Pavenkov O.V., Rubtcova M.V. The conceptualization of love in religious thought of George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky

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Pavenkov O.V., Rubtcova M.V.

The present article is concerned with the question of conceptualization of love in works of Fr. George Florovsky and Fr. Michael Pomazansky, Russian religious thinkers and theologists. We are studying the meaning and appropriacy of two words, ‘love’ (English) and ‘любовь’ (Russian), that are the best to represent the agapelogical positive evaluation in Russian religious thought. Data for study was taken from ten different articles and extracts from books written by Fr. George Florovsky and Fr. Michael Pomazansky. On the basis of this analysis we develop semantic explications of words ‘love’ and ‘любовь’ as Christian spiritual concepts within the framework of theoretical approach of Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM). In summary we state that this article discusses, describes and determines some similarities and differences in understanding of concept ‘love’ in the affore-referenced works by Fr. George Florovsky and Fr. Michael Pomazansky.

Keywords: conceptualization of love, love, Natural Semantic Metalanguage, Russian religious thought, enculturation, philanthropic attitude.




Павенков О.В., Рубцова М.В.

Это исследование посвящено вопросу концептуализации любви в работах двух русских религиозных мыслителей о. Георгия Флоровского и о. Михаила Помазанского. Мы исследуем значение и сферы применения английского "love" и русского "любовь", как слов, которые лучше представляют агапэлогическую позитивную оценку в Русской религиозной мысли. Данные для исследования были взяты из 10 статей и избранных фрагментов из книг, написанных двумя русскими теологами – о. Георгием Флоровским и о. Михаилом Помазанским. На основе данного анализа наше исследование развивает семантические экспликации слов "love" и "любовь" как христианских духовных концептов в рамках теоретического подхода естественного семантического метаязыка. В статье изучается, описывается и выявляется общее и различное в понимании концепта любви в 10 работах о. Георгия Флоровского и о. Михаила Помазанского в связи с существительными, связанными с этим концептом. 

Ключевые слова: концептуализация любви, любовь, естественный семантический метаязык, русская религиозная мысль, инкультурация, филантропическое отношение.



The question of universal and culture-specific elements in the concept of love is of concern to several disciplines, including theology, philosophy, applied linguistics, psychology and anthropology. Nevertheless, the linguistic conceptualization of the concept of love has not received a lot of attention in the theological books and articles. Pragmatics and applied linguistics can help theologists understand how God encodes concepts through the language, and this understanding can be achieved through the study of the meaning and can be useful for the inculturation of Christian meaning and sense of concepts in different social, cultural and spiritual context. In the Christian theological tradition, the concept of love has been recognized as primary, universal spiritual value, which establishes «the base of culture» [2, p. 8]. 

The purpose of this article is to analyze the conceptualization of love in the works of two Russian religious thinkers and theologists George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky. In our opinion, the conceptualization of love varies from nation to nation and religion to religion, and we believe that through the study of Russian religious thought's sub-corpora we will find a coherent pattern of using the concept of love in Christian theological and philosophical contexts.

Theoretical background and methodology: the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM)

The research methodology of our investigation is based on the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM). Semantic metalanguage, which has separated from the composition of the described language, is referred to as "natural semantic metalanguage" (NSM) [3, p. 102]; just as it will be referred to in abbreviated form in the present work. NSM requirements show, that lingvo-singularity should not be a attribute of NSM: Lingvo-singular units could be involved in NSM because such units have significant complicated meaning. NSM should be as simple as possible as it can: "<...> relatively simple words are selected in sublanguage, grammatical forms and syntactic structures, which have main meanings". Every word of sublanguage "should meet a requirement of perfect correspondence between the name and the meaning in ideal" [1, p. 12]. It is expected that linguists include in the vocabulary of NSM the following types of units: (1) bearers of  meanings, which form the system of language ("systematically-formed meaning"): (a) semantic primes; (b) bearers of some of the more complex meanings, which are near to primes; (c) some of the more simple, non-verbal meanings – "quarks" (for example, the intersection of meanings of russian words “khotet'”( to want) and “zhelat'”(to desire); (2) "mediate word-meanings" which can be elements "of many lexical units of the language" [1, p. 12-13]. It is needed to make standardization of syntax of NSM. Lingvo-singularity in NSM can be eliminated or minimized. Philosophical sublanguage is the important part natural semantic metalanguage.

We can explain the meaning of love with the help of semantic primes, which have these two features. Love as complicated abstract concept is encoded in linguistic unit of philosophical language can be represented as concrete configuration of elementary meanings (semantic primes and quarks). A. Wierzbicka thinks, that researchers can use the method NSM in analysis of the concept of love [15; 16; 17; 18]. This method can be appropriate for conceptualization of love. 

