Bogočelovečestvo [богочеловечество] (divino-humanity)
Bogočelovečestvo [богочеловечество] (divino-humanity), a Russian term that refers to the Greek patristic concept to theandrikos [τὸ θεανδϱιϰός], has a central place in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian philosophy. It designates two movements directed toward each other: that of the divine moving toward man and that of humanity rising toward the divine. It presents both Christ in the hypostatic union of his two natures, divine and human, and the humanity of men taken in the sense of the accomplishment of their true divine-human relation. In both cases it involves an ontological encounter.
The term bogočelovečestvo is marked by the influence of diverse philosophical traditions, mystical par excellence, and Western as well as Eastern. Two aspects are essential for understanding it. An initial interpretation allows us to see in it a “theanthropy” that takes into account a whole previous patristic heritage and appeals solely to debates about the nature of Christ, the Incarnation, and the meaning of salvation and original sin. A second interpretation is authentically Slavophile and Russocentric and refers to questions concerning the destiny of humanity, the Russian people, Slavic unity, Orthodoxy, and the universal church (vselenskaja tserkov’ [bселенсkaя цеpkовь]).
The History of the Word
In the form obožitisja [обожитися] (become God), which refers to theôsis [θέωσις] (divinization), the idea of the ontological encounter of the human with the divine is already present in 1076 in the Izbornik (“Compilation”) (RT: Materialy dlia slovaria drevnerusskogo iazyka, 2:532). Greek authors (such as John Climacus, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory of Sinai, and Gregory Palamas) who stressed the idea of the divinization of man were subsequently translated into Slavic languages. There is an uninterrupted tradition, both literary and practical, that leads from the Greek Hesychasts (Gregory Palamas, Gregory of Sinai, Nicholas Cabasilas, Nicephorus) to the Russian Hesychasts (Nil Sorksy, fifteenth century) and ultimately to the startsy [стapцы] (eremitic fathers) of Optina Pustyn’, a monastery in Central Russia that Vladimir Solovyov and Dostoyevsky visited during the summer of 1878, the year in which Solovyov wrote his Lectures on Godmanhood (Bessedy o Bogočelovečestve).
In the Lectures we encounter for the first time the term bogočelovečestvo [богочеловечество] with a philosophical meaning, in the context of universal history. In turn, Sergei Bulgakov considerably enriched this notion by attributing to it strictly theological—and particularly Christological and Trinitarian—meanings in his work on divine wisdom and theanthropy (1933–36). The notion was developed in the direction of religious existentialism and Russophile universalism by N. Berdyayev in his Spirit and Reality (1932), The Russian Idea (1946), and The Divine and the Human (1949). It was later given various inflections—cosmic and salvational in the work of G. Fedorov, personalist in L. Chestov and S. Frank, and “mathematicizing” in P. Florensky.
Bogočelovečestvo is the strange product of disparate intellectual influences in the form of a synthesis of the Jewish Kabbalah, the anthropology of the Greek church fathers, the mysticism of Jakob Böhme and Meister Eckhart, and finally of Spinoza and the German philosophy of identity, in particular in Schelling’s system. The latter’s influence on the work of V. Solovyov is remarkable. Thus vseedinstvo [всеединство] (uni-totality), a central notion in Russian universalist philosophy, is nothing other than a Russian version of the German Alleinheit; similarly, Solovyov’s vseobščee znanie [всеобщее знaниe] echoes Schelling’s Anschauung. For his part Berdyayev wrote two important studies on Jakob Böhme and his influence on Russian thought (Berdyayev, Mysterium Magnum, 1:5–28, 29–45). The influences of German philosophy were exercised on this notion in parallel (Stepoun, 1923) with purely Russophile intentions, creating a conception of the world based on the ecclesiastical consciousness of Russian Orthodoxy (A. Khomiakov, I. Kiryevski, I. Samarin, C. Aksakov).
Semantics: Theandry or Divino-Humanity
Bogočelovečestvo is translated in English in different ways: by “theanthropy” or “theandry,” or again by “divino-humanity” or “Godmanhood.” From the linguistic point of view, the term is composed of two parts: God (bog [Бог]) and humanity (čelovečestvo [человечество]). Both Berdyayev and Solovyov define divinity (božestvennoe [Божественное]) by drawing on Eckhart’s Gottheit and Böhme’s Ungrund but also on the mystery of the Trinity so dear to the Greek fathers. For Berdyayev, “divinity … is deeper than God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is absolute freedom, the result of everything, including God, freedom in which even the difference between good and evil is not defined. This ineffable, transcendent Divinity has come into the world in the form of the Trinity, in three hypostases,” to complete its creation with humanity, whose goal is to become divino-human (Berdyayev, Meaning of the Creative Act). This difference between divinity and God implicit in bogočelovečestvo refers to the process of a theogony that is pursued in the revelation of the divine through the history of humanity.
