CATHERINE DOHERTY AND VLADIMIR SOLOVIOV
By ROBERT WILD
One summer I was giving a tour of Madonna House. We walked into our little library and I began explaining that this is sort of our “Russian Room.” I pointed to the Russian literature and history books on the shelves, and to some of the family heirlooms Catherine had rescued from Russia. Then, one of the women asked, “And who are those three bearded gentlemen up there in the pictures?” I said: “The one on the left is Tolstoy as a young man. The one in the middle is Solzihenitsyn, and the other is Vladimir Soloviov.” In the early years Catherine would often point to Soloviov and say to us, “One day he is going to be recognized as a very great man.”
I had never heard of Soloviov before coming to Madonna House. For many years I had looked at that picture, but never thought too much about him. I don’t remember when I first started reading his writings. But when, in 1988, I was appointed postulator to prepare for the possible opening of a cause of canonization for Catherine, I became increasingly interested in everything and anyone who had been part of her spiritual journey and formation. I began seriously to wonder about his influence in her life and about what writings of his she might have read.
Then, one day, as part of my research, I came across a tape of joint lecture on Soloviov given here at Madonna House by Karl Stern, Helene Iswolsky, and Catherine. In her talk Catherine shared something of her own relationship to Soloviov, and the influence he had had on her life.
She began her comments with these words: “Well, I have very little to say except that I am a product of Soloviov.” A brief statement, but containing a world of importance for an understanding of her life.
Further on she said: “My mother and father were both enamoured of him, and in their own lives they implemented that of which he spoke. Besides reading the Gospel, the Bible, periodically my father would read from Soloviov.”[i]
We may never know exactly what books of Soloviov Catherine’s father read to the family, or what books Catherine read. This article is an attempt to give an opinion about the possible influences of Soloviov in her life, and which of his writings she might have been exposed to both as a child and as an adult. (I’m fairly certain she read, or at least made herself acquainted with, his Lectures on Godmanhood, as we’ve had them here in our library for many years.) Before continuing on with her own reflections, it may be well to give a brief introduction to both Catherine and Soloviov for those unfamiliar with them.
Catherine Kolyschkine de Hueck was one of estimated 5 million Russian refugees fleeing the revolution. With her husband Boris she made her way to Toronto where she helped many other refugees get settled. In the early 1930’s, after a career as a public speaker and an agent for a lecture bureau, she literally gave up all she possessed and went into the very poor districts of Toronto to assist the poor, especially those hit hard by the great depression.
In 1938 she went to live in Harlem, and became of one the Catholic lay pioneers in inter-racial justice in the United States. In 1947 she came with her second husband, Eddie Doherty (her first marriage had been annulled), to Combermere, Ontario. She became the foundress of a Catholic community composed of laymen, laywomen and priests called Madonna House, dedicated to the service of the poor. (Her community is now seen as part of a wider movement of communities inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Church calls them “ecclesial” as they are new expressions of the life of the Church.)
She has written many books, perhaps Poustinia being the best known (and which, by the way, has recently been translated into Russian and is now distributed in Russia.) She died in 1985, and is considered by many to be one of the outstanding Catholic laywomen of the 20th century.
Life of Soloviov
Vladimir Soloviov was born in Moscow, January 16, 1853. His father was the eminent historian Serge Soloviov. His mother, Poliksena, belonged to an old and noble Ukrainian family. At 15 he entered the University of Moscow, went through a brief period of rationalism and atheism, and about 1872 returned to his Christian faith, never to leave it.
The intensity of his life and studies was phenomenal, and at the age of 47 the flame of his spirit consumed his always fragile candle of body and soul. Most of his writings have still not been translated into English. His best known works in English are the above-mentioned Lectures on Godmanhood which he delivered in Moscow in 1878 to audiences which included Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. The over-riding theme of his thought is expounded in these lectures: Through the Incarnation, all of humanity is to be brought into one living organism. He called this reality “Godmanhood.” In the West we would call this the Mystical Body of Christ.
