Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb

Image result for sergius bulgakov

Bulgakov, Sergius.  Bride of the Lamb.  Eerdmans.

This isn’t a normal review.  It’s mostly a collection and analysis of his most important points.  This is the best thing ever written on eschatology in the sense of final judgment, life-after-death, etc.

Bulgakov says he rejects pantheism and monism.  He makes several incisive criticisms against cosmic dualisms (the two creating entities annul one another).

Creation Out of Nothing

What do we mean by the word “nothing?”  Are we reifying “nothing?” Bulgakov says there is “no extra-divine ground of creation” (Bulgakov 6).   We must distinguish two different types of “nothing:”

  1. pre-creaturely nothing, ontological zero. The negation of all being
  2. Ontic, creaturely nothing, me on. It is a mode of creaturely being.  

More on nothing (116ff)

    • nothing is no-thing, not just something.
    • Its existence can only be posited by extreme abstraction.  
    • All creation has a non-creaturely, creaturely character.  


  • The positive force of its being is the creaturely Sophia, which is the image of the divine Sophia (117).


Aquinas has a difficulty with calling creation “good.”  Rather, it is imperfect. It is only one type of many possible worlds.  There is a non-correspondence between ideas and things, as the former is always larger than the latter.  The divine ideas are suspended in mid-air. They aren’t entirely accidents, because God doesn’t have accidents, but to the degree that they actualize creation, they can’t be fully God, either.  

Creatio and God as Cause

Motion cannot be explained on the basis of the motion itself (???).  

“The strength of the causal series lies in its continuity” (35) and if a gap were introduced, it would fail.  And there is a gap between God and creation. Both causality and mover belong to the world of unitary being. “It is not possible to transcend the world.”  

But the Christian faith does not need any of this.  It has the doctrine of creation, which is personal and presupposes a personal God (37).  

Divine Sophia is the en-hypostatic life of the Trinity.  

  • It is the Divine World.
  • Not a hypostasis, but a hypostasizedness

Creation of the World

  • a self-positing of God (46).
    • But the world is not a piece of God.
    • Rather, Divine Sophia has a creaturely Sophianic mode of existence in which the world exists.
  • Divine Sophia exists in a dual mode
    • eternal (proper mode)
    • creaturely
      • contains multiplicity
      • relative nothingness
  • There can be no divine principle of existence which exists in the “nothing” (ouk on).  
    • “Nothing” is a modus of reality.  It cannot exist by itself and for itself.

Divine Prototypes

  • These are the plan of creation (55).
  • The problem Patristics faced with this was how to relate these prototypes, which were divine, to creation.  Bulgakov suggests Sophia is the relation.
  • Ideas are the “seeds” of being.
  • Creation

Temporality of Creation

What do we mean when we say that the world is created “in time?”  How do eternity and temporality interact without the former subsuming the latter?  Is the latter merely an illusion?

  • Temporality is not yet time; time is the mode of its existence (70).
  • Time is the abstract measure of temporality, but it is not the unique measure.
  • With respect to creation, we must not speak of the beginning of time (which is contradictory), but of the emergence of temporality.
  • Time is a relation within becoming.

Therefore, we say that creation is beginningless, but not eternal.    It can’t have a beginning in time since time, too, is created. Therefore, we say that creation and time emerge from temporality.

The World Soul and its Hypostases

world soul: the creaturely Sophia (79).  It is here that Bulgakov’s project shines in all its brilliance but also threatens to come undone.  He admits that the existence of the world-soul marks a “loss of clarity” and one wonders if he is reverting back to Aristotle’s chain of being.  But it is a lively chain, for he assures us: “There is no place for dead matter in the world.”

  • We are speaking of the world soul, not the world spirit.  The difference between soul and spirit is that the soul is not hypostatic, whereas the Spirit is.  
  • The soul corresponds to the spirit’s nature.  It is the spirit’s hypostatizedness.
  • This is not Neo-Platonism, for he does not see the World Soul as a hypostasis.  
  • The World-Soul is a connected, multi-organic unity
  • It is the world’s inner entelechy which unifies.
  • Therefore, there is an “inner life principle” in the world.  If this were not so, then why would we enjoin creation to praise God if creation is merely dead matter?
  • It is the actualization of creaturely being (197).  The world-soul actualizes creation’s instincts for power.
    • In its proper being it is divided into heaven and earth
  • Creaturely sophia experiences aeviternitas.  Divine Sophia aeternitas.


Angels are how God usually relates nature (199).  They are the bearers of the sophicanic prototypes of creation and the earth’s reality.  Creation arises through the elemental forces of the world soul but its formation presupposes angelic activity and participation (Rev. 7:1, 14:18; 16:5; and fight battles).

Angels are the sophicanic heaven of the world, the creaturely bridge between Divine Sophia and Creaturely sophia, metaxu.  Angels contain the assurance that creation is a ladder of life.

