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Father Zossima and the modern doctrine of the world

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov


Recently I was given an unabridged copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Although I have had the  “authoritative modern abridgment” by Edmund Fuller version for many years, a version dog eared and worn for having been read and reread, I never thought to seek out the complete work.

Once I began reading it, I was struck by just how much was omitted and how those omissions seemed to speak to me.  One passage in particularly seemed to jump out and thought worth reproducing at some length since, like myself, most people only read the abridged version.

The passage comes from the section titled Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima (e) The Russian monk and his possible significance. In it, Father Zossima contrasts the everyday orientation of the lay person with that of the devout monk. He points to the then newly emerging  faith in science and progress to contrast with the faith of the monk. For the lay person:


They have science; but in science there is nothing but what is the object of sense. The spiritual world, the higher part of man’s being is rejected altogether, dismissed with a sort of triumph, even with hatred. The world has proclaimed the reign of freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but slavery and self-destruction! For the world says:

“You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and powerful. Don’t be afraid of satisfying them and even multiply your desires.” That is the modern doctrine of the world. In that they see freedom. And what follows from this right of multiplication of desires? In the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder; for they have been given rights, but have not been shown the means for satisfying their wants …

…Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation. They have dinners, visits, carriages, rank and slaves to wait on one is looked upon as a necessity, for which life, honor and human feelings are sacrificed, and men even commit suicide if they are unable to satisfy it. We see the same thing among those who are rich, while the poor drown their unsatisfied need and their envy in drunkenness. But soon they will drink blood instead of wine, they are being led to it. I ask you is such a man free?

…it’s no wonder that instead of gaining freedom they have sunk into slavery, and instead of serving the cause of brotherly love and the union of humanity have fallen, on the contrary, into dissension and isolation and therefore the idea of the service of humanity, of brotherly love and the solidarity of mankind, is more and more dying out in the world, and indeed this idea is sometimes treated with derision. For how can a man shake off his habits, what can become of him if he is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.

Photo from lungstruck licensed under Creative Commons

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