This is a chapter from his writing The Theme of the Humiliated Christ in the Novels of Dostoevsky, submitted in 1954 to the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in partial fulfillment of his Bachelor of Divinity degree. It treats Father Vladimir's life-long interest in the virtue of humility - especially as it influenced the makeup of the Russian soul as the Christian Gospel penetrated the Slavic lands following the conversion of St. Vladimir.
The Image of the Self-Humiliated Christ
(Christ and the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor)
In the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor we have the classic image of the Self-Humiliated Christ as portrayed by Dostoevsky. The vision of the Self-Humiliated Christ and the development of the self-humiliated Christian personality, which is the existential _expression of this theological and dogmatic idea, were possible because of the unique manner in which the Russian people reacted to the original impact of the Gospel on their hearts and souls. The vision of the Self-Humiliated Christ, hidden as it was behind the stern image of Christ Pantocrator, appealed to the imagination of the religious mind and heart of the Russian people. The young Russian nation deliberately and willfully chose the ideal of the Self-Humiliated Christ as the most expressive of the religious, ethical and cultural mind of the Russian people. Long before the time of Dostoevsky, this ideal of the self-humiliated type of personality had become an accepted facet of the Russian mind and personality.
It is our thesis that an understanding of the degree to which the image of the Self-Humiliated Christ, and the self-humiliated Christian personality, has permeated the social, psychological, religious and moral make-up of the Russian personality can clarify our understanding of the enigma which is the Russian man. It is further our thesis that Dostoevsky's penetrating analysis of the Russian personality was true to life, and often even prophetic, because he understood the central role which the image of the Self-Humiliated Christ, which he called the Russian Christ on occasion, played in the life of the individual Russian as well as in the life of the Russian people as a whole. He wrote of this ideal as self-evident: "I will not recall the people's historical ideals, their Sergius [of Rádonezh], Theodosius Pechersky [of the Kievan caves] and even Tikhon [of Zadonsk]." (The Diary of a writer, Feb., 1876) It was this ideal which permeated all aspects of Russian life, both secular and religious. This was the ideal of the most potent monastic movement in the Russian Church beginning with the patron saint of kenotic, monasticism in Russia, St. Theodosius Pechersky.
Dostoevsky was very much aware of this national type in Russian literature. He considered it true to reality, an accurate portrayal of the Russian people. This was a recurrent subject in his Diary of a Writer, which found its culmination in the Pushkin speech in which he presented Pushkin as a true genius precisely because he recognized the alienation of the intelligentsia from the people, and thus from the ideal Image of Christ of which they were the beaters. He told the intelligentsia, as did Pushkin before him, that it was only in living contact with the people that the wandering intelligentsia could find itself, could regraft itself to the roots from which it had sprung. The self-humiliated Christian personality was the national literary type which served as a landmark to show the intelligentsia the way back to the people, and through them to the true Image of Christ. Dostoevsky wrote, "All that is lasting and beautiful in these types of Goncharov and Turgenev -- all this is due to the fact that, through them, they established contact with the people. This contact with the people has conveyed to them extraordinary potency. They have borrowed the people's candor, purity, gentleness, breath of mind and benignancy, in contradistinction to everything that is distorted, false, alluvial and slavishly imitative." (Diary of a Writer, Feb. 1876)
Dostoevsky was keenly aware of the potency of literature as a medium through which the reconciliation which he sought could be brought about. He wrote: "Our literature precisely has the merit that, almost without any exception -- please note this point -- bowed before the popular truth, and recognized the people's ideas as genuinely beautiful. In fact, literature was compelled to adopt them as standards, almost voluntarily. Verily, in this respect, it was prompted by artistic instinct rather than by free will." (Ibid.) It was for this reason that the people were so important in Dostoevsky's writings. "Perhaps the most momentous preordained destiny of the Russian people, within the destinies of mankind at large, consists in the preservation in their midst of the Divine Image of Christ, in all its purity, and when the time comes, in the revelation of this Image to the world which has lost its way." (Ibid., 1873)
Dostoevsky himself at first involuntarily chose to portray the people's ideal (as Devushkin in Poor Folk), but later on he deliberately chose the self-humiliated type as his ideal. Prince Myshkin started out as the Prince Christ in the early drafts of The Idiot. But it was not until The Brothers Karamazov that the self-humiliated Christian personality gave way to the Self-Humiliated Christ Himself come into the world once more to visit man, to stand and walk in humility among men.
