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Johannes opens his eulogy with the suggestion that life would be little more than despair if it were meaningless, if generation followed generation with no sign of change or progress. Because life is not meaningless, Johannes suggests, God has created the hero and the poet. The poet is "recollection's genius," who attaches to the hero and immortalizes him. No one who is great will ever be forgotten, as a poet will eventually come for every hero.
Everyone, Johannes elaborates, is great, and everyone will be remembered by the degree to which they loved, to which they expected, and to which they struggled. One man may become great by virtue of himself by loving himself, by expecting the possible, and by struggling with the world. Another may become great by loving other men, by expecting the eternal, and by struggling with himself. But the greatest of all becomes great by loving God, by expecting the impossible, and by struggling with God. Abraham was the greatest of all precisely because of his faith in God.
Johannes recapitulates the story of Abraham in order to highlight his greatness. Abraham left his home for an unknown land at God's bidding, but he didn't lament his fate as Ovid did when he was banished from Rome. God promised Abraham a son who would carry on his line and make him father to a nation. Time passed, Abraham became old, and soon it became impossible for Abraham to have children. Still, Abraham never lost faith in God. He would have been great to relinquish his desire happily and accept his fate, but Abraham was greater still in not giving up on his desire at all.
Finally, against all possibility, God blessed Abraham with a son in Isaac. But then God mocked Abraham by demanding Isaac in sacrifice, by taking away the posterity he had promised Abraham. Still, Abraham had faith in God. Johannes points out that this faith of Abraham's was not just faith for the next life: Abraham had been promised and expected a great name and a great family on this earth and so his hopes were firmly planted in this life. Otherwise, death might have been an outlet for Abraham. Johannes points out that Abraham also never doubted: if he had doubted, he might have offered himself in sacrifice instead, earning himself eternal admiration, but ceasing to be "a guiding star that saves the anguished."
When God spoke to Abraham and commanded him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham simply said, "Here I am." He didn't beg or tremble, nor did he even go reluctantly: Abraham left cheerfully for Mount Moriah without saying a word to anyone. After all, who could understand him?
Many fathers have lost children, but no case has been like this. First of all, Isaac was not just a son, but was the impossible son of a man who had been promised as many successors as there were grains of sand on the beaches and stars in the sky. Second, Abraham was not just losing Isaac, but was being told to do the killing himself.
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