Notable Books

New from Artur Mrówczynski-Van Allen: Between the Icon and the Idol

Between the Icon and the Idol: The Human Person and the Modern State in Russian Literature and Thought—Chaadayev, Soloviev, Grossman, by Artur Mrówczynski-Van Allen, with a foreword by William T. Cavanaugh.

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“The totalitarian state clearly intends to eliminate all those forms of organic community that rival the absolute loyalty of the individual to the state. This god is a jealous god. . . . Mrowczynski-Van Allen’s diagnosis is therefore no less relevant after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And his proposed cure is no less salutary. He appeals to the work of Grossman and other voices from the East to oppose the idolatry of the deified self with the icon, which opens up a distance in which giving and forgiving can occur. Eastern voices are so helpful because they refuse to quarantine theological questions; the borders between theology, politics, and literature are fluid and porous, because they are all a part of an integrated life. The holism of totalitarianism must be opposed by another kind of holism that replaces the idol with the icon. At the same time, the aspiration of secularism to separate politics from theology, and power from love, must be opposed by a politics based on an opening of human persons to God and to each other, the kind of self-donation found in Grossman, and for Christians, on the Cross.” —From the Foreword by William T. Cavanaugh


“Artur Mrówczyński-Van Allen’s book is no mere introduction to the history of Russian political and philosophical thought. The author’s profound Christian convictions, as well as his love and knowledge of Russian culture, serve as guide through a fascinating and complex philosophical task at the intersection of literature and theology. His purpose is to show the relevance of Russian religious thought to our own time. The author is convinced that the ideas that emerged in Russia at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century have left their mark on our present. Because of this, it is unsurprising that an examination of the thought and work of Russian thinkers and writers takes place in the broader context of European thought. The author weaves together organically the work of Odoevsky, Chaadayev, Gogol, Soloviev, Tolstoy, and Grossman with that of Nietzsche, Henry, Marion, Arendt, and MacIntyre.

According to Mrówczyński-Van Allen, modern Russia is neither a nation of religious revival nor is it a variation to the third degree on European issues, but the country in which all the contradiction of post-modern liberal society are intensified—a country in whose literature all these contradictions, with its awareness of their tensions and fractures, are examined under a microscope.

All this is set against the reality that the author feels, sees, and attempts to describe: the Russian Idea—the discovery that we are not alone, that we are not slaves of death, that we are a unique and irreplaceable part of the Community—the Church. It is, above all, the opening of Christianity in the center of the modern and postmodern world.

Through this work the author shows us that we have a choice: to bow to the idol of the modern state, or to live in the exercise of our own nature of the image of Love.” – Professor Konstantin Antonov, St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Faculty of Theology. Department of Philosophy of Religion and Religious Aspects of Culture (Moscow)

“In his tour through Russian letters of the past two centuries, Artur Mrówczyński-Van Allen unfolds an Eastern critique of the idolatry of the modern state. A decadent Christian theology, wounded for centuries by dualism, was the background to the monstrous regimes of the twentieth century. Mrówczyński-Van Allen argues that the revolutionary socialists and the national socialists were both heirs of the liberals whose primary project was to offer the worlda humanism without God. In these idolatrous states, the empty spaces left by the implosion of the sacramental bonds of Christian brotherhood were re-occupied by decidedly God-less juridical concepts, and hence, by a diabolical bureaucracy. The author recommends a Christocentric reading of history and a Christocentric reading of the human person as an icon of Trinitarian love and creative generosity. This entails a recovery of the theology of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite through St Maximus the Confessor and Rus sian theologians in this mystical tradition, along with those Western scholars, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, who have struggled to replant the Dionysian garden ‘devastated by the tank formations of modern German scholarship.” – Professor Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family and a Permanent Fellow of the Institute in Political Philosophy and Continental Theology (Melbourne)

“In a wide ranging work that takes intelligent account of figures ranging from Marx to Dostoevsky, from Schmitt to Solovyov, and from Voegelin to Grossman, Mrówczyński-Van Allen offers a remarkable rereading of the theological construction of the modern state and how it is the case that only a non-dualist Christian theology can counter the insane oscillation of the modern state between liberalism and totalitarianism (which are in fact species of the same secular political genus). More, Mrówczyński-Van Allen shows, from a Latin point of view, the crucial resource of the Russian theological tradition in this regard. This book should become required reading for those interested in the debate on the political and on Russian theology.” – Professor John Milbank, Director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy. University of Nottingham

“Through a rich recovery of the theology of the icon, this book written by Artur Mrówczyński-Van Allen, is a practice in recovering the integral differentiated-unity in Christ of politics and religion, the home and the Church, history and eternity, creature and Creator, and ultimately man and God. Even more, this book is an ecclesial practice in the face of the inhumanity of secular totalitarianism, one that dares to offer the world how to learn again to ‘breathe with two lungs’. I hope this book will do more than spark a new debate, I hope it will help provoke a new practice for a Church too much “domesticated” by liberal categories, a Church that needs to free herself from this bondage and learn anew the joy and glorious freedom of being the Church.” – Mons. Javier Martínez Fernández, Archbishop of Granada (Spain)

Author information: Artur Mrówczyński-Van Allen (1968, Poland) is director of the Slavic Department at the International Center for the Study of the Christian Orient, ICSCO (Granada). He is Currently Professor at the Instituto de Filosofía „Edith Stein” and the Instituto de Teología „Lumen Gentium” (Granada), where he teaches Philosophy of History and Political Philosophy. He is also member of the Scientific Council of the Centro Studi “Vita e Destino, Vasily Grossman” (Turin), and Consultant of Episcopal Commission for Interconfessional Relations of the Episcopal Conference of Spain (Madrid). His essays, articles and conferences have been published in Spanish, Polish, Russian, English and Italian. He is coeditor of the book “La Idea Rusa. Entre el anticristo y la Iglesia. Una antología introductoria, P. Chaadayev, V. Soloviev, N. Berdiaev”, (2009).

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(Sculpture by Sara Cunningham-Bell)

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