THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
AND THE DIVINE SOPHIA
IN THE WRITINGS OF VLADIMIR SOLOVIEV
« TO recover the great cosmic mysticism of a Saint Irenaeus in modern times », wrote our Father in 1978 in the concluding part of his “ Mystical aesthetics ”, « we must seek out a little known thinker in far-off Russia: Vladimir Soloviev. If his immense, powerful work had been better received and appreciated in the West, we would have avoided yesterday’s infantile and sterile craze for the impious fantasies of Teilhard de Chardin, and today’s for the gnosis of Princeton scientists or of Mr Brzezinski », a member of the Trilateral and a friend of Karol Wojtyla, the father of the one-world chimeras that so terrify the minds of our times (English CRC n° 114, September 1979, p. 7-8).
« Soloviev’s wisdom is above all a supernatural wisdom inspired by the Incarnation of the Word and faithfully developed in accordance with all the wonderfully extended new dimensions given to our world and its history by the modern sciences. Clearly the attempt to recount God’s alliance, both old and new, with man and the progressive formation of their mysterious divino-human “ theandric ” union has something a little inordinate about it, and on many points Soloviev’s thinking remains, on this account, highly debatable. Even so, the effort is truly gigantic and noble, and by and large the work resulting from it is powerfully true. »
This inspired labour finds its origin in the contemplation of the Wisdom of God at work in the world and history, creating a mysterious harmony or beauty which the Russian Philosopher calls the Soul of the world or Sophia, Wisdom. « Like Saint Irenaeus, Soloviev fled from all gnoses, daydreams of mystical or scientific appearance, to embrace as the object of his knowledge the real and the real alone. And to this he applied all the insights and power of his mind, as well as the light of faith, reason and experience. He gave heed to “ the twofold voice of experience and reason ” (Charles Maurras) but also to the indissolubly united voices of the Holy Spirit and the Church. He agrees to study the mystical facts. – “ The problem is to know whether the phenomenon existed or not, whether it was actually experienced by a subject, and whether, yes or no, it was a fact. ” – He receives Christian revelation as a sovereign light. Accepting, unifying all, this knowledge becomes a divino-human wisdom which he terms Theosophy. »
From this contemplation there flows for him a whole theoretical and practical science, a moral and political doctrine which are but the functioning of that Wisdom so ardently contemplated and loved. In this respect we may treat him as our teacher. The teaching of the 150 Points of the Phalange results from the same mystical vision – our Father likes to call it “ orthodromic ” – of universal history, « whence derives for each one of us the Christian courage to engage in the political struggle or, as Saint Frances de Sales says, the ecstasy of work and life which is the truest and happiest state of Catholic perfection. »
« Faced with the double error of a mystical East that has left politics entirely to the Emperors only to find itself conducted to the Gulag, and of a West that is so passionate about politics that it has made it the whole of its life, secularising society and asphyxiating souls with its secular science and infatuations, it was necessary to recover a proper appreciation of integral historical human reality. » This is what Soloviev did in his time, and today our Father gathers together for us its essential and delectable fruit.
THE INTUITION OF BEAUTY
By making the divine Sophia his “ eternal companion ”, Soloviev follows « the biblical, patristic and subsequently Franciscan line of that mystical aesthetics which is the supreme fruit of our tradition of Catholic holiness. There exists an absolutely stupefying universal beauty which draws the soul into a happy, sure, wise and obedient contemplation, whence it draws treasures of wisdom, riches both old and new (Mt 13.52), by means of which the soul readily submits, with greater facility and holiness, its all too finite reason and fragmented will to the sovereign wisdom of God, even in the political order.
« It is the beauty of the world that is man’s lovable teacher and inspiration, and especially so since the time of Christ. Soloviev calls her by some marvellous names: Sophia, Wisdom or Soul of the world, going back to the biblical and Greek sources of mystical aesthetics. Equidistant between pantheistic monism and materialist scientism, he sees God in the world but not confounded with the world. God cannot be very far from a universe which He has created, which He continually holds in being and guides in its progress. On the contrary, He draws near to it, He comes down to it, He becomes incarnate, He make Himself its active centre in order to take it to Himself as His body and His raiment and His dwelling. He enters into all things in order to restore and reunite them to Himself. The vocation of all flesh is to enter into this game of Love, to let oneself be united with it and to bring forth from it fruits of light and life. » (English CRC n° 115, October 1979, p. 4)
A French Catholic poetess has magnificently sung of this “ game of Love ” in a marvellous poem which we rediscovered this summer at the Phalange camp: Adam and Eve.
« From God poured forth Love, setting the world in motion
In times past. From God overflowing with eager joy
To the flower spreading on the wind the balm of its heart,
Love led a dance through both Heaven and earth:
“ Take, eat... ” The bread went round. Young love’s game
Thrust the fare on one being after another.
From being to being it passed, returning to the source of God
To be refreshed and to issue forth anew. »
AT THE NAME OF SAINT SOPHIA!
In his quest for the eternal Wisdom, Soloviev inherited a tradition dear to the Russian people. In his work Saint Vladimir and the Christian State he relates the following incident:
« Princess Olga, baptised at Constantinople around 950, continually exhorted her son Sviatoslav (Vladimir’s father) to follow her example, telling him: “ My son, I have come to know wisdom and my soul rejoices therein. If you knew her, you would rejoice too. ” But the fierce warrior refused to listen... It was Olga’s grandson, Vladimir, who came to know wisdom when he became a convert. In 988, the Prince’s emissaries, having taken part in the liturgy in the Basilica of Saint Sophia in Constantinople, reported to their master: « It was a spectacle of such beauty that clearly it is there that God dwells amongst men. We no longer knew whether we were in Heaven or on earth. » Vladimir, whom Russian tradition calls “ the Baptist ”, raised a temple at Kiev in honour of the Blessed Mother of God, leaving to his son, Iaroslav “ the Wise ”, the care of building another in honour of Saint Sophia.
