Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rowan Williams and Dostoevky's Christ

Dr. Williams has been working on a book about Dostoevsky during his Summer sabbatical. Andrew Brown considers the lessons he may have learned during his studies.

Brown zeroes in on The Brothers Karamazov, which is indeed, in my opinion, Dostoevky's greatest work. With the exception of The Idiot, the rest are simply too dark for me.

Brown further narrows his focus to the Grand Inquisitor episode, from which he draws some interesting insights:

...The Inquisitor upbraids Christ for refusing all three of the temptations that Satan ("The terrible and wise spirit") offered him in the wilderness: the power to make bread from stones; the power to perform miracles at will; and simple, political power.

In this, it seems to me that Rowan Williams is genuinely a follower of Dostoevsky's Christ. Christ does not, after all, abolish these powers merely because he refuses them for themselves. They remain in the world. Science, as Dostoevsky says explicitly, performs the miracles. The powers that Christ refused are exercised by everyone today by modern science, by political bodies, and by most Christian bodies. Just like the Grand Inquisitor, they all think Jesus was wrong to refuse the devil's offer.

The Anglican Communion contains a majority of primates who take a Grand Inquisitor's view of politics; and some who would be happy to hand over heretics or at least homosexuals to the secular arm for punishment; some who encourage the belief that they can perform miracles, more or less, when their people need it; and plenty who use or threaten to use the power of money and modern science to expand their client base.

Rowan Williams, like Christ, renounces these powers; but when an Archbishop renounces powers he does not abolish them, he hands them to his enemies. Like Christ in the parable, Rowan's response to the Grand Inquisitors of the world is to kiss them on their bloodless lips and then slip out into darkness and obscurity through the door they have held open for him. When Christ kisses him, the inquisitor is touched in his heart but his beliefs and his actions do not change. Fresh heretics will burn when morning comes.


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