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Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev: An Argument for a Russian State Church

  • John D. Basil (a1)


In any overall assessment of the changing relationship between the church and the state in late imperial Russia it is important to include an account of the thought and activity of Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev. Although not a clergyman, he was probably the most visible of all Orthodox Church figures of the period, both in the empire and in Western Europe. As the emperor's Ober Procurator of the Most Holy Governing Synod, a post he occupied between 1880 and 1905, he was the perfectly placed official to represent the power of the Romanov government in church affairs and, in its turn, the will and needs of the church to the emperor and his chief councilors of state. Nor, in this case, was it merely the office that made the man. Pobedonostsev himself was a thoughtful and critical student of Western and Russian culture who used his authority in a way that fulfilled his own visions and not the whims of the tsar. He was not a Count Protasov, the loyal Ober Procurator of Nicholas I, and he insisted that the office of Ober Procurator stand equally in the high councils of the tsar along with all other government ministries. Finally, it must be added that Pobedonostsev revealed in his thought and in his public acts a consistent body of religious and political opinion that enjoyed a respectable following among the so-called conservatives of the educated classes, and he was known and admired in this company both for the views he espoused and for the enemies he made.



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1. Pobedonostsev has been the subject of a number of very good biographies, all of which have been helpful in my study. The best known of these books include: Byrnes, Robert F., Pobedonostsev: His Life and Thought, (Bloomington, Indiana, 1968);Giusti, Wolfo, L'ultimo controrivoluzionario russo: Konstantin Pobedonoscev (Rome, 1974);Simon, Gerhard, Konstantin Petrovic Pobedonoscev und die Kirchenpolitik des Heiligen Sinod (1880–1905) (Göttingen, 1969);and Sorenson, Thomas Calnan, The Thought and Policies of Konstantin P. Pobedonostsev (Ann Arbor, 1977). None of these works, however, consider in depth Pobedonostsev's defense of a state church.

2. Pobedonostsev, Konstantin Petrovich, in Pis'ma Pobedonostseva k Aleksandru III, ed. Pokrovskii, M. N., (Moscow, 1925), 1:4851, 55.Giusti, , pp. 42 43, and Byrnes, p. 265. One reason why Pobedonostsev remained aloof toward the Panslavs was due to his alarm about their spontaneity in public affairs.

3. Kuznetsov, N. D., Preobrazovanüa v russkoi tserkvi: razsmotrenie voprosa po ofitsial'nym dokumentam i v sviazi c potrebnostiami zhizni (Moscow, 1906), p. 39.

4. Simon, pp. 29 31, andAdams, Arthur E., “Pobedonostsev's Religious Politics,” Church History 22 (12. 1953): 325.Pokrovsky's account was typical of Soviet work on Pobedonostsev. He wrote that Pobedonostsev represented politicized Orthodoxy, the force that burned Avvakum at the stake in the seventeenth century, jailed clerical opposition to the government during the reforms of the eighteenth century, and badgered Vladimir Soloviev in the nineteenth century.See Pis'ma l:viii, x. Pokrovsky's colorful imagination presented the reader with a one-sided view of the Ober Procurator and of official Orthodoxy. Moreover, his assertion that Pobedonostsev used religion to advance his own career is simply not supported by the evidence.

5. A typical example of Pobedonostsev's standards of quality for clergymen can be found in Pis'ma 1:348, and 2:300.

6. Pobedonostsev, , Moskovskü sbornik (Moscow, 1896), p. 225.

7. Ibid., p. 219.

8. Ibid., pp. 211,212.

9. Ibid., p. 207, 208; Pis'ma 1:29.

10. Masaryk also recognized the limits of Pobedonostsev's nationalism and populism. See Masaryk, Thomas Garrigue, The Spirit of Russia, 3 vols., trans. Eden, and Paul, Cedar (London, 1955), 2:201.

11. Pobiedonostseff, Constantin, “Russia and Popular Education,” The North American Review 173 (09. 1901): 350. “It is impossible to judge Russia, according to the criterion yielded by another race,” Pobedonostsev stated in his criticism of Peter Kropotkin.

12. Pobedonostsev, , K. P.Pobedonostsev i ego korrespondenty, pis'ma i zapiski, ed. Pokrovskii, M. N., (Moscow, 1924), 1:485.The reader may also wish to consult Sorenson's interesting discussion of Pobedonostsev's “O reformakh v grazhdanskom sudoproizvodstve,” which was originally published in Russkü vestnik 21 (1859): 541580, and 22 (1860): 534, 153–190. Sorenson, pp. 57–64, Giusti, pp. 57–62, and Simon, p. 25.

