Transcultural Studies, 4 (2008), 43-56







This article explores the nature and direction of the influence of Max Weber’s sociology on the development of Sophiology1 through an analysis of Sergei Bulgakov’s implicit and explicit references to Weber in the period from until 1912.2 According to Lev Zander, Bulgakov developed his Sophiology first into sociological or monistic Sophiology, and later toward a theological and mono-dualistic Sophiology.3 This development consisted largely of a change in the ontological status of Sophia from a person or hypostasis of God to the nature or energy of God. Bulgakov, however, continued to express the ontic or sociological content of Sophiology in similar terms in L’Orthodoxie in 1932.4

In Bulgakov’s implicit and explicit references to Weber, his opposition to abstract Rationalism as the methodology of sociology, and as the presumed foundation or relating force of social life and organization, as well as his positive appreciation of Weber’s Protestant ethic as an inner-worldly praxis are apparent. Bulgakov developed a similar praxis in Orthodox podvizhnichestvo. Bulgakov identified the core mistake in both Western and Russian abstract Rationalism, as the confusion of means and ends, or as Heroism and Mangodhood. In contradistinction to sociology, which, as social politics, can only


1. Transliterations from Russian are according to the Library of Congress system with avoidance of diacritical signs. The expressions Sophiology, Sophia and intelligentsia are no transliterations, but the usual translation of sofiologiia, Sofiia and intelligentsiia in English.

2. The present article is a preliminary result of the PhD research in the field of social philosophy at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands with the working title: Bridging the gap. Max Weber (1864-1920) and Sergej Bulgakov (1871-1944): Building bridges between social theory and societal practice.

3. Lev Zander, Bog i mir. Mirosozertsanie ottsa Sergeia Bulgakova, 2 vols. (Paris: PUBLISHER? 1948), 2: 195.

4. Sergei Bulgakov, L’Orthodoxie par l’archiprêtre Serge Boulgakoff (Paris: Alcan, 1932). Republished in translation as Pravoslavie (Moscow: PUBLISHER? 2001; Moscow: Kharkiv, 2003).



contribute to the negative freedom of the individual, Sophiology contributes to positive human freedom in sobornost’.5


Sergei Bulgakov’s postponed reaction to Max Weber

Iurii Davydov’s careful study of Max Weber’s influence on Sergei Bulgakov’s work6 could not detect a response by Bulgakov to Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism when it appeared in 1904 and 1905 in the Archive for Social Sciences and Social Politics.7 According to Davydov, Bulgakov furthermore never reacted to Weber’s articles on the Russian Revolution of 1905. This was even more astonishing, as the articles simultaneously appeared in Russian translation in 1906.8 Apparently, Bulgakov also paid no attention to Weber’s methodological articles of this period, notably “Objectivity in Social Science” (1904), “Roscher and Knies” (1905/1906), and “Stammler” (1907).9 Nevertheless, it seems impossible that Bulgakov failed to read these articles, as he had a subscription and contributed himself to the ASS.10 Furthermore, the subjects of capitalism, the Russian revolution and the methodology of political economy were in the center of Bulgakov’s interest.

Davydov put forward several explanations for Bulgakov’s postponed reaction to Weber. First, Bulgakov was heavily involved in political and Christian socialist activities. Second, Bulgakov disagreed with Weber’s evaluation of


5. The source of the concept of sobornost’ or catholicity in Russian religious philosophy is usually identified as the Slavophile philosopher Aleksei Khomiakov (1804-1860). Hildegard Schaeder demonstrated in “Sobornost’ - in der Schriften von Chomjakov,” in Kyrios, Bd VII. Heft 3-4 (1967) the substantive sobornost’ does not occur in his work, but only the adjective so- bornaia as denoting the catholicity or unity of the Orthodox Church community. See also Robert Bird, ed., On Spiritual Unity A Slavophile Reader, Boris Jakim and Robert Bird, trans. and eds. (New York: Lindisfarne Books, 1998), p. 8. For an historical analysis of the use of sobornost’, see Ivan Esaulov’s research, “Sobornost’ in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature,” Slavica Norvegica 9 (1997), pp. 29-46, and Kategoriia sobornosti v russkoi literature (Petrozovodsk: Izd-vo Petrozavodskogo universiteta, 1995).

6. Iurii Davydov, Rußland und der Westen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1995), p. 116ff.

7. Weber was co-editor of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaften und Sozialpolitik (further referred to as ASS) and most of his work from 1904-1917 was first published in the ASS.

