Russkii Katolitsizm: Zobytnoe Proschloe Rossiikogo Liberalizma (Russian Catholicism: The Forgotten Past of Russian Liberalism)

Article excerpt

Russkii katolitsizm: Zabytnoe proshloe rossiikogo liberalizma (Russian Catholicism: The Forgotten Past of Russian Liberalism). By Ekaterina Nikolaevna Tsimbaeva. (Moscow: Editorial URSS. 1999. Pp. 184. EUR13.80 paperback.)

The provocative title reflects Tsimbaeva's desire to rescue Russian Catholics from "a reputation as reactionaries and mystics, and in the nineteenth century, as traitors of the motherland" (p. 146), instead seeing their Catholicism as a way to spiritual and political liberty for the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian people. Her central concern is the handful of nineteenth-century ethnic Russian converts to Roman Catholicism, omitting the institutional and diplomatic side of Russian Catholicism, as well as non-Russian Catholics like Poles, Lithuanians, some of the Volga Germans, and Eastern Rite Catholics of the borderlands.

Tsimbaeva presents a clear picture, with short biographies of some major figures, of two distinct generations of Russian Catholics, one dominated by educated aristocratic women of Alexander I's time, and the second under Nicholas I, mostly men who lived abroad, a number joining religious orders. The author also discusses connections among the more random conversions of the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Tsimbaeva's thesis is that the ideology of Russian Catholicism had its roots in Alexander I's dream of a universal Christian church. It was first articulated fully by Petr Chaadaev, who, while remaining Orthodox, saw Roman Catholicism as the reason for Western Europe's advanced civilization in contrast to a backward and despotic Russia, its church and society crippled by state control. Chaadaev had a profound influence on the Russian-born Jesuit Ivan Gagarin, who tirelessly promoted an Orthodox reunion with Rome that would respect national and cultural differences and would bring true freedom to Russia. The author sees this vision of a universal church based on Rome continued by the turn-of-- the-century religious philosopher and poet Vladimir Solov'ev, who joined the Eastern Rite Church in 1896, but died Orthodox, and through him influencing writers of the Silver Age. …


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