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Putting things in perspective

“Christianity is the religion of antiquity grown old, its presupposition is degenerated ancient cultures; on these it could and can act as a balm.  In ages in which ears and eyes are ‘filled with mud’, so that they are no longer capable of hearing the voice of reason and philosophy, or of seeing wisdom in bodily form, whether it bear the name of Epictetus or Epicurus: in such ages the cross of martyrdom and the ‘trumpet of the last judgement’ may perhaps still move the peoples to live a decent life.  If one thinks of the Rome of Juvenal, that poison-toad with the eyes of Venus, one learns what it means to confront the ‘world’ with a Cross, one comes to respect the quiet Christian community and is grateful that it overran the Graeco-Roman world.  When most people were born as though with the souls of slaves and the sensuality of old men, what a blessing it must have been to encounter beings who were more soul than body and seemed to be an actualisation of the Greek conception of the shades of Hades: modest, elusive, benevolent figures living in expectation of a ‘better life’ and thereby become so undemanding, so silently contemptuous, so proudly patient! — This Christianity as the evening-bell of good antiquity, a bell broken and weary yet still sweet-sounding, is a balm to the ears even for him who now wanders through these centuries only as a historian: what must it have been for the men of these centuries themselves! — On the other hand, for youthful, vigorous barbarians Christianity is poison; to implant the teaching of sinfulness and damnation into the heroic, childish and animal soul of the ancient Germans, for example, is nothing other than to poison it; a quite tremendous chemical fermentation and decomposition, a confusion of feelings and judgements, a rank exuberance of every kind of fantasy must have been the outcome, and thus in the longer run a fundamental enfeeblement of such barbarians. — One must, to be sure, ask what, without this enfeeblement, there would have been left to us of Greek culture! of the entire cultural past of the human race! — for the barbarian races untouched by Christianity were capable of doing away with ancient cultures altogether: as, for example, was demonstrated with fearful clarity by the pagan conquerors of Romanized Britain.  Christianity was obliged against its will to assist in making the ‘world’ of antiquity immortal. — Here too there still remains another counter-question and the possibility of a counter-reckoning: if it had not been enfeebled by the poison referred to, would one or other of these vigorous peoples, the German possibly, have perhaps been capable of gradually finding a higher culture for themselves, one of their own, a new one? — of which, as things are, mankind has not now the remotest conception? — Thus it is the same here as everywhere: one does not know, to speak the language of Christianity, whether God owes more gratitude to the Devil or the Devil more gratitude to God for everything having turned out as it has.”– Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (emphasis in original; trans. Hollingdale)

Published inFriedrich NietzscheLit & Crit

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