I've recently been intrigued by the Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov and his teachings on Sophia. Now, I am not well versed, but from my initial incursions into the density of this material, I am not convinced Bulgakov is a heretic or a secret Pagan. I think the modern Russian theological trends have interesting connections between certain currents within the Reformational milieu that produced German philosophy and Eastern theological motifs. Liberal Protestantism is merely one outworking of this milieu in the West. Neo-Calvinism, Barth, and many other schools emerged from dealing with similar problems.
Anyway, despite its alienness, I am not wont to reject 'Sophia' categorically out of hand even though the term is mostly extra-biblical and weird to my ears. I want to work to understand the good in such a conceptual arrangement.
For those who have no idea, Bulgakov articulates Sophia as a hypostiziable (i.e. a kind of becoming-personalness) and represents a kind of field of activity. Sophia is not a Person. Sophia also stands in a divine sense and a creaturely sense. As far as I understand, Sophia is somewhat equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Thus, as Christ prayed, that He could will "as done in Heaven as done on Earth", that the creaturely Sophia would be met and transfigured by the divine Sophia.
Sophia is supposed to answer both the problems that constantly afflict doctrines of the Trinity and the problem of mediation (How does the Creator "dialog" with the Creation without one becoming collapsed into the other (i.e. deism or pantheism)?). My cursory reading tells me that Bulgakov sees divine Sophia as the kind of space and outworking of the Triune relationship of the Godhead. This maintains the consistancy and fullness of each Person as equal in dignity and honor, and yet also maintain the sort of interpenetration of their Persons to be a Triune Subjective I, and not verging onto tritheism. This realm of activity creates the space for Creator to be truly available to the Creation, in its own economy, maintained and idealized in its own creaturely Sophia (a kind of world-soul without ascribing divinity to it).
One of Bulgakov's criticisms is that the Patristic theologians lacked this concept and were thus prone to collapse Sophia as an attribute of Christ. This confused issues. He sees this sort of problem in the outworking of how to understand the Holy Spirit. To some early apologists, Bulgakov attributes to them a binitarian view that ascribes Holy Spirit as also an attribute to the Logos, collapsing the Third Person into the Second. Bulgakov sees his project in line with others to recover a distinction that was too easily elided.
Now I've not read nearly enough, but I am wondering if Bulgakov's project can be maintained without undermining the patristic equation of Sophia as an attribute of the Son (particularly in their reading of Proverbs 8). Do we need to make an enhypostisizable field out of Wisdom? Is that necessary?
Maximus the Confessor argued that the Logos, Christ, contained within Himself all the logoi, of which He is the sum of them all and yet greater than their total composition. For Maximus, as I understand it, this is a way to escape a Euthyphro dilemma (i.e. is God good because He obeys goodness or is goodness decided upon by God?). If all the ideas of the world, which maintain their own integrity as separate, are apart of the Logos of God, then we can avoid the problem altogether. There is no ontological collapse (i.e. beauty = good = truth = being = God), which ends up with an unintelligible Platonic Monism. This may sound abstract, but as I've written elsewhere, this threatens the integrity and freedom of our own persons. Salvation becomes being absorbed and, in a sense, erased within the Divine One.
However, the appeal towards a Voluntaristic Nominalism can also be rejected. God maintains within Himself a kind of Logic that is neither graspable by Man, but not hidden behind a dark-cloud of His Will. This sort of shadow is cast within the Augustinian tradition which violently explodes within the Reformation. Calvin's resort to the inscrutible decretals of God ends up, as Tom Torrance pointed out, a God behind God, which results in a singular Will. I understand how certain Barthians see themselves as working out of Calvin, and Augustine, in asserting a primacy to God's Election prior to His Being. That is, God chooses to be God-in-Three, God the Savior, and God for Us. Election precedes, if such a term makes sense, God's own existence.
However, with Maximus, the Biblical hope of personal identity while also communion with God is maintained. But here, with Bulgakov, we can ask about how this comes about. If the logoi, whether beauty, truth, goodness, etc. are constituted within Christ, but not identifiable with Him, then perhaps all such logoi, uncreated ideas, are, when taken together, the Wisdom of Christ, the Divine World, the Royal Law, the Kingdom of God. The eruption of this Reality only comes about in the Incarnation, and thus Sophia maintains both a Divine and Human distinct, yet united, reality. Beauty in Heaven is distinct, even if united, to Beauty on Earth.
Thus, the Father speaks out this Divine Word, the Son, who contains within Himself the fullness of Wisdom, and yet is distinct, as God, from uncreate ideas that are held within Him. Distinctives do not erase simplicity, otherwise for God to create is self-destructive. The Holy Spirit is the Person who shines this Light and carries the Word forward to us. He is the Cloud who carries the Royal Prince, the Dove who crowns Him, the Oil who Anoints Him Lord of All. Therefore, the whole Trinity, not just the Son, participates within the Son's Sophia, without removing Sophia as the Son's Robe which He wears regally as appointed Lord over all things Heavenly and Earthly.
Bulgakov struggled with the legacy of Solovyov, who stood somewhere between orthodox Chrisitanity and being sucked into a certain kind of neo-Pagan hermeticism, German idealistic thinking. By that I am not trying to disparage German idealism, it raises good questions to tackle, most of which I don't think I fully understand. But, here I am trying. I think Bulgakov does not need to move beyond certain patristic moves, which take him out of a christocentric orbit. The Revelation of Christ is the Revelation of the Trinity.
I think Sophia can help us escape some of the pitfalls Western theology has fallen into, avoiding both the nihilism of voluntaristic thinking, while also passing over ontotheological categories that keep us enslaved to Platonic Monisms, whose proponents exist among certain high sacramentarians and Rome. The Kingdom is neither an ontology of peace or violence, rather its the hypostatic dominion of Life, and yea, Life Everlasting. Amen.