Of the intolerability of freedom for man and for human society

“..in Spain, in Seville, at the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when to the glory of God pyres were lit daily in the country and

In magnificent autos-da-fé
They burned the evil heretics..

.. He (God himself) simply wanted to appear, if only for a moment, to visit his children at the very place where the heretics’ fires crackled. In his infinite mercy He walks once more among the people in that human form in which, for three years, he went among men fifteen centuries previously. He  descends into the scorching streets of a southern city, where only the night before, on the order of the Grand Inquisitor and in the presence of the King, the court, knights, cardinals, and the most beautiful ladies of the court, and watched by the thronging populace of Seville, nearly a hundred heretics had been burned in a “magnificent auto-da-féad majorem gloriam Dei.

He arrives quietly, surreptitiously, and everyone—strange to say—recognizes Him. The people, drawn by an irresistible force, stream towards Him, surround Him, and the crowd grows and follows Him. He walks silently among them with a serene smile of infinite compassion. The flame of love burns in his heart, rays of light, wisdom, and omnipotence flow from his eyes over the people, lighting upon them and causing their hearts to throb with a reciprocal love.

He stretches out His arms to them, blesses them, and healing flows from His touch, even from the touch of His garments. Then, from the crowd, an old man, blind from childhood, cries out, “Lord, heal me, that I too may see You,” and, as if the scales had fallen from his eyes, the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the ground where He walks. Children throw flowers before his feet, sing and cry “Hosanna!” “It is He, it is really He,” they all keep repeating, “It must be He, it can be no one but He.” He stops on the steps of Seville Cathedral, just as weeping relatives are carrying in the little white open coffin of a child, a seven-year-old girl, the only daughter of a prominent citizen.

The dead child lies bestrewn with flowers. “He will resurrect your child,” the crowd cries to the weeping mother. The prebendary who comes out to receive the coffin stares in amazement and frowns. But the wailing of the bereaved mother rings out. She throws herself at His feet. “If it is You, raise my child from the dead,” she cries, reaching out her hands to Him. The cortege comes to a halt, and the coffin is lowered on to the steps at His feet. He looks at the child with compassion, and gently His lips pronounce once more, “Talitha cumi“—”and straightway the damsel arose”. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks around her, smiling, her eyes wide open and astonished. In her hands she has a posy of white roses which had been placed in the coffin with her.

There is confusion in the crowd, cries, sobbing, and then, just at that very moment, through the square in front of the cathedral, suddenly comes the Cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor himself. He is an old man of nearly ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, which, however, still glint with a fiery gleam. No, he isn’t wearing his magnificent cardinal’s vestments in which he paraded before the people the previous night, when the enemies of the Roman faith were burned—no, now he wears only an old, coarse, monk’s cassock. Behind him, at a respectful distance, follow his sombre aides, his servants, and the Guardians of the Holy Office. He stops and observes the crowd from afar. He has seen everything, seen them lay the coffin at His feet, seen the child raised from the dead—and his face darkens. His thick, grey brows contract, and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire.

He points a finger and orders his guards to seize Him.

And such is his power, and so accustomed to it, so cowed and so tremulously obedient are the people, that the crowd promptly parts before the guards and, in the deathly silence that has suddenly fallen, they lay hands on Him and lead Him away. The crowd, as one man, immediately bows down to the ground before the old Inquisitor, who silently blesses them and passes on.

The guards take the prisoner to a cramped and dark vaulted prison in the ancient building of the Holy Office, and lock Him up. The day passes and night falls, a dark, hot, airless Seville night. In the dark depths the iron door of the prison suddenly opens and the Grand Inquisitor himself slowly enters with a flaming brand in his hand. He is alone; the door is immediately locked behind him.

“…do You know what is going to happen tomorrow?..

Tomorrow I shall judge You and burn You at the stake, like the vilest of the heretics, and that same crowd which today kissed Your feet, tomorrow, at a sign from me, will rush to stoke up the fire, do You know that? Yes, perhaps You do know it,” he added thoughtfully, never taking his gaze from his prisoner for a moment.’

You could say this is the fundamental principle of Roman Catholicism: “You’ve delegated everything to the Pope, now the Pope’s responsible for everything, so there’s no need for You to return at all, don’t disturb us, at least not until the appointed hour.”

