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The Quarterly Journal of St. Philaret’s Institute

ISSN: 2658-7599 (print)
2713-3141 (online)

Churching of Society from Within and Not from Without: Reception of Sergius Bulgakov’s Ideas in Contemporary Political Theology

Ivan Ilin, Cand. Sci. (Philosophy), MA in Theological Studies, International Laboratory for the Study of Russian and European Intellectual Dialogue
pp. 51–74
DOI: 10.25803/26587599_2023_48_51
In recent years, there has been a steady increase in interest in the works of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, both in the Russian-speaking and in the Western academia. As one would expect, this sometimes leads to Bulgakov being approached by theologians who defend opposing positions and are in polemics among themselves. One example of this state of affairs is, in particular, the polemics between two contemporary theologians working inter alia in the field of political theology — the Anglican theologian and founder of the Radical Orthodoxy movement John Milbank and the American Orthodox theologian Aristotle Papanikolaou. With regard to political theology, Milbank and Papanikolaou take opposite positions, parting ways in their attitude towards liberal democracy. If Milbank believes that Christianity is absolutely incompatible with the liberal state growing out of secular modernity, Papanikolaou in his turn supports a different view, defending the compatibility of Christianity (and Eastern Orthodoxy in particular) with liberal democracy and the rights and freedoms that go along with it. At the same time, what is of interest here, is that when constructing their own arguments, both theologians rely largely on Bulgakov’s works and appeal to his ideas. 
The purpose of this article is to acquaint the Russian-speaking reader with the polemics among two important contemporary theologians, in which a significant, although often not explicitly expressed place is given to Bulgakov. The article will analyze how both theologians read and interpret Bulgakov. I will show that both of their readings suffer from excessive polarization, since both read Bulgakov selectively, exposing him as a supporter of their respective positions. In fact, although Bulgakov supported the dignity of the individual asserted by liberalism and recognized individual freedom as the highest value, he believed that any political regimes are of relative, and not absolute, nature and serve only as historical means to achieve extra-historical ideals. In a similar ambivalent way Bulgakov also treated the separation of church and state, finding in such a separation both pros and cons.
Keywords: ecclesiology, Sergius Bulgakov, Liberal Democracy, Political Theology, John Milbank, Aristotle Papanikolaou
For citation: Ilin I. Y. (2023). “Churching of Society from Within and Not from Without: Reception of Sergius Bulgakov’s Ideas in Contemporary Political Theology”. The Quarterly Journal of St. Philaret’s Institute, iss. 48, pp. 51–74.

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