Gleanings from Russian Orthodox Vladimir Soloviev

“Once upon a time there lived a giant in Russia. Unlike the giants we read about in fairy tales, this giant was fully human; he lived from 1853 to 1900. He was an unusual giant, a genius with an astonishing range of intellectual and spiritual gifts. Biographers credit him with being philosopher, political thinker, theologian, literary critic, poet, poet, prophet, mystic. Yet this giant is largely unknown in the west today.”1

“From the east he came, appearing suddenly, nearly a century after his death, in Church documents of the highest authority. For many westerners, Vladimir Soloviev made his debut in Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), the 1998 encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II. There his name emerges in a sweeping genealogy of the greatest Christian philosophers, from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas to Newman and St. Edith Stein. Two years later, the same pope would praise Soloviev as one of the modern era’s great ‘witnesses of the faith and illustrious Christian thinkers’ and call his work ‘prophetic.’”2

“Soloviev’s ‘true legacy’ consists of three simple propositions. The universal jurisdiction and infallible teaching authority of the papacy were instituted by Jesus Christ as a perpetual gift to his Church. Apart from the papacy, the Eastern churches will always remain what they are now, ethnic, national churches, totally independent and disunited. Only in union with Rome can the separated Eastern churches become truly Catholic. Seldom, if ever, has this Catholic doctrine of the Church been stated more eloquently, more persuasively in an apologetic context than by Vladimir Soloviev.”3


The purpose of this thread is to highlight and discuss the thought of Vladimir Soloviev found in The Russian Church and the Papacy4 – which is an abridgment of his original work, Russia and the Universal Church. From time to time, I will be posting passages and ideas from Soloviev that I find interesting as I make my way through this book, and I welcome comments – positive and negative – from anyone who wishes to journey with me.

1 Fr. Ray Ryland, The Russian Church and the Papacy, (Catholic Answers, El Cajon, CA, 2001), p. 15.
2 Scott Hahn, The Russian Church and the Papacy, (Catholic Answers, El Cajon, CA, 2001), p.11.
3 Ryland, op. cit., p. 22.

They aren’t truly Catholic without Rome? That’s not what LG or the Balamand Declaration says…

Are they in full communion with Rome?

“The two great historic experiments, that of the Middle Ages and that of modern times, seem to demonstrate conclusively that neither the Church – lacking the assistance of a secular power which is distinct from but responsible to her – nor the secular state – relying upon its own resources – can succeed in establishing the Christian justice and peace on earth. The close alliance and organic union of the two powers without confusion and without division is the indispensable condition of true social progress” (p. 46-47)

The modern experiment in America is built the separation of Church and State wherein the State is distinct from but not responsible to the Church.

Is Soloviev right?

Does the American approach explain any failure of our society to achieve “true social progress” and “Christian justice and peace on earth”?

By the way, the full text of the original work, Russia and the Univeral Church, is available in a .pdf file here:–Russia_Universal_Church.pdf

(That is going to save you a few bucks and me a lot of typing. :p)

Vladimir Solovyov also allegedly repented of communing with the Roman Catholics, repudiated his earlier views, and received his last confession, absolution and communion from an Orthodox Priest.

Although this is disputed. A favorite author of many Eastern Orthodox Christians on this forum (tongue in cheek), James Likoudis, writes:

“It was in this same work [the work in question in this thread, the longer one I believe] that Soloviev uttered his personal
profession of the Catholic faith from which he never swerved, despite his
receiving on his deathbed Holy Communion from a Russian Orthodox
priest. The latter event has been interpreted by various Russian Orthodox
writers as constituting a repudiation of Soloviev’s ‘papist’ convictions,
but it is explained easily enough considering the difficulties of obtaining
the services of a Catholic priest of either Latin or Byzantine rite and
Soloviev’s conviction that the great Reunion Council of Florence (1439)
had never been fully abrogated by the separated Greco-Russian

The footnote for #26 here reads:

