The Brothers Karamazov

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Father Zosima’s Answer to the Grand Inquisitor

When Brother Ivan recited his poem, “The Grand Inquisitor,” I’ll admit – it shocked me to the core.  How brilliant it was.  How frighteningly close it was to being true!  But Ivan, in his argument about the failure of Christ’s love, left something out.  He left out the kiss – the gesture that forgives all, accepts all, embraces all.


When I listened to Father Zosima’s teachings, I felt that he had answered the Grand Inquisitor’s every point.  At first it was hard to justify this feeling. Brother Ivan’s poem was argued so brilliantly, so systematically, so – reasonably.  Father Zosima, on the other hand, told stories of the conversion of three very different men: his brother Markel, himself, and the mysterious stranger. In these stories one  comes to feel, not to reason, the truth.  Or so I think.


But how can feeling answer argument?  For a long while I pondered this problem.  I felt, in my bones, that Father Zosima’s conversion stories defeated, point by point, the logic of Ivan’s Inquisitor. But how?


And then I saw:  each conversion experience consisted of three revelations:

that life itself is paradise; that we are all guilty, for everyone and everything; and that we should serve each other.  As I thought more deeply about it, I understood that each of these revelations was an answer to the Inquistor’s charges!


  • Miracle – Life itself is a miracle. We don’t need Christ to perform miracles in order to get us to believe.
  • Mystery – We are saved when we understand that we are all guilty, for everyone and everything.  The mystery of Christ’s identity does not need to be proven for us to find our salvation.
  • Authority – We do not need for Christ to take authority in this world.  We can have heaven on earth, if we serve each other.


Am I onto something?  Can I support my idea with Zosima’s own words?  Is Ivan sufficiently answered?

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