GNOSTIC ELEMENTS IN THE COSMOGONY OF VLADIMIR SOLOVIEV
by Maria Carlson
History, Sophia and the Russian Nation, A Reassessment of
Vladimir Solov'ev's Views on History and His Social Committment, by
Manon de Courten
Chapter 2: Gnostic Elements in the Cosmogony of Vladimir Soloviev, by Maria Carlson (pp. 49-67), from Russian Religious Thought, Edited by Judith Deutsch Kornblatt & Richard F. Gustafson
Vladimir Soloviev wrote the "Sophia Prayer" in London in 1875, where he had been sent by the administration of Moscow University specifically "to study the monuments of Indian, gnostic, and medieval philosophy at the British Museum" (Sergei Solov'ev 113). The Sophia Prayer is only one of several textual clues that provide justification for Dmitry Merezhkovsky's observation in 1908 that "Vladimir Soloviev is a gnostic, possibly the last great gnostic of all Christianity" (Merezhkovskii 133). Merezhkovsky meant to imply by his comment not that Soloviev had become a heretic in the eyes of the Orthodox Church by embracing a mystical, heretical doctrine, but that he came to religion by meditation, intuition and spiritual cognition rather than by either faith or willed and pragmatic action (Merezhkovskii 132). A modern reader of Soloviev might add that behind Merezhkovsky's observation stood a highly specific, Neoplatonic world view shared by both Soloviev and Merezhkovsky, as well as by other representatives of the God-seeking intelligentsia of the Russian religious renaissance.
Merezhkovsky's comment on Soloviev does not imply that Soloviev identified, adopted, and mechanically applied a specifically gnostic doctrine in his work, although he was without question familiar with the theological and historical contours of that doctrine and found certain aspects of it congenial to his own thought. Vladimir Soloviev, however, was by no means the first intellectual to be seduced by the poetry of the gnostic cosmogony, by the concept of the primacy of Sophia Wisdom over the Creation, or by the psychic power of gnostic imagery and mythology (which can be very powerful indeed). Being a profoundly creative man, Soloviev was creative in his appreciation of gnostic concepts, particularly of the gnostic Sophia.
Soloviev's work contains a certain base of assumptions and uses terminology so highly evocative of the gnostic tradition that the latter's influence cannot be lightly dismissed. An examination of this tradition can only serve to clarify Soloviev's choice of terminology and to focus certain concepts more precisely, although it is bootless to look for complete coincidence between Soloviev's sophiology and that of the various streams of Christian gnosticism. For the sake of limiting this potentially boundless discussion of gnostic influences on Soloviev's thought, I would like to address broadly one theme: the influence of gnostic cosmogony (i.e., the hypothesis of creation and evolution) on Soloviev's thought. The material presented on the following pages is by no means exhaustive; it serves only to initiate the discussion of Soloviev's gnostic tendencies by pointing out certain curious parallels between the best-known gnostic speculation, the Valentinian gnosis, and Soloviev's own sophiology. The ramifications of the discussion, however, are manifold, for the seed of gnostic sophiology, nurtured by Soloviev, would bear fruit in the theology of Sergei Bulgakov and other contemporary sophiologists, none of whom are entirely free of this heretical doctrine.
Many contemporary discussions of gnosticism (outside professional religious/philosophical contexts) reduce it to mere pantheistic dualism or to a simplistic cosmic struggle between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, or between Spirit and Matter. Gnosticism is in fact a far more complex and sophisticated phenomenon, its arcane texts presenting a variety of both Christian and non-Christian formulations and dealing with many subjects in addition to the origin of things and the nature of God. A highly developed Christian gnosis frequently appears to have much in common with traditional Christianity, and Christian gnostics enthusiastically claimed Jesus Christ as their own. Jesus, after all, wrote down no doctrine himself; the Scriptures were written by others who lost, suggest the gnostics, the real meaning of his message.  Being highly syncretistic, however, gnosticism freely added Judaic, Buddhist, Egyptian, and Persian elements to the Christian mystery. The differences among the various systems of gnosis, such as Manicheanism, Mandeanism, and Barbelo-gnosticism, or Ophitic and Basilidean gnosticism (not to mention later incarnations, such as the Bogomil or Albigensian doctrines of the Middle Ages or the modern Theosophists), can be considerable, and tracing their specific influence is no simple task.
Tracing gnostic influence is further complicated by the dearth of concrete texts and reliable sources. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi "library" in Egypt in 1945, original sources were relatively few. Only a handful of purportedly gnostic manuscripts or contemporary works about gnosticism existed at the turn of the century. These included the Coptic fragments of the Pistis Sophia (discovered in the late eighteenth century and held in the British Museum, where Soloviev probably saw them), The Two Books of Jeu (also called The Book of the Great Mysterious Logos), parts of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Odes of Solomon, and the "Hymn of the Pearl," to mention the best known. Most of the information on gnosticism available to Soloviev would still have come from the works of the early heresiologists Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Clement of Alexandria. These Fathers of the Church wrote extensively on the gnostics, and several of them (notably Irenaeus) had studied the Valentinian speculation in great detail, citing extensively from now lost sources. Additional gnostic themes and elements are found in the writings of the mystical theologians most admired by Soloviev: Origen, Saint Maximus the Confessor, and Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (whose works incorporated or discussed various Neoplatonic and gnostic elements and who placed special emphasis on the doctrine of theosis, or the deification of man). Soloviev, who studied at the Moscow Spiritual Academy as well as at Moscow University, would have been familiar with this body of literature.
