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Novalis, "Christendom or Europe" [Die Christenheit oder Europa] (1799)

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Such were the fine essential characteristics of the truly Catholic or truly Christian times. For this splendid kingdom mankind was not ripe, not developed enough. It was a first love, which died away amid the press of business life, whose memory was crowded out by selfish cares, and whose bond – afterwards cried down as imposture and illusion and judged in the light of subsequent experiences – was sundered forever by a large proportion of Europeans. This great inner cleavage, which was attended by destructive wars, was a noteworthy sign of the harmfulness of culture to the sense for the Invisible, or at least of the temporary harmfulness of the culture of a certain stage. Annihilated that immortal sense cannot be, but it can be troubled, lamed, crowded out by other senses. Protracted intercourse of human beings decreases their affections, their belief in their race, and accustoms them to devoting their entire aim and endeavor solely to the means of wellbeing. Their needs and the devices for the satisfaction of their needs become more complex; and the greedy man requires so much time to get to know them and to acquire skills in them, that no time is left for the quiet composure of the spirit, for attentive observation of the inner world. In cases of conflict, present concerns seem to touch him more nearly, and thus faith and love, the fair blossoms of his youth, fall and yield place to the tarter fruits, knowledge and possessions. In late autumn one recalls the springtime as a childish dream, and with childish simplicity one hopes that the full granary will hold out forever. A certain solitariness seems to be necessary for the thriving of the higher senses, and hence a too extensive association of persons one with another will inevitably choke out many a sacred stalk and frighten away the gods who flee the unquiet tumult of distracted societies and the transactions of petty occasions.

We have, moreover, to do with times and periods, and for such, is not an oscillation, an alternation of opposing movements, essential? And is limited duration not characteristic of them? Is growth and decline not their nature? But also, is not resurrection and rejuvenation in new and vigorous form to be expected with certainty of them? Progressive, ever augmenting evolutions are the stuff of history. What now does not attain fulfillment, will attain it upon a future trial or upon a reiterated one. Nothing is perishable which history has taken up. Out of untold transmutations it emerges again in ever riper forms. Christianity had once appeared in full force and splendor; down to a new world-inspiration its ruin and its Letter endured amid ever increasing feebleness and derision. Infinite inertia lay heavy upon the now safe guild of the clergy. In the feeling of its esteem and its comfort it had stopped moving, while the laity had wrested experience and erudition from its hands and had taken mighty strides ahead of it on the way to culture. In the forgetfulness of its true office, which was to be the first among men in intellect, insight, and culture, base desires had grown rank, and the vulgarity and baseness of their mode of thinking became still more repugnant because of their garb and their vocation. Thus respect and confidence, the props of this and every kingdom, fell gradually away, and therewith that guild was undone. The actual mastery of Rome had, long before the violent insurrection, silently ceased to be. Merely clever, and therefore also merely transient, measures still held the corpse of the organization together and protected it from too rapid dissolution, into which category fell, for example, primarily the abolition of marriage for the clergy – a measure which, applied analogously, could bestow a redoubtable solidity upon the parallel military caste and confer upon it long extension of life. What was more natural than that finally a mind quick to take flame should preach open rebellion against the despotic Letter of the former organization, and with all the greater success because he himself was a member of the guild.

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