They not only talk like that, they write like that too, at least the Jesuits do. I’ve read their theologians myself. “Have You the right to reveal to us one single mystery of that world from which You came?” the old man asks Him, and answers himself. “No, You have not, so as not to add to what has already been said, and so as not to take away from mankind that liberty that You valued so highly when You were on earth. Anything further that You might say would endanger men’s freedom of faith, for it would appear as a miracle, and freedom of faith was dearer than everything else to You then, fifteen hundred years ago. And didn’t You Yourself say so often, ‘I want to make you free’? Well, now You’ve seen them, these Tree’ men,” adds the old man suddenly, with a knowing grin.

“Yes, that business cost us dearly,” he continues, looking at Him sternly, “but in the end we dealt with it in Your name. For fifteen centuries we suffered from that freedom, but now it’s all finished, settled once and for all.

…But let me tell You that now, at this very time, these people are more than ever convinced of their absolute freedom, and yet they themselves have brought their freedom to us and laid it submissively at our feet.

… “For only now”—he is speaking of the Inquisition, of course—”has it become possible to contemplate human happiness for the first time.

Man was created a rebel; surely rebels cannot be happy, can they?

..Remember the first temptation: perhaps not literally, but the sense of it was, ‘You want to enter the world, and You go with empty hands, with some vague promise of freedom which they, in their simplicity and innate stupidity, could not even comprehend and which frightens and overawes them—for nothing has ever been so intolerable to man and to human society as freedom!

And do You see these stones in this barren white-hot desert? Turn them into bread, and mankind will come running after You, a grateful and obedient flock, although they will always tremble in fear that You may withdraw Your hand and stop their supply of bread.’ But You did not want to deprive man of his freedom, so You rejected the suggestion, for what sort of freedom would it be, You judged, if obedience were bought with bread?

You replied that man does not live by bread alone.

..Do You know that ages will pass and mankind will proclaim with its voice of wisdom and science that there is no crime and consequently no sin, but only starving people.

…And they will seek us out when we are underground once more, hiding in the catacombs (because we shall be tortured and persecuted again), they will find us and cry out to us, Teed us, for those who promised us heavenly fire did not give it to us.’ And then we shall complete their tower, for he who feeds them will complete it, and we alone shall feed them in Your name, and when we say that it is in Your name, we shall be lying.

Oh, never, never will they be able to feed themselves without us!

So long as they remain free no science will ever give them bread, and in the end they will bring their freedom and lay it at our feet, saying, Tnslave us, but feed us!’

And they will come to understand that freedom together with an abundance of earthly bread for all is inconceivable, for they will never, never learn to share among themselves!

They will become convinced, too, that they can never be free because they are weak, depraved, worthless, and rebellious.

You promised them the bread of heaven, but, I repeat again, can that, in the eyes of the weak, eternally depraved and eternally ignoble human tribe, compare with earthly bread? And if, in the name of the bread of heaven, thousands and tens of thousands follow You, what will become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions who will not have the strength to forgo earthly bread for the bread of heaven? Or are only the tens of thousands of the great and the strong dear to You, while the remaining millions, the weak, who are as numerous as grains of sand on the shore, but who love You, must serve only as chattels for the great and the strong? However, the weak too are dear to us.

They are depraved and rebellious, but in the end it is they who will become obedient.

They will wonder at us and take us for gods because, placing ourselves at their head, we shall have agreed to take away their freedom and rule over themso terrible will they find it in the end to be free!

But we shall tell them that we obey You and rule in Your name. We shall be deceiving them again, because we shall no longer let You near us. This deception will bring us suffering too, for we shall have to lie. That was the meaning of that first temptation in the desert, and that is what You rejected in the name of freedom, which You elevated above everything else. But in that temptation lay the great mystery of this world. In accepting the ‘loaves’, You would have responded to the universal and eternal dilemma of man as an individual and of humanity as a whole:

whom to worship?

When man finds himself free, there is no concern more pressing and more tormenting to him than the desire immediately to seek out someone to worship.

But man seeks to worship only what is indisputable, so indisputable that all men will agree unanimously to worship it universally. For these pitiful creatures yearn to find not only that which I or someone else could worship, but something in which we all believed and before which all bowed down, and indeed necessarily together. It is this demand for a universality of worship that has been the chief torment of each and every man individually and of the whole of humankind from the beginning of time. For this universality of worship, men have put one another to the sword. They have created gods and appealed to one another, ‘Leave your gods and come and worship ours, otherwise death to you and to your gods!’ And thus it will be till the end of the world, and even when the gods have vanished from the face of the earth they will still prostrate themselves before idols.