Soloviev was also well versed in the literature of mysticism (oriental Buddhism, Hebrew Kabbalah, and various occidental streams) and theology (patristic and modern). His knowledge clearly extended to the literature of Neoplatonism. In the British Museum Soloviev additionally read the Renaissance "theosophists," such as Jakob Boehme (1573-1624), and very likely was familiar with Boehme's disciples John Pordage (1607-1681), Johann Georg Gichtel (1638-1710), and Gottfried Arnold (1666-1714), author of Geheimnisse der gottlichen Sophia (Leipzig, 1700). Finally, Vladimir Soloviev had read the works of his brother Vsevolod's eccentric acquaintance, Mme. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), founder of the Theosophical Society and creative architect of a compelling modern gnostic gospel. Her first major work, The Secret Doctrine (1888), claimed to be just such a "synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy" as Soloviev's "grand synthesis" or "universal religion," which was to reorient all of human knowledge and redefine metaphysics based on a modern reading of secret ancient models. This striving to re-cognize and reunite the various elements of a lost tradition fragmented by the ravages of modern positivism and pragmatism, to discover the single and harmonious metaphysical Truth that underlies all material complexity, is a basic feature of gnostic systems, past and present; this same syncretic impulse is everywhere present in Soloviev.
Thus Soloviev's own philosophical thought, which appears to be as eclectic and syncretistic as gnosticism itself, was opened early in his life to the entire tradition of metaphysical speculation (he was a young and impressionable twenty-two when he went to London to work in the British Museum). The mature Merezhkovsky, no casual heretic himself, must have easily recognized the gnostic roots of the cosmogony Soloviev originally considered and then repeatedly refined, divesting it of its more sensational mythological elements and adding contents from other systems. Neither did Soloviev's younger contemporaries, the second generation of symbolists (the "philosophers"), view Soloviev's eclectic mix of gnostic, idealist, and mystic thought with esoteric Christianity as at all inconsistent. Andrei Belyi, one of Vladimir Soloviev's most devoted admirers, brightly observed that, after all, "Christian metaphysics is the result of the intersecting influences of hermeticism, gnosticism, and philosophy of the Neoplatonists" (Belyi 620).
With the limited exception of Samuel D. Cioran (17-20) and Paul M. Allen, explicators of Soloviev have avoided detailed discussion of gnostic elements in his philosophical writings. Many commentators perceived certain gnostic aspects in his world view, but speedily labeled them "Neoplatonic" (possibly to avoid rough theological terrain or unwelcome ecclesiastical attention). In some cases they erroneously mistook Soloviev's elaborations of Christian gnostic terminology and conceptualization for an esoteric Christian paradigm. This would partially explain why Soloviev has not more often been discussed by secondary literature within a gnostic context, although his contemporaries certainly recognized that dimension of his work.
A second and more compelling reason for the avoidance of the discussion of Soloviev's gnostic dimension would be that the Church itself discouraged the explicit exploration of anyone's gnostic tendencies, let alone Soloviev's, who was revered by many members of the God-seeking intelligentsia as the greatest of all Russian Orthodox metaphysicians. Gnosticism had been declared a heresy almost from the first days of Christianity, and the first six centuries of the Christian era witnessed attacks on the doctrine by dedicated heresiologists and respected Fathers of the Church. In turn-of-the-century Russia, the Orthodox Church continued to persecute heretical sects, especially the khlysty, whose doctrine had a considerable gnostic dimension. Thus the less-marked term "theosophy" (lower-case t) or "Christian theosophy" was not infrequently used as a euphemism for gnostic tendencies; the term was certainly applied to Soloviev more than once.
Various historical, intellectual, and spiritual parallels between the time of the gnostics (most broadly the first century B.C. through the first six centuries A.D.) and the fin-de- siecle were not lost on contemporaries. They viewed both periods as times of "crisis of culture and consciousness," times that saw a confrontation between Eastern and Western cultures, times when new faiths were evolving out of old and discredited mystery religions. Gnosticism was a historically earlier expression of a similar human sense of existentialism, spiritual emptiness, and alienation from a decadent world that we associate with the end of the nineteenth century. That Soloviev and his generation (rejecting the prevailing scientific positivism and decadence of the period, coping with the weakening of traditional religion, and seeking a new religious worldview) should be interested in and conversant with gnosticism is not at all surprising. During their lifetime Soloviev's contemporaries not only saw the publication of many studies of gnosticism and the enthusiastic activity of archaeologists and historians of comparative religions, but also witnessed the creation of entire systems of modern gnosis, both pagan and Christian. Here one might mention that the neo-Buddhist Theosophy of Mme. Blavatsky, mentioned above, and the "Christian Theosophy" (upper-case T) of Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), are both modern gnostic doctrines; Dr. Steiner would later speak in his lectures of Soloviev as a mediator between East and West and a true clairvoyant who anticipated Steiner's own vision of the coming of the Christ in the etheric world, while Western Anthroposophists would write books about Soloviev (Allen 341-43). 