At the same time, it was from Novgorod, the capital of the lands of the North, that veneration for Saint Sophia spread with great fervour. An initial wooden church dedicated to Sophia and erected in 989 was replaced in the middle of the 11th century with the current cathedral in stone, legendary for its thirteen golden cupolas, which became the model for every other sacred building in the Slav world (including Saint Mark’s in Venice). « Among the saints of Novgorod one finds the same spirit: among holy princes such as Saint Alexander Nevsky (1220-1263), defenders of the Russian land, ready to die “ in the name of Saint Sophia ”, as was the war cry of the Novgorod troops, among bishops (of whom twenty-three were canonised), and among monks, founders of monasteries, men devoted to prayer and asceticism, but also devoted to the work of evangelization and the spreading of Christian civilization, drawn onwards by the vast and inhospitable regions of the North. » (Engelina Smirnova, The icons of Novgorod, Russia Christiana, 1997, p. 1)
Until the 14th century Novgorod was the religious and artistic centre of North Russia. Its palladium was the icon of “ the Mother of God of the Sign ”, who was established as the guardian of Saint Sophia from the time of the miracle of 1170. When the city was besieged by cruel enemies, Archbishop John, whilst at prayer, heard a voice ordering him to him to take the icon of the Mother of God from the church and to raise it like a standard against his enemies. Under the arrows which struck it « like a heavy rain », the archbishop saw the Virgin’s eyes weeping tears. « And the Lord was enraged against their enemies and He surrounded them in darkness, so that they started to fight and kill each other. »
Now, the Virgin of the miraculous icon was represented as the “ Seat of Wisdom ”, carrying Her Child, the creative Word of God, as a medallion on Her breast and, « raising Her arms in a gesture of prayer, She traces the perfect shape of a chalice in which Christ offers Himself in sacrifice to save mankind. It is therefore the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption that appears first, and which Wisdom completes through the living temple of the Virgin » (Smirnova, ibid., p. 10).
One could multiply proofs of the astonishing veneration of the Russian people for the divine “ Sophia ” all down the centuries. One can imagine the personal joy of a Soloviev in thus embracing the faith of his fathers. He writes: « Christian truth, under its definitive aspect of a total concrete incarnation of the Divinity, has had a particular attraction for the religious soul of the Russian people from the very first moment of its conversion to Christianity. By dedicating its most ancient temples to Saint Sophia, the substantial Wisdom of God, it gave this idea a new expression unknown to the Greeks (who identified Sophia with the Logos). Whilst closely associating Saint Sophia with both the Mother of God and with Jesus Christ, the religious art of our ancestors clearly distinguished it from both one and the other, by representing it under the features of a particular divine being. » (Russia and the Church Universal, quoted by Mgr Rupp, Le message ecclésial de Soloviev, p. 338)
It was undoubtedly under the inspiration of this heavenly Wisdom that the Russian soul was fashioned, « comprising an evangelical radicalism », writes the Abbé de Nantes, « a violent sense of sin and an equally ardent impulse towards holiness; and its obsessive desire for purification and transfiguration would even take the form of a passion for universal and even cosmic redemption » (English CRC n° 184, December 1982, p. 23)
« COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO DESIRE ME » (ECCL 24.19)
This attraction for eternal Wisdom is not completely foreign to our Western mysticism. John Gerson for example (1363-1429), the Chancellor of the University of Paris, was favoured in his youth with a wonderfully beautiful vision of Wisdom who said to him, « I am the daughter of God, the queen, spouse, guardian and friend of all good men. I am She who, by my presence, drives out all evil and brings every blessing... » (quoted in the French CRC n° 292, p. 5)
Or else take our great Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, sighing day and night after divine Wisdom, his adorable sovereign Mistress, accepting everything that was madness in the eyes of the world in order that she might deign to come and live with him: « Let people calumniate me, scoff at me, tear my reputation to shreds or even throw me into prison! How precious these gifts are, how dainty this dish, how charming this glory! These are the concomitants and the necessary effects of divine Wisdom, which she introduces into the homes of those with whom she wishes to live. Oh! when will I possess this adorable, this little known Wisdom? » (Letter n° 16 to Marie-Louise Trichet) He would possess it from the day he consecrated himself as the slave of the divine Mary, that blessed magnet who attracts those who love her, the eternal Wisdom.
Our Father writes : « Soloviev always spoke about Sophia, the Soul of the world, as though she were a mysterious Person, friendly and close. It appears that often, and more and more frequently, he preferred to speak of the meaning of the world and this expression reassures traditional theologians about his orthodoxy. But the second term is not as good as the first, for a meaning is an idea assimilated by our mind and reduced to some abstract measure. Thus the meaning of the world expresses a well known philosophical theme and falls under the domain of science of which Gabriel Marcel said, “ The inventoriable is the place of despair. ” And gone is all wonder and mystery. » (French CRC n° 133, p. 7)
Vassili Vieliczko relates the following anecdote in his memoirs of Soloviev, whose companion and confidant he became towards the end of his life:
« I remember how we once walked through the woods from Imatra to Raukh, where he was staying during the winter of 1895. Through the branches of the magnificent birches and firs the moon shone limpidly. The snow had a blue glint about it and sparkled like a million diamonds. Swarms of blue tits and bullfinches fluttered about and chirped as though it were spring; the air was literally steeped in scent. We were dumbstruck, like men intoxicated. Quite involuntarily I cried out, “ Do you see God? ” Vladimir Soloviev, as though he were in a dream, as though a vision right next to him had actually touched his soul, answered, “ I see a goddess, the Soul of the world, anxious to be united with the one God. ” »
« The poetic fiction, the enchanting myth is heavy with mystery », comments our Father, « and the beauty clearly belongs to that kind of boundless reality whose complete meaning evades us and throws us into ecstasy. Here, however, – and this is something that remains totally alien to our contemporary Western mode of thinking! – the aesthetic experience forms the basis of a mystical theology. The beauty of the world appears to Soloviev as a living figure, a real existence, changing and yet immortal. He sees her and takes her to be the queen of his spiritual universe under her venerable name of Saint Sophia. »
At the end of his life in 1898, Soloviev celebrated the Three Encounters he had had with this Beauty who for him was Wisdom. « Three times in his life he had been overwhelmed by the radiant visit of Wisdom who appeared to him in the form of an absolutely heavenly female being, dazzling him and enlightening him profoundly. Not without reason certain authors think that all his religious and even philosophical work derives from this illumination. » (Mgr Rupp, p. 340) The simple living character of this autobiographical poem, the style of which is often uneven and full of amusing details, excludes any esotericism. In it the Philosopher reveals a « candid and truly holy soul » (Mgr Strossmayer). The quotations we reproduce are taken from the book written by his nephew, Sergius M Soloviev (SOS, 1981), and translated from the Russian by Mgr Rupp [whence this English retranslation]:
« Without telling thy name, Eternal Friend...
Hast thou not thrice enlightened my eyes,
In reality and not due to a trick of the mind,
When, to my call, thy image responded,
comforting, forewarning, rewarding me. »
The first of these visions took place in 1862, in a Moscow church. The child is nine years old. He is pious. His sensitive heart has become attached to a young girl who soon forsakes him for another. This causes him deep suffering. The day of the Ascension arrives:
« My soul seethed from the ardour of love.
“ Let us leave ”, sang the choir, “ the cares of this world. ”
And the chant faded away, expired and died.
But a great door opens... Where have the clergy gone?
And the congregation plunged in ardent prayer?
Then the flood of my torments was dried up for ever.
Blue sky was all around me, blue sky in my soul.
Dressed in celestial blue and gold, tenderly transpierced,
And holding in thy hands a flower from on high,
Thou didst appear to me full of brightness and smiles,
Made me a gesture and disappeared into the blue incense.
My infantile loves drifted far away,
My heart became blind to the things of this earth,
And my German nanny said with sadness:
“ Ah! how very stupid Volodia has become. ” »
« This inaugural vision », writes Mgr Rupp, « was particularly indicative of Soloviev’s vocation, for in his eyes it replaced the image of a woman of this world with that of a feminine being from heaven. » The impression made by this mysterious vision stayed with the child for a long time. His family were disturbed by it, especially his governess (the “ German nanny ”).
Under the effect of scientistic rationalism which wreaked havoc among Moscow’s young students, the young Soloviev lost his faith around the age of thirteen. These were years of a « terrible void », he recounts, « an absolute inner void, a twilight, a living death. Everything that abstract reason can offer was tested and found to be worthless, and even reason itself demonstrated its rational insufficiency. But this twilight was the beginning of the light, for when a man is obliged to say: I am nothing, then in that very act he is saying: God is everything. » (quoted by Strémooukhoff, Vladimir Soloviev and his Messianic Work, p. 23)
At the time of his conversion, in 1872, an event occurred which, despite its ineffectual beginning, left a profound trace on Soloviev’s inner life. While he was travelling by train, he lost consciousness as he crossed from one carriage to another. Fortunately a woman passenger with whom he had struck up a conversation was just in time to catch him, saving him from a fatal fall. When he came round, he saw the image of a transfigured woman bending over him. « My whole being, with all its thoughts, all its feelings, all its aspirations, melted into an infinitely sweet, luminous and impassive sensation. In this sensation, as in a limpid mirror, was immutably reflected a most wondrous image, and I felt and I knew that everything was in her. I felt a boundless new love which absorbed everything, and in her for the first time I had a sense of the fullness of life and its meaning. It was this that I tried to make the young woman understand, explaining to her that “ in man there is God, that there is goodness and true joy in life, and that its purpose is not the cold negation of death ”. ». (Strémooukhoff, p. 24)
His return to the faith was accompanied by a burning desire to see her again, « She who will always be the mistress of my soul ». In 1875, sent to London by the University of Moscow on a study assignment at the British Museum, he can think of nothing but “ Her ” and he calls upon her:
« On one occasion – it was already autumn – I said to her: “ Full Flowering of the Divine,
I sense that thou art close to me; why hast thou not
Shown me thy luminous image as formerly? ”
Hardly had I uttered the words in my heart
Than everything was inundated with a flood of golden azure
And before me, resplendent, she appeared.
But this time nothing more than her face alone.
And yet this fleeting flash was a long moment of joy.
My soul again became blind to the earth... »
Who was this Unknown who ravished his heart and his mind, but whom he was resolved not to name? A poem written around the time of this second encounter lifts the veil on this mystery a little:
« My queen has a lofty palace
Which has seven gold columns... »
There can be no doubt, it is clearly Sophia tou théou of the Book of Proverbs who seemed to be calling him to her feast (Pr 9.1-6). But the young man was not satisfied to have seen only the face of her whom he had chosen as his « spouse ». He wanted her to appear to him in her entirety. « Depart for Egypt », an interior voice told him. Let us pass over the rocambolesque circumstances of the odyssey he undertook. Having arrived in Cairo, the same voice told him to go into the desert. There one night, having been taken prisoner by the Bedouins, exposed to the jackals and pale with cold, he finally sees her again as dawn breaks:
« In the reddish purple of the glowing sky...
Thou didst look upon me, and thy glance shone as
The gleams of universal creation on the very first day.
I embraced everything with a single motionless glance,
All that has been and all that will be...
Around me were blue seas and rivers,
Woods and snow-covered mountain summits.
I beheld everything, and everything was
A unique person of feminine beauty,
In whom infinity resided.
Before me and in me there was nought but Thee.
O Resplendent One! In Thee there is no deception
And in this desert I beheld Thee at full length.
In my soul, these flowers will never fade,
Wherever I am carried by the torrents of life.
