This article is one of a series which will be published by The Transnational Vladimir Solovyov Society at this web site. It is published with permission from "Modern Greek Studies Yearbook" in which it first appeared, Vol. 10/11 (1994/1995). Greg Gaut is a professor of history at St. Mary's University of Minnesota; e-mail:

Christian Politics:

                        Vladimir Solovyov's Social Gospel Theology

Greg Gaut

ON 28 MARCH 1881, the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, then 28 years old, was lecturing on Slavophile themes to a large audience in St. Petersburg. Towards the end of the lecture, he mentioned the six members of the terrorist organization Narodnaia volya [The People=s Will] who were then on trial for the assassination of Alexander II. He told the audience that the regicide laid before the new tsar the "unprecedented opportunity to affirm the Christian principle of all-forgiveness" by pardoning the assassins of his father. Some observers claimed that students in the audience responded with shouts of "bravo," apparently interpreting his words as an endorsement of the radical movement, and that older members of the audience shouted at him angrily. According to his own report, Solovyov felt compelled to return to the podium in order to avoid misunderstanding. He told the audience that his point was only that a Christian state should not employ the death penalty.

Although Solovyov did not intend to endorse the revolutionaries, his speech caused a "scandal" and was brought to the attention of the authorities, including the Minister of the Interior and Tsar Alexander III himself. His call for "Christian all-forgiveness," however, had no effect on the outcome of the case. On April 3, the government hanged five of the defendants, and commuted to life imprisonment the sentence of the sixth, who was pregnant. The Tsar then decided to reprimand Solovyov for "inappropriate opinions" and temporarily stop him from lecturing. This leniency was no doubt based on the fact that the young man was well known as the rising intellectual star of conservative nationalist circles, and moreover, the son of the late historian Sergei Solovyov, who had been a tutor to the Tsar.

This was the great turning point in the life of Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900). Not long after this event, he resigned from his university post, and began a career as an independent scholar and publicist. The lecture also marked the beginning of his break with Slavophile and conservative nationalist circles and his crossing over to the liberal milieu. Finally, the speech represented his first public stand in favor of what he later called "Christian politics." This term referred to his belief that all Christians, even the tsar, were called to apply Christian moral precepts in both private and public life (e.g. to domestic policy, economics, even foreign affairs), and that when they responded to this call, they contributed to humanity's salvation by building the Kingdom of God on earth.

After 1881, Solovyov was clearly a theological liberal in the sense that he believed that Christianity must engage modernity and recognize the secular world as fully autonomous. But more specifically, he became an advocate of the social Christian trend which developed in Europe and the U.S. during his lifetime. Solovyov's articles and books on Christian politics echoed the work of the social gospel movement within Protestantism and the Catholic social thought exemplified by Pope Leo XIII's encyclicals.

Solovyov's social Christian theology has gone largely unnoticed, perhaps because the social Christian trend within Russian Orthodoxy has been little explored if not completely ignored. Nevertheless, Solovyov based all his journalistic work between 1881 and his death in 1900 on a social Gospel theology. Inspired by his new theological orientation, Solovyov waged a long and bitter battle against his former conservative nationalist friends, criticizing their antisemitism, their defense of russification, and their support for the persecution of the non-Orthodox. His theology also facilitated his deep personal, professional and intellectual alliances with the liberals of his day, especially the group which published Vestnik Evropy [European Messenger]. Indeed, if we fail to recognize that social Christian ideas were at the core of Solovyov's mature thought, we cannot make sense of Solovyov's controversial career in the last two decades of his life. Moreover, our understanding of pre-revolutionary Russian Orthodoxy will be skewed if we do not take into account the social Christian trend within Russia, and Solovyov's major contribution to it.

The Theology of Christian Politics

Solovyov first clearly defined the term Christian politics in a series of articles about the unification of the Churches published in 1883 (4:3-114). In the first installment, then called "Poland and the Eastern Question," but later retitled as "Morality and Politics: Russia's Historical Responsibilities" when it appeared in the first volume of The National Question in Russia in 1884, Solovyov wrote:

Just as Christian morality has in mind the realization of the Kingdom of God within the individual, so Christian politics [khristianskaia politika] should act to prepare the coming of the Kingdom of God for humanity as a whole consisting of its major parts -- nations, races and states. (4:3; 5:7)

In the 1888 preface to the second volume of The National Question in Russia, Solovyov left no doubt that he intended his idea of Christian politics to have the broadest possible meaning:

The true good for Russia consists in the development of Christian politics, in applying the principles of true religion to all social and international relations, and in resolving all existing problems of social and political life in a Christian way. Christianity, if we really accept it as an absolute truth, must be put into practice in all affairs and relationships of life. There cannot be two supreme principles of life. This is the religious and moral axiom: one cannot serve two masters.(5:157)