How should we understand gnosticism, then, for the purpose of this discussion? Gnosticism is a religious-philosophical system that holds that the concept of knowledge is superior to the concept of faith (the foundation of traditional religion). Gnosticism is thus a religious philosophy, but not a religion; as such, it would have a certain appeal to thinkers of mystic inclinations who were raised in a historically positivistic age, as was Soloviev. The knowledge that gnosticism claims to have or to seek, moreover, is a total and systematic knowledge, including within itself all the natural and speculative sciences, cosmology, history, anthropology, mythology, philosophy, and theology/theogony. Gnosticism is both highly syncretic and synthetic, for all its unfamiliar and esoteric detail. But the Gnosis, being "knowledge of God," is not to be identified with mere rational cognition, since God is Unknowable and Ineffable; rather, gnostics claim, their system is a higher, more intuitive form of spiritual cognition, a vision of truth, or revelation, revealed to the elite few who are spiritually sophisticated enough to receive it.
The basic premise of gnostic thought is that the Godhead is utterly transcendent and alien to the material world in which mankind dwells. The undefined and undefinable Godhead dwells beyond all time, space, and understanding, in an Abyss of Profundity, whose "light is darkness to mortal eyes, because of the superabundance of its brilliancy" (Mead 311; this is also the photismos of the monks of Mount Athos, the "Light of Tabor" of the Hesychasts, the mystic or divine Light, the Invisible Fire, etc.). Yet for all its "beyondness" and incomprehensibility, the Godhead is the ultimate source of All, including the pneumatic, spiritual self in man. The gnosis teaches that the origin of the human pneumatic self is divine and that the material world that holds the pneumatic self prisoner is demonic. It is important to note that in gnostic systems, evil, matter, and the demonic are defined relatively, by their distance from the Goodness and Spirituality of the Godhead. Evil and matter are less perfect, hence more demonic, only because they are further in distance from the complete perfection of the Godhead. The point of existence is to release, through special knowledge (i.e., gnosis), the pneumatic self from the fetters of matter and to return it to its natural home in the realm of the light of pure Spirit. Thus all gnostic thought is dualistic; it is premised on the perceived but illusionary oppositions of Light and Darkness, Divine and Demonic, Spiritual and Material, noumenal and phenomenal. Gnosticism begins here, but it does not end here.
In all cases, gnostic doctrines are emanationist, eschatological, and soteriological. The redemption of spirit from matter, of light from darkness, and the restoration of a precosmic status quo are, in fact, the central principle of the gnosis. The world exists because divine substance, spirit, removed itself sufficiently from the Godhead to fall into matter. The story of the redemption of this divine substance is human history. The difference among gnostic systems lies precisely in their speculations about the nature of the precosmic fall of Spirit (divine element) into Matter and the precise agent and manner of redemption, but not in the fact of the fall itself.
The best known of the gnostic cosmogonies that describe the precosmic fall of Spirit into Matter is that of Valentinus, in which the key protagonists in the precosmic fall and the subsequent redemption are the Sophia, the Christos, and Jesus. Valentinus (2d cent., ca. A.D. 140), the most influential of the gnostic theologians, based his system on Ophitic texts (with some Platonic and Pythagorean matter). That Soloviev was well acquainted with the Valentinian speculation is clear not only from his article "Gnosticism" for the Brokgauz-Efron Encyclopedia (Entsiklopedicheskii slovar' Brokgauza-Efrona; "Gnostitsizm," in Solov'ev 10:323-28), but also from a second article in the same work, "Valentinus and the Valentinians" ("Valentin i Valentiniane," in Solov'ev 10:285-90). Valentinus was, according to Soloviev, "the most famous of the gnostic philosophers and one of the most brilliant thinkers of all time," the creator of a "rigorous, consistent, and poetically original system" ("Valentin," 10:285, 288). Defining gnosticism as a philosophy, Soloviev termed it a "theosophical" system whose purpose was to unite "the divine principle and the world, absolute and relative being, the infinite and the finite" ("Gnostitsizm," 324). The articles reveal Soloviev's detailed knowledge of gnosticism; they should, however, be approached cautiously by the reader. During the late nineteenth century, while the Brokgauz-Efron Encyclopedia was being published, Soloviev's articles would have been strictly overseen by the Church censorship (dukhovnaia tsenzura; Church censorship was lifted only in 1905). Since gnosticism was a heresy, Soloviev's encyclopedia entries would have had to reflect the Church's position; indeed Soloviev's article "Gnosticism" conforms strictly to Irenaeus' Adversus omnes haereses in the approved manner.
The Valentinian speculation represents the mainstream of gnostic thought; it received the greatest attention from the patristic heresiologists and was the best-known and most accessible tradition before the later discoveries of Nag Hammadi (1945). One of the more important implications of the Valentinian speculation for mystic thought is its assumption that matter is derived from an original spiritual source. Since matter is viewed negatively, this implies a divine "failure" on some level; it also implies that this failure, being divine in origin, can and will be redeemed. Materiality, for the Valentinians, was a devalued and derivative spirituality, less perfect and more "evil" for being the more distant from the source of all perfection; matter remained, however, an esentially spiritual (if devalued) condition. Immensely complex, the Valentinian cosmogony supporting this idea is given in simplified form below.
