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The Grand Inquisitor by DostoevskyThe writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Helen Ellerbe show substantial evidence that the orthodox Christians did in fact steal from humanity the divine freedom it was promised by Jesus Christ. This thesis is supported in Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” from his book The Brothers Karamazov. The dark side of Christian history by Helen Ellerbe also supports this theory. The Inquisition itself shows credibility to the theory that orthodox Christianity was established to conquer and control the freedom of humans.
2. Orthodox Christianity has a history of trying to deceive humanity. In her book, Ellerbe proclaims that: “Orthodox Christianity fostered humanity’s shift towards a world view that pays little heed to the idea of divinity.” (Ellerbe 165). In addition, the Grand Inquisitor “…claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy.” (Dostoevsky 1081).
3. Reading “The Grand Inquisitor” while considering the history of early Christianity, the question can be asked, “Did orthodox Christians really believe in God?” Or is the God they believed in a guise that Christianity has put forward to have humanity believe in Him through its teachings only. The Roman Church had taken God’s celebrations of nature and converted them to Christian celebration. In The dark side of Christian history, Ellerbe supports this when she writes “Unable to convince people of the absence of God in nature, the early Church instead incorporated aspects of the very nature worship it condemned…” (Ellerbe 143).
4. The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478. King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I requested the Inquisition. At first, The concern of the Inquisition in Spain was over the conversion of Marranos:
Marranos were Jews that were converted to Christianity using force and pressure by society. It is estimated that by the end of the 14th century about 100,000 Jews had become Marranos, although the greater number of Jews openly adhered to their faith even at the risk of expulsion. Some Marranos actually accepted Christianity, but most of them practiced Judaism in secret, while others waited only for an opportunity to throw off their Christian disguise (Encarta 99).
Later, the Inquisition turned to people of Islam and attempted to convert the in the same way they had done to the Jews. And, even later, to those suspected of being Protestants. The Spanish Inquisition was similar to the first inquisition that was started in France. It was centrally directed by the Supreme Council of the Inquisition, but its procedures were similar to its medieval counterpart.” Although the Spanish Inquisition received approval from the Pope, the papacy turned the control of the Inquisition over to the King and Queen after only a few years of being started. The prose that Ivan Karamozov wrote in “The Grand Inquisitor” was set in Seville, Spain.
5. Dominican Churchmen, including Tomas de Torquemada, as well as other religious, were officers of the Inquisition. The most influential and notorious Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition was Tomas de Torquemada. Tomas was the first Grand Inquisitor and executed thousands of suspected heretics. It can be assumed, but not substantiated, that the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s story is the same person or has a very close resemblance. Dostoevsky portrays the Grand Inquisitor’s attire: “He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal’s robes. As he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church.” (Dostoevsky 1079). Of course, this is only speculation on my part since little more is known about the Inquisitors themselves. The Grand Inquisitor involves taking the man performing miracles in front of the cathedral prisoner. The Grand Inquisitor begins to question and threaten the Prisoner.
6. The Grand Inquisitor tells the Prisoner that the Prisoner himself had turned all his power over to the Pope: “All has been given by Thee to the Pope, they say, and all, therefore, is still in the Pope’s hands… (Dostoevsky 1080-1081). This idea is also in agreement in The dark side of Christian history where it is written: Christianity has helped to create a society in which people are alienated not only from each other but also from the divine.” (Ellerbe 1).
7. The Grand Inquisitor’s statements and questions support the deceit of orthodox Christianity. He accuses the Prisoner of ignoring man: “Thou didst reject the only way by which men might be happy. But, fortunately, departing Thou didst hand on the work to us.” (Dostoevsky 1081). During that time of feeling ignored, Christianity was free to change many Pagan beliefs to be vilified or to conform to Christian ideals. The Prisoner, when asked to do so by the dread spirit had refused to turn rocks into loaves of bread. The Prisoner had turned away from providing Man food from Nature. The Church took this as another reason for Man to turn to it as their salvation. Dostoevsky writes: “They will find us and cry to us, “Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven’t given it.” Then, And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us!” (Dostoevsky 1082). Helen Ellerbe states that “The Church spent centuries prohibiting displays of reverence that involved nature.” (Ellerbe 142). In addition to the forsaking of nature, The Grand Inquisitor accuses the Prisoner had given men freedom, but man could not handle the freedom that was given to them. The Church took over that feeling of freedom. “For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good”. (Dostoevsky 1081). And have concluded that they have taken control of man’s freedom: “But let me tell Thee now, today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. (Dostoevsky 1081) and “Modern thought most often validated Christian tenets. The perception that the universe operates like a machine or a clock corroborated St. Augustine’s contention that human beings have no free will.” (Ellerbe 173). Even Man’s freedom to celebrate was usurped by Orthodox Christianity. Humanity had been forced by the church to consider their pagan events as Christian. Christian holidays were held at the same time. One of those holidays held most dear by humanity today, Christmas was made to correspond to the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. What we call Easter as Christians had virtually the same meaning as the pagan holidays Attis.” (Ellerbe 148).
