Restoring Sophia: Toward A Theopoetics of Divine Visibility

Jack Louis Pappas

Jack Louis Pappas

          At the very center of Christian theological discourse there exists a fundamental tension between speculative and poetic imagination. On the one hand, Christianity is grounded in the narratival consciousness of the Judaic tradition, while representing an integrated and comprehensible Logos, as first manifest in the philosophy of the Greeks. As a result of this tension there arises a double-sided danger, which would either assimilate the inner dissonance of narrative under the auspices of rationality and transform theology into metaphysics, or on the other hand, dissolve the speculative horizon of theology altogether and exchange reason for an iconoclastic and irrational fideism.

      As such, a robust theopoetics must be oriented toward this tension, rather than seeking to resolve it. Instead it must emerge from within the apparently insurmountable aporia between God and creation, between the visible and the hidden, and the immanent and the transcendent. By approaching this chasm through poetics, a new mode of truth is disclosed, a mode that precisely reveals itself before that which is only rightly left concealed. That is, theopoetics by its very definition aims to “speak of God,” yet does so not through the “logos” of mere theo-logy, but as participant in the divine activity of creating (from the Greek, poiesis), whereby “logoi” are restored to their proper station as modes of manifest mystery. In the light of theopoetics, metaphysics is therefore no longer divorced from the beauty of poetry, and instead is restored alongside it, directed toward the contemplation of the Divine Mystery. We can thus speak of a poetic metaphysics or a metaphysical poetry, simultaneously in speaking of theopoetics.

    The aim of this paper is therefore, to articulate the nature of such a poetics, specificially as it has been made manifest within the Christian East under the name of Sophiology, which 19th century Russian Orthodox theologians such as Sergei Bulgakov and Vladimir Solovyov employed to describe the worship of Sophia (the Divine Wisdom), which they claimed as the underlying impulse of the contemplative, poetic, and aesthetic traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church. For these authors, Sophia was understood to be the manner in which God is made manifest within the phenomenality of the created world, shining forth in all things—even as She remains hidden.  Likewise, God’s hidden “appearing” in the world, is reciprocated through the hymnography, liturgy, and iconography of the Church all of which aims to reveal God through the mediation of nature and human creativity.    Thus, in taking up Bulgakov’s conception of Sophia, I intend to provide a sketch for how it is possible to conceive of the whole theological tradition of the Orthodox Church as being properly described as theopoetic in its very nature. Furthermore, I aim to show how the Sophiological perspective of Eastern theology provides a vital contribution to contemporary discussions in ecology and the role of nature within Christian cosmology through its theopoetic understanding of the world as a manifestation of Divinity, eternally flowing forth from the abiding presence of Divine Wisdom.