In "The Grand Inquisitor," what is the "secret" of power?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his magnum opus The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote an interesting piece on the role of organized religion, styling it as "The Grand Inquisitor," a cautionary tale told by one of the characters. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jesus returns to Earth, and is promptly imprisoned and ordered to death by the Grand Inquisitor, who speaks at length about his own religious beliefs:

"'There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness those forces are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so.'"
(Dostoevsky, "The Grand Inquisitor,"

The three secrets to power are those of power over man, of supernatural ability:

  1. Jesus did not turn rocks to bread in the desert, when he could have ensured that the hungry masses followed him
  2. Jesus did not perform a miracle, showing his superiority over man
  3. Jesus did not allow himself to rule over all kingdoms

Each of these things would have ensured that faith alone would hold Jesus in the heart of devout Christians, but his refusal to take control rather than receive it of free will allowed doubt to remain. The Church, however, has embraced all of the secrets, keeping control over the people while telling them that they are still free, and so keeping them happy in their religious imprisonment. Therefore, the Church no longer needs Jesus as a figurehead; their own mastery of the "three secrets" is all they need.