Tuesday, October 30, 2012

#104. "The Bride of the Lamb"

ARCHIVE. For a list of all my published posts: 

This is the fourth in my series of blog entries beginning with #101-- a collection of notes and essays from my files all dealing in one way or another with the emerging new religious consciousness. They are mostly things I've written over the last decade to clarify my own thoughts but which I want to make available for anyone who might be interested. This post (#104) is a set of notes I sent to friends about the work of Sergius Bulgakov.

If you have questions and think I might help, you're welcome to send me a note: sam@macspeno.com


Dear D&M,

Here are some notes on Bulgakov's major work, The Bride of the Lamb (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001). I'm trying to bring together his main ideas that connect church and new cosmology.

What I'm sending is not really a book review in any sense since it deals with only two chapters (out of eight), and then not even with all the parts of those chapters. But I hope it will be enough to give you a good idea of the riches contained in Bulgakov's sophiology, especially its relevance to the new cosmology and to the transformation the church's tradition.

It's a challenging book on many levels: wonderful ideas but presented in a really awful writing style. (The translator should probably be canonized.) Add to that my own excited and stumbling attempts to respond to these profound concepts, and you've got your hands full in trying to deal with these notes. But bear with them, if you can; I think it's an extremely significant book.

The excerpt from John Sprong's The Sins of Scripture, quoted in the Corpus newsletter at the end of Richard Scaine's article, makes the point that such a radical transformation of church is needed that Christianity may not survive in any historical continuity with its own past. (Something like that.) Certainly an "immense transition" is needed and is already in process. We can see here, with Bulgakov's sophiological perspective, that not only can the tradition survive, but blossom into something like what it is in fact called to be at its authentic best. We are in the transitional generation, but have the advantage over others who came earlier in that we can see a solid direction in which things can move. It's not at all a dead-end.

I think that, someday, we will be able to see clearly that what has not been in continuity with the core of the Judeo-Christian story is, in fact, western Christianity's dualism. And Bulgakov will have a major role in that dawning awareness. No one else comes close, as far as I know, to his depth, comprehensiveness and his focus on the heart of things.

The article I sent recently on the "Role of Christ in the Universe According to Irenaeus of Lyons" (which I came across in pursuit of what I've called the "missing fourth" of the new cosmology; i.e., a sense of a telos to the cosmic evolutionary process), is very helpful with all this, despite its age, academic language and style and the thought patterns of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. The distinction Irenaeus makes between redemption and salvation, and his point that redemption is a very minor part of the whole story-- a tidying-up or clearing the way, to get to the real work of the world's creation (healing, wholeness, "bringing all things into one," "the fullness of God in everything)--" is precisely the essence of the Christian tradition according to Bulgakov. Irenaeus' distinction is critical if we are to move beyond dualism.
As I've mentioned, that essay provides strong support for Vagaginni's claims in Caro est Cardo, and for the views of the three dialogue-participants in Belonging to the Universe, that what's at the heart of the whole Judeo-Christian tradition is the unitive perspective. And that's the essence of Bulgakov' sophiology, too. Here's my overview of what seem to me Bulgakov's main ideas. One very significant thing he adds to Irenaeus is his emphasis on our part (all humanity's and each of us) in the "salvation" process; i.e., his idea of synergy. (Which is also what the new cosmologists are discovering to be the very "participatory" mechanism of cosmic evolution.) Redemption may be passive, but salvation isn't. And it makes all the difference! -Sam


Intro. The Bride of the Lamb has three major sections:

         Section I: Creator and Creation (Chapters 1-4)
         Section II: Church, History &Afterlife (Chapters 5-7)
         Section III: Eschatology (Chapter 8).

I've focused on just two chapters: Chapter 5 (from Section II) and Chapter 8 (from Section III); i.e., on Bulgakov's ecclesiology and eschatology. But I've also included a few comments on the other sections and chapters, to give you some minimal overview of the whole book. I've put page breaks at the end of each of the major divisions, again to help with the organization. Bulgakov's arrangement of the various parts makes good sense, but it's not easy to deal with.


Section I: Creator and Creation

This section takes up the first half of the book (four chapters, running to 250 pp!). Every possible view of the creation, from ancient times forward, including those of Thomas Aquinas and the Franciscans Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, is mentioned, and the limitations of each is pointed out. Bulgakov presumes readers know what sophia means in the philosophical context he’s working in. No explanation at all is given!

