The Grand Inquisitor

medieval torture

medieval torture

‘What a pity that so hard on the heals of Christ come the Christians.’ — Annie Dillard

It is the height of the Inquisition in sixteenth-century Seville. Into this city wanders Jesus in disguise. Heretics are being burnt daily at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor, a 90-year-old cardinal, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, spots Jesus and recognizing who He is, has Him thrown into prison.

The old cardinal visits Jesus in his cell. He accuses him of wasting His opportunities, and that the Church has been making up for lost ground ever since. During the Temptation in the desert, Jesus turned down miracle, mystery and authority. He made the mistake of not taking what the Devil had on offer. He should have followed Satan’s advice and performed miracles on demand, in order that he increased His fame and popularity with the people. He should have taken up the offer of authority and power. He forsook the power to command people to obey. He gave them free will and the ability to think for themselves.

Fortunately the Church had recognized the error of His ways. For this reason the Grand Inquisitor would have to order the execution of Jesus a second time lest he would hinder the good work of the Church.

The Grand Inquisitor is taken from the novel The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. It is discussed by Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew.

Tolstoy took the Sermon on The Mount too literally and could never meet its high expectations. Dostoevsky understood the meaning of grace.

John Milton in his sequel to Paradise Lost, placed the Temptation as the centerpiece, not as we see today the Crucification.

Forty days, forty nights in the desert. What the Devil offered was not intrinsically evil. Feed people, perform a few miracles, show that you are who you say you are by jumping off a high place. But, he wanted a soul in return.

Jesus went at His own pace. He did not try to force anyone. People had free will, it was their choice whether they followed Him or not, and he warned those who chose to that it would be a rocky path to follow.

You can force people to do your bidding at the end of an AK-47, put them on the rack, burn them at the stake, but you cannot force them to believe.

A point Noam Chomsky makes in Necessary Illusions.

The Church has for far too long been more concerned with power and controlling society. And of late covering up child sex abuse scandals.

We no longer burn people at the stake, but Alpha, with its half truths and cult of its founder, has become a cancerous growth within many churches of many denominations. Bums on seats being more important than Truth.

A tale for contemplation over the Easter weeekend.

For Sian who asked.


The Brothers Karamazov

The Jesus I never Knew

The Witch of Portobello

No mosteiro de Melk

Where does religion come from?

What is wrong with the church?

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One Response to “The Grand Inquisitor”

  1. danceswithcrayons Says:

    I am going to ponder this for a bit…thank you, enjoyed reading, as always!
    So much on my mind…
    Love, Jane

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