The Russian philosopher and religious thinker Vladimir Sergeevich Soloviev (1853-1900) was an early exponent of the ecumenical movement. He was also a leader of the modern reaction against extreme rationalism.
Vladimir Soloviev was born on Jan. 28, 1853, the second son of a distinguished historian. He graduated from Moscow Gymnasium No. 1 in 1869 and entered the science faculty at Moscow University. Three years later he transferred to the philosophy faculty, graduating in 1873, and then attended classes in the seminary of the St. Sergius Monastery. He also studied European philosophy in preparation for his master of arts thesis, an attack on materialism which was accepted in 1874 (The Crisis of Western Philosophy). He lectured for a year at Moscow University and then took a leave in England. In the British Museum he had a vision of a beautiful woman whom he identified as Sophia, or the Divine Wisdom (he had first seen her when he was only 9 years old). This time she told him to go to Egypt, where in November 1875 she appeared to him in the desert.
This desert vision changed Soloviev's life. He became increasingly interested in religion. In 1877 he took a post in the Education Ministry in St. Petersburg, where he was close to Slavophile circles. In 1878 he completed his Treatise on God-Manhood. Two years later his doctoral dissertation (Critique of Abstract Principles) was accepted. His public lecturing was suppressed after April 1881 because of his appeal to spare the lives of those who had assassinated Alexander II, an appeal which incensed the authorities.
The decade from 1881 to 1890 was the fullest in Soloviev's life, a period of intense work for the reconciliation of the churches. He worked closely with J. G. Strossmayer, Archbishop of Djakovo (in what is now Yugoslavia), who wished to unite the Slavs with the West under the Pope. In 1888 Soloviev traveled to Paris with his latest book (written in French), Russia and the Universal Church, but had little success with French Catholics.
The last decade of Soloviev's life was one of frustration and growing darkness. He continued to write profusely, notably, Three Meetings (1897) and The Justification of the Good (1898). His 1898 trip to Egypt greatly depressed him. In the last year of his life he published Three Conversations, which he considered his most important book, even though it repudiated much of his earlier work. He died at Uzkoe, the estate of the Trubetskoys, on Aug. 13, 1900.
Further Reading on Vladimir Sergeevich Soloviev
S.L. Frank, ed., A Solovyev Anthology (1950), is poorly translated but remains much better than any of the books in English about Soloviev. Probably the best concise treatment of Soloviev's life and ideas is the chapter on him in Nicolas Zernov, Three Russian Prophets (1944). Written from the Roman Catholic point of view, Maurice d'Herbigny, Soloviev: A Russian Newman (trans. 1918), is rather turgid and one-sided; the chapter on Soloviev in Karl Pfleger, Wrestlers with Christ (trans. 1936), is cursory; and Egbert Munzer, Solovyev: Prophet of Russian Western Unity (1956), is intellectually shoddy.
Additional Biography Sources
Stremooukhoff, D., Vladimir Soloviev and his messianic work, Belmont, Mass.: Nordland Pub. Co., 1980, 1979.
Sutton, Jonathan, The religious philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov: towards a reassessment, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.