8. All references to Max Weber are from Max Weber, Gesammelte Werke, Mohr Siebeck, digitale Bibliothek, CD-ROM, further referred to as GW. This involves also his “Russia-articles” - “Zur Lage der bürgerlichen Demokratie in Rußland” (ASS, 1905) and “Rußlands Übergang zum Scheinkonstitutionalismus” (ASS, 1906) that were also published as Istoricheskii ocherk osvoboditel’nogo dvizheniia v Rossii ipolozhenie burzhuaznoi demokratii (Moscow, 1906).

9. Weber, “Roscher und Knies und die logischen Probleme der historischen Nationalökonomie” (ASS, 1903); “Die »Objektivität« sozialwissenschaftlicher und sozialpolitischer Erkenntnis” (ASS, 1904); “R. Stammlers »Ueberwindung« der materialistischen Geschichtsauffassung” (ASS, 1907). Sergei Bulgakov published “O zakonomernosti sotsial’nykh iavlenii. Po povodu knigi Prof. R. Stammler: Wirtschaft und Recht,” in Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii 35 (1896), pp. 575-611, on the same book.

10. See note 7. Bulgakov published two articles in ASS, “Die Naturphilosophischen Grundlagen der Wirtschaftstheorie” (1913) and “Karl Kautsky. Die Agrarfrage. Eine Uebersicht über die Tendenzen der modernen Landwirtschaft und die Agrarpolitik der Sozialdemokratie” (1899).



the Osvobozhdenie (Freedom-) movement and of the chances for the future democratization process in Russia.11 Third, Weber valued the revolutionism of the Russian intelligentsia positively as martyrdom (GW, p. 9910), whereas for Bulgakov it represented the negative phenomenon of “Man-godhood.”

These reasons add force to the suggestion that Bulgakov did not refer explicitly to Weber because of the divergence of their intellectual developments. As Bulgakov testified in “National Economy,” it was Weber’s friend and protestant theologian Ernst Troeltsch12 and his work The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches that made him turn to Max Weber in 1909, in connection to the topic of asceticism.13 As will be demonstrated in this paper, apart from the explicit references to Max Weber in the period from 1909 until 1912, both prior to and after this period Sergei Bulgakov reacted to Weber’s work implicitly and used it in the development of his own Christian sociology and Sophiology.


“National Economy and the religious person”

In his article “National Economy and the Religious Person” (1909), Bulgakov extensively quotes from the Protestant Ethic as it appeared in 1904 and 1905 in the ASS (Dva grada, p. 117). In this article, Bulgakov occupies himself with the central question of contemporary political economy: the genesis and characteristics of capitalist “spirit” or of capitalist ratsionalizm. Bulgakov agrees with Max Weber that capitalist spirit was the offspring of Protestant ethics and asceticism.

But just as important for Bulgakov is the anti-materialist outcome of Weber’s book,14 which Bulgakov interprets as the recognition of the individual human person as an independent factor of economy (Dva grada, p. 117). Bulgakov carefully contrasts his concept of chelovecheskaia lichnost’, or human personhood, with the abstraction of economic man of classical economic theory, and with the abstract collectivity of class in contemporary Marxism and socialism (Dva grada, p. 113). The ekonomizm that became the dominant worldview in political economy in both Russia and Germany, is a logical continuation of this first abstraction.

In Bulgakov’s text, personhood is closely associated with spirit [dukh] and conscience [sovest’],15 words that Weber rarely uses in his sociological work. “Geist” in Weber’s work indicates a mentality of an historical epoch or cul-


11. In “Rußlands Übergang zur Scheindemokratie,” GW, p. 10091, Weber expressed his sympathy for the Freiheitsbewegung in Russia, but stressed at the same time its complete failure.

12. Joachim Radkau, Max Weber. Die Leidenschaft des Denkens (München: PUBLISHER? 2005), p. 95.

13. Bulgakov, Dva grada, Issledovaniia o prirode obshchestvermykh idealov (Moscow: PUBLISHER? 1911), p. 115. Hereafter referred to in the text as Dva grada.

14. Marianne Weber, Max Weber. Ein Lebensbild (Tübingen: Mohr, 1926), p. 382.

15. Bulgakov takes con-science or so-vest’ literally as “with-knowing” or “knowing together”.



ture. Bulgakov would translate this as dusha [soul] or priroda [nature]. For Bulgakov dukh or spirit is a hypostasis of God, and thus a person and “I”-like substance. The development from Sophia as a person with consciousness (a dukh or hypostasis of God) to Sophia as dusha or soul of the world, and as priroda or nature of God is central in the development from cosmic or sociological to theological Sophiology.16 Person for Weber is the human individual who performs a social action, and as such, its opposite is Sache or thing. Sociology only takes into account this aspect of a person and does not presuppose an ethical personality, a conscience [Gewissen], or even a (high level of) consciousness.