Berdyayev draws on the “divine void” (božestvennoe ničto [божественное ничто]), in Greek to meon [τὸ μέον]), which is the basis for all creation and is located within human nature (particularly within the person (ličnost’ [личность]). Solovyov emphasizes instead the primordial universalism of human consciousness, which, once restored in Christ, will return universality to all partial existences and restore the uni-totality vseedinstvo [всеединство] lost by fallen humanity:
Since the divine principle is the real object of religious consciousness, that is, an object that acts on consciousness and reveals its content in it, religious development is a positive, objective process, a real interaction between God and man, and thus a divino-human process.
(Solovyov, Lectures on Godmanhood)
Semyon Frank goes still further in affirming an incomplete creation of the world. He considers knowledge (znanie [знaние]) the true blossoming of being, the growth of life: thanks to this form of anthropogony, theogony and cosmogony attain their real goal (cf. Berdyayev, Tipy religioznoj mysli v Rossii [The variety of Russian religious thought]). The second part of the term bogočelovečestvo—that is, čelovečestvo (человечество [humanity])—raises fewer problems of translation. While signifying the humanity of Christ, čelovečestvo has in Russian religious thought a second, very specific meaning: that of a humanity united in the community of Spirit (sobornoe čelovečestvo [собоpное человечество]). Vladimir Solovyov writes: “Reunited with its divine principle through the intermediation of Christ, humanity is the church” (Solovyov, Lectures); thus it is, according to an idea dear to Gregory of Nyssa and adopted by G. Fedorov, the unity constituted by the living, by the dead, and by those who are yet to be born.
The Actualization of the Patristic Heritage
Although it echoes the capital formula of Saint Irenaeus (“The Word of God was made man and the one who is the Son of God was made the son of man, united with the Word of God, so that man might be adopted and become the son of God” (Adversus haeresis [Against heresies], III, 19, 1, 939b) and was abundantly taken over by Saint Athanasius, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa, the notion itself, whose meaning bogočelovečestvo rearticulates, goes back to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. The creation of the word bogočelovečestvo is nothing more than a nominalization of the adjective “theandric” [θεανδϱιϰός] used by Pseudo-Dionysius in his fourth letter to express the idea of the humanity of Christ (RT: PG, vol. 3, letter 4, col. 1072C). The adjective “theandric” designates a mode of activity peculiar to the God-made-man (andrôthentos theou [ἀνδϱωθέντος θεοῦ]), which he has carried out in our favor (kainên tina tên theandrikên hêmin pepoliteumenos [χαινήν τινα τὴν θεανδϱιϰὴν ἡμῖν πεπολιτευμένος]; ibid.) Pauline anthropology opened the way to the idea of the ontological encounter between the divine and the human in the person of Christ, the second Adam, whose sacrifice paved the way for the renaissance of humanity (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22, 45; Gn 1:26). The whole later anthropology of the Greek church fathers develops this idea. Orthodox patristics proposed a mystical vision of the world in which the divine work is never finished and goes on in the creation of humanity by humanity itself. In some passages Russian authors literally echo patristic expression. “It is toward the God-man [bogočelovek (богочеловеκ)] that the whole history of humanity tended,” Solovyov writes in his Lectures.