His style is very heavy. It reminds me of Jacques Maritan’s The Degrees of Knowledge which I tried to read early in my life since it used to be quoted so much. I.e., he’s saying all kinds of interesting things but there’s no easy way to tie it all together and make sense of it as a whole. I think Bulgakov’s style reminds me most of Karl Rahner's. Bulgakov's German philosophical heritage stands out. When I was first reading the book, I "hung in there" for about 100 pages, then decided to move on to Sections II and III.

The second part of the book, which deals with "Church, History and Afterlife," and the third section, on "Eschatology," are fascinating. It's Bulgakov's sophiological ecclesiology and eschatology that seem to me especially relevant for us, both for a more comprehensive new cosmology and, more immediately, for the radical reformation of the church tradition that Bishop Sprong rightly says is challenging to its very identity.


Section II: Church, History and Afterlife (This section has three chapters: 5, 6 & 7.)

Chapter 5: The Church

The chapter has four parts:

         5-1. The Essence of the Church
         5-2. The Church as a Sacramental and Hierarchical Organization
         5-3. The Limits of Sacramentalism
         5-4. Grace.

5-1. The Essence of the Church. This first part of chapter 5 is very impressive; Bulgakov goes to the heart of things. There are so many important ideas here, I'm listing them by letters to try to keep them somewhat organized.

5-1(A). He begins with what he calls "the primordial significance of the Church." He says the church is nothing less than the foundation (i.e., the purpose and basis) of the created world. And that that purpose is nothing less than "the fullness of God in everything" ("the fullness of the all in the all," to pleroma or to panto en panto). Another way he says it is that God’s eternal plan or intention is "to gather together into one all things in Christ," and the church is the fulfillment of that plan.

The created world has a purpose, that purpose the unity of all things, and the fulfillment of that purpose is the church. What a profound set of ideas! And what a contrast with the prevailing conventional views of scientific rationalism that can't acknowledge that there is any meaning or purpose to our existence! But also what a contrast with the views of religious dualism that claims only that we are to escape from the world rather than be united with it utterly. And it's clear that even many of the new cosmologists seem unable to acknowledge a goal to cosmic evolution. So right from the start, the sophiological perspective stands in the greatest contrast to all the conventional views about the world as either evil or meaningless.

And it is precisely sophiology's unitive perspective which makes it so relevant. What the church is all about is unity. Unity is its essence: "To gather together all things into one," "That they may be one." In Bruno Barnhart’s words, the essence of the New Testament vision is "the transformation of cosmic matter (in the human person) into its ultimate unitive state in God." That unity of cosmos, anthropos and theos is church in Bulgakov’s view. And we see immediately how the central place of individuals stands out in this dynamic and transformational view. Sophiology and the new cosmology agree that we exist and live in a dynamic person-centered cosmos.

5-1(B). Bulgakov notes that church is both local community of believers and the life-unity of all. Its primary biblical images are Bride of Christ, Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Isn't it fascinating that in the conventional understanding, none of these three New Testament images of church is usually applied to the church. "Temple of the Holy Spirit" is used often in reference to the human body, usually in context of avoiding sex. "Bride of Christ" is a term for nuns and even there, whether positive or negative, the meaning has to do with avoiding sex. And "Body of Christ," of course, refers to the eucharistic bread, but never in popular understanding to the local community of believers. (Never in clerical practice, either: I've been to several Catholic funerals recently. I found the amount of genuflecting to the reserved eucharist appalling; especially in contrast to the amount of reverencing the assembled community received; i.e., none at all.)

5-1(C). On page 260 there is a good note about language not being precise enough for what needs to be said. (One of the reasons why realistic ritual remains a major need in the immense transition!) There is also a note about human nature as one reality, not multiple. Persons are multiple. "Christ is the All-Adam."

While Bulgakov says "language isn’t good enough," he continues to use it extensively, of course. (What else can we do?) The idea that there is only one human nature, held in common by all human persons, is a familiar Eastern church concept. It makes sense to say that the one human nature is also ‘taken on’ by Christ and thus to call him the "All-Adam." It's a neat name! (The new cosmology is just arriving at the stage of seeing individual persons as at the center of the dynamic cosmos, and once it gets to the point of seeing all persons as one cosmic reality, here's a great image standing in the wings waiting to be used. And Bulgakov's own use of it in his eschatology, described below, is sheer delight.)

