Dominion over the suffering is his kingdom, that is where his instinct directs him, here he possesses his distinctive art, his mastery, his kind of happiness… He must be sick himself… but he must also be strong, master of himself even more than of others, with his will to power intact, so as to be both trusted and feared by the sick, so as to be their support, resistance, prop, compulsion, taskmaster, tyrant, and god (Essay 3 S15).As Paul Ricoeur notes, ‘[t]his passion is all the more treacherous for it believes itself to be serving the truth’ (History and Truth, p.179). This truth is what Nietzsche calls an “ascetic ideal,” shaped by religious and ethical beliefs and practices, which forms the ‘moral basis of pastoral power’ (Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.241) and acts as the ‘best instrument of power’ and the ‘supreme license for power’ (On the Genealogy of Morals, Essay 3 S1). That ascetic ideals might function to legitimise the power of its priestly keepers is clear. As an instrument of power, however, ascetic ideals also enable priests to apply their power since these ideals and values are, for Nietzsche, the origin of guilt and bad conscience. Nietzsche describes Greek gods as ‘those reflections of noble and autocratic men, in whom the animal in man felt deified and did not lacerate itself, did not rage against itself!’ – a projection which enabled the Greeks to avoid guilt about desires and actions, ‘the very opposite,’ Nietzsche writes, ‘of the use to which Christianity puts its God,’ which functions to instead encourage bad conscience (Essay 2 S23). Evil as an expression of resentment and an instrument of revenge is thereby applied by Christians to themselves, and this “guilt before God” is then exploited by priestly power.
“I suffer: someone must be to blame for it” – thus thinks every sickly sheep. But his shepherd, the ascetic priest, tells him: “Quite so, my sheep! someone must be to blame for it: but you yourself are this someone… you alone are to blame for yourself!” – This is brazen and false enough: but one thing at least is achieved by it, the direction of ressentiment is altered (Essay 3 S15).In needing to be shepherd of the ‘sickly sheep,’ priestly power manipulates both weakness and guilt into fear and trust. In this way, Christian virtue is, according to Nietzsche, ‘the cunning of impotence.’ An impotent slave morality says, ‘[w]e weak ones are, after all, weak; it would be good if we did nothing for which we are not strong enough,’ making a virtue of weakness and turning ‘anxious lowliness into “humility”; subjection to those one hates into “obedience”… [and] inability for revenge is called unwillingness to revenge, perhaps even forgiveness,’ such that impotence becomes ‘a voluntary achievement, willed, chosen, a deed, a meritorious act’ (Essay 1 SS13-14).