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Wisdom’s Fire, Radiant and Unfading. Part V.

October 25, 2010

Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV.

Freedom is given to created being,
Allowing it to reveal what it has been given.
The link which ties all together can be seen,
By those who pause for contemplation.

Sophia from Sophia produces Sophia.
The higher and lower are properly mixed.
Creation’s priest is found in the economia,
Upon whom all eyes are transfixed.

Created Sophia is made in the likeness of Uncreated Sophia. St. Augustine, in his attempt to understand the role of Sophia in creation, discerned the distinction between creaturely and Divine Sophia: he acknowledged a created Sophia, whom he considered “a sublime creature”[1]formed at the beginning of time:

For although we find no time before it, for wisdom was created before all things, — not certainly that Wisdom manifestly co-eternal and equal unto You, our God, His Father, and by Whom all things were created, and in Whom, as the Beginning, You created heaven and earth; but truly that wisdom which has been created, namely, the intellectual nature, which, in the contemplation of light, is light. For this, although created, is also called wisdom. But as great as is the difference between the Light which enlightens and that which is enlightened, so great is the difference between the Wisdom that creates and that which has been created; as between the Righteousness which justifies, and the righteousness which has been made by justification.[2]                                                                                    

What is found in the Divine Sophia is reflected in created Sophia. In this reflection, what exists in the Divine simplicity in Uncreated Sophia is, in creaturely Sophia, an integral unity, and so, composed of many parts, some which are purely objective, while others are subjects in their own right. What is eternal in Divine Sophia is given temporal being, and so exists in a state of becoming. What is found in Divine Sophia is given the freedom to participate in being, to act according to its inner principle, and slowly reveals itself, becoming, through such act, what it is in eternity. This means that creation, and all that exists in it, must be understood as given some level of freedom, the freedom to develop according to their own principles of being, a principle which is given to it from Eternal Wisdom.   

Created Sophia, as the integral unity behind creation, is the first subject of creation. She is the one who has been given the task to make room for and reveal the contents of Divine Sophia in time, and to give subjects in their own right a space in which they are to act. It is in this manner we are to understand Florensky when he writes: “With regard to creation, Sophia is the Guardian Angel of creation, the Ideal person of the world. The shaping reason with regard to creation, Sophia is the shaped content of God-Reason, His ‘psychic content,’ eternally created by the Father through the Son and completed in the Holy Spirit: God thinks by things.”[3] 

Thus, we are to find many levels of creaturely being found in creation. They are meant to be united by the bonds of love, and through that love, guided by creaturely Sophia so as to best manifest the share of Divine Glory given to them. Creaturely Sophia, being the heart of creation, finds a way to integrate what happens in creation into herself, to be shaped even as she helps shape cosmic destiny. She helps direct, without force, the subjects of creation, and establishes the plane of their existence. She is not the formal cause of the subjects of creation; it is outside of her power to create such subject ex nihilo; she is rather the place where they find being, a place which they are intricately connected to in a web of interdependence.[4] 

Divine Sophia is simple, and created Sohpia is a compound; the simple Idea becomes a plurality of ideas in the realm of becoming. The great chain of being is manifested in one integrated unity, in created Sophia, and creaturely Sophia knows that plurality as a plurality of principles, some with interdependent being with a life of their own. That plurality is known to us in a great chain of being, where there is an ontological hierarchy revealed to us as different links of that chain, particulars capable of being investigated in their own right even if they are connected with other links, allowing them to be united as one.  Marsilio Ficino points out how those who are found higher up in the chain of being, because of their closeness to Divine Being, as well as the benefits the bestow upon those bellow them, can be said to be called “gods,” though we have to understand this like Augustine in the City of God:[5]  

The Idea of all things, which the divine Mind contains, the interior gods are said to serve; the gifts of those gods, the daemons are said to serve. For from the highest to the lowest, all things go through intermediaries in such as way that the Ideas, which are conceived by the divine Mind, bestow their gifts upon men through the mediation of the gods and the daemons.[6] 

