The Elevation of the Individual In the Christian Story

The following is an excerpt from Erich Auerbach’s 1929 publication, Dante: Poet of the Secular World


‘The story of Christ is more than the parousia of the logos, more than the manifestation of the idea. In it the idea is subjected to the problematic character and desperate injustice of earthly happening. Considered in itself that is, without the posthumous and never fully actualized triumph in the world, as the mere story of Christ on earth, it is so hopelessly terrible that the certainty of an actual, concretely, tangible correction in the hereafter remains the only issue, the only salvation from irrevocable despair. Consequently, Christian eschatological conceptions took on an unprecedented concreteness and intensity; this world has meaning only in reference to the next; in itself it is a meaningless torment. But the otherworldly character of justice did not, as it would have where the classical spirit prevailed, detract from the value of earthly destiny or from man’s obligation to submit to it. The stoic or Epicurean withdrawal of the philosopher from his destiny, his endeavor for release from the chain of earthly happening, his determination to remain at least inwardly free from earthly ties – all that is completely un-Christian. For to redeem fallen mankind the incarnated truth had subjected itself without reserve to earthly destiny. That was the end of the eudaemonism which was the foundation of ancient ethics: as Christ had taught by his presence on earth, it was the Christian’s duty to do atonement and suffer trials by taking destiny upon himself, by submitting to the sufferings of the creature. The drama of earthly life took on a painful, immoderate, and utterly un-classical intensity, because it is at once a wrestling with evil and the foundation of God’s judgement to come. In diametrical opposition to the ancient feeling, earthly self-abnegation was no longer regarded as a way from the concrete to the abstract, from the particular to the universal. What presumption to strive for theological serenity when Christ himself lived in continuous conflict! Inner tension was insuperable, and, like acceptance of earthly destiny, an necessary consequence of the story of Christ. In both cases man’s individuality is humbled, but it is, and must be, preserved. Not only is Christian humility far more compelling and more concrete, one might, almost say more worldly, than Stoic apathy, but through awareness of man’s inevitable sinfulness, it also does far more to intensify man’s awareness of his unique, inescapable personality. And the story of Christ revealed not only the intensity of personal life but also its diversity and the wealth of its forms, for it transcended the limits of ancient mimetic aesthetics. Here man has lost his earthly dignity; everything can happen to him, and the classical division of genres has vanished; the distinction between the sublime and vulgar style exists no longer, In the Gospels, as in ancient comedy, real persons of all classes make their appearance: fishermen and kings, high priests, publicans, and harlots participate in the action; and neither do those of exalted rank act in the style of classical tragedy, nor do the lowly behave as in a farce; quite the contrary, all social and aesthetic limits have been effaced. On the stage there is room for all human diversity, whether we consider the cast of characters as a whole or each character singly; each individual is fully legitimated, but not on any social grounds; regardless of his earthly position, his personality is developed to the utmost, and what befalls him is neither sublime nor base; even Peter, not to mention Jesus, suffers profound humiliation. The depth and scope of the naturalism in the story of Christ are unparalleled; neither the poets nor the historians of antiquity had the opportunity or the power to narrate human events in that way.”

One thought on “The Elevation of the Individual In the Christian Story

  1. Hi Jed,

    Practical faith in the everyday life is where believers are truly made. Like you shared the humility of Christ is very appealing and speaks volumes.



    On Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 10:54 PM ST. JUDE’S TAVERN wrote:

    > jedidiahpaschall posted: “The following is an excerpt from Erich > Auerbach’s 1929 publication, Dante: Poet of the Secular World – ‘The story > of Christ is more than the parousia of the logos, more than the > manifestation of the idea. In it the idea is subjected to the problematic ” >


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