Bulgakov, however, easily reveals Weber’s Ideal type of value-rational action and his high demand of consciousness as the sociological Ideal type of conscience (Dva grada, p. 293). The responsibility and accountability that Weber would later demand from a professional scientist or politician with his stress on Verantwortungsethik17 points to an implicit vision of a moral person who performs social actions: only a moral person can feel the Calling to be a politician. Weber’s high esteem for personal, filial and national honor, as well as his suffering from his workless state of illness and financial dependence, point to the same high demands Weber places on personhood. Furthermore, charisma became one of the most important factors of social change in Weber’s later work, and a characteristic of unusual persons that can pass to social relations and institutions.

Although from a methodological point of view, every science has to make use of abstractions, such as Ideal types, Bulgakov demonstrates that political economists tend to understand abstractions in a realistic fashion, and that this can lead to negative results in social reality (Dva grada, p. 113). The exclusion of ideal factors from political economy and the absolutization of material factors was such a practical result, which Bulgakov traces to the distinction, introduced by Adam Smith, between “productive and unproductive work.” In the process productive work became connected to the production of material wealth and goods, and unproductive work to “all other” work.

In Bulgakov’s opinion, the core of our (and of Weber’s) subject is felt when we do not focus on the external or formal manifestations of work - nor on the productiveness versus unproductiveness of work - but on the different motivations of human work, or on the attitude of a person towards his work. Work not only is an inescapable necessity, but it also includes a certain ethical element: it is the execution of religious and moral duties (Dva grada, p. 114). According to Bulgakov, a religious-ethical relation to work is characteristic of times with a dominant religious worldview, when work is included in a system of asceticism. “Asceticism in its practical meaning is a relation to the world, connected with the recognition of higher, outer-worldly values [nadmirnye


16. Zander, Bog iMir, p. 203.

17. Weber, “Politik als Beruf” (1919) in GW, p. 10789.



tsennosti], while different valuations [otsenki] are related to these values. Asceticism is a kind of denial of the world [miro-otritsaniia], but when a certain level of tension is reached it can also conquer the world [pobezhdaiushchim mir]” (Dva grada, p. 114).

Bulgakov approvingly quotes here the protestant theologian and Weber’s close friend Ernst Troeltsch, whose Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen appeared in ASS in 1908. Bulgakov added the Orthodox perspective to Troeltsch analysis of mediaeval Catholic worldview and monasticism. The latter related asceticism to economic labor [khoziaistvennyi trud]. According to Bulgakov, in Orthodoxy “labor is looked upon in general as means for ascetic practices, as obedience [poslushanie], that has a meaning and value that partly lies outside the process of labor itself.”18 Important at this point is the direct connection of Weber’s concept of Calling [Beruf] with Bulgakov’s concept of poslushanie (Dva grada, p. 291).

According to Weber’s systematic account in his Zwischenbetrachtung (1917), Christianity belongs to the general type of salvation religions that proceed from world denial, and which seek salvation from this world. World denial can take a theoretical-contemplative or a practical-ethical course of rationalization, and is either mystical or ascetical. Both attitudes of world denial can be either inner-worldly or outer-worldly. According to these distinctions, Weber classified Russian Orthodoxy as outer-worldly mystical world denial.19 Bulgakov did not deny this, when he analyzed the Russian Orthodox Church history, but he did not think it would necessarily be also the Russian Orthodox present and future. Here he pointed to the inner-worldly ascetic daily life of the Orthodox schismatic branch of staro-obriadtsy or Oldritualists (Dva grada, p. 122).

Work as a means to a transcendental end is important to Bulgakov for the formation of the individual person through education and discipline. Bulgakov develops this particular meaning of work in his articles “National Economy” and “Heroism and Asceticism.”20 On the other hand, work is important for the transformation of nature into culture. This meaning of work refers to all the work of human individuals taken together, which is an end that transcends the individual worker. The object of political economy in this sense of work is narodnoe khoziaistvo, or national economy. Bulgakov develops this aspect of work further in Philosophy of Economy.


“Heroism and Asceticism. Reflections on the religious nature of the Russian intelligentsia”


18. Bulgakov, “Srednevekovyi ideal i noveishaia kul’tura” (1907), in Dva Grada, p. 115.

19. Weber, Die Wirtschaftsethik der Weltreligionen, in GW, p. 6380.

20. “Geroizm i podvizhnichestvo” was also translated as “Heroism and Spiritual Fight,” which is closer to the meaning of podvizhnichestvo.



Bulgakov only implicitly refers to Weber in “Heroism and Asceticism,” which he wrote simultaneously with “National Economy,” and which he published in the famous collection of essays Vekhi21 The education of the person or the “formation of individuals that are able to become the leaders of ... national economy” (Dva grada, p. 121) - and specifically the transformation of the personhood of the Russian intelligentsia to adapt to the needs of Russian national economy.

