The Grand Inquisitor



The Grand Inquisitor

The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
1879 translated by Constance Garnett


Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). He was born into
Russian gentry, his father a physician who would
later be murdered by his serfs (the Russian
peasants who were virtually slaves under the
ancient feudal system eventually dismantled under
Soviet communism). He was educated for a
professional career, which he abandoned in order to
write. In his early adulthood Dostoevsky was a
member of a group of utopian socialists whose
activities were considered subversive by the czar
(the Russian king/emperor); they were arrested at
one point and imprisoned, eventually to be marched
to the place of execution where at the last moment
they were reprieved but sent into Siberian exile.
During his exile, Dostoevsky underwent a religious
conversion returning to the Russian Orthodox faith
and repudiating socialism. The Brothers Karamazov
(Bratya Karamazovy) was published in 1879-1880. The
novels involves a father and four sons. The father
and eldest son are in conflict over an inheritance
and a woman; when the father is found murdered the
son is arrested and tried. The complicated
narrative plot and its richly defined characters
explores social, political, moral, and religious
issues. One character, the monk Zosima, probably
represents Dostoevsky’s own religious convictions,
a message of love, repentance, and forgiveness.
However, one of the brothers, the rationalist
intellectual Ivan, enunciates an anti-religious
counterpoint, which is conveyed in the parable that
he invents, “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.” This
viewpoint may represent Dostoevsky’s own
ambivalence about religious authority and claims to
religious truth.


Ivan begins telling his
parable to Alyosha by evoking the medieval
apocalyptic Judgment Day traditions, including an
apocalypse of the Blessed Virgin who travels to
hell and appeals to God on behalf of the sinners
suffering there. His tale occurs in Seville, Spain,
during the height of the Spanish Inquisition, the
Counter Reformation movement dedicated to
uncovering and cleansing Catholic Europe from
Protestant “heresy.” Its means were judicial
torture and public execution (the auto da fe),
particularly by burning at the stake.

When Christ returns to
Seville and performs a miracle he is immediately
by the cardinal inquisitor, who later
visits his prison cell in a scene reminiscent of
Jesus’ interrogation by Pontius Pilate, in that the
inquisitor speaks while Jesus remains
. The inquisitor tells Jesus that the
freedom he offered his disciples was a burden that
few would accept; rather, believers willingly
sacrifice their freedom in favor of religion’s
certitudes and rules. Humanity wants someone to
worship, someone who will offer to provide for
their every need. Their craving for a “community of
worship” has resulted in the masses engaging in
religious violence. Humans are desperate to find
someone to whom they can surrender their freedom,
and they usually do so to religious authorities who
provide them with promises of salvation
Fortunately, the churches have recognized this
anxiety and have replaced Jesus’ message of freedom
with a message of law and obligation
, replaced
love with worship. Freedom makes people unhappy;
only in submission are they satisfied. The
inquisitor concludes his speech by sentencing Jesus
to burning at the stake and promises that all those
who applauded his miracle the day before will help
pile the burning embers around him the next

Ivan ends his parable by
telling that when the inquisitor ended his speech
he invited Jesus to respond, who did so simply by
kissing the inquisitor on the mouth, prompting the
inquisitor to release him from the prison with the
admonition: “‘Go, and come no more. . . . come not
at all, never, never!'” Alyosha recapitulates this
same gesture with his own brother Ivan, who
ironically calls it “plagiarism.” Ivan thus leaves
us with questions unanswered (Who is the moral
exemplar of The Brothers Karamazov? Who is saved?
What is salvation?) and with an appreciation of
Dostoevsky’s own ambivalence about religion and

Book V

Pro and Contra

Chapter 4

“… Do you know, Alyosha — don’t
laugh I made a poem about a year ago. If you can waste
another ten minutes on me, I’ll tell it to you.”

“You wrote a poem?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t write it,” laughed
Ivan, and I’ve never written two lines of poetry in my life.
But I made up this poem in prose and I remembered it. I was
carried away when I made it up. You will be my first reader
— that is listener. Why should an author forego even one
listener?” smiled Ivan. “Shall I tell it to you?”

“I am all attention.” said

“My poem is called The Grand
Inquisitor; it’s a ridiculous thing, but I want to tell it
to you.

