'The Grand Inquisitor Monologue': 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1880)

Fernando NiƱo de Guevara, Grand Inquisitor of Spain, 1600-02.

The Grand Inquisitor monologue from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).


 Note: see Lawrence's essay on the same.

This episode was widely known amongst psychoanalysts in the early 20th century.

This scene, in which hypothetic question 'what would happen if Jesus himself was bought before the Grand Inquisition?' is played out, seems to recall the encounter between Jesus and Pilot (in which Jesus is also said to have remained silent). It could be seen as dramatizing the confrontation of the Roman Catholic Church with Protestantism, and then its progeny Atheism; that is, as a kind of allegory of the history of the Reformation-- it is set 1500 years after Jesus which places its setting around the time of Luther-- and the Enlightenment-- in the midst of which it was written.

Nietzsche, who famously described Dostoevsky as the first great psychologist, in his Genealogy of Morals, written just 7 years after Dostoevsky's novel, traces the origins of Western history to the war between Rome and Israel, and explicates its development in terms of this struggle, through the reformation, and right up to the French revolution, and speculates on the imponderable destiny of this conflict which seems to define European culture, explaining its depth and profundity (although never quite arriving at Heinrich Heine's conception of a synthesis of the two conflicting principles into a higher unity).

The following is from the introduction of The Grand Inquisitor: With Related Chapters from the Brothers Karamazov by Charles B. Guignon (as a source the author cites The Genesis of "The Brothers Karamazov": the Aesthetics, Ideology, and Psychology of Text Making by Robert Belknap, 1990, and A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoevsky's Novel by Victor Terras, 1981):
When reading the Grand Inquisitor story, it is important to keep in mind that this is Ivan's story and presupposes Ivan's extremely polarized, "either/or" way of thinking. Both the Grand Inquisitor and the figure of Christ in the story represent aspects of Ivan's own ideals and aspirations. The Grand Inquisitor, like Ivan, is an atheist who claims to love humanity and, like the 1860's radicals, dreams of achieving paradise on earth through a total reworking of human society on rational principles. The Inquisitor also pictures himself as a "great idealist" who has been willing to live as an ascetic in order to become a superior human being. But, as is the case with Ivan, his protestations of humanitarian love merely mask his deep contempt for the people.
But the glorification of freedom and dignity attributed to Christ also reflect Ivan's deepest ideals. These aims, though imputed to Christ, in fact originate not so much from the Gospels as from Luther's religious individualism, and they were worked over by nineteenth-century liberal Protestant theology into contemporary humanistic interpretation of Christianity. We know that Dostoevsky was reading Luther at the time he wrote The Brothers Karamazov, and that he was concerned to reply to the recent humanistic accounts of the Life of Jesus by Ernst Renan and David Friedrich Strauss. The picture of Christ in the story clearly reflects Ivan's Protestant-humanistic reading rather than Dostoevsky's own understanding of Christ.

1975 production:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3