The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor Character Analysis

The title character in Ivan's poem, "The Grand Inquisitor," which he narrates to Alexei in the tavern. The Inquisitor is a nearly ninety-year-old man and the head clergyman in Seville, Spain, during the sixteenth century. He is described as "tall and straight, with a gaunt face and sunken eyes." He is a surly man who usually "scowls with his thick, gray eyebrows." Despite his age, his eyes are fiery. He usually wears "magnificent cardinal's robes," but, when he encounters Christ in the town square, he is wearing an "old, coarse monastic cassock."

The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor Quotes in The Brothers Karamazov

The The Brothers Karamazov quotes below are all either spoken by The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor or refer to The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition of The Brothers Karamazov published in 1990.
Part 2: Book 5, Chapter 5 Quotes

“My action is set in Spain, in Seville, in the most horrible time of the Inquisition, when fires blazed every day to the glory of God, and ‘In the splendid auto-da-fé / Evil heretics were burnt.’ Oh, of course, this was not that coming in which he will appear, according to his promise, at the end of time, in all his heavenly glory, and which will be sudden ‘as the lightening that shineth out of the east unto the west.’ No, he desired to visit his children if only for a moment, and precisely where the fires of the heretics had begun to crackle. In his infinite mercy, he walked once again among men, in the same human image in which he had walked for three years among men fifteen centuries earlier.”

Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

“In the deep darkness, the iron door of the prison suddenly opens, and the Grand Inquisitor himself slowly enters carrying a lamp. He is alone, the door is immediately locked behind him. He stands in the entrance and for a long time, for a minute or two, gazes into his face. At last he quietly approaches […] ‘Is it you? You?’ […] ‘Why, then, have you come to interfere with us? […] I do not know who you are, and I do not want to know whether it is you, or only his likeness; but tomorrow I shall condemn you and burn you at the stake as the most evil of heretics, and the very people who today kissed your feet, tomorrow, at a nod from me, will rush to heap the coals up around your stake […]’”

Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

“Freedom, free reason, and science will lead them into such a maze, and confront them with such miracles and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, unruly and ferocious, will exterminate themselves; others, unruly but feeble, will exterminate each other; and the remaining third, feeble and wretched, will crawl to our feet and cry out to us: ‘Yes, you were right, you alone possess his mystery, and we are coming back to you—save us from ourselves’ [….] But the flock will gather again, and again submit, and this time once and for all.”

Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

Oh, we will allow them to sin, too; they are weak and powerless, and they will love us like children for allowing them to sin. We will tell them that every sin will be redeemed if it is committed with our permission; and that we allow them to sin because we love them, and as for the punishment for these sins, very well, we take it upon ourselves [….] And they will have no secrets from us. We will allow them or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children—all depending on their obedience—and they will submit to us gladly and joyfully. The most tormenting secrets of their conscience—all, they will bring to us, and we will decide all things, and they will joyfully believe our decision […] Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in your name, and beyond the grave they will find only death.”

Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor Character Timeline in The Brothers Karamazov

The timeline below shows where the character The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor appears in The Brothers Karamazov. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: Book 5, Chapter 5: The Grand Inquisitor
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
...which he had walked for three years among men fifteen centuries earlier.” The day before, the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor had burned nearly “a hundred heretics at once.” (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
...He even raised a dead seven-year-old girl from the coffin. This causes a great commotion. The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor arrives, crossing the square in front of the cathedral, where the girl’s little, white coffin... (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Jealousy and Envy Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
...taken to a “small, gloomy, vaulted prison in the old building of the holy court.” The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor enters his cell, carrying a lamp. He is alone. He asks the prisoner, “Is it... (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Alexei asks if the prisoner just sits silently. Ivan says that the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor tells him to be silent because “he has no right to add anything to what... (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor tells the prisoner that people will submit to enslavement in exchange for being fed. Christ... (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Morality and Modernization Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor tells the prisoner that he didn’t realize that, “as soon as man rejects miracles, he... (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Morality and Modernization Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Cardinal Grand Inquisitor says that the flock will become timid and “tremble limply before [their] wrath.” The Church... (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
...Christ but “praises” him. He denies that there could be “such a fantastic person” as the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor and asks who the “bearers of the mystery” could be who have taken responsibility for... (full context)
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
Alexei asks Ivan how the poem ends. Ivan says that Christ approaches the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor and kisses him gently “on his bloodless, ninety-year-old lips.” The cardinal walks to the door,... (full context)