Nevertheless, Solovyov recognized that the actual politics of Christian peoples were ruled by godless hostility and discord, and that the Kingdom of God was generally ignored. He complained that there was a "complete separation between morality and politics" which led Christians to accept the status quo. Solovyov argued that since their faith summoned them to the building of the Kingdom of God on earth, Christians could not acquiesce in the evil reality of human relations. He anticipated that some would find his call for Christian politics unrealistic:

Such politics are not utopian in the derogatory sense of that term, i.e. as not wanting to face evil reality and trying to realize ideals in a void; on the contrary, Christian politics proceed from reality and first and foremost want to be a remedy against actual evil.(5:8)

Solovyov's concept of Christian politics was grounded in the overall metaphysical conception of the world-process which he developed in his early philosophical works, especially in his "Chteniia o bogochelovechestve" [ALectures on Godmanhood@], which attracted much attention in the late 1870s (3:3-181). He argued that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the "Godman," was the central event of the cosmic process. He conceived of the Fall as the falling away of the world of nature, including humanity, from the ideal unity of the Divine Absolute. The goal of the historical process was to reunite all nature with the Divinity. The Fall, with all its pain and turmoil, was necessary because of human freedom, but human freedom also was the path back to unity:

By a free act...the world...fell away from Divinity and fell apart within itself into the multitude of elements warring among themselves; by a long series of free acts that whole rebellious multitude must make peace among themselves and be reconciled with God (3:147)

The whole point of "Godmanhood" was that God became man not as an atonement for humanity's sin (which Solovyov called the "legalistic theory of redemption"), but as the "practical revelation of the Kingdom of God in humanity" (3:163-3). The theory of "Godmanhood" remained at the center of Solovyov's thought, and two decades later, he provided further clarification in his ethical treatise Opravdanie dobra [The Justification of the Good]:

Since the purpose of the world-process is the revelation of the Kingdom of God or the perfect moral order realized by a new humanity which spiritually grows out of the God-man, it is clear that this universal event must be preceded by the individual appearance of the God-man himself. The first half of history up to Christ prepared the environment or the external conditions for His individual birth; the second half prepares the external conditions for his universal revelation or for the coming of the Kingdom of God. (Emphasis in original; 8:224)

This historical recovering of unity which culminates in the Kingdom of God is theandric, that is, it is shared equally by humanity and by God. Humanity must act in history to regenerate itself as a social body, and when this is achieved, humanity will be deified and once again part of the vse-edinstvo [unity-of-all]. In the end, God will be all, but human beings will not lose their individual selves in this new unity.

Whereas "Godmanhood" was the centerpiece of Solovyov's philosophy of history, the biblical concept of the "Kingdom of God" was for him the key to Christianity's practical solution to the problem of human existence. Solovyov provided his most cogent explanation of the centrality of this concept in his 1891 article "O poddelkakh" ["On Counterfeits"](6:327-339). Based on extensive references to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, he argued that the Kingdom of God was the central idea of the Gospels (6:330). He summed up the scriptural evidence in an "all-embracing" definition:

The Kingdom of God is the complete realization of the divine in the naturally human through the God-man Christ, or in other words, it is the fullness of natural human life, united through Christ with the divine fullness. [Emphasis in original] (6:331)

In a sense, Solovyov continued, "the Kingdom of God is within you," but only as a potential or possibility. For it to become an actuality, human beings must make a deliberate effort of their free will in conjunction with divine grace. In other words, the Kingdom of God "is our work, a task set for us to carry out" (6:331). He stressed that it was a real and objective task of humanity, not simply a psychological feeling in individuals.

Since "Christianity wholly consists of the fact that God's work has also become completely human work," he went on to criticize those Christians who believed that humanity plays a passive role in the historical process (6:335). He also criticized those who believed that Christianity was inherently conservative, arguing that the idea of the Kingdom of God gradually revealing itself in the life of mankind gives meaning to history and determines the true conception of progress. Christianity reveals to mankind not only the ideal of absolute perfection but also the way to attain it, and therefore is essentially progressive (6:336). Christians then should support what is consistent with the Kingdom of God in human society, and reject what is against it. The Christian task was to regenerate and transform social institutions and make them as compatible as possible with the Kingdom of God. This brought Solovyov back to the concept of "Christian politics:

And so, the idea of the Kingdom of God necessarily leads us (that is, every sincere and conscientious Christian) to the duty of doing what we can to realize Christian principles in the collective life of mankind and transform all our social institutions in the spirit of a higher truth. In other words, it leads to Christian politics. (6:337)

The Kingdom of God is a problematic concept which has concerned Christian thinkers beginning with the patristic literature. Solovyov's concept of the Kingdom of God does not fit comfortably into either of the two traditional approaches. On the one hand, patristic and medieval Christian thinkers, for example, St. Augustine, tended to equate the Kingdom of God with the Church. On the other hand, the term has been associated with the Second Coming and the final resurrection of souls.