According to Davydov, “Heroism and Asceticism” is a direct continuation [priamoe prodolzhenie] of “National Economy,” which was discussed above. Davydov describes “Heroism and Asceticism” as a three-fold culmination point. First, it is the culmination of the “process of the modernizing operationalization of the idea and conclusions of ‘Protestant ethic’ that determined the general direction and specificity of the article and lecture ‘National Economy’,” and second, it is the culmination of Vekhi as it expressed its central idea. Finally, Vekhi itself is the culmination point of Russian social philosophy of the Silver Age.22

In “Heroism and Asceticism,” Weber is clearly intended in connection to the “newest researches” that prove the importance of the Protestant influence on the economic development in Europe, precisely in the preparation of individuals who can become the leaders of a developing national economy.23 Further reference to Weber proceeds on an inner level, as Davydov demon- strates.24 Bulgakov’s podvizhnik is the same as the “durch die Gnadenwahllehre entbundene Tatendrang der Heiligenof Calvinism that “strömt daher ganz in das Streben nach Rationalisierung der Welt ein.”25 It is clear that both the Orthodox podvizhnik as well as the Protestant ascetic are involved in the world for the Glory of God as the ultimate transcendental end.26

While the connection of Orthodox podvizhnichestvo and Protestant inner- worldly asceticism is evidence of Weber’s influence, according to Davydov, heroism was Bulgakov’s invention, and he applied it to the specific Russian phenomenon of the intelligentsia. Bulgakov demonstrated that the Russian intelligentsia took its atheism, which is characteristic of its heroism, together with and from the humanism of French Enlightenment (Dva grada, pp. 280281). Podvizhnichestvo or asceticism is a fruit of European Reformation of which the Protestant ethic is the Ideal type. Bulgakov took great pains to dem


21. Mikhail Gershenzon, ed., Vekhi. Sbornik statei o russkoi intelligentsii (1909).

22. Iurii Davydov, Max Weber i sovrememaia teoreticheskaia sotsiologiia (Moscow: Martis, 1998), p. 137 (my italics and translation).

23. Bulgakov, Dva Grada, p. 280. Note from publisher that Weber and Sombart are intended here.

24. Davydov, Rußland und der Westen, p. 129: “podviznicestvo’ “(hier: tätige Hingabe) [. . .] scheint ein Synomym für ‘Asketismus.”

25. Max Weber, Protestant Ethic, in GW, p. 5594.

26. Ibid., p. 5407.



onstrate that heroism was not the only fruit of European culture, and by far not its best.27

In my opinion, heroism is not Bulgakov’s own invention. Bulgakov traced it himself to Thomas Carlyle in “On Social Moralism.”28 In this article, Bulgakov compared the social moralism of Carlyle with that of Tolstoi. Both Carlyle and Tolstoi are prophets and speak the words of social conscience [obshestvennaja sovest], but both come up with absurd social solutions and programs, despite the truth of their Christian-inspired social critique of modern capitalism (Dva grada, p. 94). In the same year Weber also connected heroism with Carlyle when he asked why the economically-uprising middle classes freely submit themselves to Puritan tyranny and even developed heroism in defending it: “the last of our Heroisms” wie Carlyle nicht ohne Grund sagt?29

Perhaps Weber was even acquainted with Bulgakov’s article, although he never referred to Bulgakov in his work. Tolstovstvo was at that time a great hype in Germany and Russia alike.30 Lev Tolstoi’s ascetic lifestyle and his ideal of mystical brotherly love became the model for Weber’s Ideal type of Christian ethics of brotherliness.31 In the Russia-articles, the ethic of brotherliness and mystical love a-cosmism [religiöse Liebesakosmismus]32 is already announced in Weber’s characterization of the “panmoralism” of Vladimir Solov’ëv (1853-1900) and of Lev Tolstoi (1828-1910).33

It is remarkable that this ethic of brotherliness comes to the fore as the abnegation of an Erfolgsethik in politics.34 Weber here seems to identify a-cosmic with a-political or even anti-political. On this a-cosmic fundament of Russian religiosity, according to Weber, also rested Solov’ëv’s concept of the


27. Davydov, Max Weber i sovremennaia teoreticheskaia sotsiologiia, p. 140.

28. Bulgakov, “O sotsial’nom moralizme. (T. Karleil’). Karleil’ i Tolstoi,” in Novyy Put’ 1904, XII and in Voprosy zhizni, 1905-I, republished in Dva Grada, 1911. Bulgakov wrote the article on the occasion of the Russian translation of Carlyle’s books On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the heroic in history (1841), Sartor Resartus (1832) and Past and Present (1843). The first Russian translation of On Heroes appeared in 1891. Interestingly, in the Russian title Geroi i georicheskoe v istorii the notion of hero-worship is absent.

