"Virgin and Child (Madonna of Humility)," Andrea Mantegna

“Virgin and Child (Madonna of Humility),” Andrea Mantegna

“But then, what about the children?” [asked Ivan] “How will we ever account for their sufferings? For the hundredth time I repeat, there are many questions that could be asked, but I ask you only one–about the children–because I believe it conveys fully and clearly what I am trying to tell you. Listen, even if we assume that every person must suffer because his suffering is necessary to pay for eternal harmony, do still tell me, for God’s sake, where the children come in. I can understand the concept of solidarity in sin and also solidarity in retribution. But how can there be solidarity in sin with small children?” …

“I want to dissociate myself from it all; I have no wish to be a part of their eternal harmony. It’s not worth one single tear of the martyred little girl who beat her breast with her tiny fist, shedding her innocent tears… It’s not worth it, because that tear will have remained unatoned for. And those tears must be atoned for; otherwise there can be no harmony. But what could atone for those tears? How it possible to atone for them? By avenging them perhaps? But whom would vengeance help? What good would it do to send the monsters to hell after they have finished inflicting their suffering on children? How can their being in hell put things right? Besides, what sort of harmony can there be as long as there is a hell? To me, harmony means forgiving and embracing everybody, and I don’t want anyone to suffer anymore. … And if I am right, if they cannot forgive, what harmony can there be? Is there one single creature in the whole world who could forgive or would have the right to do so? … It isn’t that I reject God; I am simply returning Him most respectfully the ticket that would entitle me to a seat.”

“That’s rebellion,” Alyosha said softly, lowering his eyes.

“Rebellion? I wish you hadn’t used that word,” Ivan said feelingly. “I don’t believe it’s possible to live in rebellion, and I want to live! Tell me yourself–I challenge you: let’s assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of human destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature, let’s say the little girl…would you agree to do it? Tell me and don’t lie!”

“No, I would not,” Alyosha said softly.

“And do you find acceptable the idea that those for whom you are building that edifice should gratefully receive a happiness that rests on the blood of a tortured child and, having received it, should continue to enjoy it eternally?”

“No, I do not find that acceptable,” Alyosha said and his eyes suddenly flared up. “But a moment ago you asked whether there was in the world a ‘single creature who could forgive.’ Well, there is. And He can forgive everyone for everything, because He Himself gave His innocent blood for everyone’s sins and for everyone’s sake. You forgot to mention Him…”