"The Western concept of love is notlimited to situations when something bad is happening to the target person. Itimplies a kind of universality(in the sense that it can be addressed to anybody and under any circumstances); but it is also individual and personal (in the sense that it implies a personal bond with the target person). It can be explicated as follows:

love (X loves person Y)

(a) X knows Y

(b) X feels something good toward Y

(c) X wants to bewith Y

(d) X wants to dogood things for Y" [15, p. 145]. 

A. Wierzbicka puts emphasis on importance of the concept of love in different European languages. Philosophy is the main source of  emergence of modern concept of love. "It could be argued that the modem European concept of love (amour, Liebe, amore, and so on) is particularly important and that the emergence of this concept in Western folk philosophy constitutes a significant stage in the development of human ideas and human values. But whatever one thinks about the significance of love, it is an illusion to think that it is a universal, “natural”, or “basic” human concept" [15, p. 146-147]. The concept of love can be different in different cultures and religions, however love as absolute, eternal value does not depend on this cultural and social factors. It is universal value, value of all humanity. This idea is developed by Russian religious philosophers and theologists. 


The data that we have considered in this study is comprised of ten articles and elections from books written by the two Russian philosophers and theologians George Florovsky [4; 5; 6; 7; 8] and Michael Pomazansky [9; 10; 11; 12; 13], five articles for each person. The ten articles were written by both philosophers in similar occasions. Furthermore, all the articles, those we have dealt with, were uttered in the United States during period between 1940-1983 years. All the articles, those we dealt with through this study, were taken from the Christian websites, which provides news, information, and resources for those, interested in the study of a Christian theology.

The corpus consists of (99789) words, between (4083) and (19652) words per article. Furthermore, the some of the articles are attached in the appendix and the details of these speeches are illustrated, as shown below:

1. The catholicity of the Church (13691 words)

2. The “Immortality” of the Soul (9510 words)

3. The last things and the last events (7694 words)

4. The Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament (19652 words)

5. Limits of the Church (4907 words)

6. The Spiritual World (8846 words)

7. Is There an Invisible Church? (11035 words)

8. Dogmas and Opinions (12288 words)

9. The Holies for the Holy (4083 words)

10. The Concept of the Church of Christ on Earth (8083 words)

The ten articles are analyzed in a quantitative analysis; in order to figure out the frequency per 1.000 words of the word "love", in these articles; in addition to the frequency еру word "love" in the five articles of both writers. The results of this analysis are considered in tables and figures in order to present them clearly in the results section.

At the same time, a qualitative analysis was carried out in order to analyze the articles; in order to find the referents of word "love" and their Co-occurrence with semantic primes, which are associated with special type of units, and finally to find any possible changes in semantic meaning of  the considered concept of "love" in these articles. 


Considering the results of the frequencies of the concept "love", table and Figure below show these results. These results show strategies adopted by George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky in the use of this word in five articles and elections from books (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Frequency per 1,000 words of the concept "love" in the five articles and elections from books delivered by George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky (Total 99789 words)

Despite that the differences between the frequencies are not similar in the five articles, but still there is a considerable preference by George Florovsky for the use the concept ‘Love’ more frequently, in articles (1, 3, 4 and 5), than Michael Pomazansky did in these speeches. In addition, in article 2 the results reflect the opposite, they indicate that the concept "love" is used by Michael Pomazansky more frequently (1.45) than George Florovsky did in  article 2 (0.95).

The qualitative analyses show that George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky used this word to express their personal theory of love and their Christian identities; in addition, they use it in order to demonstrate different ideas and achieve the purpose of Russian theology of love. We will illustrate the most significant objectives behind the use of concept of love followed by examples, as shown below.  

1. To make distinguishes between Christian view on love and secular view on love. Christian love is unique, new idea; because of it is not reinterpretation of ancient Greek teaching about love.     

Ex (1) Florovsky: “The Christian idea of love is indeed something new. But it is not something so radically odd that the human soul cannot understand it.  It is not such a "transvaluation of all ancient values", as Anders Nygren has claimed in his lengthy study Agape and Eros".

Ex (2) Florovsky: “If Nygren’s position on Agape is correct, then the words of our Lord... would have had no basis in the hearts of the listeners for understanding. Moreover, our Lord, in using the verbal form of Agape – αγαπάτε – uses the "old" commandment as the basis for the giving of the new, inner dimension of the spiritual extension of that commandment of agape, of love. If Nygren is correct, the "old" context of agape would have been meaningless, especially as the foundation upon which our Lord builds the new spiritual and ontological character of agape”.

