ancient tragedy and modern pain

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m thinking Elder Paisios and Kierkegaard may not be that far apart on this.

“The same applies to children. They inherit a fault for which they are not responsible, but they should not blame their parents for it. They have an independent and free will and can discard their “inheritance,” if they decide they don’t want it and don’t love it.

In my opinion, the person who has unwillingly inherited the evil, and strives to get rid of it, is more praiseworthy than the one who has inherited good qualities from his parents and was never forced to struggle to acquire it; the first one fought for it, whereas the second one found it ready. God’s judgment will take this fact into consideration. When, for instance, a child has a father who is a thief, he will also learn to steal, if he lacks good will and finally accepts his father’s inheritance. Go will be very lenient in judging this child, as he inherited the tendency to steal from his father, when he was still very young, and could not differentiate between good and evil.” (p. 125, 126 Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, by Piestmonk Christodoulos

“This also turns out to be the case with tragic guilt. Our age has lost all the substantial categories of family, state, kindred; it must turn the single individual over to himself completely in such a way that, strictly speaking, he becomes his own creator. Consequently his guilt is sin, his pain repentance, but thereby the tragic is canceled. Furthermore, suffering tragedy in the stricter sense has essentially lost its tragic interest, for the power that is the source of the suffering has lost its meaning, and the spectator shouts: Help yourself, and heaven will help you – in other words, the spectator has lost compassion, but in a subjective and also in an objective sense compassion is the authentic expression of the tragic.” (p. 149, Either/Or)

“Intrinsically, the tragic is infinitely gentle; esthetically it is to human life what divine grace and compassion are; it is even more benign, and therefore I say that it is a motherly love that lulls the troubled one. The ethical is rigorous and hard. Therefore, if a criminal before the judge wants to excuse himself by saying that his mother had a propensity for stealing, especially during the time she was pregnant with him, the judge obtains the health officer’s opinion of his mental condition and decides that he is dealing with a thief and not with the thief’s mother. Insofar as the issue here is a crime, the sinner certainly cannot flee into the temple of esthetics, but nevertheless it will indeed have a mitigating word for him. But it would be wrong for him to seek refuge there, for his path takes him to the religious, not to the esthetic. The esthetic lies behind him, and it would be a new sin on his part to seize the esthetic now. The religious is the expression for fatherly love, for it embraces the ethical, but it is mitigated, and by what means – by the very same means that give the tragic its gentleness, by means of continuity…. In a certain sense, therefore, it is a very appropriate discretion on the part of the age to want to make the individual responsible for everything; the trouble is that it does not do it profoundly and inwardly enough, and hence its half-measures. It is conceited enough to disdain the tears of tragedy, but it is also conceited enough to want to do without mercy. And what, after all, is human life, the human race, when these two things are taken away? Either the sadness of the tragic or the profound sorrow and profound joy of religion. Or is this not the striking feature of everything that originates in that happy people – a depression of spirit, a sadness in their art, in their poetry, in their life, in their joy?” (p. 145,146 Either/Or)

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