For Dostoevsky freedom is not the final truth about man. The truth about man is defined by the moral principle in man which has a "mystical source." Moral impulses are not determined by feeling, rationality, or reasonableness. They are determined by the fundamental living sense of God. Without this living sense of God, we have nothing but cynicism or man's attempt, like the failure of Raskolnikoff, to make a god of himself. Father Zossima makes us very much aware of the living sense of God. He calls it a living bond with another world:
On earth, indeed, we are as it were astray, and if it were not for the precious Image of Christ before us, we would be undone and altogether . . . much on earth is hidden from us, but to make. Up for that we have been given a precious mystic sense of our living bond with another world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say that we cannot apprehend the reality of things on earth. (The Brothers Karamazov, Illustrated Modem Library Edition, 1943, pp. 384-5)
The living sense of God is possible for man because he has ever before him the precious Image of Christ. The Image that he has is the very Image that stands in self-humiliation before the judgment seat of man in history, before the judgment seat of the Grand Inquisitor. It is Christ who makes it possible for us to measure our true relationship to life for it is He who gives us the Love which goes beyond the limitations of rationality and reason. His is not a love of the mind or of the heart alone; it is the love of the integrated personality. The Love of Christ is rooted in the Love within the mystic Holy Trinity. His Love is God's Love toward man, which desires that he remain whole and united through Him with the other world, the heavenly world. It is He who offers the Image of Himself by the act of self-humiliation, and thus the image of the other world. "Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich." (2 Cor. 8: 9) We live by the Image of Christ, which is the window through which we can see the other world in all its Beauty, Goodness and Perfection. Love is super-reasonable. It rises to a sense of the inner relationship with the whole of God's creation, with the living, dead, and everything both animate and inanimate. In the words of Zossima the Monk:
Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you will love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. (pp. 382-3)
This is the basis of Dostoevsky's opposition to the self-contained isolation of individualism. In The Brothers Karamazov he gives the formula: "all are guilty for all." This is the concept of brotherhood which is expressed throughout all his writings. It is the utopian concept which sees the final unity of the whole earthly order into the Body of Christ -- the Church. The brotherhood of children at the end of The Brothers Karamazov is such a community. It is reaffirmed in the presence of the dead Ilusha, who lives: "We shall rise again . . . we shall see each other and shall tell each other with joy and gladness all that has happened." (p. 940)
But it is in the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor that we have the final and fullest _expression of the Dostoevskian ideal of the Self-Humiliated Christ. We have the Self-Humiliated Christ personalities: Zossima, Alyosha, Dmitri, Ivan and the children. Each is in a different stage and degree of spiritual development. We have the way of self-humiliation clearly indicated as the way of salvation: the bow of Zossima is an act of self-humility before one who is to be the passion, bearer, Dmitri, who will stand trial for the murder of his father. Finally, we have in The Brothers Karamazov the actual representation of the Self-Humiliated Christ come once again upon earth. In the words of the poet Tyutchev:
Bearing the Cross, in slavish dress,
Weary and worn, the Heavenly King
Our Mother, Russia, came to bless,
And through our land went wandering . . .
Christ appears in the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor and it is important for an understanding of the Legend (which is the high point of the novel), that here we should see Christ as the Self-Humiliated Christ -- the Christ whom Dostoevsky referred to in his notebooks as the Russian Christ.
The basic theme of the novel is that of the combat between good and evil. It is in the midst of this battle that the Self-Humiliated Christ appears. This battle at its most intimate level goes on within the personality of each of the actors, of each member of the Karamazov clan. Evil has virtually won the battle in the soul of Theodore, the father. He seems at last totally incapable of any good act. Theodore's illegitimate son, Smerdyakov, whose name significantly can mean "the son of stench," is a completely amoral personality. In this he is related directly to the early Raskolnikoff. It is enough for Ivan to plant an evil idea in Smerdyakov for him to fulfill it. Smerdyakov murders the father. But "all are guilty for all" -- Ivan in particular is guilty for having planted the idea in Smerdyakov; Dmitri is guilty because he expressed the wish to kill his father; Alyosha is guilty be, cause he remained silent.