2. To show positive significance of love for enemies. 

Ex (3) Florovsky: "Love for enemies" is important subconcept of Christian love. "It is true that love for one’s enemies is at variance with our immediate natural feelings, and may therefore seem to display the negative character suggested above; but if we consider the motive underlying it we shall see that it is entirely positive. The Christian is commanded to love his enemies, not because the other side teaches hatred of them, but because there is a basis and motive for such love in the concrete, positive fact of God’s own love for evil men".

3. To show interconnection between concepts of love and humility (philanthropy) in Christian discourse. 

Ex (4) Florovsky: "In the Incarnation two very core elements of any spirituality are clearly evidenced – the love and humility of God. The idea that humility is rooted in God may appear astonishing".

Ex (5) Pomazansky: "In terms of moral value, acts of love and philanthropy in the name of Christ have an even greater significance".

4. To express important idea that love is the basic fundamental value.

Ex (6) Florovsky: "And man is to love God and fellow mankind because love contains absolute, positive value, a value derived because love is the very nature of God.

5. To show personal opinion about  monastic interpretation of ascetic ideal of love. 

Ex (6) Florovsky: "Often monastic literature will speak of “achieving” this love, as though it is the work of man. But that it not the total context of love in monastic literature, not even in those texts which appear as though everything were nothing but a striving on the part of man in the "ordeal." This language is spoken because it is spontaneous with spiritual nature."

6. To show significance love for Church as a component of Christian love.

Ex (7) Pomazansky: "If we love the Church, if she is dear to us, then how can each of us serve her? And if someone were to ask you: "How have you served her? What activities can you glory in?"

Ex (8) Pomazansky: "The matter is more complex. The task of religious education will be fulfilled only when we teach our children to love church... Let the children be conscious that they are members of Christ's family. Let the children come to love church!"

7. To show the idea of missionary activity as expression of Christian love. 

Ex (9) Pomazansky: "The manifestations of Christian... love can be extremely diverse. For example, personal Christian missionary activity springs from devotion to Christ and the Church, upholding the right, compassionate defense of the persecuted and abused".

The semantics of love in Russian religious thought

In this section we will explore, compare and contrast the spiritual, cultural and ethic differences represented by the two words “love” and “lyubov” under analysis, and we will describe the implications on the ethnopragmatic scope of the Russian and English languages.

The use of love in English texts of Russian religious philosophers ranges from reference to God, human and nature and the description of spiritual-sensual experiences. The abstract meaning of love in Russian religious thought refers to the absolute, positive and eternal value, connected with the nature of God.  Social, missionary and cultural work are the expressions and manifestations of love. Love extends to the domain of categorizing mission and cultural activity.

In this study we distinguish four main senses of love: 

1. Love1 refers to the sacrificial and philanthropical relation and action to God, humans and nature. It is the basic and most important meaning; 

2. Love2 refers to relation between friends which is based on inner kinship. God can be friend of the person;  

3. Love3 extends to the domain of family relationship. 

4. Love4 describes personal passion and temporal Eros-type of striving, when person falls in love. Adultery and fornications can not be results of this Eros-type love. 

Three are three components of each sense of love:

1. X thinks about Y constantly – rational component 

2. X feels only good toward Y – sensual component

3. X wants to do only good things for Y – the component of will. 

We propose the following semantic explications for the four uses of beautiful: 

[A] something is love1 (This philanthropical relation is love. This action is action of love.) 

(a) X has the relation to Y like this: 

(b) something bad happens to Y. 

(c) because of this, Y feels bad and has a lack of communication and support.

(d) X feels compassion to Y

(e) X communicated with Y, X gives material, moral and spiritual support to Y 

(f) X makes good to Y.  

[B] love2

(a) X has the relation to Y like this:

(b) X knows very well Y

(c) X thinks very good about Y 

(d) X wants to meet often with Y

(e) X wants to do something good for Y

(f) X knows, that X can tell anything Y

[C] love3

(a) X has the relation to Y like this:

(b) X has the gendered, sexuated ties with Y 

(c) X can think something very good about Y

(d) the relations between X and Y are well-balanced and sober-minded

(e) X wants to do something good for Y. 

(f) X has obligations in regard to Y

[D] love4

(a) X has the relation to Y like this:

(b) X knows only good things about Y

(c) X does not see any bad things about Y

(d) X believe that Y has only good qualities and virtues.

