The Peasant Revolt of the Spirit. We Europeans find ourselves in view of an immense world of ruins, where some things still tower aloft, while other objects stand mouldering and dismal, where most things however already lie on the ground, picturesque enough - where were there ever finer ruins? - overgrown with weeds, large and small. It is the Church which is this city of decay: we see the religious organisation of Christianity shaken to its deepest foundations. The belief in God is overthrown, the belief in the Christian ascetic ideal is now fighting its last fight. Such a long and solidly built work as Christianity - it was the last construction of the Romans! - could not of course be demolished all at once; every sort of earthquake had to shake it, every sort of spirit which perforates, digs, gnaws and moulders had to assist in the work of destruction. But that which is strangest is that those who have exerted themselves most to retain and preserve Christianity, have been precisely those who did most to destroy it, - the Germans. It seems that the Germans do not understand the essence of a Church. Are they not spiritual enough, or not distrustful enough to do so? In any case the structure of the Church rests on a southern freedom and liberality of spirit, and similarly on a southern suspicion of nature, man, and spirit, - it rests on a knowledge of man, an experience of man, entirely different from what the north has had. The Lutheran Reformation in all its length and breadth was the indignation of the simple against something "complicated." To speak cautiously, it was a coarse, honest misunderstanding, in which much is to be forgiven, - people did not understand the mode of expression of a victorious Church, and only saw corruption; they misunderstood the noble scepticism, the luxury of scepticism and toleration which every victorious, self-confident power permits.... One overlooks the fact readily enough at present that as regards all cardinal questions concerning power Luther was badly endowed; he was fatally short-sighted, superficial and imprudent - and above all, as a man sprung from the people, he lacked all the hereditary qualities of a ruling caste, and all the instincts for power; so that his work, his intention to restore the work of the Romans, merely became involuntarily and unconsciously the commencement of a work of destruction. He unravelled, he tore asunder with honest rage, where the old spider had woven longest and most carefully. He gave the sacred books into the hands of everyone, - they thereby got at last into the hands of the philologists, that is to say, the annihilators of every belief based upon books. He demolished the conception of "the Church" in that he repudiated the belief in the inspiration of the Councils: for only under the supposition that the inspiring spirit which had founded the Church still lives in it, still builds it, still goes on building its house, does the conception of "the Church" retain its power. He gave back to the priest sexual intercourse: but three-fourths of the reverence of which the people (and above all the women of the people) are capable, rests on the belief that an exceptional man in this respect will also be an exceptional man in other respects. It is precisely here that the popular belief in something superhuman in man, in a miracle, in the saving God in man, has its most subtle and insidious advocate. After Luther had given a wife to the priest, he had to take from him auricular confession; that was psychologically right: but thereby he practically did away with the Christian priest himself, whose profoundest utility has ever consisted in his being a sacred ear, a silent well, and a grave for secrets. "Every man his own priest" - behind such formulas and their bucolic slyness, there was concealed in Luther the profoundest hatred of "higher men," and of the rule of "higher men," as the Church had conceived them. Luther disowned an ideal which he did not know how to attain, while he seemed to combat and detest the degeneration thereof. As a matter of fact, he, the impossible monk, repudiated the rule of the homines religiosi he consequently brought about precisely the same thing within the ecclesiastical social order that he combated so impatiently in the civic order, - namely a "peasant insurrection." As to all that grew out of his Reformation afterwards, good and bad, which can at present be almost counted up - who would be naive enough to praise or blame Luther simply on account of these results? He is innocent of all; he knew not what he did. The art of making the European spirit shallower especially in the north, or more good-natured, if people would rather hear it designated by a moral expression, undoubtedly took a clever step in advance in the Lutheran Reformation; and similarly there grew out of it the mobility and disquietude of the spirit, its thirst for independence, its belief in the right to freedom, and its "naturalness." If people wish to ascribe to the Reformation in the last instance the merit of having prepared and favoured that which we at present honour as "modern science," they must of course add that it is also accessory to bringing about the degeneration of the modern scholar, with his lack of reverence, of shame and of profundity; and that it is also responsible for all naive candour and plain-dealing in matters of knowledge, in short for the plebeianism of the spirit which is peculiar to the last two centuries, and from which even pessimism hitherto, has not in any way delivered us. "Modern ideas" also belong to this peasant insurrection of the north against the colder, more ambiguous, more suspicious spirit of the south, which has built itself its greatest monument in the Christian Church. Let us not forget in the end what a Church is, and especially in contrast to every "State": a Church is above all an authoritative organisation which secures to the most spiritual men the highest rank, and believes in the power of spirituality so far as to forbid all grosser appliances of authority. Through this alone the Church is under all circumstances a nobler institution than the State.

Friedrich Nietzsche - The Gay Science
Book V - Aphorism # 358

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