You are viewing sbulgakov

Sergius Bulgakov - Arjakovsky on Glorification of the Name and Grammar of Wisdom
A review of Russian religious philosophy and contemporary integral thought
my journal
October 2008

Strong Coffee, Sharp Pencils, Open Windows posting in Sergius Bulgakov community
User: sbulgakov (posted by torbellino)
Date: 2005-10-29 17:36
Subject: Arjakovsky on Glorification of the Name and Grammar of Wisdom
Security: Public
The following is the text of a presentation by Professor Antoine Arjakovsky, Catholic University of the Ukraine, Lviv, delivered on October 1, 2005, at a conference on "Transfiguring the World Through the Word: An Encounter between Radical Orthdoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy" held at The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS), Wesley House, Cambridge, England. This paper is made available here by permission of the author and is copyright of the author and The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS). RT

Glorification of the Name and Grammar of the Wisdom:
Serge Bulgakov and Jean-Marc Ferry

Monde renversé je t’aime
J’aime à monde renversé

Your Excellence,
Reverend Fathers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

Allow me to address you thus, as friends, although we do not even know each other. Friendship is not only the result of shared dialogue or getting to know a particular person, it is also a state of mind, the common desire to achieve a common goal and the recognition of the intimate value of another. Having read with much interest, or rather I should say with passion, the work of His Grace Monseigneur Williams on the father Serge Bulgakov, the works of John Milbank or Catherine Pickstock, as well as the presentation of the radical orthodoxy movement in French by Adrian Pabst and Olivier Thomas Venard, I must tell you how happy I am to be here among you, and how I share in your desire to rediscover and tell the world about the living origins of orthodox Christianity.

The organisers of this conference had the good idea of conceiving of a meeting between an intellectual movement, that of radical orthodoxy, and an ecclesiastical tradition, that of Eastern Orthodoxy. I do not believe that these terms are equivalent. But it seems to me that on both sides are those who have become aware of the end of an era, and of these modern times characterised in particular by assertion of denominational identity. However, at the origin of the ecumenical realisation are found those whose lives have been radically changed by the very friendship. It's my pleasure to mention here the friendship that was shared by Lord Halifax and Abbey Portal, and also that between bishop Walter Frere and Father Serge Bulgakov. It is in this same spirit of ecumenical friendship that I would like to share with you some thoughts on the work of Father Serge Bulgakov.

'The Transfiguration of the world by the Word’: the theme of our conference, is at the heart of 'The Philosophy of the Word and the Name' by this Russian Orthodox theologian. His idea was that the worship of the Name of God was like the river of flowing water, shining like crystal, of the new Jerusalem, 'The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him / And they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads' (Revelation, Chapter 22, Verses 3-4). After having briefly introduced 'The philosophy of the Name' by Serge Bulgakov, I will then compare it with the communicational philosophy of the French thinker Jean-Marc Ferry, a professor of the Free University of Brussels and a close friend of Jürgen Habermas. My aim, in fact, is to demonstrate that from our ultra-modernity comes an idea that suggests the secret presence of the Logos at the heart of human intelligence. However, this philosophy still hesitates to pronounce the Name of God, perhaps because Christians themselves have still to reply in a clear voice to the following question: 'Is God's name God himself?'

The Philosophy of the Word and the Name

The father Serge Bulgakov, dean of the St. Serge Institute in Paris in the 1930's, drafted in Crimea at the beginning of the 1920's two works that took him the rest of his life to complete. The first is called 'La tragédie de la philosophie' (The Tragedy of Philosophy) and the second 'La philosophie du verbe et du nom' (The philosophy of the Word and the Name). During his lifetime, only the first work and one chapter of the second 'Qu'est-ce que le Verbe?' (What is the Word?) were translated, respectively in 1927 and 1930, both into German. In these two papers, Bulgakov's aim was above all to give an argued response to the debate before the First World War in Russia on the subject of the glorification of the Name of God.