As we have seen, Solovyov conceived of the Kingdom of God as a human task. Even though it was the goal or endpoint of the world historical process, it was still the earthly project of all Christians in conjunction with God. In fact, until his last work, Tri razgovora [Three Conversations], Solovyov was unconcerned with eschatology except in the most abstract sense, and as I argue below, Solovyov never abandoned his belief that the Kingdom of God was an earthly task.

However, even though he defined the Kingdom of God as an earthly phenomenon, Solovyov ultimately denied the traditional identification of it with the Church, despite the fact that he had affirmed it in several of his early writings. By the time he wrote Justification of the Good in 1897, he had come to the conclusion that "it is absurd to say that the Kingdom of God is identified with historical Christianity or the visible Church" (8:225). By then, the Church seemed to him to be both too broad and too narrow--too broad because he believed that many if not most of those formally within the Church were not participants in the process of building the Kingdom of God, and too narrow because many whom he identified as advancing God's work were not even believers.

Having rejected the traditional association of the Kingdom of God with the Church, Solovyov also went against the grain in his answer to the problem of the universality of the Kingdom of God, or put another way, the issue of personal versus collective salvation at the end of time. Would there be a hell to which some would be sent for all eternity, following a Last Judgement where God "will separate people into two groups as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matthew, 25:32)? Or would the Christian principle of forgiveness prevail in the end, and humanity as a whole would be welcomed into the Kingdom of God, just as humanity as a whole had borne the burden of Adam and Eve's sin?

The former view prevails in the Orthodox Church, as in most Christian churches, but there has long been some support for the latter view as well. Among the patristic thinkers, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa maintained that the final restoration of souls would be universal. According to the Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov, their view represented a legitimate theological opinion, since although Origen was condemned by the Church it was not on this point, and Gregory of Nyssa was never condemned at all. Orthodox historian Timothy Ware wrote that from an Orthodox point of view it is heretical to believe that all must be saved, but legitimate to hope with Gregory of Nyssa that all may be saved.

For his part, Solovyov strongly defended the concept of universal salvation, which was after all implicit in his overriding idea of the restoration of unity-of-all at the end of the world historic process. Indeed, the concept of personal salvation was totally incompatible with his metaphysics. Solovyov thought of humanity in purely social terms, and went so far as to refuse to recognize any essential opposition between the individual and society: a person was "only the meeting point of an infinite number of relations with other individuals." Since human beings were profoundly social, "the final end of their efforts, is not found in personal destiny, but in the social destinies of mankind as a whole."(6:332) Solovyov therefore denied that "individual souls alone could and ought to be saved," because this implied the abandonment of the basic Christian task of transforming all human life into the Kingdom of God (6:389). After all, as he argued in Justification of the Good, "the individual in isolation does not exist and therefore does not grow to perfection." It is the individual together with and inseparable from society who is the real subject of perfection, and therefore of historical progress in general (8:448). If salvation was social and collective, as Solovyov taught, then Christian politics was not merely an ethical option. It was the only road to redemption.

The Progress of the Kingdom

But what form should Christian politics take in the modern world? How should the Kingdom of God be built on earth, and what was required from the Church, from states and nations, and from individuals? After 1881, Solovyov never wavered in his belief that the Kingdom of God was humanity's collective task, but his ideas on how to accomplish this task continued to evolve. In the 1880s, he conceived of Christian politics as being realized by a future theocracy, a grand scheme based on his ecumenical vision of the Christian world reunited under the Roman pope and the Russian tsar. In the 1890s, however, the idea of theocracy disappeared from his writings, and thereafter he thought of Christian politics as the responsibility of Christian nations, Christian governments, and individual Christians. Christian politics became associated in his mind with a liberal theory of law and a conception of progress grounded in the Enlightenment.

His movement away from theocratic thinking was connected with his growing disappointment with the performance of Christian churches and of Christian culture, especially in Russia. In particular, he emphasized the failure of the Orthodox Church to live up to the universalist promise of Christianity, both because of the schism within the Orthodox Church, and also because of the schism between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. He increasingly focused on the pressing need to heal these great fractures. Moreover, he was drawn to the Roman church and the figure of the pope as a possible answer to the question of Christian politics. Not surprisingly, articles on these themes in the early 1880s ruptured his connection with conservative circles and awakened him to the moral significance of the growing power of nationalism in Russian intellectual life.