Chapter 5: The Grand

“EVEN this must have a preface —
that is, a literary preface,” laughed Ivan, “and I am a poor
hand at making one. You see, my action takes place in the
sixteenth century, and at that time, as you probably learnt
at school, it was customary in poetry to bring down heavenly
powers on earth. Not to speak of Dante, in France, clerks,
as well as the monks in the monasteries, used to give
regular performances in which the Madonna, the saints, the
angels, Christ, and God Himself were brought on the stage.
In those days it was done in all simplicity. In Victor
Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris an edifying and gratuitous
spectacle was provided for the people in the Hotel de Ville
of Paris in the reign of Louis XI in honour of the birth of
the dauphin. It was called Le bon jugement de la tres sainte
et gracieuse Vierge Marie, and she appears herself on the
stage and pronounces her bon jugement. Similar plays,
chiefly from the Old Testament, were occasionally performed
in Moscow too, up to the times of Peter the Great. But
besides plays there were all sorts of legends and ballads
scattered about the world, in which the saints and angels
and all the powers of Heaven took part when required. In our
monasteries the monks busied themselves in translating,
copying, and even composing such poems- and even under the
Tatars. There is, for instance, one such poem (of course,
from the Greek), The Wanderings of Our Lady through Hell,
with descriptions as bold as Dante’s. Our Lady visits hell,
and the Archangel Michael leads her through the torments.
She sees the sinners and their punishment. There she sees
among others one noteworthy set of sinners in a burning
lake; some of them sink to the bottom of the lake so that
they can’t swim out, and ‘these God forgets’- an expression
of extraordinary depth and force. And so Our Lady, shocked
and weeping, falls before the throne of God and begs for
mercy for all in hell- for all she has seen there,
indiscriminately. Her conversation with God is immensely
interesting. She beseeches Him, she will not desist, and
when God points to the hands and feet of her Son, nailed to
the Cross, and asks, ‘How can I forgive His tormentors?’ she
bids all the saints, all the martyrs, all the angels and
archangels to fall down with her and pray for mercy on all
without distinction. It ends by her winning from God a
respite of suffering every year from Good Friday till
Trinity Day, and the sinners at once raise a cry of
thankfulness from hell, chanting, ‘Thou art just, O Lord, in
this judgment.’ Well, my poem would have been of that kind
if it had appeared at that time. He comes on the scene in my
poem, but He says nothing, only appears and passes on.
Fifteen centuries have passed since He promised to come in
His glory, fifteen centuries since His prophet wrote,
‘Behold, I come quickly’; ‘Of that day and that hour knoweth
no man, neither the Son, but the Father,’ as He Himself
predicted on earth. But humanity awaits him with the same
faith and with the same love. Oh, with greater faith, for it
is fifteen centuries since man has ceased to see signs from

No signs from heaven come

To add to what the heart doth

There was nothing left but faith in
what the heart doth say. It is true there were many miracles
in those days. There were saints who performed miraculous
cures; some holy people, according to their biographies,
were visited by the Queen of Heaven herself. But the devil
did not slumber, and doubts were already arising among men
of the truth of these miracles. And just then there appeared
in the north of Germany a terrible new heresy. ‘A huge star
like to a torch’ (that is, to a church) ‘fell on the sources
of the waters and they became bitter.’ These heretics began
blasphemously denying miracles. But those who remained
faithful were all the more ardent in their faith. The tears
of humanity rose up to Him as before, awaited His coming,
loved Him, hoped for Him, yearned to suffer and die for Him
as before. And so many ages mankind had prayed with faith
and fervour, ‘O Lord our God, hasten Thy coming’; so many
ages called upon Him, that in His infinite mercy He deigned
to come down to His servants. Before that day He had come
down, He had visited some holy men, martyrs, and hermits, as
is written in their lives. Among us, Tyutchev, with absolute
faith in the truth of his words, bore witness

Bearing the Cross, in slavish

Weary and worn, the Heavenly

Our mother, Russia, came to

And through our land went

And that certainly was so, I assure


“And behold, He deigned to appear
for a moment to the people, to the tortured, suffering
people, sunk in iniquity, but loving Him like children. 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, and ‘in the splendid auto da fe the
wicked heretics were burnt.’ Oh, of course, this was not the
coming in which He will appear, according to His promise, at
the end of time in all His heavenly glory, and which will be
sudden ‘as lightning flashing from east to west.’ No, He
visited His children only for a moment, and there where the
flames were crackling round the heretics. In His infinite
mercy He came once more among men in that human shape in
which He walked among men for thirty-three years fifteen
centuries ago. He came down to the ‘hot pavements’ of the
southern town in which on the day before almost a hundred
heretics had, ad majorem gloriam Dei, been burnt by the
cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, in a magnificent auto da fe,
in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the
cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the
whole population of Seville.

