Ivan Kireevsky was born on April 3, 1806, and became in the course of his lifetime one of the leading intellectual forces in the group who would later be called the Slavophiles. They were interested in a revival in Russian thought, particularly along lines they considered distinctly Russian – in comparison to Western thought. Many have noted their errors: sometimes they went too far in making distinctions with the West; sometimes they identified distinctives as Russian that were not Russian at all. But their essential instinct was not incorrect. Russia was under a deluge of Western thought, a love affair with everything identified as “progressive” and “new” in Western Europe. Some of these ideas would eventually play their tragic role in the Revolutions of the 20th century. But an interest in the Slavophiles has continued, not only for historical interest, but also because their insights, if not perfect, frequently held merit. Later thinkers, far better trained, such as Fr. Georges Florovsky, would do a much better job of sorting through the ultimate sources of certain ideas, but the instinct that there was a voice within Orthodoxy that needed to learn to speak for itself and had something of value to say to the rest of the Christian world must, in part, be credited to the Slavophiles. Following is a short excerpt from one of Kireevsky’s essays:
Hence, apart from their different concepts, East and West also differed in the very method of theological and philosophical thinking. For, in seeking to arrive at the truth of speculation, Eastern thinkers were primarily concerned with the proper inner condition of the thinking spirit, while Western thinkers were more interested in the external coherence of concepts. Eastern thinkers, striving for the fullness of truth, sought the inner wholeness of reason – that heart, so to speak. of intellectual powers, where all the separate activities of the spirit merge into a higher and living unity. In contrast, Western philosophers assumed that the complete truth could be discerned by the separated faculties of the mind, acting independently in isolation. They used one faculty to understand moral matters, and another to grasp aesthetic ones; for practical affairs they had yet another; matters of truth were apprehended by the abstract understanding. And none of these faculties knew what any of the others was doing until its action was completed. They assumed that each path led to a final goal, which had to be attained before all paths could unite in combined motion. They deemed frigid ratiocination and the unrestrained sway of sincere passions to be equally legitimate human states; and when Western scholars in the fourteenth century learned that the Eastern contemplative thinkers sought to preserve the serenity of inner wholeness of the spirit, they ridiculed the idea and invented various mocking appellations for it.
From “On the Nature of European Culture and on Its Relationship to Russian Culture”
Here Kireevsky offers a very rich phrase: “the inner wholeness of reason.” This does not seek to attack reason (as I have occasionally seemed to do of late) but rather places it within a context that is unlike its place in modern thought. To be “more concerned with the proper inner condition of the thinking spirit” precisely identifies the Orthodox concern for avoiding delusion. Reason and every other human faculty are not independent of the person in whom they take place. A state of inner confusion or of enslavement to the passions will result in poor reason as well as poor everything else. Thus the first step in Orthodox thought is generally concerned with the inner battle with the passions. Ideas cannot be separated from those who speak them.
In is for this reason that Orthodoxy properly hearkens back to the Fathers, and expects holiness of life to be a rich component even of its contemporary writers. It is for this reason that Orthodoxy famously says, “A theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian.” For the unity of the inner life is the rich field from which the fruit of the Kingdom is harvested. It is why the question, “Do you know God?” is an important theological and philosophical question and not merely a curiosity left to confessors. If you do not know God, why should I read anything you have written about him?
This insight is a call to repentance to the madness of the Western academy – where publishing books that attack the Tradition are a quicker means of advancement than any concern with the inner life. The result in the West has been to install wolves in the citadels of virtually every teaching institution in the West. There are notable exceptions – particularly among Orthodox academic institutions. The Catholic Church has sought to reign in their own academics, though Protestant thought has almost completely lost its place at the academic table, having been supplanted by radical revisionism.
I recall in 1990, sitting with friends at Duke University who were completing their PhD’s. There was a sense of gloom among those who were believers and conservative in their theological work. The possibility of a job at a first rate institution was almost null. The sadness was that such jobs were being lost to a competition whose credentials were political rather than real.
For me, the growing question was where such thought should take place at all. I came to the conclusion that the parish Church was perhaps the more proper place for theology to be done in our modern world. Not because the local Church had a library – but because it could have a prayer life – and a hunger for God. In time that decision proved most correct. The feast of theology that exists for an Orthodox Christian is to be found in his Church’s prayers. If those same prayers become the language of the heart the result will always be theology – as it was meant to be.