh department. In 1859 he was named lecturer in Russian civil law at Moscow University.

In 1861 Pobedonostsev was appointed tutor in Russian history and law to the heir to the throne, the future Alexander III, and was named executive secretary of the Senate. He moved to St. Petersburg into a life of great influence in the central governmental bureaucracy and the court. He employed his tutorial position to mold the views of the imperial heir. Pobedonostsev emphasized the ties between Russian Orthodoxy and Russian national history. By the late 1870s his influence on Alexander had become overwhelming.

In 1872 Pobedonostsev became a member of the State Council, a body that advised the Czar concerning projected laws. Most of the significant legislation and decrees of the 19th century received their final review and drafting in this Council. Pobedonostsev's main responsibility as a Council member was civil and ecclesiastical matters. His work in the Council contributed to his appointment in 1880 as director general of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. For the remainder of his life he was a member of both the Council and the Senate. His service in the highest organs of the czarist government naturally gave him power in shaping Russia's domestic policies.

Pobedonostsev's reputation in Russian history rests largely upon his accomplishments as director general of the Holy Synod. For 25 years his influence on the religious and political life of Russia was enormous as a result of his official positions and his relations with the czars, their wives, the imperial family, and the court.

In 1881 Pobedonostsev advised Alexander III concerning the selection of his ministers, most of whom were named upon his recommendation. The Czar consented to Pobedonostsev's policy of the Russification of minority groups, particularly Jews and dissenters. As director general, Pobedonostsev attempted to restrict the number and the rights of other religious groups in Russia. Under his influence Alexander III opposed any limitation of his autocratic powers, tightened censorship, tried to suppress all opposition opinion, and persecuted religious nonconformists.

Pobedonostsev also tutored the future Nicholas II and was one of his most influential advisers until the Revolution of 1905. In his writing Pobedonostsev strongly attacked Western rationalism and liberalism. He died in St. Petersburg on March 23, 1907.

Further Reading

Pobedonostsev's Reflections of a Russian Statesman (1896; trans. 1898) constitutes a strong and earnest criticism of many of the views of liberals both in Russia and in Europe and helps to explain the reaction of the imperial government to all signs of public expression of liberal hopes. A reprint (1965) has a useful foreword by Murray Polner. The only biography in English is Robert F. Byrnes's solid work, Pobedonostsev: His Life and Thought (1968). See also the article on Pobedonostsev in Arthur E. Adams, ed., Imperial Russia after 1861: Peaceful Modernization or Revolution? (1965). □