It is over in an instant! The vision disappears,
The sphere of the sun rises above the horizon,
The desert remains silent, and my soul prays
While the Angelus resounds for always. »
On his return to Cairo, a Russian general made fun of his adventure, but Soloviev was careful to keep his secret:
« Then he jested loudly. But already before me
The radiant gold cloud was turning blue
And, completely overawed by the secret beauty,
Far from me departed the ocean of life.
Whilst still in thrall to this world of vanity
Under its truly rough bark of reality,
I thus touched the incorruptible purple
And the splendour of the Divinity.
Triumphing in advance over sombre death,
For the dream had freed me from time,
Silent concerning thy name, Eternal Friend,
Pardon me for these unsteady verses. »
A BIBLICAL VISION
Our Father gave a warning to his readers likely to be put off by such an account on first reading:
« What I am going to say next will perhaps surprise my reader. Nothing is more biblical than this vision, and I am surprised at the surprise of theologians and their impatient criticisms. This Sophia was already well known, hymned and even boldly adored by the scribes of the Old Testament under this identical name of Wisdom. Far from being “ pantheist ”, this idea, this vision touches the very essence of created beings, and is clearly poles apart from the Platonic Idea and far more profound than Aristotle’s Substance; it lies at the inner core of being, there where nothing exists but its relation to God, the term of an infinite will and wisdom, there where it forms a pure reflection, a fragment of the image of God’s beauty... The Old Testament sings of this ubiquitous Wisdom as the artisan of universal order and harmony, the inspiration and higher companion of man in all his ways.
« It would be out of place to criticise Soloviev for the confusions which the Book of Ecclesiasticus has deliberately canonised under divine inspiration, contemplating wisdom on all its levels as an emanation from God! Recall these sumptuous texts so often proposed to our meditation by the liturgy, especially on the feasts of the Virgin:
« All wisdom is from the Lord...
Before all other things, she was created.
To whom have the roots of wisdom ever been revealed?
Who knows her sources?
One only is wise, terrible indeed,
When he sits on his throne: the Lord.
It is he who created, looked on and weighed her,
And poured her out on all his works. » (Eccl 1)
The Book of Proverbs goes one step further and has no hesitation in allowing this Wisdom to speak:
« From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before the earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside,
or the first grains of the world’s dust.
When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there... » (Prov 8)
Finally, the whole Book of Wisdom presents us with the same vision, worthy of our unbounded enthusiasm (chapter 7):
« She is a reflection of the eternal light,
untarnished mirror of God’s active power,
image of his goodness.
Although alone, she can do all;
herself unchanging, she makes all things new.
In each generation she passes into holy souls,
she makes them friends of God and prophets;
for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom.
She is indeed more splendid than the sun,
she outshines all the constellations;
compared with light, she takes first place,
for light must yield to night,
but over Wisdom evil can never triumph. »
Our Father serenely concluded « in the full accessibility of this Sophia, created from the very first day as the light of the world, its life, its beauty, without which nothing would subsist and which, everywhere present, reigns over all. We are certain now that this created beauty must be the first object of our contemplation, both aesthetic and mystical. It is clearly this beauty that appeared to Soloviev under a feminine form, tender and gentle. That should not come as any particular surprise to us, even though there is a mystery here which we must strive to elucidate. » (English CRC n° 116, p. 7-8)
« LIKE A MOTHER, A VIRGIN BRIDE »
As for Soloviev, he would never cease contemplating the eyes of his “ Elect ”. « She comes to meet him like a mother, and receives him like a virgin bride. » (Eccl 15.2) In the same year as his third encounter, he expresses his new “ faith ” in an inspired but somewhat obscure work: Sophia. principles of universal religion (written in French, this manuscript would not be published until 1981: La Sophia et les autres écrits français de Soloviev, L’Âge d’Homme). The presentation of its fundamental intuition, in the form of a dialogue between Sophia and the Philosopher, is a sort of frontispiece to his whole work, which he viewed as « mystico-theosophico-philosophico-theurgico-political (!) », as he writes in a letter to his mother. He expounds it magisterially the following year in The Philosophical Principles of an Integral Knowledge (1877), then in his famous Lectures on Godmanhood (1878). This was the time when he was at his most dazzling, intellectually and religiously. He was twenty-five.
Is it possible to summarise in a few words the thinking of the « greatest Christian genius of the nineteenth century »? Our Father is clearly best placed to do it, even on the admission of Mgr Rupp who, on presenting him his book, accompanied it with this dedication: « To the Abbé Georges de Nantes, whom I have known for so long and who understood Soloviev so remarkably well, better indeed than myself. » We are therefore in a good school.
« Between the living God and His creature, from the very first moment, there exist, in Soloviev’s mystical perspective, relations far richer than the sober chain of causality affirmed by reason. Even in its most rudimentary state, matter has a certain resemblance to God, a certain beauty, a certain love, and for this reason it tends towards Him with all its instinctive capacity to be something greater, or as Saint Thomas said, “ with all its obediential potency ”.
« And at once we are furnished with the key to the universal theandric mystery: there is a twofold pull towards the Incarnation. The divine principle wishes to divinise the creature, to procure its theosis, and the soul of the world tends towards this same end. But there is a difference: “ The soul of the world as a passive force, as pure tendency, knows not whither it tends and possesses no idea of unitotality, whereas the divine Logos, as a positive principle, as an active shaping force, contains within itself and gives to the soul of the world the idea of unitotality as its determining form. ”
« Any idea of pantheistic monism having been set aside, Soloviev’s aesthetic vision of a kind of syzygy or nuptial union between the Word of God, the active principle imparting existence, life and motion, and the cosmic Sophia, the passive principle full of expectation and desire, is capable of embracing in a single vision the great work of creation’s emergence from the hands of God and its return to Him through Christ. » (English CRC n° 114, p. 8-9)
THE MEDIATION OF ROME AND OF THE IMMACULATE
Wisdom led Soloviev along paths without detours. « Ultimately », writes Strémooukhoff, « it was his desire to see the realisation of the work of Wisdom’s incarnation that attracted him to Rome, as it was only by accepting Rome’s primacy that Russia would be able to achieve the free theocracy which leads to the Kingdom of God identified with Wisdom incarnate. » (Soloviev and his Messianic Work, p. 140; on the subject of his moving towards the Roman Church, cf. Resurrection n° 8, p. 13-22)
As an epigraph to his work Russia and the Church Universal (1889), Soloviev wished to place the inscription found on the tomb of Abercius, a second century bishop of Hieropolis, the authenticity of which had been proved a few years earlier by the learned Benedictine Dom Pitra:
« (Me) a disciple of the holy Shepherd
Who feeds his flocks of sheep on mountain and plain,
Who has great eyes that survey all.
