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C H A P T E R T W O CHRIST OUTSIDE THE TRUTH Negative Christology in Demons and Brothers Karamazov A complete atheist stands on the next-to-last step to the most complete faith. Demons,“At Tikhon’s” Dostoevsky’s Symbol of Faith Paradox is at the center of Dostoevsky’s engagement not only with Christ but also with matters of faith throughout his career. In his famous March 1854 letter to the Decembrist wife Natal’ia Fonvizina he declares,“I am a child of this century , a child of doubt and disbelief, I have been and shall ever be (that I know), until they close the lid of my coffin.”At the same time,he nevertheless singles out a potent “symbol of faith” in his life “in which all is clear and sacred.” He writes: “This symbol is very simple and here is what it is: to believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more courageous , and more perfect than Christ; and there not only isn’t, but I tell myself with a jealous love, there cannot be. More than that—if someone succeeded in proving to me that Christ was outside the truth, and if, indeed, the truth was outside Christ, I would sooner remain with Christ than with the truth.”1 All of the writer’s future artistic method is on full display here: the writer’s love of hyperbole and contradiction, his use of assertion through negation, his allowing of unexpected outcomes, and perhaps most of all, his reluctance to make a straightforward, earnest declaration of faith. After all, a declaration of 41 Christ outside the Truth faith in a Christ “outside the truth” is hardly an affirmation of the Christian profession of Dostoevsky’s native Orthodoxy, for if Christ is not the truth, then what becomes of Orthodoxy? Is Dostoevsky’s credo, then, perhaps even a tacit admission of a possible atheism on the writer’s part? Or is he instead using unbelief as a paradoxical way of affirming belief, by making a negative formulation serve a positive end? Or, finally, is Dostoevsky’s symbol of faith ultimately meant to present an unresolvable contradiction, allowing for both possibilities at once, faith and unbelief, like the metaphysical gambits of the writer’s later works, where readers can find as many reasons not to believe as to believe.“What a terrible torment this thirst to believe has cost me and is still costing me,” Dostoevsky writes in his letter,“and the stronger it becomes in my soul, the stronger are the arguments against it.”2 If doubt is faith’s constant companion, then for Dostoevsky it is also a kind of dangerous but necessary goad. Indeed, unbelief is so strongly and convincingly articulated in his works precisely because it is also capable of revealing faith both dramatically and compellingly. Readers often learn the most about faith in Dostoevsky’s works apophatically, that is, by discovering what it is not. Dostoevsky’s letter to Fonvizina alerts us to such possible paradoxes when the writer speaks about belief.The letter is thus important not only because it speaks to the writer’s state of mind about faith, but also because it anticipates his future methodology, for it is one of his first written provocations in which he probes given truths and seeks affirmation in seeming refutation. But does all apparent refutation of belief by Dostoevsky serve as a covert affirmation of faith? Or, like his statement about Christ “outside the truth,” does the apophatic impulse in his novels lead as easily to unbelief as to belief? Why does unbelief loom larger than belief in so many of Dostoevsky’s works? These questions are at the heart of two of the writer’s most important Christological novels: Demons—in which Dostoevsky actually quotes the paradoxical credo from his 1854 letter— and The Brothers Karamazov, in which the writer’s apophatic approach is more pronounced than in any other novel. Man-God versus God-Man: Christ “outside the Truth” in Demons Though intended as a “pamphlet novel” in which he vowed to lay bare all of his opinions “fervently” and “to the last word” about the political issues of his day,3 Demons is as much about Dostoevsky’s metaphysical preoccupations as C H A P T E R T W O 42 it is about his political concerns. Indeed, the two are connected. In an 1873 article responding to critics of Demons...


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