It all started in 1907 with the publication of a book entitled 'In the Caucasus mountains' by the monk Ilarion. In Moscow the book was supported by the monk Antoni Boulatovitch, and divided the Russian monasteries of Mount Athos on the subject of whether or not God's name is God himself, to the point that the Archbishop of Constantinople Joachim III was forced to intervene on the 12th of September 1912 to condemn Ilarion's book. The monks worshipping the Name of God did not back down and on the 30th of March 1913, the new Archbishop Germain V also strongly condemned whom he considered 'heretics', with the support of teachers from the Halki seminary. Finally, on the 18th of May, The Saint Synod of Petrograd sent the bishop Nikon to dislodge about 600 rebel monks by force, a sign of the growing tensions between Moscow and Constantinople on the eve of the First World War. Numerous intellectuals moved in favour of the onomatodox monks, among them Berdiaev and Florensky. The latter explained that the Name of God, like the image of the icon, represents the divinity present in its energy, not in a substantialist sense but in 'it's flow of meaning'. The meaning of this was not generally understood and the outbreak of war in 1914 temporarily put water on the debate. During the Council of the Russian Church in 1917, the Archbishop Tikhon joined in celebration with the Onomatodox monks as a gesture of reconciliation. However, the conciliatory commission in which Father Serge participated in the role of a speaker, did not have time to make the assembly adopt any resolution relating back to the decision of 1913. Since then, no decision has been made in the Orthodox Church on the subject of veneration of the Name of God.

In his two treatises, Bulgakov tried to put substance to the opposition of the onomatomaques, the enemies of Name veneration, apophatic palamite teaching on the distinction between essence and energies. Bulgakov saw, first of all, that only the symbolic philosophy of the world was able to better understand the foundations of the Name veneration. Thus, from this point of view, words are not conventional signs, but living and symbolic realities. Bulgakov even agreed with the Cabbalists for whom the speech apparatus and hearing exist not because of themselves but because sounds exist. The word speaks within us. The word belongs to the conscience but also to the being. This is in contrary to the nominalism of Modern Times for which words are only signatures of things, which lead to the divorce between things and words, as shown by Michel Foucault. Bulgakov's view was that words are 'things as much as they are meanings'. For him, people do not speak 'with words' but they are the theatre and the leading player, and I quote Bulgakov: 'from the birth of these by symbolisation of meanings, as much as for particular words as for speech in general'.

This is why Bulgakov drafted a grammatical philosophy in which he distinguished three elements within the word; the phonetic aspect (phonème), the 'envelope' (morphème) and finally the meaning (synème). For Bulgakov, knowledge as 'denomination-judgement' is an artificial process by which a link is established between an object (a noun) and an idea (a predicate). This symbolic philosophy constitutes Bulgakov's 'linguistic turn'. Thus, if reason is inseparable from verbal expression of a person, if language is energy, and if the essential purpose of language is to give a name, that is to say, to distinguish the field of the subject from that of the predicate, then human judgement itself must be learned in the same way as grammar. It is at this point that Bulgakov discovered in the fundamental structure of the subject-verb-object clause, the 'tri-hypostatic dimension of the being'. This can be formulated as follows : The subject and the object are characterised by, firstly, the predication of one by the other, secondly, the transformation of the object by the word of the subject, and thirdly, the recognition of this transformation by means of the verb 'to be' as a result of which the subject and the object are recognised as the same. Grammatically this means that the sole subject exists as itself in the noun, through itself in the object, and as and through itself in the verb to be. In other words, the subject is the pure hypostasis, the object is the nature of the hypostasis revealed in itself and before itself, so that the verb is the act of self-realisation in its own nature.

Bulgakov took a step further in affirming in 'La tragédie de la philosophie' that the whole history of modern philosophy and its derivations can be explained by this method of judgement. Indeed for him, the grammatical subject-verb-object clause is the foundation of consciousness of the self. The mind is a living clause that constantly realizes itself. This means that, to Bulgakov, the hypostasis is primary to the ousia. Modern philosophy however, in identifying the ousia with nature, understands the substance as a non-hypostatic nature and thus absolves it of all personal life. To Kant, the substance is an abstract hypostasis for which only the subject exists. To Hegel, the substance is the thought which self-generates, a philosophical version of sabellianism. To Schelling the substance identifies to the being, but in itself is no more than a relational function.

