Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Book Review - The Russian Religious Mind, Vol II

Book Review

G. P. Fedotov, The Russian Religious Mind. Vol. II: The Thirteenth and the Fifteenth Centuries. Edited with a foreword by John Meyendorff. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966. Pp. xiv + 423.

We must be truly thankful to Father Meyendorff for this wonderful volume. In his Foreword he explains what odds he had to work against to prepare Fedotov's manuscript for publication. The result rewards him fully for his pains. The first volume, dealing with Kievan Russia, has already become a classic; and I have no doubt that this second volume, devoted to the early Muscovite period, will share in the same success. We find here all those qualities which made the late Professor Fedotov a genuine renovator of hagiology: a rare combination of historical akribeia with a deep insight into spiritual realities, a unique sense of "balance" between analysis and synthesis.

Just as in his study of Kiev, professor Fedotov's approach to the Middle Ages is certainly not the last word on the complexities of Muscovite Orthodoxy; it is rather the beginning of a reevaluation which has become necessary. Here, as also in the first volume, there is a certain tendency toward generalization which must (and certainly will be) questioned again and again. Some of his verdicts seem too harsh, as, for example, the end of his chapter on St. Joseph of Volok: "In his struggle with Nilus and his disciples Joseph destroyed the traditions of St. Sergius which had become too awkward and cumbersome as religious raiment for the resplendent Muscovite tsardom" (p. 315). His "icon" of Novgorod seems a little too idealized, too iconographic, his "anti-Muscovitism" too systematic. Yet all these are real questions, and the merit of Professor Fedotov is that he has formulated the problem of Russian religious development in a tremendously fruitful way. No student of Russian history can bypass his work. One is equally grateful to Mr. Thomas Bird for the exhaustive bibliography of Fedotov's writings which concludes the volume.


St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1966, Vol. 10, No. 4, p. 213