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Author links Dostoevsky to religion, politics

| Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Elizabeth Blake, assistant professor of Russian at Saint Louis University and author of “Dostoevsky and the Catholic Underground,” explored how the interplay between religion and politics helps to guide a nation’s decisions Tuesday night through the lens of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s views on the Catholic Church and its influence on the politics of the West.

According to Blake, Dostoevsky adopted a wholly negative view of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the “military Catholicism” of the Jesuits, because he found the ideas threatening to Russia.

“[Dostoevsky believed] this use of militant Catholicism … aimed to expand Catholic monarchs’ sphere of influence at the expense of Orthodox beliefs,” Blake said.

Blake said Dostoevsky sought to counter the political and religious influence of Catholicism by exposing the moral bankruptcy of Roman ideas. Dostoevsky’s criticism of the Catholic Church can be divided into two parts, she said.

“I’ve divided … what [Dostoevsky] considers ideal about Catholicism, meaning the ideal that Catholicism creates, and what he thinks the real is behind the ideal,” she said.

Blake began with a discussion of what Dostoevsky believed to be the ideals of the Catholic Church. Dostoevsky, according to Blake, took great issue with the chivalry which the Catholic church supposedly endorsed.  

“Chivalry, for Dostoevsky, is one of the most deceptive ideals propagated by the Catholic Church,” she said. “Knighthood … rests on a paradoxical chivalric tradition because the privileged position of the knight, who vowed to protect the powerless, relied upon a feudal order which relied upon the exploitation of serf labor.”

Blake then moved on to discussion of what Dostoevsky believed to be the “real” goals of the Catholic Church.  

“Dostoevsky maintains that great ideas inspire revolutionaries and shape the history of nations,” she said. “ … He believes that Catholicism does not merely represent a metaphysical ideal but an international conspiracy armed with papal Jesuit troops and a political program — the Roman idea worldwide.”

Dostoevsky, according to Blake, described this view in the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in his novel “The Brothers Karamazov.”

“He predicts a second Catholic reformation for the West, which he realizes poetically in the Grand Inquisitor, since Ivan Karamazov’s ethic that an egoism permitting everything must be allowed for the man who does not believe resembles the image of the Jesuits … as those who allow for the permissibility of violence against those of another creed,” she said.

Blake said she believes a large part of Dostoevsky’s criticism of Catholics and defense of Russian Orthodoxy comes from a feeling that, “Russia had not been accepted on a equal footing,” when being compared with the Western powers.  This led Dostoevsky, according to Blake, to become a fervent nationalist, supportive of the imperial tendency to demand assimilation from others.

“[Dostoevsky] robs nations of their own traditions,” she said.

Dostoevsky’s belief in the inferiority of Catholicism and nationalistic sympathies led him to portray many flat characters who fit stereotypes, Blake said. He especially targeted Polish people, who were both Catholic and revolting against Russian rule during Dostoevsky’s lifetime.

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

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