Our reflection is now to be aimed at Nietzsche's metaphysics. His thinking sees itself under the sign of nihilism. That is the name for a historical movement, discerned by Nietzsche, which after dominating the preceding centuries has determined the current one. The interpretation of this movement Nietzsche concentrated into the brief statement: "God is dead."

One might suppose that "God is dead" expresses the belief of Nietzsche the atheist and hence that it is only a personal opinion and therefore biased, and thus also easily refuted by pointing out that everywhere today many people attend churches and endure hardships out of their Christian trust in God. Yet the question remains whether the word of Nietzsche which we quoted is only an extravagant view of a thinker whom it is easy to characterize correctly: he went mad in the end. It must still be asked whether Nietzsche, if anything, is not rather expressing [ausspricht] here the word that has always been implicitly [unausgesprochen] spoken within the metaphysically determined history of the West. Before reaching any position too hastily, we must first of all try to think "God is dead" in the way that it is intended. Hence we will do well to distance ourselves from the rash opinions that obtrude themselves at once at this terrible statement.

The following considerations are an attempt to comment on Nietzsche's word in a few essential respects. Let it again be stressed: Nietzsche's word gives the destiny of two millennia of Western history. And we, unprepared as all of us are together, we must not think that we will alter this destiny by a lecture about Nietzsche's statement or even learn to know it only adequately. Nonetheless, this one thing is now necessary: that out of reflection we are receptive to instruction and that on the way to instruction we learn to reflect.

Not only must any commentary gather the substance from the text, it must also, imperceptibly and without being too insistent, add something of its own to it, from its substance. This supplement is what the layman, regarding what he takes to be the content of the text, always feels as an interpolation; it is what he, with the right he arrogates to himself, criticizes as arbitrary. A proper commentary, however, never understands the text better than its author understood it, though it certainly understands it differently. Only this difference in understanding must be such that it encounters the same thing which the explicated text is meditating.

The first time Nietzsche pronounced "God is dead" was in the third book of La Gaya Scienza, published in 1882. This work was the beginning of Nietzsche's path toward developing his fundamental metaphysical position. It is between this work and the fruitless toil that went into shaping his planned masterwork that Thus Spoke Zarathustra was published. The planned

a First edition, 1950: denial and withholding.


Nietzsche's Word: “God Is Dead” (GA 5) by Martin Heidegger