In Job's Balances \ III \ Children and Stepchildren of Time


     Another historical remark, necessarily only a short one.

     Two thousand years ago there came to the peoples of Europe the light out of the East - lux ex Oriente: the Bible. And the peoples of the West, as history tells us, received the light and saw in it the truth. But twenty years before the beginning of the Christian era there appeared in Alexandria a strange man called Philo. He was no great original thinker. He was no Plotinus, Descartes, or Spinoza. And yet fate, or in Hegel's words, the time-spirit, laid upon him a vast historical mission. He was chosen out to "reconcile" the Bible with Hellenic philosophy, the Logos with God. Philo fulfilled his mission, the Bible reconciled itself with the Logos and was thereafter accepted by the peoples of Europe.

     In what did this reconciliation consist? The doctrine of the Logos, as it is generally recognized today, reached its fullest flowering in the philosophy of the Stoa, with which it is inseparably bound up. The philosophy of the Stoa, indeed, determined the destinies of European thought to a far greater degree than is generally supposed. In the age after the Stoics no philosopher could be other than a Stoic. The Stoics declared: ps aphrn mainetai (all who do not submit themselves to reason are mad). Or, in Seneca's more popular but also plainer words: Si vis tibi omnia subjicere, te subjice rationi (if thou wouldst subject all under thyself, subject thyself to reason). Herein lies the essence of Stoicism. You must subject yourself at once, one single time, renounce yourself before the face of inexorable reason, "before the law" - and then the victory, any victory you please, is yours. I think it needs no particular perspicuity to discover here behind the Stoics' commandment Anaximander's old thought. Man has impiously, sinfully invaded free being, and the curse of sin cannot be lifted off him until he has admitted his sin and expiated his audacity (tolma) by eternal subservience to the super-personal, or rather, the impersonal principle. But what was in the beginning? Plotinus, the last great philosopher of antiquity, who epitomized everything that Hellenic thought had created before him, said: archi on ho logos kai panta logos (in the beginning was reason and all is reason). And accordingly the beginning of evil is man s audacious refusal to bow down before the preworldly Logos, the preworldly Law.

     Plotinus has still other motives. There was in Plotinus, as in Plato and also in Spinoza, a very strange complexio oppositorum; he combined in himself aspirations which were completely exclusive of each other. It was he who taught that we must dramen huper tn epistmn (transcend understanding) and exalted in incomparable psalms the ecstatic "escape", the emancipation from that very impersonal and soulless Logos-Law. But Plotinus the psalmist had no "historic" significance. A few - if eminent - men were inspired by him: Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Augustine, the mediaeval mystics. But this side of him remained quite alien to philosophy; philosophy needs no inspired hymns, but adequate, that is, clear and distinct ideas. Philosophy wishes to be itself an historic force, to exercise influence, conquer, dominate spirits, guide humanity. But we remember Seneca's frank admission: Wouldst thou subject all things under thyself, then subject thyself to reason, that is to the Logos. Even the Bible, that is, the Biblical philosophy, which had hitherto been the jealously guarded preserve of a small people, and had stood aside from the great historical arena, saw itself obliged to subject itself to the Logos, the moment it was called to enter the arena of the world and subject humanity under itself. Victory was not possible otherwise.

     Who is to be sent? Who will dare such a work? Philo undertook it. He, the first Apostle of the Gentiles, led the Bible before reason and forced it to bow down to it. The Bible contains everything that your sages teach - thus he "reconciled" the lux ex Oriente with that lumen naturale which had shone for so many centuries on the Hellenic world. This meant that the lux ex Oriente had to pale before the immortal sun of human reason. In the fourth Gospel the words were inserted, en archi n ho logos (in the beginning was the Word), and the civilized nations declared themselves ready to accept the Bible, since it contained everything whereby they had been accustomed to conquer.

     For fifteen hundred years the reason of European humanity endeavoured to quench the light come from the East. But the light refused to be quenched. And then was heard again the mysterious call: Whom shall I send, who will go for Me? The historians describe this under solemn names: renaissance of science and the arts. But no one, obviously not even the genius of Descartes, understood what was required. They all only went half-way. They all still reconciled the Bible with the Logos. Man hesitated, feared to lift his hand against his creator. They all preferred not to pose the fateful question. Better think, as had been usual since Philo, that reason did not contradict revelation. Or, as Descartes taught, that God cannot and will not cheat man, and that which the lumen naturale reveals to us cannot help but agree with what is revealed by the lumen supranaturale. Descartes was a thoroughly sincere man. If he did not revolt against the Bible, this was not at all, as Bossuet wrote and historians repeat after him, out of fear of the Church's persecutions. He feared indeed - and how greatly ! - but not the Church, but rather what is called in modern knowledge the verdict of conscience; what the more expressive terminology of the Middle Ages called the Last Judgment. To step out before men and proclaim that there is no God! To go and with one s own hand slay God, who had lived for so many thousands of years and from whom all men lived! De omnibus dubitandum, taught Descartes. And he could doubt much, very much, but one thing was indubitable for him: had God Himself commanded him to slay Him, he would not have dared such a crime. Man can commit a crime at God's wish, can sacrifice to God father and mother, his firstborn, aye, the whole world - but man cannot consciously slay his God, even did He himself command it with a clarity and distinctness which excluded any possibility of misinterpretation. Yet it is impossible not to fulfill God's will. Descartes became accomplice to the great crime of modernity. God can not cheat man; was that not the first blow dealt to God by one of the numerous conspirators - the involuntary somnambulists, if you will - of the Renaissance epoch? God cannot cheat, and there is much besides that God cannot do. Above God there is a whole series, a whole system of "cannots" to which men, in order to hide from themselves the sense and significance of them, have given the name veritates aeternae (eternal truths). When Descartes slew God, he thought that he was only saving science. And we remember that he rejoiced, was glad, sang. The whole age of the Renaissance, whose last representative he was, rejoiced and was glad. The night of mediaevalism was over! The clear light, cheerful morning had dawned.

