Religious Facts and the Difference Between a Crime and a Sin

More thoughts from the late Jaroslav Pelikan, taken from the “Dostoevsky: The Holy and the […]

David Zahl / 6.12.13

More thoughts from the late Jaroslav Pelikan, taken from the “Dostoevsky: The Holy and the Good” chapter of Fools for Christ:

DOS2B7-The central discovery… for Dostoevsky was his realization that sin was not primarily a moral, but a religious fact. Sin did not consist in the mere violation of a law or transgression of a commandment. It was not only that I had done something evil or neglected to do something good. In fact, it was not primarily something that I did at all, but something that I was. A sense of sin was more than a feeling of guilt, it was the feeling of profaneness and unworthiness. Forgiveness of sin, therefore, was not the act of God by which He forgot a given number of deeds against the Ten Commandments, but that act by which I was made worthy of His fellowship. The root of moralism has been the assumption that the sense of sin was moral rather than religious in its derivation, and that therefore the religious sense of profaneness was based upon the moral sense of transgression. Such a definition has been the obverse side of the identification of the Holy and the Good. Dostoevsky rejected it because sin was a religious fact…

Sin… was not the violation of some precept of prohibition, it was the assumption: I am God. When he murdered the old pawnbroker, Raskolnikov was not responding to an animal urge for blood, but to the human urge: to become more than my limited existence says I am. For this sin he stood accused not only before society, but before God, whose authority he has usurped. Usurping God’s power and privilege was sin. A realization that I the creature had tried to act as though I were the Creator produced the sense of profaneness in the eyes of God. And Raskolnikov stooped to kiss the sacred earth, which he had defiled by his sin. One would wish that sin were merely the violation of a moral code, for a moral code could be manipulated and rationalized. But if sin was, as Raskolnikov discovered, rebellion against God, then there could be no rationalization but only a Kyrie. (pgs 72-75)