29. Weber, Protestant Ethic, in GW, p.5316.

30. Tolstovstvo became pan-European hype immediately after the translation and publication of Lev Tolstoi’s Kreutzersonata (1889) into German and other European languages, even before its official publication in Russia. See also Peter Ulf Möller, Postlude to the Kreutzer Sonata (1988) for the fascinating publication history of the novel.

31. Weber, “Geschäftsbericht und Diskussionsreden auf dem ersten Deutschen Soziologentage in Frankfurt.” (1910), in GW, p. 11771.

32. Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, in GW, p. 2511.

33. Weber, “Zur Lage der bürgerlichen Demokratie in Rußland,” in GW, p. 9777.

34. “Die absolute Ablehnung der »Erfolgsethik« auch auf politischem Gebiet bedeutet hier: nur das unbedingte ethische Gebot gilt überhaupt als möglicher Leitstern positiven Handelns, es besteht nur die Möglichkeit des Kampfes um das Recht oder der »heiligen« Selbstentsagung” (ibid.)



Church community as sobornost’, which Bulgakov develops further.35 Like Weber, Bulgakov characterizes Tolstoi’s (and Carlyle’s) asceticism as the reduction of religion to ethics [etizirovanie religii] (Dva grada, p. 81), but he did not agree with Weber’s identification of Solov’ëv with Tolstoi in this respect. Bulgakov - like Solov’ëv - was never supportive of Tolstoi’s asceticism, considering it as rationalistic, egoistic, and not exemplary for Orthodox asceticism.36

In “On Social Moralism,” Bulgakov labels Carlyle’s religion “pantheistic symbolism.” According to Carlyle, Man is a symbol of God. Man is the miracle of miracles, the great and unspeakable enigma of God. “We cannot understand her, we do not know how to speak of her, but we can feel and know her.”37 Although this seems almost a description of Sophia, Bulgakov expresses his criticism of Carlyle’s symbolism, calling it skudnaia dogmatika, or shallow theory. Carlyle sometimes seemed not only anti-rationalistic, but also anti-scientific, and Bulgakov concludes the same of Tolstoi. According to Bulgakov, Carlyle and Tolstoi are comparable in their a-dogmatic and pantheistic conception of religion, as well as in their reduction of religion to ethics (Dva grada, p. 81).

Bulgakov more positively appreciates Carlyle’s practical orientation in religious ethics. Here, Carlyle reduces religion to work and often recollects the mediaeval monastic laborare est orare. Carlyle calls for active work in the name of religion, a work oriented to the transformation of life according to the highest moral principles. Here Carlyle uses the formula: “religion issues in hero-worship,” which Bulgakov interprets as “religion gives man an objective ideal in life.” Carlyle educates the younger generation with his sermon “religion needs heroic service,” and Bulgakov’s podvizhnichestvo repeated Carlyle’s lesson to the Russian intelligentsia. Like Bulgakov, Carlyle was fighting against the change of man into the Mangod or Superman of Nietzsche and Byron. According to Bulakov, Carlyle’s concept of hero attests to a religious worldview, and his concept of Superman to an anti-religious worldview (Dva grada, p. 85). In “Heroism and podvizhnichestvo” five years later, Bulgakov reverses this interpretation, connecting heroism to an anti-religious and podvizhnichestvo to a religious worldview.

The type of heroism that Bulgakov conceived as Orthodox asceticism or podvizhnichestvo resembled the type of Gesinnungsethik that Weber distinguished as Virtuosenethik. This ethic of the virtuosos differed from the usual ethic of brotherliness of salvation religions, as it was aristocratic, in opposi-


35. Weber, “Geschäftsbericht [. . .] in Frankfurt” (1910), in GW, S. 11773, “Auf ihr ruht namentlich auch Solowjews spezifischer Kirchenbegriff, der - in Tönnies’ Sinn - auf »Gemeinschaft«, nicht auf »Gesellschaft« fußt.” See also notes 4 and 43.

