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4 “A Supertemporal Continuum”: Christocentric Trinity and the Dialectical Reenvisioning of Divine Freedom in Bulgakov and Barth Brandon Gallaher The natural or prima facie reaction to the comparison of Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Sergius Bulgakov (1871–1944) is revulsion or even a slight absurdity.1 But is this correct? Rowan Williams observed more than twenty-five years ago that Barth was “almost alone among twentieth-century dogmaticians” in undertaking “to present Trinitarian doctrine as foundational for theology as a whole.” The 1. This chapter is based on Brandon Gallaher, Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming). 95 illumination of his proviso is left for a footnote, where we are told “Perhaps the closest comparison is with the Russian émigré theologian, Sergei Bulgakov.”2 Williams returns more specifically to the similarities of Barth’s and Bulgakov’s doctrine of God in his introduction to his selection from Bulgakov’s The Lamb of God (1933). Williams describes how Bulgakov argues that God as Trinity must certainly be defined as absolute, but he is also necessarily relational, being defined as the absolute in his relation to the world (i.e., absolute-relative). One cannot think of God outside the relations to the world he himself has established, and those relations and what revelation tells us about his triune life “make it actively misleading to talk of creation as only arbitrarily or accidentally related to its maker.”3 Bulgakov, in this context, Williams contends, is certainly close to G. W. F. Hegel but, more interestingly, closer to Barth, who argues that God as Trinity chose neither necessarily nor arbitrarily in Jesus Christ not to be God without the world he creates and redeems.4 Williams is not alone in seeing, despite the vast differences, the closeness of these two figures’ theologies. The Russian theologian and historian Georges Florovsky (1893–1979),5 who knew both men personally and opposed in different ways the work of the two older theologians, juxtaposed their work back in 1968. In an unpublished talk on Russian émigré theology, Florovsky argued that both men create a “supertemporal continuum” between God and creation, 2. Rowan Williams, “Barth on the Triune God,” in Karl Barth: Studies of His Theological Method, ed. S. W. Sykes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 191 (emphasis added). 3. Rowan Williams, ed., trans., and introd., Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 169. 4. Ibid., 169n. 5. See Georges Florovsky, The Patristic Witness of Georges Florovsky: Essential Theological Writings, eds. Brandon Gallaher and Paul Ladouceur (London: T & T Clark, forthcoming); For commentary see Brandon Gallaher, “‘Waiting for the Barbarians’: Identity and Polemicism in the Neo-Patristic Synthesis of Georges Florovsky,” Modern Theology 27, no. 4 (October 2011): 659–91. CORRELATING SOBORNOST 96 focused on the God-man, in which “real time plays very little role.” In Bulgakov’s The Lamb of God (1933), the Son of God is a member of the Holy Trinity and as such “is already the Lamb of God sent from eternity,” such that there is one unified story of God and man, “a story of God through Man, in Man, and in the cosmos.” In Barth’s CD IV/1 (1953), we see in turn, Florovsky claims, that the “Jesus of history actually has been eternally with the Holy Trinity and the Holy Trinity never existed without Jesus.” Florovsky then claims, mischievously, that he sometimes “plays tricks” on people with English translations of both men by asking them to identify their author and “Usually they were wrong.”6 This work, among other things, aims to tease out some of the parallels of these two thinkers, noted by Williams and Florovsky, but also to use the parallels as a sort of hermeneutical tool to illumine Barth and the recent critical debate concerning election and the Trinity. I will first lay out something of a synopsis of the main lines of Bulgakov’s theology, which might be described as a “sophiological antinomism.” I will then argue that Barth’s apparent inconsistencies on election and the Trinity, reflected in the sharp contemporary debate surrounding it, might helpfully be seen in light of his dialectical theology, not dissimilar to Bulgakov’s thinking on the relationship of the immanent to the economic Trinity. What appear to be diametrically opposed readings of Barth in the contemporary election and the Trinity debate both may well have a ground within Barth’s theology if it is viewed dialectically. Sergius Bulgakov: Sophiological Antinomism In order to understand...


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