“He came softly, unobserved, and
yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him. That might be
one of the best passages in the poem. I mean, why they
recognised Him. The people are irresistibly drawn to Him,
they surround Him, they flock about Him, follow Him. He
moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of
infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, and
power shine from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the
people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. 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. The crowd weeps
and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers
before Him, sing, and cry hosannah. ‘It is He- it is He!’
repeat. ‘It must be He, it can be no one but Him!’ He stops
at the steps of the Seville cathedral at the moment when the
weeping mourners are bringing in a little open white coffin.
In it lies a child of seven, the only daughter of a
prominent citizen. The dead child lies hidden in flowers.
‘He will raise your child,’ the crowd shouts to the weeping
mother. The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks
perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child
throws herself at His feet with a wail. ‘If it is Thou,
raise my child!’ she cries, holding out her hands to Him.
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.
The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round,
smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of
white roses they had put in her hand.

“There are cries, sobs, confusion
among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself,
the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old
man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and
sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. 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 — at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old,
monk’s cassock. At a distance behind him come his gloomy
assistants and slaves and the ‘holy guard.’ He stops at the
sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees
everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet,
sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his
thick grey brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He
holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him. And such
is his power, so completely are the people cowed into
submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd
immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of
deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead him away.
The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man,
before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence
and passes on’ The guards lead their prisoner to the close,
gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy,
inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is
followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of
Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the
pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly
opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a
light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once
behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two
gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the
light on the table and speaks.

“‘Is it Thou? 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 hadst 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 to-morrow? I know not
who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only
a semblance of Him, but to-morrow I shall condemn Thee and
burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the
very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at
the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of
Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,’ he
added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking
his eyes off the Prisoner.”

“I don’t quite understand, Ivan.
What does it mean?” Alyosha, who had been listening in
silence, said with a smile. “Is it simply a wild fantasy, or
a mistake on the part of the old man — some impossible quid
pro quo?”

“Take it as the last,” said Ivan,
laughing, “if you are so corrupted by modern realism and
can’t stand anything fantastic. If you like it to be a case
of mistaken identity, let it be so. It is true,” he went on,
laughing, “the old man was ninety, and he might well be
crazy over his set idea. He might have been struck by the
appearance of the Prisoner. It might, in fact, be simply his
ravings, the delusion of an old man of ninety, over —
excited by the auto da fe of a hundred heretics the day
before. But does it matter to us after all whether it was a
mistake of identity or a wild fantasy? All that matters is
that the old man should speak out, that he should speak
openly of what he has thought in silence for ninety

“And the Prisoner too is silent?
Does He look at him and not say a word?”

“That’s inevitable in any case,”
Ivan laughed again. “The old man has told Him He hasn’t the
right to add anything to what He has said of old. One may
say it is the most fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism,
in my opinion at least. ‘All has been given by Thee to the
Pope,’ they say, ‘and all, therefore, is still in the Pope’s
hands, and there is no need for Thee to come now at all.
Thou must not meddle for the time, at least.’ That’s how
they speak and write too — the Jesuits, at any rate. I have
read it myself in the works of their theologians. ‘Hast Thou
the right to reveal to us one of the mysteries of that world
from which Thou hast come?’ my old man asks Him, and answers
the question for Him. ‘No, Thou hast not; that Thou mayest
not add to what has been said of old, and mayest not take
from men the freedom which Thou didst exalt when Thou wast
on earth. Whatsoever Thou revealest anew will encroach on
men’s freedom of faith; for it will be manifest as a
miracle, and the freedom of their faith was dearer to Thee
than anything in those days fifteen hundred years ago. Didst
Thou not often say then, “I will make you free”? But now
Thou hast seen these “free” men,’ the old man adds suddenly,
with a pensive smile. ‘Yes, we’ve paid dearly for it,’ he
goes on, looking sternly at Him, ‘but at last we have
completed that work in Thy name. For fifteen centuries we
have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended
and over for good. Dost Thou not believe that it’s over for
good? Thou lookest meekly at me and deignest not even to be
wroth with me. But let me tell Thee that now, to-day, 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. But that has been our doing. Was this what Thou
didst? Was this Thy freedom?'”

