In the first place: According to this human conception of him he should have been a most generous and sympathetic person, and at the same time possessed of all qualifications requisite for being able to help in all troubles of this world, ennobling the help thus extended by a profound and heartfelt human compassion. Withal (so they would imagine him) he should also have been a man of some distinction and not without a certain amount of human self-assertion—the consequence of which would be, however, that he would neither have been able, in his compassion, to reach down to all sufferers, nor yet to have comprehended, fully what constitutes the misery of man and of mankind. But divine compassion, the infinite unconcern which takes thought only of those that suffer, and not in the least of one’s self, and which with absolute unconcern takes thought of all that suffer: that will always seem to men only a kind of madness, and they will ever be puzzled whether to laugh or to weep about it. Even if nothing else had militated against the inviter, this alone would have beer sufficient to make his lot hard in the world.
Let a man but try a little while to practice divine compassion, that is, to be somewhat unconcerned in his compassion., and you will at once perceive what the opinion of mankind would be. For example: let one who could occupy some higher rank in society, let him not (preserving all the while the distinction of his position) lavishly give to the poor, and philanthropically (i.e. in a superior fashion) visit the poor and the sick and the wretched—no, let him give up altogether the distinction of his position and in all earnest choose the company of the poor and the lowly, let him live altogether with the people, with workmen, hodmen, mortarmixers, and the like! Ah, in a quiet moment, when not actually beholding him, most of us will be moved to tears by the mere thought of it; but no sooner would they see him in this company—him who might have attained to honor and dignity in the world—see him walking along in such goodly company, with a bricklayer’s apprentice on his right side and a cobbler’s boy on his left, but—well, what then? First they would devise a thousand explanations to explain that it is because of queer notions, or obstinacy, or pride, or vanity that he chooses this mode of life. And even if they would refrain from attributing to him these evil motives they will never be reconciled with the sight of him—in this company. The noblest person in the world will be tempted to laugh, the moment he sees it.
And if all the clergymen in the world, whether in velvet or in silk or in broadcloth or in satin, contradicted me I would say: “You lie, you only deceive people with your Sunday sermons. Because it will always be possible for a contemporary to say about one so compassionate (who, it is to be kept in mind, is our contemporary): “I believe he is actuated by vanity, and that is why I laugh and mock at him; but if he were truly compassionate, or had I been contemporary with him, the noble one—why then!” And now, as to those exalted ones “who were not understood by men”—to speak in the fashion of the usual run of sermons—why, sure enough, they are dead. In this fashion these people succeed in playing hide and seek. You simply assume that every contemporary who ventures out so far is actuated only by vanity; and as to the departed, you assume that they are dead and that they, therefore, were among the glorious ones.