Athens and Jerusalem \  Part II  \ In the Bull of Phalaris


     Kierkegaard declared that before Abraham raising his knife over Isaac we feel a horror religiosus. But that is not so. We feel horror, and that extreme form of horror which is worthy of the epithet religiosus, when we see that the monster named necessity, that is, nothingness, approaches man while he, as if under the influence of a supernatural spell, not only cannot make the least movement, not only does not permit himself to express his despair and his protest through an anguished cry - as happens in nightmares - but, on the contrary, strains all the faculties of his soul to justify and to "understand," that is, to transform into an eternal truth what is given to him in experience merely as a fact. Kierkegaard does not stop repeating: "the possibility of freedom does not consist in the power to choose between good and evil. Such an interpretation conforms as little to the Bible as to thought. Possibility consists in the fact that man 'can.' " He says, "original sin takes place in impotence," and "anxiety is the dizziness of freedom." But to overcome his impotence, to leave his dizziness, to conquer anxiety, to realize the power that promises him freedom is infinitely more difficult for man than to choose between good and evil.

     Kierkegaard began by declaring that God can return Isaac to Abraham, restore his children and wealth to Job, and unite the poor young man with the princess, but ended by taking away from God His beloved son, that is, reduced God's freedom to the possibility of choosing between good and evil: the immediately given must be accepted by all - by God as well as men. This "truth," that did not exist for the first man, became on the day Adam tasted the fruits of the tree of knowledge the principle of thought for all times. And it is only by accepting this truth that man can enter into the "kingdom of the spirit." Kierkegaard's "kingdom of the spirit" means: the immediate deliverances of consciousness are invincible, it is impossible to escape them, the salvation of man lies in "you shall be like God, knowing good and evil."

     Towards the end of his life Kierkegaard became enraged when he heard a pastor console a mother who had lost her child by recalling to her how God had tried Abraham and Job. Christianity brings not consolation but an edification which, like Socrates', is worse than all evils. As can be seen from certain "indirect" confessions, Kierkegaard tried to arouse anxiety and horror of life in the soul of the young Regine Olsen. He did not succeed, it is true, in "raising" her to himself. Despite all his cleverness, he did not even suspect, it seems, what he was doing in the soul of the young woman; this trial he was spared. When he related that his beloved was seventeen years old and he seven hundred, he imagined that, at the cost of an apparently innocent exaggeration, he had justified himself before the "ethical." But this was not an exaggeration, it was a lie and a by no means innocent lie. He was not seven hundred years old, he was seventy; an old man of seventy was engaged to a girl of seventeen and, seeing that he could not recover his youth, that God Himself could not return it to him, he threw himself desperately toward the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and wished to force Regine Olsen to follow him. Necessity is transformed under our eyes into immutability. Bewitched by anxiety before the primordial nothingness that rises between Himself and His son, as it arose between Kierkegaard and Regine, God Himself loses His omnipotence and becomes as weak as man whom He created. This means: when knowledge destroyed our freedom, sin took possession of our soul. Not only do we not dare to return to the state of ignorance, but ignorance seems to us a slumber of the spirit.

     Kierkegaard appeals to the Absurd, but in vain: he appeals to it but is incapable of realizing it. He speaks to us constantly of the existential philosophy; he rails at speculation and the speculators with their "objective" truths but, like Socrates and Spinoza, he himself aspires to live and oblige others to live in the categories in which they think. He refers incessantly to Scripture, but in the depths of his soul he is convinced, he "knows" that "God did not wish to teach the Israelites the absolute attributes of His essence....Therefore He did not appeal to them with reasons but with the sound of trumpets, thunders and lightnings." All of us, furthermore, are persuaded that only "grounds or reasons" lead us to the truth; as for celestial thunder, it is only an empty sound. The "you shall be like God" has seduced us and that "enchantment and supernatural slumber" of which Pascal spoke has taken possession of us. And the more we try to subordinate our life to our thought, the heavier our slumber becomes. Socrates' "I know that I know nothing," Spinoza's "third kind of knowledge," Kant's reason that "aspires eagerly to universal and necessary judgments" - all these cannot deliver man from his somnolence, cannot restore to him the freedom that he has lost, the freedom of ignorance, the freedom not to know. We "accept" the dishonoring of our daughters, the killing of our sons, the destruction of our fatherland, that "God has neither purpose nor end," that it belongs to metaphysics (which this does not at all concern) to decide whether God exists, whether our soul is immortal, whether our will is free, while we, to whom this is more important than anything else in the world, are forced to crush in ourselves all the lugere et detestari, to submit in advance "with equanimity" to the decisions of metaphysics, whatever these may be, and even to consider this submission a virtue and to see in virtue the supreme happiness.