“I don’t understand again.” Alyosha
broke in. “Is he ironical, is he jesting?”

“Not a bit of it! He 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. ‘For
now’ (he is speaking of the Inquisition, of course) ‘for the
first time it has become possible to think of the happiness
of men. Man was created a rebel; and how can rebels be
happy? Thou wast warned,’ he says to Him. ‘Thou hast had no
lack of admonitions and warnings, but Thou didst not listen
to those warnings; Thou didst reject the only way by which
men might be made happy. But, fortunately, departing Thou
didst hand on the work to us. Thou hast promised, Thou hast
established by Thy word, Thou hast given to us the right to
bind and to unbind, and now, of course, Thou canst not think
of taking it away. Why, then, hast Thou come to hinder

“And what’s the meaning of ‘no lack
of admonitions and warnings’?” asked Alyosha.

“Why, that’s the chief part of what
the old man must say.

“‘The wise and dread spirit, the
spirit of self-destruction and non-existence,’ the old man
goes on, great spirit talked with Thee in the wilderness,
and we are told in the books that he “tempted” Thee. Is that
so? And could anything truer be said than what he revealed
to Thee in three questions and what Thou didst reject, and
what in the books is called “the temptation”? And yet if
there has ever been on earth a real stupendous miracle, it
took place on that day, on the day of the three temptations.
The statement of those three questions was itself the
miracle. If it were possible to imagine simply for the sake
of argument that those three questions of the dread spirit
had perished utterly from the books, and that we had to
restore them and to invent them anew, and to do so had
gathered together all the wise men of the earth — rulers,
chief priests, learned men, philosophers, poets- and had set
them the task to invent three questions, such as would not
only fit the occasion, but express in three words, three
human phrases, the whole future history of the world and of
humanity- dost Thou believe that all the wisdom of the earth
united could have invented anything in depth and force equal
to the three questions which were actually put to Thee then
by the wise and mighty spirit in the wilderness? From those
questions alone, from the miracle of their statement, we can
see that we have here to do not with the fleeting human
intelligence, but with the absolute and eternal. For in
those three questions the whole subsequent history of
mankind is, as it were, brought together into one whole, and
foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical
contradictions of human nature. At the time it could not be
so clear, since the future was unknown; but now that fifteen
hundred years have passed, we see that everything in those
three questions was so justly divined and foretold, and has
been so truly fulfilled, that nothing can be added to them
or taken from them.

“Judge Thyself who was right — Thou
or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question;
its meaning, in other words, was this:

“Thou wouldst go into the world, and
art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom
which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness
cannot even understand, which they fear and dread — for
nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a
human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in
this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread,
and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep,
grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou
withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread.” But Thou wouldst
not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer,
thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought
with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread
alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly
bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and
will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow
him, crying, “Who can compare with this beast? He has given
us fire from heaven!” Dost Thou know that the ages will
pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages
that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only
hunger? “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!” that’s what
they’ll write on the banner, which they will raise against
Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy
temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of
Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old,
it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented
that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for
a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a
thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us
again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be
again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to
us, “Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from
heaven haven’t given it!” And then we shall finish building
their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them.
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! No science will give them bread so
long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their
freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves,
but feed us.” They will understand themselves, at last, that
freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together,
for never, never will they be able to share between them!
They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free,
for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou
didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again,
can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak,
ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of
the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to
become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of
creatures who will not have the strength to forego the
earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou
care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong,
while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who
are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the
great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are
sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become
obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods,
because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have
found so dreadful and to rule over them — so awful it will
seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are
Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive
them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That
deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to

