In 1453, Orthodox Christianity experienced not only the fall of Constantinople, but the beginning of the hibernation of a once-vibrant intellectual tradition: for nearly 400 years, most of the Orthodox world would suffer under Ottoman oppression. In the nineteenth century, the Orthodox Christian intellectual tradition would awaken from its slumber when Russian thinkers would begin responding to the flood of modern ideas and philosophies being imported from the West as a result of the reforms of Tsar Peter the Great. What is remarkable about this theological awakening is its consistency with the Byzantine intellectual tradition silenced by the Ottomans, most especially on the principle of divine–human communion as the core of Orthodox thought. Contemporary Orthodox theologians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would share a consensus that divine–human communion constitutes the very heart of Orthodox theology – it is where all theology thinking must begin and end. In addition to this consensus, the doctrine of the Trinity was considered, again in continuity with the Byzantine intellectual tradition, indispensable for conceptualizing the God–world relation in terms of divine–human communion. These points of agreement, however, did not preclude the development of three distinctive and, in part, mutually incompatible trajectories in contemporary Orthodox trinitarian theology. In this chapter, I will offer an analysis of the three most influential: the sophiology of Sergius Bulgakov, the apophaticism of Vladimir Lossky, and the communion ontology of John Zizioulas.
After centuries of neglect, Christian theologians renewed their attention to the doctrine of the Trinity in the latter half of the twentieth century. This revival of interest in the Trinity was not restricted simply to an understanding of God; perhaps for the first time in the history of Christian thought, Christian theologians were claiming that the affirmation that God is Trinity has radical implications for theological anthropology, i.e., for thinking about what it means to be human. Christian thinkers, of course, had always linked the understanding of being human to the being of God, but only in the twentieth century was the more explicit claim made that, since God's being is persons in communion, then human 'personhood' must be defined in terms of relationality and communion. In other words, humans are truly persons when they image the loving, perichoretic communion of the persons of the Trinity.
Orthodox theology in the twentieth century was very much a part of this revival and its influence is noticeable both in the theologies of the Trinity and in the attempt to relate the doctrine of the Trinity to theological anthropology. The Russian Sophiologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the first to forge the link between Trinity and personhood. Beginning with Vladimir Soloviev, the father of Russian Sophiology, Russian sophiological understandings of person can be interpreted as applying a trinitarian corrective to the German idealist philosophy of the transcendental ego. The Russian Sophiologists, especially Pavel Florensky and Sergius Bulgakov, identified the ‘person’ with the absolute freedom and irreducibility of the transcendental ego that philosophy discovers through an analysis of self-consciousness.
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