Posts tagged with: History of Liberty

Arabic icon of St. John of Damascus

Today (Dec. 4) is commemorated an important, though sometimes little-known, saint: St. John of Damascus. Not only is he important to Church history as a theologian, hymnographer, liturgist, and defender of Orthodoxy, but he is also important, I believe, to the history of liberty.

In a series of decrees from 726-729, the Roman (Byzantine) emperor Leo III the Isaurian declared that the making and veneration of religious icons, such as the one to the right, be banned as idolatrous and that all icons be removed from churches and destroyed. The Christian practice of making icons dates back to decorations of the catacombs in the early Church as well as illuminations in manuscripts of the Scriptures; indeed, many icons can be found in manuscripts of the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures and several icons have even been uncovered in the ruins of synagogues.

Naturally, most Christians of the time protested. Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople was forced to resign and was replaced by Anastasios, who supported the emperor’s program. This began what is known as the iconoclastic controversy. It spanned over 100 years, and the iconoclasts in the Roman (Byzantine) empire martyred literally thousands of the Orthodox who peacefully resisted and destroyed countless works of sacred art that would be priceless today. Whatever one’s understanding of the place of icons in the Church today, this controversy was a clear abuse of government power that resulted in great tragedy. (more…)

Painting by Ivan Kramskoi

Reflecting on the state of Russian philosophy among the intelligentsia of his day (the sectarian, Russian intellectuals “artificially isolated from national life”), Nikolai Berdiaev wrote in 1909,

There seemed every reason to acknowledge Vladimir Solov’ev as our national philosopher and to create a national philosophical tradition around him…. The philosophy of any European country could take pride in a Solov’ev.

That, however, was not the case. Why not? Berdiaev continues,

But the Russian intelligentsia neither read him nor knew him and did not regard him as one of their own. Solov’ev’s philosophy is profound and original, but it does not substantiate socialism. It is alien to both Populism and Marxism and cannot conveniently be turned into a weapon for the struggle against autocracy. Therefore, he did not furnish the intelligentsia with a suitable “world-view”….

The life and thought of Vladimir Solovyov are not easy to simply and accurately assess, but one thing is certain: as Berdiaev notes, “Solov’ev’s philosophy… does not substantiate socialism.”

In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, Vladimir Solovyov is profiled in the “In the Liberal Tradition” section. According to the article,

The thought world of Solovyov’s Russia, especially among the upper class of society, contained extremes of atheistic materialism which he set himself against in much of his work, finding favor and criticism in nearly all sectors of Russian society.

He was a man of strong moral and spiritual conviction, and as a consequence, he believed socialism to be “an antithesis” to the Christian faith, writing against it with biting criticism that the Marxist intelligentsia of his day, and afterward, simply could not bear.

Anyone interested may read the full article at our website.

If any scholars may be reading, I would also like to draw attention to a recent call for publications on Orthodox Christian social and economic thought for the Journal of Markets & Morality. Submissions on Solovyov, among others, would be welcome.

The quotes from Nikolai Berdiaev in this post above are taken from his essay “Philosophical Verity and Intelligentsia Truth” in the volume Vekhi, which can be found here.