God established an integral order for creation, creaturely Sophia, who is a subject that guides creation and yet gives room for other subjects in creation to have their own interdependent existence. The simple and eternal content of Divine Sophia is manifested in creaturely Sophia, which then allows those within her contents to have their own interdependent being while remaining integrated, and therefore, one with creaturely Sophia. “The creaturely Sophia, as the heavenly face of the world’s being, already contains the entire fullness of creation, just as the spring earth already contains all the seeds that will issue forth sprouts in their time. The creaturely Sophia connects and contains all. She is the universe containing the all of creaturely being and linking it in a cosmic connection.”[7]   

Creaturely Sophia thus is a loving guide who allows others their own share of the realm of becoming, and helps order creation so as to give their own temporal existence, a life and existence which is seen and understood by us as history.  Their existence in time, for however long it is, reflect an aspect of the content of Divine Sophia. “God becomes as phenomena express him.”[8] When they come to the end of their temporal existence, this should not be read as their annihilation, rather, it means that their becoming has been complete and they have established what they are meant to be in eternity. For those who have life given to them by God, creaturely Sophia is given the freedom to create the space for their becoming, and acts to serve as their guide, helping them find their proper place in the realm of becoming as their guide, though never as the one who gives them their life. Rather, creaturely Sophia is the one who helps establish the order so that their life can have meaning and value, as well as serving as the foundation of being which ties them together:

In sophiological terms, one can say that the given is the Divine Sophia, as the eternal, and absolute foundation of the world, while the task to be realized is creaturely Sophia, in whom the image of the Divine Sophia is actualized on principles of freedom by the world soul, and then by human freedom. The absolute is actualized in the relative on the pathways of creaturely creativity. In this sense, freedom must be understood as correlated with creaturely creativity. [9]

Nothing in creation exists in total isolation, and so, the realm of becoming, guided by creaturely Sophia, also is moved by creaturely Sophia as creaturely Sophia sees and understands the way the realm of becoming is affected by and changed by the intederdependent living beings which exist in her. Thus, Florensky says:

 The creaturely Sophia, God’s imprint on creation, is “the image of and shadow of Wisdom.” But realized, imprinted, in the empirical world in time. Sophia, although she is creaturely, precedes the world. She is a supramundane hypostatic collection of divine prototypes of that which exists.[10] 

All this is to help us see that there are many levels of living being interacting together in history; Divine Sophia reflected in creaturely Sophia forms the integral whole of creation, giving it the proper order and guidance. Creaturely Sophia has freedom of her own, and yet it is a freedom which makes room for other levels of living being to actively engage the realm of becoming, so that there is real creaturely freedom, though the space in which that freedom exists is the stage in which such freedom is capable of having real meaning, a space which must be seen therefore as unfreedom or necessity: 

Creaturely freedom is necessarily a play of light and shadow: The rays of freedom must be reflected from a wall which is its boundary, just as the I in Fichte’s system requires a not-I in order to posit itself. Autonomous being collides here with what is given, and the self-positing of freedom reflexively appears only in connection with or dependent upon unfreedom. Creaturely freedom is always relative, or, what is the same thing, modal. This freedom is correlative with necessity.[11] 

The history of creation is the revelation of the contents of Divine Sophia into the realm of becoming as manifested in creaturely Sophia. It is a rich, and complex, history. In the material dimensions of the world, creaturely Sophia slowly works her way up the chain of being, mixing prime matter with principles given to her by the divinity, according to both the action of the Divinity upon her, but also upon the reaction of the subjects contained within her space of existence. She helps bring together new creations into the world, creations based upon principles outside of herself, and yet, given to her so as to produce and represent in creation, with a freedom to determine how they shall be manifested; their accidents are, in part, her responsibility.   