In the late 1880s, Solovyov sought ecumenical relations with Catholic clergy and intellectuals. He travelled to Croatia in 1886 where he was the guest of Archbishop Josef Strossmaier, and he spent six months in France in 1888. During this period he published three books abroad which developed the theory of future theocracy as the ideal form of Christian politics. In Croatia he published Istoriia i budushchnost' teokratii [The History and Future of Theocracy], the first volume of a projected but never completed three volume work (4:243-633). Here he proposed that the Kingdom of God would be established on earth when humanity was united under a single High Priest and a single emperor, and when true prophets arose among the people to mediate between the spiritual and secular authorities. Then, in France, he published La Russie et l'Eglise Universelle, conceived as the continuation of his Croatian book, and L'Idee Russe, intended to be a kind of preface to the whole project. The introduction to the former concluded with this call to Christian politics:

Your word, O peoples of the word, is free and universal Theocracy, the true solidarity of all nations and classes, Christianity realized in public life, the Christianization of politics; it is freedom for all the oppressed, protection for all the weak; it is social justice and good Christian peace.(11:173)

The project was of course doomed to failure. In L'Idee Russe, he argued that the Universal Church must have a single international center, a single High Priest above all particularist tendencies (11:112). In the Introduction to La Russie et l'Eglise Universelle he left no doubt that he had in mind the pope in Rome (11:173). The pope at that time was Leo XIII, who was then leading the Catholic Church into social and political action. Finally, he argued that the Russian state must subordinate itself to the moral authority of the High Priest (11:117). Once Russia had completed this moral feat of self-denial, the stage would be set for a true theocracy, based presumably on the interdependent rule of Leo XIII and Alexander III, in conjunction with unnamed prophets. As it turned out, the fantastical nature of his plan was quickly realized by the Pope, who reportedly wrote that it was a fine idea but could be realized only by a miracle, and by the tsar, who ignored it.

In any case, Solovyov's totally abandoned the concept of "theocracy" as the mode of building the Kingdom of God on earth in the 1890s. At the same time, he pushed his ecumenical project far into the background. He did not, however, turn away from commentary on the problems of Christianity. Rather he mounted a comprehensive critique of Christian culture in a notorious lecture and in a series of articles in 1891. Solovyov stated this critique most broadly in AOb upadke srednevekovogo mirosozertsaniia" [AOn the Decline of the Medieval Worldview"], a lecture which ignited another great "scandal" in intellectual and government circles. He argued that Christianity as actually practiced by the churches of both East and West was a historical compromise between paganism and true Christianity, which he called the medieval worldview. The pagan world of Rome and Byzantium adopted the forms of Christianity without the spirit of Christ. These "pseudo-Christians," as Solovyov called them, adopted Christianity:

only on condition that their life should be pagan as before, that the secular kingdom would remain secular and the Kingdom of God, being not of this world, should remain outside this world, without any vital influence upon it, i.e. should remain as a useless ornament, as a mere appendix to the secular realm.(6:386)

As a result, the task of preparing the Kingdom of God on earth (which he believed to be the essence of Christianity), had been abandoned in favor of an individualistic pursuit of salvation.

In this lecture, and in the article "On Counterfeits" published the same year, Solovyov attacked what he saw as the complacency of the Christian world (6:327-339). Whereas Christianity called on each Christian to participate actively in transformation of all political, social and economic institutions in the spirit of Christ, the official churches had degenerated into formalistic schemes for personal salvation. But if Solovyov was angry in 1891, he was not pessimistic. In these statements, as well as in AIdoly i idealy@ ["Idols and Ideals"] and ARusskii natsional'nyi ideal@ [AThe Russian National Ideal"], also published that year, he suggested that there were people in the world who were actively transforming human social institutions in a Christian way, and who were in fact practicing Christian politics, even if unconsciously:

But if nominal Christians have betrayed the cause of Christ and almost ruined it, if it could be ruined, why should not nominal non-Christians, denying Christ in words, serve His cause? (6:391-392)

Solovyov thought that those who fought against feudalism, against torture and cruel executions, against the persecution of religious dissenters, had acted in the spirit of Christ:

We will consider those who honorably served social justice [pravda] and to the best of their abilities brought the Kingdom of God closer to the earth as the true representatives of the Russian people, for the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of justice and truth [pravda], not of violence and arbitrariness.(5:423)

It is no accident that it was precisely in this period that Solovyov began to replace his broken relationships with conservative nationalists with new associations with liberals and their journal European Messenger. It was also during this period that he conducted a furious polemic against conservative nationalist thought which eventually became a general condemnation of Slavophilism.

By associating Christian politics with the activities of those who had sought liberal reforms in Europe and Russia, Solovyov did more than draft the liberal intelligentsia as needed reinforcements for the beleaguered forces of the Christian project. He also explicitly identified the coming of the Kingdom of God with the theory of progress so dear to European and Russian liberals. Increasingly he saw cultural progress as furthering the Christian task of building the Kingdom of God. In "Idols and Ideals", an article about the proper relation of the educated class to the peasantry, Solovyov argued that the Christian spirit obligated the intelligentsia to raise the cultural level of the Russian people:

Recognizing the final goal of history as the full realization of the Christian ideal in life by all humanity...we understand the all-sided development of culture as a general and necessary means for reaching that goal, for this culture in its gradual progress destroys all those hostile partitions and exclusive isolations between various parts of humanity and the world and tries to unify all natural and social groups in a family that is infinitely diverse in make-up but characterized by moral solidarity.(5:380)

To leave no confusion about the word "culture," Solovyov added that there was "only one universal culture for all nations," a single stream of cultural progress beginning with the Greeks and flowering in the scientific revolution in Europe (5:381). The implication of all this was clear: westernized liberals who supported mass education and who sought reforms such as freedom of expression and religion did God's work because the very content of European cultural progress was a prerequisite for the Kingdom of God.