36. Bulgakov here repeated the negative opinion on Tolstoi that Solov’ëv expressed in Smysl’ liubvi (1892-1894).

37. Bulgakov, Dva grada, p. 79. Bulgakov referred to the Russian translation of On Heroes, p. 14.



tion to the democratic and egalitarian tendencies of the ethic of brotherliness.38 Weber already used this distinction between an ethic for the chosen and the ethic for the masses in Protestant Ethic, but only in his Zwischenbetrachtung (1917) is it systematically described as Virtuosenethik. Bulgakov, however, could not accept Weber’s distinction, which he called a typical protestant distinction: only one standard of ethic is applicable for all Orthodox believers.39

A further difference between Protestant inner-worldly asceticism and pod- vizhnichestvo is its mode of individualization. The doctrine of Predestination caused a de-socialization [tiefer innerlicher Isolierung] of the Protestant inner- worldly ascetic.40 The immediate goal of the Protestant’s actions is to secure his own salvation and he is therefore principally a-social and egoist. But through the demands of his Calling and his working for the Glory of God, a new kind of sociality is established. This form of sociality, which Weber names Vergesellschaftung, is the result of goal and value rational social actions. The irrational emotive and habitual social actions according to Weber lead to Vergemeinschaftung or to communal forms of sociality.41 The Orthodox podvizhnik is not inspired by the doctrine of Predestination, but by the ideal of God-manhood, and works for the salvation of all Christian humanity. What Bulgakov was aiming at with his concepts of Sophia and of sobornost’ was not a sociality based on rationality and individual or group interests, but a sociality based on love and the interests of all of humanity.

Bulgakov’s heroism seems close to Weber’s goal-rational action in his description of its heroic maximalism with a pure outer goal-orientation combined with total inner minimalism or minimal preparation of the personality. As Bulgakov writes, “a hero is not capable of becoming a robust disciplined person who is capable of work” (Dva grada, p. 290). Podvizhnichestvo, in contrast, is an inner organization of personality that is compatible with any outer activity, as far as it does not contradict its principles. As such, it seems closer to Weber’s value rational action and his concept of Calling (or poslushanie) (Dva grada, p. 291). According to Weber, both value rational and goal rational social actions, as well as both the ethic of brotherliness and of the


38. Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, in GW, p. 2424.

39. See Bulgakov, Pravoslavie, p. 288. “Samo soboiu razumeetsia, pravoslavie ne znaet avtonomnoi morali,” “which is the specific area and peculiar characteristic of the spiritual gift of Protestantism,” as Bulgakov added.

40. Weber, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, in GW, pp. 5405-07.

41. Weber, “Geschäftsbericht [. . .] in Frankfurt” (1910), in GW, p. 11780, “immer ist die auf diesem Boden erwachsende menschliche Beziehungsweise eine »Gesellschaft«, eine »Vergesellschaftung«, ein Produkt der das »Menschliche« abstreifenden »Zivilisation«, Tausch, Markt, sachlicher Zweckverband, statt persönlicher Verbrüderung, immer ist dagegen jenes andere, jener Liebesakosmismus »Gemeinschaft« auf rein menschlicher Grundlage der »Brüderlichkeit«.”



virtuosos can be characteristic of inner-worldly asceticism and are forms of Gesinnungsethik in the sphere of religion.

Bulgakov agrees that heroism, just like podvizhnichestvo, is a kind of Gesinnungsethik: it is the result of perverted religiousness, of idolatry [Kreaturvergöttlichung] and Man-godhood [chelovekobozhestvo]. In heroism, means are confused with the end: it is Antichrist over and against Christ. From the outside, the social actions of Christ and Antichrist may not appear to be different42: it is from the side of motivation that they are different, with one appearing as evil and the other as good.43

The Russian intelligent is of the heroic type. It is Bulgakov’s suggestion that the intelligent re-educate his inner personality and become podvizhnik. This has nothing to do with party politics or with political activities, but with the personhood of the actor and his inner orientation and motivation (Dva grada, pp. 293-294). This re-education of the person needs time and no revolutions should disturb this process. As heroism does not take into account the results of its actions, it more likely leads to revolutions. Therefore, these two ways of relating to the world - intelligent heroism and Christian asceticism or podvizhnichestvo - are incompatible with each other (Dva grada, p. 293).


Philosophy of Economy

In his second thesis on political economy, Philosophy of Economy,44 Bulgakov mentions Weber only once in the main text, writing: “The spirit of economy (for example the ‘spirit of capitalism’ so much written about now, particularly by such prominent economists as Sombart and Max Weber) is once again a historical reality rather than a fiction or an image” (FKh, p. 217). Bulgakov identifies this contemporary manifestation of the “spirit of capitalism” with ekonomizm, or economic man, who has lost any trace of the spirit of the Protestant ethic.

In a short overview of the “what” of economy that it is the task of the phenomenology of economy to study, Bulgakov refers to “National Economy” and to Weber’s Protestant Ethic45 The reference follows a sentence in which Bulgakov presents a new turn for political economy, writing: “As soon as political economy turns to concrete historical reality and tries to understand it as creativity as well as mechanism, the significance of the individual personality


42. Solov’ëv brilliantly demonstrated this in “Short Story of the Anti-Christ” (1900), in War, Progress, and the End of History (Hudson: Lindisfarne Press, 1990).

