In Demian, Hermann Hesse draws on a wide range of cultural allusions. One of the most recognizable is the figure of Beatrice, the heavenly beloved familiar from the works of Dante Alighieri. Less recognisable, because carefully hidden, is what Hesse, through his protagonist, makes of the beloved. Strange as it may seem, Emil Sinclair’s quest for himself, which is the theme and purpose of the novel, requires her murder.
The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung, straddled an uneasy divide between science and mysticism. One of his most enigmatic texts carries the title ‘Septem Sermones ad Mortuos and Basilides’ (Seven Sermons to the Dead and Basilides). Jungians see in ‘Septem Sermones’ the prefiguration of all of the master’s later work. What strikes me most of all is its nihilism.
Germany in the first half of 1919. Disgruntled soldiers trudge home from a war they cannot believe they have lost. The Kaiser is in exile. The reigning noble houses have vanished, swept into history by the so-called November Revolution. Coups d’etat are in open preparation. Violence is everywhere. In this volatile climate, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’ found enthusiastic readers.
Five hundred years ago, the German reformer, Martin Luther, confronted the awesome power of the Roman Church, and discovered that he was free. Not only that, he discovered that every Christian is free, because freedom is what is taught by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His argument is presented in the Tract, ‘On the Freedom of a Christian’. The following is an attempt by an interested non-specialist, myself, to read this work and consider some of its meaning.
The disgraced Australian Cardinal, George Pell, may yet be rehabilitated. Now that the High Court of Australia has quashed his conviction for the sexual abuse of boys, he has returned to the Vatican. Whether a senior role will be assigned to him once more is not yet clear.
I wanted only to live the life that was struggling by itself to come out of me. Why was that so very hard? These fervent words are prepended as a motto to Hermann Hesse’s coming-of-age novel, Demian, which was first published in 1919. More a cry than a question, it must have established for Hesse the central issue of the story. In fact, it wasn’t hard, at all.
Fr. Maurice Bellière was adopted by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux as her ‘little brother.’ She told him that she would return after her death to help him with his missionary vocation. Fr. Bellière ended up a dismal failure. In exploring his story, this essay asks whether Saint Thérèse kept her promises.
Whether it originated from police interrogations, from the febrile imaginations of anti-semitic journalists and priests, or from the murky thoughts of the conspirator, ‘Nubius’, the ‘Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita’ anticipated to a high degree what has become of the Roman Catholic Church.
“I always wanted only the best for Germany.” In the prison yard, the rifles of the firing squad were at the ready. The condemned man, seeing their nervousness, tried to calm them. They shouldn’t blame themselves, he said. They were only doing their duty. He himself stood strong. “Shoot well, comrades,” he finished, looking each of them in the eye.
Vogelschiss. Birdshit. A German politician used this word recently to describe the National Socialist regime which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was looking for a new perspective, one which would reduce the Nazi dictatorship to proportion in a thousand years of mostly successful German history. Elections were in the offing, and he may have felt that he needed attention. Because I am reluctant to give him any, he will be referred to here as Mr. Bird, leaving out the second syllable.