“‘This is the significance of the
first question in the wilderness, and this is what Thou hast
rejected for the sake of that freedom which Thou hast
exalted above everything. Yet in this question lies hid the
great secret of this world. Choosing “bread,” Thou wouldst
have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of
humanity — to find someone to worship. So long as man
remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so
painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to
worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men
would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful
creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the
other can worship, but to find community of worship is the
chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity
from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship
they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up
gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and
come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!”
And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods
disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols
just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have
known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou
didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered
Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone- the banner of
earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of
freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst
further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee
that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find
someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of
freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only
one who can appease their conscience can take over their
freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible
banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing
is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains
possession of his conscience — Oh! then he will cast away
Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his
conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man’s
being is not only to live but to have something to live for.
Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would
not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy
himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in
abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of
taking men’s freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater
than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and
even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good
and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom
of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering.
And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting
the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose
all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst
choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting
as though Thou didst not love them at all — Thou who didst
come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession
of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the
spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever.
Thou didst desire man’s free love, that he should follow
Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of
the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart
decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having
only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not
know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy
truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free
choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in
Thee, for they could not have been left in greater confusion
and suffering than Thou hast caused, laying upon them so
many cares and unanswerable problems.

“‘So that, in truth, Thou didst
Thyself lay the foundation for the destruction of Thy
kingdom, and no one is more to blame for it. Yet what was
offered Thee? There are three powers, three powers alone,
able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience
of these impotent rebels for their happiness those forces
are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou hast rejected all
three and hast set the example for doing so. When the wise
and dread spirit set Thee on the pinnacle of the temple and
said to Thee, “If Thou wouldst know whether Thou art the Son
of God then cast Thyself down, for it is written: the angels
shall hold him up lest he fall and bruise himself, and Thou
shalt know then whether Thou art the Son of God and shalt
prove then how great is Thy faith in Thy Father.” But Thou
didst refuse and wouldst not cast Thyself down. Oh, of
course, Thou didst proudly and well, like God; but the weak,
unruly race of men, are they gods? Oh, Thou didst know then
that in taking one step, in making one movement to cast
Thyself down, Thou wouldst be tempting God and have lost all
Thy faith in Him, and wouldst have been dashed to pieces
against that earth which Thou didst come to save. And the
wise spirit that tempted Thee would have rejoiced. But I ask
again, are there many like Thee? And couldst Thou believe
for one moment that men, too, could face such a temptation?
Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracle, and
at the great moments of their life, the moments of their
deepest, most agonising spiritual difficulties, cling only
to the free verdict of the heart? Oh, Thou didst know that
Thy deed would be recorded in books, would be handed down to
remote times and the utmost ends of the earth, and Thou
didst hope that man, following Thee, would cling to God and
not ask for a miracle. But Thou didst not know that when man
rejects miracle he rejects God too; for man seeks not so
much God as the miraculous. And as man cannot bear to be
without the miraculous, he will create new miracles of his
own for himself, and will worship deeds of sorcery and
witchcraft, though he might be a hundred times over a rebel,
heretic and infidel. Thou didst not come down from the Cross
when they shouted to Thee, mocking and reviling Thee, “Come
down from the cross and we will believe that Thou art He.”
Thou didst not come down, for again Thou wouldst not enslave
man by a miracle, and didst crave faith given freely, not
based on miracle. Thou didst crave for free love and not the
base raptures of the slave before the might that has
overawed him for ever. But Thou didst think too highly of
men therein, for they are slaves, of course, though
rebellious by nature. Look round and judge; fifteen
centuries have passed, look upon them. Whom hast Thou raised
up to Thyself? I swear, man is weaker and baser by nature
than Thou hast believed him! Can he, can he do what Thou
didst? By showing him so much respect, Thou didst, as it
were, cease to feel for him, for Thou didst ask far too much
from him — Thou who hast loved him more than Thyself!
Respecting him less, Thou wouldst have asked less of him.
That would have been more like love, for his burden would
have been lighter. He is weak and vile. What though he is
everywhere now rebelling against our power, and proud of his
rebellion? It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy. They
are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at
school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost
them dear. Mankind as a whole has always striven to organise
a universal state. There have been many great nations with
great histories, but the more highly they were developed the
more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than
other people the craving for world-wide union. The great
conquerors, Timours and Ghenghis-Khans, whirled like
hurricanes over the face of the earth striving to subdue its
people, and they too were but the unconscious expression of
the same craving for universal unity. Hadst Thou taken the
world and Caesar’s purple, Thou wouldst have founded the
universal state and have given universal peace. For who can
rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their
bread in his hands? We have taken the sword of Caesar, and
in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed
him. Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free
thought, of their science and cannibalism. For having begun
to build their tower of Babel without us, they will end, of
course, with cannibalism. But then the beast will crawl to
us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood.
And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it
will be written, “Mystery.” But then, and only then, the
reign of peace and happiness will come for men. Thou art
proud of Thine elect, but Thou hast only the elect, while we
give rest to all. And besides, how many of those elect,
those mighty ones who could become elect, have grown weary
waiting for Thee, and have transferred and will transfer the
powers of their spirit and the warmth of their heart to the
other camp, and end by raising their free banner against
Thee. Thou didst Thyself lift up that banner. But with us
all will be happy and will no more rebel nor destroy one
another as under Thy freedom. Oh, we shall persuade them
that they will only become free when they renounce their
freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or
shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right,
for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion
to which Thy freedom brought them. Freedom, free thought,
and science will lead them into such straits and will bring
them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries,
that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy
themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one
another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl
fawning to our feet and whine to us: “Yes, you were right,
you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save
us from ourselves!”