One of the great goals of his writings and efforts was the unity of Christendom, especially between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. A major work in this area was Russia and the Universal Church (RUC), which he wrote in French and had published in France, since it would have been impossible at the time to have had it published in Russia.
This book is one of the most convincing expositions I have never read, demonstrating that the Pope of Rome is the true head of Christendom. Soloviov called him the “wonder-working icon of Christian unity.” He says that every living body needs a head. A diocese has a head, and there are patriarchs of ancient sees. So the Church as a whole must have a head. History and scripture show that this is the bishop of Rome.
Soloviov is considered by many, in both East and West, to be the greatest Russian philosopher/theologian of all time. Von Balthasar said of his total work that it is “beyond question the most profound vindication and the most comprehensive philosophical statement of the Christian totality in modern times; the most universal intellectual construction of modern times”;[ii] “Soloviov’s skill in the technique of integrating all partial truths in one vision makes him perhaps second only to Thomas Aquinas as the greatest artist of order and organization in the history of thought."[iii]
Karl Stern considered Soloviov as one of the “precursors of modern ecumenical thought,” and “the great giant of Orthodoxy.” He said Soloviov’s God, Man and the Church is “the clearest, the most beautiful outline of Christian doctrine ever written in the last 20 centuries.” Perhaps Soloviov’s most famous book in the West (the last he wrote) is Three Conversations.[iv] It is very apocalyptic, containing the famous allegory of the anti-Christ. He wrote many other philosophical and theological works, letters (Catherine had, in Russian, the complete collection of his letters), and poems.
It is possible that Catherine’s father heard Soloviov speak. What did he look like? Helene Iswolsky gives this description of him:
The question is still being debated whether or not Soloviov became a Catholic. Von Balthasar sys recent scholarship confirms that he did convert. Cardinal Montini, later to become Paul VI, says in his book The Church: “And let us recall the testimony of another wise man, this time a man from the East, Soloviov. In moving from Orthodoxy to Catholicism, he makes the following confession: ‘The perfect circle of the universal Church needs one single center, not in order to be perfect but simply in order to remain a real society. The terrestrial Church, called to embrace the multitude of nations, had to oppose a distinct universal power against all national divisions.’”[vi]
My own opinion is that by asking the question whether Soloviov was a “convert” may be the wrong way to pose or question the biographical problem. It is historically certain that he made a public act of faith in the primacy of the Pope. In Russia and the Universal Church he wrote:
It is also historically certain that he made a private act of such a profession, and then received Communion from the hands of a Uniate priest; also, on his death bed, he received Communion from a Russian Orthodox priest. But notice that he made the above act of profession in the pope as a member of the true and venerable Eastern or Greco-Russian Orthodox Church. In other words, he does not repudiate his Orthodoxy.
I have read a number of accounts of this question of Soloviov’s “conversion,” and my opinion is this: Soloviov probably would not have considered himself a “convert” in our ordinary Catholic sense of that word. For him there was only one undivided Church: “And so, first of all, it must be recognized that both Eastern and Western Christians, in spite of all the disagreements between our ecclesiastical communities, go on as before, being members of the one indivisible Church of Christ. In this respect we need not trouble about reunion, for we are one already.”[vii]
The divisions were of human making. He believed that the Church, in her essence, could not be divided. The Pope was the visible head of the Church. By making an act of faith in papal primacy he would have considered himself as completing, as complimenting, his faith, not leaving Orthodoxy. This is simply my own opinion of what was Soloviov’s mind at the time.
What of Soloviov’s writings might Catherine’s father have read to her? Perhaps RUC. It was written in 1889, in French. We have sufficient evidence to make the following a probable opinion: Catherine’s father, through the insistence of his Catholic Polish mother, had secretly been baptized as a Catholic. Because he was born in the Russian occupied part of Poland (1985’s), it would have been illegal for him to have been baptized Catholic; so he is listed as being baptized Orthodox.