At this time he began to speak of the Christian state as the main institutional agent in the building of the Kingdom of God on earth. In AIz filosofii istorii@ ["From the Philosophy of History"], yet another article written in 1891, Solovyov argued that the state's "attitude toward Christianity directly determines the historical destinies of mankind" (6:358). In as much as the essence of evil was the violation of the solidarity of all people which is humanity's social ideal, the purpose of the state was "to defend human society from the most concrete and clearly manifested forms of evil or injustice." Human solidarity was violated by three main forms of evil:

First, it is violated when one people deprives another of existence or of national independence; second, when a class or institution oppresses another; and thirdly, when an individual openly rebels against the general order by committing crime (6:359).

The pagan state sanctioned wars of conquest, class oppression, cruel criminal punishments. The Christian state had to do much better; it could not allow:

first, wars inspired by national egoism, and conquests that raise one people upon the ruins of another; second, civic and economic slavery, making one social class the passive means for the enrichment of another; and finally, legal punishments which do not finally aim at the reformation of the criminal, but deal with him simply from the point of view of social security. (6:360)

This capsule program for the Christian state provided Solovyov with the outline for much of his ethical treatise Justification of the Good, the first edition of which was published in 1897. This book contains Solovyov's most sophisticated and comprehensive attempt to amplify his core doctrine of Christian politics, or, as he noted in the introduction, to "establish...the comprehensive inner link between true religion and sound politics" (8:6). He never referred approvingly to theocracy in this volume, and he greatly reduced the role of the Church, which he defined as "collectively organized piety." He defined the state, on the other hand, as "collectively organized pity" and assigned it two key tasks upon which the Kingdom of God depended:

to preserve the foundations of social life apart from which humanity could not exist, and to improve the conditions of its existence by furthering the free development of all human powers which become the bearers of future human perfection, and apart from which the Kingdom of God could not be realized in humanity (8:496).

Concurrent with the shift of emphasis from Church to State, Solovyov argued that ethics were autonomous, that is, that ethical behavior was not dependant on the dogmas of positive religion or the authority of the Church. At the same time, Solovyov gave the system of laws promulgated by the state an important place in humanity's quest for a moral order. Based on the theory of natural law, Solovyov defined law as "a compulsory demand for the realization of a definite minimum of good, or for a social order which excludes certain manifestations of evil" (8:409). Solovyov took a broad and active view of the law, even to the point of proclaiming that the law should guarantee a "right to a dignified existence" to every citizen. Here Solovyov anticipated the modern liberalism of the post-war European welfare states.

It should be added that Solovyov assumed that monarchy was the natural form of government, although not in an absolutist form. In Justification of the Good, for example, there is a brief chapter on the roles of high priest, king and prophets in his ethical scheme. Their roles, however, were greatly reduced; he refers to them as the "individual factor" in the relations between church, state and society. Solovyov merely urged them to cooperate with one another in seeking the good (8:508).

In any case, by the time Solovyov wrote Justification of the Good, all traces of his earlier approach to the Christianization of politics were gone. Whereas in the 1880s, he hoped that biblical forms of theocracy would provide a model, by the late 1890s he had adopted the Western theories of cultural progress and the rule of law as the modern path to the Kingdom of God.

Did Solovyov Abandon Social Christianity?

All of Solovyov's extensive journalistic work of the 1880s and 1890s was dedicated to the building of the Kingdom of God on earth. Nevertheless, some observers have argued that shortly before his death in July 1900 he completely repudiated his social Christian theology and acknowledged that his work has been a tragic mistake. Their argument is based on Solovyov's last major work: Tri razgovora o voine, progresse i kontse vsemirnoi istorii, so vklycheniem kratkoi povesti ob antikhriste [Three Conversations on War, Progress and the End of Universal History, with the Short Tale of the Anti-Christ] (10:81-221). This was a fictional work in the form of three dialogues among five Russians vacationing on the Mediterranean: a General, who represents a traditional Orthodox viewpoint; a Politician, who believes in Western cultural progress; the Prince, a stand-in for Leo Tolstoy; Mr. Z, a mysterious gentleman who takes an uncompromisingly religious view of all questions; and a Noblewoman, who facilitates the conversations and occasionally interjects pertinent questions and comments. Solovyov wrote that he totally agreed with the views of Mr. Z, but that he "fully recognized the relative truth of the General and the Politician" (10:87).

