The Brothers Karamazov


Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

“Decide yourself who was right: you or the one who questioned you then? Recall the first question; its meaning, though not literally, was this: ‘You want to go into the world, and you are going empty-handed, with some promise of freedom, which they in their simplicity and innate lawlessness cannot even comprehend, which they dread and fear—for nothing has ever been more insufferable for man and for human society than freedom! But do you see these stones in this bare, scorching desert? Turn them into bread and mankind will run after you like sheep, grateful and obedient, though eternally trembling lest you withdraw your hand and your loaves cease for them.’”

The Grand Inquisitor levels this accusation at Christ in Ivan’s prose poem in Book V, Chapter 5. The inquisitor is referring to the story of the temptations that Satan offered Christ, and that Christ rejected. The Grand Inquisitor sees Christ’s rejection of the temptations of Satan as responsible for placing the intolerable burden of free will on mankind, and for taking away the comfort of stability and security. The Inquisitor says that when Satan tempted Christ to make bread from the stones, Christ should have done so, and should have brought the bread back to the people so that they would follow him in order to win the security of being fed. Christ’s response—that man does not live by bread, but by the word of God—gives men the freedom to choose whether to follow Christ or not, without buying faith with security. This notion of free spiritual will is central to Christian theology, but as the Grand Inquisitor sees it, Christ has actually done mankind a disservice by keeping people from obtaining security. Most people, he says, are too weak to tolerate the burden of free will. As a result, he says that “the one who questioned you then,” meaning Satan, was right, and Christ was wrong. Ivan believes that mankind is not competent to handle the awesome burden of free will, and should have been given a leader to obey instead.