Catherine frequently said – and expressed it this way in that public lecture – “First and foremost, my father was a Catholic, my mother was Orthodox. In our family, therefore, I had the unity which Soloviov talked about, which they discussed, and which we listened to.” Catherine received some Catholic education from her Polish grandmother; and the fact that her father enrolled her in a Catholic school for some of the most formative years of her young life (about age 6 to 10) shows his openness to Catholicism. RUC would have greatly helped Theodore put together in his mind the Orthodoxy and Catholicism which were part of his personal religious world.
Catherine, then, would have had much liturgical and home experience of the richness of Orthodoxy, but was perhaps more formally educated in Catholicism. In England, in 1919, without being proselytized in any way whatsoever, she made a profession of faith in the Catholic Church when the first opportunity presented itself. We certainly do not know at this time all that went on in her mind and heart when she made that decision, as she has not left us (so far as our current research can establish) much background to her motivation. It is my personal belief that Soloviov’s doctrine in RUC, and his own profession of faith in the successor of Peter as “Supreme judge in matters of religion,” played a significant role.
I discovered, in Catherine’s writings, a 4 page account of the conversion of one of the Russian émigrés known to her. I do not knot if it was ever published. My opinion is that it reflects her own thinking. “I was present through all the phases of his conversion,” she wrote, “so I’ll give a first hand report.”
To begin with, he does not think of himself as a ‘convert,’ nor does he consider that he became a Catholic. In his estimation he always was one, for he belonged to the Catholic Universal Church, the Russian branch of it. All he did, as he sees it, was to acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope, in which he did not believe before, and thus ENTER INTO THAT RUSSIAN ORTHODOXY BRANCH THAT IS IN SUCH COMMUNION, NEVER LEAVING THE TRUE CATHOLIC UNIVERSAL CHURCH.
And, begorra, you know something? Nicholas Ivanoff IS RIGHT. Yes, Mam. Believe it or not, he is! For the Russian Orthodox Church is not a PROTESTANT CHURCH. It is A SCHISMATIC ONE. Whoa, what a mouthful of a word that is! But trying to reduce it to plain English is not easy. It means dissenting; and then again it means separation of a type, not complete but partial. It is like a wound: it hasn’t cut the head from the trunk, like the Protestants went and did. No. It was a partial severance (like a limb), and there is still common life flowing between the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH (and the Greek Orthodox Church); they are the same thing, defined only nationally, but not in belief. [viii]
My own opinion is that this theological position she is describing was also Catherine’s, which she probably derived from Soloviov. It is true that she publicly, in the 1092’s, advocated the conversion of Russian Catholics to Catholicism. But I believe that eventually she would have approached the question ala Mr. Ivanoff.
So when we Catholics of the Latin Rite (as the Russians call us) talk to Russians, let us be very, very careful not to hurt their feelings and turn them away from entering into communion with Rome. Let us remember always that they are a LIVING BRANCH OF THE MYSTICAL BODY OF CHRIST,NOT A DEAD ONE. All they need to do is recognize the infallibility of the Pope and his supremacy. They are certainly completely one with us, even though they preserve their own rites. (Ibid.)
Did Catherine’s Father Know Soloviov?
Catherine says she was about 10 at the first conversation. Some of these readings might have taken place on their summer estate in the Tambov region of Russia where they came to escape the heat from their residence in Egypt. These summers were among the happiest periods of her life. I imagine Catherine, her brother Serge, and her mother, sitting in an orchard in the cool of the evening, and Theodore reading from Soloviov.