5-1(D). On p. 262 Bulgakov makes the point that the doctrine of the church in St. Paul is "not decorative." He says it's "not meant to be in the background while attention is directed to the church’s institutional and organizational nature." (And which, he seems to be saying, the Neo-Patristic theologians do. No wonder the various Orthodox Synods didn’t want him!) (And "Not decorative." What a great way to put it!)

5-1(E). Also on p. 262 is an important note about the divine-human inter-action (Bogochelovechestvo) being both a giving and a receiving. His point is that even being created by God is not something passive on our part; our creation and thus our place in the church is one of personal activity and responsibility. (What a wonderful affirmation of the place of each of us in the world's transfiguration!)

Bulgakov uses terms like "synergy" and "synergism" to refer to the cooperative interaction of divinity and humanity. He doesn’t, here-- but Panikkar does in his anthology, and I would presume Bulgakov does elsewhere-- speak of the primordial sacrifice (the initial or foundational act of creation) as a giving and receiving in both directions. From what I’ve learned, this is a major point in the whole sophiological perspective: the "kenotic sacrifice of the lamb from before the world was made." It was a key image even (or especially) for Alexander Bukharev two generations before Bulgakov. It's saying that human creativity is integral to this whole world-view: wherever there is human creativity, there is church; human creativity is what the creation of the world is all about. To rephrase the old Holy Thursday hymn (Ubi charitas et amor): Ubi creativo et imaginatio, deus (et sophia, et ecclesia) ibi est.

This concern for human creativity is one of the most significant areas where sophiology and the new cosmology have the one same focus.

And isn't it amazing that the lamb image still shows up on Easter tables, even if in the form of a cute little fuzzy lamb. Another profound image awaiting recovery!

5-1(F). I think this next concept is probably the most significant of Bulgakov’s sophiological ideas for our present situation: that the essence of the church is something other than that of an organized institution. As he puts it, "The church manifests first not by institutional hierarchy but by personal gifts (missions, inspirations, creativity) which is the content of her life."

The content of her life! Bulgakov emphasizes that "church" shows itself primarily where there is personal creativity and inspiration, not where there is a hierarchical institution. And it's that personal creativity and inspiration, not hierarchy, that "is the content of her life." He also makes the point that hierarchy is not included in the gifts given to individuals for the whole. He says explicitly that the concept of hierarchy is not even part of the New Testament canon. (Valliere stresses this point nicely in his Chapter 16 that I sent a while back.)

If we still need a definition of ministry in terms of the local church community, here it is: promotion of those "personal gifts (missions, inspirations, creativity) which are the content of the church's life."

"Missions," here, means what Catholics used to call "vocation", but which in that context was of course mostly limited to priesthood and/or religious life. New cosmologists like Brian Swimme and Michael Dowd use this same word Bulgakov does when they talk about knowing what the universe wants of us at this time and place in our life and its history. This seems to me an especially significant convergence of sophiology and the new cosmology.

5-1(G). With regard to the church's more cosmic aspects, Bulgakov has some especially good things to say about it being imaged as bride, wife, lover. And he notes (p. 263) that "at the very end of biblical revelation is the image of the church coming down as the heavenly Jerusalem" and that this is proclaimed to be the very conclusion of the world's history. I.e., the ultimate end of everything is imaged as conjugal union. (No dualism there!)

Bulgakov notes that the most significant biblical book with regard to God’s love for the world is the Old Testament Song of Songs. He calls it "a verbal miracle." He gives on p 264-5 another definition of the church, more profound I think than any other: simply put, the church is "reality, as loved by God."

5-1(H). Note how inclusive this understanding of church is: Bulgakov says quite strongly that because the Incarnation is the assumption of all (or total) humanity (the Whole Adam or All Adam, which he also calls "perfect" [today we'd say "all-inclusive"] humanity), then all humanity belongs to the church. He also makes the point that because humanity does not exist separately from the cosmos but is, rather, the heart and center of the cosmos, that the whole universe belongs to the church. He calls the physical, material universe "the cosmic face of the church." (Here, the person-centered dynamic cosmos of the new cosmology converges totally with the perspectives of Bulgakov's sophiological ecclesiology. It really is exciting stuff!)

5-1(I). Bulgakov also has a profound definition of the world’s transfiguration: "the removal of the limits of its limited being."


What a wonderful collection of thoughts this is! Much of what follows in the other parts of Chapter 5 is variations on the basic ideas expressed in this first part on the Essence of the Church.