For it was he who taught me the trustworthy Scriptures.
To Rome he sent me to behold the Kingdom
And to see the Queen arrayed in golden robes and golden sandals.
There I saw a people who wore a brilliant seal... »
We have a good idea which Queen Soloviev had in mind when he quoted this text... But did he identify her with the Roman Church or with the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the dogmatic definition of whose Immaculate Conception enthralled his increasingly Catholic soul, and which he had set to verse in a poem written in 1883?
« Clothed in the sun, with a diadem of stars,
The invincible sun is thou, dearest Virgin. »
Perhaps both, each being included in the mystery of the divine Sophia... For it was in this same work, written in French, that he presented the fullest and richest summary of the mystery he had been contemplating for years. Our readers will pardon us for the length of this quotation. The text appears to us of capital importance:
« It was through His eternal contemplation of the Blessed Virgin, Christ and the Church, that God gave His absolute approbation to the whole of creation by proclaiming it “ tob meod ”, very good. Here lay the real reason for the great joy felt by divine Wisdom at the idea of the sons of Man. Here she beheld Adam’s unique daughter pure and immaculate, here she beheld the Son of Man par excellence, Him alone who is truly Just, and here finally she beheld the human multitude unified in a unique society based on love and truth. Under this form she contemplated her future incarnation and, in Adam’s children, her own proper children, rejoicing to see that they were justifying the plan of creation which she was presenting to God: Et justificata est Sapientia a filiis suis (Mt 11.19).
« Humanity united to God in the Blessed Virgin, in Christ and the Church, is the realisation of the essential Wisdom or of the absolute substance of God, its created form, its incarnation. In truth, it is the one same substantial form (designated by the Bible as semen mulieris, scilicet Sophiae) that is produced in three successive and permanent manifestations, truly distinct but essentially indivisible, being called Mary in its feminine personality, Jesus in its masculine personality, and retaining its own proper name for its full and universal manifestation in the Church of the future, the Bride and Spouse of the divine Word.
« This triple realisation of essential Wisdom in humanity is a religious truth that Orthodox Christianity professes in its doctrine and manifests in its worship. If, by the substantial Wisdom of God, we were meant to understand the Person of Jesus Christ exclusively, how could we apply to the Blessed Virgin all those texts in the Sapiential Books which speak of this Wisdom? Now this application, which is found from the most ancient times in the offices of both the Latin and Greek Churches, has in our days received doctrinal confirmation in the bull of Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin. Furthermore, there exist texts in the Scriptures which both Orthodox and Catholic doctors apply sometimes to the Blessed Virgin and sometimes to the Church (for example the text in the Apocalypse concerning the Woman clothed in the sun, crowned with stars and with the moon under her feet). Finally one cannot call into doubt the intimate connection and perfect analogy between Christ’s individual humanity and His social humanity, between His natural body and His mystical body. In the sacrament of Communion, the personal body of the Lord becomes in a mysterious but real manner the unifying principle of His collective body, the community of the faithful.
« Thus the Church, divinised human society, ultimately possesses the same substance as the incarnate person of Christ, His individual humanity, and as the latter has no origin or essence other than the human nature of the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, it follows that the organism of the divino-human incarnation, having in Jesus Christ its single active personal centre, has also in its threefold manifestation the one selfsame substantial foundation, the corporeity of divine Wisdom as both hidden and revealed in the world below: this is the soul of the world completely converted, purified and identified with Wisdom herself, just as matter is identified with form in one single concrete and living being. And the perfect realisation of this divino-material substance, of this semen mulieris, is glorified and resurrected humanity, the Temple, the Body and Spouse of God. » (quoted by Mgr Rupp, p. 337-338)
Soloviev concluded with majestic enthusiasm: « It is to this idea revealed to the religious sentiment of our ancestors, to this truly national and absolutely universal idea, that we must give rational expression. It is a question of formulating the living Word which ancient Russia conceived and and which modern Russia must proclaim to the world. »
Who, in the West, has been given the task of gathering up this “ Word ” and making it bear fruit both yesterday and today, especially when the riches of the Christian East are everywhere extolled without ever really being appreciated? Who, I ask you, other than the Abbé de Nantes?
Let us re-read together some passages from the conclusion of his “ outline of a modern Catholic mystical aesthetic ” (English CRC n° 116, November 1979, p. 3-17), capable tomorrow of restoring to a world floundering in ugliness – ugliness is a sign of Satan – a taste and nostalgia for beauty, « an open wound through which true charity will return to men’s hearts ». Listen to this magnificent poem of the coming of God in our flesh through the Woman, this new Discourse which eternal Wisdom addresses to her disorientated children of today.
We now know from Soloviev that this Wisdom finds one of its most perfect illustrations in the Virgin of the Immaculate Heart. It no longer stands « at the crossways, besides the gates of the city » to « cry out to the sons of men » (Pr 8.4), but it comes to a chapel in the novitiate of the Rue du Bac, or to a high mountain at La Salette, to a crevice in the rock at the grotto of Massabielle or to the holm oak at Fatima. Its language is, however, always the same, eternal:
« Listen, I have serious things to tell you,
from my lips come honest words... »
AT HIS SIDE I STAND, A CHERISHED CHILD »
« I venture to affirm that the primary characteristic of the religious soul, and a fortiori of the mystical and above all Christian soul, the characteristic that will be more than ever vibrant in the mystical theology of the future, is the keen and all-encompassing sense of this Divine Wisdom impregnating the universe. This truly aesthetic sense gives us a dim knowledge and ardent love for it under its peaceful, unchanging, feminine face. It is virginal, free from all earthly desires, beautiful for God and full of graces for those who contemplate it.
