Pre-Christian and Christian times pursue opposite goals; the former wants to idealize the real, the latter to realize the ideal; the former seeks the “holy spirit,” the latter the “glorified body. Thus, the former closes with insensitiveness to the real, with “contempt for the world”; the latter will end with the casting off of ideals, with “contempt for the spirit.”
The opposition between the real and the ideal is an irreconcilable one, and the one can never become the other: if the ideal became the real, it would no longer be the ideal; and if the real became the ideal, there would only be the ideal, and the real wouldn’t be at all. The opposition between the two is not to be overcome unless one destroys them both. Only in this “one,” the third party, does the opposition find its end; but otherwise idea and reality will never meet. The idea cannot be realized in such a way that it remains an idea, but only if it dies as an idea; and the same applies to the real.
But now we have before us in the ancients, the followers of the idea, and in the moderns, the followers of reality. Neither gets away from this opposition, and both only languish, the one side after the spirit, and when this yearning of the ancient world was satisfied and this spirit seemed to have come, the other side immediately again after the secularization of this spirit, which must forever remain a “pious wish.”
The pious wish of the ancients was sanctity, the pious wish of the moderns is embodiment. But as antiquity had to go under, if its longing was to be satisfied (because it consisted only of this longing), so also embodiment can never be attained within the ring of Christianity. As the train of sanctification or purification runs through the old world (ablutions, etc.), so that of becoming flesh runs through the Christian world: God plummets down into this world, becomes flesh, and wants to redeem it, i.e., fill it with himself; but since he is “the idea” or “the spirit,” in the end, people (for example, Hegel) introduce the idea into everything, into the world, and prove “that the idea, that reason, is in everything.” What the heathen Stoics put up as “the wise man” corresponds in today’s learning to “the human being,” the latter, like the former, a fleshless being. The unreal “wise man,” this bodiless “holy one” of the Stoics, became an real person, a bodily “holy one,” in the God made flesh; the unreal “human being,” the bodiless I, will become real in the embodied I, in me.
The question of “God’s existence”1 winds its way through Christianity; taken up over and over again, it bears witness that the urge for existence, embodiment, personality, actuality, continually occupied the mind2, because it never found an adequate solution. The question of God’s existence finally disappeared, but only to arise again in the proposition that the “divine” has existence (Feuerbach). But this too has no existence, and the last resort, that the “purely human” can be realized, won’t offer protection for much longer. No idea has existence, because none is capable of embodiment. The scholastic controversy over realism and nominalism has the same content; in short, this weaves itself through all Christian history, and cannot end in it.
The Christian world is working to realize ideas in the individual relations of life, in the institutions and laws of the church and the state; but they are reluctant and always keep something back unmaterialized (unrealizable). Still it restlessly chases after this materiality, regardless of how much embodiment is always lacking.
For the realizer lays little on realities, but places everything on the same being realizations of the idea. Thus, he is constantly reexamining whether the realized, in truth, has the idea, its kernel, dwelling in it; and as he tests the real, at the same time he tests the idea, whether it can be realized in the way he thinks it, or whether he thinks it incorrectly, and therefore makes it unworkable.
As existences3, family, state, etc. are no longer supposed to concern the Christian; unlike the ancients, Christians are not supposed to sacrifice themselves for these “divine things,” but rather they should be used to bring the spirit to life in them. The actual family has become unimportant, and from it an ideal one, which would be the “truly real” one, is supposed to arise, a sacred family, blessed by God, or, to the liberal way of thinking, a “rational” family. Among the ancients, family, state, fatherland, etc. are divine as existing things; among the moderns, they still await divinity, are sinful as they exist, and still have to be “redeemed,” i.e., to become truly real. This has the following meaning: The family, etc. are not the existing and real, but the divine, the idea, is existing and real; whether this family will make itself real by taking in the truly real, the idea, is still debatable. It is not the task of the individual to serve the family as the divine, but, on the contrary, to serve the divine and feed the ungodly family to it, i.e., to subjugate everything in the name of the idea, to fly the banner of the idea over everything, to bring the idea to real efficacy.
