Christian Discourses April 26, 1848

Søren Kierkegaard wrote upbuilding discourses beginning in 1843 with his Two Upbuilding Discourses May 16, 1843. He published twenty-one upbuilding discourses by 1845 with the publication of Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions April 29. He continued with Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits March 13, 1847 and The Works of Love Some Christian Reflections in the form of Discourses September 29, 1847. Numerous revolutions in took place on the European continent in the year that he published his Christian Discourses April 26, 1848. Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto February 29, 1848. Kierkegaard kept a journal beginning in 1832. He wrote the following March 27, 1848: “So here I sit. Outside everything is in movement, nationalism surges high in all, everyone talks of sacrificing life and blood, is perhaps ready to do it, but supported by the omnipotence of public opinion. And here I sit in a quiet room (doubtless I soon will be in bad repute for indifference to the national cause); I recognize only one danger: the religious danger.

Kierkegaard is best known for being against system building. He wrote as early as 1843: “This is not the system; it has not the least thing to do with the system. I invoke everything good for the system and for the Danish shareholders in this omnibus, for it will hardly become a tower. I wish them all, each and every one, success and good fortune.” (Fear and Trembling p. 8) These are Christian discourses but not systematic theology. Adam Wilhelm Moltke became the first Prime Minister of Denmark March 22, 1848, a year later Denmark had its first Constitution. But Søren Kierkegaard recognized only one danger: the religious danger.

Kierkegaard has written four parts to his book, each with seven discourses on Biblical texts. Denmark was a Christian nation. Kierkegaard makes a distinction between Christianity and Christendom. The single individual is a Christian but many single individuals, such as everyone in Denmark, as a Christian nation, where everyone must be born a Christian and baptized as an infant and be a Christian, is Christendom. The difference is choice. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” Matthew 6:24. The birds of the air and the lily of the field are compared with the Christian and the pagan in the first section of Christian Discourses. In Part II he talks about the hardships of life and how they are really for your good. Part III is titled “Thoughts That Wound From Behind.” And Part IV is designed for the Christian who is coming before God at the Communion table for the forgiveness of sins. 

They have a penetrating quality that puts Newman to shame. The Churchman

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:7,19, 25-27, 31-32 (NIV)

Christian Discourses begins with an introduction that tells of a pair of instructors useful to both the Christian and pagan as well as Christian pagans because they judge no one and condemn no one. “The Gospel itself is certainly the actual teacher, he the Teacher – and the Way and the Truth and the Life – as the instructor, but the bird and the lily are still there as a kind of assistant teachers. Neither the lily nor the bird is a pagan, but the lily and the bird are not Christians either, and for that very reason they are able to succeed in being helpful with the instruction in Christianity.” (p. 9)

Kierkegaard intended to terminate his writing with Christian Discourses but continued on with an aesthetic book and then Practice in Christianity 1850, both books insist on the continued striving toward the Christian ideal.

The second edition of Christian Discourses was published in 1862, seven years after the death of Soren Kierkegaard in 1855.

Walter Lowrie translated the book into English in 1940 and Howard and Edna Hong made a new English translation in 1997.

Soren Kierkegaard: The Christian thinker.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life

“So even the lowliest individual has a double existence. He, too has a history, and this is not simply a product of his own free acts. The interior deed, on the other hand, belongs to him and will belong to him forever; history or world history cannot take it from him; it follows him, either to his joy or to his despair. In this world there rules an absolute Either/Or. But philosophy has nothing to do with this world.” (Soren Kierkegaard Either/Or II Hong p. 174-176)

Part I The bird and the lily live in immediacy. They are what they are and never strive to become anything else unless a little naughty bird comes along. Kierkegaard wrote about the bird and the lily in his 1847 book Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits.

Once upon a time there was a lily that stood in an isolated spot beside a small brook and was well known to some nettles and also to a few other small flowers nearby. The lily was, according to the Gospel’s truthful account, more beautifully clothed than Solomon in all his glory and in addition was joyful and free of care all the day long. Imperceptibly and blissfully time slipped by, like running water that murmurs and disappears. It so happened that one day a little bird came and visited the lily; it came again the next day, then stayed away a few days before it came again, which struck the lily as odd and inexplicable-inexplicable that the bird, just like the flowers, did not remain in the same place, odd that the bird could be so capricious. But as so often happens, the lily fell more and more in love with the bird precisely because it was capricious. Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits p.167 Hong translation

