Real Pathétique

Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony is entitled Pathetique, which means passion. It is indeed a passionate piece, worthy of the name. Derived from the Latinised-Greek word pathetikos implies being ‘subjected’ to feeling. The French meaning of the word is different to its English sniggering counterpart, pathetic.

You can hear it cant you?  With a little spittle, the word in English is used as an ironic put down. Paaaaaathetic.

When we use the word we no longer mean that if something is pathetic it arouses pity, sympathy or compassion. No. Now it is uttered contempt and inadequacy of somebody’s behaviour or performance. It was not perfect, so it was pathetic.

It is what many think Zarathustra’s (Nietzsche’s antag/protagonist) Übermensch would say about the idealism embodied in the book of Romans at the end of chapter 12, in which St. Paul outlines what the public reputation of Christians should be.

It was while reading a TNIV Bible without chapters, segment headings and verses, given to me by my Dad, that I noticed that the section which the ESV study bible (also from my Dad) called Marks of the True Christian comes before the classic Romans 13 section on the proper relationship between the Church and State. This segment in the ESV is entitled: Submission to the Authorities.Nietzsche (Because I was reading The Books of  the Bible the parts bled into each other because I did not have some superimposed word maker in the book).

It was a surprise because I have not really heard a sermon (that I can remember) about the churches public witness in its relation to the state, which took the parts of chapter 12 as part of what St. Paul may have thought was what the church should be about, when relating to what we today call the public sphere. Hence it relates directly to my previous post, about the church needing to earn our liberty.

Take these three movements in the passage. First Paul talks about internal church relations: “Let your love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection… be patient in tribulation (hard times, persecution etc), be constant in prayer.” Unambiguously talking about helping fellow Christians “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” v13

High angle view of a brass compass on a red brick floorThen there is a section about how to relate to people in the church but also people outside the church. In other words, Paul is describing a Christian humanism: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own site. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

He continues more poignantly about how Christians should relate to people who are not Christians which segways very neatly into the passage on how to relate to the authority of the state. Paul writes: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

And finally he introduces the element of subversive love so alien to our self centred thinking about justice: “To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Most profoundly: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

At the risk of committing hermeneutical violence and confusing peoples reading or understanding of Nietzsche, I will introduce a quote from Zarathustra who says:

“I love those who do not first seek beyond the stars for reasons to go down and to be sacrifices: but who sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth may one day belong to the Superman” Emily Bronte

This quote too, surprised me, because it talks about the weakness which Nietzsche perceived the church and believers to have. That is  in seeking ahead, distracting ourselves from what will be “in heaven,” rather than on this earth. I think Nietzsche understood the Lutheran churches teaching in the 19th century too well, and recognised the link to platonic (an thus non Christian) teaching of the church at the time about eschatology. As I would, he belittled such “romantic” but also profoundly unreal thinking about “the now and not yet”.

But I think he goes too far in endorsing a kind of selfish, and cruel Übermensch. His vision for what was good about the very real earthly human was too weak. Indeed it was pathetic, but this time in the French version of the word. His vision of the Übermensch was Pathetique.

For: “’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Recognizes the power of love in a way that the oft cynical use of the word pathetic does not, Tchaikovsky’s vision for passion sounds to me like a call to embody the real Super Human from Romans: “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

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