PAVEL FLORENSKY AND SAME-SEX LOVE: A RESPONSE TO GIACOMO SANFILIPPO by Richard F. Gustafson

Floresky-Friendship-Chapter-image-600-pxDr. Gustafson wrote the “Introduction to the Translation” in Boris Jakim’s 1997 English version of Father Pavel Florensky’s 1914 The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. Gustafson writes:

The new visibility and sometimes tolerance, if not acceptance, of homosexuality, which was spawned by the late-nineteenth-century homosexual liberation movements in Germany, had a strong impact on Russian cultural life in the beginning of the twentieth century, and not a few of the poets and artists followed the ways of Tchaikovsky.

In this context, Florensky’s notion of friendship has a decided homophilic, if not homoerotic, tinge. All dyadic friendships in his discussion are same-sex unions. And this is what is significant theologically, even for our own era. Florensky decenters heterosexual marriage in his presentation of ecclesiality in order to privilege pairs of friends. He moves the discussion of Christian life away from the union of the flesh to the union of the spirit. Marriage is understood as a remnant from pagan life, now blessed by the church; friendship is inherently Christian. To my knowledge, Florensky’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth is the first Christian theology to place same-sex relationship at the center of its vision. (P. XX)

The brief correspondence below is published with Dr. Gustafson’s permission. Note that he links even Russian sophiology with same-sex love. This lends support to Giacomo Sanfilippo’s comments on Sophia in Florensky’s homoerotic love poetry in “A Brief Response to Luis Salés.”

Dear Dr. Gustafson,

I’m the founding editor of Orthodoxy in Dialogue and a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. My dissertation will examine the text and biographical, cultural, and historical context of Father Pavel Florensky’s “Friendship” as a deliberate attempt on his part to articulate a theology of what we now call same-sex love.

I’ve introduced my topic in the current issue of The Wheel with an article entitled “Father Pavel Florensky and the Sacrament of Love.” I’m thrilled that Kallistos Ware mentions it positively in his Foreword. In my article I quote from your Introduction to the Jakim translation of Pillar and Ground and then proceed to develop it more fully.

I would be deeply honoured if you had the time and interest to write a response to my article for publication on Orthodoxy in Dialogue. It can be as short as 1000 words or run longer if you wish.

Please let me know if this is something you might consider.

Best regards,

Giacomo Sanfilippo

—————

Dear Mr. Sanfilippo,

I am honored by your request. Alas, because of vision problems (severe macular degeneration and glaucoma), I cannot read extended texts. I managed to get through your email with difficulty. Therefore, the bottom line is that I cannot do what you would like.

BUT, let me say that I fully support your work. I believe the doctrine of Sophia is related to this theme. I had a long manuscript near completion when life interfered and I could not get to finish it. I sadly threw it out last year in a moment of great sadness. At 84, I realized that, with my problems, those days were over for me. I believe Solovyov was what would now be called a closeted gay, and the creation of the doctrine of Sophia was one closet he hid in.

I wish you all the best in your endeavors. I am sad to see that the Orthodox Church in Russia has become so intolerant.

Keep writing. Florensky was a great philosopher and theologian.

All the best,

Richard Gustafson

Addendum 7/12/18: After Dr. Gustafson had read a representative section of Sanfilippo’s “Father Pavel Florensky and the Sacrament of Love” in extra large font, he wrote back to say, “Splendid work. I am delighted that you are writing this.” 

Richard F. Gustafson is Professor Emeritus in the Slavic Department at Barnard College/Columbia University. His teaching and research interests include Tolstoy, 19th-century Russian poetry, Vladimir Solovyov, and Russian religious thought.

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