That lily listened to the bird tell of another place prepared for the happiness of the lily. It was there with the Crown Imperial lily. The lily worried so much that it allowed the bird to carry it to that other place but things didn’t go as well as the bird had said. “So what does the worried person learn from the lilies? He learns to be contented with being a human being and not to be worried about diversity among human beings; he learns to speak just as tersely, just as solemnly, and just as inspiringly about being a human being as the Gospel speaks tersely about the lilies.Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits p.170 Hong translation

Part I takes the reader through the cares of life. One person lives in poverty and another in abundance. Christ said not to worry about what you will eat or drink so the Christian prays to God for daily bread but the pagan knows nothing of this and asks what shall we eat today, what shall we eat tomorrow, what shall we eat next year. The bird, like Socrates, is a teacher of ignorance. The bird doesn’t gather its riches and is therefore ignorant of having abundance. The Christian might have abundance but acts as though he is ignorant of having it. The rich pagan knows all about his wealth and is always thinking about it. “Christianity has never taught that literally to be a lowly person is synonymous with being a Christian, nor that there is a direct and inevitable transition from literally being a lowly person and becoming a Christian; neither has it taught that if the worldly eminent person relinquished all his power he therefore was a Christian.” (Christian Discourses p. 54-55 – a page number means the quote was from Christian Discourses)

Let us see why they despaired. Because they discovered that they had built their lives on something that was transient? But is that a reason to despair: has an essential change taken place in that on which they built their lives? Is it an essential change in the transitory that it manifests itself as transitory, or is it not rather something accidental and inessential about it that it does not manifest itself this way? Nothing new has supervened that could cause a change. Consequently, when they despair, the basis of it must be that they were in despair beforehand. The difference is only that they did not know it, but this is indeed an entirely accidental difference.” (Soren Kierkegaard Either/Or II Hong p. 192)

Excerpts from Christian Discourses from a You-tuber

What is the temptation that in itself is many temptations? Certainly it is not the glutton’s temptation to live in order to eat; no (what rebellion against the divine order!) it is to live in order to slave. The temptation is this, to lose oneself, to lose one’s soul, to cease to be a human being and live as a human being instead of being freer than the bird, and godforsaken to slave more wretchedly than the animal. Yes, to slave! Instead of working for the daily bread, which every human being is commanded to do, to slave for it – and yet not be satisfied by it, because the care is to become rich. Instead of praying for the daily bread, to slave for it – because one became a slave of people and of one’s care and forgot that it is to God one must pray for it.” (P. 21)

What of lowliness and loftiness? The bird is what it is but the Christian knows he was created in God’s image and has God as the prototype. The lowly pagan is without God in this world and despairs of being nothing. The birds of the air never compare one with another while flying in the air. The eminent Christian knows God is changeless and knows he is eminent because of that. The eminent pagan is without God in the world and knows only the high, higher, highest and the abyss below. The lily is lovely without knowledge that disfigures loveliness.

But the lowly Christian does not fall into the snare of this optical illusion. He sees with the eyes of faith; with the speed of faith that seeks God, he is at the beginning, is himself before God, is contented with being himself. He has found out from the world or from the others that he is a lowly person, be he does not abandon himself to this knowledge; he does not lose himself in it in a worldly way, does not become totally engrossed in it; by holding fast to God with the reservedness of eternity, he has become himself. He is like someone who has two names, one for all the others, another for his nearest and dearest ones; in the world, in his association with the others, he is the lowly person. He does not pretend to be anything else, but before God he is himself. In his contacts with others, it seems as if at every moment he must wait and find out from the others what his now at this moment. But he does not wait; he is in a hurry to be before God, contented with being himself before God. He is a lowly human being in the crowd of human beings, and what he is in this way depends on the relationship, but in being himself he is not dependent on the crowd; before God he is himself. From “the others” a person of course actually finds out only what the others are – it is in this way that the world wants to deceive a person out of becoming himself. “The others” in turn do not know what they themselves are either but continually know only what “the others” are. There is only one who completely knows himself, who in himself knows what he himself is – that is God. And he also knows what each human being is in himself, because he is that only by being before God. The person who is not before God is not himself either, which one can be only by being in the one who is in himself. If one is oneself by being in the one who is in himself, one can be in others or before others, but one cannot be oneself merely by being for others. (p. 40)

Louise Carrol Keeley compared Kierkegaard’s discourse on lowliness to Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul in an essay in International Kierkegaard Commentary, Christian Discourses p. 75. Therese, too, advocates consenting to be oneself before God, exactly as one is, with no provisions whatsoever for comparison. Therese understands that God alone is the criterion of the self such that to be in right relation to God “consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be” (Story of a Soul p. 14).