The battle of Good and Evil in the personality of Dmitri is the main concern of the novel. Dmitri accepts the way of self-humiliation. Thus we can see his redemption through suffering and self-humiliation. Alyosha is tempted to rebel against God because of the corruption of Zossima's body, but in a conversation with Rakitin and Grushenka, he tells Rakitin, who taunted him:
Do you see how she has pity on me? I came here to find a wicked soul -- I felt drawn to evil because I was base and evil myself, and I have found a treasure -- a loving heart. She had pity on me just now . . . Agrafena Alexandrovna, I am speaking of you. You have raised my soul from the depths. (p. 442)
With this Alyosha returns to the Monastery. When he has the vision of Cana of Galilee, the vision of the joy of God's Kingdom, he returns to the path of goodness. But there is the promise that he, too, will have to face the way of self-humiliation in the future.
Ivan is the atheist who rejects God and His creation because he can find no meaning in a world in which suffering is permitted. In the novel, he is in the throes of spiritual disintegration. But there is hope for him because, like Raskolnikoff, he may be moved to repentance, reconciliation and redemption. The subplot of the children also gives us additional reason to hope. Kolya and the others have expressed their love for the human race in the confession: "I should like to die for all humanity, and as for disgrace, I don't care about that -- our names may perish." (p. 931) The way of self-humiliation and sacrifice lives on. The image of the Self-Humiliated Christ has once again become a vision of a new generation. There is reason to hope.
The battle of Good and Evil also goes on at the cosmic level. In the Legend of the Grand lnquisitor Dostoevsky uses the form of a legend, or myth, to present the eternal varieties of this cosmic struggle. This legend is the central point of the story. It explains everything which precedes it. It illuminates our understanding of everything that follows.
The Legend is narrated by Ivan who, at this point of the story, as an atheist, attempts to use the legend to undermine Alyosha's faith and give his own faith in "no-God" a much-needed shot in the arm. But the fact that the Devil's advocate tells the legend does not detract from the fact that it is capable of meaningfulness for both those who stand at the side of the Grand Inquisitor and those who choose to gaze at and follow the Image of the Self-Humiliated Christ.
There are several aspects of the Legend which should be clarified if something of the full impact of the legend is to be felt. Christ comes again, as before, into the world. He appears in Seville, Spain, in the time of the Inquisitions. Christ appears and He is recognized by all. How? By the Image of Him which has been molded into the hearts of all men. For no matter how distorted His Words may have become, His Image can never be distorted. It is not easy to describe or to portray a vision, nor is it easy to forget. So He appears and He is known by all. He moves among His people silently with a "gentle smile of infinite compassion." The sun of love burns in His heart; light and power shine from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. He holds His hands to them and blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. An old man, blind from childhood, cries out, "O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!" Jesus heals him and he sees Jesus. A dead child of seven is brought to Him, and the mother throws herself at His feet crying, "If it is Thou, raise my child!" Christ looks with compassion and speaks His only words in the Legend, "Maiden, arise!" And the girl arises. The only words spoken by Christ are words spoken once before by Him, are words spoken to one who is not of this world anymore but is being called back into it.
The Grand Inquisitor passes the cathedral and silently watches all that has happened from a distance. When he sees the young girl rise from the coffin, his face becomes dark, and his eyes "gleam with sinister fire." Here it might be of some interest to speculate whether Dostoevsky was familiar with the portrait of the Grand Inquisitor, the Cardinal Guevara, by El Greco (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City). Dostoevsky's Inquisitor is older, but his description of the eyes that "gleam with sinister fire" could well be used to describe the eyes of the El Greco Grand Inquisitor. And the fingers might easily be those of the Grand Inquisitor, who has but to lift one finger and the "holy" guard seizes Jesus and takes him off to prison.
Immediately one is aware of the contrasts between the appearance of Jesus among the people and the appearance of the Grand Inquisitor. The crowd is moved by fear, for the Grand Inquisitor wields power, and it is cowed into submission. Christ is the source of power, for "light and power shine from His eyes," and their hearts are stirred with responsive love. The joyous cries, confusion, sobs are gone, and instead the crowd bows down to the earth before the Grand Inquisitor like one man. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. In all of his actions we note the actions of a man of authority and power, ruthless, superior, and with an abiding contempt for the people. Christ is no King in the Grand Inquisitor's domain. He is but a prisoner. He orders Christ's arrest and asks that he be brought before him to be judged.