“26. This point is understandably disputed by many Orthodox, who see
Soloviev’s Last Rites as proof that his loyalties lay with Orthodoxy
rather than Catholicism. One piece of evidence in favor of the
interpretation presented here is that Soloviev’s latest writings continue to
demonstrate his belief in papal primacy. The possibility that Soloviev
confessed the ‘error’ of his belief in the papacy in order to receive
absolution and communion from a local Orthodox priest, Fr. S.A.
Belyayev, is dismissed by authors who have studied the matter. As
Soloviev-specialist Gregory Glazov observed, 'After his submission to
Rome, Solovyov continued to regard himself as both a Catholic and
Orthodox according to his view that both constituted one Universal
Church. 'The ‘error’ regretted (on his deathbed) is not the error of
affirming Rome when this necessitates the loss of communion in the
Orthodox rite. This means that d’Herbigny’s position is logically
defensible and that no denial of Rome need be seen in the confession.'

Gregory Glazov, ‘Vladimir Soloviev and the Idea of the Papacy,’
Communio 24 (Spring 1997): 135.” (emphasis mine)


I have heard that this might be true.

I have also heard that the “testimony” of the priest who alleged these things must be called into question since he himself had violated the silence of the confessional.

I guess there’s something for everyone in this story. :o

POPULAR Russian legend tells how St. Nicolas and St. Cassian were once sent from Paradise upon a visit to the Earth. On their journey they met a poor peasant who had got his wagon, with a load of hay upon it, stuck deep in the mud and was making fruitless efforts to get his horses on.

“Let’s go and give the good fellow a hand,” said St. Nicolas.

“Not I; I’m keeping out of it,” replied St. Cassian, “I don’t want to get my coat dirty.”

“Well, wait for me,” said St. Nicolas, “or go on without me if you like,” and plunging without hesitation into the mud, he vigorously assisted the peasant in dragging his wagon out of the rut. When he had finished the job and caught his companion up, he was all covered in filth; his coat was torn and soiled and looked like a beggar’s rags. St. Peter was
amazed to see him arrive at the gate of Paradise in this condition.

“I say! Who ever got you into that state?” he asked. St. Nicolas told his story.

“And what about you?” asked St. Peter, turning to St. Cassian. “Weren’t you with him in this encounter?”

“Yes, but I don’t meddle in things that are no concern of mine, and I was especially anxious not to get my beautiful clean coat dirty.”

“Very well,” said St. Peter, “You, St. Nicolas, because you were not afraid of getting dirty in helping your neighbor out of a difficulty, shall for the future have two feasts a year, and you shall be reckoned the greatest of saints after me by all
the peasants of Holy Russia. And you, St. Cassian, must be content with having a nice clean coat; you shall have your feastday in leap-year only, once every four years.”

We may well forgive St. Cassian for his dislike of manual labor and the mud of the highroad. But he would be quite wrong to condemn his companion for having a different idea of the duties of saints towards mankind. We may like St. Cassian’s clean and spotless clothes, but since our wagon is still deep in the mud, St. Nicolas is the one we really need, the stout-hearted saint who is always ready to get to work and help us.

The Western Church, faithful to the apostolic mission, has not been afraid to plunge into the mire of history. After having been for centuries the only element of moral order and intellectual culture among the barbarous peoples of Europe, it undertook the task not only of the spiritual education of these peoples of independent spirit and uncivilized instincts, but also of their material government. In devoting itself to this arduous task, the Papacy, like St. Nicolas in the legend, thought not so much of the cleanliness of its own appearance as of the urgent needs of mankind. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, with its solitary asceticism and its contemplative mysticism, its withdrawal from political life and from all the social problems which concern mankind as a whole, thought chiefly, like St. Cassian, of reaching Paradise without a single stain on its clothing. The Western Church aimed at employing all its powers, divine and human, for the attainment of a universal goal; the Eastern Church was only concerned with the preservation of its purity. There is the chief point of difference and the fundamental cause of the schism between the two Churches. It is a question of a different ideal of the religious life itself. The religious ideal of the separated Christian East is not false; it is incomplete. In Eastern Christendom for the last thousand years, religion has been identified with personal piety, and prayer has been regarded as the one and only religious activity. The Western Church, without disparaging individual piety as the true germ of all religion, seeks the development of this germ and its blossoming into a social activity organized for the glory of God and the universal good of mankind. The Eastern prays, the Western prays and labors. Which of the two is right?