We must, of course, recognize the development of creation is not simple; it is not uni-directional which you can easily map out. Rather, we find a complex picture of interactions. Creaturely Sophia shapes the world, and helps establish the forms in which life and created objects are to exist; though such life, united though it is to Sophia, also helps co-create the world, following the principle given to it and yet creatively reflect it so as to help produce the ongoing, and changeable, framework of creation, a frame which we see in the cosmic history of the universe, but also, on a smaller scale, on earth, with the changing shape of the world we live in as well as the changeable nature of life seen in biological evolution. In this way, we can understand the following passage from the book of Proverbs: 

Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who is without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Prov 9:1-6 RSV).[12]  

In a fashion, the history of evolution is the history of Sophia realizing herself, realizing her potential; the “beasts” which are slain are those forms of life which have come to their rightful end, which no longer have a place in the realm of becoming. Moreover, creaturely Sophia, like Divine Sophia, desires to create creatures in her image, though she has to do it by mixing the divine prototypes with created being. The way this mixture happens is, of course, a guided freedom; the living creatures which are formed have their relative freedom to guide and shape the path of evolutionary history, though theology tells us this guidance has a purpose – the purpose of creating a form of being which is fit for the incarnation. This is what happens in the formation of humanity, which is a perfect mixture of spiritual and material realities, existing in the middle of the great chain of being, thus, fit to be a mediator of all that was, is and can be. Creaturely Sophia guided creation to make this perfect mediator, whose purpose in creation is to act as a priest to creation, to intercede for all of creation: 

In the beginning, the human being was created for this purpose: to ascend in desire to the Cause (aitia) and then, accordingly, to descend to the created things that follows the Cause, and thus, having rightly investigates these things with knowledge, to raise them up to their Creator. But he [the human being] did not do this; before raising himself up to God he turned to material things.[13] 

But, we must understand, if this is the role of humanity in creation, and is established in the realm of becoming by created Sophia, it is possible only because this is also true in Divine Sophia. That is, the principle of humanity exists in Divine Sophia, and could not be produced by created Sophia unless it was in Divine Sophia. It is, moreover, another principle created in the image of Divinity, and so it too, is a Sophia. It’s Sophianic nature, however, is a reflection not only of Divine Sophia, but also of creaturely Sophia (we must think of the relationship between Macrocosm and microcosm twice over to understand exactly what is going on: Divine Sophia is the macrocosm to created Sophia’s microcosm, but created Sophia is the macrocosm to humanity’s own microcosm).  

Creaturely Sophia’s “beasts: were, in part, attempts of Sophia to create this mediator, to create this perfect microcosm of itself. Each one was presented and given the chance of being determined by God to be such, and each, until humanity was so presented, was declined. The Divinity predetermined the manifestation of itself in creation through humanity, though creaturely Sophia would only know when God had determined had demonstrated this to her. However, as Bulgakov reminds us, even if creaturely Sophia did not know when this was to occur, in the Divine Sophia, this was not the case:

 The Divine Sophia as Humanity, or its principle, is not yet Man. Man is a hypostasis living in its nature, which is precisely humanity. Thus Sophia by herself, as an essence that is nonhypotastic (but is only in the process of being hypostasized) does not yet express the full image of man, which necessarily requires a hypostasis. Man receives a hypostasis from God in his creation as “the in-breath of the Divine spirit,” and he thereby becomes “a living soul,” a living man, I – in which, for which,  and through which humanity lives. But this humanity already possesses the ability to be hypostatized, and in this it already bears the imprint of its Proto-Image. Although the Divine Sophia is not a hypostasis, she is never nonhypostatic or extrahypostatic; she is eternally being hypostatized, and for her the direct hypostasis is not the Father (although He is revealed in the Divine Sophia) but the Logos, the demiurgic hypostasis who reveals the Father. It can be said about the Logos that He is the eternal Man, the human Proto-Image before the creation of the world, and that man is created in His Image.[14] 

Again, we must recognize that the development of humanity, of the placement of this mediator into the world-system, into creaturely Sophia, was done out of and through freedom. That is, the path of human development was not established through deterministic means. Other paths could have been used to establish humanly-Sophia, paths which would have taken far less time or far more time, paths which were more direct, and paths which were even more haphazard than what we see in the history of human evolution. Moreover, though the form of humanity resided in the Divine plan, we must understand the way this form is found in creation was, in part, creatively determined by the process of human evolution, and accidents which are not necessary to this mediatorial form are the result of creaturely freedom. And, we must not assume that only humanity has a special place in the history of creation, and thus evolution is solely for the sake of humanity. It is not. All life is important and special. Indeed, if this were not the case, the role that humanity has in creation would make no sense: why mediate and act as a priest over creation if the rest of creation is meaningless?  