The first words of the Grand Inquisitor to Christ are especially significant. He gazes into His face and says,
'Is it Thou?' but receiving no answer he adds at once, 'Don't answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hast said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us? For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that. But dost Thou know what will be tomorrow? I know not who Thou art and care not to whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but tomorrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the people who have today kissed Thy feet, tomorrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire, Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it.' (pp. 296-297)
What is the meaning of the silence of Christ, especially in the face of the contemptuous and supercilious words of the Grand Inquisitor? Christ is silent for only one reason. He has spoken before to bring to life a dead child. But Christ is now silent because He has been commanded to be silent by the Grand Inquisitor. It follows from the rest of the opening words of the old, man that he feels that Christ has said enough. Indeed, he contends that He has no right to add anything to what He has said. If there is anything to add, it will be the Grand Inquisitor's right. And then the Grand Inquisitor passes judgment on Christ. Tomorrow He is to be burned at the stake like the worst of heretics. The monologue of the Grand Inquisitor is an answer, but not to any question of Christ. It may be an answer to the unanswered question of Pilate at the earlier trial when he first came into the world. Jesus had said to Pilate, who asked, "So you are a king?"
'Thou sayest that I am a king, to this end I was born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.' Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' (John 18: 37-38)
Pilate asked the question of Christ, but the answer comes from the Grand Inquisitor, and it is a powerful argument for the rejection of the Truth, which is Christ, and thus of Christ Himself, for the Grand Inquisitor says simply at one point, "I don't want Thy love, for I love Thee not!" (p. 305) In a masterpiece of oratorical style the Grand Inquisitor reaches his conclusion logically from his own premises. The conclusions are virtually irrefutable in themselves. But the negative argument against Christ and His Truth glances off the person of the Self-Humiliated Christ and becomes instead a positive and powerful argument for the Truth which is Christ. The indictment of Christ by the Grand Inquisitor becomes the most convincing theodicy in all literature. The powerful and proud Inquisitor becomes the accused, judged by his own words and by the Words of Christ spoken in ages of old: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt. 7: 1), and "I will condemn you out of your own mouth." (Luke 19: 22)
The silence of Christ is a powerful and overwhelming word. As we read the Legend we are aware that Christ is not silent, for He speaks once more through the Gospel and through the Christian experience of the ever-living members of His Body. The answer is ecstatic joy and gladness of the experience of the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Pentecostal fires. It is in the ecstatic words of the sermon of Zossima, which throughout breathe love of God and man. These are the refutations of what Dostoevsky referred to in one of his letters as the "irrefutable arguments" of the Grand Inquisitor. The answer to the cold, calculating logic of the Grand Inquisitor is the ecstatic vision of Zossima and Alyosha, and of all who believe in Him and follow His way.
But what of the Love of Christ? Can it move the Grand Inquisitor? He as rejected it, and therefore he cannot see the vision, nor can he see the majesty of the Self-Humiliated Christ who obeys his command to be silent, and listens in silence to the judgment which the Grand Inquisitor pronounces upon Him. Christ, according to the Grand Inquisitor, has rated man too highly; He has shown too much respect for man. This logically would mean that Christ does not feel for man, that He does not love man. But the love that the Grand Inquisitor claims to have for man is not love, but pity. In rejecting the Love of Christ, the Grand Inquisitor has lost the capacity to love man. This is the powerful positive argument which is implied in the Legend. Namely, it is only possible for man to be creatively free in Christ. It is only possible to love man through Christ. When the Inquisitor rejected the love of Christ, he rejected free man and the capability to love free man. The Grand Inquisitor pities man. He sees in him a weak and base creature who needs a stronger person to protect him from the onerous burden of freedom that Christ has so wrongly placed on him.
