Michael Martin's Introduction to the Sophiological Tradition

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Sophiology is a (judeo ? -) Christian tradition that insists on the feminine spiritual principle within the christian tradition, i.e. it sees the created world as an expression of the feminine principle. Michael Martin is a Catholic of the Orthodox rite, with experience as a biodynamic farmer (Steiner), and gives a 'historical' overview of the tradition in this online course. In eight parts.

The Book

* Book: The Submerged Reality. Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics. by Michael Martin. Angelico Press,

URL = https://www.angelicopress.org/the-submerged-reality-martin

John Milbank:

"In The Submerged Reality, Michael Martin suggests why a radicalized orthodoxy in the future will need more to ‘walk on the wild side’ and appropriate what is best in the esoteric, occult, and even gnostic traditions. He intimates that the past failure to do this is linked to a one-sidedly masculine theology, downgrading the sacrality of life, immanence, fertility, and the ‘active receptivity’ of the feminine. The consequence of this has been the perverse liberal attempt to distill ‘order out of disorder,’ or the denial of real essences, relations, gender difference, and the objective existence of all things as beautiful. Finally, Martin argues that such a genuinely feminist theology would also be concerned with a space between the openly empirical observation of nature on the one hand, and the reflective exposition of divine historical revelation on the other. In this space, continuously new poetic realities are shaped and emerge under the guidance of holy inspiring wisdom.”

Video Directory

  • Part I, Introduction, [1]

The 8 next videos are part of a paid course and set to private on Youtube.

Please ask for more info at The Center for Sophiological Studies , Grass Lake, Michigan USA

Email for info at: [email protected]



(discussed in part 8 above)

Boris Groys:

"In the Russian intellectual and cultural tradition, the concept, or rather the name, “Sophia” is primarily associated with the Sophiological doctrine of the philosopher and theologian Vladimir Soloviev (1853–1900). Soloviev’s first major philosophical work, The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists (1874), was written as a reaction to the pessimistic doctrine of Schopenhauer, with its denial of self and world. Under the influence of the nineteenth-century Russian Slavophile intellectual tradition, which accused Western philosophy of a disregard for material cosmic life and a one-sided development of pure conceptual thinking, Soloviev viewed Schopenhauer’s philosophy as the authentic consequence of this Western one-sidedness. There the world is not only neglected, but practically denied. Soloviev’s reaction—not unlike Nietzsche’s—consists in the world’s theoretical affirmation, which is meant to give rise to its practical affirmation as well. This project leads to Soloviev’s Sophiology.

Soloviev follows the ancient Neoplatonic, Gnostic, and mythical traditions in associating the materiality of the world with the feminine principle. In all likelihood, however, he received the immediate impetus for his Sophiology from his reading of the later philosophy of Friedrich Schelling, which he always admired. Thus, in his Philosophy of Revelation, Schelling speaks of the “Weltmutter—world mother, the substance of the future Creation,” who “does not really belong to divine nature and yet cannot be separated from it.” He continues:

She is the maya (related to power, possibility, potence) which spread the web of mere semblance before the Creator in order to trap him and impel him toward the actual Creation.

This potence is most pointedly expressed in the Proverbs of Solomon—as wisdom (chokhmach): “Jehovah” (the name of the one who is the Lord of Being) possessed me at the beginning, etc. … This principle is not regarded here in its Being-outside-of-itself but in its possibility, before its actual Being. Here it is, however, subject, prius, presupposition of all future movement.

In this passage from Schelling, a few important themes of Soloviev’s Sophiology can already be recognized in a nutshell. There is the Weltmutter as Maya, which Soloviev, under Schopenhauer’s influence, understands as the demonic, fallen, deceitful aspect of Sophia, as the negative reality of earthly life as it is. In his view, this reality must indeed be denied; in this he agrees with Eastern Buddhism as well as with Schopenhauer’s “Western Buddhism.” He believes, however, that Schopenhauer is prevented by Buddhist nihilism from seeing the true face of the divine Sophia: that is, as it were, an ideal materiality, the possibility of harmonious, true life that was opened already before the Original Sin. In the divine, personalized Sophia, the dividedness and fallenness of the material world are always already potentially overcome, and the task of philosophy (that is, of the love of Sophia) is to unite the lover, that is, the philosopher, with Sophia and thus to accomplish a “theurgic” act of world transformation. Like many thinkers of his time—and not without the powerful influence of socialist utopias—Soloviev aspired to turn thought into reality, to pass from describing the world to transforming it. For him, however, this transition was not to occur through work or the will to power, but rather through eros.

