How to Read Vladimir Solovyov’s Philosophical Writings?


By Fadi Abou Dib

(An excerpt from my unpublished scholarly essay “The Incarnation of Christ in the Light of the Sophiology of Vladimir Solovyov“)

900_Vladimir Solovyov, 1885
By Ivan Kramskoi

“…It should be taken into serious consideration that any close reading of Solovyov’s philosophical principles and ideas should not and cannot neglect the implications of the mystical nature of his thought. This means that any such approach should not take his mysticism as merely a source of certain type of vocabulary, concepts and beliefs, but also as a womb that gives birth to paradoxes and dilemmas. Berdyaev says that with Solovyov, one is dealing with an irreconcilable combination of two personalities, one for daytime and another of nighttime, one of a mystic and another of a rationalist.[1] Indeed, Solovyov was both at the same time. A reading of his The Principles or Lectures will easily demonstrate how both realms of occultism and rationality goes side by side or even intermingle. Anyone who is familiar with the work of C.G. Jung on alchemy can see the startling similarities between the paradoxes of Solovyov and those of the alchemists, a thing that will be illustrated later in this essay. All these illustrations serve to demonstrate that approaching Solovyov can never be a matter of mere linguistic approach, because mystical experience is a primary foundation of his philosophy, the negligence of which will make the very subject material of any such research lacking and incomplete.

This must not, at any rate, downplay the significance of close reading, but it contributes to enriching the understanding of such philosophical and religious material.

One can argue that Solovyov’s attempts at formulating the principles of Integral Knowledge and the identity of Sophia are similar to the alchemical endeavor as exposited and interpreted by Jung. The latter explains that alchemists unconsciously held the paradox of the alchemical endeavor in both of its pneumatic and material aspects. Jung draws attention to the lapis philosophorum, as being paradoxically both the goal of the alchemical process, its final product, and being at the same time its very first matter to achieve that end product.[2] In fact, the unconscious or visionary (in Jungian terms) material in Solovyov’s philosophy of Sophia is lucid from the account of his three meetings with Sophia. Jung asserts, in reference to the alchemical paradox of Mercurius, the prima materia (which is Sophia in the Solovyovian terms[3]), that the unconscious material can appear paradoxical, as both thesis and antithesis, to the conscious mind. Jung elaborates on this idea as following:

The ancient formula λίθος ού λίθος (the stone that is no stone) expresses this dilemma: we are dealing with a complexio oppositorum, with something like the nature of light, which under some conditions behaves like particles and under others like waves, and is obviously in its essence both at once. Something of this kind must be conjectured with regard to these paradoxical and hardly explicable statements of the unconscious. They are not inventions of any conscious mind, but are spontaneous manifestations of a psyche not controlled by consciousness and obviously possessing all the freedom it wants to express views that take no account of our conscious intentions.[4]

This description applies in Solovyov’s case, whose view of Sophia is based primarily on three visions of (what he considers) a celestial being and on his mystical intuition in general.[5] Moreover, the same ambiguous paradoxical occurrences of distinction and identification of the noumenal (spiritual) and the phenomenal (the material) can be noticed in Solovyov’s elaborations on Sophia and the World Soul, as shown above, as they sometimes merge in one entity, while still appear separated in other occasions.”

[1] Nikolai Berdyaev, The Brightest Lights of the Silver Age: Essays on Russian Religious Thinkers, trans. Boris Jakim (Semantron Press, 2015), 77.

[2] C. G. Jung, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, trans. by R. F. C. Hull (New York: Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1959), 127; Psychology and Alchemy, from the Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 12, 2nd ed. (Princeton University Press, 1968), 232.

[3] Cf. The Principles, 127, 140.

[4] C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Trans. R. F. C. Hull, from the Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, part I, 2nd ed. (Princeton University Press, 1990), 312-3.

[5] Motchulsky asserts that Sophia began with Solovyov as his ”biggest intuition” that kept returning to him during his life, and for which he kept trying to find more precise and complete expressions and formulations: “på så sätt bar han hela livet i sitt hjärta sin största intuition, återkom manga gånger till den, tog upp den från olika håll, ändrade uttryckssätt, tvekade, kämpade emot svårighet, törnade mot antinomier, och sökte efter en precisare och mer fullkomlig formulering.” (Motjulskij, 139) Mochulsky goes further to confirm the originality of Solovyov’s view of Sophia, being an authentic expression of his own mystical experience despite the Western influence, maintaining that one must understand his metaphysical theories in light of his inner experience: ”Trots allt västligt inflytande är Solovjovs lära om Sofia i grunden självständig. Den har organiskt vuxit fram ur hans personliga mystiska erfarenhet. Man måste betrakta hans metafysiska teorier och teologiska byggnader som försök att inse och uttrycka den i hans själ från ovan ingjutna idén.” (p. 140-41) See also Kojève, The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov, 18, 21, 23, 38, 39, 41.

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