Dostoyevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” from “The Brothers Karamazov”

Dostoyevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” provides a third proposed solution in addition to naturalism and theism in the form of theocracy. Dostoyevsky uses the period of Inquisition in Spain as the setting for an interaction between a bishop and a miracle worker as an opportunity to express his frustration with institutionalized religion and communicate a commentary on the Catholic Church. However, the lack of a solution to the problem of evil still remains, but one may suspect that this is the very point – the problem of evil is insoluble in the sense that it cannot be solved without some compromise involving the nature of evil or the existence of god. “The Grand Inquisitor” begins in the streets of Spain, where a man in the crowd awakens a young girl from her coffin during a funeral procession. Everyone is happy but the bishop, who has the man apprehended for interrogation. It seems clear at this point that the man to be questioned by the Grand Inquisitor is Jesus himself, returned to earth. The Grand Inquisitor then proceeds with a steadfast interrogation and, in my opinion, a verbal assault on Jesus. He principally chastises Jesus for his lack of action toward religious followers or the potentially faithful. His accusations trace back to the story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the desert. Namely, the Grand Inquisitor maintains that if Jesus really cared about his followers he would have given into the devil’s temptations in order to demonstrate his divinity and convince the wondering or skeptical to become faithful. He argues that Jesus could have easily worked miracles to meet material needs, security and certainty in faith had he explicitly demonstrated his divinity instead of leaving the people the free choice to believe and have faith. Since then, the Grand Inquisitor presses that he has “handed the keys of the kingdom” over to Peter and his successors, and thus control of the faithful. The Grand Inquisitor is a manipulative man and he uses theology and religion to manipulate all those who believe by satisfying their needs – the church provides them with miracle, mystery and authority. He coerces the faithful to believe by the actions of the instituted Catholic Church rather than by letting them choose what to believe. In this way, it seems that he strives to stamp out the autonomous thinking that Jesus wished his followers to possess. This makes it evident that this is a commentary on the institution of the church during Dostoyevsky’s time. It seems clear that he opposes the theocracy implied by the Grand Inquisitor – that is, the establishment of the Church as a giver of purpose, belief and perceived best interest. In fat, such an institution takes away the freedom of its followers – a situation which we can assume Dostoyevsky himself and as his characters would not stand for in any sense whatsoever.


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