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“The Grand Inquisitor” by F. Dostoyevsky

“The Grand Inquisitor” by F. Dostoyevsky

The novel The Brothers Karamazov by F. Dostoevsky is an original and innovative literary work. The central ideas of the novel are concentrated in the fifth chapter “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”, which is devoted to the questions of religion, Christ, and human who is an object of religious knowledge. The basic issue of the Grand Inquisitor deals with freedom and analyzes whether it is ambiguous and unbearable gift for humans. At the same time, spiritual freedom is the core principle of religion, brought to Earth by Christ. Ivan Karamazov tells his brother Alyosha a tale, which takes place in Spain, when Jesus Christ comes to people in the period of inquisition. Jesus becomes involved in a discussion with the Grand Inquisitor about the essence of faith, the role of church, and the meaning of people’s happiness. In fact, the Legend depicts not only Ivan’s Karamazov reflections regarding the relationships between human and religion, but also the general notion about the malignancy and falsity of the particular religious institutions, which tend to distort Christ’s teachings that remain practical even in the contemporary world.

Ivan is the second son of Fyodor Pavlovich that grew up being sullen boy and displayed brilliant intelligence in the early age. Alyosha feels that Ivan is occupied with something important inside, looking for a purpose. In fact, his behavior is unclear and ambiguous. Being an atheist, he writes about the theocratic structure of society, he receives the blessing from elders and kisses their hands seriously and respectively. This controversial nature is depicted in Ivan’s reflections about the religion. Having destroyed the idea of the fall and retribution, the atheist must destroy the idea of redemption. Theomachist, understanding the complexity of the struggle, provides a religious myth instead of logical arguments that takes place in Spain in the fifteenth century. In Seville during the revelry of the Inquisition, Christ appears among the crowd, and people recognized him. The Grand Inquisitor orders to put him in jail. At night, he comes to his prisoner and begins to talk to him. “Legend” is a monologue of the Grand Inquisitor to Jesus, who remains silent. Excited Inquisitor’s speech is directed against the teachings of the God-man. Accusing him, he justifies himself and his spiritual betrayal. In fact, the whole monologue comprises the main Ivan’s ideas regarding religion. The Inquisitor states that Jesus was wrong when rejected “The wise and dread spirit, the spirit of self-destruction” (Dostoyevsky). Christ rejected all Satan’s temptations, as he did not want to eat bread and take away people’s freedom. At the same time, Inquisitor prophesied that in the name of earthly bread Christ’s spirit would rise on Earth, and humankind would follow him. In the name of human freedom, Christ rejected two other temptations, including a miracle and the earthly kingdom, as “Thou wouldst not enslave man by a miracle” (Dostoyevsky). Nevertheless, Inquisitor accepts all three temptations. In fact, the author neglects generally accepted weapon to combat atheism, since he does not portray his protagonist as villain monster. Inquisitor is ascetic, sage and philanthropist. Antichrist is opposed to Christ in the name of Christ’s covenant of love for others. He pretends to be his disciple and to continue his work. Antichrist is a false Christ, but not an anti-Christ. The poem shows that Ivan does not reject the religion. He points out its main principles by opposing them with the image of Inquisitor: the true God’s love is represented by the spiritual freedom and “bread”, and not by the bread that will feed the starving. His conviction about the rejected three temptations has the opposing effect. More specifically, he maintains the idea that religion influences people not through the satisfaction of their essential instincts, but through giving them sense of freedom and belief in their spiritual greatness. By placing essential human needs above the spiritual wealth, Ivan tries to present Christianity as the unfair religion that introduces unjustified sacrifice into humans’ lives. However, this sacrifice as the core principle of religion is the way of how people can obtain their freedom and independence from the temptations. Alyosha makes the only conclusion after the little poem, saying that “Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of Him- as you meant it to be” (Dostoyevsky). He believes that all the theory in Ivan’s poem is the result of the Roman Church activity and has nothing in common with actual faith. It can be said, the author tries to distinguish two notions: the religion as the Roman Church policy that does not coincide with the real faith in Jesus, and the real religion that results from the people’ realisation of the Christ’s sacrifice. The main difference between the brothers is represented through Alesha’s words: “Your Inquisitor does not believe in God, that’s his secret!” (Dostoyevsky). That is why each of the brothers blames the opposite side of religion in the distortion of Christ’s teachings: Alyosha – the religious institutions, Ivan – the falsity of the core principles of Jesus Christ’s knowledge. The writer of the poem suffers because in the image of the high priest in Catholic Church, which is removed from the ancient apostolic Orthodoxy, he sees a true servant of Christ. The point is that if the Christian faith is distort and connected with the objectives of this world, the time loss and the whole ideology of Christianity, the mind must surely fall into unbelief, instead of worshiping Christ, humanity builds a new Tower of Babel.

