II. The Moderns

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; the old is passed away, behold, all is become new.”1

As it was said above, “To the ancients the world was a truth,” we must say here, “To the moderns the spirit was a truth”; but here, as there, we must not omit the supplement, “a truth whose untruth they tried to get back of, and at last they really do.”

A course similar to that which antiquity took may be demonstrated in Christianity also, in that the understanding was held a prisoner under the dominion of the Christian dogmas up to the time preparatory to the Reformation, but in the pre-Reformation century asserted itself sophistically and played heretical pranks with all tenets of the faith. And the talk then was, especially in Italy and at the Roman court, “If only the heart remains Christian-minded, the understanding may go right on taking its pleasure.”

Long before the Reformation people were so thoroughly accustomed to fine-spun “wranglings” that the pope, and most others, looked on Luther’s appearance too as a mere “wrangling of monks” at first. Humanism corresponds to Sophisticism, and, as in the time of the Sophists Greek life stood in its fullest bloom (the Periclean age), so the most brilliant things happened in the time of Humanism, or, as one might perhaps also say, of Machiavellianism (printing, the New World, etc.). At this time the heart was still far from wanting to relieve itself of its Christian contents.

But finally the Reformation, like Socrates, took hold seriously of the heart itself, and since then hearts have kept growing visibly—more unchristian. As with Luther people began to take the matter to heart, the outcome of this step of the Reformation must be that the heart also gets lightened of the heavy burden of Christian faith. The heart, from day to day more unchristian, loses the contents with which it had busied itself, till at last nothing but empty warm-heartedness is left it, the quite general love of men, the love of Man, the consciousness of freedom, “self-consciousness.”

Only so is Christianity complete, because it has become bald, withered, and void of contents. There are now no contents whatever against which the heart does not mutiny, unless indeed the heart unconsciously or without “self-consciousness” lets them slip in. The heart criticises to death with hard-hearted mercilessness everything that wants to make its way in, and is capable (except, as before, unconsciously or taken by surprise) of no friendship, no love. What could there be in men to love, since they are all alike “egoists,” none of them man as such, i. e. none spirit only? The Christian loves only the spirit; but where could one be found who should be really nothing but spirit?

To have a liking for the corporeal man with hide and hair,—why, that would no longer be a “spiritual” warm-heartedness, it would be treason against “pure” warm-heartedness, the “theoretical regard.” For pure warm-heartedness is by no means to be conceived as like that kindliness that gives everybody a friendly hand-shake; on the contrary, pure warm-heartedness is warm-hearted toward nobody, it is only a theoretical interest, concern for man as man, not as a person. The person is repulsive to it because of being “egoistic,” because of not being that abstraction, Man. But it is only for the abstraction that one can have a theoretical regard. To pure warm-heartedness or pure theory men exist only to be criticised, scoffed at, and thoroughly despised; to it, no less than to the fanatical parson, they are only “filth” and other such nice things.

Pushed to this extremity of disinterested warm-heartedness, we must finally become conscious that the spirit, which alone the Christian loves, is nothing; in other words, that the spirit is—a lie.

What has here been set down roughly, summarily, and doubtless as yet incomprehensibly, will, it is to be hoped, become clear as we go on.

Let us take up the inheritance left by the ancients, and, as active workmen, do with it as much as—can be done with it! The world lies despised at our feet, far beneath us and our heaven, into which its mighty arms are no longer thrust and its stupefying breath does not come. Seductively as it may pose, it can delude nothing but our sense; it cannot lead astray the spirit—and spirit alone, after all, we really are. Having once got back of things, the spirit has also got above them, and become free from their bonds, emancipated supernal, free. So speaks “spiritual freedom.”

To the spirit which, after long toil, has got rid of the world, the worldless spirit, nothing is left after the loss of the world and the worldly but—the spirit and the spiritual.

Yet, as it has only moved away from the world and made of itself a being free from the world, without being able really to annihilate the world, this remains to it a stumbling-block that cannot be cleared away, a discredited existence; and, as, on the other hand, it knows and recognizes nothing but the spirit and the spiritual, it must perpetually carry about with it the longing to spiritualize the world, i. e. to redeem it from the “black list.” Therefore, like a youth, it goes about with plans for the redemption or improvement of the world.

The ancients, we saw, served the natural, the worldly, the natural order of the world, but they incessantly asked themselves whether they could not, then, relieve themselves of this service; and, when they had tired themselves to death in ever-renewed attempts at revolt, then, among their last sighs, was born to them the God, the “conqueror of the world.” All their doing had been nothing but wisdom of the world, an effort to get back of the world and above it. And what is the wisdom of the many following centuries? What did the moderns try to get back of? No longer to get back of the world, for the ancients had accomplished that; but back of the God whom the ancients bequeathed to them, back of the God who “is spirit,” back of everything that is the spirit’s, the spiritual. But the activity of the spirit, which “searches even the depths of the Godhead,” is theology. If the ancients have nothing to show but wisdom of the world, the moderns never did nor do make their way further than to theology. We shall see later that even the newest revolts against God are nothing but the extremest efforts of “theology,” i. e. theological insurrections.

  1. 2 Cor. 5. 17. [The words “new” and “modern” are the same in German.]