5-2. The Church as a Sacramental and Hierarchical Organization

This part of Chapter 5 is about the emergence of the three-tiered hierarchical system out of the perception of the church as sacrament and of the eucharist as ‘sacrament of sacraments.’ That there are only seven sacraments, and all founded directly by Christ, Bulgakov calls a "Tridentine myth" (and which has also, he notes, been uncritically adopted by the Eastern churches). He points out that baptism, "which still to this day may be administered by anyone, of either sex," is indicative of the original perspective with regard to hierarchy and sacraments.

He doesn’t claim hierarchy should be abolished, only that undue attention to it results in a tremendous loss of the basic understanding of the church. In that basic understanding, he says, the community of local believers is seen as sacrament of the church as both the beginning (foundation) and goal of created reality. As was said above: put as simply as possible, the church is "reality, loved by God." And as such, it includes all humanity and the whole cosmos. A very different view than that of most people today and of the media-- that "church" and "hierarchy" are synonyms.

Bulgakov then makes what may be his single most significant point in terms of where the Christian tradition should be going in our day. As he has already said, the church's primary manifestation is not institutional hierarchy but those personal gifts (missions, inspirations, creativity) which are given to individuals for the whole and "which is the content of her life." In a nutshell, the church exists "for the life of the world." (Alexander Schememann, one of Bulgakov's students who became the first dean of St Vladimir's seminary in New York, entitled one of his best books For the Life of the World. And those words are carved on Schememann's grave stone. I see them as a standard for judging, as appropriate or not, all the activities and attitudes of institutional Christianity.)
I find Bulgakov's emphasis on personal creativity and inspiration wonderful. It helps clarify Panikkar’s and Bruno Barnhart’s idea that it is precisely via "anthropos at the heart of cosmos" that "the transformation of cosmic matter into its ultimate unitive state in God" is brought about (i.e., via the human person). The in-gathering of all things into a unity, "that they may be one," in fact results from "those "personal gifts (missions, inspirations, creativity) which are given to individuals for the whole and which is the content of the church’s life." I think this is an especially clear expression of the link between ecclesiology and sophiology, "church and person."

I've no doubt mentioned before what the British scholar (and now-retired Orthodox Bishop Kallistos of Patmos), Timothy Ware, said in a talk at Princeton a few years ago about the great task of the 21st century: he said we did a fairly good job in the 20th century in coming to an understanding of church, and now the task of the 21st century is that we should finally come to an adequate understanding of person. (And the two ideas obviously go together here in this emphasis on personal creativity and inspiration as the content of the church's life.)

I may also have mentioned previously a thought about the term "unity," that it has a certain static sense about it. But this emphasis on creativity and inspiration shows it to be in fact utterly dynamic. And, again, all this fits right in with the new cosmology's emphasis, from computer-technology-generated understandings of synergy and complexity theory, on how new things at new levels of complexity arise precisely via cooperative relationships. Bulgakov and authors like Robert Wright (Nonzero) and Peter Corning (Synergy: Nature's Magic) are saying the one same thing in terms of the importance of both individual uniqueness and communion with others.

Unity is not static but dynamic, and brought about precisely by the creativity of persons in synergistic relationships. A statement like that could equally be said by Corning or Robert Wright as well as by Bulgakov. (And what a contrast it is from “the suppression of the image of the person,” as Bruno puts it, that prevailed through most of the history of Western culture.)

One more link I see important to mention: in another context, such as the work of Stephen Gallegos, our creativity-- the gifts given to individuals for the whole and which are "the content of the church’s life"-- would be called shamanism.

5-3. The Limits of Sacramentalism

This is a brief part of Chapter 5 and deals with only a single, but very powerful, idea. Bulgakov again emphasizes what he has already said about the primary manifestation of the church: that it is those personal gifts (missions, inspirations, creativity) which are given to individuals for the whole. But this time he does it in terms of what he calls "sacramentalism."

By "sacramentalism" he means the equation of the church’s sacramental organization with hierarchy. He says things like: While the church obviously instituted and maintains a sacramental organization, the church is "scarcely exhausted by it." And, even more strongly, "It is illegitimate to identify hierarchy with the church’s sacramental power."

His point is simple, but with enormous implications: that there’s a great deal more to "church" than the dispensing of grace by clerical actions. He calls those personal gifts which are the church's life "prophecy;" and, referring to the classic three ministries of Christ (prophet, priest and king), he says that while the sacramental power belongs to the priestly-hierarchical church, "prophecy" is the possession of the royal-prophetic church.

