The sixth book of Part II in The Brothers Karamazov is a fascinatingly compelling illustration of how the dialectical process involved in the inversion of thought functions in the account of Father Zossima’s argument for Christian faith. This dialectic is all the more clearly illustrated in its location within the novel, as well as the fundamental problem from which the dialectic occurs itself: Father Zossima’s argument immediately follows Ivan’s, and both grapple with the profound dilemma as to whether or not one can ever possibly “love one’s neighbor,” in the face of the abominable cruelties and atrocities that humankind commits. What is so fascinating about Zossima’s argument is not simply its inherent goodness so oppositional to Ivan’s, but rather the various instances in which Zossima uses precisely the same ideas and examples that Ivan does that he inverts in his (and perhaps Christianity’s) favor. One of the first instances of inversion may be found in section b, Chapter 1, Part II, in which Zossima, responding to Father Anfim’s statement that “all things are good,” agrees, saying, “all things are good and fair, because all is truth.” It is arguable that this is an inversion of Dmitri’s earlier assertion that “all things are just and lawful,” including parricide. While both statements that “all is good and fair” may be seen as identical, they are interpreted in two radically different ways: Dmitri rationalizes “all things good and fair” to literally include murder, if one considers parricide to be “good and fair,” given the circumstances; yet Zossima inverts the same statement to refer not to unlawful behavior, but to “the truth,” that is, the beauty of God’s design and the inherent goodness of human beings. “All things are good and fair, because all is truth,” he says.
Father Zossima’s argument, like Ivan’s, also addresses the problem of children in the face of sin and cruelty, and is another fantastic example of inversion. He takes Ivan’s assertion that there can be no faith where children are abused and systematically inverts that argument to state that, on the contrary, where children are abused there must be faith, for it is ultimately that faith that will allow one to finally see that “we are all one another’s servants,” including children’s servants (reminiscent of Myshkin’s attitude towards children, as well). In other words, children are not the deterrent to faith, they are its inspiration and hope. The child, sinless, reflects the sins of others, as a mirror would. He argues: “You pass by a little child, you pass by, spiteful, with ugly words, with wrathful heart; you may not have noticed the child, but he has seen you, and your image, unseemly and ignoble, may remain in his defenceless heart. You don’t know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him and it may grow, and all because you were not careful before the child…” (emphasis added)
Among several other such examples of the dialectic of inversion, notably the question of freedom and isolation, one of the most powerful instances occurs apropos of miracle and mystery in Christianity. Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor, if it will be recalled, reclaims “miracle, mystery, and authority” in order to rule the “feebleminded nature” of men. Zossima’s approach to miracle and mystery radically inverts the notion that miracle and mystery are instruments of deception to assert, on the contrary, that they are rather instruments of self-awakening and clarity, that is, the clarity with which to see the goodness of humankind. Zossima’s notions of hell and heaven are surprisingly realistic and earthly-based, indeed, he states that the atheist intellectuals “have more fantastic dreams than we.” Rather than state that miracle and mystery are incomprehensible and otherwordly, as does the old inquisitor, Zossima argues that they are capable of being comprehended in this world: “If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day,” he says. It is within one’s capacity, then, to see that “paradise is on earth,” as his brother Markel said. When one comes to this realization, Zossima states that one will see that one is “in the hands of a living God,” and that hell is “the suffering of being unable to love.”
In deconstructing Ivan’s ideas to invert them in argument for Christian faith, Zossima ultimately negates the inquisitor’s notion that men need to be lead and instead illustrates how it is within every man to be able to “see paradise on earth.” Zossima reflects that their ability to do is exampled in John 12:24, the preface and Dostoevsky’s epigraph: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Zossima consistently alludes to the goodness of humankind through this passage, and it is in this way that perhaps there is not one corn of wheat in this passage, but two: the first, like Ivan, would die, alone. And the second, although it would die, would offer the world its goodness, out of the goodness of its tiny corn of wheat heart and would, thus, not die alone.