Main Point

The connection of God and the world is grounded in Sophianicity.  “The divine Sophia is one, though she has two forms of being” (223).  Bulgakov argues that the Western insistence on speaking of God as First Cause and creation as Second Cause has the effect of subsuming the latter under the former.  Rather, God is not the cause of the world but the Creator.

  • In the creation of the world God repeats or doubles his own Being.  This is the Divine Sophia positing the Creaturely Sophia’s mode of existence (222).
  • It is the self-repetition of the Divine Sophia.

Bulgakov thinks he solves the main aporia–that of divine and human freedom–in placing this interaction within the realm of creaturely Sophia (231).

The Church

Holds to a highly qualified apostolic succession (280-282).

The Eucharist

  • He suggests that Ignatius’s stringent appeal to the bishop suggests that his position is new and far from indisputable (284).
  • The initial emphasis was not on the Bishop, but on the koinonia.

History and Knowledge

  • mankind finds its unity in Adam and is the gnoseological subject, The Universal-I.  It is realized in the particular cognitive acts of individuals. This is what Hegel was getting at when he said knowledge is social.  If knowledge is atomized, it can’t be transmitted.
  • If there is a transcendental subject, then there is a transcendental object.  This is the world in its integral unity, creaturely Sophia.

Expanding Being in History

We know from revelation that spiritual hierarchies participate together with man in the world.  “They act within the limits of the world.”

Suggests each ethnos has its own “spirit,” though he is vague on what he means by “spirit.”  It is the source of man’s creativity (which is why different cultures are different in their own ways).

The human world is not closed off but is permeated by spiritual powers (328). The battle between the angelic and demonic takes place both in the spiritual and the physical world.

Interpretation of Revelation

  • The beast from the sea stands for the animal, elemental principle in man.  It is the absolute State, the ideology of force.
  • false prophet: this is not the bestialization of mankind, but the satanization (329).  
  • However, Bulgakov does not merely opt for a stale, spectral hermeneutical idealism.  The Apocalypse is moving forward. These are *real* forces which *really* act in history.
  • The beast is a collective symbol, like the whore of Babylon (330).  Bulgakov rejects the idea of a personal antichrist.
  • Conclusion:  Christianity is always accompanied by its black shadow, Anti-Christianity. Thus, there are two forms of humanity (Godmanhood and mangodhood).  
  • While Bulgakov rejects premillennialism, he also warns that “spiritualizing” or allegorizing Rev. 20 annuls it of any real power (337).
    • Rev 20 happens within a sequence of events.
    • first resurrection: it is not the universal resurrection of the dead.  It is spiritual.  The souls have communicated to them a spiritual energy that allows them to participate from “their side” of the dead.   The barrier dividing our world and theirs is so thin that as history expands, they also participate in it.

Conversion of Israel:

  • It is a spiritual axis traversing the whole good news (Lev. 26.42-45; cf texts on p. 337).
  • Its resurrection will inwardly conclude the triumphant procession of Christianity in the world (Rm. 11.25).

Death and the State After Death

Death has substantial, not accidental being (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13, 14).

Donum superadditum: basically says that the original creation was a failure that requires God’s express action (350).  

Back to Sophianicity

  • creaturely sophia is hypostasized by the human spirit.
  • This spirituality has the potency of immortality
  • Nature awaits the fulness of this potency.

Metaphysics of death

  • not the annihilation of life but of a particular state of life.  If death equals complete nonbeing, then God has failed.
  • man is susceptible to death because of his ontological complexity.
  • Man is ultimately (originally) God-earth, an incarnate Godlike spirit.
  • Body and Soul and Spirit
    • Death’s dividing sickle passes between the spirit and the soul on one hand and the spirit and the body on the other.
    • The soul is an intermediate principle connecting the spirit with the creaturely world.  It is creaturely, like blood (but not blood).
    • The supraphysical energy of life (which finds it substratum in the blood) abides.
  • Death is a temporary cessation of the action of the soul upon the body.  The soul does not die but is relatively potentialized.
  • In death, an individual is separated only from his body, not his soul.
    • after death the soul abides in a supracorporeal shell, preserving some tenuous connection with spirit.
    • man was originally meant to see the spiritual world; the fall veiled that.  Flesh is separated from spirit by a wall of sensuality.
    • By tearing away man from his flesh, death opens for him the “gates of the spiritual world” (359).  This is why the dying can often see angels, demons, and appearances of departed loved ones.
    • Death divides human life into two halves
      • psychic-corporeal being (what we call “alive”)
      • spiritual-psychic body.
  • Since death is not complete nonbeing/cessation, it is necessarily a continuing of life.
  • What about the “judgment?”
    • first of all, self-consciousness and self-judgment.
    • it is not yet perfect self-knowledge, which can only happen at the final judgment with the totality of humanity (social knowing).
    • An existential self-determination follows this judgment.
  • He has an interesting take on the salvation of infants and the like:
    • First, he has already established that death is a new mode of existence.
    • Secondly, the afterlife is not a merely passive state (otherwise man is a mere object and not a knowing subject).
    • Therefore, he will live in this world with other spiritual, incorporeal beings.
    • Even the “Rich Man” in the Lazarus parable felt something new:  love towards his brothers. Thus, there are degrees of change.
    • Acting in relation to others is an acting upon ourselves (365).
    • Thus, it seems beyond argument that the human spirit can undergo change in the afterlife.
  • The spirit is not a mere object which receives actions without inwardly transforming them.
  • Concerning the pangs of hell, the state of disincarnation after death does not admit corporeal pains.  
  • Further, since we are spirit, and spirit is freedom, it seems we would have a sort of freedom in the afterlife.

