Sophia- divine wisdom, and justice in seventeenth-century Russia

Christoph Witzenrath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The foundation of the Siberian archbishopric forms the backdrop of a discussion of S.U. Shakhovskoi's Divine Wisdom service, employing postmodern legal philosophy to discuss how he addresses structural uncertainty in court, the aporia of justice. He expounds the limitations of the ruler as finite human being facing the infinite and immediate demands of justice: its procedural aspect appears as an image of the path; its urgent aspect is addressed by the idea that Wisdom aids the ruler, but remains a mystery. Shakhovskoi's views contrast with Ivan IV's, who believed in his direct access as tsar to Divine Wisdom, repudiating his boyars' 'wise' advice in favour of populism and violent purification. Social practices gave meaning to representations of Wisdom in multiple ways. In Siberia, cossacks deposed voevodas who refused to listen and submit to common aims. The first archbishop institutionalised these interpretations, thereby popularising Wisdom. Using the image of the path, representations of Wisdom referred to the spatial dimension of justice in an expanding empire, postponing the tsar's final discretion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-429
Number of pages22
JournalCahiers du Monde Russe
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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