     But the voice cried still: Whom shall I send? Who will go for Me? Who will deal the final blow? Where is that Brutus who will kill Caesar, his best friend and benefactor? And lo! as we said, Spinoza answered that call. He took a resolution that none before him had been able to take. Philo, we know, had "reconciled" the Bible with Hellenic wisdom, had made it appear as if by inspired interpretation of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics one could find in ancient philosophy a justification of the Bible. The Renaissance, up to and including Descartes, followed in Philo's footsteps. But of Spinoza more was required. Strangely enough, precisely that was required of him which the others had been spared, because it was harder, more impossible for him to do this than for any one else. He, who loved the Lord his God with all his heart and with all his soul - how often and how emphatically he speaks of this in his earlier works and in the Ethics - was condemned by God Himself to slay God. The time was ripe, man must slay God - but who can slay God like him who has loved Him above all else in the world? Or rather: only he can slay God who has loved Him above all treasures on earth. Only of such a one will men believe that he has in reality and not in words accomplished this crime of all crimes, this deed of all deeds.

     And verily, it is enough to look at Spinoza's eyes - not those, of course, which are shown in his portrait, but those gentle and inexorable eyes - oculi mentis, the eyes of the spirit which gaze out at us from his books and letters, and it is enough to hear his slow and heavy steps, the gait of the Commendatore's effigy, and all doubts will vanish. This man has committed the supreme crime and taken upon himself the whole super-human burden of responsibility for what was committed. Compare, I repeat once more, Spinoza with his great predecessor and master, Descartes; he has no trace of those impulsive joys and that care-free gaiety which fill the lyrical treatises of the latter, his Principia, Meditationes, Discours. Compare Spinoza with his remote successor Hegel. Hegel only lives from what he has received of Spinoza. But the crime was not committed by him, but by another. Hegel is the lawful owner of the "spiritual" possessions, and makes quiet and assured use of them, without at all suspecting or even troubling to ask in what way the wealth which he inherits was acquired. But Spinoza only repeats, again and again: non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere (laugh not, weep not, be not wroth, but understand). What can tears and curses avail? It is done, the dreadful deed is done, it cannot be repaired. And lastly - can a man laugh who has slain God? One must not laugh, no one will ever laugh again in the world.

     Or perhaps it is not so at all. The rest of humanity is innocent of Spinoza's crime, and not responsible for it. And Spinoza, after just saying that one must not laugh, nor weep, nor be wroth, teaches his neighbour, without even noticing that he might be caught out in a contradiction (he is beyond caring about contradictions) that he may take pleasure and laugh and enjoy all the delights in which daily life is so rich. For those men who do not even suspect what is hidden under the clear and distinct appearance, and what fearful things happen in the world - for them life, too, must be quiet and easy. They shall not, he says, poison their existence through fears and hopes - affectus metus et spei non possunt per se esse boni (the emotions of fear and hope cannot in themselves be good). Live without thought for anything, others take thought for you. The way which he has chosen for himself is a difficult, steep and painful one, fitted only for few, perhaps for one alone; omnia praeclara tam difficilia quam rara sunt (all noble things are as difficult as they are rare). Of this difficulty he tells us little, hardly anything. Only from time to time, as though against his will, admissions flicker up which, if collected and compared with what is commonly described as his teaching would make clear to us the meaning of what we, with Hegel, call the time-spirit, and at the same time of that which Hegel knew not and Spinoza himself described in the phrase "sub specie aeternitatis". If the time-spirit speaks out of a man, if he serves history, then, in spite of Hegel, not his true essence is there expressed, but what is most external, acquired, superficial in him, most foreign and even hostile to his inmost self. Obedient to the time-spirit, Spinoza recites Descartes' thoughts and praises clarity and distinctness. But at the bottom of his soul he like Pascal, honours and reveres mystery, hates and despises all that is clearly and distinctly cognized. The obvious is necessary for every man, for the mob, of which he says himself: "Terret vulgus nisi paveat" (the mob terrifies unless it is afraid). The mob must be kept in check, intimidated by laws and punishment for disobedience to the clear and distinct requirements of the law. But Spinoza himself forgot not the words of St. Paul that the law came that sin should prevail. The prophets and apostles heed neither time nor that history in which, according to Hegel, the spirit of the age develops. The spirit of the prophets and apostles bloweth as it listeth. Their truths are, in Spinoza's words, not truths of history but truths sub specie aeternitatis.

Orphus system

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