In another line you've probably heard before from me, he quotes Seraphim of Sarvov, that "the goal of Christian life is the acquisition of the Spirit." In an evolutionary unitive context, spiritus or pneuma means the dynamic divine-human-and-cosmic energy which manifests at the human level as personal awareness. And in this context Bulgakov makes his point again about hierarchy and sacramentalism; this time in terms familiar in terms of evolutionary thought, stasis and dynamis. He calls hierarchy the "static backbone of the church," while "prophecy "-- i.e., the non-sacramental gifts-- is the "dynamic movement of the life of the church." (Structural support vs actual lived life: another neat image!)

The goal of Christian life, the purpose of the church, is acquisition of the divine-human-cosmic energy with the support of sacraments and hierarchy. Or, to reverse that statement: the whole purpose of sacraments and hierarchy is to promote the actual lived-life of Christians in terms of the acquisition of the shamanic/prophetic gifts of mission and creativity. (There's the only job-description the hierarchy needs!)

But Bulgakov also notes that the Spirit is "unfettered by the limits of ecclesiastical organization" and observes that there is a depth of the church which remains beyond those limits. He calls this "depth" the "Una Sancta." He explicitly equates it with Divine Sophia and spells it out as "the ever continuing Incarnation and the ever-continuing Pentecost." His concluding comment about this Una Sancta is that "Denominational partitions do not reach to heaven." (His ecumenical and evolutionary perspectives are amazing when we consider that Bulgakov was working on them probably sometime in the 1930's.)

For those of us today living through and playing some part in the immense transition, Bulgakov's words about the Spirit being unfettered by the limits of ecclesiastical organization are especially important. We can get very discouraged, and opt out, as so many do, unless we can trust that there really is an on-going and "ever continuing Incarnation and the ever-continuing Pentecost." And that's where the new cosmology comes in, by providing a whole new and positive-- and rationally believable-- context for that trust.

5-4. Grace

Not surprisingly, Bulgakov is quite critical of the traditional teachings on grace. He says that while it is "at the center of the doctrine of the church, it remains imprecise and unstable." He notes that Western theology gives it more attention than the East does. With regard to dogmatic theology he says that teachings about grace "come out of the void." They follow discussions of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church and sacraments, and make no clear connection between grace and sacraments. He is especially critical of the distinction between natural and supernatural in the teachings on grace.

He says explicitly that he wants to focus on what grace is-- its goal (purpose, intention), as well as its given-ness by God and its received-ness by creation-- and to do that from a sophiological perspective. He says grace is "not a new what but a new kind of how:" the divine in the extra-divine, the world as Sophia, the "it was good" of Genesis. Church is "grace-ification in process."

The rest of this long section is commentary on "Latin" theology. It discusses natural grace, created grace, uncreated grace, actual grace, accidental grace, habitual grace, sanctifying grace, efficient grace, preparatory grace, etc. It also includes long sections on Augustine, Pelagius, Gregory Palamas, Luther and Calvin. (Except for some comments on the Theotokos, it is difficult to imagine any of this having a positive meaning for anyone in our day.)

This section also includes some comments on prayer, and concludes with a long discussion about ecumenical relations between the various churches, denominations and jurisdictional divergences. And here Bulgakov's point is quite clear: "Abstain from judgment." (Stop calling one another heretics and schismatics!) "There are no ontological boundaries to the church."

Chapter 6: History and Chapter 7: Death & the State after Death

The content and writing style in these two chapters (the second and third of Section II) makes them almost totally useless. Clearly an abridged edition this book is needed. Only an academic scholar and perhaps a seminary student in a course dealing with this author, would have the willingness to wade through it all, take notes on the key points, and then try to incorporate them into some scheme of thoughts and ideas that would be of value to people in general. Extracting the gold nuggets here does not seem to be a mission, to use Bulgakov's term, that I’m called to do. So I’m going to move on to Section III, a truly delightful section. 

Chapter 8: Parousia, Resurrection and the City of God.

(Section III contains only one chapter, Chapter 8, but it has eight parts.)

8-1. Introductory Comments

Concerning the eschaton, says Bulgakov, there are "no defined dogmas." He notes that other than four statements in the creed, there is not even just a single ecclesial tradition about it. It is in this wide open field that Bulgakov offers his sophiological eschatology.