43. Bulgakov here uses the Augustinian notion of good and evil - where evil is a deviation from the good orientation of the human will to God.

44. Bulgakov, Philosophy of Economy, Catherine Evtuhov, trans. (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press: 2000). Quotes are from this translation. In the text abbreviated as FKh after the Russian original Filosofjia Khoziaistva. Mir kak khoziaistvo (Moscow: PUBLISHER? 1912).

45. Bulgakov, Philosophy of Economy, p. 325, n. 3: “(whose essential conclusions are adduced in the cited chapter).”



as a creative principle of economy and history begins to come to the fore” (FKh, p. 257).

Immediately after this quote, Bulgakov alludes to Hegel’s “cunning of reason,” which determines and uses the actions of great individuals for the ultimate “End of History,” notwithstanding personal motives the individual actor could have for his actions. Bulgakov juxtaposes this “cunning of reason” with Sophia. Bulgakov first mentions Sophia here, in the context of his social philosophy, as the transcendental possibility of economy as well as of knowledge.46 Bulgakov furthermore relates his concept of Sophia to the “world soul” in the work of Plato and Schelling, and to Divine humanity or God- manhood. Sophia is the ideal unity presupposed in any individual human as part of the genus that makes human solidarity possible.

The title of Bulgakov’s work directly refers to Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money (FKh, p. 45). Another connotation of the subtitle of Bulgakov’s work - “Mir kak khoziaistvo” - is the connection between economy and household. In Russian, the root of khoziaistvo is khoziain, the head of a household or the proprietor. A khoziain is the head of affairs, as is Wirt in Wirtschaft or Herr in Herrschaft. In Russian khoziaistvo is used in combinations as domashnoe khoziaistvo, or housekeeping, and as sel’skoe khoziaistvo, or agriculture. But as khoziaistvo it signifies economy in general, whereas the theory and science of economy is ekonomiia.

With khoziaistvo Bulgakov had won a concept that he could apply to the large world of economy and to the small world of a household. Through the uniting concept of khoziaistvo, Bulgakov gathered together into the one study not only the individual khoziain, and every single khoziaistvo, but also all kinds of human work and activities - be it trade, intellectual activities, industrial or agricultural labor - as well as all classes of society - ruling, consuming and producing.

On close reading, Philosophy of Economy proves to be a conversation with and elaboration of the state of German social theory contemporary to Bulgakov, and in particular with Max Weber. Philosophy of Economy is Bulgakov’s ultimate effort at a version of Sophiology that is compatible both with secular contemporary German sociology, and with his Orthodox Christian worldview.


Implicit references to Weber: Kratkii ocherk politicheskoi ekonomii

Considered to be a pilot study to Philosophy of Economy,47 the 1906 publication of Kratkii ocherk politicheskoi ekonomii48 announces Bulgakov’s break with Marxist political economy. In his Author’s word Bulgakov indicates he will give “both a scientifically and a religiously enlightened view of the facts


46. See also introduction by translator Catherine Evtuhov in Bulgakov, Philosophy of Economy, p. 7.

47. Sergei Bulgakov, O Rynkakh pri kapitalisticheskom proizvodstve, V. Sapov, ed. (Moscow: PUBLISHER? 2006). See backside of the title page.

48. Further referred to as Kratkii ocherk, or KOPE.



of contemporary social-economic reality.” A clear reference to Weber seems to be Bulgakov’s testimony that he wrote the handbook as a kind of literary poslushanie [Calling] (KOPE, p. 163).

In his introduction, Bulgakov exposes the “Tasks of political economy in their Christian understanding.” According to Christianity, economy, work and economic necessity are all consequences of the primordial sin (KOPE, p. 165). On the other hand, the Christian view of the image of God that is present in every human individual also provides the basis for the free human person — the ruler or tsar’ of nature. Work is therefore humankind’s way to freedom out of slavery to nature. Economic activity and a rational management of economy are necessary means to attain this negative freedom from slavery to nature (KOPE, p. 168).

Economy consists of techniques and of social organizations. “Political economy studies this technical and social process of economy and tries to determine the causal relations [. . .] and to describe and classify its different forms. Political economy is a historical science, and tries to describe economical facts, but it is also an analytical science that tries to causally relate and understand these facts.” (KOPE, p. 172). In this description of the task of political economy, Bulgakov fully agrees with Weber’s opinions at that time.

However, according to Bulgakov, “not only what is belongs to the task field of political economy, also what should be(KOPE, p. 173; my italics). Of course, the latter depends on the leading worldview and ideals that can be bourgeois, socialist, pagan and Christian. Here, Bulgakov calls for a Christian political economy as not only possible, but also necessary. This completely contradicts Weber’s stress on value-free science and his demand for a study of political economy that was free from the legitimization of, or the propaganda for, any specific economic policy.