At the beginning of Valentinus' gnostic universe stands the All-Unity (Gk. hen kai pan; Soloviev's Vseedinstvo). It has also been called the Pure Light, the Unknowable, the Ineffable, the Unutterable, Bythos (Abyss of Profundity), the Divine Principle, the Absolute One, and many other names. This Principle, in order to make Itself known, autonomously emanates, producing a series of pairs, or syzygies, in a descending order of dignity; these are the Aeons, also called Eternities, of the Pleroma. The first emanation, or Aeon, is the feminine Silence (sometimes called Ennoia [Thought], or Grace). The syzygy of the Abyss and the Silence engenders the masculine Nous (Mind, Intelligence) and the feminine Aletheia (Truth); they in turn emanate the Logos (Word) and Zoi (Life), and they, in turn, produce Anthropos (Man) and Ecclesia (Church). This Ogdoad (the sum of the first eight emanations) engenders twenty-two further syzygies (the Decad and the Dodecad), the last being the feminine Aeon/Eternity Sophia (Wisdom; hence Soloviev's reference to Sophia as the "bright body of Eternity" in the Sophia Prayer).
The totality of thirty Aeons constitute the Fullness of Absolute Being: the nonmaterial, nonspatial, and nontemporal Perfection of the Pleroma. The fullness of the Pleroma is consolidated and encompassed by the Power of Limit (horos; sometimes called the Cross and associated with the Christos). Beyond the Pleroma is the Shadow (Darkness) and the Void; it will eventually become Cosmos, the realm of matter, space, and time.
Of all the Aeons, only Nous has been granted the possibility of understanding the One, but all of the other Aeons wonder about the One and wish to know It. Most curious of all was Sophia, who was farthest from the Ineffable One and who existed at the very edge of the Fullness and Perfection of the Pleroma. In her desire and passion to comprehend the One that cannot be comprehended, she gives way to her desire to imitate the One and emanates without syzygy (i.e., without a consort, as the One did). She produces only "formlessness" (the Abortion) and thereby "falls" (sins) into the Cosmic Darkness. 
Concerned about the repercussions of Sophia's fall into the darkness beyond the Pleroma, the Power of Limit returns the Fallen Sophia to the Fullness of the Pleroma, but pushes the "formlessness" she has produced out of the Pleroma. The One now emanates two additional Aeons, the Christos and the Holy Spirit (the Comforter). The Christos ensures that the Pleroma will remain untroubled by explaining the One to the Aeons (this explanation is the Gnosis). Christos also temporarily leaves the Pleroma to "enform" the formlessness as a lower Sophia, and then returns into his perfect pleromic state. All of the Aeons together then produce the unpaired Aeon Jesus, the "Common Fruit" of the Pleroma (the "fruit of the cross"), who will have an important role to play in the redemption of the enformed offspring of Sophia. Thus occurs the precosmic "Fall" of the Aeon Sophia that initiates human history.
The lower Sophia is granted awareness of her divine origin by Christos. She longs to return to the light of the Pleroma, but she is unable to penetrate the Limit. Alone in the Darkness of the Void, she suffers, and her sufferings become states of being, becoming eventually psychic and material substance, the prima materia of the world in which man lives. Thus in some variants the material world was created from the Grief, Fear, Bewilderment, and Ignorance experienced by the lower Sophia in the Void, while her "Turning Back Toward the Life-Giver" produced the psychic world, standing between matter and spirit (Jonas 187-88).  In other variants Laughter, the "luminous substance," is added to the passions that create the material world.  Certainly a lower Sophia with a sense of humor would have appealed to Soloviev, who was well-known for his satiric and humorous poems and plays on lofty subjects.
Eccentric as this cosmogony may seem to the modern reader, Soloviev presented a nearly identical cosmogony in an interesting manuscript, written in French in early 1876, while he was in Cairo and Sorrento. The manuscript, which Soloviev originally described as "a work of mystical, theosophical-philosophical-theurgical-political content" and finally titled "Sophie," was not published in his lifetime; provocatively, Soloviev's original title for it was "Principes de la religion universelle," implying that in mystical gnosticism he perceived some fundamental religious doctrine that underlies all others (Sergei Solov'ev 119, 129ff.; Pis'ma 2:23, 27). Although Soloviev himself chose not to publish this interesting conglomeration of dialogue between the Philosopher and Sophia and philosophical essays (with marginal automatic and mediumistic writings), he subsequently refined many of its ideas and presented them in his major work, La Russie et l'Eglise Universelle (1889 in French; 1911, trans. to Russian by G. A. Rachinskii; see Rossiia i Vselenskaia Tserkov' 11: 143-348). "Sophie" and "La Sophia; principes de la doctrine universelle" were finally published in 1978 in the French original. These seemingly unusual works were not really unusual for Soloviev, who continued throughout his life to combine philosophical speculation (derivative and original) with satire, parody, poetry, and literary prose (see Kornblatt, this volume).
