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...
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