“‘Receiving bread from us, they will
see clearly that we take the bread made by their hands from
them, to give it to them, without any miracle. They will see
that we do not change the stones to bread, but in truth they
will be more thankful for taking it from our hands than for
the bread itself! For they will remember only too well that
in old days, without our help, even the bread they made
turned to stones in their hands, while since they have come
back to us, the very stones have turned to bread in their
hands. Too, too well will they know the value of complete
submission! And until men know that, they will be unhappy.
Who is most to blame for their not knowing it?-speak! Who
scattered the flock and sent it astray on unknown paths? But
the flock will come together again and will submit once
more, and then it will be once for all. Then we shall give
them the quiet humble happiness of weak creatures such as
they are by nature. Oh, we shall persuade them at last not
to be proud, for Thou didst lift them up and thereby taught
them to be proud. We shall show them that they are weak,
that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike
happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and
will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to
the hen. They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken
before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and
clever that we have been able to subdue such a turbulent
flock of thousands of millions. They will tremble impotently
before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will
be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they
will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter
and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. Yes, we
shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall
make their life like a child’s game, with children’s songs
and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they
are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children
because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every
sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission,
that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the
punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we
shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as
their saviours who have taken on themselves their sins
before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall
allow or forbid them to live with their wives and
mistresses, to have or not to have children according to
whether they have been obedient or disobedient- and they
will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful
secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us,
and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad
to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great
anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making
a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all
the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who
rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall
be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy
babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon
themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil.
Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy
name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death.
But we shall keep the secret, and for their happiness we
shall allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity.
Though if there were anything in the other world, it
certainly would not be for such as they. It is prophesied
that Thou wilt come again in victory, Thou wilt come with
Thy chosen, the proud and strong, but we will say that they
have only saved themselves, but we have saved all. We are
told that the harlot who sits upon the beast, and holds in
her hands the mystery, shall be put to shame, that the weak
will rise up again, and will rend her royal purple and will
strip naked her loathsome body. But then I will stand up and
point out to Thee the thousand millions of happy children
who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon
us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say:
“Judge us if Thou canst and darest.” Know that I fear Thee
not. Know that I too have been in the wilderness, I too have
lived on roots and locusts, I too prized the freedom with
which Thou hast blessed men, and I too was striving to stand
among Thy elect, among the strong and powerful, thirsting
“to make up the number.” But I awakened and would not serve
madness. I turned back and joined the ranks of those who
have corrected Thy work. I left the proud and went back to
the humble, for the happiness of the humble. What I say to
Thee will come to pass, and our dominion will be built up. I
repeat, to-morrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at
a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about
the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us.
For if anyone has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou.
To-morrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi.'”

Ivan stopped. He was carried away as
he talked, and spoke with excitement; when he had finished,
he suddenly smiled.

Alyosha had listened in silence;
towards the end he was greatly moved and seemed several
times on the point of interrupting, but restrained himself.
Now his words came with a rush.