In "Sophie" Soloviev described the creation of the world in a clearly gnostic manner, consistently equating Sophia with the rebellious Aeon and then with the World Soul (Sophia's primary role in the world of Darkness):
In Soloviev, as in the Valentinian gnosis, the ensuing struggle between the Demiourgos and Satan then creates time and space, while the fragmenting Soul becomes the world's material substratum. The remainder of Soloviev's manuscript goes on to describe the Valentinian paradigm of telluric creation in considerable detail. Soloviev later cleared out many of the more sensational aspects of this Valentinian paradigm, but left the discussion of the World Soul and the Sophia, the particular redemptive role of Divine Logos, and other aspects of his theory intact in both the Lectures on Godmanhood (Chteniia o bogochelovechestve) and La Russie et l'Eglise Universelle.
The unpublished "Sophie" is a very rough draft and thus, while jejune in many ways, is more than a little revealing of Soloviev's early direction. That he considered his early attempt an important text is clear from his original (and most unsuitable, given contemporary circumstances) intention to defend it as a doctoral dissertation (Sergei Solov'ev 149); it would never have been accepted.
Despite her "sin," the gnostic Sophia remains a perfect emanation of the All-Unity and a bearer of Divine Light. Because of this particularly interesting complication (she is both sinner and sinless), Valentinian cosmology "found it necessary, in view of the wide span of the conditions represented by the female aspect of God (Sophia), to differentiate this aspect into an upper and a lower Sophia" (Jonas 177). Thus Valentinian Gnosticism postulates an Agia Sophia, the Holy Wisdom of God that remains in the glory and perfection of the Pleroma, and her antitype, the Sophia Prouneikos, Wisdom the Whore, the "formless" entity who, in being pushed out of the Light of the Pleroma and into the Darkness of the Void beyond, thrusts a spark of Divine Light into the Darkness. 
The fall into Darkness, Matter, and Evil of the lower Sophia, the Sophia Prouneikos, or Achamoth, was the very event that necessitated the creation of the world and of man for one very important purpose: to facilitate the eventual redemption of the fallen Light from the Darkness (the restoration of the complete Sophia to the Pleroma). Darkness and matter are defined as evil not absolutely, but relatively (for the physical world is the world of relativity): their distance from the perfection of the Pleroma means that they are less perfect, hence relatively more evil. Because of this state of events, the world and the universe exist, but within them also exist the means of returning the divine spark to the Godhead.
Once fallen into the realm of Matter and Darkness, the lower Sophia became nostalgic for her divine form and existence. In order to facilitate her return to the Light, she gave birth to the Demiourgos, who then created the earth and a human race to inhabit it.  Sophia splintered her divine Light and placed one spark of it into the soul of each human being, thereby herself becoming the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. In the world, then, the lower Sophia lost the original state of All-Unity and dwelt in a state of multiplicity and fragmentation (the basic feature of matter in mystical systems). She lost all but intuitive memory of her divine nature, although from time to time a reflection of her divine nature would penetrate the world to remind both the World Soul and the human souls of their great mission. The World Soul, the lower Sophia, or Sophia Prouneikos, became utterly sensual and was eventually assimilated to the various forms of the Great Goddess and the Tellus Mater of oriental and ancient religions (Jonas 176). This Sophia was "enclosed in human flesh and migrated for centuries as from vessel to vessel into different female bodies. And since all the Powers contended for her possession, strife and warfare raged among the nations wherever she appeared" (Jonas 107, quoting Irenaeus).
In this interesting mythology we see the source of the Russian symbolists' belief that Sophia could and would actually be incarnated in a particular woman, as Belyi, Blok, and Sergei Soloviev believed she might be incarnated in Liubov' Dmitrievna Blok or as the admittedly eccentric Anna Nikolaevna Schmidt believed she might be incarnated in herself (see Shmidt). Such a view also explains why it was not contradictory for Aleksandr Blok to search for her in cabarets and whorehouses and among sectarians as well as in drawing rooms and churches. Sophia is the Eternal Feminine, found in its divine aspect in Agia Sophia, and in its demonic, dark aspect in the World Soul, the seductive whore marked by the spark of divinity, Sophia Prouneikos. Soloviev's terminology reflects the gnostic paradigm, for he clearly made this same distinction between two Sophias, naming the two aspects Sophia (Wisdom of God) and World Soul: "As the world, which this soul attempts to create, is fragmented, divided, and held together only by purely external means; as this world is the antithesis and the opposite of divine universality; so the soul of the world itself is the antithesis or the antitype of the essential Wisdom of God. This soul of the world is a creature [tvar'] and the first of all creatures, the materia prima and the true substratum of our created world," he wrote as late as 1889 (Solov'ev, Rossiia i Vselenskaia Tserkov' 11:295). This is pure gnosticism.