The main idea of the chapter is implemented in the following Inquisitor’s phrase: “Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old.”(Dostoyevsky). This phrase is significant regarding the representation of the particular religious knowledge that distorts Christ’s knowledge in accordance to personal believes. Dostoevsky here shows bishop that quietly believes that Christ’s work has its own path and the life of people is separate. The writer shows Christ as a living example of Christian truth. That is why the Inquisitor is too aware about what he can say. Inquisitor appears as a true servant of the cult, who prefers government to faith. Inquisitor is a representative of institution of church. Dostoevsky reveals anonymity of the person in the legend “The Grand Inquisitor” in the whole its enormity. There Inquisitor appears as the builder of a new life, a life without God. All the kingdom of Inquisitor is the image of an incarnated atheism. Therefore, the phrase that prohibits Christ to say a word and change anything in some way depicts the policy of the institution of Church that adopts the knowledge to their benefit in order to obtain the power. Therefore, Inquisitor is afraid to hear any additional phrases from Christ as they can reveal the falsity of Inquisitor’s nature.

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The main ideology of the Grand Inquisitor is the rejection of the freedom in the name of human’s happiness, God in the name of humanity. He claims, “I swear, man is weaker and baser by nature than Thou hast believed him!” (Dostoyevsky). Christ values human’s freedom and free love. He respects people, and accepts their right for immortal existence. He wants for people not just happiness, but happiness, which they are worthy, according to their destiny. However, all these ideas are meaningless for Inquisitor. He detests people’s dignity, denying their ability to reach independence. His main aim is to deprive people of freedom, to make them worthless by placing them in the comfortable conditions. That concept of freedom, which is so strongly rejected by the Grand Inquisitor, is truly the highest penetration of the mystery of freedom revealed in Christ. Jesus and the Inquisitor state the relationship between freedom and happiness. However, if Christ offers freedom to people in order to be happy, the Inquisitor adheres completely different opinion. Ivan explains Inquisitor’s attitude in the following words: “He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom” (Dostoyevsky). Inquisitor wants to remove the burden of freedom, seducing people with comfortable life and peace. He promises freedom, and at the same time disregards people, and their right to reach immortality. He states that Christ does not love people, but acts as if he helps these paltry creatures and excludes everything unknown and mysterious for them. Religion of human needs and earthly limited benefits for people are temptations of the Grand Inquisitor, a betrayal, abandonment of freedom, and life destiny. People believe that they will become free if they admit to be a product of need. Inquisitor was seduced with those three temptations that Christ rejected in the desert. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the notion of freedom suggested by Inquisitor is not real, but beneficial for a certain amount of people who have power over other weak people.

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Inquisitor considers church as the primary institution the main aim of which is to show people their place by subordinating their nature. He claims: “We have taken the sword of Caesar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee” (Dostoyevsky). Eight centuries ago, the Roman Catholic Church embraced the burden of secular authority and, according to Ivan, succumbed to the third temptation of the devil. By creating a pseudo-religion, designed to meet the needs of ordinary people who make up the majority of the world’s population, the Grand Inquisitor tempts people with three proven ways to get rid of his backbreaking gift of spiritual freedom with the help of bread, miracle and authority. He argues that Christ in each of the three temptations in the desert had to enter into an alliance with the spirit to tempt him. Nevertheless, Christ did not, and the Grand Inquisitor (i.e. church) reserved the right of his accomplices to “correct” his teaching. Church, according to the Inquisitor’s model, is just a magnificent building, which has transformed from the place of worship to a state. They, of course, will never be able to turn stones into bread, but they can reasonably redistribute these very loaves. People getting bread in their hands clearly understand that they have earned with their labour, but they will remember all too well the days of self-will, when this same bread in their hands turned into stones. Grand Inquisitors’ followers will not have problems with the miracles, but they take advantage of the third temptation of the devil, which is authority and power over humans to standardize the religion. According to Inquisitor, church is a chivalric order of extraordinary people who are able act in the name of faith in God gathering weak people, leaning primarily before the miracle, mystery and authority. Such concept contradicts to the original purpose of church as a place that gathers ascetics and mystics, who live with free love of God and in the Kingdom of God.

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The ideas represented in the chapter remains relevant nowadays. It is obvious that the ideas of humanism are prevalent in modern world and have penetrated into the Church. It is actually a dangerous weapon in the hands of the Grand Inquisitor, since it renders the meaningless of the Church, turning it into one of social institutions in the world or another humanitarian state structure in the country. In most countries, the boundaries of religious organizations and the state are clearly defined by the Constitution. However, humanism and a desire for power and influence in the legislative branch of states, blurs the boundaries and the actual situation. Speaking about the role of humanism as the basis of “social religion” that seeks to meet socially significant and individual needs of a person, it can be pointed out that church loses its prophetic function integrating into the state and becoming a simple institute of social religion. Therefore, it does not worship Almighty God, but serves the interests of society with all the ensuing consequences, meddling in the economy under the guise of so-called recommendations and opinions statements. Such approach leads to the formation of the pseudo-religion. The recklessness of the majority of contemporary Christians and churches is characterised by elementary religious ignorance and the fact that the religion is not a worldview, but as set of social customs that are supposed to be fulfilled in order to obtain forgiveness.

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“The Grand Inquisitor” involves the discussion of the main issues regarding the relationships between humans and religion. By means of Ivan’s Karamazov’s poem Dostoyevsky embodied the main negative features of the church policies that are revealed in the socialization of the church and transformation into the state, rather than spiritual institution. The main struggle that ordinary people face is temptations of the material benefits, instead of preserving spiritual peace. The story remains important even nowadays, as it warns society about spiritual sorrows that can be obtained due to the distorted Christ’s teachings.