The Grand Inquisitor

what does the author (dostoyevsky) want the reader to think about the grand inquisitor?

explain the grand inquisitor unlimited powers

Asked by
Last updated by Aslan
Answers 2
Add Yours


The story of the Grand Inquisitor strongly resembles a biblical parable, the kind of story that Christ tells in the New Testament to illustrate a philosophical point. Both Ivan’s story and Christ’s stories use a fictional narrative to address a deep philosophical concern and are open to various interpretations. The similarity between Ivan’s story and Christ’s stories illustrates the uneasy relationship between Ivan and religion. At the same time that Ivan rejects religion’s ability to effectively guide human life, he relies on many of its principles in forming his own philosophical system. Like Christ, Ivan is deeply concerned with understanding the way we define what is right and what is wrong, and with understanding how morality guides human actions. However, Ivan ultimately rejects both Christ’s and God’s existence, as he cannot accept a supreme being with absolute power who would nonetheless allow the suffering that occurs on Earth.

The story also implicitly brings up a new point with regard to Ivan’s argument about expanding the power of ecclesiastical courts. By setting his story in sixteenth-century Spain, where ecclesiastical courts were at the height of their power to try and punish criminals, Ivan asks what verdict such a court would have reached in judging Christ’s life. Since Christian religions teach that Christ lived a sinless life, presumably an ecclesiastical court would have been unable to find Christ guilty of any sin. However, the fact that Ivan’s court finds Christ guilty of sins against mankind illustrates the difference between Ivan’s religious beliefs and his beliefs in the efficacy of ecclesiastical courts. He sees the courts as an effective way to guide human action, but not necessarily as a way to induce men to believe more strongly in God or religion.

The conflict between free will and security further illustrates the reasons for Ivan’s dissent from Christianity. The fundamental difference between Christ’s point of view and that of the Grand Inquisitor is the value that each of them places on freedom and comfort. Christ’s responses to the three temptations emphasize the importance of man’s ability to choose between right and wrong, while the Inquisitor’s interpretation of Christ’s actions emphasizes the greater value of living a comfortable life in which the right path has already been chosen by someone else.

The assumption at the heart of the Inquisitor’s case is that Christ’s resistance of Satan’s temptations is meant to provide a symbolic example for the rest of mankind. The Inquisitor interprets the rejection of the temptations as Christ’s argument that humanity must reject certain securities: comfort, represented by bread; power and the safety that power brings, represented by the kingdoms; and superstition, represented by the miracle. The Inquisitor believes that Christ’s example places an impossible burden on mankind, which is inherently too weak to use its free will to find salvation. Effectively, the Inquisitor argues, the only option is for people to lead sinful lives ending in damnation. The Inquisitor’s Church, which is allied with Satan, seeks to provide people with stability and security in their lives, even if by doing so it ensures that they will be damned in the afterlife.

Ivan’s story presents the Inquisitor, a man who considers himself an ally of Satan, as an admirable human being, acting against God but with humanity’s best interest at heart. Ivan does not believe that God acts in the best interest of mankind, but the implication that human nature is so weak that people are better off succumbing to the power of Satan is a radical response to the problem of free will. Ivan’s attitude stems from the psychology of doubt. Ivan’s over-riding skepticism makes it impossible for him to see anything but the bad side of human nature. As a result, he believes that people would be better off under the thumb of even a fraudulent religious authority rather than making their own decisions. Even though his argument is pessimistic, his reasoning is compelling.


The fundamental tension in "The Grand Inquisitor" is between God, in the form of Jesus, and religion, in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Grand Inquisitor, the two cannot coexist in the modern world; one must give way because they require different things from their followers. Jesus refused to make things easy for his followers. He could have given them bread when they were hungry in the desert and satisfied in one gesture their need for material comfort and their need to see miracles. But he refused, demanding instead that his followers believe on the strength of their faith alone, without any proof. God will not force people to believe in him, or to follow him. Each person must be free to choose her own path. This road to salvation, says the Grand Inquisitor, is appropriate only for the very strong.