The overshadowing of nominalism by personalist ontologism thus allows Bulgakov to answer the questions of the onomatomaques. Bulgakov made a parallel between the Name and the icon: 'The phoneme corresponds to the colours and the form of an icon, the morpheme to the hieroglyphic character of the ‘original’ that provides the design for the representation. The syneme is the name itself, the energy of the representation’ . According to Bulgakov, the only basis which allows the resolution of the question of Icon worship is thus that of the nature of the Name of God : 'The doctrine of divine energy and of the incarnation of the word-noun, justified by the image and the resemblance of God to mankind.’

The onomatomaques denied the worship of the name of Jesus because of its variation according to language (Issus, Jesus, Ieshoua). The differentiation between the phoneme and the syneme (which relates to the speaker) resolves this problem. Moreover, onomatomaques did not agree that God could freely reveal himself to men solely by the invocation of his name and considered that the power of the Name depended solely on the fervour of the prayer. Bulgakov's response was thus:

'They believe that the virtue of God's name is conveyed accordingly to whether or not the prayer is heard, as if the Lord has to be convinced. God hears whoever calls him, but those who call him do not all do so from their hearts, and neither do they always hear God listening to them. Just as the eucharistic is everlastingly the Body and the Blood of Christ, whether it be in 'salvation' for some or 'judgement and condemnation' for others, so the Name of God is a divine energy, regardless if our attitude towards is pious or sacrilegious. Given that the Name of God contains divine energy, that it offers the presence of God, it can be said that from the point of view of practice, energetics, even though it may be very imprecise, that God's name is God himself. More precisely, that the divine power which is present in the Name, and which is indivisible from the Divine Being is, in this sense, God himself.’

Possible comparisons with the philosophy of Jean-Marc Ferry

I would like to interrupt my presentation of Bulgakov's grammatical philosophy here, in order to highlight some similarities to these ideas present in contemporary philosophy, despite the fact that, for reasons that I have shown, very few contemporary philosophers or linguists are familiar with Serge Bulgakov. I'd like to concentrate on the work of Jean-Marc Ferry entitled 'Les grammaires de l'intelligence', published in Paris in 2004. Less well known than his brother Luc Ferry who was formerly Education Minister in the Raffarin government, Jean-Marc Ferry is nevertheless regarded by professional philosophers, among them the late Paul Ricoeur with whom I had the pleasure of discussing him, as one of the most shining contemporary French philosophers.

Although Jean-Marc Ferry seems not to have heard of Bulgakov, a similar train of thought can be noted between him and the Russian philosopher. Firstly, Ferry rejects, like Bulgakov, modern philosophies of representation. He prefers a communicative ontology, in the same way that Bulgakov advocates 'sobornost', or 'conciliarity' as the basis of knowledge. Ferry writes that 'It's not from the substance of my own representation that I can conclude my own existence, it's rather by reducing my own representation to an act. What I recognize is thus an 'I', which can be understood as the representation of the self. 'I am' is the product of a positioning, which places me as an opposite’ . The same is true for Bulgakov, for whom the revelation of God's name to Moses, 'I am who I am', testifies to a supreme freedom. At this point, Ferry, like Bulgakov, gives precedence to the ideas of self-position and self-revelation above those of adequacy and conformity. This is because in the self-referential as well as in the communicational relationship, the interrogator is also the interrogated.

This means that Ferry, to the same degree as Bulgakov, contradicts the philosophy of Kant. To the German philosopher, the explanation of comprehension, like the relationship between the image, which is viewed, and the concept which is represents, is seen as too theoretical. To Ferry, this idea is fundamentally flawed because of the reality that, in practice, the object is recognised even before the introduction of the idea. For Ferry, the philosophy must thus be symbolic and rely on, as with Bulgakov, clauses and judgements. 'The Grammar of propositions', writes Ferry, 'only consecrates the power of the symbol by integrating the moment of the icon and the index. It consecrates above all the power of the verb, the conjugated verb which involves in particular the tenses, the pronouns and the moods'. Thus in 'Les grammaires de l'intelligence', can be found the same inversion as in 'La Tragédie de la philosophie' : 'The transcendent rules become grammatical rules. This is the human discourse, it consists of a reference to something, an address to a person and the engagement of the self, which allows not the command of, but the participation in the realities of the world.