13. Florovsky's, Georges essay on Pobedonostsev was severely critical of the Ober Procurator on this point. See Puti russkago bogoslovüa (Paris, 1937), pp. 410424.

14. It is possible that Pobedonostsev carried some of the influences of what Treadgold, Donald W. called the Pietist Revolution, the religion of sentimentalism and mysticism that swept through the Russian ruling circles during the reign of Alexander I. See Treadgold, The West in Russia and China: Religious and Secular Thought in Modern Times, Vol. 1 of Russia, 1472–1917, (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 140145.

15. Sorenson, , pp. 240–242.

16. Pobedonostsev, , Moskovskü, pp. 175–182. One can readily see in Pobedonostsev's little collection of essays on education that his emphasis in school matters was placed on children's good behavior, as though the training of a disciplined intellect and good character were somehow unrelated.See Uchen'e i uchitel': pedagogicheskiia zametki (Moscow, 1900).

17. Rozanov, V., “Skepticheskii um,” in Okolo tserkovnykh sten, 2 vols., (St. Petersburg, 1906; rept. Westmead, UK, 1972), 1:243–251.

18. Pobedonostsev, , Russkü arkhiv, (Moscow, 1915), p. 369. See also a letter written 30 July 1884 by Pobedonostsev to Nikanor, then bishop of Kherson and Odessa, in Simon, p. 68.

19. Pobedonostsev, , “Iz chernovykh bumag K. P. Pobedonostseva,” Krasnyi arkhiv, (Moscow, 1926), p. 205.

20. Pobedonostsev, , Kurs grazhdanskago prava (St. Petersburg, 1896), 2:9799.Some of his criticism of Orthodox leadership without tsarist support can be found in A. P., Istoricheskaia perepiska o sud'bakh pravoslavnoi tserkvi (Moscow, 1912), pp. 3235.

21. Pobedonostsev, , Moskovskii, pp. 10, 22–23.

22. Byrnes, Robert F., “ ‘Between Two Fires’;: Kliuchevskii on Religion and the Russian Orthodox Church,” Modern Greek Studies Yearbook, ed. Stavrou, Theofanis G. (Minneapolis, 1990), 6:160.

23. Pobedonostsev, , Moskovskii, p. 15, and Giusti, p. 63.

24. Pobedonostsev, , Moskovskii, p. 23.

25. Pobedonostsev, , Pis'ma, 1:67.

26. Ibid., 1:113., for example.

27. Ibid., 1:355–356, and Sorenson, pp. 258–259.

28. Pobedonostsev, , Pis'ma, 1:67.

29. Pobedonostsev, , Istoricheskaia, p. 32.

30. Byrnes, , p. 290, relates this incident, but uses it in a quite different context; see also Pobedonostsev, Pis'ma, 1:4–5.

31. Pobedonostsev, , Pis'ma, 1:23. Pobedonostsev opposed the government's Parish Reform Act of 1869 on these same grounds. See Simon, p. 107.

32. In his discussion of this issue, Sorenson found secular, “modern” roots at the base of Pobedonostsev's criticism of democracy, and he was correct to the extent that the Ober Procurator obviously read and fully agreed with the hypotheses put forth in many political tracts attacking Western government.Pobedonostsev's reliance on his own religious standards, however, runs throughout almost all his essays, and this style is evident in Pobedonostsev, , Voprosy zhizni (Moscow, 1904), esp. pp. 3132, 44–45,50–51. See also Sorenson, pp. 221–225.

33. Markov, V. S., K istorii raskola staroobriadchestva vloroi poloviny XIX stoletiia: perepiska prof. N. I. Subbotina preimushchestvenno neiezdanniia kak material dlia istorii raskola i otnoshenii k nemu pravitel'stva (1865–1904 gg.), in Chteniia v imperatorskom obshchestve istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh pri rnoskovskom universitete—1915 (Moscow, 1915), pp. 191194, 261, 590, 662–663.

34. Pobedonostsev, , Kurs, 2:72–82.

35. Pobedonostsev, , Istoricheskaia, pp. 44–45.

36. Vitte, Sergei Iul'evich, The Memoirs of Count Witte, ed. and trans. Harcave, Sidney, (London, 1990), 1:302.

37. Pobedonostsev, , Kurs, 1:23.

38. See, for example, Pobedonostsev, , Prazdniki gospodni (Moscow, 1905), pp. 34, 22, 25.

39. See, for example, Pobedonostsev, , Pis'ma, 1:64–65.

40. Basil, John D., “Alexander Kireev: Turn-of-the-Century Slavophile and the Russian Orthodox Church, 1890–1910,” Cahiers du Monde russe et sovietique 32 (July-September 1991): 337348.


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