Christianity in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment: an Overview

Topics: Crime and Punishment, Russian literature, Notes from Underground Pages: 8 (2517 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Christianity in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment: An Overview

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, " If someone succeeded
in proving to me that
Christ was outside the truth, and if, indeed, the truth was outside Christ, then I would sooner remain with Christ than with the truth" (Frank 68). It was by no means easy for Dostoyevsky to reach this conclusion. In Dostoyevsky's life, one sees that of an intellectual Prodigal Son, returning to the Father In Heaven only after all other available systems of belief have been exhausted. Reared in a devout Russian Orthodox home, Dostoyevsky as a young man rebelled against his upbringing and embraced the anarchist (and atheistic) philosophies of the intelligentsia, radical students and middle class intellectuals violently opposed to the status quo in Nineteenth-Century Russia (Morsm 50). Dostoyevsky revolutionary stirrings were not unnoticed by the Tsar's secret police, and, in 1849, Dostoyevsky was sentenced to a mock execution followed by ten years' hard labor in a Siberian prison (Morsm 50).

One critic said "It has been customary to say that Dostoyevsky re-learnt Christianity in prison." (A Boyce Gibson 19.) There, out of his element and surrounded by hardened criminals, he had plenty of time to contemplate life and read The New Testament (the only book he was allowed). However, it was not until his compulsory army service that Dostoyevsky's faith began to blossom. In the army, Dostoyevsky met a fellow officer and devout Christian named Baron von Vrangel, who befriended the still young Dostoevesky and helped him re-discover the Christian faith (Frank 4).

Although a professing Christian for the rest of his life, Dostoyevsky was not a "plaster saint." (Until he died, he was plagued by doubts and a passion for gambling.) Instead, Dostoyevsky understood, perhaps better than any other great Christian author, that his faith was created and sustained by one thing only: the grace of God.

It is of such grace that Dostoyevsky writes in Crime and Punishment. Although most critics agree that Crime and Punishment's theme is not as deliberately Christian as Dostoyevsky's latter works, the novel's voice is still authentically Christian. Written in 1864, shortly after Dostoyevsky lost his first wife, his brother, and a close friend (Gibson 32); Crime and Punishment reveals a time in Dostoyevsky's life when he felt disconnected from the world and God. Through Crime and Punishment's protagonist, Raskalnikov, (Whose name, according to Vyacheslav Ivanov, is derived from the Russian root meaning "schism" or "apostate.") (Ivanov 72) one glimpses into the condition of Dostoyevsky's soul.

Although Crime and Punishment has a primarily social message, it provides the reader with "a sidelong approach to a Christian interpretation of man." (Gibson, 102) Through its pages Dostoyevsky illustrates the inherent fallacy in humanism: that individualism carried to the extreme is self destructive. In addition, Dostoyevsky's work cogently illustrates St. Paul's words in his first Epistle to the Corinthians that "To shame the wise, God has chosen what the world counts folly, and to shame what is strong, God has chosen what the world counts weakness" (I Corr. 1:27). In Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky also offers a hopeful message: through humility and love, even the vilest man can be reformed. Finally, it is through learning to love that man begins to change.

Raskalnikov is the embodiment of the old German proverb, Ein guter Mensch, in seinem dunklen Drangen, ist sich den rechten weges wohl bewusst.Translated loosely, the statement means that "A good man, in his dark impulses, is still conscious of the right way." Although he tries to convince himself that he is not subject to moral law, Raskalnikov cannot avoid the fact that he is subject to natural law. He believes that he is a superman, one who do anything to assure his success, and he murders an old .pawnbroker...

Cited: of Personalism in his Major Fiction. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press,
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan, 1959.
Monas, Sidney, trans. Crime and Punishment. By Fyodor Dostoyevsky. New York:
Penguin, 1968.
O 'Grady, Desmond. "Dostoyevsky Lives: Apostle of Interior Freedom." Commonweal 4
November, 1994: 6-7.
Gibson, A Boyce. The Religion of Dostoyevsky. Philadelphia: Westmenster Press,
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