Fr. Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov was a priest of the Church of Russia in the early twentieth century. He was noted as an Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and economist. After an early interest in Marxism, he returned to his religious roots in Orthodox Christianity. He wrote extensively, and after being exiled by the new Communist government of Russia, he became part of the community of Russians in Paris, taking part in the founding the of St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris.
Sergius Bulgakov was in born Livny, Russia, on June 16, 1871, into the family of an Orthodox priest. He studied first at the Orel Seminary, followed by attending the Yelets Gymnasium. He then attended the Law School of the Moscow University where his studies included political economy. He graduated in 1894. While studying at the seminary, Bulgakov became interested in Marxism and took part in the Legal Marxism movement. After studying Marxism, Bulgakov became convinced in the impotence of the Marxist theory and returned to his religious beliefs, being influenced by the works of such Russian religious writers as Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Vladimir Solovyov.
He became well known among the Russian intelligentsia of the time. He contributed to many books and journals, including the New Way, Questions of Life, and Way, of which he was the publisher. He was elected to the Second Duma in 1906 as an independent Christian Socialist. As a writer, he wrote monographs, including Philosophy of Economy and Unfading Light. It was during this time that he began to develop his ideas that were based on a combination of the sophiology of Vladimir Solovyov and Pavel Florensky with ideas from the works of Schelling and his own ideas of Orthodoxy.
Bulgakov became prominent in the activities of the Church in Russia, taking part in the All-Russia Sobor of 1917 that elected Tikhon of Moscow to the restored position of Patriarch of Russia. In 1918, he was ordained to the diaconate and then to the priesthood. He continued to write even as the Russian Civil War tore apart his Russia. Living in Crimea he wrote the Philosophy of the Name and Tragedy of Philosophy where he revised his views about relations between philosophy and dogmatism.
On December 30, 1922, Bulgakov was among the approximately 160 prominent intellectuals, including also Nicholas Berdyaev, who were exiled by the Bolshevik government. Bulgakov initially settled in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In May 1923, he was named professor of Church Law and Theology at the Russian Research Institute in Prague. From Prague he moved to Paris, which was his home until his death. In 1925, he participated in the establishment of the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute. He became the head of the institute, where he also was the professor of Dogmatic Theology.
In addition to his writing, he participated in the Anglican-Orthodox interchange that was formalized in the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. Bulgakov remained active in the large community of Russian expatriates in Paris until his death on July 12, 1944, from throat cancer. His funeral was conducted at the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Paris. He was buried at St. Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris.
"Bulgakov's theological speculations on the Divine Wisdom (Sophiology) provoked heated discussion: they never prevailed even in France where his influence was greatest, and were eventually condemned as heretical by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1935 and by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The "sophiology" debate has cast something of a shadow over Fr. Bulgakov's memory, but it would be hard to dispute his significance as a Christian role model for Russian intellectuals of his generation."1
St. John Maximovitch, in his book The Orthodox Veneration of the Virgin Mary, devotes an entire chapter on why the sophiology of Sergius Bulgakov is heresy, specifically one as destructive as Nestorianism. Speaking of those who attempt to deify the Theotokos, he wrote:
- In the words [Fr. Sergius Bulgakov], when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, she acquired "a dyadic life, human and divine; that is, She was completely deified, because in Her hypostatic being was manifest the living, creative revelation of the Holy Spirit" (Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). "She is a perfect manifestation of the Third Hypostasis" (Ibid., p. 175), "a creature, but also no longer a creature" (P. 19 1)....But we can say with the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus: "There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify Her beyond what is proper" (Panarion, "Against the Collyridians"). This Holy Father accuses those who give Her an almost divine worship: "Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord" (same source). "Although Mary is a chosen vessel, still she was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. Although the history of Mary and Tradition relate that it was said to Her father Joachim in the desert, 'Thy wife hath conceived,' still this was done not without marital union and not without the seed of man" (same source). "One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, She was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "Against the Antidikomarionites"). The Orthodox Church, highly exalting the Mother of God in its hymns of praise, does not dare to ascribe to Her that which has not been communicated about Her by Sacred Scripture or Tradition. "Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as to all understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov)."
Sergei Bulgakov was an enthusiastic follower of Aleksey Khomyakov's ecumenistic idea of union between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Anglican church. He was one of the founders of the Anglican-Orthodox ecumenical Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, which devoted itself to the establishment of such a union.
Books in English
- The Bride of the Lamb. Eerdmans, 2001. (ISBN 978-0802839152)
- The Comforter. Eerdmans, 2004. (ISBN 978-0802821126)
- The Friend of the Bridegroom: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Forerunner. Eerdmans, 2003. (ISBN 978-0802849793)
- The Holy Grail and the Eucharist. Lindisfarne, 1997. (ISBN 978-0940262812)
- The Lamb of God. Eerdmans, 2007. (ISBN 978-0802827791)
- The Orthodox Church. St Vladimir's, 1997. (ISBN 978-0881410518)
- Philosophy of Economy. Yale, 2000. (ISBN 978-0300079906)
- Sophia, the Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology. Lindisfarne, 1993. (ISBN 978-0940262607)