Vladimir Solov’ev is recognized as Russia’s leading religious philosopher of the 19th century. He was also an important poet, whose thought and manner exerted a powerful influence on the most important religious symbolists, Aleksandr Blok, Viacheslav Ivanov, and Andrei Belyi. There is in fact probably no non-Marxist thinker in 20thcentury Russia who was not profoundly influenced by Solov’ev.
Solov’ev was inspired by the mystical religious intuition of a being of resplendent beauty, which he called “Bozhestvennaia Sofiia” (Divine Sophia) and “Sofiia Premudrost’” (Divine Wisdom); his philosophical thought is a synthesis of Christian dogmatism with Eastern, particularly Russian, mysticism, the natural sciences, and rationalist idealist philosophy. One of the most erudite men of his day, Solov’ev undertook advanced study in both philosophy and the natural sciences. His prose style included discourses in both these disciplines, and in time took on a markedly poetic quality. In his mature essays Solov’ev increasingly used literary examples, and even poetry (particularly of those he considered “philosopher-poets”) along with and at times in lieu of rational argument.
His early, more academic philosophical works—his M.A. thesis Krizis zapadnoi filosofii (1874; The Crisis in Western Philosophy), his doctoral dissertation Kritika otvlechennykh nachal (1880; A critique of abstract principles), and his neo-Slavophile book Filosofskie printsipy tsel’nogo znaniia (1877; The philosophical foundations of integral knowledge)—are written in the Russian rendition of Hegelian discourse, the socalled “school language.” Solov’ev became less satisfied with that language over time.
He was one of the greatest philosophical stylists. The historian of philosophy V.V. Zenkovsky (1953) writes of Solov’ev’s philosophical idiom: “He always wrote with astonishing clarity, precision and vividness. Diffuseness is totally alien to him. In this respect Solovyov is extremely close to the French philosophical style. There was in Solovyov’s very mode of thinking a penchant for rationalism, logical constructions and a dialectical binding together of heterogeneous ideas. These were the external peculiarities of Solovyov’s creative activity which often made him a slave of his own mode of thinking and writing.” Solov’ev was a mystical religious philosopher who wished to integrate all areas of intellectual endeavor with intuitive feeling. He himself remarked that he could always find adequate words for his thoughts, but never for his feelings.
A number of his essay-length works are publicistic, treating the reunification of the Eastern and Western churches and national and political divisions within Russia. He was also a bitterly sardonic polemicist, as seen in his essays attacking Vasilii Rozanov and his review-attacks on the fledgling symbolist movement led by Valerii Briusov. His reputation as a great essayist, however, rests on his religious lectures about the meaning of Dostoevskii’s life and work (1881–83), his religious and philosophical Chteniia o Bogochelovechestve (1877–81; Lectures on Godmanhood), and his numerous aesthetically oriented essays written from the late 1880s to the end of his life.
The young Solov’ev knew Dostoevskii, and different critics have suggested that he was the living prototype for Ivan or Aliosha Karamazov. Solov’ev’s important essays in this late period include five that are united under the title Smysl liubvi (1892–94; The Meaning of Love), as well as “Krasota v prirode” (1889; Beauty in nature), “Obshchii smysl iskusstva” (“The General Meaning of Art”), “O liricheskoi poezii” (1895; On lyric poetry), “Poeziia F.Tiutcheva” (1895; The poetry of F.Tiutchev), and the brilliant unfinished cycle of essays entitled Osnovy teoreticheskoi filosofii (1897–99; part translated as “Foundations of Theoretical Philosophy”). One of his more interesting late works, Tri razgovora o voine, progresse, i konste istorii (1900; War, Progress, and the End of History) is in Platonic dialogue form. It concludes with the fascinating “Kratkaia povest’ ob Antikhriste” (“Short Tale of the Antichrist”), a brilliant reworking of Ivan Karamazov’s prose poem “Legenda o velikom inkvizitore” (“The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”) in Dostoevskii’s Brat’ia Karamazovy (1880; The Brothers Karamazov). The Grand Inquisitor figure in this apocalyptically tinged work was an attack on Tolstoian rationalized religion, yet after Rozanov’s suggestion it has often been viewed as Solov’ev’s self-parody of his own attempts to unite the churches, a task which consumed him in the 1880s.
In his essay “The General Meaning of Art,” Solov’ev asserts the great importance of aesthetics: “For their genuine realization Truth and the Good must become a creative force in the human subject, transforming—not only reflecting, reality …the light of reason can not be limited to knowledge alone, but the meaning of life must be incarnated in a new, more suitable reality…Real art, in essence—any sensible portrayal of an object or phenomenon from the point of view of its ultimate (teleological) state, i.e., in the light of the world’s future, is a work of art.” He finds a practical example of this consciously created in the poetry of Fedor Tiutchev and unconsciously in that of Afanasii Fet. In his essay on Tiutchev (1895) Solov’ev writes: “The action of ideal beings on us, which produces in us both intellectual contemplation (Schelling’s intellektuelle Anschauung) and the creation of their ideal forms or ideas is called inspiration. This action takes us out of our usual center, raises us to a higher sphere, makes us ecstatic.” In “On Lyric Poetry” he writes: “…for sensitive people… love poems like those here [of Fet] can serve as a better affirmation of mystical truths than any possible ‘school proofs’.”
