We live in a truly schizophrenic cultural moment: a world that is coming to recognize that the earth is a living being while simultaneously yawning (if not applauding) as a traumatized seventeen-year-old girl is euthanized. Enter Sophiology.
The essential insight of Sophiology is that the cosmos is infused with the Glory of the Lord, Sophia (Wisdom). The world may be fallen, but, at moments, sometimes due to our intentionality and sometimes due to a free movement of grace, that glory shines through the creation and we are illumined. Sophiology is the antithesis of the “pure nature” (natura pura) theologies and philosophies that arose during the early modern period and infect much of modern and postmodern thinking, however removed they might be from questions of religion. Pure nature entertained the question of whether or not God’s grace could be absent from any part of creation. You should seriously ask yourself whether it could.
Prior to his conversion and ordination, the Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Sergius Bulgakov was an avowed materialist and Marxist economist. In 1895, as he travelled across the steppes and took in a majestic view of the Caucasus at sunset, the young materialist and Marxist found himself confronted with an unexpected realization:
“Suddenly, in that evening hour my soul was joyfully stirred. I started to wonder what would happen if the cosmos were not a desert and its beauty not a mask of deception—if nature were not death, but life. If he existed, the merciful and loving Father, if nature was the vesture of his love and glory, and if the pious feelings of my childhood, when I used to live in his presence, when I loved him and trembled because I was weak, were true, then the tears and inspiration of my adolescence, the sweetness of my prayers, my innocence, and all those emotions which I had rejected and trodden down would be vindicated, and my present outlook with its emptiness and deadness would appear nothing more than blindness and lies, and what a transformation it would bring to me!”1
Bulgakov would go on to become the primary architect of the theological defense of Sophiology, which got him into a lot of trouble with the Russian Orthodox Church. He didn’t really care. (I write more extensively about Bulgakov’s Sophiology in The Submerged Reality).
So, one danger of outing oneself as a sophiologist is that it threatens job security (depending on the job). At the very least, it causes some to suspect the sophiologist of heterodox ideas. And. let’s face it, Sophiology is heterodox whether one is coming from either a religious or a secular standpoint.
But perhaps the biggest danger of Sophiology is that once someone comes to a sophiological understanding, one realizes that everything one has thought I needs to change. Once you realize the goodness that inheres Creation, you cannot but reassess your relationship to Creation. Once you reassess your relationship to Creation, you are forced to reconsider your relationship to human community and what it means to be human. And, from a sophiological perspective, to be human is to be simultaneously in congruence with both nature and supernature. This is the supreme danger.
This is dangerous because once this happens you have to question our “civilization”’s absurd and nearly diabolical reliance on technology and the synthetic manipulation of nature and, even, the human person. This calls into question the deplorable amount of chemicals and synthetic hormones we take into our bodies and our environments to the point where Alzheimer’s and dementia run rampant through our elderly while obesity, asthma, autism, and learning disabilities afflict our children. A regular diet of chemicals and hormones can in no way be “harmless”: I’m sorry, but the herd is not being protected. And I won’t even mention the horrors implicit to a childhood spent online and not out-of-doors.
There are more dangers with our technocratic obsession: a culture of surveillance that makes Orwell look like a Pollyanna; the possibility of the ultimate AI World Dictator; a devotion to industrial farming and rampant consumerism that has wreaked havoc on the environment.
One way to think about the problems plaguing us is to think about our obsessive need to control—nature, economic growth, other human beings, and so forth. This is pathology writ large.
Sophiology, on the other hand, is not about controlling. Instead, Sophiology is concerned with presence: to nature, to other human beings, to that which shines through nature and other human beings. This presence is born only of a contemplative approach to the Things of This World.
Once you do this, though, you find yourself at odds with civilization as it has come to be in its disfigurement. Sophiology is the return to life as life, in relationship with nature and supernature.
As I have argued in my books, such a way of being is characterized by a “poetic metaphysics.” The over-reliance on rationality has resulted in madness. There is another way. As Gerard Manley Hopkins says, “And for all this, nature is never spent.” The world is definitely charged with the grandeur of God. And, as St. Francis of Assisi sings, “O Creatures all! Praise and bless my Lord, and be grateful! Serve Him with deep humility.”
A beautiful version of the Anglican hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” based on St. the Canticle of St. Francis.
Michael's latest book is Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses, including one on The Metaphysical Poets.
1 Sergius Bulgakov, A Bulgakov Anthology: Sergius Bulgakov 1871–1944, trans. Natalie Duddington and James Pain, ed. James Pain and Nicolas Zernov (London: SPCK, 1976), 10–11.