*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 11th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The 11th of November is always a goocher here at the almanac- it is the day Kierkegaard died in 1855 AND the day that Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born in 1821. There are enough with these two guys that whenever a memorial pops up I will use it as an excuse to dive into one or another aspect of one of their lives. I flipped a coin, chose Dostoyevsky, and thought we might look at what is perhaps the most famous story-in-a-story of Dostoyevsky’s most famous work. Let’s take a quick gander at the man and then his famous tale of the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born on this day in 1821 and died in 1881, this puts him squarely in the 19th century and he deserves to be added to the august list of 19th-century thinkers who blew the world open with their probing examinations of humanity and humanity’s plight. These include Dickens, Freud, Darwin, Marx, and Kierkegaard. Now, some of those names might be a little scary- but we do well to separate the diagnosis from the proposed remedies. I’ll suggest that while in yesterday’s show we looked at Martin Luther and his breakthrough into human nature, these men are doing it a few centuries later and in the midst of revolutions that had unearthed more of humanity’s dark underbelly.
Dostoyevsky was born into a middle-class Russian family- his father was a doctor who worked at a hospital for the poor. Much has been made of Fyodor’s growing up playing amongst the children of the sick and poor. His father earned the rank of noble in 1828 and Fyodor would then live in a country estate. Fyodor’s mother reared him in the Russian Orthodox church, a church he loved but criticized. (Wanna know more about this church? You only have to go back a few episodes)
Reading Dostoyevsky’s biography you might start to blur his life and that of his characters. Was it Dostoyevsky’s father who was murdered by his own serfs or one of his characters (it was Fyodor). Did he marry a Prostitute? (No that’s Raskolnikov). Was he in the gulag and set up with mock execution? Yes. Seriously, find a bio on the dude and dig in (we’ve done a more standard bio show on him in the past)
The Brothers Karamazov is one of his 4 “great” novels. The others were Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Possessed. The Brothers K was his last, published in 1879. The story revolves around three brothers who come to represent different aspects of the human psyche. Dmitri, the oldest represents the carnal desires while Ivan represents the tough-minded skeptic. The third, Alyosha, is the monk in training and represents religious aspiration. The Grand Inquisitor is a story told by Ivan to Alyosha.
Ivan and his brother are in a pub and Ivan begin retelling recent stories of gross inhumanity and injustice towards children. Ivan is challenging his young spiritual brother with the problem of evil. Ivan then begins a legend of Jesus’ stealth return in the 16th century amidst the Reformation and Inquisition.
Amidst the burning of heretics in Seville Jesus is imprisoned by the Grand Inquisitor for performing an unsanctioned miracle. While in prison Jesus says nothing while the inquisitor tells Jesus that when he was tempted in the desert by Satan he messed up.
The inquisitor states that when Jesus refused bread that was emblematic of his failure to feed and protect his people. Man cannot live by the word alone, he suggests.
The inquisitor states that when Jesus refused to jump off the high cliff to be rescued by angels he refused his people a magnificent sign they could infallibly see.
The inquisitor states that when Jesus refused the power of earthly kingdoms he dashed humanity's hope for unity.
The inquisitor believed that in all of this he took away certainty from people and gave them unbearable freedom. The church he argued had rejected Jesus’ freedom and given the people a false sense of security, but one that fed their desperate existential need.
Jesus’ silence infuriates the Inquisitor who decides not to kill Jesus but to banish him. The story is a scathing rebuke of the church- specifically the Roman Catholic Church but was a commentary on the whole church. Like Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky inhabits different characters and speaks through them, and in contradiction to other characters he also speaks through. The faith of Dostoyevsky was marked by the struggles seen in many of the characters in this book, and it’s worth noting that the father of the three sons is named Fyodor.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born OTD in 1821. He died in 1881 at the age of 60.
The last word for today comes from John 10:
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who was actually born in Wabash, Indiana- still close to some mines. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who knows that man cannot live by bread alone, but would still love some pumpernickel, sourdough, Hawaiian… I am Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.