What might have he read to them? I doubt if he read from Soloviov’s master thesis, The Crisis of Western Civilization! That would have been a bit much for a 10 year old. But after the above conversation with Catherine about the Jews, her father might have gone to his library a few days later – he had a large one – and picked out Soloviov’s Judaism and the Christian Problem. (Note it’s a Christian problem and not a Jewish one.) In there we read:
According to Soloviov, “Christianity ought to be gradually mindful of the great historical function of the Old Israel, chosen to prepare – at the climax of its national history – a body ready to be the Vessel of God.” (Ibid.) Anti-Semitism has no place in Christianity. “If Christ is God, then they are the nation which was chosen and prepared not only to receive Him in their midst, but also to evolve a human being of such sanctity and perfection that it was deemed worthy to be the human mother of the divine Son of God.” (Ibid.)
Catherine’s love for the Jewish people probably also came from her schooling in Egypt with the Sisters of Sion, who had been founded by a Jewish convert precisely to strive for the conversion of Israel. But Soloviov’s book, through her father, might also have had some influence.
The Gospel Without Compromise
Again, from Catherine’s talk:
On May 9, 1940, Catherine wrote a letter to her then spiritual director, Fr. Paul Hanley Furfey of Catholic University. She is explaining to him how she goes about examining her conscience.
There are definite similarities between these two accounts of Catherine’s and Soloviov’s about how God must be the center of life. Before I read Soloviov'’ I was struck by the ingeniousness of Catherine'’ examen. Since reading Soloviov's vision, I believe she got it from Soloviov. Also, when teaching about the Christian life in the early years, she had a huge diagram on the wall (we still have it), where Christ is the center, and all life’s activities radiate out from him. Soloviov again, I believe.
Zouboff’s book, from which I am quoting, was published in 1944 as a directed thesis from Columbia University. Catherine was working in Harlem at the time. She might have had access to the Russian library in New York City which she frequented.
Soloviov’s Lectures on Godmanhood was probably the most popular of his books in Russia since it expounds not only the heart of his thought but the heart of Russian spirituality, which is summed up in Romans (8:22): “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” The Russians are preoccupied, not to say obsessed, with the final transformation of the world, the “end culture.” And Godmanhood is Soloviov’s vision of restoring all mankind and the whole universe according to the providence of God as foreordained from the beginning of the world. He wrote, in one of his poems: “The barriers fall, the chains are melted by Divine fire. And the eternal morning of new life rises in all, and all in one.”[xiii] Catherine’s father Theodore might well have wished his children to know something of this exalted vision.
The Eternal Feminine
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Soloviov’s teaching is his sophiology, his personification of divine wisdom. He had several visions of a beautiful woman whom he identified as Sophia, Wisdom. Catherine also makes reference to these visions:
She is referring to three visions Soloviov said he had which he described in a poem, “Three Meetings.” The first vision occurred when he was nine years old:
The second vision occurred, of all places, in the British Museum!
He went to Cairo, where a voice told him, “I am in the desert, go, seek me there.”
He identified his Eternal Woman with the central icon in the ancient Novgorod Cathedral, “a feminine figure in royal vestments, seated on a throne. Facing it and slightly bending towards it are, on the right, Our Lady of the Byzantine type, and on the left, Saint John the Baptist; Christ with uplifted arms is seen to rise above the seated figure, and above Christ there is the heavenly world represented by several angels surrounding the divine Word symbolized by the book of the Gospels.” (Ibid., 57)
Of the many effects this series of visions had on Soloviov, I point out one in order to relate it to Catherine’s own spirituality.
Soloviov writes as if he directly sees the spiritual world, “general spiritual insight devoid of any perceptual character. As he said of himself, he ‘did not believe the deceptive world’ and ‘recognized the radiance of Godhead under the coarse crust of matter.’ In one of his letters he says: ‘Not only do I believe in everything supernatural, but strictly speaking I believe in nothing else. From the time that I began to think, the materiality that weighs over us has always seemed to me merely a kind of nightmare of the sleeping humanity.’” (Ibid., 10) His visions of the Woman made the spiritual world absolutely concrete for him, and was a source of his detachment and disdain – but not in any Manichean sense – of the material world.