However, Jean-Marc Ferry does not ignore Modern Linguistic Theories in his work. For him, the linguistic paradigm is over-emphasised, as much by the hermeneutics of Heidegger as by the analytical philosophy of Wittgenstein. This is because the limits of our language are not the limits of our universe. This is why, in the name of his vision of mankind, Ferry claims a double transcendence in relation to the linguistic world : 'Transcendence of the objective world, in order to base the proposition of a contact with the real; and transcendence of the prescriptive world, in order to base the idealisation of an access to the universal.’ It's this double transcendence that allows him to define the very logos of human language. ' The principle of relevance corresponds to the reference to something , the principle of recognition to the address of someone; the principle of responsibility to the engagement of the self.’ In this we can recognize Bulgakov's idea that language makes the hypostasis appear primary to the substance.

In the same way in which Bulgakov furthered the idea of the tri-hypostatic nature of human language, Ferry, for his part, talks of the triangular nature of human discourse. Over and above the pre-symbolic grammars which are the associative and imputative grammars, Ferry defines what he calls a propositional grammar which 'symbolically structures the tendency to communicate in tertial mode. This is to say, the communication of something to another on the subject of something. This is why our relations with the world follow the plan of three pronominal subjects (I, you, he/she/it) in using the three basic time tenses (past, present, future) whilst relating them to the three moods. (The indicative, that which is, the subjunctive, that which is possible and the imperative, that which must be).

This claim of a double transcendence allows Ferry to return to one of Bulgakov's deepest intuitions about God's creation of the world. Ferry holds that at the moment of creation existed chaos or 'tohu wa bohu'. From that he concludes that ‘ God as Spirit did not create the matter but the world as we see it. By the Word, he made the reality of existence be born, so that later it could be ackowledged by man from which he derives an honor, in Hegel's words, his 'right to majesty'. If God is the creator, this is to say that he is the first author of the reality, Who reveals the being, rather than giving birth to it himself. His supreme power is no more than Grammatical, as is that of mankind, on his own scale. Man's creative imagination, has not, if it dares to be said, himself witnessed the six days of time needed for the evolution of grammar, and at the initiation, on the seventh day, of the landscape which his discursive understanding can thus recognise and update during his lifetime of scrutiny.’

Bulgakov does not contradict this in 'The Philosophy of the Name'. I quote : 'Everything was created non from non-being, but from the archè, being brought to its current state from the darkness of ouk on, from nothingness, but not yet risen to distinct being, to light. All remains in chaotic disorder, apeiron. This potential being was named by word and thought. The same idea can be found in the book of Genesis.’

Christian Orthodoxy and sophianic grammar

Allow me now to go back, beyond the topic of our conference, to the meaning of our meeting, the link between radical orthodox thought and eastern orthodox tradition. I'd like to first examine the work of Jean-Marc Ferry in the light of the philosophy of the Name formulated by the Father Serge Bulgakov. In this way I hope to show that Serge Bulgakov's 1932 redefinition of Orthodoxy as 'Life in Christ within the spirit', and subsequently upheld by a range of orthodox thinkers such as P. Evdokimov, C. Yannaras and O. Clément, is a genuinely radical thought. It is radical in the view of Modernity, in the sense that Modernity views freedom solely as an independent choice, whilst 'Life in Christ within the Spirit' presents freedom as personal love and inter-dependence. But it is also radical to Eastern Orthodoxy itself which historically no longer regards the true glorification of God as anything other than loyalty to tradition beyond all reason. This is just an overview of some of the consequences of this orthodox radicalism as much for contemporary linguistics as Eastern Orthodoxy.

Jean-Marc Ferry concludes his book by placing critical intelligence at the summit of all human intelligence, capable of defining the truth by a process of discursive validation. Whilst animals cannot respond to messages, human beings are able to question them according to a logic of true and false. This is the source of human power, what Ferry calls the concept of self-referential consultation. In this grammar, by responding man becomes responsible for what he says. This is why discursive grammar is based on the orders of validity (precision of statements, accuracy of recommendations, sincerity of declarations and truth of affirmations). The reconstructed discourse is, according to Ferry, what protects public opinion from the disordered mixture of the modern media.