8. The Prisoner uses the performance of miracles to influence the people and have them worship Him. Whenever the words He, Him, Thee, and Thou are capitalized in all grammatical cases, we have become accustomed to referring to God and/or Jesus Christ. In The Great Inquisitor this remains the case. The Grand Inquisitor refers to the talk in the wilderness and says to the Prisoner, “the great spirit talked with Thee in the wilderness, and we are told in the books that he “tempted” Thee”. (Dostoevsky 1081). This statement was in reference to Satan’s temptation of Christ in the wilderness.
9. Simply touch the Prisoner or His garments performed miracles: “He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. An old man in the crowd, blind from childhood, cries out, ‘O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!’ and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him.”. (Dostoevsky 1079).
10. He raises the daughter of a prominent citizen from the dead: “The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, ‘Maiden, arise!’ and the maiden arises.”. (Dostoevsky 1079).
11. These are miracles that Christians relate to Jesus Christ. Yet the orthodox Christians believed that death was a passing from an earth that was possessed by the devil to deliverance to God in heaven. Orthodox Christians, in their effort to conquer it, often ended up glorifying death. Jesus’s most valuable act was understood to be not his miracles of healing or his message of love and peace, but rather his act of dying. The Bible states that “the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth”. (Ellerbe 162).
12. HE is silent because talking would give support to the Church’s Inquisition. His appearance and aura alone shows understanding and love. It also shows that Jesus will not answer to the Grand Inquisitor. He will not admit that the Church is correct, but it puts him in a catch 22. If he does answer, the Church is justified in their Inquisition of Humanity. At points where He should be wrought with anger the Prisoner continues to look upon the Grand Inquisitor with consideration. His appearance and aura alone shows understanding and love. This is understood by the inquisitor and is firmly rejected, “And why dost Thou look silently and searchingly at me with Thy mild eyes? Be angry. I don’t want Thy love, for I love Thee not.” (Dostoevsky 1086). The Grand Inquisitor receives his answer to all his questions and accusations at the end of the story. The Prisoner, still silent, places a kiss on the lips of the inquisitor.
13. The Grand Inquisitor joins the clever people. The inquisitor now understands that the Christians will never achieve their goals to bring people into harmony with themselves. As Ivan says in the story:
You see, only suppose that there was one such man among all those who desire nothing but filthy material gain-if there’s only one like my old Inquisitor, who had himself eaten roots in the desert and made frenzied efforts to subdue his flesh to make himself free and perfect. But yet all his life he loved humanity, and suddenly his eyes were opened, and he saw that it is no great moral blessedness to attain perfection and freedom, if at the same time one gains the conviction that millions of God’s creatures have been created as a mockery, that they will never be capable of using their freedom, that these poor rebels can never turn into giants to complete the tower, that it was not for such geese that the great idealist dreamt his dream of harmony. Seeing all that he turned back and joined- the clever people. (Dostoevsky 1089).
14. The Grand Inquisitor was an atheist but could not break away from orthodox Christianity. This was the Inquisitor’s secret in the entire story. The Grand Inquisitor could not deny Him as could the clever people that he joined. “They have no such great cleverness and no mysteries and secrets. . . .Perhaps nothing but Atheism, that’s all their secret. Your Inquisitor does not believe in God, that’s his secret.” (Dostoevsky 1089).
15. The Inquisition was the vehicle by which the Church could cover-up its lies to humanity. This has been shown by Ivan Karamozov, in an excerpt from The Grand Inquisitor: “My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the glory of God, …” (Dostoevsky 1078). In the The dark side of Christian history it is stated that, “the Church turned its force against European society itself, launching a brutal assault upon southern France and instituting the Inquisi-tion.” (Ellerbe 3). Therefore when people in the 15th century spoke of freedom, it was only the freedom that the Church allowed them to have.
16. The Grand Inquisitor proves the thesis of this paper. Ivan says:
…he sees that he (the Inquisitor) must follow the counsel of the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction, and therefor accept lying and deception, and lead men consciously to death and destruction, and yet deceive them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led, that the poor blind creatures may at least on the way think themselves happy. (Dostoevsky 1089).
17. Also, Ellerbe states: “The perception that the Universe operates like a machine or a Clock corroborated St. Augustine’s contention that human beings have no free will.” (Ellerbe 173). And “Atheism simply extended the Christian idea that God is distant and removed from the physical world. Once people accepted that, it was not difficult to believe that God did not exist at all” (Ellerbe 171).
18. All the historical evidence of the Inquisition and the writings of Dostoevsky and Ellerbe show substantial evidence that the orthodox Christians did in fact steal from humanity the divine freedom it was promised by Jesus Christ.
Works CitedEllerbe, Helen. The dark side of Christian history. San Rafael, CA: Morningstar Books, 1995.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor; The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamozov. Taken from Literature of the Western World by Wilke, Brian, and Hurt, James
Microsoft Encarta 99, Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1998.