Jesus Christ founded His visible Church not merely to meditate on Heaven, but also to labor upon Earth and to withstand the gates of Hell. He did not send His apostles into the solitude of the desert, but into the world to conquer it and subject it to the Kingdom which is not of this world, and He enjoined upon them not only the innocence of doves, but also the wisdom of serpents. If it is merely a question of preserving the purity of the Christian soul, what is the purpose of all the Church’s social organization and of all those sovereign and absolute powers with which Christ has armed her in giving her final authority to bind and to loose on Earth as well as in Heaven?

(p. 51-53)

To paraphrase St. Seraphim of Sarov, acquire the spirit and those around you will be saved.

Not all are called to the Monastic life, but all are called to Asceticism within their own station of life. If the poor continue to go hungry, where are the Laity? Why did their village not care for them? To insinuate that the Orthodox Church is an ossified sanctuary of aloof monks is an old charge, and nonsense. I will not question Mr. Soloviev’s personal experience on things, but as with all anecdotal evidence, must be balanced against other things.

An Orthodox Life well lived will produce the fruits of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Monks in the past have provided these things, and I will give one modern example:

It is about a Monastery in the Ukraine that cares for Orphans and Disabled abandoned children.

If the poor continue to go hungry and we can do something about it, than that is OUR FAULT…not the Monks on Mt. Athos. Theosis is about acquiring the Spirit and growing closer to God…engagement with the world can only go so far. All too often such sentiments devolve into Utopianism and the inbalance that one sees in many corners of Roman Catholic Life, emphasis on “economic justice” and the poor at the expense of the spiritual life.

Here also is another link:

A letter written by Father Seraphim (Rose) of Platina in reply to the activities and teachings of Thomas Merton, who is a big figure in the “Engaged” Catholicism of the latter half of the 20th Century.

Being “engaged” in the world is not necessarily a good thing. Giving a poor family food is one thing, but all of this talk of The Catholic Church being “engaged” is frought with peril, as Father Seraphim points out.

As someone who was influenced by the “early” Merton (Seven Story Mountain, Sign of Jonas, etc.) to the point that I myself became a candidate at a Trappist monastery (which I ultimately did not enter), I think I can say that many in the Catholic world were disappointed with the “later” Merton (Zen and the Birds of Appetite, etc.).

So Solovyov is defended of allegations that he repudiated his earlier position by it being pointed out that he was a branch theorist.

Father Seraphim goes beyond that. Read his letter, you may find it interesting.

I have a few thoughts on the parable of Cassian and Nicolas and Soloviev’s observations which are found in post #8 above.

First, notice that both Cassian and Nicola are saints. Further, God has sent both on a mission to earth from which they are returning. Applying these ideas to the Eastern and Western Churches, we see that Soloviev considers both to be holy and to have a purpose to fulfill.

Upon returning to heaven, Nicolas is a mess. His boots are muddy, his clothes are stained and torn, his hair matted - a direct result of the work that he has been doing among the mire of the mission. Meanwhile, Cassian has maintained his own purity and avoided getting his hands dirty. The “hospital for the wounded” metaphor applies to the West while the “refuge of the saints” describes the East.

Two passages of scripture come to mind at this point. In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha is busy with many things as she seeks to prepare a meal for Jesus who is a guest in their home. Our Lord praises Mary because she has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her. Are Mary and Cassian kindred spirits in their undivided love for God?

In parable of the Good Samaritan, we can almost picture the dusty scene where the injured man lies beaten and bloody in the mud and manure of a busy highway. Surely the Samaritan’s clothes were stained as he tended to the victim’s wounds and picked him up and placed him upon his own donkey for the journey to the inn. Jesus teaches us to go and do likewise. Have the Good Samaritan and Nicolas both understood what it means to love one’s neighbor?

In other threads, I have heard the Catholic Church mocked for the lack of solemnity in its liturgy, its acceptance of baptisms performed in other faith communities and a host of things that offend the high sensibilities of the Orthodox. Soloviev seems to suggest that the Bishops of Rome have, by necessity, tolerated or allowed those things which though licit appear unseemly precisely because of their desire to gather as many chicks under their wings as possible before the Lord’s return. And it is just here that I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Co. 9:19-23).

