Dostoevsky’s Failed Fool-in-Christ
by Steven Faulkner
One afternoon last May I invited a good friend of mine to come over and discuss something that had been needling me about the writings of Dostoevsky. I had been reading Dostoevsky and wrestling with the problem of portraying the good man, the saintly man—not just the naive simpleton who sometimes passes for an innocent man. I found the questions presented intriguing and compelling, not only artistically and intellectually, but spiritually. What is it to be innocent? In the Russian religious tradition, there is what is called a fool-in-Christ, a person who appears as a fool to the world, who chooses to live and act so, but on a higher plane reflects the wisdom of God. This is not wisdom by rational argument, but by the force and beauty of a saintly life. I think St. Francis and some of his followers might easily fit into this tradition. I am not prepared to say that Dostoevsky was trying to portray the classic fool-in-Christ as such in his novels, but in some such “foolish” way he grappled with the problem of the come to mind as having such a character, but I had been particularly vexed by the character of Prince Myshkin in The Idiot.
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Steven Faulkner teaches creative writing at Longwood University in southern Virginia. He is the author of Waterwalk: A Passage of Ghosts (2007) and Bitterroot: Echoes of Beauty and Loss (2016). Both books are memoirs of father-son journeys that followed the paths of missionary priests: Marquette (in Waterwalk) and De Smet (in Bitterroot).
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