David Bentley Hart has a new article in First Things that argues for the unthinkable: the wholesale superiority of Tolstoy over Dostoevsky both literarily and theologically:
Among converts to Orthodoxy, for instance, as well as among many cradle Orthodox of a particularly rigorist kind, Dostoevsky is especially honored for having held firmly to Chalcedonian orthodoxy and having introduced the greater world to the figure of Father Zosima, from whom all the light of Eastern Christian contemplative spirituality shines out; and, more generally, among Christians of many confessions, Dostoevsky is revered as a prophet, the great Christian anti-Nietzsche, the voice of ancient Christian truth crying out in the spiritual desert of the modern West.
Tolstoy, by contrast, was practically a liberal Protestant, who thought of Jesus principally as a divinely inspired teacher of moral truth; he was not only indifferent to, but scornful of dogmatic tradition; he was even excommunicated, for goodness’ sake.
Fair enough, I suppose. I would observe, however, that there are all kinds of orthodoxy and all kinds of heresy. It is true that Dostoevsky personally assented—despite occasional episodes of doubt—to the creeds of the ancient church, and that he believed deeply in the mystical and sacramental traditions of the Orthodox church, and that in general his vision of things was shaped by traditional Christian understandings of sin and redemption.
That said, it is also true that his Chalcedonian orthodoxy was often almost inextricably confused with a dark, semipagan mysticism of the “Russian Christ” and of Russian blood and soil, and that he nursed slightly deranged fantasies of an Eastern Christian crusade to recapture Constantinople by violence, and that his virulent and contemptible anti-Semitism was anything but an accidental feature of his moral philosophy.
Tolstoy, on the other hand, despite his creedal heterodoxy, at least believed that, say, the sermon on the mount should be taken quite literally, and that Christ’s injunction to love our enemies and Paul’s claim that, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek (and so forth) meant that Christians really ought not to kill Turks or hate Jews. If we were really to make conformity to Christian teaching our chief criterion of comparison between the two men, I would still hesitate to concede Dostoevsky the advantage.