(e) X wants to be always with Y

(f) X feels only thing good things toward Y

(g) X is sure that only Y is proper person for relationship 

These meanings of love is integrated in united concept of love. Each of these meanings of love can be considered as sub-concept of love. We can analyze how concept of love varies in the prototypicality of opposites. In English language the most common opposition of love is hate as emotion. In Russian language we have the same situation: the counterpart of “lyubov'”(love) is “nenavist'”(hate). 

We can find antonyms of word "love" in texts of George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky:  

1) For love1 the prototypical opposite is hate and even more lukewarmness and at the end damnation: 

Ex (10) Florovsky: "Our Lord has reached into the innermost depth of the human heart and has targeted the source of the external act. You have heard that it was said: “You shall love your neighbor and you shall hate your enemy”. But I say to you: Love your enemies..."

Ex (11) Florovsky: "One cannot know God theoretically. One has to trust His love... "eternal damnation" is not inflicted by "the angry God". God is not the author of Hell. "Damnation" is a self-inflicted penalty, the consequence and the implication of the rebellious opposition to God and to His will".

2) For love2 the prototypical opposite is indifference, angry and unfriendliness: 

Ex (12) Florovsky: "Indeed, man is granted freedom, but it is not a freedom of indifference. Man's freedom is essentially a responsive freedom – a freedom to accept God's will".

Ex (13) Pomazansky: "The Russian intelligentsia in the questions of faith... had grown so indifferent".

3) For love3 the prototypical opposite is anger: 

Ex (12) Florovsky: "You shall not kill" becomes inextricably connected to "anger". "But I say to you that everyone being angry with his brother shall be liable to the judgment". 

4) For love4 the prototypical opposite is adultery, fornication and indifference:

Ex (12) Florovsky: "Our Lord has reached into the innermost depth of the human heart and has targeted the source of the external act. You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who is seeing a woman lustfully, has already committed adultery with her in his heart... From a spiritual perspective the person who does not act externally but lusts within is equally liable to the reality of “adultery”". 

Ex (13) Florovsky: "St. Paul continues the use of many imperative exhortations in chapter 3. "Put to death therefore your members on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry".

In order to study the relationship of the different domains characterized as "love" across 10 articles we have formulated the following research questions:  

(a) Do the concepts of love of George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky differ in this domains?  

(b) Do these domains have different contextual representations in texts of George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky? 

We follow the theoretical principles of corpus linguistics formulated in Romero-Trillo [14] and compare 100 nouns that are most frequently modified by concept "love".

The nouns were grouped into eight categories:God (consisting such names of God, as Lord, Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit) people (consisting of people and parts of human), Church (consisting member of Church and saints), mental constructs, spiritual and moral values, qualities and virtues, nature (nature as essence, for instance, nature of feeling), artifacts (consisting of objects and buildings) and human activities. Figures below show these results.

Figure 2. Noun categories modifying love (in texts of Michael Pomazansky)

Figure 3. Noun categories modifying love (in texts of George Florovsky)

We calculated the number of occurrences for each noun in the texts of George Florovsky and Michael Pomazansky. We appointed the occurrences to each categories. In English texts of both theologists the most numerous category is “God” with 63 examples. In texts of Pomazansky it is then followed by the ‘people’ category with 13 examples of people reference and 6 examples of reference to parts of the human. "Church" is the third most numerous group, with 15 examples. The following groups are ‘spiritual and moral values’ (8 examples). "qualities and virtues", "nature", "artifacts" and "human activities" and "mental constructs" attracted 19 examples. 

In texts of Florovsky "spiritual and moral values" is second most numerous group, with 35 examples. It is then followed by the "people" category with 23 examples. The following groups are "qualities and virtues", "church", "artifacts", "nature" and "human activities" and "mental constructs" attracted 84 examples.

In Figs. 2-3 we show the proportion of use of the categories associated to the uses of “love” in the ten articles of Russian theologists. The data suggest that there is one pattern emerge for the English texts of Russian-spoken thinkers. The most common group of words described as love are God (with the words Lord, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit). In texts of Florovsky the following most salient categories are God, people and spiritual and moral values. In texts of Pomazansky this order is different. Reference to God is followed by people and then by words referring to Church and only then spiritual and moral values. In broader terms, in English texts of Russian thinkers concept "love" most commonly characterizes Absolute values that are not created by people (God and moral values). This might suggest that language of Russian theology has special model of cognitive representations for love, and that the dimensions "God' reality" and "reality of people" play a major role in conceptualization of love. This could be important for the understanding of concept of love in general, and specifically for some areas of applied agapelogy.


