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The Humanities Conference 2003

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The Image of Jesus in Dostoevsky's “The Grand Inquisitor” Image of Jesus in Dostoevsky's “The Grand Inquisitor”

William O'Meara.

By his analysis of the human significance of the temptations of Jesus in the desert, Dostoevsky presents an image of Jesus in `The Grand Inquisitor' that uncovers the sacred in the profane. Contemporary scholarship on the gospels distinguishes between Christology from above, emphasizing the divinity of Jesus, and Christology from below, emphasizing the humanity of Jesus. Rather than understanding the rejection by Jesus of the temptations in the desert as coming from the all-knowing Son of God which would be significant in a `Sacred' Christology from above, we may rightly follow Dostoevsky in an Existentialist reading which grasps the responses of Jesus to the temptations as significant in a `Human or Profane' Christology from below.
For example, in the first temptation Jesus is asked to change stones into bread. The meaning of the question for the Inquisitor is whether Jesus would go into the world, with the promise of freedom or the promise of bread for people. The Inquisitor wants people to give over their freedom to the fulfillment of their needs, but the response of Jesus indicates that people
The focus of the Inquisitor is definitely upon human freedom and how the three temptations disclose the fundamental options that every human being must face and which Jesus himself had to face. "Didst Thou not often say then, 'I will make you free'?" (Dostoevsky, 260) Jesus has answered the temptations, offering his own response as an image of true human fulfillment. Rather than miracle, mystery and authority, Jesus offers in his own human responses the authentic choices of faith, hope, and love.l


William O'Meara  (United States)
Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy and Religion, College of Arts and Letters
James Madison University

Professor William O'Meara received his doctorate from Loyola University in Chicago, 1969, and has taught for 32 years at James Madison University. His research interests lie in Existentialism and Hitory of American Philosophy.

  • Dostoevsky
  • The Grand Inquisitor
  • Jesus
  • Christology from Above
  • Christology from Below
  • The Three Temptations
  • Freedom
  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Love
Person as Subject
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor

(Virtual Presentation, English)