At this point we should make a distinction between Ferry and Bulgakov. In following Charles Taylor's brilliant analysis of modern discontentment, Ferry confuses the self-referentiality of behaviour, which is justified by the authenticity which it allows, with the self-referentiality of matter, which serves to place the desires of the human subject in opposition to that which is higher. Taylor however, wrote that ‘we find a genuine fulfilment only in relation to a superior reality holding a meaning independent of our desires and ourselves’ .

Contrarily, Bulgakov starts from the idea that the roots of the human logos are found not in the orders of communicational validity, but in the divine Logos, who in turn reveals itself as the Way, and the Truth and the Life. Bulgakov distinguished two ideas about the Logos from the prologue of John. : 'One concerns the Logos in himself, the divine Hypostasis, God; the other the Word who acts in the world but who is orientated towards God, the energy of the Logos in the Cosmos, the 'Sophie' . This sophianic and thus trinitary energy of the Logos found its accomplishment in the realisation by Christ of the trinity of the divine name. 'Before Abraham was born, I was' said Christ to the Jews unable to hear his word (John 8, 31-59). Marie-Joseph Le Guillou, one of the Catholic heirs to Bulgakov's thought, writes that 'in the trinitary evidence of the Passover, the revealed divine Name is exactly that which metaphysically founds the world. But it reveals itself at the heart of a mystery of dispossession, that of the father and of the son which leads St. John to say, 'God is love' (John, 4, 16) If he allows himself to be brought into 'the abode of love of the Son' by the spirit of filiation, man will reach the heart of the Being Himself, and his hermeneutic place will be the Name of the Father.

Jean-Marc Ferry, conversely founds the human logos on the category of truth held in a legal process formed by the 'orders of validity'. Whilst for Ferry, the true doctrine is the result of a differentiation within the 'doxa', the public opinion, between the existential constative order and the ethical regulative order. For Bulgakov orthodoxy is the life in Christ within the Spirit. In the philocalic spirituality that glorifies the Name of Jesus incessantly, the ability to justify what is said and done is the sole source of the unification of intelligence to the spirit. This means that to the constantive, regulative and expressive orders should be added equally the orders of faith, hope and love.

In asking whether 'the project can replace the destiny', both the conjunctive and syntaxic propositional grammars allow man to free himself of the illusion, present in associative grammar, that a mechanical binding holds together, for example, the letter A and the colour black. From where though does man find his ability to use his inner freedom from these bindings? The iconic grammar is only completely defeated by the imperative mood, namely the mood of prayer. However, Ferry confines the imperative mood to the magic thought according to which the spoken word has to be law.

It is thus not rational acceptance that constitutes the distinguishing feature of human intelligence in the philosophy of the Name, but the ability to identify the interior verb in each thing and, in naming it to transfigure it. This is why Christ said to his disciples who were chasing demons in his name 'rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven' (Luke X, 20). In the order of the faith, man believes that he will receive on the last day 'a new name' engraved on a white stone. At the Apocalypse, the Son of man tells the angel of the church of Sardes that in the last hours 'He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name from the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels (Apoc III, 5) However, when we talk about the last day, we get the eschatological rather than a passive vision of the temporality. In the “more subtle language, “ in the words of Shelley, who is fond of quoting Charles Taylor, 'A thing defines and creates itself at the same time that it manifests itself'.

Ferry notes accurately that animism opens man to an understanding of nature by looking at plants and animals as persons and not merely things, as they are to Modernists. In the same way, scenarios like the personification of Christ by the Middle-Age emperor is evidence of an evocative and ascriptive mimesis and not of a proportional logic distinguishing reality from fiction. Ferry also shows that syntaxic-propositional grammar is closed to the energies of the world if it only seeks to establish the inter-subjectivity of people across illocutions and to assure the objectivity of states of fact across predications. Ferry thus instead supports a graded grammar. To him, something encountered does not only indicate one state of possible things but also 'a world of meaning'. By itself it signifies something of itself.