The Sophianic Descent

Glory in the Trinity corresponds to the revelation of the third hypostasis in the dyad of the Father’s self-revelation.  The Holy Spirit as glory rests upon the Son.

Kenosis: removal of glory from the world, not from the Trinity.  However, his earthly ministry includes a movement towards Glory (Tabor, the Cross).

The dyad of Son-Spirit underwent a sort of kenosis as well.  The Spirit reduced the degree of glory in his repose on Christ.  The two kenoses are parallel, but they occasoinally coincide and diverge.

In the Ascension the kenosis of the Son is overcome.  The descent of the Spirit is a kenotic act as such, “for its action in the world remains limited by the measure of creaturely reception” (398).

The third hypostasis does not have a personal revelation as such.  It looks like it is submerged into “Glory,” but this is not the case.  Glory is not a property. It is divinity as such.

  • Divinity is the revelation of the father in the bihypostatic Dyad of the Son and the Holy Spirit (407).
  • In relation to the Son, Divinity is Wisdom.
  • In relation to the Holy Spirit, Divinity is Glory
  • Therefore, if Christ is the hypostatic Wisdom of God, then the Holy Spirit is hypostatic glory, albeit hidden since the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a hypostatic manifestation.
    • Pentecost is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Tongues of Fire, which isn’t hypostatic.

The Transfiguration of the World

The world will be illumined with the lightning of the Parousia.

The heavenly fire–the sophianic descent of the Holy Spirit–will set the world on fire and melt it.  “That is the first action of the Holy Spirit in the world in its parousia” (421).

How was the first Pentecost possible since the world cannot withstand such glory without being burned up?  First it was possible because of the Incarnation.

Relation between matter and spirit: the world receives its materiality from the Holy Spirit, so spirit is the basis of matter.  Therefore, it is open to spirit.

  • spiritual causality.  This causality enters the natural world through the spiritual world (which is guarded by holy angels).
  • This is commonly called “miracle.”  Miracle is not a violation of the laws of nature since nature’s very being is already reducible to Spirit, and thus open-ended.  
  • This glory (Taboric) enters the world through Sophia.  This state of reducible-to-spirit is the state of creaturely Sophia.  

On the Resurrected Body

  • Gregory of Nyssa: the soul puts its imprint on the body.

Judgment and Separation

judgment is first of all a judgment that exposes every falsehood (456).

  • Bulgakov rejects annihilationism (461).
  • He equates the passages about “outer darkness” as “metaphysical nonbeing” (463).
  • “The very separation of heaven and hell…is internal and relative” (465), since every soul will face the divine light.

The Eternal in the Temporal

Given aeviternitas, the creaturely experience of the afterlife is still in the realm of temporality. With regard to time, eternity is a qualitative determination.  Aeternitas is revealed in aeviternitas.

Hell cannot be an original creation of God.  Hell has no being but is only a state. Therefore, “eternal life” and “eternal torments” are not parallel terms.  They are not abtractly identified as two kinds of eternity. When we define eternity as duration, we are engaging in what Hegel called “bad infinity.”

Judgment as separation expresses the relation between image and likeness (474).  The torments are torments of unrealized and unrealizable love (475).

Bulgakov clearly rejects universalism.  He calls it pusillanimous and sentimental (bottom of p. 475).  


What does Bulgakov mean by alluding to an “ontological hierarchy” in creation (53)? Elsewhere, he rightly rejects the Aristotelian chain of being.  I think he means something along the lines that creation is not a nominalistic bundle of atoms (a string of pearls without the string).



About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, Church History, Eschatology, Fathers, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb

  1. Pingback: Follow Friday, Blog Style – The Haunted Wordsmith

  2. cal says:

    I always thought the Sophianic elements that both Bulgakov and Florensky use are too close to the quasi-paganism of Solovyvov, and that much grief would be saved if the interesting and thought provoking ideas were articulated through Maximian distinction of Logos-logoi. I like Bulgakov, but I also understand why he was accused of heresy.


    • J. B. Aitken says:

      That’s a good way to put it. I look at Sophiology in the same was as some of the pre-nicene resistance to homoousion. I get what they are saying, but after a certain point it is plutonium. You can’t touch it. A lot of witches and New Agers today are all into “Divine Sophia.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s