The Gospel in Brief by Leo Tolstoy
The Life of Jesus

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Written in 1883, ‘The Gospel in brief’ is Tolstoy’s harmonization of the four Christian gospels into one. So now we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – and Tolstoy. It is, he says, ‘an examination of Christian teaching not according to the church’s interpretations, but solely according to what has come down to us of Christ’s teaching, as ascribed to him in the gospels.’
That which Tolstoy retains from the originals, and that which he leaves out, tells us much about what he regards as essential Christianity. So here we find Tolstoy not concerned with events, but with the teaching; for it is the teaching that gives meaning to life. In his version, there is no place for the famous birth story; the healing miracles or Christ’s resurrection. In Tolstoy’s view, these were put there to persuade people of Christ’s divinity, and are therefore superfluous. We should not be focusing on Christ the Son of God, but on Christ the teacher; and to this end, Tolstoy always refers to Jesus’ disciples as ‘pupils’. He also never misses a chance to place the Orthodox Church firmly with Christ’s opponents. He calls the Scribes ‘Orthodox professors’ and refers to the teachers of the law, simply as ‘Orthodox.’
We also find expressed clearly here the 5 commands that Tolstoy regarded as the essence of the gospel:
1 Do not be angry, but live at peace with all men.
2 Do not indulge yourself in sexual gratification.
3 Do not promise anything on oath to anyone.
4 Do not resist evil, do not judge and do not go to law.
5 Make no distinction of nationality, but love foreigners as your own people.
Will the church like this version? Tolstoy doubts it, and expects a response: ‘If they will not disavow their lies, only one thing remains for them: to persecute me – for which I, completing what I have written, prepare myself with joy and with fear of my own weakness.’ But Tolstoy was both too aristocratic and too famous to be seriously harmed.

Simon Parke, author of The One Minute Mystic

About Leo Tolstoy

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Count Leo Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by an elderly aunt and educated by French tutors until he matriculated at Kazan University in 1844. In 1847, he gave up his studies and, after several aimless years, volunteered for military duty in the army, serving as a junior officer in the Crimean War before retiring in 1857. In 1862, Tolstoy married Sophie Behrs, a marriage that was to become, for him, bitterly unhappy. His diary, started in 1847, was used for self-study and self-criticism; it served as the source from which he drew much of the material that appeared not only in his great novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), but also in his shorter works. Seeking religious justification for his life, Tolstoy evolved a new Christianity based upon his own interpretation of the Gospels. Yasnaya Polyana became a mecca for his many converts At the age of eighty-two, while away from home, the writer suffered a break down in his health in Astapovo, Riazan, and he died there on November 20, 1910.
Published February 25, 2010 by White Crow Books. 151 pages
Genres: Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, Law & Philosophy, History. Non-fiction

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Whereas the Gospel of Mark, for instance, has Jesus simply saying, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Tolstoy elaborates with, “there is no way to be rich and to fulfill your father’s will…It is impossible for him who holds his own property to be within t...

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The Russian Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), best known for his novels, such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina, considered by many to have been the greatest novelist, had a spiritual crisis when he was fifty years old.

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