     The philosophy which begins with necessary truths can only end in a sublime edification. And the religion which, to obtain the approval of philosophy, sees in the ignorance of the first man a slumbering of the spirit can only conclude with a no less sublime edification. Socrates and Spinoza spoke of the bull of Phalaris, Kierkegaard, of the happiness that is more terrible than the worst human torments. And, indeed, there is no other way out. As long as we submit to the domination of the Socratic knowledge, as long as we do not find the freedom of ignorance, we shall remain prisoners of that enchantment which transforms man from res cogitans (a thinking thing) into asinus turpissimus (a most infamous ass).

     But can man by his own efforts escape from the magic circle into which Necessity has pushed him? The horror of the fall, the horror of the original sin of which Nietzsche and Luther have told us, consists precisely in the fact that man seeks his salvation just where his ruin awaits him. Necessity does not offend the fallen man. He loves it, he venerates it, and this veneration is in his eyes the testimony of his own grandeur and virtue, as Nietzsche who reproved Socrates' decadence has himself confessed. And Spinoza, following the thought of the wisest of men, sings the glory of Necessity. The capacity "to endure with equanimity" everything that fate decrees no longer offends him, it even rejoices him. It brings to men, as the most precious docet (teaching), the commandment non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere and the indifference to "things that are not in our power" - the raping of daughters, the murdering of sons, etc. Kierkegaard hands God Himself over to the power of Necessity, upon which he confers the nobler name immutability, in order to redeem the offenses that he had committed against the "ethical." The "ethical," that is, the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of which Aristotle tried to rid himself by means of his minimum of temporal goods, has destroyed everything and has led man to the abyss of nothingness.

     It is thus alone that one can understand the "cruelty" that Kierkegaard and Nietzsche openly taught and that was already present in Socrates' and Spinoza's doctrine, hidden behind their beatitudines. This "cruelty" reveals the true meaning, the hidden meaning of the words "you will be like God." Behind Socrates' and Spinoza's apparent calmness one senses the same horror of the rejected lugere et detestari that one hears in the flaming words of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche: it is not given the fallen man to reconquer his lost freedom by his own "works." Knowledge and virtue have paralyzed our will and have plunged our spirit into a somnolence such that we see our perfection in impotence and submission. But if it is not given us to break the circle "by our own works" and attain true being, perhaps what "happens" to us independently of our will, contrary almost to our will, will transport us beyond the limits of the enchanted kingdom where we are condemned to draw out our existence. Besides virtue and knowledge there are still in man's life the horrors of which Kierkegaard and Nietzsche spoke so much and with which Socrates' and Spinoza's docet and edification are permeated. Whatever they may do, the knowledge that suggests to us that Necessity is invincible and the wisdom that assures us that the virtuous man will enjoy happiness even in the bull of Phalaris never succeed in extinguishing in us the lugere et detestari. And it is out of these lugere et detestari, these horrors of life, that the terrible hammer of God, the malleus Dei of the prophets and Luther, is forged. But the hammer is not directed against the living man, as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who followed the way traced by Socrates and Spinoza, believed. "Because man is presumptuous and imagines himself to be wise, righteous and holy, it is necessary that he be humbled by the law, that thus that beast - the illusion of righteousness - without whose killing man cannot live, be put to death."

     Put into modern language, we find that man must awake from his millennial sleep and decide to think in the categories in which he lives. Knowledge has transformed the real into the necessary and taught us to accept everything that fate decrees. And here precisely is the dizziness, the impotence, the paralysis, the death even - it sometimes seems - of freedom; to speak as Spinoza did, man is changed from a res cogitans into an asinus turpissimus. Can a living man, a free man, accept the dishonoring of his daughters, the murder of his sons, the destruction of his fatherland? Not only men but the very stones would have wept, Kierkegaard tells us, if they had known the sufferings with which his life was filled, but men laughed when they listened to him. If the word "sin," which today is forgotten, still has any meaning whatsoever, then the most terrible, the mortal, unpardonable sin consists in this acceptance and still more in the edification, in the equanimity, which "true philosophy" offers us and on which it rests. It is here that we must seek that "monster without whose killing man cannot live." Hypnotized by the false "you shall be like God, knowing good and evil," which since Socrates has become the principle of thought for all times, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche themselves directed all their powers to convincing man that he must renounce "the things that are not in our power" and that "happiness is not the reward of virtue but virtue itself." "Arguments," whatever they may be, are incapable of shaking man's conviction regarding the omnipotence of Necessity. But under the blows of the malleus Dei, the so greatly scorned lugere et detestari are transformed into a new power that awakes us from our slumber and gives us the audacity to enter into a struggle against the monster. The horrors on which Necessity established itself are then turned against it. And in this supreme, mortal combat man perhaps succeeds in delivering himself from knowledge and reconquering true freedom, the freedom from knowledge which the first man had lost.

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