Divine and Human by Leo Tolstoy

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Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Christian themes in “Divine and Human” are woven firmly into the work. The first word of the title, “divine,” refers to the behavior of Svetlogub, while the last word, “human,” refers to the revolutionaries, Mezhenetsky and Roman. The divine element in Svetlogub is reflected in his transformation from a nonbeliever, even an enemy of believers, into a follower of the New Testament tenets. The other two revolutionaries remain “human” in that they refuse to rise above the basic concerns of human beings—a better material life—even though they too have potential for doing good because they want to help the poor. Yet, their transformations in the course of the work were “human” in the worst way.

Tolstoy is pointing out that a desire to do good is not enough. Although Svetlogub firmly believes that he is doing the right thing by wanting to eliminate social injustice, his desire lacks firm foundation. Only after he repeatedly reads the New Testament while in prison does he realize the true meaning of his efforts. Faced with death, he now believes that he will not die but will just start a new life after death. That new life will be full of joy and, most important, of love for fellow human beings. As for the authorities who are putting him to death, they know not what they are doing. Above all, they must save their souls, for what good does it do a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Many other sayings from the New Testament now connote a new, Christian way of life for Svetlogub.

On the other hand, Mezhenetsky does not show any interest in reading the New Testament, even though every prisoner is given a copy. It has no meaning for him and...

(The entire section is 447 words.)