But since the concern of Christianity, like that of antiquity, is for the divine, this is where they always come out from their opposite paths. At the end of heathenism, the divine becomes other-worldly, at the end of Christianity, this-worldly. Antiquity does not succeed in putting it completely outside of the world, and when Christianity accomplishes this task, the divine immediately longs to return to the world and wants to “redeem” the world. But within Christianity, it does not and cannot reach the point where the divine as this-worldly would actually itself become the worldly: there is enough left which, as the “bad,” irrational, random, egoistic, the “worldly” in the bad sense, does and must keep itself unpenetrated. Christianity begins with God becoming man, and it carries out its work of conversion and redemption throughout all time, to prepare a reception for God in all human beings and in everything human, and to penetrate everything with the spirit: it keeps to it, to prepare a place for the “spirit.”
When the accent was finally place on the human being or humanity, it was again the idea the was “called eternal”: “The human being never dies!” Now they thought that they had found the reality of the idea: The human is the I of history, of world history; it is he, this ideal, which really develops, i.e., realizes, himself. He is the actually real, the embodied one, because history is his body, in which individuals are just the limbs. Christ is the I of world history, even the pre-Christian ones; in the modern perspective, it is the human being, the image of Christ has developed into a human image: the human being as such, the quintessential human being, is the “center” of history. In “humanity” the imaginary beginning returns; because “the human being” is as imaginary as Christ is. The “human being,” as the I of world history, closes the cycle of Christian perspectives.
The magic circle of Christianity would be broken, if the tension between existence and calling, i.e., between me as I am and me as I’m supposed to be, stopped. It persists only as the longing of the idea for its embodiment and disappears with the diminishing distinction between the two. Only if the idea remains – the idea, as human being or humanity is a bodiless idea, does Christian still exist. The embodied idea, the embodied or “perfected” spirit, floats before the Christian as “the end of days” or as the “purpose of history”; it is not present to him.
The individual can only participate in the founding of the Kingdom of God, or, according to the modern depiction of the same thing, in the development and history of humanity; and only insofar as he participates in it, does a Christian, or in the modern expression, human value befit him; in all other respects, he is dust and a worm-bag.
That the individual is a world history for himself, and possesses his property in the rest of the world’s history, this goes beyond what is Christian. For the Christian world history is the higher thing, because it is the history of Christ or “of the human being”; to the egoist only his history has value, because he only wants to develop himself, not the idea of humanity, not God’s plan, not the intentions of providence, not freedom, etc. He doesn’t look upon himself as a tool of the idea or a vessel of God, he recognizes no calling, he doesn’t imagine that he exists to further the development of humanity and that he has to contribute his mite to it, but rather he enjoys life, unconcerned about how well or badly humanity may fare from it. If it didn’t allow the misunderstanding that a state of nature should be praised, one might be reminded of Lenau’s The Three Gypsies4. – What, am I in the world for this purpose, to realize ideas? To do my part perhaps toward the realization of the idea of the “state” through my citizenship, or to bring the idea of the family into an existence through my marriage, as husband and father? How I dispute such a calling! I live as little after a calling as the flower grows and gives fragrance after a calling.
The ideal “human being” is realized when the Christian view is overturned in the statement: “I, this Unique, am the human being.” The conceptual question: “What is the human being?” – has then changed into the personal question: “Who is the human being?” With “what” one looks for the concept in order to realize it; with “who” there is no longer any question at all, but the answer present personally in the questioner himself: the question itself answers itself.
They say of God, “Names name you not.” This is true of me: no concept expresses me, nothing that is said to be my essence exhausts me; they are only names. They also say of God that he is perfect and has no calling to strive for perfection. This too is true of me alone.
I am owner of my power, and I am so when I know myself as Unique. In the Unique the owner himself returns into his creative nothing, from which he is born. Every higher essence over me, be it God, be it the human being, weakens the feeling of my uniqueness, and only pales before the sun of this awareness. If I base my affair on myself, the Unique, then it stands on the transient, the mortal creator, who consumes himself, and I may say:
I have based my affair on nothing.
1“Dasein” – translator.
2“Gemüt” rather than “Geist” in this instance. – translator.
3“Existenzen” – translator.
4A poem by Nikolaus Lenau, an Austrian poet – translator.