According to the gnostics, it was the goal of world history to redeem Sophia. She had opened a gateway between the Pleroma, the World of Light, Spirit, and Goodness, and the World of Darkness, Matter, and Evil. She had crossed the boundary and left the periphery of the perfect Pleroma open to infiltration by the Powers of Darkness. The lower Sophia, the World Soul, and through her, the Spiritual Light imprisoned in Darkness and Matter, would be redeemed by the descent into Matter of the Christos (a form related to the Aeon Logos; Soloviev's Divine Logos). There the Christos would unite with the soul of the man Jesus; in "human garments" (material form) he would undergo a passion and be crucified (symbolizing the rejection of Matter for Spirit). In the gnostic paradigm, the Aeon Logos- Christos united with the mortal Jesus at the latter's baptism; in this way Jesus became the Christ. Soloviev pointed out in a notebook entry from 1875 that "The restoration of Christ, as an individual man = the union of the Divine Logos with the individual soul of Jesus" (Sergei Solov'ev 120). The voluntary descent of the Christos and his seeming self-sacrifice bring the liberating gnosis to mankind, making redemption possible. This gnosis is Wisdom; men who "know" (gnostiki) search after it.
Through his voluntary descent, the Christos effects the redemption of the Sophia; he becomes her consort (syzygos) on the marriage bed of the Cross (Limit, Boundary). Ultimately, the Christos reascends into the Fullness of the Pleroma, leading the lower Sophia with him as his Bride. This event is to occur at the end of History, and signals the completion of the redemption of Divine Light from Demonic Darkness, the final redemption of Spirit from Matter. This act would unite the divine and the human and would lead to a new heaven and new earth inhabited by a divine humanity (Soloviev's bogochelovechestvo, toward which it is the purpose of mankind to strive). Since man was created originally as a repository for the spiritual fragments of the World Soul, the marriage of the lower Sophia with the Christos signifies the reestablishment of the original, precosmic status quo and symbolizes the syzygy of human spirit and divinity (as the divine spark, placed in man by the fallen World Soul, is reunited with its original source in the Godhead). Thus is the Sophia the "bridge" by which man comes (returns) to God.
The Gnostic Logos-Christos suffers not for the original sin of mankind (for there is none),  but for the precosmic guilt of the Sophia, whose original fall required the making of the world and of man so that the Christos would have a platform to which he could descend and a stage on which he could act out the drama of mankind's/Sophia's redemption. His coming brings a gnosis by means of which man (if sufficiently "awakened") can identify the spark of Divine Light that resides in him, purify himself of earthly, material dross, and restore the Light within to the All-Unity by completely identifying with the spiritual act of the Christos (i.e., descent into matter, passion, crucifixion, syzygy with the Sophia, and return to the Godhead). The coming of the Christos was thus the central event of human history; the restoration of the divine spark in man to its original source in the All-Unity became the very basis of the imitatio Christi and the only purpose of human existence.
The successful completion of this process of redemption is by no means predetermined or automatic (although some gnostic speculations assume it must and will happen). The descent of the Christos into the realm of matter, understood as an individual, inner spiritual event taking place in each human heart, means that the Christos is now subject to the illusions and temptations of material existence.  The Christ Feeling may not be strong enough to enable the individual to overcome the bondage of matter and awaken to his true spiritual nature; he may perish, trapped in the web of the World Illusion.  This is the risk that every mystic faces: the courage to descend into the abyss does not guarantee the strength to escape from it; the possibility of annihilation or eternal entrapment in matter is ever-present. Soloviev, toward the end of his life, felt this danger and at times despaired of man's ever having the strength to achieve a state of Divine Humanity (bogochelovechestvo).
In this way Soloviev's personal cosmogony derived to a great extent from this traditional gnostic paradigm. He continued to view the cosmic process, the creation of the world, and the redemption of the world in terms of the precosmic fall of Sophia (in her gnostic variant as the dark and demonic anima mundi, Achamoth), her separation from her heavenly bridegroom (Nous), her role as the Soul of the World in the creation of the material world, her nostalgia for her heavenly state, her creation of the Church on earth, her eventual redemption by the Bridegroom (Logos-Christos). In Soloviev's later works, the more sensational and clearly "mythological" gnostic elements disappear, some replaced by more traditional Christian vocabulary (although not always by traditional Christian meanings), some by patristic theological vocabulary, as Richard Gustafson's chapter in this volume makes clear. But certain essential aspects of the gnostic cosmogony remain.
An examination of gnostic cosmogony elucidates why Soloviev was able to call his Sophia by many names: Agia Sophia; the World Soul (Anima Mundi); the Bride of the Lamb, Christos; the New Jerusalem; the Universal Church; the Wisdom of God, an Eternity (as aeonic emanation); and the Creative Principle, the prima materia of creation (for the world is created from the body of Sophia for one reason only: to facilitate the redemption of divine light trapped in matter through her fall), etc. Soloviev's Sophia is not (as some critics, like Vasily Zenkovsky [47-48], have claimed) fragmentary, inconsistent, and ambiguous. She is entirely consistent within the framework of a particular and very ancient gnostic pattern with which Soloviev was clearly familiar.