The creedal statements are: "He will come again in glory," "of His kingdom there will be no end," "the resurrection of the dead" and "life in the world to come." He notes that, of the two principal eschatological traditions (and mentions that there are others), one comes from Origin and Gregory of Nyssa, and the second, although widespread, has no significant name associated with it ("except, perhaps, St Augustine").

Traditional eschatological theology, he says, has two particularly inadequate features: rationalism and anthropomorphism. "Rationalism tries to rationalize;" i.e., it "rejects mystery which is its basis." And anthropomorphism "replaces the mystery of God’s love with a penal code." (Once again, in this section on the eschaton, Bulgakov gets off to a powerful start!)

He's making two especially important points: that the basis of eschatology is mystery; and that it is especially the mystery of God's love which is at issue. This is in contrast to the usual patriarchal views of divine wrath and punishment. Together, these two points make clear that sophianic eschatology stands in the greatest contrast not only to the scientific rationalism of the pre-new cosmology worldview but also to the fear-based religion of fundamentalist dualism. As I've said, "a powerful start!"

8-2. The End of This Age

Bulgakov begins by noting that the New Creation, "a new heavens and new earth," does not mean that the cosmos will be annulled (abolished or annihilated), but that it will be renewed (transformed and transfigured). "It will be, but in a new way." Our world and the world to come are one and the same world, but it will be in a different state.

Clearly, this understanding of the world's transfiguration is exactly like that of Bulgakov's understanding of grace: "not a new what but a new kind of how. "The world "will be in a new way." The physical universe and persons at its center are in the same boat, so to speak; all is to be transformed, "made new."

I find that this identity of the two points (about persons and cosmos, or grace and the new creation) makes good sense in terms of the insights coming from Complexity Theory about the nature of the cosmic evolutionary process itself. The very essence of the cosmic process is the emergence of new things; or, more correctly, the transformation of previously existing things into new and "higher" states. Atoms in synergy result in molecules; brain cells in synergy result in conscious awareness; persons in synergy result in the ekklesia. What Peter Corning calls "nature's magic" with regard to the evolutionary process, the Judeo-Christian tradition calls transfiguration with regard to the telos of the process. 

And that distinction seems to me to be the very same that Vagaginni makes in Caro est Cardo between sarx and pneuma, where he says the biblical and patristic distinction is between the developmental nature of matter/body/person (sarx) in contrast to its having arrived at the telos of the developmental process (pneuma). It is a distinction between the creative process (cosmic evolution) and its realization (new creation).

Even if, as Bulgakov says in the next section, "our language is helpless" in describing the reality involved here, we can at least say this much: that persons, along with the person-centered cosmos, "will be in a new way;" that we, and the one real world that we were born into, "will be, but in a different state." In contrast to patriarchal Christianity's dualistic distortions, on one hand, and to the secular scientific world's rationalism, on the other, this is a strong affirmation of the value of the physical cosmos and of personal consciousness together. It's also an especially significant instance of the convergence of sophiology and the new cosmology.

8-3. The Parousia

Bulgakov says there are three biblical points with regard to the Parousia. It is a direct consequence of the Ascension. ("This one who has been taken up will come again.") It is a return to an earthly concreteness. (He notes that the terms used here-- will "come," "appear," "draw near," etc.-- are the same words used to describe post-Resurrection appearances). And, it will be "in glory."

About the Ascension, he says there are no dogmas, but it is "clearly a departure and not an abandonment or dis-incarnation."

About the Return, he notes that because the Ascension is a departure, the Return must be in some kind of sense-perceptible and self-evident form. (Again, a strong affirmation of the material world and of biological matter.) He also says, "This return of the Lord in the flesh is the end of Christ’s kenosis." But, he adds, it is not a return to this world: the Return "is a presence which constitutes a radical change in the divine-human relation, extending to the whole natural world. It is a new revelation of the Trinity in creation." Again he says, "language is helpless in describing the reality." (And that, of course, is what "mystery" means: realities experienced but for which only-rational words and concepts are simply unavailable.)

About Glory, Bulgakov notes that it is the opposite of kenosis. "While manifest at the Jordan, on Tabor and in the post-resurrection appearances, glory is the Holy Spirit, which until now has limited itself kenotically." The return "in glory" will be the end of the hiddenness of the human-divine union: it will be the maximal manifestation of the dynamis (spiritus) of the cosmo-the-andric unity.