« It is through Wisdom that rebellious man with his sinful soul relearns humility of heart, poverty of spirit and, when all is said and done, faith in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth... and – in this same movement of trust and self-abandonment – all the rest of our Catholic Credo. It is in this precise sense that we can agree to say that created Wisdom feminizes all those who love her. As woman, in the primary sense of being frail, filled with beauty and gentleness, and inclined to trust, Wisdom teaches us the plenitude of filial sentiment, the only one which radically befits the creature. And it is truly useful for us to tear ourselves away from the self-satisfaction inspired in man by our whole Western philosophy, making man believe himself to be a “ substance ” or even a “ monad ”, autonomous and free with regard to his Creator!
« On the contrary, there is no salvation for mankind today except in the devout imitation of this Wisdom who permeates everything and proclaims herself God’s daughter. Thus the Almighty no longer appears hostile but favourable; God is no longer an odious rival or a tyrant but the kindest of Fathers, a refuge and power of achievement; His Law ceases to appear a yoke and recovers its true face as a gentle and maternal wisdom. “ In lumine tuo videbimus lumen ”, says the Psalmist (35.10). It is by bathing ourselves in the light of God’s created Wisdom that we have access to God, the initial access on which depends our whole progress towards the ultimate and mysterious union. »
It was from a luminous sphere that the Virgin Mary emerged when She appeared at La Salette, Lourdes and Fatima. « Her whole person, surrounded by a splendour more brilliant than the sun, irradiated beams of light, especially Her face which was of a beauty impossible to describe and incomparably superior to that of any human beauty », records Sister Lucy. « I am from Heaven », says the Apparition which had taken on the features of a young girl. In the reflection of the light streaming forth from Her hands, She showed Herself to the little shepherds « in God, as in the most perfect mirror ». In this sublime and divinely paternal Memory, there were then revealed to them designs of grace and mercy reserved for our own times which are the last.
« The first revelation », writes our Father, « is that of the mystery of fatherhood, for Wisdom is the daughter of God, and so are all of us in her and through her. Here we happily rediscover the most ancient and most living mystical tradition... She is woman and she foils the reasoning of the learned; she is the daughter of God and she leads prodigal sons back to their Father. » (p. 8-9)
« THE WOMAN WILL ENFOLD THE MAN »
« Again it was Soloviev who so rightly said that a contempt for matter and for the body, considered purely negatively, had inevitably led Platonism to a total disincarnation of the mind, projecting all its science, dialectic and religion into a purely illusory world of ideas. By way of reaction to this, there would be a return to the most uninspiring forms of materialism. And then, what would life be like in such an infinite universe, or man among countless living forms, or Christ among billions of transitory scattered human beings, or the Christian religion among so many civilizations and different cults!
« Against this, Soloviev’s purely biblical vision of the Soul of the world as light emanating from light, of a life shared with the living God, allows him to interpret the world from the very first day as a creature in expectation, desirous of ever higher and more beautiful forms, thereby answering the desire of her Creator, corresponding to His designs of Wisdom. Whereupon every kind of idealist or materialist dialectic recedes before the vision of Wisdom, this Mother who gives birth, through God and for God, to new and unheard-of forms until such time as her ultimate desire, which was also the Creator’s, would be realized and she would give birth to God Himself!...
« Into this seething mass, this matter stirred by disordered passions, the divine Sophia came at last to dwell, as Ecclesiasticus chants, and the history of the people whom she has chosen for her abode, Israel, is like a dart of light whose ultimate target is Jesus Christ. What appears absurd to the idealist and the materialist, the contrast between these billions of spiralling nebulae extending for hundreds of thousands of light years, these billions of men over hundreds of centuries and the individual Jesus who by comparison is as nothing and can scarcely be said to exist, takes on an entirely different aspect in Soloviev’s aesthetic. He admires the universe’s magnificent proportion, its marvellous wisdom under the universal and integral figure of the Woman who enfolds Man, as we read in Jeremiah’s mysterious and perfect prophecy: “ For Yahweh is going to create something new on earth: the Woman will set out to find her Husband again, or the Woman will enfold the Man. ” (31.22).
« This is the sign of the Virgin with child, according to Isaiah: “ The Virgin will conceive and will bear a son, and she will call him Emmanuel ”. She will be fully aware whose son he is and will rightly call him God with us (Is 7.14). Five centuries before the Event, the Prophet of the Exile had provided its most recent explanation by announcing to Jerusalem: “ Rejoice you barren who bore no children. Arise, shine out, for your light has come – and the glory of God is rising on you... Yahweh will be your everlasting light, your God will be your splendour... For your bridegroom is your Creator. ” (60-61). »
THE VIRGIN AND HER CHILD
« Here we have the definitive worship, the perfect religion towards which have tended all the confused and powerless aspirations of the centuries. Such is the unique, necessary and satisfying aesthetic which is to constitute the second foundation of our mysticism of the future. This is exactly what the Catholic sense of the Incarnation has maintained over and against all. Instead of seeking God beyond the sensible world, as the Platonists and Gnostics would have us do, instead of losing ourselves in pantheist folly and adoring the mysterious nature of the flesh and the world for the exhilaration they give though begetting nothing, the Church has never ceased to admire and to love God at work in the world among the nations, coming down and progressively revealing Himself, just as the shadow cast on the ground increases as an object approaches, this God who fashioned wisdom in Israel with ever more precision and perfection, the image of His own Wisdom, until the final touch: God making a spouse out of His own creature in order to create within the Immaculate Virgin the God-Man, His Other Self, His Word, His Only Son become the Son of man, the son of Mary Mother of God.