The profoundly moving and poetic Sophia Prayer, cited at the start of this essay, more than any dry didactic discourse, reveals the depth of Soloviev's debt to gnostic ideas. The poem begins with an invocation of the "Unutterable," Ineffable One. It refers to "the priceless pearl of Ophir" (the Pearl of Great Price, a well-known gnostic metaphor for the soul [Jonas 125-29]). It names the Rose, symbol of the perfection of the Pleroma; the "Rose of Sharon" is Ecclesia, the Church, while the Lily of the Valley represents the Advent of Christ (Cooper 98,141-42). The Divine Sophia is "the bright body of Eternity" (Eternity being another name for Aeon; see above); she is the "Soul of worlds and the one Queen of all souls" as the anima mundi and the prima materia. She requests that her beloved, Jesus Christ (Christos-Logos), descend into the "prison of the soul" (the gnostics called the human body the "tomb" or the "prison house of the soul") and "fill our darkness with thy radiance" (descend into material reality with divine light), and "melt away the fetters that bind our spirit" (bring the gnosis that liberates the spirit from matter), "incarnate thyself in us and in the world, restoring the fullness of the Ages" (the perfection of the Aeons, the Pleroma), "so that the deep [the Void, the Cosmos] may be confined and that God may be all in all." When the reader learns the vocabulary, the gnostic power of the Sophia Prayer becomes clear.
Gnosticism, although heretical in the view of traditional Christianity, has exercised a tremendously seductive power over many thinkers within the Orthodox tradition; moreover, the gnostic heresy seems to be a "natural" heresy for Orthodox Christianity. The mystical theology of the Eastern Church was flexible enough to accommodate what would become the sophiology of Sergei Bulgakov and other post-Solovievian thinkers. But from the point of view of the traditional Orthodox church, Father Georges Florovsky was correct to point at Soloviev as a "pernicious influence" in his Ways of Russian Theology (Puti russkogo bogosloviia 469).
Certain aspects of gnosticism certainly affected Soloviev and his literary heirs. Gnosticism is also present in the various occult doctrines, notably Theosophy and Anthroposophy, which attracted converts from among the Russian intelligentsia during the early twentieth century (most of whom were, not surprisingly, fervent Solovievians; see Carlson). The vocabulary and symbology of gnosticism continued to be profoundly appealing to poets of all times and places, including the Russian symbolists. While most readers are acquainted with the Sophia paradigm as expressed by the "Beautiful Lady" (Prekrasnaia Dama) and "The Stranger" (Neznakomka) poems of Aleksandr Blok (1880-1921), the young, impressionable, and mystically inclined Andrei Belyl (Boris Bugaev, 1880-1934) took more from Soloviev's total system. This is especially clear in his First Symphony, whose heroine is a Sophia figure who gives the gnostic "Call of Eternity"; his short story "Adam" actually narrates the story of the precosmic fall into matter as an anecdote; and in the novel Silver Dove, the Logos-hero, Petr Darialsky, finds himself literally trapped in matter as in a spiderweb (the veil of Maya), then hears "The Call," and returns to his true home in eternity by dying to material existence.
Although the younger symbolists emphasized Soloviev's concept of Sophia as primary, others recognized in Soloviev's system of metaphysics the primacy of the Christ idea and the secondary role of the Sophia as the Herald of His Coming or the Bridge between man and God. For Soloviev, as for the Christian Gnostics, Christ was not a founder, not a teacher; Christ was the very content of Christianity. The life of the true Christian, if he desires to participate in that content, must be lived in imitatio Christi. Soloviev's Sophia, a figure whom many modern commentators erroneously endow with a primacy it does not possess in his system, is only a link, a mediating principle between the human and divine; Sophia is but the means of uniting man with Christ.
More recently, gnosticism has attracted the attention of analytical psychologists. Elaine Pagels has pointed out in her book The Gnostic Gospels that "the gnostic movement shared certain affinities with contemporary methods of exploring the self through psychotherapeutic techniques. Both gnosticism and psychotherapy value, above all, knowledge -- the self-knowledge which is insight" (124). Other scholars of gnosticism, notably Hans Jonas, have also noticed the "parallel vocabularies" of gnosticism and depth psychology, as both seek words to describe the indescribable and to express complex psychic contents. C. G. Jung wrote extensively about gnosticism and "deciphered" its symbology, translating it into the vocabulary of depth psychology, in numerous essays (see, for example, the anthology The Gnostic Jung; also Jung's Psychology and Alchemy and Aion). Gnostic thought repeatedly returns to enthrall human consciousness, as it does today in the manifold syncretic systems of New Age mysticism.
This essay has left many subjects (about which gnosticism had something to say) unexplored. These include Soloviev's understanding of the nature of divine and human love, syzygy, and abstract eroticism; morality and ethics; the nature of evil; the role of asceticism. The essay has focused instead on the contributing role played by gnostic cosmogony and the gnostic Sophia concept in the evolution of Soloviev's understanding of man's divine and human essences, of the nature of sin and redemption, and of the Sophia's particular role as bridge between the Godhead and humanity.  Soloviev's fundamental notion of divine humanity (bogochelovechestvo) may, ultimately, be understood only when its gnostic as well as its traditional Christian context is fully explored.
Soloviev was an essentially eclectic (even syncretic) thinker, and he found in the gnostic Sophia and her poetic genesis a rich vocabulary and imagery for spiritual events and experiences. This gnostic vocabulary and imagery he combined creatively with those of other religious, mystical and philosophical systems that attracted him and his contemporaries of the fin-de-siecle (including Kabbalah, the thought of Boehme and Swedenborg, mystical Orthodox theology, and even, occasionally, occultism, among others); the result was a system unique to Vladimir Soloviev. Thus Soloviev's syncretic sophiology may fruitfully be viewed in the context of a search for a modern gnosis, a search for new forms of meaningful spiritual knowledge, which, arguably, the Russian religious renaissance was.
