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9 Symphonic Theology and the Cacophonous World: Barth and Solovyev on Political Theology D. Stephen Long & Richard J. Barry IV Russian Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism did not simply march off in separate directions after the East-West schism. By the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Russia and Europe had grown closer, and Europe came to represent cosmopolitan intellectual culture in the Russian imagination. As a result, there was an effort at “Westernization,” which was mirrored in the Orthodox Church by a movement called “Latinization.”1 In fact, it was not 1. This history is well summarized in Artur Mrówczyński-Van Allen, Between the Icon and the Idol (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 40–52. 241 atypical for Russian leaders in the early nineteenth century to aspire to reunion with the pope, seeing this as a requirement for unity. Unsurprisingly, some Russians began to feel that, through syncretism, the unique insights and blessings of Russian history had been forgotten. It therefore became imperative to retrieve that which made Russia unique—the “Russian idea”—and this retrieval was inseparable from the rediscovery of the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition. Concomitantly—also no surprise—this moment of rediscovery inspired polemics against Catholicism, and especially against the assumption that the Catholic Church best ensures Christian unity. In this polemical setting, the formation of the word “sobornost” was a masterstroke. “Suborna(ia),” after all, is the word used to translate “Catholic” in the old Slavonic creed; it means “conciliar” or “synodal,” and it “was related to the verbs subrati and beru—‘gather,’ ‘gathering,’ ‘bringing and assembling together.’”2 For the early Slavophiles, Catholicism represented unity without freedom, whereas Orthodox sobornost ecclesiology is defined by “organic togetherness” or “freedom and unity reconciled through love.”3 Notice that, at its origin, sobornost is very clearly an ecclesiology, an Orthodox ecclesiology,4 the graced communion in love found in the church. This vision of organic harmony was hugely influential on the next generation of Orthodox thinkers, including Vladimir Solovyev (1853–1900). But for Solovyev, the unity that the Slavophiles found in the little Russian commune is, from a Christian perspective, insufficient until it achieves “all-unity” (vseedinstvo) in Jesus Christ. 2. Todor Sabev, “The Nature and Mission of Councils in the Light of the Theology of Sobornost,” The Ecumenical Review 45, no. 3 (1993): 262. 3. Alexandru Racu, “From Ecclesiology to Christian Populism. The Religious and Political Thought of Russian Slavophiles,” South-East European Journal of Political Science 2, no. 3 (2014), 4. Kallistos Ware, “Sobornost and Eucharistic Ecclesiology: Aleksei Khomiakov and His Successors,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 11, no. 2–3 (2011): 223. CORRELATING SOBORNOST 242 Therefore, Solovyev takes the sobornost vision of harmony-throughlove in the church and pursues integral social harmony—a new political theology—that connects church, state, and economy in allunity through Christ, the “Godman,” who unites all people in his body.5 He calls this social vision “free theocracy.”6 Karl Barth was born four years before Solovyev died. At first glance, his political theology might seem as far removed from Solovyev’s free theocracy as possible. First of all, Barth was not generally enthusiastic about the Orthodox theological tradition. Although his last public lecture in 1968 was on the ecumenical movement in tandem with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Barth was nevertheless suspicious of the ecumenical movement, especially its Anglican and Orthodox proponents. At the 1948 World Council of Churches at Amsterdam, Barth found what occurred there to be “utter nonsense,” accusing Catholicism of being—like communism—totalitarian, and dismissing the Orthodox Georges Florovsky’s rapprochement with the Anglicans and Catholics by referring to him as that “mystical Florovsky.”7 Barth found the Orthodox no more compelling than he did the Catholics, at least in 1948. The difference between Barth and Solovyev is just as clear when it comes to theological temperament. Barth did not have mystical leanings. One could not imagine him, like Solovyev, 5. Sergei Sergeevich Khoruzhii sees the application of sobornost to the state as an extension of the word beyond its original theological context. See James Patrick Scanlan, “Interpretations and Uses of Slavophilism in Recent Russian Thought,” in Russian Thought after Communism: The Recovery of a Philosophical Heritage (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), 43–44. 6. The phrase “free theocracy” will predispose many against his project. First used in passing by Josephus, the word “theocracy” was conflated with hierocracy (the rule of priests) by Enlightenment thinkers and became...


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