For Soloviev—unlike Nietzsche, for example—the task of “justifying matter” did not stand in opposition to the Christian tradition. On the contrary, for him Christianity is distinguished from all other high religions by the fact that in it “the Word became flesh,” that is, that matter has been recognized as equal in dignity to spirit. According to Soloviev, the primacy of spirit, rationality, and Logos over matter, which is characteristic of Western culture and links it to Eastern Buddhism, does not have its source in Christianity; it is the consequence of the West’s turn away from Christianity, which is above all characteristic of the modern age. The Nietzschean project of the justification of the world is here conceived as a reaction against the perverted Western form of Christianity and in favor of the true, Orthodox Christianity of the East. Soloviev therefore seeks to anchor his Sophiological visions in the still unbroken Christian tradition of Russian Orthodoxy, in whose theology Neoplatonic thought remained present. Sophia is conceived from this perspective as the feminine and simultaneously material dimension of Christ, as Christ’s transfigured body—in close proximity to the Mother of God and the Church that is also regarded, theologically, as the mystical body of Christ. However, by situating the materiality even before the world’s creation within the embodied Logos as the feminine principle manifested through the person of Sophia, Soloviev effectively expands the divine Trinity, introducing into it a new female divine hypostasis. Soloviev’s philosophical, theological, and Sophiological efforts were thus primarily directed toward achieving the maximum divine “equality” for Sophia without adopting a position that could be interpreted as heretical. He presented the most detailed philosophico-theological interpretation of his Sophiology in his Lectures on Godmanhood (1877–81).

Soloviev begins by rooting his understanding of Sophia in traditional Christology:

In the divine organism of Christ, the acting, unifying principle, the principle which expresses the unity of the unconditionally extant one, is obviously the Word or Logos. The unity of the second kind, the produced unity, in Christian theosophy bears the name of Sophia … Sophia is God’s body, the matter of Divinity, permeated with the principle of divine unity. Christ … is both Logos and Sophia.

To speak about Sophia as an essential element of Divinity does not mean, from the Christian point of view, to introduce new gods … But it is precisely in order that God be unconditionally distinguished from our world, from our Nature, from this visible reality, that it is necessary to acknowledge in Him His particular eternal nature. His special eternal world. Otherwise our idea of Divinity will be poorer, more abstract, than our conception of the visible world.

Moreover, if Christ is understood as the ideal human being, then “Sophia is the ideal or perfect humanity, eternally contained in the integral divine being or Christ.” Humanity as Sophia is the eternal body of God. It is only the divinity of matter, recognized as Sophia, that guarantees the possibility of “deification” (in Russian: “obozhenie”) for human beings and the hope for eternal life. Human beings only become immortal through matter, through their participation in the body of Christ. In this way, Soloviev seeks to transform the familiar irrefutable proof of human beings’ finitude, mortality, and “contingency”—namely their “materiality”—into proof of their immortality; only materiality, as the maternal, feminine principle, and even more as the person Sophia, can redeem human beings through love—and especially the human being who loves her: the philosopher or Sophiologist.

Soloviev asserts the defeat of rationalism and rationalist moralism in their struggle against “lower nature.” As symptoms of that defeat, he identifies the demise of the French Revolution and of German Idealism, as well as the rise of empiricism and positivism on the one hand and of the pessimistic aversion to nature in the style of Schopenhauer on the other. The aim of Soloviev’s philosophy is to bring human beings to accept and justify matter and to love it as Sophia. Through love, which is understood here very much as erotic love, philosophy’s one-sided theoretical orientation will be overcome. Philosophy thus becomes practical: it recognizes the true hidden face of the material world, of Sophia, and thus transforms the fallen life of the cosmos in its totality.

The reason for the world’s imperfection lies in its dividedness, in the war of all against all. In order to establish harmony, individuals must cease to assert their will unchecked, as they do, for example, in the Hegelian dialectic, but they must not simply deny it either, as in Schopenhauer. They must set limits on it—take their place within the Sophiological totality. The recognition of the world’s true Sophiological character, its “Sophiicity” (sofiynost), offers every individual person the possibility of finding an appropriate place for his or her own drives and passions and those of others, without having to “struggle” against them. Sophiicity, in this context, represents an application to the cosmic totality of the earlier Slavophile concept of “conciliarity” (sobornost), which essentially means taking one’s place within the social totality without losing one’s own subjectivity or individuality, and which, in the view of the Slavophiles, distinguished the original condition of Christianity before its division into East and West: this disintegration is regarded as the root malady and evil of the whole of European civilization.