In the preface, which originally appeared under the title "The Counterfeit Good," Solovyov made clear (without mentioning his name) that his purpose was to take his polemic against Leo Tolstoy to a new level; no longer satisfied merely to rebut Tolstoy's sham religion, he now wanted to expose it as an actual fraud (10:65). He was particularly irritated that Tolstoy and the Tolstoyans insisted on identifying themselves with the Gospels and calling themselves Christians. To Solovyov, Tolstoy was not a Christian in any sense of the term because he denied the divinity of Christ. If the Tolstoyans wanted to associate with a religious tradition, argued Solovyov, they should choose Buddhism, which also preached non-resistance to evil, inactivity, sobriety, and especially emptiness.

In constructing his polemic against Tolstoy, Solovyov focused on the problem of evil in history. In the first dialogue, the General, supported by Mr. Z, debated the morality of violence with the Prince. Solovyov invited his readers to conclude that the Prince had the weaker arguments, and that violence was justified if undertaken to stop evil actions. In the second dialogue, the Politician argued that the spread of European civilization would bring international peace. Mr. Z expressed skepticism about the ideology of progress, suggesting that humanity was "old and feeble, and won't get any better" (10:157). In the third dialogue, Mr. Z argued that both the ideology of progress and the Prince's (that is, Tolstoy's) sham Christianity fail to explain death's ultimate power, which "confirms the strength of evil" (10:183). Only the resurrection of all men promised by Christ, which will be the true Kingdom of God, provides a way out of the dilemma.

To explain his view on the end of history and the Anti-Christ, Mr. Z then read a manuscript given to him by a monk named Pansophius, entitled "Short Tale of the Anti-Christ." According to the tale, the last great war in human history occurred in the twentieth century when the movement of Pan-Mongolism, that is, the Asian nations led by Japan, conquered Europe. Later the Europeans rebelled and set up the United States of Europe. Then a remarkable man came to power, "whom many called a superman," a man who believed in the good, God, and the Messiah, "but loved only himself" (10:197-8). He brought the whole world under a universal monarchy which provided bread and circuses to all. Seeking to unify all Christian believers under him, he called Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants to a congress. Most pledged loyalty to him, but three religious leaders--the pope, a famous Orthodox starets, and a Protestant theologian--recognized him as the Anti-Christ. Together with their few followers they escaped to the desert where they agreed to unify all true Christians under the pope. Just when it seemed that the Anti-Christ was established for all time, the Jews exposed him, and after a huge battle, overthrew him. Then the true Christ descended, and the Christians and Jews rose from the dead and ruled with Christ for 1,000 years. When Mr. Z concluded the tale, it came to light that the Prince had fled during the reading of the manuscript, precisely at the moment when the true Christians had unmasked the Anti-Christ.

Three Conversations was in several respects a departure for Solovyov. In terms of form, he experimented not just with fictional dialogue, but with a narrative form which could be classified as science fiction. He used this genre to explore for the first time eschatological concerns and to call into question his faith in human progress. On the other hand, there were important continuities as well. For example, the entire work was the culmination of his decade-long struggle with Tolstoy. Solovyov here went so far as to imply that Tolstoy was an Anti-Christ, an attractive figure who pretended to be a Christian engaged in God's work, but who was in fact undermining the work of God in history. Given that Tolstoy by then was world-famous for his theory of non-resistance to evil by violence, it is no surprise that Solovyov became much more concerned about the reality of evil and the necessity of resisting it with all just means.

Another well established aspect of Solovyov's thought which appears in Three Conversations was the fear of Asia. He was convinced that a great war was coming between Christian Europe and the united Asian nations (Pan-Mongolism), and that

this conflict would be a turning point in history. This fear of the East had two sides. On the one hand it expressed the typical attitude of many Europeans towards any native resistance to their imperialist efforts to carve up the entire world into spheres of influence. But there was another side to Solovyov's fears. He worried not just about the rise of the non-Christian East but also about the decline of the Christian West, including Russia. His deepest fear was that Christian culture was so weakened by pseudo-Christians (either believers who thought that mere faith was enough, or Tolstoyans who had no real faith), that the Church could no longer fulfill its universalizing mission in world history. The Christian West would have nothing to fear if it was spiritually strong and healthy, but if it continued its decline, then it was subject to retribution.

With this in mind, Three Conversations can be read as a cautionary tale, a warning of what could happen if complacency was allowed to weaken Christianity further, in other words, a continuation of the theme Solovyov had been developing at least since "On the Decline of the Medieval Worldview" in 1891. This loathing of complacency led him to focus his attack increasingly on Lev Tolstoy. Throughout his life, Solovyov wanted to find ways to win educated society to true Christianity. He was especially disturbed by Tolstoyism because it attracted idealistic young intellectuals to what he saw as a totally fraudulent "Christianity." Not only did Solovyov think that this was a grand deceit, but he also saw Tolstoy's theory of non-resistance to evil by violence as the ultimate complacency in an evil world.

