Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is rightly famous for diagnosing God as deceased, for taking the project of human self-overcoming onto his own shoulders, for praying for the advent of the Antichrist/Antinihilist, and conjuring a new post-Judaeo-Christian religion made out of eternal recurrence, the will to power, and Zarathustra yea-saying to Life, Life, Life.
Whooo! A thick German beer with a head on it.
He was also a boy genius with early academic achievements and a professorate in philology before his doctorate (other famous philologists: Tolkien and the Ransom of Lewis’ space trilogy). And as late as age 18, he was writing things like this:
Thou hast called me:
Lord, I hasten to thy throne and there remain.
Blazing with love to thy compassionate eyes
Gaze sorrowfully into my heart:
Lord, I come.
I was lost, perplexed and dejected,
Destined for Hell and torment.
But I saw thee from afar,
And thy glance, intense with life,
Lighted constantly upon me:
Now I come gladly to thee.
I am filled with horror at the dark power of sin,
And I cannot look back.
I must not lose thee,
At night, terrified and oppressed, I see thee,
I see thee and I cannot let thee go.
Thou art so gentle, true and kind,
So loving, thou dear Saviour of sinners!
Appease my longing,
Let my soul and my thoughts rest in thy love
And remain forever with thee.
(From Nietzsche’s Wereke und Briefe: Historisch-kiritsche Gesamtausgabe, volume II, p. 80.)
What happened to young Fritz Nietzsche? “I must not lose thee… I cannot let thee go.” What did the young man see of the “horror at the dark power of sin” and the “glance, intense with life,” of the “gentle, true and kind … dear Saviour of sinners!” How did he become incapable of seeing either as he emerged into adulthood? If anyone’s de-conversion from Christian faith ever set off seismic disturbances, Nietzsche’s did. The trouble he caused is still with us, gaining momentum. The forces that found their voice through his work are mighty principalities, with powers of persuasion still mounting all the time.
I knew of Nietzsche’s youthful devotion and mature atheism. What surprised me when I found this poem is its late date: age eighteen!