This third part of the chapter also includes an extensive discussion of the place of the Theotokos and the Forerunner in or at the Parousia. I see these thoughts as images of ways to understand these profound concepts about the fulfillment of matter, body and consciousness, specifically in terms of human relationships. They sound a bit too pious to us, but I don't doubt that future generations of sophiological cosmologists will be able to make great use of them.

8-4. The Transfiguration of the World

Most of what’s in this part of the chapter is commentary on various eschatological passages in the New Testament, especially those in Revelations. Bulgakov says clearly that "the images of this symbolic language are not to be taken literally." He notes that the world’s transfiguration contains two contrasting aspects: destruction and resurrection, and that this "corresponds to human death and resurrection." (He doesn’t say so, but it seems to me that there is a clear analogy here with regard to creation myths, which are cosmic images of the awakening of human consciousness, both racial/global and personal/individual. This is the point I tried to make above, that whatever is said about the universe can also be said about humanity as a whole and about each individual person; and it would seem to be true whether the focus is the original creation of the world or its ultimate transformation.) In any case, we can't talk about ourselves or the cosmos independently of one another.

Probably of most significance here is Bulgakov's view of in what the newness of the new creation consists: the completion and fulfillment of the first creation. It is our unity with God, and the whole cosmos along with us, "without loss of autonomous identity." (Not just a return to the Great Mother or a drop of water dissolving back into the ocean, but union with the All without loss of one's personal reality. I.e., the "new" creation is the fulfillment of the first and only creation that there is, the fulfillment of you and me and of all those who matter to us, along with all reality. Again, I see this as an important point of convergence between the new cosmology at its best and sophiology; it's an especially strong stand against the rationalist views that dismiss "personal survival" as wishful thinking or hopeless immaturity and superstition.)

8-5. The Universal Resurrection

Bulgakov begins by saying that the Universal Resurrection and the Parousia are one identical reality. "All rise in Christ. There is only one human nature, which was assumed in the incarnation and is resurrected in the resurrection." But about all this, he adds, "on this side of death and resurrection, we can not get any real ideas." (Again, all this is mystery in the sense that its conceptual expression is far beyond the limitations of rational words and thoughts.)

An aside: Each time he says something like "language is inadequate" or "we don't have the words," I see anew the importance of expanding our understanding of psyche: to move from a narrow identification of consciousness with the Jungian Thinking function to a four-fold, quaternary perspective. Bruno says that the mandalic view is intrinsic to the sophianic perspectives; because "rationalism rationalizes" (as Bulgakov puts it), a critical change in self-understanding is needed on the part of the western world and western religion, if we are to accept and experience mystery as the basis for an authentic eschatology.

So a part of the new cosmology has to be a new anthropology; specifically, a new and more wholistic psychology. And we are well on our way in this direction, thanks especially to contemporary brain studies and neurological research. The work of the noted neurologist Antonio Damasio, for example, provides good evidence for emotion and feeling being a direct objective "reading" by consciousness of the body's condition. Do you know his book? (Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Putnam, 1994) That kind of research seems to me at least as important as contemporary work in areas like quantum physics for a more in-depth and wholistic understanding of ourselves.

In any case, as Bulgakov says: even if we can't get any real ideas, "on this side of death and resurrection," of what it means to say "All rise in Christ," the essence of the Christian faith is that "the body will be restored to the person and be changed."

And this, of course, is precisely the original meaning of salvation, in contrast to redemption, according to Irenaeus of Lyons. And it's also precisely what Vagaginni is spelling out in Caro est Cardo: that Christian faith hinges on the salvation-- the healing and restoration to wholeness-- of caro, flesh, body.

Another aside: Personally, I have no problem in calling this understanding of the "essence of the Christian faith" an "intuition" or "insight." (Or even a "gut feeling.") 

Rationalism just seems an utterly inadequate response to our inner experience. At the same time, I'm intensely aware that the integral unity of body-&-personal consciousness is not an easy idea for many to accept, since we have been so utterly held captive for so many centuries by body-soul dualism.

And yet, it's also important to note that a clear understanding of the unity of body-&-person has been preserved (even if more or less unconsciously) at the very heart of the Christian tradition; i.e., with regard to the eucharist. Nobody would say that corpus christi means the organs and bones and hemoglobin of Jesus rather than the unitive biological-spiritual reality. So once again we can see just what an immense transition we are in need of. And, also, just how "right" the essence of the tradition is, once it is raised to consciousness.