So far, everything seems so nice and peaceful. Creaturely Sophia slowly shows the great wealth of being given to her, making room inside her (in imitation of Divine Sophia) for many free subjects to develop and exist in their own right. But if we look closely, things are not so easy. The process by which these subjects come to exist often includes a lot of cruelty. It’s not all so benign. We find creatures fighting each other, and the development of humanity was itself formed out of such a great struggle. Improvements in creaturely being often come from such conflicts; indeed, species come into existence often at the expense of others. There is great suffering in the cycle of created being. What is the source of this? Sin, and this is what we must discuss next.

[1] From book XII-15 of St. Augustine, Confessions in NPNF1(1):180.

[2]ibid., 180-1.

[3] Pavel Florensky, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 237.

[4]The mystery of personality and the distinctions between unique subjects is one of the many mysteries which we must, in part, acknowledge though leave open for greater discussion elsewhere. What is important is to see is that creaturely Sophia must have a role in their formation because she is a reflection of Divine Sophia. Just as Divine Sophia makes space for creation, so she makes space for new creations. Their primary cause of being must always be seen as coming from Divine Sophia. Why they are placed in a particular time and place can be seen as what is ordered by God, and yet, what God orders must in part come from his interaction with created being, given created being the freedom to act so as to allow the placement of new subjects in time (i.e., God acts according to how subjects reproduce). Ficino tries to explain this Platonically: 

To use the language of the Platonists, however, what distinguishes the soul of Plato from the soul of Socrates? It is the divine “concept” which has tempered the life-giving power of Plato’s soul first to the garment of such a soul’s particular heavenly body, and then through this garment adapted it to begetting and ruling the soul’s particular complexion (that of the elemental body especially). It has likewise adapted the soul of Socrates to its particular [garment and complexion]. I this way Plotinus has accordingly distinguished between the two souls’ life-giving powers by means of [their] matter, or rather distinguished by means of the composite made from matter for the sake of adorning the world. 

Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology: Volume 5. trans. Michael J.B. Allen (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 151.

What Ficino points out, and what is important for us here, is that we can understand different elements of a subject’s existence; the higher “heavenly body” can be seen as their principle of being as creaturely Sophia knows of them. Their material body is the body which we know of them in the normal worldly existence.  

[5] See St. Augustine, City of God IX.23 in NPNF1(2):178..

[6] Marsilio Ficino, Commentary on Plato’s Symposium of Love, 111.

[7] Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, 64.

[8] Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart. Trans. Raymond B. Blakney (New York: Harper and Row, 1941), 225.

[9] Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, 133.

[10] Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 251-2.

[11] Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, 126-7.

[12]This passage can also be understood as the way Divine Wisdom has built her own house, that is, incarnated in the second person of the Trinity, and offers us the eucharist, as Theophilus of Alexandria tells us: 

The substantive Wisdom of God the Father, who prepared for herself a temple not made of human hands, distributes her own body as bread, and gives her own life-giving blood as wine. O fearful mystery! O unutterable dispensation. O inconceivable condescension! O unsearchable compassion! The Creator lays himself out for the enjoyment of the creature. Life-in-itself offers himself to moral beings as their food and drink. Come, eat my bread, he exhorts, and drink the wine I have mixed for you. I have prepared myself as food. I have mixed myself for those who desire me. Although I am life, I willingly become flesh. Although I am Word and substantive impress of the Father, I voluntarily partook of flesh and blood for your salvation.

Theophilus of Alexandria, Homily on the Mystical Supper  in Theophilus of Alexandria. trans. and intr. Norman Russell (London: Routledge, 2007), 53-4.

[13] St Maximus the Confessor, Questions and Doubts. Trans. Despina D. Prassas (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010), 77.

[14] Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 113.

