Spirituality Studies 9-1 Spring 2023 65 Ján Dolný, Róbert Lapko ceived Sophia as the key to a unified representation of reality, or vseedinstvo (Ru. all-unity), which became the central concept of his religious philosophy. The mystical vision of Sophia thus inculcated in Soloviev a lifelong devotion to divine wisdom – not as an abstract or formless idea, but a vivid, personified ideal of eternal feminine beauty. Sophia inspired and permeated virtually all of Soloviev’s intellectual work: his critique of autonomy in Western philosophical thought and search for a new philosophical synthesis, his program of Christian unity and work on the reunion of the churches in a universal theocracy, which he notably characterized as “the social incarnation of the divine wisdom” (Soloviev 1889, 259) [5]. 4 The Figure of Sophia in the Biblical and Christian Tradition Whatever might one think about the precise nature of Soloviev’s mystical experience, the personified conception of divine wisdom is certainly not alien in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Soloviev’s experience had biblical precedent in the accounts of the wisdom of God in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. In the Book of Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom, and the Book of Sirach, wisdom figures as a personified being, an eternal companion of God, with feminine traits. She is described as the first of God’s creation, who was present and helping in all of God’s work of creation and was intimately familiar with His intentions and purposes. Divine wisdom, as personified in the Old Testament, delighted in human beings and her mission was to teach and guide them in the art of a beautiful life (See Proverbs 8:1, 9:6; The Prayer of Solomon in Wisdom 9 and Sirach 24). Examples of a mystical encounter with Sophia, the divine wisdom, similar to that of Soloviev, are also evident in the hagiographical tradition. For example, there is a striking parallel between Soloviev’s childhood vision of Sophia and an account in the ancient Life of St. Constantine – Cyril. St. Constantine (ca. 827–869), later called Cyril, was a Greek priest and scholar, the originator of the Cyrillic alphabet; with his brother St. Methodius (ca. 820–885), he led a Christian mission to the Slavic population in Great Moravia in Central Europe. The authorship of Constantine–Cyril’s biography is accredited to his brother Methodius, or sometimes to the most prominent scholar of their disciples, St. Clement of Ohrid (ca. 840–916). In this account, the seven-year-old Constantine had a dream in which a city official offered him the hand of any maiden of his native town, Thessaloniki; he chose the most beautiful woman, whose name was Sophia (Vragaš 1991, 31). Similar sophiological themes are, furthermore, present in the poetry of Dante Alighieri and Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (cf. Kornblatt 2009, 76–82), and, more recently, in the religious thought of Teilhard de Chardin (cf. 1968, 191–201) and Thomas Merton (cf. 1996, 301–305). 5 Soloviev’s Occultism and Eroticism In his on-going quest to conceptualize and contextualize his experience of Sophia, Soloviev gradually acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the theme of divine wisdom in religious literature, by surveying virtually all the relevant sources from Scripture, the ancient patristic, Gnostic and Kabala literature as well as protestant mystics of the Baroque period. Soloviev’s biography written by his nephew Sergei Mikhailovich Soloviev (2000, 186) specifically mentioned Soloviev’s study of the theme of Sophia in the religious work of the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541) and protestant authors: Jakob Böhme (1575–1624), a Lutheran mystic and theologian; his disciples in Germany Johann Georg Gichtel (1638-1710) and Gottfried Arnold (1666–1714), and John Pordage (1607–1681) in England; and the Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Soloviev’s effort to perceive Sophia was not only intellectual, however. Apparently, it inspired his spiritual explorations, including his youthful entanglement in spiritism. Well into his in his twenties, Soloviev participated in séances and considered himself a powerful medium for communicating with the spirits of the dead. He repudiated spiritism early in his life, calling it later not only vain but inherently sinful. However, he continued to practice mediumistic writing for an extended period of his life. Many of Soloviev’s manuscripts have preserved markings and notes apparently scribbled in a state of trance. These marks were most copious in his early manuscripts; they were present also in his later writings, although less frequently. These notes, especially when longer, often gave an impression of “love letters” from Sophia to Soloviev (cf. Kornblatt 2009, 83–85, including a photocopy of Soloviev’s mediumistic markings). Soloviev’s interest in occult practices apparently stemmed from his explorations in religious epistemology understood broadly as a possible realm for communicating with spiritual beings – the souls of the dead, angels, and, above all, with the Sophia of his mystical visions. However, exposure to such