The Twilight of the Idols - The Antichrist

Page 31 of 51


As to whether he was conscious of this contrast, or whether he was merely regarded as such, is quite another question. And here, alone, do I touch upon the problem of the psychology of the Saviour.—I confess there are few books which I have as much difficulty in reading as the gospels. These difficulties are quite different from those which allowed the learned curiosity of the German, mind to celebrate one of its most memorable triumphs. Many years have now elapsed since I, like every young scholar, with the sage conscientiousness of a refined philologist, relished the work of the incomparable Strauss. I was then twenty years of age; now I am too serious for that sort of thing. What do I care about the contradictions of "tradition"? How can saintly legends be called "tradition" at all! The stories of saints constitute the most ambiguous literature on earth: to apply the scientific method to them, when there are no other documents to hand, seems to me to be a fatal procedure from the start—simply learned fooling.

[Pg 164]


The point that concerns me is the psychological type of the Saviour. This type might be contained in the gospels, in spite of the gospels, and however much it may have been mutilated, or overladen with foreign features: just as that of Francis of Assisi is contained in his legends in spite of his legends. It is not a question of the truth concerning what he has done, what he has said, and how he actually died; but whether his type may still be conceived in any way, whether it has been handed down to us at all?—The attempts which to my knowledge have been made to read the history of a "soul" out of the gospels, seem to me to point only to disreputable levity in psychological matters. M. Renan, that buffoon in psychologies, has contributed the two most monstrous ideas imaginable to the explanation of the type of Jesus: the idea of the genius and the idea of the hero ("hros"). But if there is anything thoroughly unevangelical surely it is the idea of the hero. It is precisely the reverse of all struggle, of all consciousness of taking part in the fight, that has become instinctive here: the inability to resist is here converted into a morality ("resist not evil," the profoundest sentence in the whole of the gospels, their key in a certain sense), the blessedness of peace, of gentleness, of not being able to be an enemy. What is the meaning of "glad tidings"?—True life, eternal life has been found—it is not promised, it is actually here, it is in you; it is life in love, in love free from all selection or exclusion, free from all distance. Everybody is the child of God—Jesus does not by[Pg 165] any means claim anything for himself alone,—as the child of God everybody is equal to everybody else.... Fancy making Jesus a hero!—And what a tremendous misunderstanding the word "genius" is! Our whole idea of "spirit," which is a civilised idea, could have had no meaning whatever in the world in which Jesus lived. In the strict terms of the physiologist, a very different word ought to be used here.... We know of a condition of morbid irritability of the sense of touch, which recoils shuddering from every kind of contact, and from every attempt at grasping a solid object. Any such physiological habitus reduced to its ultimate logical conclusion, becomes an instinctive hatred of all reality, a flight into the "intangible," into the "incomprehensible"; a repugnance to all formul, to every notion of time and space, to everything that is established such as customs, institutions, the church; a feeling at one's ease in a world in which no sign of reality is any longer visible, a merely "inner" world, a "true" world, an "eternal" world.... "The Kingdom of God is within you"...


The instinctive hatred of reality is the outcome of an extreme susceptibility to pain and to irritation, which can no longer endure to be "touched" at all, because every sensation strikes too deep.

The instinctive exclusion of all aversion, of all hostility, of all boundaries and distances in feeling, is the outcome of an extreme susceptibility to pain and to irritation, which regards all resistance, all compulsory resistance as insufferable anguish(—that is to[Pg 166] say, as harmful, as deprecated by the self-preservative instinct), and which knows blessedness (happiness) only when it is no longer obliged to offer resistance to anybody, either evil or detrimental,—love as the Only ultimate possibility of life....

These are the two physiological realities upon which and out of which the doctrine of salvation has grown. I call them a sublime further development of hedonism, upon a thoroughly morbid soil. Epicureanism, the pagan theory of salvation, even though it possessed a large proportion of Greek vitality and nervous energy, remains the most closely related to the above. Epicurus was a typical decadent: and I was the first to recognise him as such.—The terror of pain, even of infinitely slight pain—such a state cannot possibly help culminating in a religion of love....


I have given my reply to the problem in advance. The prerequisite thereto was the admission of the fact that the type of the Saviour has reached us only in a very distorted form. This distortion in itself is extremely feasible: for many reasons a type of that kind could not be pure, whole, and free from additions. The environment in which this strange figure moved, must have left its mark upon him, and the history, the destiny of the first Christian communities must have done so to a still greater degree. Thanks to that destiny, the type must have been enriched retrospectively with features which can be interpreted only as serving the purposes of war and of propaganda That strange and morbid world into which the gospels lead us—a world which seems to[Pg 167] have been drawn from a Russian novel, where the scum and dross of society, diseases of the nerves and "childish" imbecility seem to have given each other rendezvous—must in any case have coarsened the type: the first disciples especially must have translated an existence conceived entirely in symbols and abstractions into their own crudities, in order at least to be able to understand something about it,—for them the type existed only after it had been cast in a more familiar mould.... The prophet, the Messiah, the future judge, the teacher of morals, the thaumaturgist, John the Baptist—all these were but so many opportunities of misunderstanding the type.... Finally, let us not under-rate the proprium of all great and especially sectarian veneration: very often it effaces from the venerated object, all the original and frequently painfully un-familiar traits and idiosyncrasies—it does not even see them. It is greatly to be deplored that no Dostoiewsky lived in the neighbourhood of this most interesting decadent,—I mean someone who would have known how to feel the poignant charm of such a mixture of the sublime, the morbid, and the childlike. Finally, the type, as an example of decadence, may actually have been extraordinarily multifarious and contradictory: this, as a possible alternative, is not to be altogether ignored. Albeit, everything seems to point away from it; for, precisely in this case, tradition would necessarily have been particularly true and objective: whereas we have reasons for assuming the reverse. Meanwhile a yawning chasm of contradiction separates the mountain, lake, and pastoral preacher, who strikes us as a Buddha[Pg 168] on a soil only very slightly Hindu, from that combative fanatic, the mortal enemy of theologians and priests, whom Renan's malice has glorified as "le grand matre en ironie." For my part, I do not doubt but what the greater part of this venom (and even of esprit) was inoculated into the type of the Master only as the outcome of the agitated condition of Christian propaganda. For we have ample reasons for knowing the unscrupulousness of all sectarians when they wish to contrive their own apology out of the person of their master. When the first Christian community required a discerning, wrangling, quarrelsome, malicious and hair-splitting theologian, to oppose other theologians, it created its "God" according to its needs; just as it did not hesitate to put upon his lips those utterly unevangelical ideas of "his second coming," the "last judgment,"—ideas with which it could not then dispense,—and every kind of expectation and promise which happened to be current.

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