« Thereupon our aesthetic contemplation, formerly dispersed over all beauty, is concentrated and focused on that point which is the most luminous and most beautiful of all, on JÉSUS who is not the feminine Wisdom awaiting her Bridegroom’s loving initiative, but the God-Man, the divine Word and Creator, the sperma from whom all beauty, all life, all wisdom now derive. »
« That is why devotion to the Virgin Mother and the Child born of Her womb is not some act of sentimentality but a fundamental aesthetico-mystical act. Orphaned, feminine humanity, sinful and sterile – along with the whole surrounding universe associated with her weakness, her misfortune and sin – knew, felt and loved herself as the Soul of the world, as Beauty in expectation of Another in her womb, issuing from her flesh and blood, Him who would be the strong Man and her God. Jesus Christ is this latter and Mary is the ultimate figure, the perfect image of the former. In these two everything is fulfilled; duality is raised to its highest degree of beauty: Wisdom, the confused vision of the Old Testament, is now both single and double, it is man and woman, daughter of God and son of God, in whose love all the energy and power of both Creator and creature converge. HE is the very Wisdom of God, all powerful, the Logos, the Word, the sperma of all life and grace, SHE is the Sophia, Beauty, whom He in perfect mutual love has made virgin, spouse and mother of a new human race. »
What else can we add except to say that at Fatima Our Lord Jesus Christ wished « to make known and loved, to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary » of His most faithful and unique Spouse, for He knew from all eternity what treasures of wisdom this Heart contained. She is the perfect creature, established as the Mother of all creation to save it, along with Her Son, in a union of adoration and love, and « to lead it to God » for the eternal Wedding Feast.
« HE WHO FINDS ME, FINDS LIFE...
HE WHO HATES ME LOVES DEATH. »
« Now, because the creature is naught and matter is pure passivity, because the flesh is weak and Sophia is but a distant image of God’s Wisdom, the poem of this new and eternal Alliance is an epic and the mainsprings of this Sacred History are heroic. The union, the loving fusion of God and flesh would, in their abyssal inequality and distance from one another, be contrary to nature... were there not some secret attraction, some collusion permitting us to declare it supernatural. Its success, its accomplishment should nonetheless be celebrated as the summum of beauty, something previously considered impossible. Discordance is overcome, and enmity, incomprehension and even hatred are converted and pardoned. Such is the magnificent beauty of this the greatest of tragedies. Such is the grandiose, unequalled and unique poem of our redemption; such is the historical event of Christ’s Passion, lying at the centre of the human adventure. This consideration, this contemplation of the Cross, is sorely lacking to our modern minds, and so our religion, mutilated of its essence, is rendered anaemic, tiresome and vain...
« Wisdom and folly are in dispute over the feminine, uncertain Soul of the world when God sends His Son in the flesh to take possession of His inheritance and to make of loved but sinful humanity His eternal spouse. At this juncture Sophia reveals men’s divided hearts. On one side there is a wavering love, but everywhere else hatred; on one side docility, trust and faith, on the other a pride that preaches rebellion, an all-consuming, lying and murderous jealousy. The Book of Wisdom had already foreseen and foretold this, knowing that all down the ages the innocent one has always been detested, cast out and put to death. And with passions mounting to extremes as in a Greek tragedy, it is at the summit of horror that love and hatred are going to wage their ultimate assault on each other.
« So it is that the incarnation of a God in the womb of His creature can only be aesthetically imagined amidst cries and tears, as a finely balanced struggle between love and hate, with the extraordinary radiant exception of the Immaculate Virgin, Herself redeemed in advance and ranged alongside uncreated Wisdom. The world presents us with a struggle of contrary sentiments, all jumbled together while the drama lasts, but unjumbled at the Last Judgement. Sophia hopes and waits for Him Who must save her, for, as Saint Paul says, “ the woman shall be saved through childbearing ” (1 Tm 2.15), and yet when He comes she repels Him, persecutes Him and finally crucifies Him with her own hands. One could almost say that this is in the nature of things. Not only because Jerusalem had for centuries prostituted herself to every god other than her own and killed the prophets sent to her, but because in this Alliance of Sophia and the divine Logos, the one had to manifest its insufficiency and malice before the generous power of the other could shine forth. He Himself would afterwards explain it to the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “ Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer all these things and so enter into His glory? ” (Lk 24.26).
« The prophets alone had foretold that in this tragic and wondrous manner would be celebrated the nuptials promised in the Canticle of Canticles between God and His predestined people. The carnally-minded, however, had dreamed of a day of glory and happiness when Jerusalem would peacefully welcome its King amid shouts of joy, in a love equal and shared. But Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah had foretold the contrary: that it would come about in blood and tears, that the blood of Yahweh’s Servant would be hatefully shed by His own people in His own land and that the tears of these same brethren would “ mourn for him whom they had pierced ” (Zc 12.10).
« In this way Love proves greater and more just, more true in every way. The Event itself instructs us; then follow the aesthetic thrill, the mystical lesson it inspires. But at the centre of world history and for all time, the Passion of Jesus Christ, born of God, born of a woman, teaches us that the marriage of the human soul with its God will always be celebrated from age to age on the Cross, in the passion of the incomparable Bridegroom and the compassion of the Bride, penitent, prostrate and weeping for her own sins as well as for the martyrdom of her Beloved, sorrowfully embracing the wood of the Cross, the sign and sacrament of forgiveness and of conquering love.
« From this drama, celebrated daily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, flow the truth and profundity of our mystical aesthetic and the renaissance of religion in the modern world... »
At the Cova da Iria on 13 October 1917, Our Lady complained to the children with an infinite sadness: « People must stop offending Our Lord God, for He is already too greatly offended! » And on 13 July: « You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. » As the Mother of sorrows She stands beneath the arms of the Cross, as the vision at Tuy reveals.