However, Ferry stops mid-flow, and dares not affirm that the only way past the aberrations of animism (treatment of plants as human beings) as is the propositional grammar (use of the plant as an object) is to open oneself to the revelation of the personal creation by the Logos of all logoi. The microcosm of man, in discovering from within their sophianic reality can also name them. In the same way the creation of man according to the image of God is the foundation of the mimesis of the world. This is what allows us to understand the history of the world as a divine and human drama. And this is what makes the psalmist say that “ all the creation praises the Lord”. So it is fitting to pass not from evocative – ascriptive mimesis to refusal of all mimesis, since that would lead to the formation of unconscious destructive mimesis, but to participate in metaphisical, pious, transfigurative and echatological mimesis.

For Bulgakov it is the Name of God that is also found at the heart of divine- human liturgy. He wrote: “Between a representation and the reality of ritual symbolics, there is a rift same as between the Being and non – being as between ‘the real’ and ‘the allegoric’. And the principle or the foundation that constitues the reality of the liturgical rite is indubitably the Name of God whose power acts and sanctifies the congregation who having been sanctified becomes full authentic and efficient.”


To Jean-Marc Ferry human intelligence which is concentrated on the rational search of consensus by discussion is thus reduced to the conditions of the communicational experience. These conditions are continually threatened by the subversion of public reason by the media, which leads to, he writes, 'the mechanical functioning of our buried grammar, subliminal grammar of image association and imputation of functions. To Bulgakov, on the other hand, human intelligence, when it is rooted in Divine Wisdom, is the light that transfigures all darkness, because God cannot be subjected to the conditions of the subjective experience.

Here is where those who are conscious of their unity in Christ also understand that they form a body. Louis-Marie Chauvet, a contemporary catholic theologian, presented, along the same lines of the Russian theologian, the necessary reconstruction of the subject through the means of language and ecclesiological body. And here I quote: “ The personal subject – body itself is not the scence of “sacramentum”, the sacrament, since it hosts the announcing triple body: the social body of Church that through the permanent ‘us’ of the liturgical prayer, positions itself as “the integral subject of the liturgical action” (Congar); the ancestral or traditional body of the same Church that expresses Herself through words and duly prescribed and institutionally ordered gestures; and finally the cosmic body of the universe, avowded as God’s creation, which is fully metonimycally represented through some symbolic fragments, such as bread, wine, water and light.’

The consequences of this orthodox radicalism are significant for the church of the East. The traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church are known for mysticism, philocalic spirituality and icon worship. However, we have discovered during the course of this conference that apophatic theology must not become the refuge of onomatomaque heresy. Although I could equally mention His Grace Antoine Blum or Oliver Clément here, it is His Grace Kallistos Ware who writes in his work on 'The Power of the Name' that 'the apophatic position of reason only has meaning if it allows man to quiet himself and because of this silence put himself in a position to listen. In his book 'Le Royaume Intérieur', His Grace K. Ware also quotes these words of Saint Ignacious of Antioch, '...Jesus Christ, the Word that has risen from silence'. Since the controversy over the book 'In the Caucasus mountains', we know that on the ascetic path lie many pitfalls. Would we not count among them the refusal of positive knowledge, the refusal of love beyond all reason, the refusal to share the same temporality, the absolute refusal of the divine image that is found at the heart of the most simple human word?

Jean-Marc Ferry, like all our contemporaries, fears to speak the Name of God and refuses to see the many Pentecosts of our daily life. It is clear that there was a lack of conceptual creativity at the dawn of modern times, an overshadowing of theandric mystery at the same time as the great rift between Christians. Thus have Christians perhaps spoken the Name of the Father too often in vain whilst forgetting the brotherhood that unites them? By way of answer, dear friends, I propose to conclude this speech by these magnificent and tremendous words of the Father Serge Bulgakov: 'The Name of God always puts us in the presence of fire, whether we be aware of it or not'.

Thank you for your attention.

Antoine Arjakovsky
Lviv, 17th August 2005 (between the Julian and Gregorian calendar)

NOTE: This paper is copyright of the author and Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS), Cambridge (UK).

Footnotes have been omitted from the text at this LiveJournal entry. Please refer to the originating source document at Sergius Bulgakov Society webpage for the text with footnotes. RT
Share | Link