In Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina (1873-1877), there's a point where the author refers to a "new doctrine" that was fashionable among the Russian upper classes. The following extract is from Part 5, Chapter 22 (translated by Nathan Haskell Dole, 1899), in which Anna's husband Alexei is comforted by Lidia Ivanovna.

"How can you be ashamed of what is the highest degree of Christian perfection? He who humbles himself shall be exalted. And you cannot thank me. Thank Him, pray to Him for help. In Him alone we can find peace, consolation, salvation, and love".

She raised her eyes to heaven, and began to pray, as Alexei Aleksandrovitch could see by her silence.

Alexei Aleksandrovitch listened to her, and this phraseology, which before seemed, not unpleasant to him, but extravagant, now seemed natural and soothing. He did not approve of this new ecstatic mysticism. He was a sincere believer, and religion interested him principally in its relation to politics; and the new doctrine which arrogated to itself certain terms, for the very reason that it opened the door to controversy and analysis, had aroused his antipathy from principle.


But nevertheless, the countess's help was to the highest degree useful to him. Her affection and esteem were a moral support to him, and, as it gave her great consolation to think, she almost succeeded in converting him to "Christianity"; in other words, she changed him from an indifferent and lukewarm believer into a fervent and genuine partizan of that new method of explaining the Christian doctrine which shortly after came into vogue in Petersburg. It was easy for Alexei Aleksandrovitch to put his faith in this exegesis. [...] Thus he saw no impossibility or unlikelihood in death existing for unbelievers and not for him, that because he held a complete and unquestioning faith, judged in his own way, his soul was already free from sin, and that even in this world he might look upon his safety as assured.

It is true, Alexei Aleksandrovitch dimly felt the frivolity, the fallacy, of this presentation of the faith.

Which particular "new doctrine" and movement is Tolstoy referring to? It is described as having a mystic element, evidently with some connection to humility and prayer, and also, for believers alone, the assurance of salvation, with a form of perfectibility or sinlessness.

Tolstoy himself refers to it as frivolous and fallacious, so presumably it diverges from his own religious views; it's also evidently not the mainstream position of the Russian Orthodox Church. Historically speaking, we are in late nineteenth-century Russia, among the upper crust of society, and perhaps in St Petersburg specifically.

1 Answer 1


He most likely was referring to the movement of Slavophilism.

Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Orthodox church because of his rejection of the Hegelian and Slavophilia influences that were prevalent1 throughout the 19th century.

This would explain why he saw this as a "frivolous and fallacious" view on faith.

The basic premise behind this view is as follows:

Because of the corruption of the Catholic church though pagan traditions and their desire for unity at the expense of the individual Christians freedom. And equally because of the protestant rejection of all church unity in favor of the individuals freedom; the Russian Orthodox Church was the holder of true and unpolluted Christianity.2

Hegel, is responsible for the view that mind and spirit can co-exist and unite despite the 'inherent' conditions between the two (which goes beyond the duality of persons as espoused by Kant). Its of significant historical importance that his view developed in Germany and would contribute to the rise of the Marxist movement in Russia.

When applied to religion the above mixing resulted in a frame of thought that idealized the traditions and customs of Russia as an 'inner-truth' while the west and its constitutions and democracies were an 'external-truth'. Meaning the one was developed from within and represented all that was good, while the other (often associated with politics -yet another nod towards Marxism) was enforced by external rules and laws.

I wanted to make special attribution to:

1 - The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought

2 - This essay on upbeatlearning.com

  • Certainly the sentence "Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Orthodox church because of his rejection of the Hegelian and Slavophilia influences that were prevalent1 throughout the 19th century." is wrong. Tolstoy's religious and political views were far from orthodox.
    – zefciu
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 7:01
  • @zefciu that would depend on who's definition of orthodox your using. Tolstoy's or the Churches? If the Orthodox church was being hevily influcenced by these philosophies their perspective would be that those philosophies are in fact orthodox. Which would mean someone who rejected them would have views as you said "far from orthodox".
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 14:08
  • I understand. However Tolstoy is 'far from orthodox' no matter what. He is far from ancient Orthodox church and contemporary as well.
    – zefciu
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 13:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .