Foolishness in Christ: East vs. West
Svitlana Kobets, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
CANADIAN-AMERICAN SLAVIC STUDIES/REVUE CANADIENNE-AMERICAINE D'ETUDES SLAVES, Vol. 34, No. 3, Fall 2000, p. 337-363
The Foolish East
Eastern Orthodox Christianity has a unique category of saints, the holy fools for Christ's sake, who in the Byzantine tradition were called saloi and in Russia are known as iurodivye 1. These saints are representative of a special kind of Christian asceticism. While a "conventional" ascetic renounces the profane world in order to devote his life to God unconditionally through chastity, poverty, and humility, the fool for Christ's sake rejects the mandatory practices of hermetic or monastic seclusion and instead chooses to live in the secular world. Moreover, the madness the holy fool feigns allows him not only to participate in profane life but also to be a conspicuously public figure.
Holy fools have been portrayed in numerous East Orthodox hagiographies, first Byzantine and subsequently Russian. Indeed, as the writings of foreign travelers to Muscovy show, the iurodivye were an integral part of the Medieval Russian scene 2. These visitors were invariably puzzled by the exotic figure of the saintly fool. Giles Fletcher, the English ambassador to Russia, had this to say about the subject in his book Of the Russe Commonwealth, 1591:
...they have certeyne Eremites, (whome they call Holy men) that are like ... Gymnosophists for their life and behaviour: though farre unlike for their knowledge and learning. They use to go starke naked save a clout(h) about their middle, with their hair hanging long, and wildly about their shoulders, and many of them with an iron collar or chain about their neckes, or middles, even in the very extremity of winter. These they take as Prophets and men of great holiness giving them a liberty to speak what they list without any controlment, though it be of the very highest himself. So that if he reprove any openly, in what sort soever, they answere nothing, but that it is po gracum, that is, for their sinnes. And if any of them take some piece of salesware from anie man's shop as he passeth by, to give where he list, he thinketh himself much beloved of God and much beholding to the holy man for taking it in that sort.
Of this kind there are not many, because it is a very harde and colde profession to goe naked in Russia, especially in Winter. Among other at this time they have one at Moscow that walketh naked about the streetes and inveyeth commonly against the state and government, especially against the Godunovs, that are thought at this time to be the great oppressours of that Common wealth. An other there was, that dyed not many yeeres agoe (whome they called Basileo) that would take upon him to reproove the olde Emperour, for all his cruelties, and oppressions, done towards his people. His body they have translated of late into a sumptuous Church, neere the Emperours house in Mosko, and have canonized him for a saint. Many miracles he doth there (for so the Friers make the people to beleeve) and manie offrings are made unto him, not only by the people, but by the chiefe Nobilitie, and the Emperour, and Empresse themselves which visite that Church with great devoution.
In his account this Englishman, who was of course an outsider to Russian culture, lists some of the holy fool's most prominent extrinsic characteristics. To begin with, he describes a figure whose complex of behaviors displays both religious and secular elements. While physically the holy fool belongs to the profane dimension and is to be encountered on the street, rather than in a church or monastery, he is revered as a saint and even feared as God's scourge. Fletcher notes that he is regarded a prophet; that his nakedness, extravagant attire (cf. "iron collar or chain") and unkempt appearance are perceived as the features of an ascetic ("eremite"); that his actions, which if carried out by someone else would be considered offensive or criminal (cf. the taking of a shopkeeper's merchandise), are accepted as a blessing. The iurodivyi's freedom to behave this way derives from his saintly status: he stands above, or rather outside, all communal laws and regulations. Along with the iurodivyi's license to speak "without controlment," Fletcher notes that he was free to confront even the tsar himself -"the olde Emperour" in question being none other than Ivan the Terrible! As is the case with saints in general, after his death the holy fool's importance to the community is not eclipsed but is actually enhanced. Indeed, the holy fool loses his marginality only posthumously, when he becomes canonized-and consequently legitimized and appropriated-by the Church. To illustrate the holy fool's posthumous significance Fletcher adduces the example of the most famous Russian holy fool, St. Basil the Blessed: his miracle-working relics were enshrined into a "sumptuous Church" and he was venerated by both the common people and the nobility, including the Tsar.
The holy fool functions within the profane dimension of the Christian macrocosm, where he makes himself conspicuous through his speech, conduct, and attire. He is always surrounded by people, for whom he conducts a performance that is designed to provoke their meditation on issues that ultimately lead to an understanding of the divine. As Giles Fletcher's comments show, the public usually does not take the iurodivyi's actions at face value but reads into them symbolic meanings (e. g., when the iurodivyi touches or takes something, this is considered to be a blessing). In fact, since many holy fools spoke in riddles (cf. the Lives of St. Michael of Klopskii Monastery (d. 1455), St. Maxim of Moscow (d. 1433) or did not speak at all (cf. Vasilii Blazhennyi (Basil the Blessed) of Moscow (d. 1552)), there were often special intermediaries who interpreted the utterances, actions, and silences of these saints.
The holy fool consistently defies the rules set by society. Yet as Fletcher notes, his freedom from any and all social restrictions or regulations is in itself a communal convention. The holy fool could denounce the Tsar himself to his face and yet remain unpunished. In fact, Russian rulers feared the harsh criticism offered by the holy fools and displayed a reverent attitude towards them. Tsar Boris Godunov (1598-1605), for example, humbly listened to the dark prophesies, accusations, and curses of the iurodivye Ivan the Big-Cap (d. 1589) and Elena the Fool without ever punishing them (cf. Nikolka in Pushkin's drama Boris Godunov).
The immunity enjoyed by the holy fool added to his great authority among his countrymen and enabled him at times to play the role of spokesman on their behalf. Nevertheless, this authority was not unlimited. Many among his audience interpreted the holy fool's behavior as criminal or sinful and treated him as a madman and nothing more. Indeed, a holy fool had to have an audience that was in part bewildered or angered by his words and actions. He challenged his audience by constantly contravening both social and religious norms. Not only did he go around naked, perform outrageous or even obscene actions, and insult people, but he was also often unequivocally blasphemous. Holy fools were known to disrupt church services, break lent, visit brothels, and perform other sinful and sacrilegious acts. As a result they were cruelly beaten, mocked, and chased through the streets, as the vitae make plain, only to rejoice in being able to emulate through their suffering the Passion of the humiliated and crucified Christ.
Though often ostentatiously and militantly anticlerical, the holy fool was known to be a true son of the Church and his status as an ascetic was widely recognized. Indeed, he exposed and mortified his body (going about barefoot and unclothed even in the depths of winter, wearing fetters, constantly fasting), had no material possessions (whatever alms he received he would pass on to the needy), and spent his nights in prayer. The English ambassador's evaluation of the holy fool's intellectual abilities (according to Fletcher, the holy fool is less erudite than the Gymnosophists) is actually rather cautious. Not only was the iurodivyi a stranger to book learning of any kind, he was in fact invariably regarded as mad, both by those who accepted his special status and by those who refused to recognize it.
The iurodivyi is an ambiguous and paradoxical figure that defies any straightforward approach or interpretation: he exists both within and outside the Church, he is both a saint and a sinner, he embraces and promotes Christ's teachings yet leads his audience into temptation, thus transgressing the Christian principle enunciated in the Lord's Prayer. Although rhetorically and behaviorally he adopts an assertive stance, he teaches by negation: he may be aggressive, but he preaches meekness and humility; he may be intentionally and overtly blasphemous, but is neither a heretic nor a religious reformer.
Since the holy fool unequivocally operates within the Orthodox Christian context, the eccentricities of his behavior, which when taken on their own might appear to be acts of anti-Christian rebellion, are in fact designed to promote a non-dogmatic Christian awareness. The iurodivyi undermines not Christianity itself but the limits imposed by church dogma on the valuation of the divine, grace, righteousness and other notions that define the Christian worldview. As Sergei Ivanov puts it:
The holy fool has his own understanding of the issue of virtue and sin. In his view (or rather in the view of a culture that has created the paradigm of holy foolishness) God is not so much concerned that people follow certain once and for all established rules of goodness, but [would rather they formulated] in each particular moment the notion of goodness anew. For the holy fool goodness is not an abstraction, but a constantly changing, fluid category.
Therefore the holy fool challenges the rigid postulates of church teaching and demonstrates the openness of the Holy Scriptures to interpretation, inviting those who came into contact with him to replace their fragmented and static understanding of the divine by an awareness of the dynamic totality of the Absolute. By following the behavioral mode of the Biblical prophet he symbolically shows that in a world constricted by materialism and rationality, the guardian of the divine truth is inevitably rejected as a madman.
The first holy fools, the saloi, emerged, evolved and gained prominence in Byzantine culture. Yet the phenomenology of the holy fool has roots that are yet more ancient: his hagiographic image as well as his unique behavioral complex may be traced back to the spiritual practices and musings of the Early Christians.
The Apostle Paul, the first Christian apologist of saintly folly, declared that "the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God" (1 Cor. 1:19) and defined Christ's apostles as fools for Christ's sake:
We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now (1 Cor. 4:10-13).
Paul not only coined the term "fool for Christ's sake" and made holy foolishness an important element in the doctrine of the Church, he also identified Jesus Christ as the initiator of the holy foolish paradigm. The theoreticians and practitioners of foolishness in Christ in the Eastern Orthodox Church were, whether directly or indirectly, guided by Paul's writings.
Moreover, the theme of God's folly and of foolishness for Christ's sake is prominent in the New Testament in general. If St. Paul proclaims foolishness to be the cornerstone of Christian teachings (1 Cor. 1:21), then the authors of the Gospels present Jesus Christ as a madman (John 10:20) and depict his passion as the sum-composite of humiliation, mockery, derision and powerlessness (Matt. 27:29-31, 39-42, Mark 15:29-32, Luke 23:35-37). The same components later on became staple elements of the fool's ascetic exploit and served to define the hagiographic image of Eastern Orthodox holy fools.
The Fathers of the Church, who were most insistent that Christians should protect their minds from pollution by profane notions and values, dwelled at length on the notion of foolishness in Christ. Thus St. John Chrisostome wrote:
When God reveals something, one has to accept it with faith and not scrutinize it defiantly ... Let them call me .... foolish in Christ and I will be proud of this name as of a victorious crown. Because I will share this name with Paul. It was he who said: "We are fools for Christ's sake." Such folly is wiser than any wisdom. That foolishness which comes from Christ achieved what mundane wisdom cannot find: it has vanquished the gloom of the Universe, it has brought the light of awareness. What is foolishness according to Christ? [It is] when we harness our musings, which are in a state of inappropriate raving, when we cleanse and liberate our minds of the fruits of [our] mundane upbringing -- so that [when] the time comes to listen to Christ's will and testament it would open itself to perceive the Divine words having been freed and well cleansed.
The Church Fathers, who wished to refute the Hellenistic emphasis on common sense, found in the teachings of the Apostle Paul concerning holy foolishness a powerful argument against it. They produced numerous commentaries to his statements on this subject. It is important to note that at that time the notions of wisdom and folly each existed on two different planes of meaning, the sacred and the profane. As the above quotation shows, for John Chrisostome "mundane" or worldly wisdom pollutes the believer's mind with self-centered interests and consequently alienates him from God. Such wisdom is therefore erroneous and sinful. True wisdom can only come from God. Worldly wisdom is but an intellectual conceit, a product of the extravagance of the human mind when it is incapable of perceiving the divine truth.
As far as the early Christian was concerned, by choosing to regard him as a fool the world was in effect recognizing his adherence to divine wisdom and truth. Moreover, although the Church Fathers constantly referred to apostles as "idiots and simpletons," they drew a clear distinction between pathological madness and God-inspired folly. Only the latter was seen as the sign of a mind "unpolluted by a priori notions," one which alone was susceptible to the teachings of Christ. It is also worth noting that the early Christians did not inherit from their Jewish and Greek precursors the practice of venerating sacred madness. In the early Church epileptics were simply regarded as possessed.
To sum up. The textual-cum-theological basis for the emergence of the first Christian mad saints and later on for the Byzantine saloi and the Russian iurodivye was provided by the Gospels, with their depiction of Christ's divine folly, by the Apostle Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, and by the subsequent exegetic elaborations offered by the Church Fathers.
However, the tradition of holy foolishness was also rooted in the practices of the early Christian ascetics. It was in the deserts of the East, where the main forms of Christian asceticism took shape and a new type of sainthood came into being. While the Jewish prophets may have exhibited behavior similar to that of the fools in Christ, it was the holy men of Syria and Egypt that were the Christian fool's direct predecessors. These ascetics engaged in particular kinds of exploits in order to achieve self-effacement and the elimination of their own will. They practiced the traditional Christian virtues of chastity, humility, and obedience - but in an untraditional way. They frequently conducted themselves in an ostensibly grotesque and ludicrous manner, and indeed concealed their ascetic achievements lest they should be tempted to fall into the sin of pride. Early Christian hagiographies, the so-called "beneficial tales," extensively explored the theme of subversive sanctity. Numerous stories and anecdotes from the Lives of the Egyptian and Syrian desert-dwellers exhibit such features of early Christian asceticism as secret sanctity (the saint's sanctity is not at first recognized as such; he is seen by everyone as a drunk, or a fornicator, or a tax-collector, and comes to be known as a holy person only at the very end), the paradoxes of unconditional devotion (e.g. the motif of excessive obedience that leads the ascetic's novice into sin), the simulation of madness and sinfulness, challenges to the conventional notions of sin and virtue, and others. These features of subversive holiness, together with the paradoxes that typified it, later on came to constitute an integral part of the behavioral paradigm of the iurodivye and also furnished topoi for their vitae.
The holy men of Egypt and Syria became famous for their flamboyant ascetic practices, violent behavior, and what we might call theatricality (these ascetics often presented a spectacle). At the same time, they challenged the official Church by providing the Christian congregation with an alternative medium of contacting the divine.
And so it happened that in the Egyptian and Syrian deserts and monasteries all the essential component elements of holy foolishness came into being. Indeed, it was during this period that the phenomenon itself was for the first time adumbrated in theological writings:
If the essence and image of the extreme pride are in ascribing to oneself virtues that one does not possess, then isn't it the expression of the utmost humility when we humble ourselves by pretending to be guilty in what we have not done? ... This was done by that guardian of innocence who took his clothes off and walked along the city's streets in serenity. Such people do not care about leading others into temptation because they were granted power to clandestinely influence people by their prayers. And those among them who care about the former, that is to say about temptation, are lacking in the latter gift. Whenever God is on our side (willing to grant our wishes), then we can achieve anything, can't we? Vex people, rather than God! He rejoices when he sees the way we strive to be disgraced in order to damage, shock, and extinguish vainglory.
Commenting on the significance of this statement by John Climacus, Ivanov notes that it expresses the central and most controversial principle of iurodstvo, the notion that the tempting and scandalizing of others is not only licit but indeed good.
The first vita devoted to a fully-fledged holy fool describes life and exploit of St. Simeon of Emesa. It was written by Leontios, the Bishop of Napolis, in the seventh century, some one hundred years after Simeon's death. In addition to defining the holy foolish paradigm, this text served as a template for the many Byzantine and Russian holy foolish vitae that followed. The Life of St. Simeon is an important apologetic work, for unlike later hagiographers who wrote about holy fools, Leontios found it necessary to explain to his readers the precise meaning of Simeon's holy foolish asceticism.
St. Simeon's vita presents his ascetic life as falling into two distinct parts. In the beginning he adopts the practices of traditional asceticism and goes through the stages of monasticism, wandering, and finally hermetic desert-dwelling. He performs many exploits and achieves ascetic apathea. Thereafter St. Simeon is inspired by God to return to the world in the guise of a fool. He is now determined to devote his life to public service in accordance with Christian doctrine, whilst remaining an ascetic. The mission he decides to undertake would be even more onerous than that of a secluded desert-dweller. The point that it is much more difficult to practice asceticism within society than to do so in the desert is emphasized in the vita when St. Simeon's companion, the hermit John, tries to prevent him from leaving and admits that he himself is not strong enough to do the same. Yet nothing can stop St. Simeon, who inaugurates the second stage of his life as an ascetic by establishing for himself a reputation as a fool. He enters the city of Emesa dragging the carcass of a dog, which is tied to his belt. When the crowd observes this bizarre scene, it identifies the newcomer as a madman and subjects him to mockery and abuse. St. Simeon is pelted with stones, beaten, spat upon, and laughed at. He then enters a church where he disrupts the service by putting out the votive candles and throwing nuts at the praying congregation. For this offense he is severely beaten and dragged away. Next St. Simeon offers his services to an innkeeper who entrusts him with the job of selling beans. However, instead of doing what he is told, St. Simeon eats the merchandise or distributes it for free. His subsequent actions are an admixture of transgressions against socio-religious conventions and feats that are characteristic of saints. On the one hand he runs around naked, relieves himself in public, lives in the streets, washes in a women's bathhouse, and keeps the company of prostitutes. On the other hand, he performs miracles, acts as an exorcist, and exhibits the gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy. He continues to be an ascetic but is unwilling to let others know about his vocation.
St. Simeon's acceptance of ridicule and his readiness, indeed eagerness to embrace his status as a madman serve to preclude the possibility that people might identify and venerate him as a saint. Also, he thereby avoids the temptation to feel pride about his achievements. His ascetic exploit is paradoxical, for it is both public and private. Thus he prays and weeps only at night, when no one can see him. When his saintliness is about to be revealed, Simeon threatens the person who knows his secret and forbids him to share it with anyone. Only after the holy fool's death do people learn that he was a saint.
The Life of St. Simeon comprises thirty episodes that exemplify the behavioral model of folly for Christ's sake. Besides the above-mentioned events, the saint attacks young men who engage in athletic activity; slaps a learned monk who seeks his advice with such force that the latter's cheek remains red for three days; prevents people from crossing the square by throwing stones at them; punishes a group of young girls who mocked him by making them squint-eyed; violates Lent by eating meat, etc. Unlike conventional saints, St. Simeon is as a rule aggressive in his interactions with others. He blatantly breaks a number of religious rules. He tempts others to commit sin. He can be annoying, malicious, cruel, and even blasphemous on occasion.
Though St. Simeon's hagiographer is at times ill at ease with the extreme aspects of his hero's behavior, he nevertheless gives several reasons for such conduct. First, St. Simeon must simulate folly in order to conceal his holiness; second, the paradoxes he purveys are meant to illustrate the divine truth with which he confronts people; and third, at times he is so absorbed by his sacred mission that he does not pay attention to empirical reality and its conventions. Bishop Leontios also distinguishes between foolishness for Christ's sake and other forms of abnormal conduct, telling his readers that St. Simeon merely imitates the behavior of various mental cripples. He comments on the impossibility of distinguishing madness that is "sacred" from that which is "devilish." Leontios thereby denies the possibility of finding criteria for separating holy fools from profane fools and from the possessed. In this way the author of St. Simeon's Life establishes the hagiographic convention according to which the holy fool's sanctity always remains a secret where others are concerned and is known only to God.
The Byzantine Church canonized St. Simeon along with such other fools in Christ as St. Isidora, St. Serapion the Sindonite, St. Vissarion the Miracle-Worker, St. Thomas, and St. Andrew of Constantinople. Yet the period when the Byzantine Church honored its fools in Christ eventually came to a close. In the seventh century this extravagant ascetic exploit came to be viewed with suspicion by the ecclesiastical authorities and after the tenth century the Church virtually suppressed the phenomenon of holy foolishness. Yet the Life of St. Andrew of Constantinople, which was composed in the tenth century, gave holy foolishness a new lease of life - not in Byzantium but on Russian soil. Indeed, this vita was one of the first religious imports brought to Kievan Rus' from the Byzantine Empire.
In Russian Orthodox spirituality the figure of the holy fool or iurodivyi gained unprecedented prominence and importance. At first the Russian Church followed in the steps of Byzantine tradition by canonizing and encouraging the veneration of Byzantine fools, whose exploits it would rank high on the scale of ascetic endeavors. Subsequently the Russian Church canonized up to forty native-born holy fools. They were granted either all-Russian or local canonization. It was in the period between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries that the greatest number of Russian fools in Christ was canonized. Among them were Prokopii of Ustiug (d. 1303), Michael of Klopskii Monastery (d. 1453), Maxim or Moscow (d. 1433), and Vasilii the Blessed (d. 1552). Even after the brutal State- and Church-sponsored repressions of the mentally deranged-including the iurodivyi-that took place in the eighteenth century under Peter the Great and his successors, the phenomenon of holy foolishness continued to exist as a social reality. Just as in pre-Petrine times, Russians went on regarding the holy fools that wandered the streets and congregated at the church-porches with a mixture of awe, fear and compassion. In fact, the nineteenth century experienced a sort of holy-foolish boom. Almost every village in Russia boasted its own fool in Christ. Cities also had them in great numbers. The works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Uspenskii, Leskov and other nineteenth-century writers bear abundant witness to this fact. Woody Allen does not exaggerate the pervasiveness of this phenomenon when in his cinematic parody of Russian literature, "Love and Death" (1975), he shows a crowd of fools swarming to their annual convention, which takes place under a sign reading, "Welcome, idiots!"
The several twentieth-century canonizations of holy fools, the many new hagiographies of holy foolish saints, as well as recent theological and scholarly works on the subject testify to the fact that the tradition of iurodstvo endures in Russia to this day. Indeed, in the Russian Orthodox Church the figure of the holy fool not only continues to possess canonical legitimacy but may be said to represent the most "popular" type of sainthood. Despite the efforts of Peter the Great and his imperial and communist successors to stamp out iurodstvo, its phenomenology, imagery, discourse, and "philosophy" have remained an important means of Russia's artistic self-expression. The numerous characters that exhibit holy foolish traits and the many holy fools per se who populate the pages of Russian literature from Pushkin to Remizov, Vasilenko and Pelevin are a case in point.
The Foolish West
Holy foolishness has generally been regarded as a phenomenon characteristic of the Eastern Orthodoxy, yet it was known in the Catholic West both before and after the separation of the Eastern and the Western Churches. Not only did the West inherit from Roman civilization the institution of the playful fool, but much more importantly, it received from Byzantine Christianity hagiographic accounts and theological interpretations of divine folly. Latin translations of Byzantine stories about holy foolish piety were available and popular in the West at a very early stage. Several works that were meant to emulate them were composed, although the texts in question were not quite "Eastern" in spirit. Be that as it may, the popularity of holy foolish hagiography (available mostly in translations from the Byzantine originals) was short lived. In the West the hagiographies of saints who exemplified controversial (including holy foolish) sanctity were never as widely read as works of this type were in the East. And, as will be demonstrated below, paradoxes of sanctity have not been an integral part of Western spirituality in general or of the Catholic concept of sainthood in particular. Unlike Eastern Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church does not recognize a hagiographic category of foolish saints.
As far as actual manifestations of divine folly, Western Christians lagged considerably behind their Eastern brethren. The holy foolish saint never became a part of the Western cityscape, as was the case in Byzantium or Muscovy. Yet interestingly enough, Western ecclesiastical writers wrote far more prolifically about holy foolishness and championed it far more consistently than did their counterparts in the East. Clearly, the Western Church gave the concept and practice of divine folly a great deal of theoretical attention - far more, in fact, than did the Church in the East.
The question therefore arises, was the Western concept of holy foolishness in Christ and the Western definition of its behavioral paradigm congruent to those found in the East?
In the West the concept of divine folly became a subject of discussion at the same time as it was being developed in Byzantium. Following in the steps of St. Paul and the Church Fathers, Catholic theologians and mystical writers extolled simplicity of mind and self-abasement as Christian virtues. Thus, the foremost patristic author in the West, St. Augustine (354-430), draws a sharp distinction between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world, which is incapable of grasping the divine. He refutes such worldly wisdom by defining it as folly:
They do not know the way by which they should descend from themselves to Him, and by Him ascend to Him. They do not know this way, and they fancy themselves raised on high and shining with the stars, whereas they fall upon the earth and their foolish heart is darkened.
He also offers what could be interpreted as an argument in favor of the holy fool's right to break social laws and prohibitions:
… many actions that to men seem blameworthy, are approved in Your sight; and many that are praised by men are condemned by You, O God - all because often the appearance of the act may be quite different in the situation. But when on a sudden You order something unusual and improbable, even if You had formerly forbidden it, it must obviously be done - though You may conceal the cause of Your demand for the time and though it may be against the ordinance of this or that society of men: a society of men is just, only if it obeys You. But happy are they who know that it was You who commanded.
Yet while St. Augustine denounces human pride, which drives people away from God, and criticizes excessive rationalism as false, he does not even come close to formulating the paradigm of holy foolishness as it came to be known in the East. Indeed, he wrote that though one might benefit from believing that one is a fool, one should by no means act as such in public. This statement is clearly incompatible with the Eastern practice of foolishness in Christ, where folly is unequivocally public and demonstrative.
Several centuries had to pass before Western religious thinkers tackled the concept of foolishness in Christ directly and wrote about such composite elements of this phenomenon as self-abasement, kenotic self-emptying, and non-adherence to the profane values of society. Many of these thinkers affirmed their belief in the virtues of divine folly. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), for example, claimed to be a "sinner monk," one who knew himself to be but a fool. The credo of this Catholic saint seems to be unmistakably holy foolish, as the following passage shows:
I shall play, that I may be mocked. A good game, this, by which Michael is enraged and God is pleased. A good game, I say, which is ridiculous to men, but a very beautiful spectacle to the angels (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9). I say it is a good game by which we become "a reproach to the rich and a contempt to the proud" (cf. Ps. 122:4)
Yet the differences between this Western saint and the Byzantine salos or the Russian iurodivyi are vast. The Eastern holy fool does not want onlookers to know about his ascetic commitment to the exploit of divine folly. This fact supplies the Eastern holy fool with an identity of a social outcast, a sinner, and a fool. St. Bernard's attitude, however, is quite the opposite - and in this he is representative of the whole of the Western tradition of foolishness in Christ. This saint refuses to be taken for a sinner and a fool, insisting instead that one should make a distinction between a sinful jester and a holy man playing the fool:
We are like jesters and tumblers, who, with heads down and feet up, exhibit extraordinary behavior by standing or walking on their hands, and thus draw all eyes to themselves. But ours is not the play of children or of the theatre, which excites lust and represents sordid acts in the effeminate and shameful contortions of the actors. No, ours is a joyous game, decent, grave, and admirable, delighting the gaze of the heavenly onlookers. This chaste and religious game he plays who says: 'We are made a spectacle to angels and to men' (1 Cor. 4:9).
Thus, while St. Bernard challenges the rationality and social conventions of the profane world with the "joyous game" of his foolish show, he does not even think of putting his reputation at stake. Nor is he prepared to compromise his saintliness. Where the Russian iurodivyi is obscene and his sense of humor, if that is the correct term, is dark and sarcastic, St. Bernard makes merry; where the former seeks to be abused, the latter expects to be admired. The iurodivyi is both a sinner and a saint, while St. Bernard is solely a saint.
Just like St. Bernard, Blessed Isaac of Stella (b. c. 1110) was a spokesman of the Cistercians, an order whose monks were known to defy "the wisdom of the world." In his writings this prominent theologian offers a devastating criticism of profane truths and argues in favor of the "poor in spirit." The Italian St. Romuald (c. 950-1027) and the author of his vita St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) were both celebrated for their joyful spirituality. Guerric of Igny (d. 1157) dwelled at length on the holy foolish state of spiritual infancy as a means of attaining unity with the divine. In his writings St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) not only distinguished between the sinful folly of secular wisdom and the divine folly of unconditional devotion to God, but also proclaimed the virtues of foolishness in Christ:
One who is strengthened by God professes himself to be an utter fool by human standards, because he despises what the wisdom of men strives for.
Among Western advocates and practitioners of foolishness in Christ we find such figures as St. Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226), Iacopone da Todi (c. 1230-1306), Jovanni Colombini (1300-1367), Ramon Lull (c. 1233-1315), Thomas More (1478-1535), Philip Neri (1515-1595), St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Pere Louis Lallemant (1587-1635), Jean-Joseph Surin (1600-1665), St. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582), St. Jean Rigoleuc (1595-1658), Vincent Huby (1608-1693), the Blessed Julien Maunoir (1606-1683), Henri-Marie Boudon (1624-1702), St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), St. Benedict-Joseph Labre (1748-1783) and many others. Western fools for Christ's sake achieved their greatest prominence during roughly the same period as their counterparts in Muscovy, that is, between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries. Now let us recall that in the Byzantine Empire the persecution of the fools in Christ started in the seventh century and never ceased thereafter. Let us also recall that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries newly Westernized Russia also subjected its secular and sacred fools to persecution, although they were never wholly extirpated and the Russian tradition of spirituality continued to be characterized by popular reverence for divine folly. And just as happened in Byzantium and Russia, after tolerating holy foolishness for hundreds of years the ecclesiastical and secular authorities in the Catholic West engaged in a systematic attempt to suppress it. Their campaign against their sacred fools and madmen was more successful than the ones that took place in the two Eastern empires, so that by the seventeenth century the Catholic world was cleansed of holy foolishness.
Among the famous European fools listed above there are many saints. However, it is important to note that not a single Western saint was canonized because of his or her adherence to the ideal of foolishness in Christ. Quite to the contrary, they were canonized for their "conventional" saintly virtues and accomplishments and in spite of their being fools. Indeed, allegations of madness and folly against a candidate for sainthood would often hinder the process of canonization, as the case of Jean-Joseph Surin (1600-1665) shows. In the first part of his spiritual career Surin was a priest and an exorcist. During one particularly difficult session of exorcism his psychic health was seriously damaged. His ensuing mental condition has been diagnosed post factum as catatonic schizophrenia. After spending two decades as a mental patient in the care of his brethren-monks, Surin apparently recovered and was reinstated in the priesthood. At the end of his life he was not only a preacher but also a prolific writer on spiritual subjects. Yet his reputation as a former madman was never erased. Indeed, some of Surin's contemporaries were appalled by the prospect of his canonization. In order to prevent the posthumous insertion of Surin's name in the list of saints a certain Père Jackqes Nau (1618-1710) denounced him as a madman. He wrote a letter of protest, charging Surin with blasphemy, indecent and anti-social behavior, and defiance of church norms:
Père Surin, whom I myself knew for twenty years or more, led so deranged and shameful a life that one hardly dares speak of it. In the end it reached the point where the most wise attributed it all, quite correctly I believe, to madness … I have often seen [him] blaspheme the name of God and walk about naked in the College, soiled with excrement - I would then take him by the hand into the infirmary. I have seen him lashing out with his fists and for years perform a hundred other insanities, even to the point of trying to trample on the Sacrament of the Eucharist - I did not see this myself but learnt it the next day from witnesses. He lived like this for several years. For the rest of his life, he never fulfilled any function within the Society. When he recovered self-control, he wrote books and letters, visited his neighbor and spoke very well about God, but he never said his prayers, or read his Breviary, said Mass rarely and to his dying day mumped about and gesticulated in a ridiculous and absurd fashion. During the last year of his life, while at dinner with M. DuSault in the company of a large gathering, he threw a full cup of wine at the serving-girl's head. Or course, his devotees went ecstatic at that and found it all divine!
Certain aspects of Surin's behavior are reminiscent of iurodstvo, particularly his violent outbursts, blasphemous actions and his general disregard for authority and for rules of all kind. Yet if the iurodivyi's madness is feigned, Surin's mental derangement was most likely real. Besides (and this is of the utmost importance) the socio-religious context within which Surin engaged in his outrageous conduct was totally different from the one within which the iurodivye operated. If the iurodivyi's audience looks upon his folly with awe and reads into it moral and religious messages, Surin's misconduct made him a pariah.
To sum up. Byzantine and Russian holy fools were canonized because they were foolish. In the Catholic Church, however, a candidate for sainthood who was accused of folly might be deemed unworthy of canonization.
Historically in the Catholic tradition not just individuals but entire monastic orders could claim to be holy foolish or enjoy a reputation as such. Seventh-century Irish gelta had a reputation as wild, mad monks. In eleventh-century Burgundy the Carthusian friars practiced extreme forms of asceticism whilst also displaying holy foolish meekness and self-abasement. Their champion, William of St. Thierry (c. 1085-1148), extols the virtues of the Carthusian monks of Mont Dieu as "folly for Christ's sake:"
… while the pit is being digged for the sinner, as ye have begun so continue, being made fools for Christ's sake, in the foolishness of God which is wiser than all men, and by Christ's guiding learn the meek discipline of ascending into heaven.
In the sixteenth century the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, reclaimed the red garment of the humiliated Christ. The order's founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola (c. 1491-1556), defined the spiritual orientation of Jesuits in the following way:
Just as the men of the world, who follow the world, love and seek with great diligence, honors, fame, and esteem for a great name of earth … so those who are progressing in the spiritual life and truly following Christ our Lord, love and intensely desire everything opposite. … they would wish to suffer injuries, false accusations and affronts, and to be held and esteemed as fools (but without giving any occasion for this); because of their desire to resemble and imitate in some manner our Creator and Lord Jesus Christ, by putting on his clothing and uniform …
The ideals of divine foolishness were not foreign to the Order of Carmelites (founded in 1156). And more recently these ideals were incorporated in the lifestyle of the Irish society of Mary's Followers of the Cross. According to Saward,
Like the holy fools of Russia, Mary's Followers wander the streets of nearby towns simulating madness, carrying bottles on the end of a string and addressing them like little dogs; going into barbers' shops and ordering a glass of Guinness; playing on children's amusements in department stores.
However, although Western folly in Christ shares a number of traits with iurodstvo, there are profound differences between the two phenomena. When one speaks of Western fools in Christ one is by no means referring to a canonical category of saints or a distinct form of asceticism, as is the case in the Orthodox tradition. In the Western Church written tributes to divine folly tended to be abstract in character. The Eastern Church, however, created a paradigm of holy foolishness, which was realized both in hagiographic imagery and in the actual behavioral pattern of foolish ascetics. No hagiographic formula commensurate with the Eastern Orthodox paradigm of iurodstvo ever emerged in the West. And even though both the Orthodox East and the Catholic West drew upon the same evangelical and patristic sources, their concepts of folly in Christ were very different. The discrepancies between these two concepts become especially obvious if we scrutinize hagiographic sources.
Most often mentioned as a representative of the Catholic tradition of holy foolishness is St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Whenever this phenomenon is discussed in the Western context, the complex of behaviors displayed by the founder of the Franciscan Order is almost always brought up to show that Catholicism had its own fools in Christ. Now this saint proclaimed his adherence to the Pauline principle of divine folly, which surpasses worldly wisdom: "He chose me, for God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the mean, contemptible, feeble things of the world to confound the noble and the great (30).
Certainly, some features of St. Francis's religious exploit call to mind passages from hagiographic descriptions of Eastern fools in Christ. His abject poverty and service to the community, his uninterrupted prayer and continuous fasting are reminiscent of the iurodivye. Again not unlike the iurodivye, he was a prophet and a clairvoyant (3). Yet the traits shared by St. Francis and the holy fools described in Eastern Orthodox hagiographies are found in the Lives of many other saints as well. After all, these are the stock attributes of asceticism and saintliness. However, an examination of the hagiographic record shows that at no point in his life did St. Francis follow the unique behavioral paradigm of the iurodivyi. Indeed, such an examination merely serves to illustrate the vast gulf that exists between this Catholic saint (even though he was acclaimed as holy foolish) and the Eastern Orthodox fools in Christ.
Madness is the cornerstone of the iurodivyi's paradigm. It grants him freedom from social conventions and from allegiance to profane reason; it attracts public scorn, thereby bringing about his unrelieved persecution and humiliation; it denies him membership in the community, thereby rendering him a marginal figure; and finally, it secures the fool's incognito as a saint. His holiness is recognized only after his death. Publicly the holy fool never compromises his reputation as a madman. Only at night, when he is alone praying for his abusers, does he cast off his disguise.
In the Life of St. Francis there are several references to the saint's madness. His hagiographer writes that "he would go about so unkempt and careless of his person, that by many he was considered mad." (2) Yet it does not take the reader long to realize that St. Francis's madness is more metaphorical than real. Indeed, the issue of the saint's madness is brought up exclusively in order to show the inability of those around him to see his holiness, rather than to characterize St. Francis himself. His occasional eccentricities, such as preaching while undressed (86), were not meant to camouflage his saintliness by making his audience believe he was mad (as was the case with the iurodivye) but were aimed at accomplishing concrete edifying tasks. Such extravagant behavioral strategies could have been a point of similarity between St. Francis and Eastern holy fools had not the saint's efforts as a teacher and sermonizer in these situations been directed solely at his own disciples rather than the congregation at large. Moreover, St. Francis's eccentricities are never truly outrageous. Rather, they may be characterized as mild, containing as they do elements of good humor and even playfulness. Thus when the saint was once travelling with Brother Masseo and the latter asked him for directions, St. Francis made him twirl round like a child:
Like a true and obedient man, he twirled round there so long that from the giddiness of head which such turning brings on, he kept falling down. But since the saint did not tell him to stop he obediently got up and resumed his turning. Then said Saint Francis: "In which direction is your face turned?" He replied: "To Sienna." The saint said: "That is the way God wishes us to go." Brother Masseo was very amazed at the childish things he had made him do, twirling thus before many who passed by. (31)
For all his eccentricities, the saint never had the intention of becoming known as a madman. Indeed, St. Francis and his friars were very particular about their reputation. (101) Once, as a punishment, he ordered one of the brethren to preach to the congregation naked.
When the men of Assisi beheld him thus half clad they began to mock him as a crank, thinking that both he and Brother Ruffino were driven demented by their penance. (86)
St. Francis refrained from sharing his disciple's public humiliation, although a Russian iurodivyi would have rejoiced at the prospect. Indeed, St. Francis was not prepared to tolerate the public derision to which he and his follower were subjected and decided to take the situation in hand.
St. Francis went up into the pulpit and preached so impressively about contempt for the world, the holiness of penance, voluntary poverty, longing for the heavenly kingdom, nakedness and indignities suffered, and the most holy passion of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, that all who had assembled there in great numbers, men and women, began to weep aloud. With unbelievable devotion and compunction they cried aloud to heaven for the mercy of the All-Highest, so much that all fell into a state of mental daze. (87)
In the end the joke was on the mockers, and the saint left the church in triumph. While in this episode St. Francis is unclothed, his public display of his naked body, even though it occurs inside a church, is very different from the nakedness of the iurodivye. St. Francis's Life treats his nudity as a one-time edifying gesture that was confined to a particular time and place. In the Lives of the iurodivye their nakedness is shown as being permanent. It symbolically marks their return to Adam's state of primordial innocence, their refusal to wear the garment of profane wisdom, and the unconditional trust they place in God's protection. Also, it is a visible and direct challenge to social convention. And finally, it is a part of the holy fools' ascetic mortification of the flesh - after all, Russia is known for its snowy and frosty winters. Many a vita relates how the saloi and the iurodivye suffered from the unbearable cold (St. Simeon of Emesa, St. Andrew of Constantinople, St. Prokopii of Ustiug), yet were protected and saved by God.
Learnedness, sermonizing and the use of church books, all of which figure prominently in the Life of St. Francis, also distinguish his behavior from that of the iurodivye. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the holy fool is invariably remote from any form of intellectual endeavor. He is "poor in spirit," a simpleton who challenges the wisdom of the profane world by his divine folly. Once embarked on the path of foolishness in Christ, the iurodivyi rejects his former learnedness, if in fact he had ever possessed any (cf. St. Andrew of Constantinople), and refuses to participates in the cultural life of his people. Nor does he read or preach from the pulpit. True, at times St. Francis also demonstrates an allegiance to this kind of anti-intellectual stance. In the Chapter 61 of his Life, "Blessed Francis's Dislike of Study," the saint reprimands one of his disciples for reading:
You want to destroy my Order: I desired and wished, following the example of my Lord Jesus Christ, that my brethren should pray rather than read." (145)
Yet neither St. Francis himself nor the order he founded was prepared to renounce all intellectual endeavors. Not only did Francis compose two Rules for his order, Regula Prima (c. 1210) and Regula Bullata (1223), he was also the author of numerous sermons, as well as the famous Canticle of the Sun (1224). In the prophecy that St. Francis receives from God's angel the importance allotted to intellectual achievements of the Order is clearly stated:
…God will raise your Order men like silver in their knowledge, and famed for goodness who, as much by their learning as by their goodness, will defend religion and even the Church Universal from the various assaults of devils, and the manifold attacks of wicked men. (65)
The angel also tells him that "many precious brethren renowned in holy writ …will become popes, cardinals and bishops." (65) Yet a iurodivyi could never occupy a place of authority in the ecclesiastical hierarchy - or indeed in any other.
Like the iurodivye, St. Francis is thoroughly dedicated to communal service - the inevitable destiny of a saint who bears witness before the community to the grace he has obtained by his spiritual toils. Yet Francis's status in the society is very different from that of a holy fool. The iurodivyi is a marginal figure who does not belong to any social structure. He is always a loner. He has neither family, nor followers, nor friends. The iurodivyi is not even a part of the church congregation. The vita of St. Simeon only once refers to a visit to a church, when the saint disrupted the service and as a result was mercilessly beaten and thrown out into the street. In Byzantium there was a belief that the saloi were possessed and therefore could not enter a church. Moreover, not only does the iurodivyi publicly show disregard for church precepts and rules, he actually subverts the congregation by his often obscene and blasphemous actions.
Note, however, that although the holy fool has the status of a social pariah, he is in a sense territorial. He does not tolerate the proximity of "fellow fools" or beggars. He chases them away and even engages in physical fights with them (cf. St. Andrew chasing away the beggar-woman; fights between St. Nikola Kochanov and St. Fiodor of Novgorod). And last but not least, following the evangelical precept, the fool in Christ is completely dissociated from any familial bonds. When the first paradigmatic holy foolish saint, Simeon of Emesa, embarked on his spiritual journey, he abandoned his widowed mother and even prayed for her to be taken by the Lord. Likewise, a nineteenth-century Russian fool in Christ, Pilagiia Ivanovna Serebrenikova, prayed for her two little sons to pass away so that she could follow the path of divine folly.
St. Francis, however, rejoices in acquiring followers and disciples. They populate the pages of his Life, beginning with the very first chapter, in large numbers. In no time at all he becomes the founder of a large monastic Order. He is constantly preoccupied with its expansion (8) and coordinates its social activities (34). Not only is he an ardent communal servant but he is also a spiritual teacher and a leader of men. He says to his disciples, "I shall lay down what you must do for your salvation" (34). St. Francis readily accepts and acknowledges his role as a saint and even resorts to the sacred power of his own name (75-76). Unlike the constantly humiliated and abused holy fools of the East, St. Francis is widely respected and venerated :
Wherever Saint Francis went he was held in such veneration that practically everybody flocked to such a wonderful man. Wherever he went - country, castle or country houses - whoever managed to touch or see him considered himself blessed. (22)
Of course the saint shuns such displays of devotion, preferring to uphold the Christian ideals of suffering and humiliation. He dwells at length on the importance of these ideals (18) and even tries to incorporate them into his own life. Yet he is by no means always successful in his efforts to do so:
St. Francis said to his colleague: "Dearest man, we have no breviary from which to recite matins: but that we may spend our time in the praise of God, so speak as I shall bid you, and be careful not to alter the words in any way. I shall speak as follows: "Brother Francis, you have committed so many sins in the world that you deserve hell." And you Brother Leo, reply; "True it is that you have deserved hell." (20)
Brother Leo agrees to participate in St. Francis's self-humiliation "project," yet he signally fails to follow his teacher's instructions. Every time St. Francis intones his part, Brother Leo replies, "God will do so much good through you that you will go to paradise." (20) St. Francis sheds tears, sighs, and beats his breast in an attempt to induce Brother Leo to obey - but in vain. Similarly, another Western saint, Giovanni Colombini (1200-1367), plunged his disciples into despair by ordering them to abuse him in public. Yet none of the onlookers would take the show the saint and his followers put on at face value. On the contrary, it made the saint's audience uneasy and sad. In both cases the saint's self-abasement is described as conditional state that takes place within the context of his unconditional sanctity. In the Lives of Eastern holy fools the humiliation they experience is unconditional and unrelieved, since it stems from the fool's incognito as a saint and his role as a madman.
The differences between St. Francis and the Eastern iurodivyi illustrate the general differences between the Western and the Eastern paradigms of holy foolishness. The conclusion offers itself that while the concept of holy foolishness was recognized and accepted in both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity, its endorsement by the two Churches produced two entirely different phenomenologies of holy foolish behavior.
Who Comes First?
In spite of the marked differences between these two paradigms of foolishness in Christ, some religious thinkers and scholars have suggested that they were interrelated and have actually argued that Russian iurodstvo is of Western provenance. Such views have been held not only by Western but even by Russian theologians and scholars. At first sight the Lives of the Russian iurodivye may seem to support this theory. Thus the Life of the archetypal Russian holy fool, Prokopii of Ustiug (d. 1303), relates that prior to his assuming the exploit of iurodstvo he was a rich German merchant. Likewise, the fifteenth-century Rostov iurodivyi, Isidor (d. 1474), who was nicknamed "Tverdislov" (Firm-Word), came to Russia from Germany. While this saint was of Slavic origin, he was raised in a foreign land where he professed the Catholic creed. According to his vita, once Isidor came of age he converted to true, Orthodox Christianity. Furthermore, he discarded his rich clothes, left his parents' home and, determined to be the fool for Christ's sake, went eastward. He selected Rostov as the site of his ascetic exploit. The sixteenth century witnessed the holy foolish exploit of another foreign-born saint, St. Ioann Vlasatyi (the Hairy One) (d. 1581), whose Latin Psalter was put on display at his sepulcher.
Yet can these few references to the foreign background of some of Russia's holy fools be accepted as proof of the Western origins of the phenomenon of holy foolishness itself?
In order to answer this question we must turn to the hagiographic accounts of the Byzantine fools in Christ. As it turns out, these texts, which were, of course, the source materials for Russian holy foolish hagiography, contain numerous references to the saloi's foreignness. St. Andrew of Constantinople-whose Life is a key referent for the Russian paradigm of iurodstvo-was a Slav and therefore, in Greek terms, a foreigner. According to his vita he was brought to Byzantium as a slave and was then purchased by a benevolent master. Like many other of the topoi in his vita, Andrew's foreign origins were eventually incorporated into the Life of the first fully-fledged Russian iurodivyi saint, Prokopii of Ustiug, and thereafter became a stock element in the Russian holy foolish paradigm.
Though he was the most important Byzantine salos-foreigner, St. Andrew was far from being the only one. St. Serapion Sendonite was a subject of the Byzantine Empire, but an Egyptian by birth. The most provocative scenes from his Life are set in the urban locale of Constantinople, where he clearly was an alien figure, both as an Egyptian and as an ascetic far removed from the mundane plane of existence. Another fool in Christ who came to metropolitan Byzantium from the desert was St. Simeon of Emesa. Although fluent in Greek, this ascetic was a Syrian. St. Vissarion was an Egyptian, and St. Thomas was most likely Syrian. Still, the holy fools' metaphorical other-worldliness was far more important than their actual place of birth. Indeed, one of the iurodivyi's most important characteristics is his unconditional detachment from the self-centered values of the world. This non-allegiance to the profane plane of existence gradually assumed the shape of the hagiographic topos of the fool's foreignness. After all, if the saint is an other-worldly figure par excellence, the iurodivyi is even more so. Finally the holy fool's status as a foreigner or stranger was epitomized in the symbology of St. Andrew's vita.
In the case of the Russian fools in Christ, foreignness has yet another function. By discarding their Catholic creed as false and embracing Orthodoxy instead, the holy fools bear witness to the truth of the latter. The vitae of such foreign converts contain emphatically apologetic passages proclaiming Orthodoxy to be the only genuine faith.
Yet the claims concerning the iurodivyi's foreignness cannot be reduced to just an attribute of his hagiographic image. The historical record contains some intriguing evidence relating to this issue. If in hagiographic works the iurodivyi was often presented as a foreigner, in real life he was often perceived as a spy! Indeed, because of their bizarre behavior and defiance of the authorities holy fools would sometimes face charges of espionage. Accounts of such occurrences belong to the later history of Byzantine holy foolishness, when this ascetic exploit was undergoing considerable modifications and was fusing with other ascetic endeavors. Thus, many ascetics who practiced foolishness in Christ would also take a vow of silence. Such silent saloi might be detained by the authorities on suspicion of spying. Such a charge was leveled against St. Savva the New (b. 1283), who, faithful to his vow of silence, refused to reveal his identity to an official who was enraged by his strange attire. Cyril Fileot (d. 1110) was accused of the same offence. While Cyril's identity was soon established and he was released, Savva was mercilessly beaten and almost killed for his refusal to cooperate with the authorities. He was saved by the local people. These examples illustrate how the holy fool's social marginality attracted the hostility of officialdom: he was truly an alien and subversive element in society.
In conclusion we can say that while foolishness was a feature of both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity, these two religious traditions perceived, endorsed and validated this phenomenon in very different ways. Unlike the iurodivyi, the Western fool does not have a reputation as a pathological lunatic or a sinner. Hence the different contexts of their public acceptance: only the iurodivyi pursues his ascetic exploit in secret. Even when foolish, his Western counterpart is still a fairly "conventional" saint and his foolishness in no way defines his exploit. In Eastern Orthodoxy, however, holy foolishness was treated as a defining characteristic of sainthood.
While both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy draw a clear line between saintliness and sin, in the latter tradition these two antinomical principles are brought together -though not reconciled - in the paradoxical and dynamic figure of the holy fool in Christ.
The Greek term salos (pl. saloi), which means "mentally deranged" or "mad," was used in Byzantium to describe the ascetic exploit of divine folly. In Russian Orthodoxy the term iurodivyi (pl. iurodivye) had the same meaning and function. Today this term has both religious and secular connotations. In its first sense it denotes the ascetic exploit of divine foolishness, in its second sense it identifies a person who acts and speaks like a fool in order to unmask or hurt his opponent. 2
See, for example, Rude and Barbarous Kingdom: Russia in the Accounts of Sixteenth-Century English Voyagers, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. 3
Giles Fletcher. Of the Russe Commonwealth, 1591. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966: 89-91. 4
This holy fool was not canonized. While both Fletcher and Massa mention her in their travelogues, none of them supplies the exact dates of her life. Since she was the contemporary of both Boris Godunov and Ivan the Big-Cap, we can assume that she lived in the second half of the sixteenth century. 5
Cf. A. M. Panchenko. "Smekh kak zrelishche." In: D. S. Likhachev, A. M. Panchenko, N. V. Ponyrko, Smekh v Drevnei Rusi. Leningrad: Nauka, 1984. 6
Sergei Ivanov, Vizantiiskoie Iurodstvo. Moskva: Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia, 1994: 183. 7
Quoted in Ivanov, 20. 8
For a discussion of different attitudes to madness and laughter, see Richard W. F. Pope, "Fools and Folly in Old Russia." Slavic Review. Vol. 39, 1980. 9
John Climacus, quoted in Ivanov, 53. 10
For a new translation and a discussion of this vita see Derek Krueger, Symeon the Holy Fool: Leontius's Life and the Late Antique City. Berkley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996. 11
St. Isidora and St. Serapion the Sindonite are both described in the fifth-century Lausiac History written by Paladius. In addition, the former was described by Efrem the Syrian. St. Isidora and St. Serapion lived in the fourth and fifth centuries respectively. St. Vissarion and St. Thomas lived at the end of the fifth century. See Ioann Kovalevskii, Iurodstvo o Khriste i Khrista radi iurodivye Vostochnoi i Russkoi Tserkvi, Moskva, 1895: 111, 121. St. Andrew of Constantinople, however, is most likely a fictional figure. Andrew's hagiographer claims to be his contemporary. Yet while the saint supposedly lived in the fifth century, his vita was actually composed some five centuries later. 12
See Saward, 21. Saward refers his readers to "The Life of St. Andrew the Fool,' in: Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, begrundet von O. von Gebhardt und A. Harnack, CVII (Leipzig, 1882); Studia Patristica V (1970), 317. 13
For the lists of canonized Russian holy fools and the relevant bibliography see Dictionnaire de Spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et l'histoire. Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne et ses fils, 1932; Michael Petrovich, "The Social and Political Role of the Muscovite Fools-in-Christ: Reality and Image," in: Forschungen zur osteuropaeischen Geschichte, Band 25 (Berlin, 1978); G. P. Fedotov, Sviatye Drevnei Rusi (X-XVII st.) (New York, 1959); Slovar' istoricheskii o sviatykh, proslavlennykh v Rossiiskoi tserkvi i o nekotorykh podvizhnikakh blagochestiia, mestno chtimykh. Moskva: "Kniga" - SP "Vneshiberika," 1991; Arkhimandrit Leonid, Sviataia Rus' ili svedeniia o vsekh sviatykh i podvizhnikakh blagochestiia na Rusi (do XVIII veka) obshche i mestno chtimykh, S-Peterburg: Tipografiia M. Stasiulevicha, 1891. 14
