The Philosopher's Speech and the Working of Providence in the Povest' vremennyx let

David K. Prestel, Michigan State University

In the Povest' vremennyx let under the year 986 we read that the still pagan Prince Vladimir of Rus' was visited by proselytizing delegations from the Muslim Volga Bulgars, German Roman Catholics, Jewish Xazars and Byzantium. The Byzantine representative, who is called a "filosof," begins with a short criticism of the faiths represented by each of the preceding delegations and then launches into a rather lengthy summary of Biblical history, which encompasses human experience from Creation to the Last Judgment.

The "Philosopher's Speech" provides a model with which to trace the chroniclers' attempts to locate significant events of Rus' history within the broader coordinates of salvation history (Heilgeschichte), and sets the course for Vladimir's conversion in at least three ways. First, it emphasizes that God has worked through individuals throughout history and indicates that it is His desire to use Vladimir for His purposes (Providence). Secondly, it focuses on the conversion of the Gentiles, which is a mandate that includes the conversion of Rus'. Thirdly, the account centers the conversion experience in the Incarnation, which Vladimir, in his questions addressed to the philosopher, appears to comprehend and be attracted to. As the speech is addressed to Vladimir, he clearly is God's agent for Rus'. The conversion as it is presented in the Povest' vremennyx let, however, is a long process that began in earliest Rus' history and was accomplished in Vladimir's time through the concurrence of human agency and divine purpose.

In this paper the "Philosopher's Speech" is examined in order to demonstrate that it provides a valuable hermeneutic tool with which to interpret the accounts of early Rus' history and the conversion of Vladimir in the Povest' vremennyx let. It will be shown that for the chroniclers, God's providence, first witnessed in the Rus' lands through the apostolic blessing provided by the Apostle Andrew, can be consistently identified throughout Rus' history and was brought to culmination in the conversion of Vladimir in 988.