Zosima Zosima Zosima

I know you’re not going to believe this, but The Brothers Karamazov is, like, a really really good book. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the first Christian to say it’s really influenced him.

One of the central characters of the story is the Starets Zosima (a starets, or elder, being a senior monk who is widely followed for his spiritual guidance). And I keep coming back and coming back and coming back to this one quotation as the necessary lodestar of all Christians:

There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all.

This is it. That’s the basic Truth. We are all Adam. We all shouted “Crucify Him!” at our Lord and God. That’s it. That’s why Jesus had to die–because any of us would have killed Him. In fact, we did. The thing in the mass murderer’s heart that made him do it is the same thing that is in our heart, and there but for the grace of God go we.

This is the thing I keep going back to. I sometimes talk about morality around here and I stress the need for repentance for the sins of others and I frequently get pushback on this. No, it’s the others who are wrong. It’s the others who are bad. Or, I may be bad, but the others are worse. No!

Only when we realize how utterly sinful we are can we truly welcome the saving grace and joy of God.

Take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. 

We are all scapegoaters. We are all Adam.

The moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all.

This is where it starts.

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  • Frank McManus

    Yes yes yes. And more — seeing this truth as true is the only possible foundation for being able to see as true Julian’s famous line: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Both statements are equally, radically, completely true.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Very good comment, thank you.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Anyone that cites The Brothers Karamazov is in with me! Zosima is a great character. Actually every character in that novel is wonderfully drawn. It’s easily in the top five of the greatest novels ever written. And yes, we are all Adam.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Yep. Thank you.

  • Ted Turnau

    Push. Push pushity push push. There. That’s your expected push back. Seriously, I’m right there with you. Collective guilt is a hard sell in a uber-individualistic culture, but there it is. If we are not all guilty in Adam, there’s no way that Christ’s grace can spread to the many (or so said B. B. Warfield). Haven’t read Karamazov (to my shame), but Sufjan Stevens says the exact same thing in “John Wayne Gacy”: “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid…” Thanks for your reflections.

    • Antiphon411

      Is it really collective guilt? Collective guilt suggests that an entire group is held to be guilty irrespective of the private guilt of this or that individual: e.g. All Germans must be punished, even though some opposed the NSDAP.

      With the Crucifixion we are all, every one of us, privately and individually guilty of our sins that required Christ’s expiatory sacrifice.

      • UnknownTheFirst

        I find Girard’s take on this much more reasonable (as the Sacrifice that ends sacrifice, not as payment for sins).

  • JohnE_o

    “That’s why Jesus had to die–because any of us would have killed Him.”

    Prove it.

    Convince me that I would have killed Jesus.

    I don’t believe that I would have killed Jesus and I’m pretty sure that you don’t really believe you would have either.

    • UnknownTheFirst

      But US society (maybe you are not American, if so this doesn’t apply to you, and I guess not to Pascal-Emmanuele) seems OK with killing prisoners, even mentally handicapped prisoners. Jesus said that this is equivalent. To the extent that we (including me) tolerate this, we are part of the mob too.

      Lately we seem to be ok with torturing Him also, so there’s that part of the Passion going on too.

      • JohnE_o

        You are moving the goalposts – the specific claim was that I would kill Jesus, not that I would tolerate the way capital punishment is done in the US.

        • UnknownTheFirst

          I’m not moving the goalposts, I’m telling you who Jesus is these days, as per the orthodox Christian interpretation of Jesus’ words, “whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto Me.”

          If Pascal’s words don’t mean anything to you, taken literally, I don’t think that’s anything to get worried about. Pascal and you (and I) have different religious views from each other; what Pascal said has more resonance for someone within the same religious context.

    • BTP

      Easy. Reflect on two cases. First, recall that there was only one disciple who stayed with Jesus that night. And Peter found it impossible to keep himself from condemning Jesus: ‘He is not with me, he is alone.’ But you think you stand up to the crowd? You stand up against the crowd when the only man who had the guts to follow him to the courtyard does not?

      Second, reflect on the fact that Caiaphas was correct: it really is better that one man should die than that the entire nation perish. Or are you the one who sacrifices your people for the benefit of a man you are convinced is a blasphemer?

      There you have it.

      • JohnE_o

        You are moving the goalposts – the specific claim was that I would kill Jesus, not that I would not stand up to a mob calling for Jesus’ death.

        On the second point you ask me to reflect upon, you are moving the goalposts – the specific claim was that I would kill
        Jesus, not that I would not turn a man who was a threat to public order over to the civil authorities.

        Furthermore, if Caiaphas is convinced Jesus was a blasphemer, then whatever blame accrues to him for participating in his political system is certainly much less than that of one who commits deliberate Deicide.

        I assert that “You would kill Jesus,” and “You would turn a man who was a threat to public order over to the civil authorities are not equivalent statements..

        ——

        Here’s something unrelated that I’ve been wondering…

        From Gospel of John, chapter 18:

        31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.

        However, these same guys a few chapters earlier in chapter 8 were all about stoning some woman:

        3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

        So were they going to stone the woman or did they just pull a woman with a bad reputation into the Temple courts in order to set up a point parallel to the question of paying taxes – that is to say, the (trick) question raised is ‘why are our laws and customs repressed by Rome to such an extent that we can’t even stone women anymore?’

        • BTP

          Well, but they were silly goalposts to begin with, weren’t they? You asked to prove that if you could go back in time you definitely would have been in a crowd calling for the death of Jesus. To make the discussion worthwhile, it seems to me them goalposts need some movin’.

          But isn’t what I pointed out the real core of the story. Nobody was really responsible, in a way? There wasn’t some person in the crowd who caused his death, Pilate was just doing his job, Caiaphas was making a good political decision, Peter couldn’t have changed anything, etc.

          So, it’s the sort of thing that nobody could reasonably be expected to stop. Yet it happened; that’s the mystery of it.

          There is a real danger to thinking one is better than those who killed the Lord.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com Christian LeBlanc

    Sin itself prevents us from perceiving the complete awfulness of sin. We can’t help but underestimate how badly we need saving.

  • João Albericoni

    Goodp post. I’m also catholic and a huge fan of Dostoyevsky (specially “The Brothers Karamazov) and he was no fan ot the Catholic Church.
    Interesting enough, both Pope Francis and Benedict XVI are huge fans as well. Pope emeritus even mentioned “Brothers Karamazov” in “Spe Salvi” and Pope Francis has even recently called him a life mentor:

    One man who has been a life mentor for me is Dostoyevsky, and his explicit and implicit question “Why do children suffer?” (…)

    https://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=19966

  • mochalite

    Brothers K … Love it! And, of course, you’re right. If we can’t see ourselves in the crowd yelling, “Give us Barabbas! Crucify him (Jesus),” then we just haven’t looked closely enough at our own hearts. One of the best hymns in the world:

    “Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
    That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
    By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
    O most afflicted.

    Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
    Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
    ’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
    I crucified Thee.”

    Thanks be to God for saving me, chiefest of sinners (sorry, Paul.)


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