Hryhorij Skovoroda on the Gender of Wisdom

Natalia Pylypiuk, University of Alberta

In a 1989 article ("What is the Appearance of Divine Sophia?") Donald M. Fiene surveyed ideas about Divine Wisdom, as manifested in iconographic forms. He briefly mentioned twentieth-century Sophiological theories, especially as espoused in the 1920s-30s by Vladimir Solov'ev, Pavel Florenskij and Sergej Bulgakov. Fiene also addressed the censure by the Russian church of these theories and its unyielding reaffirmation of the tenet that only Jesus Christ, the Son of God--and not a fourth feminine hypostasis in the Holy trinity--could be considered the true Sophia, the Wisdom of God. Indicating that the eighteenth-century cathedral icon of St. Sophia in Kyiv did not play a role in the writings of the above-mentioned authors and their critics, Fiene concluded his article by proposing that this icon transformed the Roman Catholic Mary, which had been depicted in earlier "Apocalyptic Woman" variants, "into a Russian [sic] Bogomater' of the eleventh century--the time of the building of St. Sophia, Kiev, and of the first Russian [sic] perception of the Holy Wisdom of God."

In a recent paper on the perception of Divine Wisdom in early-modern Ukrainian culture, I considered the role that representations of Mary played within the semiosphere of Sophia and investigated whether Ukrainian authors clearly identified Divine Wisdom with the second person of the Trinity. I also demonstrated that it is quite anachronistic to suggest that the legacy of Kyivan Rus' on Ukrainian territory should have developed according to some universal or default model which was later formulated in Muscovite Rus' and/or in modern Russia.

In the present paper I will consider publications that have appeared since 1991 in order to determine whether previously inaccessible texts enhance our understanding of Wisdom iconography in early-modern Ukrainian culture. Simultaneously, I will consider the prose of Hryhorij Skovoroda, the last representative of the Mohylanian ethos in Ukrainian fiction and an author who severely criticized the veneration of icons but, nonetheless, had a special interest in the portrayal of Wisdom. I will suggest that in a 1775 colloquy, A Conversation, called Alphabet or Primer of Peace, Skovoroda sheds light on the manner in which the portrayal of Divine Wisdom could have been read in early-modern Ukraine and also on his personal need to defend the feminine gender of Wisdom.