Khomyakov's Critique of Western Christianity
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2009
Although frequently overlooked by Western scholars of Church history, theology and ecumenism, Aleksei S. Khomyakov (1804–1860), one of Russia's most original thinkers and most prolific and diverse writers of the nineteenth century, merits attention as one whose religious writings not only occupy a prestigious place in the history of Orthodox thought but greatly influence Orthodox thinkers today. If the nineteenth century can be regarded as the Renaissance of the Russian Empire, Khomyakov is an example of its Renaissance men. A poet of no little talent, historian, essayist, dramatist, inventor, philosopher, theologian and founder of the Slavophile school that undertook to discover and define Russia's cultural and historical significance, Khomyakov was indeed a man of many parts. But his pioneering efforts to delineate the essence of Russian Orthodox Christianity from that of its Western counterparts remain perhaps most noteworthy in the eyes of his countrymen. His theological accomplishments have led some modern Orthodox writers to regard him as the most important figure in Orthdox thought since the Patristic age; some of his ardent admirers have, in fact, named him a Father of the Russian Orthodox Church. His work to divine the natural strengths of the Russian people by exploring the special character of their national faith not only elicited Russian national self-consciousness but helped to foster the sentiment of religious exclusiveness that did much to prepare the way for a comprehensive system of Russian nationalism. These achievements prompt one of his biographers to rank him with Peter the Great, Lomonosov and Pushkin as one of the four most important men in all Russian history.
- Research Article
- Copyright © American Society of Church History 1969
1. Zavitnevich, V. Z., as quoted by Brasol, B. L., A. S.Khomyakov (New York, 1954), p. 4 (in Russian).Google Scholar
2. There is no one work that Khomyakov devotes to commentary on Western religious errors. His habit (frequently commented upon with frustration by scholars) of developing many ideas within a single essay and of introducing new subjects, at times in midparagraph, coupled with his rambling style of composition, does not facilitate complete examination of the many ideas he deals with in the eight volumes of writings he has left. To reconstruct his criticism of Western Christianity one must sift through his entire body of works.
3. Khomyakov, Aleksei S., Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (8 vols.; Moscow, 1900–1914), I, 204–207.Google Scholar Khomyakov's works are generally unavailable in English translation. His single most important essay, however, “Letter to the Serbs from Moscow,” has been rendered by Christoff, Peter K., An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Russian Slavophilism: A. S. Xomjakov (S'Gravenhage: Mouton & Co., 1961), 247–268.Google Scholar It will serve as a good introduction to Khomyakov's thought for the non-specialist.
5. Khomyakov, I, 148–149.
6. Khomyakov's attitude toward rationalism and its effects is not unlike that expressed by his Danish contemporary, Kierkegaard, although each seems to have been unaware of the work of the other. For his views on rationalism, see Khomyakov, I, 211ff., VII, 212; also, Riasanovsky, 91–100.
7. Khomyakov, VII, 449.
8. Bolshakoff, Serge, The Doctrine of the Unity of the Church in the Works of Khomyakov and Moehler (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1946), 189.Google Scholar
9. So, too, Khomyakov regarded the genesis of the Western notion of purgatory: “Rationalism developed in the form of absolute categories. It invented purgatory in order to explain prayer for the deceased. It set up a balance of duties and merits between God and man, began to balance sins and prayers, offenses and deeds of expiation. It established transfers from one man to another, legalized the exchange of pseudomerits. In a word it transferred the complete mechanism of a banking-house to the sanctuary of faith.” Quoted and translated by Christoff, 175.
10. The Slavophiles rejected Western democracy as a bogus form of freedom, masking the domination of the minority by the majority, however small, that happened to prevail during elections. They regarded autocracy as a better expression of popular unanimity and, therefore, the best political form for the realization of true freedom. On this, see Riasanovsky, 149–152; N. Ustrialov, “Politicheskaia doktrina slavianofilstva (Ideia samoderzhaviia v slavianofilskoi postanovke),” Izvestiia Iuridicheskogo Fakulteta (Harbin, 1925), I, 47–74.Google Scholar
11. Khomyakov, I, 403.
12. Khomyakov, II, 59–60. In Khomyakov's schema the Germans played an even greater and more destructive role in the development of European Christianity. Protestantism he described as a product of the German-populated areas of the West, where “Christianity in its one-sided Roman form” had been spread by force. Khomyakov's appreciation of Protestantism is even less favorable than his opinion of Catholicism, though he regards the latter as a more serious deviation. Protestantism he depicts as the antithesis of Catholicism and, in the best Hegelian manner, capable of remaining in existence only as long as does the thesis. Thus the sole nature of Protestantism is negation. As Catholicism emphasizes external unity at the expense of freedom, Protestantism sacrifices unity to a personal freedom so unrestrained that it ends as anarchy. In later ages dialectical development completed its course, with Protestantism in turn yielding to its negation and logical consequence, German idealistic philosophy. Western Christianity, through its aberrations, produced the works of Kant and Hegel. Khomyakov, I, 149, 298; II, 44.
13. Khomyakov, II, 52–53.
14. Birkbeck, W. J., Russia and the English Church during the Last Fifty Years (London, 1895), I, 94–95.Google Scholar See also the recent valuable comments of Geaiakoplos, Deno John, Byzantine East and Latin West (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 79–80.Google Scholar For other commentary on Khomyakov's attitudes toward the councils, see Berdyaev, Nicolas, The Russian Idea (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), 164–166.Google Scholar
15. Khomyakov, II, 49.
16. Khomyakov deals with this matter in his brief catechism of Orthodoxy, which he entitled “The Church is One” (Tserkov' odna). An English translation appears in Birkbeck, with the argument against the sacramental power of the Papacy on page 214. The entire piece serves as the best single compilation of Khomyakov's religious ideas. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that some modern Orthodox writers cite Khomyakov's argument as the most telling ever directed against the institution of the Roman Papacy. See, for example, Bolshakoff, 166, who states: “There is probably no more devastating attack on the Papacy than that of Khomyakov. And it still remains unanswered…. Khomyakov held that the Roman Catholic creed may be reduced to a single article: I believe in the Pope. What the Pope teaches on faith and morals must be obeyed and is true. As the Romanists separate the Pope's teaching from his living, they create the eighth sacrament in the Papacy. As a minister of the Sacrament of infallible teaching, the Pope may be as unworthy as ministers of any other sacrament. As in true Christianity living faith must be expressed in deed, the Pope, to command obedience, must be holy. As he is not holy, his faith is not a true faith, but a dead one, which he shares in common with devils. The Papal faith is nothing more, therefore, than an external knowledge or logical science, subject to all the laws of thought. Roman Catholicism is, therefore, nothing more than thoroughgoing Rationalism.”
17. Khomyakov (VII, 309 and III, 100) notes that Poland declined as a great state when it accepted Catholicism. It then lost all appreciation of communal values and Christian brotherhood. Its partition was but the material expression of this loss of inner power.
18. Khomyakov, I, 382.
19. Khomyakov's appreciation of the advantages of Orthodox theology as contrasted with its Western counterparts can be read in Christoff, 137–171; Giliarov-Platonov, N., Voprosy very tserkvi (Moskva, 1900), II, 206–213.Google Scholar
20. Christoff, 244.
21. Khomyakov, VII, 224.
22. For an English translation of the letters to Palmer in which these ideas are touched upon, see Birkbeck, I, 95ff. For further comment on the unfairness of Khomyakov's critique, see Berdyaev, 162.