..Look what You have done since then. And again, all in the name of freedom!

I tell You, man has no more pressing need than to find someone to whom he can give up that gift of freedom with which he, unhappy being that he is, was endowed at birth.

But only he who appeases men’s consciences can relieve them of their freedom.

In bread, You were offered an incontrovertible banner: give man bread and he will worship You, for nothing is more incontrovertible than bread, but if at the same time someone other than You relieves him of his conscience—oh, then he will even throw away Your bread and follow him who seduces his conscience.

…Had You forgotten that peace and even death are dearer to man than freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Indeed, nothing is more beguiling to man than freedom of conscience, but nothing is more tormenting either.

…Instead of taking control of human freedom, You intensified it and burdened man’s spiritual domain with its torments for ever. You desired man to have freedom of choice in love so that he would follow You freely, lured and captivated by You. Instead of the old immutable law, man should henceforth decide with a free heart what is good and what is evil, having only Your image before him as a guide— but didn’t it occur to You that in the end men would reject and dispute even Your image and Your truth if they were saddled with such a terrible burden as freedom of choice? They will cry out in the end that truth is not in You, for they could not have been left in worse confusion and torment than that in which You left them, bequeathing them so many problems and unresolved questions.

…There are three forces, only three forces on earth that can subdue and imprison the conscience of these weak-willed rebels for ever for their own good—these forces are miracle, mystery, and authority.

man seeks not so much God as miracles. And since man cannot manage without miracles he will create new miracles for himself, his own this time, and he will worship miracles of sorcery and witches, though he be a hundred times rebel, heretic, and atheist.

…You thirsted for love freely given, and not the slavish gratitude of the captive before the mighty power that has terrified him for all time. But there too You judged men too highly, because of course

they are slaves even though they have been created rebels.

Look around and decide, now that fifteen centuries have passed, take a look at them: whom have You raised up to Yourself? I swear to You, man was created weaker and baser than You thought!

He is weak and base. Does it matter if at present he is in revolt everywhere against our authority and is proud of his rebellion? This is the pride of a child, of a schoolboy. They are little children who have rebelled in class and driven their teacher out. But there comes an end to children’s triumphs, and it costs them dearly. They will tear down the temples and drench the earth with blood. But at last the foolish children will realize that, rebels though they may be, they are feeble rebels, unable to sustain their own revolt. Weeping their foolish tears, they will finally admit that He who created them rebels undoubtedly wished to make fools of them. They will say this in despair, and what they say will be blasphemy and that will render them even more unhappy, for human nature cannot endure blasphemy and in the end always avenges it.

…Can it really be that You came only to the chosen ones and on behalf of the chosen ones? But if so, then there is a mystery here which we shall not be able to understand. And if there is a mystery, then we too were right to preach mystery and to teach them that

what is important is not the free choice of the heart, nor love, but mystery, to which they must submit blindly, even against the dictates of their conscience.

That is what we have done. We have improved upon Your creation and founded it instead on miracle, mystery, and authority.

And men were delighted that once more they were led like sheep, and that that terrible gift which had brought them so much suffering was lifted from their hearts at last.

Tell us, were we right to teach thus and to act thus? Have we not really loved man when we have so humbly recognized his weakness, have lightened his burden out of love, and out of consideration for his feeble nature have even allowed him to sin, so long as it is with our permission?

…we accepted Rome and the sword of Caesar from him, and we proclaimed ourselves the only kings on earth, the only true kings..

…the world will have to endure much suffering, but we shall achieve it and we shall be the Caesars, and then we shall think about universal human happiness.

Had You accepted that third suggestion of the mighty spirit, You could have provided all that man seeks on earth—that is to say, someone to worship, someone to take charge of his conscience, and finally, a way to be united unequivocally in a communal and harmonious antheap, for the need for universal unity is mankind’s third and last torment.

..By accepting the world and Caesar’s purple, You would have founded a universal kingdom and brought universal peace.

For to whom is it given to rule over men, if not to those who rule over their conscience and in whose hands is their bread?

…Oh, we shall convince them that only in surrendering their freedom to us and submitting to us can they be free..

Freedom, science, and independence of spirit will lead them into such a labyrinth and confront them with such miracles and such insoluble mysteries that some of them, intractable and savage, will destroy themselves, while others, intractable but less strong, will destroy one another; and those who remain, feeble and unhappy, will crawl up to our feet and will cry out to us, ‘Yes, you were right, you alone held his secret, and we are returning to you: save us from ourselves.’

