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Man is not equally moral at all hours, this is well known. If his morality is judged to be the capability for great self-sacrificing resolutions and self-denial (which, when continuous and grown habitual, are called holiness), he is most moral in the passions; the higher emotion provides him with entirely new motives, of which he, sober and cold as usual, perhaps does not even believe himself capable. How does this happen? Probably because of the proximity of everything great and highly exciting; if man is once wrought up[Pg 141] to a state of extraordinary suspense, he is as capable of carrying out a terrible revenge as of a terrible crushing of his need for revenge. Under the influence of powerful emotion, he desires in any case the great, the powerful, the immense; and if he happens to notice that the sacrifice of himself satisfies him as well as, or better than, the sacrifice of others, he chooses that. Actually, therefore, he only cares about discharging his emotion; in order to ease his tension he seizes the enemy's spears and buries them in his breast. That there was something great in self-denial and not in revenge had to be taught to mankind by long habit; a Godhead that sacrificed itself was the strongest, most effective symbol of this kind of greatness. As the conquest of the most difficult enemy, the sudden mastering of an affection—thus this denial appears; and so far it passes for the summit of morality. In reality it is a question of the confusion of one idea with another, while the temperament maintains an equal height, an equal level. Temperate men who are resting from their passions no longer understand the morality of those moments; but the general admiration of those who had the same experiences upholds them; pride is their consolation when affection and the understanding of their deed vanish. Therefore, at bottom even those actions of self-denial are not moral, inasmuch as they are not done strictly with regard to others; rather the other only provides the highly-strung temperament with an opportunity of relieving itself through that denial.
In many respects the ascetic seeks to make life easy for himself, usually by complete subordination to a strange will or a comprehensive law and ritual; something like the way a Brahmin leaves nothing whatever to his own decision but refers every moment to holy precepts. This submission is a powerful means of attaining self-mastery: man is occupied and is therefore not bored, and yet has no incitement to self-will or passion; after a completed deed there is no feeling of responsibility and with it no tortures of remorse. We have renounced our own will once and for ever, and this is easier than only renouncing it occasionally; as it is also easier to give up a desire entirely than to keep it within bounds. When we remember the present relation of man to the State, we find that, even here, unconditional obedience is more convenient than conditional. The saint, therefore, makes his life easier by absolute renunciation of his personality, and we are mistaken if in that phenomenon we admire the loftiest heroism of morality. In any case it is more difficult to carry one's personality through without vacillation and unclearness than to liberate one's self from it in the above-mentioned manner; moreover, it requires far more spirit and consideration.
After having found in many of the less easily explicable actions manifestations of that pleasure[Pg 143] in emotion per se, I should like to recognise also in self-contempt, which is one of the signs of holiness, and likewise in the deeds of self-torture (through hunger and scourging, mutilation of limbs, feigning of madness) a means by which those natures fight against the general weariness of their life-will (their nerves); they employ the most painful irritants and cruelties in order to emerge for a time, at all events, from that dulness and boredom into which they so frequently sink through their great mental indolence and that submission to a strange will already described.
The commonest means which the ascetic and saint employs to render life still endurable and amusing consists in occasional warfare with alternate victory and defeat. For this he requires an opponent, and finds it in the so-called "inward enemy." He principally makes use of his inclination to vanity, love of honour and rule, and of his sensual desires, that he may be permitted to regard his life as a perpetual battle and himself as a battlefield upon which good and evil spirits strive with alternating success. It is well known that sensual imagination is moderated, indeed almost dispelled, by regular sexual intercourse, whereas, on the contrary, it is rendered unfettered and wild by abstinence or irregularity. The imagination of many Christian saints was filthy to an extraordinary degree; by virtue of those theories that these desires were actual demons raging within[Pg 144] them they did not feel themselves to be too responsible; to this feeling we owe the very instructive frankness of their self-confessions. It was to their interest that this strife should always be maintained in one degree or another, because, as we have already said, their empty life was thereby entertained. But in order that the strife might seem sufficiently important and arouse the enduring sympathy and admiration of non-saints, it was necessary that sensuality should be ever more reviled and branded, the danger of eternal damnation was so tightly bound up with these things that it is highly probable that for whole centuries Christians generated children with a bad conscience, wherewith humanity has certainly suffered a great injury. And yet here truth is all topsy-turvy, which is particularly unsuitable for truth. Certainly Christianity had said that every man is conceived and born in sin, and in the insupportable superlative-Christianity of Calderon this thought again appears, tied up and twisted, as the most distorted paradox there is, in the well-known lines—
"The greatest sin of man
Is that he was ever born."