There is one new feature which appears in Solovyov's thought in Three Conversations. Throughout the 1890s, Solovyov had found some compensation for the disappointing complacency of nominal Christians in the Westernizers' theory of progress and their practical efforts to achieve it. Now he abandoned his optimistic belief that secular progress was preparing the way for the Kingdom of God. However, there is no evidence that he rejected his core belief that humanity must participate collectively in the historical process leading to the Kingdom of God. In the "Short Tale of the Anti-Christ," Solovyov continued to depict the Kingdom of God as a task which humanity must actively assume. The three religious leaders are active protagonists, and after exposing the Anti-Christ, they go out into the desert, not to await passively the Second Coming, but actively to take responsibility for their fate by unifying their three Christian traditions into a Universal Church, an act which was always a key aspect of Christian politics for Solovyov. Meanwhile another human force, the Jewish nation, actively battled the Anti-Christ and overthrew his reign.

Those who argue that Solovyov jettisoned all his former beliefs overstate the case. In his last year, he was struck by a great foreboding, one that struck many Europeans in the years before World War I. This led him to abandon his faith in progress, which was one aspect of the liberalism he had embraced. But he never abandoned Christian politics, nor did he ever cease his work as a Christian publicist. To the end, he never repudiated his core belief that Christians, Christian states, and Christian nations were responsible for God's work on earth.

Solovyov and the Social Gospel: Abroad and at Home

As we have seen, Solovyov reconciled himself, at least partially, to modernization and neo-liberal thought. In doing so, he was moving in the same direction as the social gospel movement within Protestantism and the Catholic social thought exemplified by Leo XIII's encyclicals. Within Protestantism, this movement began in the 1870s, when the German theologian Albrecht Ritschl argued that Christians must work towards the realization of the Kingdom of God through moral action inspired by the example of Jesus Christ. This paved the way in Europe and the United states for the social gospel theology, whose best known spokesperson was Walter Rauschenbusch. Like Solovyov, he argued that Christianity had failed historically in its task of building the Kingdom of God. He also echoed Solovyov when he traced the problem to the institutional success of the Church in the Middle Ages, after which "it became possible for the most unjust social conditions to fasten themselves on Christian nations without awakening any consciousness that the purpose of Christ was being defied and beaten back."

Solovyov may have been aware of these developments, but he was particularly interested in Roman Catholicism. As it happened, the Catholic Church was experiencing a sharp swing in the direction of social Christianity at that time, marked by the election in 1878 of Pope Leo XIII. In a series of socially-minded encyclicals, and especially Rerum Novarum (1891), Leo XIII altered the attitude of the Catholic Church toward the social, political, and economic problems engendered by the modern age. Leo XIII's social encyclicals shared many of Solovyov's assumptions: that we are social beings, that we possess God-given rights, including the right to the necessary means of existence and to leisure time, and that the goal of any social order is justice. When writing about economic relations, Leo XIII and Solovyov also shared the same enemies: both opposed on moral grounds the laissez-faire theory of classical economic liberalism and the class struggle theory of Marxist socialism.

The European and American social Christian thinkers occupy a major place in the history of nineteenth century Christianity, but the social Christian trend within Russian Orthodoxy has been largely forgotten.

Russian Orthodoxy has the reputation of being an other-worldly denomination withdrawn from earthly life and focused through its liturgy on the contemplation of the divine. A scholar of the Russian emigration summarized Orthodoxy as consisting of the following elements: a contemplative focus on the Divine; a humble awareness of human insignificance; piety, in the sense of a naive and emotional simplicity; joy in the Lord, especially in His Resurrection; the deep need for liturgical expression; and finally, the faith that the Kingdom of God will come, but not in this life. One of the most renowned Western historians of Russia summarized these affirmative statements in a briefer and harsher judgement: "The basic doctrinal element of Orthodoxy is the creed of resignation."

But in fact, a significant this worldly tendency stressing the human task of building the Kingdom of God on earth developed within Russian Orthodoxy during the nineteenth century among lay writers. Eventually, this developed into a social gospel movement within the Russian Orthodox Church, and Solovyov was the major theologian of this trend. It continued to grow after his death, only to be cut short by the revolution.

Among the intelligentsia, this tendency dates back at least to Peter Chaadaev, who in the 1830s developed a Christian philosophy of history which was remarkably similar to Solovyov's. According to one scholar, Chaadaev had an idee fixe: "The realization of the `kingdom of God' on earth, i.e., the eventual integration of philosophy and religion and then of all mankind into one universal Christian social and cultural system."

Later in the century, these ideas were developed, albeit in a highly idiosyncratic way, by Lev Tolstoy. As we have seen, Solovyov was incensed by Tolstoy's rationalistic rejection of Godmanhood and the Resurrection, concepts which Tolstoy felt were mere mystical superstition. Nevertheless, Solovyov and Tolstoy found common ground in their critique of pseudo-Christianity and their focus on the central importance of Christian ethics in the building of the Kingdom of God on earth. This allowed them to unite on practical questions, such as the fight against antisemitism and the death penalty in the Russian Empire.

