Psalm 8:5 asks the question, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, the son of man, that you care for him?”2 Because the question “What is man?” can only be answered meaningfully in relation to God, we must ask the question “What is man?” in the Christian sense of the question, and to answer it we must read the Gospel.
When we look at the Gospel,3 what strikes us first is the significance attached to the fact that man is ill, physically ill. We need only contrast with this the Greek ideal of humanity, the man of athletic competition, who exposes his naked body to the sun, in order to see that in the Greek instance illness is hardly something to be regarded as proper to human beings. But in the Gospel’s characterization of mankind, illness is strikingly emphasized as an important factor. From the beginning of the Son of Man’s appearance to the end of his public ministry, human beings show up before him with every conceivable kind of illness, from fever to blindness, from paralysis to leprosy. In this way, a quite distinctive view of mankind is expressed. Man is seen [End Page 164] not insofar as he is normal and healthy, but insofar as he is physically defective. Illness belongs to the very definition of the human person who encounters the Son of Man.
But it isn’t enough that man appears in the first instance as ill; he is also described as plagued by demons. Already at Jesus’s first appearance in the synagogue, the spirit of an unclean demon draws attention to itself, having taken possession of someone: “He cried aloud, ‘Alas, what do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, you are the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus threatened him and said, ‘Silence! Depart from him!’ Then the demon cast him down in their midst, doing him no harm, and came out of him” (Lk 4:34–35). We rightly notice that the demonic side of humanity appears before the Son of Man as something negative. The “sacred disease”4 loses its holiness before the Holy One of God. The demonic human being, or more precisely the demon in the human being, is reduced to silence, meaning that before the Son of Man, even the “genius” must be struck dumb.5
Exorcisms of demons, like the curing of illnesses, mark the entire course of Jesus’s ministry. And when Christ sends out the “Twelve” or the “Seventy,” the following is explicitly noted: “And he endowed them with power and authority over demons, and the power to heal illnesses.” This is proof that Jesus’s view of man has passed on to his Church. Man is not only physically defective, but at the same time he is possessed by an alien spirit who robs him of his self-determination: “See, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him, so that he foams at the mouth” (Lk 9:39). Demonic possession is more than illness; behind every case of possession lurks a mysterious knowledge about something, something, however, that cannot be known but only believed. “Right after sunset, they all brought him their sick, who suffered from many kinds of affliction. He laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. From many he also drove out demons. And they cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, for they knew that he was the Messiah” (Lk 4:40–41). It is [End Page 165] evening. The sun has already set. The Sabbath is over. A great mass of the possessed croaks out to the world: “You are the Son of God.” We get the sense here that, consciously or unconsciously, a quite specific symbolism is being expressed. The Sabbath is ended. The world’s evening is at hand. The demons have left their dwellings in men’s bodies. Do we not hear them still in Nietzsche’s outcry, “Dionysius against the Crucified,” that Nietzsche...