According to Bulgakov, the task of Christian political economy is to ensure economic progress: the process of economy creates progress in material conditions that is a progress of negative freedom. Negative freedom is the precondition of social and spiritual progress or of positive freedom. In this sense, economy for Bulgakov is a means for the salvation of humanity. The process of economy does not automatically lead to positive freedom or even to negative freedom: economic progress often goes together with poverty and with crises. For this reason, a political economic theory controlled by Christian faith should guide the process of economy. Bulgakov’s political economy becomes the “science that enlightens the historical way of social love” (KOPE, p. 177; Bulgakov’s italics), or a kind of “applied ethics” (KOPE, p. 173). Social love for Bulgakov is not individual Christian podvig, but sotsial’noe delaine, or social action. Here Bulgakov clearly chooses in favor of a position against the contemporary German sociology as a secular science of social rationality.

But not even Christianity is a guarantee for the realization of positive freedom. Bulgakov acknowledges that some Christians strive only after their own



salvation. These individualists divide the whole body of Christian humanity into individual atoms and often behave in contradiction with their ideas. Bulgakov considered Tolstoi an extreme example of this type of Christian individualist. In contradistinction to the individualistic and Protestant type that Tolstoi represented, Bulgakov suggests the supervision of political economy by a kind of Orthodox sobornoe social action.

According to Bulgakov, the subjectivity of political economy defines its limitations: political economy can never give recipes, nor predict the future. As history consists of unique phenomena, the ability to make generalizations is limited and the method of drawing historical analogies is senseless (KOPE, p. 181). According to Bulgakov, any prediction of the future contradicts the basic human feeling of freedom and of choice. Whereas Weber argues that sociology can predict conscious, rational and free social actions more easily than unconscious or irrational actions, according to Bulgakov it is easier to predict unconscious actions and represent them statistically (KOPE, p. 182).

The first chapter of Kratkii Ocherk is a combination of a short history of political economy with a criticism of the dominant sociological theories (classical, materialist Marxism, and idealist neo-Kantian) from a Christian perspective. Political economy in its narrow sense is a study of the phenomenon of Capitalism and tries to determine how it influences all aspects of social life (KOPE, p. 197). Bulgakov stresses the fact that the course of a historical development has nothing to do with logical consequence (posledovatel’nost’, KOPE, p. 212), and that Capitalism is not, therefore, a necessary development for Russia. Only Capitalism, however, can provide the material progress that is the necessary precondition for a state of negative freedom.

On the other hand, Capitalism automatically leads to a greater division between poor and rich. Crises are characteristic of capitalist development. This tendency of Capitalist development can be conquered not through economic theory, but through religion and morality (KOPE, p. 274). Hence, a “salvation and necessary unification of humankind that is being realized in history”—what Bulgakov would later call God-manhood - is necessary. The material precondition for this is the creation of a national and a world economy (KOPE, p. 283).



In his later work, starting with Svet Nevechernii (1917), Bulgakov ceased referring to Weber altogether. Bulgakov had already announced in Philosophy of Economy that in its intended second volume he would transgress the limitations of the ontology of economy to the axiology (or ethics) and philosophy of history (or theodicy) of economy. For Bulgakov, Weber’s work belonged to the realm of sociology as a science that he wanted to transgress. The limitations of sociology as a science became his vekhi, or landmarks, that point to a reality that is inaccessible to such a scientific standpoint.



It is already from the standpoint of theological Sophiology that Bulgakov looks at the worldly cosmos and inner-worldly relations in Svet Nevechernii. Svet Nevechernii nowhere contradicts the conclusions of his earlier scholarly work in political economy. As a central subject of attention, however, economy - and references to Max Weber’s sociology - are absent from Bulgakov’s work in the second, or theological phase of Sophiology.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Weber’s sociology was a central influence in the development of Bulgakov’s Sophiology. But the implicit and explicit references to Weber throughout Bulgakov’s work justify this conclusion. Bulgakov is clearly of an opposite opinion on the tasks of political economy, but he agrees with the methodology Weber developed, as well as with the content or the “what” of Weber’s sociology. Furthermore, even at those points when Bulgakov disagrees with Weber, the limits of Weber’s sociology as a science nevertheless provide Bulgakov with vekhi that directed the development of his Sophiology.

Finally, as this article has demonstrated, many concepts that remained central to Bulgakov’s Sophiology first appeared in Kratkii ocherk and received a more systematic expression in the time of his explicit references to Weber. Bulgakov’s implicit and explicit references to Weber clearly demonstrate the continuity and consistency in his thinking as it developed from secular social theory to Orthodox Sophiology.


Radboud University, Nijmegen






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