1. Translation mine; the Russian original is given in Sergei Solov'ev 118-19. Sergei Soloviev included this material in the sixth and seventh editions of his uncle's Stikhotvoreniia; it can be found in Vladimir Solov'ev 12:148-49.
2. Concepts and vocabulary are particularly troubling. In Adversus haereses, Irenaeus writes, "Certainly they [the Valentinians] confess with their tongues the one Jesus Christ, but in their minds (sententia) they divide him" (cited in Rudolph 154-55). Kurt Rudolph points out that, indeed, for the gnostics Christ is Jesus Christ, the earthly manifestation of the Christos; Christ is a higher being, an Aeon, who dwells in the Fullness of the Pleroma; and finally, Christ is the "Perfect Fruit" of the Pleroma, who becomes the consort of the fallen Sophia. This scarcely conforms to the traditional Christian concept of the Christ.
3. Rudolf Steiner even wrote the introduction to the first German edition of Soloviev, emphasizing Soloviev's role as mediator between Eastern and Western spirituality. See Solov'ev, Ausgewahlte Werke.
4. That the one fallen Aeon, or Eternity, is feminine is interesting. Perhaps it reflects Aristotelian belief in a hierarchy of physical perfection in which the male human being was the acme. The female, as a step away from male perfection, was a step toward imperfection and deformity. Such a view seems to be present in the gnostic paradigm of the emanating Aeons, with the last, "sinning" Aeon being the feminine Sophia. The names of the Aeons, or Eternities (Christos, Holy Spirit, Divine Logos, Nous, Sophia, Achamoth, etc.), differ slightly in the various renderings, but their functions remain essentially the same.
5. The Valentinian speculation preserves the antique Greek view of the double soul, sometimes called the psyche and the pneuma. The former is a body soul, which endows life and consciousness, then perishes with the body; the latter is the imperishable spiritual soul.
6. The concepts of parody, grotesque, and the satiric are central to Soloviev's own work, as well as to the writings of the second-generation symbolists. Gnostic laughter (the laughter of the gnostic Christos at the moment of crucifixion, laughter as creative substance) is certainly an important element in the works not only of Soloviev, but also of Andrei Belyi, Sergei Soloviev, and Aleksandr Blok.
7. In some gnostic variants, Agia Sophia and Sophia Prouneikos are replaced by Sophia and her female offspring, Achamoth. Sophia then remains in the perfection of the Pleroma, but Achamoth must live with her mother's sin in the Darkness.
8. The gnostics thus viewed the God of the Old Testament as the evil Demiourgos, the Creator who would keep the World Soul and mankind enslaved eternally in matter. They viewed the "fall" of Adam and Eve as a happy event, brought about by the wise serpent. Only by tasting of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil could Adam and Eve understand their divine origin and begin the work that was to restore the Divine Light.
9. In a gnostic cosmogony, there is no human "fall," only the fall of the Sophia from the Pleroma into the Cosmic Void. The serpent in the Garden of Eden is the hero of the gnostic paradigm, not the villain. In the gnostic Genesis, "God" is the material Demiourgos who places the divine spark of the World Soul into Adam and Eve, and then attempts to hide from them their divine origin in the Pleroma and to trap them forever in matter. The serpent (symbol of Wisdom), by encouraging them to taste of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Spirit and Matter), ensures that the human race will eventually become aware of the trap of matter, recognize its spiritual home, accept the gnosis, and hearing The Call, return to the Godhead (see Pagels Adam 65ff.; Jonas 93-94).
10. The Valentinian speculation did not intend for its initiates to take the Sophia story literally. The story functions as an allegorical paradigm for the redemption of the human spirit, pining in ignorance until redeemed by the knowledge (gnosis) of the Christ. This macrocosmic drama has its counterpart in the microcosmic tribulation of the human heart.
11. This is one of the many points at which gnosticism, Theosophy, Buddhism (all important at the fin-de-siecle), and other occult doctrines intersect. Theosophy and Buddhism both posit Maya, the cosmic Spider who spins the web of World Illusion which must be overcome. The image appears in a number of symbolist works, notably Andrei Belyi's Serebrianyi golub', where the entrapping web literally sends its viscous strands into the hero's breast. The web of World Illusion holds its victim trapped in matter and occludes the higher, "real" reality that stands behind illusion.
12. The understanding of theosis conspicuously highlights the difference between traditional Orthodoxy and gnosticism. Stated in extreme terms, the gnostic is God, albeit a fragmented and imprisoned God; his earthly task is to discover this fact, to reject and overcome the material world that keep him prisoner in his physical body and in nature (which are evil, having been created by an evil demiourgos), and to return to the unknowable Godhead. Most gnostic doctrines have no concept of grace or resurrection, let alone resurrection in the despised flesh. The gnostic path is a return, not a trial or a quest. In Orthodoxy, on the other hand, man is made in the image of God, but he is not God. Man dwells in nature, which is good, for it was created by God; man acquires the Holy Spirit only through divine grace and "dwells in" God, as God dwells in him. Man partakes of divine nature, joins with the divine energy of God, but is not himself divine.
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