The Grand Inquisitor and his kind have corrected Christ's mistakes. They have succumbed, in His Name, to the three temptations of the Devil, and have accepted Miracle, Mystery and Authority as the three powers by which they control, and lead the Humble Ones. They claim to be His servants; they have deceived the Humble Ones and will again, for they will not permit Him to return to them as He promised "to judge both the living and the dead." The deception of the Humble Ones in His Name will be the cause of the inner suffering that the Grand Inquisitor and his kind will bear, for they will be forced to lie to the Humble Ones.Thus, in place of the passion, and death on the Cross, which the Grand Inquisitor rejects as unworthy of Christ, he substitutes the silent suffering of the proud Grand Inquisitor and his kind for the sake of the Humble Ones. This suffering as the result of a lie resting heavily on the conscience of the Inquisitor, but the suffering of Christ is the Truth nailed to the Cross on Golgotha. Which love is greater for that of that of the Humble Ones, that of Christ or that of the Grand Inquisitor? The Grand Inquisitor thinks that the hundreds of thousands of princes of the order of the Grand Inquisitor will be the greater sufferers, for they will have taken on themselves the curse of the knowledge of Good and Evil in order that billions of babes might enjoy happiness, the happiness of poor, deluded fools. As he explains, they will live and die peacefully in His Name, and in the hope of the reward of heaven and eternity. But it will be a lie, or if there were anything in the other world, it certainly would not be for such innocent fools.
The suffering of Christ stands out against that of the Grand Inquisitor. He who suffered all for all, now stands in self-humiliation and humbly accepts this abuse heaped on Him by one who denies Him but sits in power in His Name. There is not even the slightest impression of humility in the personality of the Grand Inquisitor. One asks, "Was such born of a woman?" Here stands a proud, powerful and ruthless demagogue, a despot and a demigod. There is neither humility nor an understanding of the Self-Humiliation of Christ or the humility of others. Is not this the meaning of the Self, Humiliation of Christ? On the part of God, it is an act of Divine Love; and on the part of man who accepts this, it is the receiving of the power of Love which raises men up to the dignity of becoming sons of God. God, in Christ, stoops to lift up man.
It is in the light of the "Self-Humiliation of Christ" that the silence of Christ becomes understandable. Having attempted through his whole career to give a fitting _expression to his vision of the Christ bearing Russian man, Dostoevsky finally settled on the picture of the "Self-Humiliated Christ Himself" coming once more into the world to bear the humiliation of man, to be judged, to be scorned, to be condemned, even as He was when He first sojourned among men. And, as in His first appearance, He walked among men as Man. In one of his notebooks, Dostoevsky wrote of the Prince Christ, the original portrayal of Prince Myshkin in The Idiot: "He considers Himself lower and worse than all. As to the thoughts of those who surround Him, he sees right through them. Humility is the terrible power which can ever exist in the world."
Although Dostoevsky abandoned the idea of writing a novel of the life of Christ, the fundamental characteristics of this Prince Christ -- compassion, all-forgiveness, love, humility, and wisdom -- were carried forward and are found in the Self-Humiliated Christ as He stands before the Grand Inquisitor. Humility, indeed, is the most terrible power that exists in the world; the meek shall inherit the earth. It is this power of humility that makes the figure of Christ dominate the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor. The silence of Christ is the mark of the Self-Humiliated Christ; the power that overcomes the power of the Grand Inquisitor is humility.
It is in this light that the kiss of Christ on the bloodless lips of the Grand Inquisitor is to be understood: this is the ultimate act of self-humiliation in the Legend and, at the same time, an act of the Love of Christ which is extended even to the Grand Inquisitor. It is inevitable that the kiss of Christ be contrasted to Judas' kiss of betrayal. The kiss of Christ is the same kiss which Christ returned to Judas, the kiss of forgiveness given, although, in the case of Judas, not received. It is the kiss of forgiveness, of compassion, of love, of humility, yes, of betrayal, calling the Grand Inquisitor to betray his proud self, to humble himself.
And the kiss of Christ does affect the Grand Inquisitor. His original judgment to burn Christ at the stake is withdrawn. Instead, he frees Christ with the words, "Go, and come no more . . come not at all, never, never!" Thus even the proud demigod has been moved by an act of love and humility of Christ. Although he is not capable of loving Christ, he is enough of a man to be moved by the Love of Christ for him.
The kiss reveals the fundamental rift in the integrity, if one can refer to it as such, of the personality of the Grand Inquisitor. He accepts the kiss of Christ and the "old man shuddered and his lips moved, and it glows in his heart". . . even now. There remains the possibility that this glow may be kindled and that another proud demigod, like Raskolnikoff, shall humble himself at the crossroads of the world, and ask forgiveness of all for his sin.
In the words of Zossima,
At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men's sin: and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once and for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things and there is nothing else like it.
(p. 383) 1954