Monday, February 16, 2009

Egoism's Immense Vigor

Self-love is the father of all deceit, its cunning sophistries beguile our understanding and lead to two disasters: it weakens man’s will in the fight with temptation, and it hands over his soul in advance to all kinds of iniquity. The unscrupulous selfish man does not merely spoil himself morally by committing such and such sins from time to time: he is completely deprived of stability and moral behavior and his whole life is one long sin; he is inevitably unjust in his dealings with others and his personal desires are endless. There is a vitality of immense vigor in all of us, and if it be captured by egoism there is no satisfying it. Disappointment of inordinate wants begets resentment, whose impotent anger leads to discouragement and discouragement to despair – the logical end of an over-ruling self-love is madness or suicide; and those suffering from this moral sickness who stop short of such an end should thank the mercy of God and the prayers of their friends.
Here is Solovyev on the connection between the practical duties of religious life and the three "theological" virtues:
Prayer, alms-deeds and fasting are the three fundamental works of individual religious life, the corner-stones of personal religion. He who neither prays to God nor helps his fellows nor subdues his appetites is not a religious man, even though he may have thought, talked and written about religious subjects all his life. These three things are so closely connected that no one of them has efficacy without the other two. If prayer does not lead to alms-giving and self-denial it is bad and useless, vitiated by partiality and self-esteem, it is not prayer at all; alms which are not a fruit of prayer and joined to temperance are an expression of weakness of character rather than of love, sincere alms-giving is the highest justice and must lean upon heavenly grace; fasting undertaken from vanity or from egoism, as an exercise in self-control, may give strength but it is not strength for goodness, and fasting without generosity (even though prayer be joined to it) is the sacrifice of which it is said, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice." It is the union of all three activities that enables divine grace to be effective, and that grace does not stop at joining us with God in prayer, it assimilates us, in charity and in temperance, to the all-merciful and all-sufficient Godhead.

The three basic religious works are also fundamental duties. We are bound to do only so much as we are able, and it is beyond man's powers to unite himself with the Godhead completely, to save mankind, or to redeem the whole of nature: therefore religion does not tell each one of us personally to do these things. But it is in our power to pray to God, to help those we know to be in trouble, and to fashion our own nature by temperance – and those are the personal duties of every man and woman.

In the discharge of these religious obligations are objectified the three God-regarding virtues: Prayer to God in faith; well-doing towards men in love; control of natural appetite in hope of the coming resurrection.
Solovyev's book is the finest modern apologetic for Christianity I've ever encountered. Highly recommended.


Anonymous said...


Wonderful quotation. This, along with your comments, strongly recommend this work. However,- and this may not be the place to address it, and if so, forgive me- as I know little about the development of Solovyov's philosophy, I wonder: was this work written prior to his 'Sophianic' speculations, or, might one say that Solovyov retained an Orthodox perspective on many things throughout his life and writings? I guess my question really boils down to how one should evaluate Solovyov from an Orthodox standpoint: as well as which of his works adhere more closely to the Church's teachings, and in which are there obvious deviations (if the line can indeed be drawn this strictly.) And lastly: all questions of 'heresy' or personal opinion aside, did Solovyov repose in the peace of the Church? If these questions are a burden, or this is not the venue, I would happily pursue this research privately; but perhaps, in this case, you might offer some pointers?

Felix Culpa said...

I'm afraid that I simply don't know enough to answer your questions fully. According to the translator's preface, the work in question was written in 1882-1884, which would make it one of his earlier works. When he began his preoccuption with the idea of Sophia I simply don't know. Perhaps another reader could fill us in. But there is certainly nothing about Sophia in this book.

From a strictly Orthodox point of view, there is good reason to hold much of Solovyov's work in suspicion. There is the issue of his Sophiology, as well as his strong attraction towards the Papacy. He is also largely the fountainhead of what might be called the "liberal" tradition of Russian religious philosophy.

That said, there are unimpeachably Orthodox authorities who have recommended various of his works. St John of Shanghai and San Francisco (and Fr Seraphim Rose after him) spoke very highly of Solovyov's "Tale of the Antichrist" (which can be found online in English translation). Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic), a disciple of Fr Justin (Popovic) said the following (which you can read in my post from Jan 28, 2008):

"Remember Soloviev's 'Three Conversations'? Read them: it's the most intelligent thing he wrote; but Soloviev wrote many stupid things, many of them: 'The Roman Empire and the Pope,' 'The Universal Church,' and so on. But the 'Three Conversations' is his best. Read them, I won't repeat it."

Fr Georges Florovsky was also a great admirer, and has left a number of essays about Solovyov's philosophy.

So, in the case of Solovyov, I think a great deal can be gotten from his works if one reads them selectively. No one would deny that he was a genius. Like many geniuses, when he was good, he was very, very good; but when he was bad, he was awful!

The slip-cover of "God, Man and the Church" claims that Solovyov was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1896. The Wikipedia article on him (linked to in my post) says this: "The rumor that Solovyov converted to Roman Catholicism has been discarded as inaccurate by scholars." I am quite certainly that he died in communion with the Orthodox Church; certainly there was no scandal like that which arose around Tolstoy.