The Moderns

["The Moderns" is in German “Die Neuen,” literally “the new ones.” Throughout this section (and the whole book) keep in mind that “neue” and variations thereof are used for both “new” and “modern.” - translator]

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

Since it was said above, “for the ancients the world was a truth,” we must say here, “for the moderns the spirit was a truth”; but here, as there, we mustn’t omit the addition: “a truth whose untruth they sought to get behind, and finally really do.”

A course similar to that which antiquity took can also be detected in Christianity, in that up to the time preparatory for the Reformation, reason was held prisoner under the rule of Christian dogmas, but in the century before the Reformation rose up sophistically and pursued a heretical game with all dogmas. Thus, it was then said, especially in Italy and at the Roman court: If only the heart remained Christian-minded, the reason may, in any case, enjoy its pleasures.

Long before the Reformation, people were so thoroughly accustomed to subtle “squabbling” that the pope and most others at first looked on Luther’s appearance as mere “monkish squabbling.” Humanism corresponds to sophistry, and as in the time of the sophists Greek life stood in its fullest bloom (the Periclean age), so the most brilliant things occurred in the time of humanism, or as one might also say, of Machiavellianism (the art of printing, the New World, etc.). The heart at this time was still far from wanting to rid itself of its Christian content.

But finally the Reformation, like Socrates, put the heart itself into action, and since then, the heart has become noticeably – more unchristian. Since with Luther people began to take the thing to heart, this step of the reformation would have to lead to this, that the heart would also be relieved of the heavy burden of Christianity. The heart, day to day more unchristian, loses the content with which it had occupied itself, until finally nothing is left to it but empty warm-heartedness, the thoroughly universal human kindness, the love of humanity, the consciousness of freedom, “self-consciousness.”

Only in this way is Christianity completed, because it has become barren, dead and void of content. There is now no more content against which the heart does not rebel, unless it crept up on it unawares or without “self-consciousness.” The heart criticizes to death everything that wants to intrude with ruthless heartlessness, and is capable of no friendship, no love (except unconsciously or when taken by surprise). What would there be in human beings to love, since they all alike are egoists, none of them the human being as such, i.e., none only spirit. The Christian loves only the spirit; but where could there be one who would actually be nothing but spirit?

To have love for the embodied human being with hide and hair, well, that would no longer be “spiritual” warm-heartedness, would be a betrayal of “pure” warm-heartedness, of “theoretical concern.” For one doesn’t imagine pure warm-heartedness to be like that easy-going pleasantness, that gives everyone a friendly handshake; on the contrary, pure warm-heartedness is warm-hearted to no one; it is only a theoretical concern, interest in human beings as human beings, not as persons. The person is disgusting to it, because of being egoistic, because of not being this idea, the human being. But it has a theoretical interest only for the idea. For pure warm-heartedness or pure theory, human beings are only there to be criticized, mocked and thoroughly despised; they are for them, no less than for the fanatically priests, only “filth” and other such fine things.

Pushed to the extremity of disinterested warm-heartedness, we must finally become aware that the spirit, which is all the Christian loves, is nothing, or that the spirit is – a lie.

What has been insisted upon here, and mostly likely as yet dashed off incomprehensibly, will hopefully become clear further on.

Let’s take up the inheritance left to us by the ancients, and, as active workers, 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 her mighty arms no longer reach and her intoxicating scent does not penetrate. As seductive as she may act, she can bewitch nothing but our sense; she cannot lead out spirit astray – and after all, we are in truth only spirit. Once it had gotten behind things, the spirit also got over them, and became free from their bonds, emancipated, with an otherworldly freedom. So “spiritual freedom” speaks.

The spirit which, after long efforts, has rid itself of the world, the worldless spirit, has nothing left after the loss of the world and the worldly except – the spirit and the spiritual.

But since it has only removed itself from the world and made of itself an essence free of the world, without actually being able to destroy it, the world remains an offense to it that can’t be removed, a disreputable essence; and since, on the other hand, it knows and recognizes nothing but the spirit and the spiritual, it must constantly bring with it the desire to spiritualize the world, i.e., to redeem it from the “shit pile.” Therefore, it goes about like a young man with plans for the redemption or improvement of the world.

As we saw, the ancients served the natural, the worldly, the natural world order, but they incessantly wondered if they couldn’t then relieve themselves of this service, and when they had grown dead tired in their ever-renewed endeavors at revolt,then, amidst their last sighs, there was born to them the God, the “overcomer of the world.” All their activity had been nothing but worldly wisdom, a striving to get behind and over the world. And what is the wisdom of the many centuries that followed? What did the moderns try to get behind? No longer behind the world, since the ancients had achieved that; but rather behind the God which the ancients bequeathed to them, behind the God who is spirit, behind everything that is the spirit’s, the spiritual. The activity of the spirit, which “investigates even the depths of the Godhead,” is the study of divinity. If the ancients have nothing to show but worldly wisdom, so the moderns never took or take it further than theology. We will see later that even the newest revolts against God are nothing but the most extreme endeavors of “the study of divinity,” i.e., theological insurrections.

12 Corinthians 5:17

Subpages (1): i. The Spirit