When they receive bread from us they will understand, of course, that we take their own bread from them, made by their own hands, in order to redistribute it without any miracle; they will see that we have not turned stones into bread, and they will truly rejoice not so much over the bread itself, but over the fact that they receive it from our hands!

Because they will remember only too well that without us the very bread that they made turned to stones in their hands, but that when they returned to us the very stones turned to bread in their hands. They will appreciate,

they will appreciate only too well what it means to subjugate themselves for ever!

…the flock will reassemble and will submit again once and for all. Then we shall endow them with a quiet, humble happiness, a happiness suited to feeble creatures such as they were created. Oh,

we shall persuade them in the end not to be proud, for You elevated them and taught them pride;

we shall show them that they are feeble, that they are only pitiful children, but that childish happiness is the sweetest of all.

They will become scared and will begin to look to us and to huddle up to us in fear, as chickens huddle up to the broody hen. They will wonder at us and fear us, and be proud that we are powerful and clever enough to subdue such a turbulent flock, a thousand million strong. They will tremble mightily before our anger, their spirit will be rendered submissive, their eyes tearful like those of children and women, but at a sign from us they will readily give themselves to gaiety and laughter, shining joy and happy, childlike singing.

Yes, we shall require them to work, but in their free time we shall devise for them a life such as a child’s game, with children’s songs in chorus and innocent dances.

Oh, we shall even allow them to sin, for they are weak and feeble, and for having been allowed to sin they will love us in the way that children do.

We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated if it is committed with our permission; we shall allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for those sins—so be it, we shall take that upon ourselves.

We shall take it upon ourselves, and they will worship us as benefactors who have taken on the burden of their sins before God.

And they shall have no secrets from us.

We shall permit or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have children or not to have them—subject to their obedience—and they will submit to us cheerfully and willingly.

They will bring us their most tormenting problems of conscience—everything, they will bring everything to us and we shall resolve everything, and they will accept our judgement with joy, because it will spare them the great burden and terrible torment of personal and free choice that they suffer today.

And everyone will be happy, all the millions of beings, except the hundred thousand who govern them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, only we shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy children, and a hundred thousand martyrs who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil.

They will die in peace, depart peacefully in Your name, and beyond the grave will encounter only death. But we shall withhold the secret and, to keep them happy, we shall opiate them with promises of eternal reward in heaven.

Because even if there really were anything in the hereafter, it certainly would not be for such as them.

..It is said that the whore riding the beast and holding her mystery in her hands shall be disgraced, that the weak shall rise up again, that they shall tear her finery and lay bare her impure body. But then I shall arise and show You thousands of millions of happy children who have not known sin.

…tomorrow You shall see that obedient flock, at a sign from me, rush to stoke with hot coals the pyre on which I shall burn You for having come to interfere with us. For if anyone deserves our pyre more than all others, it is You. Tomorrow I shall burn You. Dixi.”

.. Is that really how freedom should be understood? Is that how the Orthodox Church understands it?… It is Rome, but not all of Rome, it isn’t true—it is the worst of the Catholics, the inquisitors, the Jesuits!.. We all know about the Jesuits, who are greatly maligned, but are they like your characters? …no mystery and no false sentimentality… Just normal desire for power, for sordid worldly gain, for the enslavement of others… a kind of future serfdom where they’ll become the landowners… that’s all it is they want…why have your Jesuits and inquisitors united only for sordid material gain?

…”those experimental, unfinished creatures, created in a spirit of mockery”.

And so, having become convinced of this, he sees that he must proceed in the direction indicated by the clever spirit, the fearful spirit of death and destruction, and thus accept falsehood and deception and knowingly lead men to death and destruction, deceiving them the whole way so that they don’t notice where they are being led at all, and so that, at least during the journey, these poor blind ones will believe themselves to be happy.

…Moreover, it would take just one man at the head to realize ultimately the guiding Idea of the whole business of the papacy, with all its armies and Jesuits, which is the supreme Idea of this system.

….I imagine that even Freemasonry is based on some mystery of this kind, and that that is why the Catholics so hate the Masons, because they see them as rivals, as a fragmentation of the unity of their Idea, whereas there must be a single flock and a single shepherd…”

(The Great Inquisitor, From The Karamazov Brothers, Dostoevsky).

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