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Hannah Arendt

“Action is, in fact, the one miracle-working faculty of man, as Jesus of Nazareth, whose insights into this faculty can be compared in their originality and unprecedentedness with Socrates’ insights into the possibilities of thought, must have known very well when he likened the power to forgive to the more general power of performing miracles, putting both on the same level and within the reach of man.

The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, ‘natural’ ruin is ultimately the fact of natality, in which the faculty of action is ontologically rooted. It is, in other words, the birth of new men and the new beginning, the action they are capable of by virtue of being born. Only the full experience of this capacity can bestow upon human affairs faith and hope, those two essential characteristics of human existence which Greek antiquity ignored altogether… It is this faith in and hope for the world that found perhaps its most glorious and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their ‘glad tidings’: ‘A child has been born unto us.'”

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A surprising pronouncement from the end of the fifth chapter (“Action”) in Hannah Arendt’s 1958 book The Human Condition.

It’s striking how frequently Jesus and Socrates are compared or counterposed, especially in works of philosophy. Perhaps this trend stems from the fact that each figure works as a respective stand-in for Tertullian’s Jerusalem-Athens paradigm, though there’s probably more to it. One of the more worthwhile recent musings on this matter came from Cornell West, who when presenting his testimony spoke of a historico-philosophical question which he found particularly interesting: “I sometimes wonder why Jesus never laughed and Socrates never cried.”

Hannah Arendt4