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  1. Vermont Crank permalink
    October 26, 2010 8:18 am

    On this thread, Capitalism, Like Marxism, Creates Erroneous Liberation Theologies, I issued an apology to you and I wanted to be sure you did not miss it.

  2. Ronald King permalink
    October 26, 2010 9:12 am

    Extremely interesting Henry. There is so much here to discuss. Thanks.
    Can’t wait for sin.

    • October 26, 2010 9:21 am


      Thank you. Obviously, I do not know when I will get to the next post. I have been writing them one at a time — one of the reasons why some plans I had when writing one post do not come out in the next. I hope to edit them and improve upon them later, once the series itself is done.

      I finished this one before my father’s passing away. I wrote it mostly on Friday — and edited it yesterday morning. He passed on yesterday evening.

      Sin is, however, important. And so will get to it — contemplating the spiritual realities helps deal with tragedy, so I know I will not be away from it, though of course, it will be in my off times….

  3. October 28, 2010 5:56 am

    I think it is a little confusing to post something of this nature and not explain a bit the controversy behind Sophiology in Russian Orthodox thought in the early 20th century. I know Florovsky and Co. were dead set against these types of speculations, and Bulgakov and Florensky, while never condemned as heretics or anything of the sort, were far from models of Orthodox thought. According to critics, they owed too much to German romanticist philosophy and Jacob Boehme, to name a few sources, and their speculations went too far, bordering on paganism and a vague form of Gnosticism.

    That being said, I am no longer sympathetic to those criticisms, though I do feel that the task of Christian theology may have to be more modest if it is to follow its own rules. On the other hand, I have never been very comfortable with the limits that such orthodoxy puts on thought. The way you describe Sophia is the way the pagans would have described the anima mundi, or soul of the world. Modern Christians since the Enlightenment have been very hesitant to put too many intermediaries between God and the world, and that is why even angelology has suffered, not to mention the hierarchical speculations of Pseudo-Dionysius. Even the most conservative Christian today does not seem to realize that his cosmology is very much influenced by the deist idea of God as a distant if omnipotent watch maker who has no intermediaries and directly creates rigid natural laws that set things in motion until He tells them to stop. The modern person can thus be a bit baffled as to why an entire treatise on angels begins Aquinas’ general treatise on creation in the Summa. As the poet Morri Creech states in his poem dedicated to Isaac Newton: “A minor disappointment not to find / angels pushing the planets around their courses…”

    I still have my reservations about Sophiology, if only because I think it makes for poor paganism and even poorer orthodox Christianity. (Sort of the same reason I dislike liberation theology: bad Marxism, and even worse Catholicism). But I do agree that there is more potential in it to account for the spiritual and material fecundity of creation. It is an attempt to re-encounter the enchanted universe that seems to have been the patrimony of our ancestors. In spite of the fact that I think it is overly romanticized and too cosmologically clean for my taste, I respect it more now than I used to when I was more engrossed in Orthodox thought.

  4. November 1, 2010 5:44 am


    I just saw your comment (as you know, my week last week was busy dealing with the death of my father). Just my own quick response:

    As for Sophiology, while there are critics, there are also many supporters. And yes, it was criticized, and some tried to get it denounced as heresy, I would say much of the criticism is (I found) erroneous, and more of the kind which I saw around St Thomas Aquinas back in his day. Plus, I know some of the critics of Bulgakov were upset at how positive his views were on the filioque and Marian theology (despite his own non-acceptance of the Vatican formulations). And Bulgakov/Florensky and others do show that the Orthodox are not univocal in thought, and they often deal with traditions some of the Orthodox wanted to ignore.

    Needless to say, Solovyov and Florensky both have had major support from the Vatican — and Bulgakov’s reputation seems to be improving among the Orthodox.

    • November 1, 2010 6:58 am

      Oh, and I am working on this series, one post at a time, and doing it slowly, I might include near the end a post about the kinds of criticisms Sophiologists have often had, and my response to them. You are right in pointing out there are such criticisms out there, but first, I am just wanting to explain (in this haphazard way) my own Sophiological views.

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