In his great late essays, therefore, Solov’ev is clearly trying to bridge the disciplines of natural science, mystical religion, and aesthetics/poetic art. His writing style presents a somewhat polyphonic mixture of the discourses of the three disparate fields. The cacophony of natural science proofs and statistics and the exalted Romantic style are particularly sharp in the seminal essays “Beauty in Nature” and The Meaning of Love, so much so that Konstantin MochuPskii (1936) was moved to comment: “The poet [in Solov’ev] conquers the natural scientist and pure lyricism invades a very scientific scholarly exposition. Solov’ev felt ‘the heavenly life of flowers’ very deeply… After a lyrical digression the author returns to ‘realities,’ i.e., to zoology and the evolution of species, quoting Darwin.”
The attempt to integrate such different discourses in one essayistic style in Solov’ev was occasioned by the fact that for most of his intellectual life Westernized Russian intellectuals, his main audience, were profoundly uninterested in idealistic philosophy and even less moved by mystical religion. Scholarly and natural science discourses were used for their authority with his rather hostile readership. Thus while his point of view is
extremely antipositivist, the positivist “idiom” of the “other” is coopted by Solov’ev as a means of overcoming the (for him) only apparent contradiction between Reason and Faith. The preponderance of nonmystical discourse in the philosophical essays and books of this mystic, and his lifelong crusade to systematize and rationalize the faith, led Zenkovsky to remark that “Solovyov characterized Russian religious thought from
without.” This is less and less true in his late aesthetic essays, where the action of beauty on human individuality becomes virtually the cornerstone of philosophy.
Having achieved in his early philosophical works a lucid academic style, Solov’ev went on to abandon it for the mixed, often poetic discourse of his later years. His late essays, both in form and in their championing of the philosopher-poet and theurgic art, laid the foundation for the artistic essay of the next generation of poet-artists, particularly Ivanov and Belyi. Solov’ev’s late aesthetic-philosophical essays were the precondition of Belyi’s prophecy: “From now on philosophy and poetry will go hand in hand…after the crisis in philosophy …it was inevitable that art should come forth to take the place of philosophy as the guiding light of mankind” (“Magiia slov” [1910; “The Magic of Words”]).
ANNA LISA CRONE
Vladimir Sergeevich Solov’ev. Born 28 January 1853 in Moscow. Studied natural sciences, philosophy, and history at Moscow University, 1869–73, M.A. in history, 1874;
Moscow Theological Academy, 1873–74; St. Petersburg University, Ph.D., 1880.
Lecturer, Moscow University, 1875; studied at the British Museum, London, July- October 1875; traveled to Egypt, November 1875–March 1876; gave a series of public lectures, 1877–81: in one lecture advocated clemency for Alexander II’s assassins: reprimanded by the Minister of Public Education, and as a result voluntarily resigned lectureship and abandoned his university career. Full-time writer, from 1881. Editor (also contributor) of the philosophical sections of the Brockhaus-Efron Encyclopedia, from
1891. Traveled again to Europe and Egypt, 1898. Died near Moscow, 13 August 1900.
Essays and Related Prose
Chteniia o Bogochelovechestve, 1877–81; as Lectures on Godmanhood, translated by Peter Zouboff, 1948; revised edition, as Lectures on Divine Humanity, edited by Boris Jakim, 1995
Dukhovye osnovy zhizni, 1884; as God, Man and the Church, translated by Donald Attwater, 1938
L’ldée russe, 1888; Russian edition, 1909
La Russie et I’église universelle, 1889; Russian edition, 1911; as Russia and the Universal Church, translated by H.Rees, 1948
Smysl liubvi, 1891–94; as The Meaning of Love, translated by Jane Marshall, 1945, revised by Thomas R. Beyer, Jr., 1985
Opravdanie dobra, 1897; as Justification of the Good: An Essay in Moral Philosopby, translated by Natalie Duddington, 1918
Osnovy teoreticheskoi filosofii, 1897–99; part as “Foundations of Theoretical
Philosophy,” translated by Vlada Tolley and James Scanlan, in Russian Philosophy, vol. 3, 1965:99–134
Tri razgovora o voine, progresse, i konste istorii, i kratkaia povest’ ob Antikhriste (Three conversations…), 1900; as War, Progress, and the End of History, Including a Short Tale of the Antichrist, translated by Alexander Bakshy, 1915, revised by Thomas R.
Beyer, Jr., 1990
A Solovyov Anthology, edited by S.L.Frank, translated by Natalie Duddington, 1950
Other writings: poetry, three plays, literary criticism, philosophical works, and encyclopedia articles. Also translated Schiller, Heine, Virgil, Petrarch, Dante, Mickiewicz, Longfellow, and Tennyson.
Collected works editions: Sobranie sochinenii, 2nd edition, edited by Sergei M. Solov’ev and Ernest L.Radlov, 10 vols., 1911–14, revised edition, 12 vols., 1966–70.
Sidorov, S.A., Bibliografiia rabot o VI. Solov’eve, n.p.: Obshchestvo Pamyati Vladimira Solov’eva (Vladimir Solov’ev society), 1916
Cioran, Samuel D., Vladimir Soloviev and the Knighthood of the Divine Sophia, Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1977
Kline, George L., “Russian Religious Thought,” in 19th Century Religious Thought in the West, vol. 2, edited by Ninian Smart and others, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985: 208–17
MochuPskii, Konstantin, V.S. Solov’ev, Paris: YMCA Press, 1951 (original edition, 1936)
Sutton, Jonathan, The Religious Philosophy of VI. Solovyov: Towards a Reassessment, Basingstoke: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988
Zenkovsky, V.V., A History of Russian Philosophy, vol. 2,, New York: Columbia University Press, 1953:469–531
Zernov, N., Three Russian Prophets: Khomiakov, Dostoevsky, Soloviev, London: S.C.M. Press, 1944; Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1973
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