Monday, May 17, 2010

Kolbe and Bulgakov

Further to what I noted below about daring ideas in Mariology, it is instructive to compare the similar Marian insights of the martyr St Maximilian Mary Kolbe, O.F.M. (1894-1941) and Archpriest Sergei Nicolayevich Bulgakov (1871-1944), a not uncontroversial Russian Orthodox theologian.

Now Kolbe, with holy daring, wrote that Our Lady is almost the incarnation of the Holy Ghost.  He framed most arrestingly the thought that she was so guided and governed by God's Spirit as to be in moral union with Him, though she and the Paraclete remained two separate persons: which is more or less what Nestorius asserted of Jesus Christ as being a very holy man in moral union with the Person of the Eternal Word.

(Indeed, living a life suffused by the Holy Spirit is what the saints are called to, as St Philip Neri rather alarmingly demonstrated...)

Rather than quote Kolbe at length (his opinions about the Immaculata can easily be googled), I pass on to quote a representative passage from the less-easily-accessible writings of Bulgakov, which he introduces by saying "We must... be perfectly clear about the theological implications and the dogmatic meaning of venerating her who is called 'more honourable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim'" (quoting the famous Megalynarion sung in the Divine Liturgy):

There is no personal, human incarnation of the third Person of the Trinity. But although the third Person is not personally incarnated as a human being in the same sense as the Son of God was, there is that one human, created personality which is the vessel filled by the Holy Spirit. She so completely surrendered her human, personal life as to make it transparent to the Holy Spirit, testifying about herself, 'Behold he handmaid of the Lord.' This being — the Blessed Virgin — is not the personal incarnation of the Holy Spirit but becomes his personal, living receptacle, an absolutely Spirit-bearing creature [Pneumatophoros?], a Spirit-bearing human being. For although there is no personal incarnation of the Spirit, there may be such a thing as personal Spirit-bearing, in which a created personality is completely surrendered in its createdness and is, as it were, dissolved in the Holy Spirit. This interpretation [sic; lege 'interpenetration'?] by the Spirit amounts to a change of kind. The Virgin is wholly deified, full of grace, 'a living temple of God'. Such a Spirit-bearing personality radically differs from the God-man, for she is a creature, but she differs as radically from the creation in its createdness, for she is raised and united to the divine life. And through this spiritualization is realized the image of God in man. It must therefore be admitted that in heaven the human figure of the Mother of God, together with that of the God-man Jesus, jointly manifest the integral pattern of man. The ikon of our Lady and her Child, the Logos and the creature receiving him and filled with the Holy Spirit, in indivisible unity forms the pattern of man in his integrity. The God-man and the Spirit-bearer, the Son and the Mother, manifesting the revelation of the Father through the Word and the Spirit, manifest the fullness of God's copy in man, or, the other way round, of the pattern of man in God.
— from S.N. Bulgakov, The Burning Bush (Kupina Nepolimaya) (1927), quoted, translated from the end of pp. 137-142 in the original Russian, in A Bulgakov Anthology, J. Pain & N. Zernov, edd. (London: SPCK, 1976), 92.  [The notes in square brackets are my own.]

Bulgakov's doctrine was roundly criticized by the Orthodox in the 1930's as most problematic; he was charged with making Our Lady into a goddess, a Fourth Hypostasis, and so forth; notoriously, in one passage in The Burning Bush, he called her "a creature, but also no longer a creature".  Given the three-way split of the Russian Orthodox jurisdictions in the diaspora then, there is some suspicion of politicking and intrigue in the accusations of heresy directed against him.

I also find it ridiculous that the Orthodox, of all Christians, would condemn a man for taking deification (theosis) so seriously, indeed, finding it in its logical apex in the Mother of God.  He clearly says that the Holy Ghost does not have a personal incarnation; he "rightly divides the word of truth"; he exalts Holy Mary as the Pneumatophoros in truth – to quote a Catholic source in entire agreement with this, one of the official catechetical texts prepared by the Theological-Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee, entitled The Holy Spirit: Lord and Giver of Life, "Mary is the pneumatophoros (bearer of the Spirit) to the highest degree".

The same source approvingly quotes from two Byzantine writers who seem to anticipate Bulgakov: "Mary from the beginning was united with the Spirit... her participation in the Spirit became a participation in being", wrote Theophanes of Nicæa; and the great Nicolas Cabasilas wrote that Mary had a "spiritualized body, that is, one transformed by the Spirit".

As once with the mystical paradoxes of Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) in his Cherubimic Wanderer, Bulgakov's holy effusions I think are unfairly dealt with when read suspiciously: I believe him orthodox insofar as these passages go.  Then again, I am not conversant with the depths of his "sophiology", his doctrinal focus on Sophia, the Wisdom of God...  (Not that he referred to Sophia in the New Age feminist manner of course!)

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