« I AM THE MOTHER OF PURE LOVE,
OF FEAR, KNOWLEDGE AND HOLY HOPE. »
« Fathers of the Church, theologians and poets have vied with one another to acclaim in Mary the perfect ideal, true, real and substantial, of this created Wisdom, of this Sophia, virgin, spouse and mother, the first of all women, but become so through the loving will of God alone, a creative, espousing and fructifying will. In Her, the darling of Her mother (Sg 6.9), has once and for all been realised the complete cycle of the mystical aesthetic, that is to say of the supreme beauty and goodness of the supernatural union of the creature with God. Through Her immaculate virginity, consecrated to Him alone, She became the expectation and alluring hope of an initiative of Divine Love. In the nuptials between Her and Her God, She realises the work of flesh in which divinity and humanity are most perfectly united in full loving consciousness. Finally, for ever thus associated with Her God and as though locked in His embrace, She shares His Passion, enters into the drama of the Cross and, filled with His Spirit of life, is gladdened by Him with the gift of a feminine, human, cosmic and inexhaustible fruitfulness, and wins the grace of begetting to the divine life of grace an entire sanctified people, an entire saved world.
« It is for the supreme beauty of this triple and quadruple crown of virgin, wife and martyr, Her heart pierced by the seven swords of compassion, and finally of mother, that Mary is rightly honoured at the centre of our mystical aesthetic which accords with Scripture and Tradition and also with the growing phenomenon of popular devotion to Mary, itself corresponding to the ever more frequent, beautiful and dramatic apparitions of Our Lady to Her children on earth.
« Here again, giving the lie to all those who scorn this marian devotion as an infantile and dubious deviation or as a disease of the faith, we affirm that it is, and in the renaissance to come will be even more so, the summit of Christian mysticism. Especially if we consider it under its most recent and developed form, which is also the most synthetic, that of the union of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. For in celebrating this union, it is the mutual love of God and creature, the perfect syzygy, as of the new heavenly Adam and the new redeemed earthly Eve, that we celebrate and give thanks to our Father in Heaven for the unique love of these two associated Hearts through whom we are His children. » (p. 12)
THE VIRGIN MARY, MODEL OF THE CHURCH
« In the revelation of this new and eternal Alliance of creature with God, o admirabile commercium! of which the union of Jesus and Mary is the initial model and of which the wedding feast of Christ and His Church is the perfected mystery, every faithful soul, every sacred community finds its rightful attitude and the highest form of its vocation. »
The third and final beauty of the aesthetic preached by our Father is therefore the Church, comprising every one of our souls, called to be the radiant spouse through the gift and indwelling in it of the Holy Spirit, in imitation of the Virgin Immaculate. But let us heed the warning of Wisdom:
« Modern men and women, the nations, and the Church of our time are capable of understanding this language, but it is to be feared, alas, that they would rather not. Today, every creature is full of his own beauty and dignity, and demands complete freedom with regard to others and to God. Woman wants to be man’s equal, and man wants to be God’s equal. The nation plays at being the Church and the Church has lost sight of her own mystery. Every creature, denying its essential vacuity, its femininity, its need of and desire for the help of Another, renders itself an idolatrous worship and yields, as did the first woman, to the temptation of the devil, with the same result: a miserable self-importance and sterility that attract God’s anger.
« Our aesthetic, in its final and amazing conclusion, is alone capable of turning the creature away from this mad pride inducing her to raise altars to herself, by showing her that her vocation as spouse of the divine Word – if only she will begin with the humble recognition of her own nothingness and trusting docility that befit her filial prayer and waiting for God – will end, through the spectacular transfiguration brought about by the indwelling in her of the Holy Spirit, His love, His glorious and inexhaustible fecundity, in all sorts of good works and happy childbearing, and finally, at the resurrection of her body become the home of the Blessed Trinity, in the happiness of the eternal face to Face.
« Faced with the antichristic realization of a marxist or tolstoyan caricature of the Church, being organized, directed and daily extended across the world by the Spirit of Satan, it is a matter of urgency to remind the Catholic Church of her essential mystery. Not to humiliate her but to give her back a sense of wonder and love for her true dignity and true beauty, following the example of Soloviev. The hour of the Church’s renaissance will sound when she once again becomes the humble handmaid of the Lord and no longer the proud head-servant of an apostate world; when she again accepts to be the wife, virgin, unique and beloved daughter of God alone, the spouse of the Word and Temple of the Holy Spirit. The hour of the Church’s renaissance will dawn when, from East and West, she marvels at how the divine power of this Holy Spirit, who is her uncreated Soul, fortifies her with a virile Power to be exercised on behalf of that of Christ, beginning with the Pope of Rome and then passing on to the apostolic Hierarchy in communion with him. Such is thecreated soul of the Church, whose authority comes only through the working of the Spirit of Love in vital union with her Spouse Jesus Christ, a masculine Beauty, powerful and constant, which at the least breath of a contrary spirit, of pride or independence, is corrupted into tyranny and begets only tepidness and apostasy.
« This is sufficiently proved by the lamentable history of every schism, as Soloviev demonstrates with regard to the Eastern Schism, where the local churches are separated from one another, where thought and liturgy stagnate, where the missionary impetus has died out and the splendid sovereignty of religion has abdicated before temporal Powers. They lack the powerful Spirit of the God-Man, and their churches have become like widows and prostitutes. The Church of Rome, on the other hand, for ever possesses within herself that endlessly active divine energy which is the mark of the Holy Spirit, the Strength of the Roman Church and the proof of the fidelity of her Spouse Jesus Christ working within her. » (p. 15-16)
These lines were penned in September 1978 during the luminous pontificate of John Paul I, the perfect figure of the servant of Jesus and Mary among his brothers. He had made a firm decision to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as She had requested at Tuy in 1929, promising to save her by this means.
We will speak again in a future article, God willing, of Holy Russia, of God’s designs on her in the concert of the Christian nations, as the great Soloviev understood them.
Brother Thomas of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
He is risen ! n° 9, september 2001