“The most beautiful time was Christmas”

Martin Heidegger, before he became the 20th century’s greatest philosopher and infamous for a morally questionable life, was a devout Catholic. His father was the sexton in their parish. Martin and his brother helped. Below is taken from Rüdiger Safranski’s biography of Heidegger:

The “sexton lads,” Martin and his younger brother, Fritz, had to help with the church services. They were servers, they picked flowers to decorate the church, they ran errands for the priest, and they rang the bells. There were–as Heidegger recalls in On the Secret of the Bell Tower (Vom Geheimnis des Glockenturms)–seven bells in the tower, each with its own name, its own sound, and its own time. There was the “Four,” to be rung at four in the afternoon; the “Alarm Bell,” which roused the town’s sleepers from their slumber; and the “Three,” which was also the knell. The “Child” rang for sunday school and for rosary worship; the “Twelve” marked the end of morning lessons at the school; the “Klanei” was the bell struck by the hour hammer; and the one with the most beautiful ring was the “Big One”; it would ring on the eve and on the morning of high holidays. Between Maundy Thursday and Easter Saturday the bells were silent; instead there were rattles. A cranking handle set in motion a number of little hammers that struck against hard wood. A rattle stood in each of the four corners of the tower, and the boy bell ringers had to work the handles in turn to ensure that the harsh sound went out in all four directions of the compass The most beautiful time was Christmas. Toward half past three in the morning, the boy ringers would come to the sextion’s house, where mother Heidegger had laid the table with cakes and milky coffee. After this breakfast, lanterns were lit in the front-door passage, and everyone went out through the snow and the winter’s night to the church opposite and up into the dark bell tower to the frozen ropes and ice-covered clappers. “The mysterious fuge,” Martin Heidegger wrote, “in which the church feasts, the days of vigil, and the passage of the seasons and the morning, midday, and evening hours of each day fitted into each other, so that a continual ringing went through the young hearts, dreams, prayers, and games–it is this, probably that conceals one of the most magical, most complete, and most lasting secrets of the tower.” (Safranski 7)

That image of the boys going out into the snow around four in the morning to climb the bell tower and ring the bells is beautiful. These are the kinds of things we have lost in our frantic grasping after modernism and progress.


Cited works:
Safranski, Rüdiger. Martin Heidegger: between Good and Evil. Translated by Ewald Osers, Harvard University Press, 2002.

2 Comments

  1. I am surprised. I used to read persons who had morally questionable lives before becoming devoutly Catholics. I. e. about saints not vain though sentimental memories of their exact opposites referring to the true religion as something “magical”.

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