“But… that’s absurd!” he cried,
flushing. “Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of
Him- as you meant it to be. And who will believe you about
freedom? Is that the way to understand it? That’s not the
idea of it in the Orthodox Church…. That’s Rome, and not
even the whole of Rome, it’s false-those are the worst of
the Catholics the Inquisitors, the Jesuits!… And there
could not be such a fantastic creature as your Inquisitor.
What are these sins of mankind they take on themselves? Who
are these keepers of the mystery who have taken some curse
upon themselves for the happiness of mankind? When have they
been seen? We know the Jesuits, they are spoken ill of, but
surely they are not what you describe? They are not that at
all, not at all…. They are simply the Romish army for the
earthly sovereignty of the world in the future, with the
Pontiff of Rome for Emperor… that’s their ideal, but
there’s no sort of mystery or lofty melancholy about it….
It’s simple lust of power, of filthy earthly gain, of
domination-something like a universal serfdom with them as
masters-that’s all they stand for. They don’t even believe
in God perhaps. Your suffering Inquisitor is a mere

“Stay, stay,” laughed Ivan. “how hot
you are! A fantasy you say, let it be so! Of course it’s a
fantasy. But allow me to say: do you really think that the
Roman Catholic movement of the last centuries is actually
nothing but the lust of power, of filthy earthly gain? Is
that Father Paissy’s teaching?”

“No, no, on the contrary, Father
Paissy did once say something rather the same as you… but
of course it’s not the same, not a bit the same,” Alyosha
hastily corrected himself.

“A precious admission, in spite of
your ‘not a bit the same.’ I ask you why your Jesuits and
Inquisitors have united simply for vile material gain? Why
can there not be among them one martyr oppressed by great
sorrow and loving humanity? 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. Surely that could
have happened?”

“Joined whom, what clever people?”
cried Alyosha, completely carried away. “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

“What if it is so! At last you have
guessed it. It’s perfectly true, it’s true that that’s the
whole secret, but isn’t that suffering, at least for a man
like that, who has wasted his whole life in the desert and
yet could not shake off his incurable love of humanity? In
his old age he reached the clear conviction that nothing but
the advice of the great dread spirit could build up any
tolerable sort of life for the feeble, unruly, ‘incomplete,
empirical creatures created in jest.’ And so, convinced of
this, he sees that he must follow the counsel of the wise
spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction, and
therefore 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. And note, the deception is in the
name of Him in Whose ideal the old man had so fervently
believed all his life long. Is not that tragic? And if only
one such stood at the head of the whole army ‘filled with
the lust of power only for the sake of filthy gain’- would
not one such be enough to make a tragedy? More than that,
one such standing at the head is enough to create the actual
leading idea of the Roman Church with all its armies and
Jesuits, its highest idea. I tell you frankly that I firmly
believe that there has always been such a man among those
who stood at the head of the movement. Who knows, there may
have been some such even among the Roman Popes. Who knows,
perhaps the spirit of that accursed old man who loves
mankind so obstinately in his own way, is to be found even
now in a whole multitude of such old men, existing not by
chance but by agreement, as a secret league formed long ago
for the guarding of the mystery, to guard it from the weak
and the unhappy, so as to make them happy. No doubt it is
so, and so it must be indeed. I fancy that even among the
Masons there’s something of the same mystery at the bottom,
and that that’s why the Catholics so detest the Masons as
their rivals breaking up the unity of the idea, while it is
so essential that there should be one flock and one
shepherd…. But from the way I defend my idea I might be an
author impatient of your criticism. Enough of

“You are perhaps a Mason yourself!”
broke suddenly from Alyosha. “You don’t believe in God,” he
added, speaking this time very sorrowfully. He fancied
besides that his brother was looking at him ironically. “How
does your poem end?” he asked, suddenly looking

“Or was it the end?”

“I meant to end it like this. When
the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his
Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him.
He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time,
looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to
reply. The old man longed for him to say something, however
bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man
in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips.
That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips
moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to Him: ‘Go,
and come no more… come not at all, never, never!’ And he
let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner
went away.”

“And the old man?”

“The kiss glows in his heart, but
the old man adheres to his idea.”

“And you with him, you too?” cried
Alyosha, mournfully.

Ivan laughed.

