Icon, Theotokos as Sophia, the Holy Wisdom, Kiev (1812)

Sophiology (Russian: Софиология, by detractors also called Sophianism Софианство or Sophism Софизм) is a controversial school of thought in Russian Orthodoxy which holds that Divine Wisdom (or Sophia) is to be identified with God's essence, and that the Divine Wisdom is in some way expressed in the world as 'creaturely' wisdom.[1] This notion has often been understood or misunderstood (depending upon one's point of view) as introducing a feminine "fourth hypostasis" into the Trinity.[2]



Main article: Holy Wisdom

Further information: Chokhmah § Hebrew Bible

Personified representations of Holy Wisdom (Ἁγία Σοφία) or the "Wisdom of God" refer in Orthodox theology to the person of Jesus Christ, as illustrated in the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II, 787): "Our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, the self-existent Wisdom of God the Father, Who manifested Himself in the flesh, and by His great and divine dispensation (lit. economy) freed us from the snares of idolatry, clothing Himself in our nature, restored it through the cooperation of the Spirit, Who shares His mind..."[3] More recently it has been stated that "From the most ancient times and onwards many Orthodox countries have been consecrating churches to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Wisdom of God."[4]


Sophiology has its roots in the early modern period, but as an explicit theological doctrine was first formulated during the 1890s to 1910s by Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900), Pavel Florensky (1882–1937) and Sergei Bulgakov (1871–1944).[5] For Bulgakov, the Theotokos St. Mary was the world soul and the “Pneumatophoric hypostasis”, a Bulgakov neologism.[6][further explanation needed]

Controversy within the Russian Orthodox Church

In 1935, parts of Sergei Bulgakov's doctrine of Sophia were condemned by the Patriarchate of Moscow[7] and the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.[8] Although Bulgakov was censured by these jurisdictions, a committee commissioned by Metropolitan Eulogius (Georgiyevsky) of Paris to critique Bulgakov's Sophiology found his system questionable, but not heretical, and issued no formal censure (save for a minority report written by two members of the committee, Georges Florovsky and Sergei Ivanovich Chetverikov).[9]

Alexis Klimoff summarized Georges Florovsky's principal objections to Sophiology as follows: "Sophiology diverges from traditional (patristic) Orthodox teaching on fundamental questions like creation; [it] falsely claims to be sanctified by historical precedent; [it] represents a retreat from the reality of a historical religion into the abstractions of speculative philosophy; [its] sources are not only non-patristic, but to a significant degree non-Orthodox (Protestant mysticism) and non-Christian (the occult)."[10]

Roman Catholic and feminist responses

Thomas Merton studied the Russian Sophiologists and praised Sophia in his poem titled "Hagia Sophia" (1963).[11] The Roman Catholic Valentin Tomberg in his magnum opus Meditations on the Tarot incorporated many Sophiological insights into his Christian Hermeticism, pairing the Holy Trinity (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) with the Trino-Sophia (Mother-Daughter-Holy Soul), which together he called “The Luminous Holy Trinity”. The book's 2020 Angelico Press edition includes an introduction written by Robert Spaemann, a favorite theologian of Pope Benedict XVI[citation needed], while its other editions feature an Afterword by Hans Urs von Balthasar. Pope John Paul II elevated von Balthasar to cardinal after having von Balthasar had endorsed this book and the pope himself photographed with Tomberg's book on his desk and said by Richard Payne, the original English publisher, to have kept a copy on his nightstand.[12][citation needed]

Johnson (1993) and Meehan (1996) noted parallels between the Russian "sophiological" controversy and the Gender of God debate in western feminist theology.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ Bulgakov, Sergius. "Sophia, the Wisdom of God". Bulgakoviana.
  2. ^ W. Goerdt in The Encyclodedia of Christianity (2008), p. 122.
  3. ^ "Internet History Sourcebooks Project". Sourcebooks.fordham.edu. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  4. ^ Sobolev, Archbishop Seraphim (1935) The New Teaching concerning Sophia the Wisdom of God. p. 121.
  5. ^ Philosophy of Economy («Философия хозяйства» 1912) and Unfading Light («Свет Невечерний» 1917).Bogatzky, Nikolay (2017). "A "gung-ho" approach towards Sophic Economy" (PDF). Economic Alternatives. Sofia: UNWE Publishing Complex (1): 160–86. ISSN 2367-9409..
  6. ^ The Mother of God in the Theology of Sergius Bulgakov: The Soul Of The World, by Walter Nunzio Sisto; Routledge; 1st edition (December 12, 2019)
  7. ^ "The teaching of Professor and Archpriest S.N. Bulgakov – which, by its peculiar and arbitrary (Sophian) interpretation, often distorts the dogmas of the Orthodox faith, which in some of its points directly repeats false teachings already condemned by conciliar decisions of the Church..." Moscow Patriarchate (1935) Decision No. 93
  8. ^ Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (1935) Decision of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad of the 17/30 October 1935 concerning the new teaching of Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov on Sophia, the Wisdom of God
  9. ^ "Georges Florovsky and the Sophiological controversy", ROCOR studies, 2017-04-26.
  10. ^ "On the Sophiological Controversy of the 1930s", ROCOR studies, 2017-03-25.
  11. ^ "Sophia". Liturgical Press. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  12. ^ Kokke, Freddy. "Pope John Paul II meditating on the Tarot". Academia.edu. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  13. ^ Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (1993)[page needed]
  14. ^ Meehan, Brenda, "Wisdom/Sophia, Russian identity, and Western feminist theology", Cross Currents, 46(2), 1996, pp. 149–68.