This personification of Wisdom, and the whole sophiological doctrine of Soloviov (and later of Bulgakov) has no place in Catherine’s own teaching or spirituality. I’ve never heard her even speak about it, nor is it anywhere in her writings, to my knowledge.
However, she does have another “Lady” to whom she is related – the Lady Poverty of Saint Francis. She does snot represent the transfigured world, as Sophia does for Soloviov. Rather, She is the Woman who leads us to that transformation by putting us in proper relationship to all of creation. Because St. Francis wedded Lady Poverty, he re-established in his own person the relationship to the world we had in Eden. Thus Lady Poverty achieves for each individual the restoration of the world; Sophia is, for Soloviov, the totality of that restoration.
Soloviov’s understanding of Sophia is complex; nor do I offer it here as the teaching of the Church, East or West. But here is his theory:
This great, royal and feminine Being, which is not God, not the eternal Son of God, not an angel, not a saint, but receives homage both from the last representative of the Old Testament and the progenetrix of the New, is no other that the true, pure and perfect humanity, the highest and all-embracing form and the living soul of nature and of the universe, united to God from all eternity and in the temporal process attaining union with Him and uniting to Him all that is. (Ibid., 10)
Soloviov saw, in this Eternal Woman, the perfected Spouse of God in the totality of creation. He knew somehow it was already a reality, but not yet fully achieved. He dedicated his whole life to the finial wedding of God and creation. Godmanhood is his vision; the Eternal Woman is the radiant Spouse of the Word.
Nicholas Zernov says that “the fundamental conviction of the Russian religious mind is the recognition of the potential holiness of matter, the unity and sacredness of the entire creation, and man’s call to participate in the divine plan for its ultimate transfiguration.”[xv]
It is an ancient saying – it was used again by an Orthodox Bishop at the conclusion of a recent colloquium between Rome and Russian Orthodoxy: “Our divisions do not reach all the way to heaven.” Soloviov, I’m sure, would say that they don’t even exist here on earth, as Christ cannot be divided.
This article was not written in any polemical spirit. It is sism0ly a presentation of the courageous search for truth of two great people, Catherine Doherty and Vladimir Soloviov. The latter received much misunderstanding and persecution for his views about Orthodoxy and the Papacy. Catherine, too, suffered from her Russian émigré friends for her profession of faith in Catholicism. But they were both searching for truth, and had the courage of their convictions. Catherine’s profession of faith in the primacy of Rome is part of her life history, as was Soloviov’s. We ask them both to pray that the unity of Godmanhood become a reality on all levels of the life of the Church.References
[i] Unpublished tape manuscript, Madonna House archives, August 24, 1964. All quotes from Catherine and Karl Stern are from this tape, unless otherwise noted.
[ii] The Glory of the Lord, A Theological Aesthetics, III: Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1986, p. 281.
[iii] Ibid., p.284.
[iv] Vladimir Soloviov, War, Progress, and the End of History, Three Conversations, Including a Short Story of the Anti-Christ (New York: The Lindisfarne Press, 1990).
[v] The Third Hour, “Soloviev and the Eirenic Movement,” (The Third Hour Foundation: New York, 1976), p.73.
[vi] Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini, The Church (Montreal: Palm Publishers), p.98.
[vii] S.L.Frank, A Solovyov Anthology (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press Pub., 1949), p.98.
[viii] Unpublished Manuscript, Madonna House Archives
[ix] Trans.Peter P. Zouboff (Harmon Printing House: Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1944), pp.23-24.
[x] Zouboof, p.78.
[xi] Ibid., p.78.
[xii] Unpublished Correspondence, Madonna House Archives.
[xiii] Iswolsky, p.74.
[xiv] Frank, pp.1012.
[xv] The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century (Darton, Longman & Todd: London, 1963), p.285.
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