In the theological register bogočelovečestvo is the synthetic notion that expresses in a single concept two symmetrical events in Christian history. The first of these events is the Incarnation of the Word, its kenôsis [ϰένωσις], that is, in Greek enanthrôpêsis [ἐνανθϱωπήσις] (in Russian, bogovoploščenie [боговоплοщение] in which voploščenie [воплοщение] (incarnation) has its origin in plot’ [плοть] (flesh)). The second event is the divinization of man, theôsis, that is, anakephalaiôsis [ἀναϰεφαλαίωσις] (in Russian, oboženie čeloveka [обожение человеκa]). The term kenôsis was formed by the Greek fathers on the basis of the verb kenoô [ϰενόω], that is, “to empty” (with the reflexive pronoun “to empty oneself”). It has its origin in an expression in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 2:7. The naming of Jesus as Lord (ibid., 2:9) is preceded by a sequence that describes the humbling of the one who was “in the form of God” (ibid., 2:6). His elevation comes at the end of a descent (in Russian, sošestvie [сοшествие]) and an annihilation (heauton ekenôsen [ἑαυτὸν ἐϰένωσεν]) until he reaches the obedience that makes him accept death on the Cross. This theory of kenôsis also invaded Russian Orthodoxy. V. Tareev (1866–1934) developed the idea that the creation itself was a kenotic act. But his most original ideas had to do with the temptations over which Christ triumphs by accepting his kenotic state. Bulgakov reinforces this idea of Tareev. For him, there is kenos [ϰενός] in the Incarnation only because there is a kenôsis in the Trinity as a whole and a divine kenôsis in the Creation. The kenôsis in the Trinity consists in the mutual love of the divine persons, which surpasses any individual state. The Creation inserts God into time and includes a certain risk. The kenôsis of the Incarnation is located above all in God, in the Word’s will to love (Solovyov, Lectures), and appeals to the personalization of the Trinity that turns out to be so important for Orthodox theology.
In Greek patristics kenôsis and theôsis are symmetrical. The notion of theos anthrôpos [Θεὸς ʼʹΑνθϱωπος] was the cornerstone of Greek soteriology, whose meaning is found literally in the idea of the real union of man and God. The Incarnation represents the two sides of a single mystery:
We say in fact that God and man serve each other as models, and that God humanizes himself for man in his love of man, to the very extent to which man, strengthened by charity, transposes himself for God in God.
(Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua, RT: PG, 91:10, 113)
In Christian theosophy the point of contact between these two movements of kenôsis and divinization is man, but the way of conceiving the latter’s relation to God differs in the Catholic and Orthodox anthropologies.
Orthodox and Catholic soteriologies
Beyond the historical and theological subtleties of the period of ecumenical councils, this is where we find the key to the divergences between the anthropologies of the Greek and Latin fathers. Starting out from the idea that original sin introduced death into human existence and caused man to lose the grace of being “in the image of God,” Orthodox anthropology remains very attached to the idea of the spiritual improvement of humans in their history and to the accomplishment of the deifying contemplation at the end of time (apokatastasis [ἀπоϰατάστασις]), the restoration of humanity and things at the Last Judgment, adopted by Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. The Word was made flesh, according to the Greeks, in order to restore to man the resemblance to God that he had lost through Adam’s sin and to deify him. This resemblance guaranteed man’s immortality, which original sin had caused him to lose. That is why the Incarnation of the Word is defined by the Greek fathers as the necessary condition for accomplishing the promise of eternal life. It is through love for man that God sought, by means of the sacrifice of Christ, to save fallen humanity (Athanasius [295–373], De incarnatione, 6, 5) (Méhat, 1966, 82–86). Man “would have been lost had the Son of God, the Lord of the Universe and the Savior, not come to put an end to death” (Athanasius, De incarnatione, 9, 2). The metaphor that is important for the whole Orthodox terminology and that remains present in Russian philosophy is that of the “divine thirst,” the “lack” manifested by God with regard to humanity, to which he shows his love by creating it pure and wanting to save it.
Confronted by this Orthodox soteriology, Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) developed a Latin soteriology in terms of “divine dominium,” of cosmic order and justice corrupted by human sin. It is especially in accord with the register of property or legitimate possession (possessio, dominium, dominus) that Anselm sets forth the relations between the creature and his Creator. The latter is the master (dominus), and the creatures endowed with intelligence (angels and men) are this master’s slaves, the serfs or servants (servi, conservi). Man has offended the Creator of justice and order in his will and in his honor (Dei honori): original sin consisted in disobeying the Dominus. The ideas of rectitudo, of rectus ordo, which are identified with those of justitia or debitum, are essential in Saint Anselm’s doctrine (Roques). Having fallen, man is not capable of giving God his due. Christ, on the other hand, owes the Father nothing but repays the human debt to him. Finally, humanity is indebted in two ways: for Adam’s sin and for the death of Christ.
