At the Crossroads of Science & Mysticism
Publication Date: November 10, 2014
On the Cultural-Historical Place and Premises of the Christian World-Understanding
The present volume represents the most substantial theological contribution in Pavel Florensky's great multi-volume "anthropidicy," At the Watersheds of Thought: The Elements of a Concrete Metaphysics. Florensky argues that his epoch (the early 20th century) bore witness to a spiritual shift in the direction of a revitalized Christian world-understanding. In modern times, the Renaissance world-understanding, which is anti-Christian in nature and whose treasure lies in man, had replaced the Medieval world-understanding, which is Christian in nature and whose treasure lies in God. But the rationalistic Renaissance culture was now coming to an end, to be replaced by a new Middle Ages, a coming period to be characterized by the fusion of science and mystical faith-an epoch of discontinuity, of abrupt leaps into reality rooted in the life of the spirit, destined to replace the former mechanistic world-view. This change, Florensky maintains, will touch on every aspect of life and every discipline of knowledge. A revitalized Christianity will emerge which will find its experiential validation both in mysticism and in scientific inquiry.
"Pavel Florensky was one of the most important thinkers within the Russian sophiological tradition. This welcome new translation of a selection of his essays provides an excellent introduction to his thought, whose relevance to the early 21st is even stronger than its relevance to the early 20th century."--JOHN MILBANK, University of Nottingham, author of Theology and Social Theory
"The present volume--another invaluable translation by Boris Jakim--displays not only Florensky's boldness of thought, but also the true expansiveness of his knowledge in such disparate domains of investigation as patristics, linguistics, art history, mathematical theory, philosophy, and scientific method."--ROBERT F. SLESINSKI, author, Pavel Florensky: A Metaphysics of Love
"Boris Jakim's translation, vivid and accurate as always, represents a valuable first step towards the dissemination of Pavel Florensky's later thought. The publication of Florensky's later work will stimulate a substantial re-assessment of Florensky as a philosopher."--ROBERT BIRD, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago
BORIS JAKIM is a leading translator of Russian philosophy and literature. He has translated books by S. L. Frank, Pavel Florensky, Vladimir Solovyov, Sergius Bulgakov, Alexander Blok, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
This book is comprised of translated, long-hand notes for lectures Fr. Florensky gave in the '20's to a group of intellectual seekers. The notes are, for the most part, cogent and revelatory of Florensky's thoughts on the central problem of "modern culture": that during the Enlightenment the medieval worldview had been replaced with a positivistic one, and now (early 20th century), that positivistic worldview was cracking as people renewed their longing for a sense of meaning and access to metaphysical truth. He hoped, it seemed, to guide the trendy interest in the occult and spiritualism and metaphysics back toward Orthodox Christianity, which was the modern remnant of the medieval worldview. That goal encompasses the focus of the sixteen-or-so lectures. Florensky believed without reservation that he was standing at a tipping point in culture. He hoped to tip it toward the Church!
Each lecture is short and digestible. For those (unlike me) with a working knowledge of 19th century philosophy, its references will be accessible; useful footnotes help with the more obscure references. (I, however, had to read a bit about August Comte and positivism before I felt I truly understood the opponent in Florensky's duel.) The final lectures spend some time talking about the importance of Orthodox iconography in the continued expression of the medieval worldview.
In perhaps one or two paragraphs in each lecture, the notes become shorthand: usually a succession of words likely meant to indicate topics he would then speak about extemporaneously. Thus, small parts of his lectures can become a bit vague, as clearly the notes indicated something more clearly unpacked in his in-person lectures.
As a book, this collection of lectures is a good introduction into Florensky's thoughts on culture. There are a number of interesting parallels between our own--in a way, it seems like the positivistic culture he hoped was crumbling never actually did, and he's speaking to us (minus the 1920's fascination with seances!) one hundred years later.
Though I've read no other work by the priest, this book only made me more interested in reading more from him, as many of the topics he introduces are not thoroughly explored.