Nikolai Nepliuev (1851-1907), a now forgotten contemporary of Solovyov and Tolstoy, was another lay theologian of the social Gospel. Not only did he publish a great deal on social Gospel themes, but he also put his ideas into practice. The rural peasant schools he founded on his estate formed the basis for trudovoe bratstvo [a workers brotherhood], a democratically run Christian commune, which had the goal of realizing AChristian truth in life by means of the harmonious organization of social relations and work on the basis of the love of God and neighbor."

The social gospel also developed within the clergy, and Solovyov played a role there as well. As early as the Great Reforms, social Christian activism began to appear within the theological academies at St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and especially at Kazan. In the 1880s, the St. Petersburg Theological Academy took the lead in advancing the "new theology" in theory and practice. In 1885, Alexander Vadkovskii, a priest-monk who took the name Antonii, became inspector of the academy and two years later its rector. Attempting to break down the wall between the Church and social life, he organized student preaching circles (kruzhki) which worked among the urban proletariat. In 1886, Vadkovskii befriended Solovyov, who at that time was isolated from church circles because of his controversial theocratic and ecumenical projects. Solovyov found solace at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy where he was invited for discussions with faculty and students in which Vadkovskii participated. When Vadkovskii became Metropolitan of St. Petersburg in 1898 he continued to preach and practice a social activist theology. He sanctioned the sessions of the Religious-Philosophical Society from 1901 until they were banned in 1903, and took an active role in the revolutionary events of 1905.

Among the graduates of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in those days was Father Georgii Gapon, who continued his work with the St. Petersburg working class up to and including the famous events of Bloody Sunday in 1905. Another was Father Grigori Petrov, a St. Petersburg priest who was a famous pastor, orator, and writer on social Gospel themes. He published more than thirty books and pamphlets, and in several of them wrote with warm approval of Solovyov. Perhaps his most important work was Evangelie, kak osnova zhizni [The Gospel as the Foundation of Life] where he laid out his social gospel theology:

The supreme and universal ideal of all humanity is the ideal of the gospel: the Kingdom of God. The path to its realization is the moral renewal of the spiritual nature of man, the elaboration of a Christian world view, and the education of the will, all in the spirit of evangelical love and truth.

Petrov later was a member of the "Group of 32 Priests" who spearheaded the move for church reform in 1905. He and his compatriots increasingly came under fire from reactionary forces in the church, and when he was elected to the Second Duma as a Constitutional Democrat in 1907, he was punished with three months exile in a distant monastery, and eventually with defrocking. In an open letter to Metropolitan Antonii, Petrov defended his political involvement in Solovyovian terms:

Genuine politics is the art of organizing social life and government in the best possible way. And surely the Gospel teaching of the Kingdom of God is the science of organizing life in the best way. And by life, I do not mean only the life of an individual, but of the whole society, the whole people, and the government.

By 1905 the social Gospel was a recognized theological movement within Russian Orthodoxy. In that year, Pavel Svetlov, professor of theology at the Moscow Theological Academy, published Ideia tsarstva Bozhiia [The Idea of the Kingdom of God], a massive theological investigation of the social Christian trend within Russian Orthodoxy, and a defense of it against the "traditional worldview" which rejected any earthly involvement for the church. He concluded that Nepliuev, Petrov and Solovyov represented the culmination of a long-developing social Christian trend. Not only, he wrote, did they develop the idea of the centrality of the Kingdom of God in their theological writings, but they also lived the idea in their public lives. In particular, he argued that the social Gospel theology had reached its maturity in the theological writings of Solovyov:

In the view of Solovyov, we rise to a complete concept of the Kingdom of God, embracing not only the personal and social life of the people, but all of physical nature, inclusive of the body; in a word, the expression of the Kingdom of God as the universal rule of the will and the idea of God in all His creation, as the harmony and reconciliation of everything in God.

Svetlov hoped that the social Gospel trend associated with Solovyov would act as a counter to reaction within the Russian Orthodox Church. As it happened, the theological movement he described was drowned in the chaos of revolution. Nevertheless, the social gospel was a significant part of the religious and intellectual landscape of pre-revolutionary Russia, and Solovyov's public career in the last two decades of his life cannot be understood apart from it.


I am grateful John Ferrie, Kristi Groberg, Gary Jahn, George Kline, Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, and Theofanis G. Stavrou for their comments and encouragement. Work on this article was supported by a Basil Laourdas Fellowship at the University of Minnesota, by several profitable stays at the Summer Research Laboratory on Russia and Eastern Europe at the University of Illinois, by a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar on "Church and State in Russia" led by Gregory Freeze, and by the School of Arts and Humanities of St. Mary's University of Minnesota.

[The numbered notes for this paper will be added as soon as possible]