In "The Grand Inquisitor," why does the Grand Inquisitor say he will execute Jesus?

Expert Answers
belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Grand Inquisitor" is a portion of Fyodor Dostoevsky's epic work The Brothers Karamazov, and takes the form of a fable told by the character Ivan. In it, Jesus returns from the dead during the Spanish Inquisition, when the Church ordained that all non-Christians be converted or burned at the stake; although recognized by all, Jesus is still taken by the Inquisition and ordered executed by the Grand Inquisitor, who explains:

"'Didst Thou not often say then, "I will make you free"? But now Thou hast seen these "free" men,' the old man adds suddenly, with a pensive smile. 'Yes, we've paid dearly for it,' he goes on, looking sternly at Him, 'but at last we have completed that work in Thy name. For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good.'"
(Dostoevsky, "The Grand Inquisitor,

In essence, the Grand Inquisitor explains that while humanity as a whole desires to be led, Jesus has given them freedom of choice, allowing them to be evil if they wish it, and that evil has spread and festered. However, the Church has now fixed the problem, taking freedom of choice away from the people while keeping them superficially happy. He explains that while the people will live in sin and die sinners, they will also be happier than they would be in the free state of choice; the Church makes their decisions for them, and they prefer it that way. Therefore, the return of Jesus is not necessary anymore, and despite their new knowledge, "...the very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire" (