The Greek (Orthodox) and Latin (Catholic) anthropologies are opposed as being, respectively, that of divinization and that of redemption, of grace and debt, of restoration (re-creation) and reparation (restitution), of divine love and divine honor, of participation in order, of rebirth and buying back, of loss and debt, of economy and speculation, of contemplation and calculation, of sanctification and satisfaction. This difference between the Greek and Latin anthropologies is taken over by Dostoyevsky in the legend of the Grand Inquisitor (The Brothers Karamazov).
Bogočelovečestvo and the “Russian Idea”
The Russian philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often emphasized the elaboration of a new kind of philosophy opposed to the positivism and empiricism prevalent in the West. They considered themselves the inventors of a genuine religious anthropology and of its true language, in which bogočelovečestvo is a central term. The originality of this notion consists in the intense attempt to make the subtleties of the dogma of the humanity of Christ work together with the idea of the divinization of man and the historical conception peculiar to Russian Slavophiles of the period, at the center of which was the Russian idea (russkaja ideja [русская идея]). The latter’s historical source resides in the quasi-nationalistic and statist construct elaborated by the monk Philotheos (end of the fifteenth century), who made Moscow the “third Rome.” In the nineteenth century the Russian idea consisted in a critical, messianic vision of European humanity as divided into two opposed worlds: the Catholic West and the Orthodox East. Solovyov, and later Berdyayev, following the Slavophiles, condemned the “decadent West” and asserted the particular role of Russia, which is neither Eastern nor Western, but a great “comprehensive East-West” that, alone on earth, “holds the divine truth and represents God’s will” (Solovyov, Lectures).
The opposition between East and West has its roots in the history of the Christian church, namely in the schism between a Catholic West (the material part) and an Orthodox East (the spiritual part):
Thus before the perfect union, there is the division…of Christianity into two halves, the East clinging with all its strength to the divine principle and preserving it by maintaining within itself the necessary conservative and ascetic spirit, and the West expending all its energy on developing the human principle, to the detriment of divine truth, which is first deformed and then completely rejected.
According to Solovyov, if modern history had been limited to the development of the West, it “would have ended in disintegration and chaos” (ibid.) However, “if history had stopped with Byzantine Christianity, the truth of Christ [divino-humanity, bogočelovečestvo] would have remained incomplete for lack of the free and active human principle that is indispensable for its accomplishment” (ibid.) Russia’s messianic vocation consists in combining the “divine element of Christianity” preserved in the East and the human principle freed and developed in the West (ibid.) The “catholic character” (narod [народ]) of the Russian people, that is, its “conciliarity” (see SOBORNOST’) makes it possible to realize this vocation. Solovyov picks up here the idea of the Slavophile A. Khomiakov, according to which it is within the ideal church as a divino-human, theanthropic unity, that sobornost’ [соборность] (the communion of the Spirit) is developed.
However, since man can receive the Divinity only in his absolute wholeness, that is, in union with all things, the man-God is necessarily a collective, universal being: it is pan-humanity, or the universal church [vselenskaja tserkov’].
Solovyov’s universal church is the living analogy of the Absolute. Thus, according to the Russian idea, humanity is bogočelovečestvo: a human community in the history of which the divine is manifested and gradually reveals itself. In overcoming its division, this community must pass from the stage of history to that of metahistory. The latter is nothing other than the intrusion of eternity into historical time, a sort of accomplishment of time, the kairos [ϰαιϱός] that manifests itself solely in encountering the sobornost’ of reunited humanity.
Anselm, Saint, Archbishop of Canterbury. “Cur Deus Homo: Or Why God Was Made Man.” In Basic Writings, edited and translated by Thomas Williams. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007.
Berdyayev, Nicolay. The Bourgeois Mind and Other Essays. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1966.
Berdyayev, Nicolay. Christian Existentialism: An Anthology. Translated by D. Lowrie. London: Allen and Unwin, 1965.
Berdyayev, Nicolay. The Destiny of Man. London: G. Bles, Centenary Press, 1937.
Berdyayev, Nicolay. The Divine and the Human. London: G. Bles, 1949.
Berdyayev, Nicolay. The Meaning of the Creative Act. Translated by Donald A. Lowrie. London: Gollancz, 1955.
Berdyayev, Nicolay. The Russian Idea. Translated by R. M. French. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1992.
Berdyayev, Nicolay. Spirit and Reality. London: G. Bles, 1946.
Bulgakov, Sergei. Sophia, the Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1993.
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Solovyov, Vladimir. Lectures on Godmanhood, introduction by Peter Zouboff. London: D. Dobson, 1948.
Source: Oxford Reference