“Why, it’s all nonsense, Alyosha.
It’s only a senseless poem of a senseless student, who could
never write two lines of verse. Why do you take it so
seriously? Surely you don’t suppose I am going straight off
to the Jesuits, to join the men who are correcting His work?
Good Lord, it’s no business of mine. I told you, all I want
is to live on to thirty, and then… dash the cup to the

“But the little sticky leaves, and
the precious tombs, and the blue sky, and the woman you
love! How will you live, how will you love them?” Alyosha
cried sorrowfully. “With such a hell in your heart and your
head, how can you? No, that’s just what you are going away
for, to join them… if not, you will kill yourself, you
can’t endure it!”

“There is a strength to endure
everything,” Ivan said with a cold smile.

“The strength of the Karamazovs- the
strength of the Karamazov baseness.”

“To sink into debauchery, to stifle
your soul with corruption, yes?”

“Possibly even that… only perhaps
till I am thirty I shall escape it, and then-“

“How will you escape it? By what
will you escape it? That’s impossible with your

“In the Karamazov way,

“‘Everything is lawful,’ you mean?
Everything is lawful, is that it?”

Ivan scowled, and all at once turned
strangely pale.

“Ah, you’ve caught up yesterday’s
phrase, which so offended Muisov- and which Dmitri pounced
upon so naively and paraphrased!” he smiled queerly. “Yes,
if you like, ‘everything is lawful’ since the word has been
said, I won’t deny it. And Mitya’s version isn’t

Alyosha looked at him in

“I thought that going away from here
I have you at least,” Ivan said suddenly, with unexpected
feeling; “but now I see that there is no place for me even
in your heart, my dear hermit. The formula, ‘all is lawful,’
I won’t renounce- will you renounce me for that,

Alyosha got up, went to him and
softly kissed him on the lips.

“That’s plagiarism,” cried Ivan,
highly delighted. “You stole that from my poem. Thank you
though. Get up, Alyosha, it’s time we were going, both of

They went out, but stopped when they
reached the entrance of the restaurant.

“Listen, Alyosha,” Ivan began in a
resolute voice, “if I am really able to care for the sticky
little leaves I shall only love them, remembering you. It’s
enough for me that you are somewhere here, and I shan’t lose
my desire for life yet. Is that enough for you? Take it as a
declaration of love if you like. And now you go to the right
and I to the left. And it’s enough, do you hear, enough. I
mean even if I don’t go away to-morrow (I think I certainly
shall go) and we meet again, don’t say a word more on these
subjects. I beg that particularly. And about Dmitri too, I
ask you specially, never speak to me again,” he added, with
sudden irritation; “it’s all exhausted, it has all been said
over and over again, hasn’t it? And I’ll make you one
promise in return for it. When at thirty, I want to ‘dash
the cup to the ground,’ wherever I may be I’ll come to have
one more talk with you, even though it were from America,
you may be sure of that. I’ll come on purpose. It will be
very interesting to have a look at you, to see what you’ll
be by that time. It’s rather a solemn promise, you see. And
we really may be parting for seven years or ten. Come, go
now to your Pater Seraphicus, he is dying. If he dies
without you, you will be angry with me for having kept you.
Good-bye, kiss me once more; that’s right, now

Ivan turned suddenly and went his
way without looking back. It was just as Dmitri had left
Alyosha the day before, though the parting had been very
different. The strange resemblance flashed like an arrow
through Alyosha’s mind in the distress and dejection of that
moment. He waited a little, looking after his brother. He
suddenly noticed that Ivan swayed as he walked and that his
right shoulder looked lower than his left. He had never
noticed it before. But all at once he turned too, and almost
ran to the monastery. It was nearly dark, and he felt almost
frightened; something new was growing up in him for which he
could not account. The wind had risen again as on the
previous evening, and the ancient pines murmured gloomily
about him when he entered the hermitage copse. He almost
ran. “Pater Seraphicus — he got that name from somewhere-
where from?” Alyosha wondered. “Ivan, poor Ivan, and when
shall I see you again?… Here is the hermitage. Yes, yes,
that he is, Pater Seraphicus, he will save me- from him and
for ever!”

Several times afterwards he wondered
how he could, on leaving Ivan, so completely forget his
brother Dmitri, though he had that morning, only a few hours
before, so firmly resolved to find him and not to give up
doing so, even should he be unable to return to the
monastery that night.