Name of the of the Concerned Professor Religion and Theology 29 November 2011 The Grand Inquisitor- The Hidden Meaning The Grand Inquisitor is a Chapter from Dostoevsky’s famous novel The Brothers Karamazof. The Brothers Karamazof happened to be the last novel that flowed out from the pen of such a greater thinker and story teller…
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The theme of this extract is woven around the idea of Christ revisiting earth during this time and at this particular place, when the Grand Inquisitor gets Him arrested on the charge of being a heretic. Many critics have tried to interpret this extract as a satire aimed at the modern theology in general and on the Roman Catholic Church in particular. However, a thorough and well meditated reading of the text, emphatically leads to the conclusion that The Grand Inquisitor is a narrative imbued with multiple meanings, a catechism for modern times, which unravels the deeper meaning of faith and grace, while to all intents and purposes, pretending to shatter the very ideals that constitute the core of the Christian faith. Perhaps the author has purposefully left the meaning of this parable to be ambiguous; thereby allowing faiths of all hews and shades to interpret it in consonance with their beliefs and values. One particular thing to be noted about this parable is that it is set in the times of Inquisition. In that context the Inquisition is not merely to be interpreted as a mere incident in the European history, but rather a slice of time when the religion had utterly ossified, deprived of all living force and verve, vehemently sustaining itself by lighting the piers of hundreds of so called heretics amidst all the courtly sophistication and urban fanfare. Dostoevsky paints the gory details of Inquisition at the very start of the parable. So, if one interprets the things in that perspective, one comes around a sense of faith that had ceased to be life giving and salvaging, cruelly nipping all curiosity and enquiry in the very bud, while believing it to be the custodian of the ultimate mysteries of life. Amidst this enervating ambience, Dostoevsky draws the advent of Christ as the influx of a gush of fresh air amidst the fires of hell. The coming of Christ is presented by the writer as an event that is promising of healing and life. Surprisingly, even after a gap of fifteen hundred years, the laity in the parable is able to recognize Christ. The author does not extend any logical explanation for this fact. Yet, the people are shown as flocking around Him, as a herd of wayward sheep gathers around its shepherd. Christ is presented as an antithesis to the realities of Inquisition, a timeless Icon oozing out grace and hope by His very presence. In the parable, the ninety year old Grand Inquisitor is a symbolic figure in the sense that his austerity commands fear and intimidation, though for all practical purposes he stands to be the representative of the Holy See. He is introduced to the readers as “an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes (Dostoevsky: Online)”. The very age and coarse apparel of the Grand Inquisitor are symbolic of decay and demise, which is the common plight of a pool deprived of any life giving and gushing inlet of faith. In that context, the Grand Inquisitor emerges more as the custodian of a fiefdom, carved out in the name of God, and the very presence of the Savior poses a challenge to his status quo and all that he stands for at that place and in those times. Hence, the natural reaction of the Grand Inquisitor is that he gets the Savior arrested and confined to the dark cells of the prison. Eventually, it is the monologue that the Grand
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