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But the vulgar view has a very poor understanding of despair. Among other things (to mention only one which, if rightly understood, would bring thousands, yea, millions under this category), it completely overlooks the fact that one form of despair is precisely this of not being in despair, that is, not being aware of it.
The vulgar view is exposed, though in a much deeper sense, to the same fallacy it sometimes falls into when it would determine whether a man is sick or not.
In a much deeper sense, I say, for the vulgar view has a far more inadequate notion of spirit than of sickness and health — and without understanding spirit it is impossible to understand despair.
It is ordinarily assumed that a man is well when he does not himself say that he is sick, and still more confidently when he says that he is well. The physician on the other hand regards sickness differently. And why?
Because he has a definite and well thought out conception of what it is to be in sound health, and by this he tests the man’s condition. The physician knows that just as there is sickness which is only imaginary, so also there is such a thing as fictitious health.
In the latter case, therefore, the physician first employs medicines to cause the disease to become manifest.
Generally the physician, just because he is a physician, i.e. the competent man, has no unconditional faith in a person’s own assertion about the state of his health.
If it were true that what every man says about the state of his health (as to whether he is sick or well, where he suffers, etc.) were absolutely to be relied upon, it would be an illusion to be a physician. For a physician does not merely have to prescribe medicines, but first and foremost he has to be acquainted with sickness, and so first and foremost to know whether a supposedly sick man really is sick, or whether a supposedly well man is not really sick.
So it is also with the physician of souls when dealing with despair.
He knows what despair is, he is acquainted with it, and hence he is not satisfied with a man’s assertion that he is in despair or that he is not. For it must be observed that in a certain sense not even all who say they are in despair always are so.
One may affect despair, and one may make a mistake and confuse despair with all sorts of transitory dejection or grief which pass away without coming to the point of despair.
However, the physician of souls does, it is true, regard these states also as forms of despair. He perceives very well that this is affectation — but precisely this affectation is despair. He perceives very well that this dejection etc. does not mean much — but precisely this fact, that it does not mean much, is despair.
Furthermore, the vulgar view overlooks the fact that, as compared with sickness, despair is much more dialectical than what is commonly called sickness, because it is a sickness of the spirit. And this dialectical quality, rightly understood, again brings thousands under the category of despair. For in case at a given moment a physician is convinced that this or that person is in good health and at a later moment becomes sick — the physician may be right in affirming that the person was well then, and at a later moment became sick.
With despair it is different.
As soon as despair manifests itself in a person, it is manifest that the person was in despair. For this reason one cannot at a given moment decide anything about a person who is not saved by the fact that he has been in despair. For in case the condition comes about which brings him to despair, it is at that same moment manifest that he has been in despair throughout the whole of his previous life.
On the other hand, one is by no means justified in saying, when a man has a fever, that he has had a fever throughout his whole life. But despair is a phenomenon of the spirit, is related to the eternal, and therefore has something of the eternal in its dialectic.
Not only is despair far more dialectical than an illness, but all its symptoms are dialectical, and for this reason the superficial view is so readily deceived in determining whether despair is present or not.
For not to be in despair may mean to be in despair, and it may also mean to be delivered from being in despair.
A sense of security and tranquillity may mean that one is in despair, precisely this security, this tranquillity, may be despair; and it may mean that one has overcome despair and gained peace.
In this respect despair is unlike bodily sickness; for not to be sick cannot possibly mean to be sick; but not to be despairing may mean precisely to be despairing. It is not true of despair, as it is of bodily sickness, that the feeling of indisposition is the sickness. By no means. The feeling of indisposition is again dialectical. Never to have been sensible of this indisposition is precisely to be in despair.
This points to the fact, and has its ground therein, that man, regarded as spirit, is always in a critical condition — and if one is to talk of despair, one must conceive of man as spirit. In relation to sickness we talk of a crisis, but not in relation to health.
And why not?
Because bodily health is an “immediate” qualification, and only becomes dialectical in sickness, when one can speak of the crisis.
But spiritually, or when man is regarded as spirit, both health and sickness are critical. There is no such thing as “immediate” health of the spirit.
So long as one does not regard man as spirit (in which case we cannot talk about despair) but only as a synthesis of soul and body, health is an “immediate” determinant, and only the sickness of soul or body is a dialectical determinant.
More to come in Piece XI…