On the path to holiness with Dostoevsky

Paul Contino offers a hope-filled reading of The Brothers Karamazov.

“What is the last book you read that you remember reading and enjoying?” I ask students on the first day of the introductory litera­ture course I teach at a vocationally focused college. The class is a general education requirement, and few of my students read for pleasure. If I’m lucky, some might respond with a recent favorite; others need to search their memories as far back as Dr. Seuss. I then pose another question: “Do you believe that stories can make us better people?”

For educators in the ancient and medieval worlds, the response to this question was a resounding yes. Later on, perhaps alongside a decline in the authority of religion, the answer became “not necessarily.” Ever since 2017, when the #MeToo movement exposed the prevalence of sexual abuse among influential people—including writers—the answer for many remains no. Nevertheless, recent scientific studies have suggested that reading novels can indeed increase our compassion and generosity.

For Paul Contino, reading literature is an integral part of a spiritual path toward greater wholeness and, if coupled with humility, holiness. Drawing on the theolo­gy of his own Catholic faith as well as ecumenical Christian perspectives, he offers a hope-filled reading of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1879 classic, The Brothers Karamazov.