The results of our analysis show that love, and its equivalents agape and in Russian “lyubov'”, are words with multiple meanings, and the English language of Russian theologists presents unity in the pattern of use. Ten theological articles share the basic and primary sensory meaning of the concept of love. The meaning extending to the hearing domain is also shared across the three languages. The main difference between Florovsky and Pomazansky the use of the concept of love is that in English texts of Florovsky love is applicable to the mystical approach of cognition of love – such spiritual values as freedom, faith, commandments are the ways of cognition of love, while in text of Pomazansky the use is restricted to ecclesiological aspect of cognition of love (Living in Church is the main way of cognition of love), possibly due to personal reasons and specific theological views. 

From a linguistic perspective we would like to note that love is important spiritual, moral and cultural concept with a relatively high frequency of use in Russian religious philosophy and theology. Therefore, in the Russian theological conceptual world the distinction between spiritual love, on the one hand, and sex love on the other, is more distinct than in English conceptual world. This may have a clear effect in the conceptualization of evaluative agapelogical vocabulary. From a theological perspective we believe that some spiritual and mental factors could also play a role in this linguistic development. 

Our hypothesis is that this difference in historical personal development and socialization across live of Florovsky and Pomazansky could be the reason for the enlargement of the meaning of love to the spiritual and mystical senses in articles of Florovsky and the absence of a similar phenomenon in articles of Pomazansky. Although we are aware that the connection between history of life and the linguistic representation of love would require a separate in-depth study. 

As regards the distribution of nouns in the categories, we can observe that the articles of Florovsky and Pomazansky show different distribution of the nouns that can be characterized as "love". In texts of Florovsky the majority of uses falls into the category of "God" (20%) and "qualities and virtues" (19%). In texts of Pomazansky the majority of the use falls under the domains of "God" (29%) and "people" (22%). In this sense, it is very interesting to notice that while in English texts of Pomazansky 51% of the examples fall under the two categories mentioned above ("God" and "people"), leaving the remaining 49% to be distributed amongst the rest, the distribution in texts of Florovsky is more evenly with ‘people’ (15%), "qualities and virtues"(13%) and "mental constructs" (13%) immediately after the two most frequent of "God" and "spiritual and moral values". However these differences can not affirm the existence of different models of perception of "love" embedded in texts of Florovsky and Pomazansky because both theologists is based on Christian model of perception of love as high spiritual and moral value and virtue.


In our study we have proved that "love" represents in Russian religious philosophy and theology the spiritual, moral, cultural and cognitive concept primarily related to mind, feeling and will of human. The study of linguistic context of concept of love offers some value observations not only for theology and philosophy but for linguistics, from a theoretical and applied points of view. The linguistic evidence from English love and Russian “lyubov'” suggests that the two words are polysemous and have different semantic patterns. To start, the 10 article of Russian theologists share the meaning of "the sacrificial and philanthropical relation and action to God, humans and nature". The meaning extending to the domain of love between members of Church and members of family is also shared across these articles. Similarly, all the articles share the meaning reflecting relationship between friends which is based on inner kinship. A close semantic link between the first meaning of love and spiritual experience, on the one hand, and “lyubov'” and “dukhovnyy opyt”, on another hand, leads us to suggest that the presence of a concept similar to "spiritual experience" in Russian may explain the presence of this meaning in Russian. The texts of Florovsky and Pomazansky diverge in the applicability of concept of love to the description of relationship in Church. The analyses seem to differ in the association of "love" to Absolute God's reality or people and human-made artifacts. The language of Florovsky shows a preference for the use of love with spiritual and moral values and mental constructs, in language of Pomazansky there is a tendency for the use of love with Church' relationship.

Despite of different distribution of meaning across different lexical domains, we suggest the presence of one Christian model, one cultural pattern in these texts. This study has offered conceptual analysis of love as a basic component in the description of agapelogical categories, with an emphasis of its spiritual and moral significance. 



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Сведения об авторах:

Павенков Олег Владимирович – кандидат философских наук, старший преподаватель Санкт-Петербургского государственного университета кино и телевидения, аспирант Санкт-Петербургской Православной Духовной Академии (Санкт-Петербург, Россия).

Рубцова Мария Владимировна – доктор социологических наук, доцент факультета социологии Санкт-Петербургского государственного университета (Санкт-Петербург, Россия).

Data about the authors:

Pavenkov Oleg Vladimirovich – Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Senior Lecturer, St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television, graduate student of Saint Petersburg Theological Academy (Saint Petersburg, Russia).

Rubtcova Maria Vladimirovna – Doctor of Sociological Sciences, Associate Professor of Sociology Faculty, Saint Petersburg State University (Saint Petersburg, Russia).