In all pessimistic religions the act of generation was looked upon as evil in itself. This is by no means the verdict of all mankind, not even of all pessimists. For instance, Empedocles saw in all erotic things nothing shameful, diabolical, or, sinful; but rather, in the great plain of disaster he saw only one hopeful and redeeming figure, that[Pg 145] of Aphrodite; she appeared to him as a guarantee that the strife should not endure eternally, but that the sceptre should one day be given over to a gentler dmon. The actual Christian pessimists had, as has been said, an interest in the dominance of a diverse opinion; for the solitude and spiritual wilderness of their lives they required an ever living enemy, and a generally recognised enemy, through whose fighting and overcoming they could constantly represent themselves to the non-saints as incomprehensible, half—supernatural beings. But when at last this enemy took to flight for ever in consequence of their mode of life and their impaired health, they immediately understood how to populate their interior with new dmons. The rising and falling of the scales of pride and humility sustained their brooding minds as well as the alternations of desire and peace of soul. At that time psychology served not only to cast suspicion upon everything human, but to oppress, to scourge, to crucify; people wished to find themselves as bad and wicked as possible, they sought anxiety for the salvation of their souls, despair of their own strength. Everything natural with which man has connected the idea of evil and sin (as, for instance, he is still accustomed to do with regard to the erotic) troubles and clouds the imagination, causes a frightened glance, makes man quarrel with himself and uncertain and distrustful of himself. Even his dreams have the flavour of a restless conscience. And yet in the reality of things this suffering from what is natural is entirely without foundation, it is only the[Pg 146] consequence of opinions about things. It is easily seen how men grow worse by considering the inevitably-natural as bad, and afterwards always feeling themselves made thus. It is the trump-card of religion and metaphysics, which wish to have man evil and sinful by nature, to cast suspicion on nature and thus really to make him bad, for he learns to feel himself evil since he cannot divest himself of the clothing of nature. After living for long a natural life, he gradually comes to feel himself weighed down by such a burden of sin that supernatural powers are necessary to lift this burden, and therewith arises the so-called need of redemption, which corresponds to no real but only to an imaginary sinfulness. If we survey the separate moral demands of the earliest times of Christianity it will everywhere be found that requirements are exaggerated in order that man cannot satisfy them; the intention is not that he should become more moral, but that he should feel himself as sinful as possible. If man had not found this feeling agreeable—why would he have thought out such an idea and stuck to it so long? As in the antique world an immeasurable power of intellect and inventiveness was expended in multiplying the pleasure of life by festive cults, so also in the age of Christianity an immeasurable amount of intellect has been sacrificed to another endeavour,—man must by all means be made to feel himself sinful and thereby be excited, enlivened, en-souled. To excite, enliven, en-soul at all costs—is not that the watchword of a relaxed, over-ripe, over-cultured age? The range[Pg 147] of all natural sensations had been gone over a hundred times, the soul had grown weary, whereupon the saint and the ascetic invented a new species of stimulants for life. They presented themselves before the public eye, not exactly as an example for the many, but as a terrible and yet ravishing spectacle, which took place on that border-land between world and over-world, wherein at that time all people believed they saw now rays of heavenly light and now unholy tongues of flame glowing in the depths. The saint's eye, fixed upon the terrible meaning of this short earthly life, upon the nearness of the last decision concerning endless new spans of existence, this burning eye in a half-wasted body made men of the old world tremble to their very depths; to gaze, to turn shudderingly away, to feel anew the attraction of the spectacle and to give way to it, to drink deep of it till the soul quivered with fire and ague,—that was the last pleasure that antiquity invented after it had grown blunted even at the sight of beast-baitings and human combats.