In addition to these iurodivye, an incomplete list of Russian fools-in-Christ would include Fiodor of Novgorod (d. 1392), Nikola "Kochanov" (Cabbage-Head) of Novgorod (d. 1392), Georgii of Shenkursk (d. 1465), Isidor "Tverdislov" (Firm-Word) of Rostov (d. 1474), Ioann of Ustiug (d. 1494), Galaktion of Therapont Monastery (d. 1506), Lavrentii of Kaluga (d. 1515), Iakov of Borovichi (d. 1540), Arsenii of Novgorod (d. 1572), Nikola "Salos" of Pskov (d. 1576), Ioann "Vlasatyi" (The Hairy One) of Rostov (d. 1581), Simeon of Iurevets (d. 1584), Ioann "Bol'shoi Kolpak" (Big-Cap) of Moscow (d. 1589), Kiprian of Suzdal' (d. 1622), Procopii of Viatka (d. 1627), Maxim of Tot'ma (d. 1650), Andrei of Tot'ma (d. 1673). These iurodivye were described in holy foolish vitae which were included in numerous hagiographic collections and were recited and sung during church services. Subsequently these iurodivye were canonized by the Russian Church. Such holy foolish saints as Isaac the Recluse of the Kiev Cave Monastery (d. 1090) and Avraamii of Smolensk (d. 1220) were canonized even earlier. It must be noted, however, that church sources tend to list the last two saints as conventional ascetics rather than holy fools. 15
One of the first saints to be canonized by Russian Church after the fall of communism was Kseniia of St. Petersburg (b. 1719-1730, d. c. 1803). 16
A number of twentieth-century holy fools are described in a collection by Ieromonakh Damaskin (Orlovskii), Mucheniki, ispovedniki i podvizhniki blagochestiia Rossiiskoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi XX stoletiia. Tver': Izdatel'stvo "Bulat," 1992. The Life of Kseniia Peterburzhskaia (of St. Petersburg) may be found in Pomestnyi sobor Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi. Troitse-Sergieva Lavra: Izdanie Moskovskoi patriarkhii, 1990: 193-199. For the English translations of two other recent Lives, those of Pelagia Ivanovna Serebrenikova (1809-1884) and Feofil Andreevich Gorenkovsky (1788-1853), see Seraphim's Seraphim: The Life of Pelagia Ivanovna Serebrenikova, Fool for Christ's Sake of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent. Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery Press, 1979; and Vladimir Znosko, Hieroschemamonk Feofil, Fool for Christ's Sake: Ascetic and Visionary of the Kievo-Pecherskaia Lavra, Jordanville, New York: Holy Trinity Monastery Press, 1987. 17
G. P. Fedotov, Sviatye Drevnei Rusi (X-XVII st.), New York: Izdanie russkogo pravoslavnogo Bogoslovskogo Fonda, 1959; Ioann (Ieromonakh) Kologrivov, Ocherki po Istorii Russkoi Sviatosti, Brussels: "Zhizn' s bogom", 1961; D. S. Likhachev, A. M. Panchenko, M. V. Ponyrko, Smekh v Drevnei Rusi, Leningrad: "Nauka," Leningradskoe otdelenie. 1984; Harriet Murav. Holy Foolishness: Dostoevsky's Novels. The Poetics of Cultural Critique Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1992; Sergei Ivanov, Vizantiiskoie iurodstvo; Michael Epstein, After the Future. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1995. 18
In this essay I do not propose to discuss Western court jesters, buffoons, and clowns, whose phenomenology was far removed from the religious realm. For the same reason I do not intend to discuss Byzantine actors and mimes or the skomorokhi (the Russian equivalent of secular comedians). 19
For a discussion of Western translations and emulations of Byzantine holy foolish hagiography, see Ivanov, 168. 20
Catholic authors produced a much larger body of theological writings devoted to the subject of divine folly than did either Byzantium or Russia. In fact, few if any learned treatises on this subject were produced in Russia before the nineteenth century. Only in the last two hundred years was the phenomenon of holy foolishness described and analyzed by Russian religious thinkers and theologians. 21
Augustine, Confessions: Books I-XIII, Sheed, F. J. (trans.), Brown, Peter (introd.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 1993: 71. 22
Ibid, 45. 23
Another subject relevant to the discussion of foolishness in Christ in the Western context is that of holy idiocy, which I shall not consider in this essay because of considerations of space. See Dictionnaire de Spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et l'histoire, Vol. 7. 24
Bruno Scott James (trans.), The Letters of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. London: Burns Oates, 1953: 130. 25
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Vol. XXV, Heath, T. R. (trans.) London, 1972: 194. 28
Western practitioners of foolishness in Christ are discussed in the following works: John Saward, Perfect Fools, Folly for Christ's Sake in Catholic and Orthodox Spirituality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980; Sergei Ivanov, Vizantiiskoie Iurodstvo; B. Swain, Fools and Folly during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, New York, 1932; E. Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1935; B. Könneker, Wesen und Wandlung der Narrenidee im Zeitalter des Humanismus: Brant, Murner, Erasmus, Wiesbaden, 1966; J. Lefebvre, Les Fols et la folie: Étude sur les genres du comique et la création litéraire en Allemagne pendant la Renaissance, Paris, 1968. 29
Michel Foucault discusses the phenomenology and history of European suppression of madness and social displacement of the mad in his monograph, Madness and Civilization: a History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, Richard Howard (trans.), New York: Pantheon House, 1965. 30
See Saward, 118. 31
Quoted in Saward, 129. 32
Kathleen Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966. 33
Quoted in Saward, 49. 34
St. Ignatius Loyola, The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, G. E. Ganss (trans.) St. Louis Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1970: 107. 35
N. Karsavin, Monashestvo v srednie veka, Sankt Peterburg, 1912. 36
Saward, 210-211. 37
All citations and references are from The Little Flowers of St. Francis: The Acts of St. Francis and His Companions, E. M. Flairlock and A. C. Keys (trans.), Ann Arbor: Servan Books, 1985. 38
In St. Francis's case it is his celebrated affinity with animals, such as the wolf of Gambio, whom he tamed with his words, and the birds to whom he preached, that represents a return to a state of innocence. 39
The learned Russian iurodivye St. Mikhail of Klopsko and St. Avraamii of Smolensk may seem to diverge from the holy foolish paradigm. Yet these saints are exceptions, not being bona fide holy fools. St. Mikhail was first of all an elder (starets) and a monk and St. Avraamii practiced holy foolishness only in the initial part of his ascetic career. For a discussion of this issue see Panchenko, 76-79. 40
After all, many members of the Franciscan Order, such as St. Bonaventure (c. 1218-1274), were to win fame as scholars and theologians. 41
Also see the letter in which a would-be iurodivyi says good-bye to his family prior to undertaking his exploit. Ponyrko (ed.), "Pis'ma iurodivogo XVII veka." In: D. S. Likhachev, A. M. Panchenko, N. V. Ponyrko, Smekh v Drevnei Rusi. Leningrad: "Nauka," 1984, 205-213. 42
In the Byzantine tradition the holy fool could be recognized as a saint and venerated as such only after his death. However, in the Russian hagiographic tradition of holy foolishness the question of the iurodivyi's true status (saint of sinner? ascetic or madman?) is invariably left open. Even though people seem to know that the fool is (or that there is a possibility that he might be) a man of God, some of them will fail to see his saintliness. Therefore, even when the vitae state that the iurodivyi was respected and venerated by the people, they may still contain episodes showing him/her being (mis)treated as a fool. 43
Ivanov, 175. 44
See Ieromonakh Ioann Kologrivov, Ocherki po Istorii Russkoi Sviatosti, Briussel': Zhizn' s Bogom, 1961: 241; Ewa M.Thompson, Understanding Russia: The Holy Fool in Russian Culture, Lanham: Rice University, 1987; "Les Commencements du christianisme en Pologne et la mission irlandaise," Annuare de la société des sciences de Posen 1902); Saward, 22, 45.
45 Besides the Lives that explicitly identify fools in Christ as foreign nationals, a number of hagiographies exist which contain no information about the iurodivyi's socio-cultural background.
46 V. O. Kliuchevskii, Drevnerusskie zhitiia sviatykh kak istoricheskii istochnik, Moscow: "Nauka," 1988, 277.
47 Kovalevskii, 111.
48 Ivanov, 128.
49 Ivanov, 58, 124