In closing, I think that there is a bit of both Mary and Martha in all of us – some Cassian and some Nicolas, and, hopefully, a bit of the Good Samaritan, too. Perhaps above all, we are the wounded traveler, beaten, bloodied and lying in a ditch in desperate need of healing.

Your thoughts?

Thanks, MB.

Being somewhat old-school (or just old), I like to print out articles and read them offline, so I found a printer-friendly version here:

I’ll get back to you with thoughts when I have finished the article.


Thanks again for referring me to the letter from Fr. Seraphim to Thomas Merton or Fr. Louis as he was known to the monks of Our Lady of Gethsemane.

As a young man, I seriously considered entering a Trappist monastery and visited many of the Cistercian abbeys along the east coast as well as in Colorado over a five-year period - in no small part due to reading many of the early writings of Thomas Merton. I actually entered the novitiate as an observer for several months before discerning that I was not called to that life. In later years, I became concerned about Merton’s drift towards the East - Buddhism, not Orthodoxy - and my suspicions have been echoed by others who have written about the possible doctrinal problems with Merton’s later works. Catholic Answers has a good article about this here:

Regarding Fr. Seraphim’s Letter, I enjoyed it (though he took a long time to make his points!), and I plan to forward it to a close friend who is the Executive Director of a large organization dedicated to caring for the poor in a major US city. I’m looking forward to getting his thoughts on Fr. Seraphim’s criticisms of Catholic social action.

I’m interested in yours, too. I’m sure that this document was called to your mind by my quotation of Soloviev’s parable of Cassian and Nicolas. Wouldn’t you love to ask Fr. Seraphim a few questions about his letter and any reply he may have received? I know I would! In general, though, who can argue with his condemnation of “social action” as he describes it?

But is that what Soloviev had in mind when he praised “Nicolas” for getting his clothes dirty in the service of the needy. It seems to me that if by “social action”, Soloviev is praising the Latin Church for the types of things that Fr. Eugene condemns in Merton, then Fr. Seraphim would get no argument from me. On the other hand, if Soloviev has in mind the kind of “action” we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan, then I think Soloviev would get no argument from Fr. Seraphim, me or you.

However, by taking issue with Merton’s misguided social action that stems from purely human motives in terms that are equally stark – the brevity of this life, the “kingdom not of the world” and “the transformation of men, not society”, etc. – Fr. Seraphim personifies Soloviev’s Cassian perfectly.

What are your thoughts?

I think he has a point. We have been happy to tolerate this division in a seemingly Christian world, but now that we are increasingly entering into a post Christian world, where core tenants of Christian morality are being challenged and even persecuted… maybe it is time to re-evaluate.

Great reading! I’m really enjoying the PDF. :slight_smile:

God bless,


BTW, I am reading The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin, and he notes that John Paul II expressed the idea that “the supportive culture of Christendom has virtually disappeared and that Christian life today has to be lived deeply or else it may not be possible to live it at all.”

That quote is Martin’s paraphrase of JPII, but wow. I see the truth of it.

Wow! High praise. It also gives some comfort at how… worldly??? … corrupted???.. soiled?? … the church can seem sometimes in its dealings with the world. We are engaged, at all levels, in guiding and purifying the world.

I’m just at page 16, but I am struck by how Solovyev summarizes the impact of Greek Byzantine heresies on the political structure, and how quickly the political sphere would seek to support the heretical movements. Although I have some doubts about how cleanly this presentation really appears in reality. I am hoping he continues to develop his historical analysis to see if he will buttress some of his statements.

God bless,

I have to say, he is scathing in his critique of the Greek Christians (up to page 20). :slight_smile: Especially in their repeated attempts to gain equality with the see of Rome. He sees in the move, only a small minded nationalism that chose to be Greek rather than Catholic. Ouch! :slight_smile:

This pretty much is a summary of his position:

It is indeed historically evident that all the heresies actively supported or passively accepted by the majority of the Greek clergy encountered insuperable opposition from the Roman Church and finally came to grief on this Rock of the Gospel.

God bless,

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