Soloviev’s Sophiology is also closely connected with his historiosophy. For him, as for the Slavophiles, the Western world is the historical embodiment of rationalism and egoistic, loveless materialism, which is incapable of the true Sophiological “materialism” of love. The completion and consummation of human history in a theurgic act of disclosure and embodiment of the eternal Sophia thus requires a “new historical force”—namely Russia. Here Soloviev follows the conception of history of Schelling and Hegel as well as that of the Russian Slavophiles, for whom every nation has a specific role to play in the world-historical drama determined by historical logic."


Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Pavel Florensky

Boris Groys:

"Exponents of radical individualism like Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948), Lev Shestov (1866–1938), and Vasily Rozanov (1856–1919). They all sought to justify matter, rejected rationalistic “external” morality, and saw this as the main task of the “new religious consciousness” confronted with the Nietzschean question. All of them had attempted to reconcile liberal individualism with the idea of the cosmic order and saw in this reconciliation a promise of the future apocalyptic victory of Russia, or at least of Russian philosophical thought.

However, the main themes of Soloviev’s Sophiology were developed with particular single-mindedness by Sergei Bulgakov (1871–1944) and Pavel Florensky (1882–1943?), both of whom were ordained as Russian Orthodox priests. In his major theological work, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters, Florensky follows Soloviev in understanding Sophia as the “all-integral creation.” She is the eternal bride of Logos, without which she loses her unity and disintegrates (or turns into Maya). Sophia continues to be associated with the Mother of God and the Church and is described as preexisting the world: Sophia signifies eternity—the immortality of the material world in its inner, ideal materiality. Certainly, Sophia continues to be understood as God’s creation. She exists, however, in an eternal relationship to God, so that the concept of creation itself alters its original meaning and becomes a relation between creator and creature that is no longer radically distinct from the relations between the hypostases of the divine Trinity (and since Florensky intimates that Russia should also be understood as Sophia, it too is effectively deified).

Florensky is aware of the dangers of heresy and seeks to avoid them by claiming that Sophia is not a fourth person of the Godhead but is nonetheless “admitted” to the Godhead as a fourth person by divine love and is linked to the other three persons of the Trinity in various ways; that is, Sophia effectively structures the Trinity. According to Florensky, it is this position of Sophia that guarantees eternal life for the material world. In all of this, Sophia is pointedly understood not as a concept but as a person, with whom a personal relationship is possible. These aspects of Florensky’s Sophiological doctrine were later elaborated into a new Sophiological theology by Sergei Bulgakov, above all during his exile in Paris in the 1930s and ’40s. This theology met with strong opposition from many Russian theologians, since at that time a clear turn away from the utopianism of the earlier years became a defining feature of post-revolutionary Russian émigré theology. To be sure, Bulgakov was not explicitly accused of heresy. His views, however, were not regarded as Orthodox but as derived from German mysticism—Jakob Böhme’s, for example—and German idealism.

Thus, the famous historian of Russian philosophy Zenkovsky writes that the entire Sophiological tradition of all-unity was essentially a failed attempt to find a third way between the Christian doctrine of creation on the one hand and pantheism and modern evolutionary theory on the other. The result, in his view, was fantastic, mythical systems, which are full of contradictions and as unacceptable to Orthodox faith as they are to science.

While discussions of Sophiology went on for decades in the Russian emigrant community—up to the time of the Second World War and even afterward—in the Soviet Union censorship made them impossible. But they were constantly referred to indirectly, a prime example being the literary theory of Mikhail Bakhtin, for whom the “polyphony of the novel” and the “novelistic quality of the world” are tantamount to their Sophiicity. In Bakhtin’s theories, all the traditional Sophiological themes are easily recognizable: the justification of matter and eternal life, harmony between the individual and the other from an apocalyptic perspective, etc. But the personal relationship with Sophia is almost entirely absent from his work.

Of particular interest, however, is the question of the relationship between Russian Sophiology and official Soviet dialectical materialism. The parallels are in fact quite evident. In dialectical materialism, matter (that is, the feminine principle) is posited as the highest and eternal principle, understood not as the objective dimension in the sense of empirical science but as an all-integrating principle to which the subject of knowledge and action is also subordinate (an aspect that was expressed in Soviet Marxism among other things as the subordination of historical materialism, that is, history, to dialectical materialism, that is, the cosmic life). Thus, for example, Lenin defines the bourgeois and the idealistic attitude as “one-sided” but the “materialist” attitude as inherently self-contradictory and alive, a formulation strongly reminiscent of the classical definitions of “sofiynost.” The fundamental law of the “materialist dialectic,” namely “the unity and struggle of opposites,” which takes the place of the Hegelian dialectic in Soviet Marxism, dehistoricizes and, as it were, cosmologizes Hegelian historicism."