Ukrainian (Kyiv) Icon, Theotokos as Sophia, the Holy Wisdom, 1812.

Sophiology (Russian: Софиология, by detractors also called Sophianism Софианство or Sophism Софизм) is a controversial school of thought in Russian Orthodoxy which holds that Divine Wisdom (or Sophia) is to be identified with God's essence, and that the Divine Wisdom is in some way expressed in the world as 'creaturely' wisdom.[1] This notion has often been misunderstood as introducing a feminine "fourth hypostasis" into the Trinity.[2]

The controversy has roots in the early modern period, but Sophiology as a theological doctrine was formulated during the 1890s to 1910s by Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900), Pavel Florensky (1882–1937) and Sergey Bulgakov (1871–1944).[3]

In 1935, parts of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov's doctrine of Sophia were condemned by the Patriarch of Moscow[4] and other Russian Orthodox hierarchs.[5] Although Bulgakov was censured by the aforementioned hierarchs, a committee commissioned by Metropolitan Eulogius to critique Bulgakov's Sophiology found his system questionable, but not heretical, and issued no formal censure (save for a minority report written by two members of the committee, Fr. Florovsky and Fr. Chetverikov).[6] For Bulgakov Theotokos St. Mary was the world soul and the “Pneumatophoric hypostasis”, a Bulgakov neologism.

Thomas Merton studied the Russian Sophiologists and praised Sophia in his poem titled "Hagia Sophia" (1963).[7] The Roman Catholic Valentin Tomberg in his magnum opus Meditations on the Tarot incorporated many Sophiological insights into his Christian Hermeticism, pairing the Holy Trinity (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) with the Trino-Sophia (Mother-Daughter-Holy Soul), which together he called “The Luminous Holy Trinity”. The book’s Afterword was written by Hans Urs von Balthasar, translated into Russian by Pope Benedict XIV, and kept on the nightstand of Pope John Paul II.

Johnson (1993) and Meehan (1996) noted parallels between the Russian "sophiological" controversy and the Gender of God debate in western feminist theology.[8]

Personified representations of Holy Wisdom (Ἁγία Σοφία) or the "Wisdom of God" refer in Orthodox theology to the person of Jesus Christ, as illustrated in the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II, 787): "Our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, the self-existent Wisdom of God the Father, Who manifested Himself in the flesh, and by His great and divine dispensation (lit. economy) freed us from the snares of idolatry, clothing Himself in our nature, restored it through the cooperation of the Spirit, Who shares His mind…"[9] More recently it has been stated that "From the most ancient times and onwards many Orthodox countries have been consecrating churches to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Wisdom of God."[10]

See also


  1. ^ Bulgakov, Sergius. "Sophia, the Wisdom of God". Bulgakoviana.
  2. ^ W. Goerdt in The Encyclodedia of Christianity (2008), p. 122.
  3. ^ Philosophy of Economy («Философия хозяйства» 1912) and Unfading Light («Свет Невечерний» 1917).Bogatzky, Nikolay (2017). "A "gung-ho" approach towards Sophic Economy" (PDF). Economic Alternatives. Sofia: UNWE Publishing Complex (1): 160–86. ISSN 2367-9409..
  4. ^ "The teaching of Professor and Archpriest S.N. Bulgakov – which, by its peculiar and arbitrary (Sophian) interpretation, often distorts the dogmas of the Orthodox faith, which in some of its points directly repeats false teachings already condemned by conciliar decisions of the Church…" Moscow Patriarchate (1935) Decision No. 93
  5. ^ Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (1935) Decision of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad of the 17/30 October 1935 concerning the new teaching of Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov on Sophia, the Wisdom of God
  6. ^ "George's Florovsky and the Sophiological controversy", Rocor studies, 2017-04-26.
  7. ^ "Sophia". Liturgical Press. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  8. ^ Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (1993)[page needed] Meehan, Brenda, "Wisdom/Sophia, Russian identity, and Western feminist theology", Cross Currents, 46(2), 1996, pp. 149–68.
  9. ^ Acts of the Second Council of Nicea.
  10. ^ Sobolev, Archbishop Seraphim (1935) The New Teaching concerning Sophia the Wisdom of God. p. 121.

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