This line above is the accusation the grand inquisitor hurls at Jesus in The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor segment of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The charge forms the basis of what the old cardinal outlines as the fatal error of Christ’s mission on earth – Jesus’ overestimation of humanity’s willingness and ability to embrace the “increased” freedom He offered them.
The old cardinal then outlines how his church had spent the previous fifteen hundred years correcting Jesus’ work through the three temptations Christ had resisted in the desert: miracle, mystery, and authority. The grand inquisitor and his church work to decrease human freedom and take mastery of it because – unlike Jesus – they do not think highly of man at all.
On the contrary, they profess to see humanity as it truly is – eternally depraved and eternally dishonorable. Weak, rebellious, slavish, – utterly incapable of freedom. Thus, the church’s corrective work aims to unburden humanity of the freedom Christ offers. Moreover, it actively presents people with the opportunity to surrender real freedom in exchange for the faux freedom of trembling submission to the external miracle, mystery, and authority of the church.
Dostoevsky’s The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor on the Nature Man is more than an incisive piece of fiction; it is a penetrating insight into the essence -- the what-it-is -- of Christianity.
To understand the what-it-is of Christianity is to understand the increased freedom Jesus offers, which, in my humble opinion, amounts to a completely new way of thinking about the nature of human freedom itself.
Jesus’s refusal to adopt miracle, mystery, and authority as means through which to draw men toward His offer of heaven and everlasting life reveals not only His deep love for and high esteem of humanity, but also His deep love for and high esteem of freedom. Within the context of the story, humanity and freedom are presented as inseparable. Any degradation of freedom is a degradation of humanity; and any degradation of humanity is a degradation of freedom.
Yet the grand inquisitor’s assessment of humanity as a rebellious, weak, slavish species that desires everything but freedom seems to strike much closer to the truth than Christ’s respect for humanity as beings capable of true freedom. Within the context of the story itself, humanity would rather dwell within the faux freedom of the inquisitor’s church than to dare obtain the increased freedom Christ offers – but this “reality” is not limited to the story!
Look at our world today. How many people really want to be free? How many would rather willingly enslave themselves to anything and everything external in exchange for the peace and worldly comfort of being unfree?
Speaking of peace and worldly comfort, the inquisitor insists his church provides both. Moreover, this provision proves that he and his church are more compassionate than Christ is. Rather than burden humanity with high expectations that can never be fulfilled, the “corrected work” seeks to meet men where they are and keep them there – in peace and comfort that leads nowhere but death.
Our current situation in the world is the fulfillment of the grand inquisitor’s vision of humanity: “Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom for us and submit to us. And what does it matter whether we are right or whether, we are telling a lie?”
The “freedom” that comes with submission and renouncing freedom is the call of the satanic totalitarianism that engulfed the world in 2020.
The increased freedom Christ offers is the revelation of the innate divinity of man aligning with the divinity of God in freedom that is “created” by neither God nor man, but upon which both depend and through which both can create – together.