Back to Bulgakov. I have never seen, previously elsewhere, any understanding of resurrection spelled out as wonderfully as he puts it in this section. To say "the body will be restored to the person and be changed" indicates that even resurrection is "not a new what but a new how."

The risen body which each of us will have will be proper to each person, and it will also be "the one universal corporality which is the entire natural world." I.e., the one body of the All-Adam is nothing less than the whole transfigured cosmos, yet held uniquely by each of us! It is also the risen body of Christ and the eucharistic Corpus Christi. (And what can we say but "Amen!")

As I mentioned back at the beginning of these notes [part 5-1(C) on The Essence of the Church], I really like the name "All-Adam" and find Bulgakov's use of it in his eschatology to be a sheer delight. It's such a neat name to me because it allows us to bring together the fullness of both eschatology and ecclesiology, and to do so with all the insights of the scientific evolutionary worldview behind it. Delightful, indeed! In this eschaton-perspective-- which sees as equivalent the entire natural world, the transfigured cosmos, the risen body of each of us as well as of Jesus, and also the eucharist and the ekklesia-- I feel that my entire life's focus on the convergence of religion and science is satisfied (or completed or fulfilled, some word like that).

So this would be a good place to end these notes. But Bulgakov takes his sophianic eschatology just a little bit further. One of my all-time favorite quotes is Teilhard's comment that "nothing good will be lost." That's the idea Bulgakov deals with in this last section. How can we talk about to panto, "the fullness of God in everything," if something is missing? If the eternal plan is "to gather together all things into one," can anything at all be left out? That's what sections 8-6 and 8-7 are about. It is the rock bottom essence of the ultimate confrontation between religious dualism and Christian sophiology.

8-6. Judgment and Separation

Back in 8-1, Bulgakov began his introduction to the section on eschatology by noting that traditional eschatological theology has two particularly inadequate features: rationalism and anthropomorphism. (He said mystery is eschatology's basis; rationalism rejects it and anthropomorphism "replaces the mystery of God’s love with a penal code.") Nowhere else does the contrast between the fear-based religion of fundamentalist dualism and sophianic Christianity stand out so clearly. And that's what this last part of Chapter 8 deals with.

In the introduction to his book Sophia, the Wisdom of God, Bulgakov says: "Christians need to learn to love the world." Parts 8-6 and 8-7 of this book might be summed up by saying something like: "Christians need to learn to judge themselves (and others) less harshly." Or maybe, more accurately, "Christians need to learn to judge God less harshly."

Bulgakov equates the general resurrection and the judgment: "Restored in Christ, we judge ourselves." Christ is not the judge so much as the standard for our self-judgment. "No one (other than the Theotokos)," he notes, "is all good, just as no one is all evil. Both the sheep and the goats exist in everyone."

8-7. The Eternal in the Temporal (On the Eternity of Bliss & Torment)

What follows is especially powerful. Bulgakov begins by noting that "bliss and torment co-exist in a way we do not understand." Then he says, "We do not know that eternity means, but it is not infinite duration." And, "Judgment and condemnation is not a contradiction to or incompatible with salvation, otherwise hell and eternal torment would have an equal ontology with the kingdom of God and the world would be an ontological failure." He continues: "Anti-sophia would reign, Wisdom would be impotent, God would be powerless." And these, he says, "are the stupefying conclusions of penitentiary theology." (Stupefying conclusions!)

He pushes it even further: "Evil has limits; it ends. Good doesn’t have limits or end. Heaven can not exist in its fullness as long as and in so far as hell exists. Evil is not eternalized at the separation of good and evil at the parousia; it is ontologically annulled: hell’s genuine foundation is nothing." (Ontologically annulled!)

What a contrast all this is with the nonsense and bullshit imposed on us for centuries. Several times, Bulgakov says: the "negative views of penal theology used in the past to frighten people into submission are terrorism."

His conclusion: "The spirit of God blows where it will, even to the depths of hell. God can not be all in all if hell persists." He repeatedly uses the phrase, "God will be all in all" and "the fullness of divinity will embrace all reality." I think that can stand as a one-sentence sum of sophiology. (And of ecclesiology. And of eschatology.)

The section also includes what I think of as nothing less than the definition of a non-dualistic spirituality for post-patriarchal Christianity. I'm sure I've quoted it to you before. Bulgakov provides it in the form of a wonderful description of sin from a sophiological point of view: "Coming to the feast without a wedding garment." +++

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