Kierkegaard was bent on making people realized their Christian vocation.

V The Care of Presumptuousness

The bird is close to God, it can’t do without him. The Christian learns to be need God’s grace because he has self-knowledge. The pagan wants to add one foot to his growth by becoming the master instead of the bond servant and “slays God in the most dreadful suicide”. The Christian knows that God can’t be killed and fights to keep the thought of God alive in the world. The Christian learned not to be presumptuous.

David Possen says Kierkegaard’s point about disbelief in God is that the disbeliever fears that if there was a God he could take everything away from him in an instant. He maintains his autonomy from God at all costs and will never admit he needs him. The true Christian knows that he needs God’s help all the time while the superstitious person wants God’s help but in a rebellious and ungodly way as Simon Magus did. On Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen Pagans (From International Commentary on Christian Discourses p. 39-40)

Kierkegaard became convinced that Christianity could be understood best
in terms of intimate individual religious experience.

VI The Care of Self-Torment

The bird has no idea of the next day and thus has no self-torment about that. The Christian learns to forget about the next day in the service of God because he has gained eternity. The bird knows nothing of the next day and the Christian knows each day has its own worries but the pagan is always anxious about the next day.

VII The Care of Indecisiveness, Vacillation, and Disconsolateness

Kierkegaard wrote about choice as early as his first book Either/Or 1843. The bird knows when the time comes to leave its home and leaves because it has received the hint from God. The Christian has made the decision between two opposed positions and serves one master. But the pagan is a mind in rebellion. The pagan is always indecisive and finds it difficult to choose the more painful choice. To choose God.

When indecisiveness has ruled long enough, vacillation comes into power. … When vacillation has ruled long enough and, of course, like all ungodly rulers has sucked the blood and wasted the marrow, disconsolateness comes to power. Then the pagan would prefer to get rid of the thought of God entirely; now he wants to sink into the emptiness of worldliness, there to seek forgetfulness, forgetfulness of the most dangerous (precisely because it is the most uplifting) of all thoughts the thought of being remembered by God, of existing before God. Indeed, if one wills to sink, what is more dangerous than everything that will lift up! Yet he has, so he thinks, overcome his pain, expelled all delusions, learned to console himself.” (p. 89)

Danish newspapers mocked Soren Kierkegaard his whole adult life because of his peculiarities. He showed his suffering on the inside rather than the outside.

Do you want to be built up?

I imagine that I can do everything as long as everything remains in my imagination.

Part II States of Mind in the Stress of Suffering deals with hardships and sufferings that paradoxically bring joy to the striving Christian. Kierkegaard says, “the upbuilding discourse is a good in itself” and should not be taken in vain, but before the upbuilding comes the “terrifying” comes.

Suffering comes but it is a transition to something that lasts forever. Even if it lasted all your life it is nothing in comparison with eternity. Hardship is not something to be feare. Hardship is difficult for the lower nature while it is in its sleeping state. But the sleeper must awaken and continue into adulthood. “Hardship awakens the dreamer and is like a whisper in the person’s innermost being that can be easy to ignore.

People continually think that it is the world, the environment, the circumstances, the situations that stand in one’s way, in the way of one’s fortune and peace and joy. Basically it is always the person himself who stands in his way, the person himself who is bound up too closely with the world and the environment and the circumstances and the situations so that he is unable to come to himself, to find rest, to hope. He is continually too much turned outward instead of being turned inward; therefore everything he says is true only in an illusion.” (p. 109-110)

What would someone say if told to become poor so he could make others rich? Christ had nowhere to lay his head yet he enriched the world.

Suffering is victory. Hardship brings hope. Adversity is prosperity.

III The Joy of It: That the Poorer You Become the Richer You Are Able to Make Others

Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto February 29, 1848 and Kierkegaard his Christian Discourses April 26, 1848. The first deals with the material world exclusive of the world of the spirit and the second does the same but reverses it and deals with the world of the spirit. Marx says the economic world order is the highest. Kierkegaard is concerned with the religious so he nudges the individual toward the development of spiritual goods.

Spiritual goods are easier to share than the material goods that are only shared begrudgingly. Spiritual goods are a communication and benefit everyone. Spiritual goods make everyone rich so the poorer you become in an external sense the richer you can make your neighbor through the internal goods of the spirit.

IV The Joy of It: That the Weaker You Become the Stronger God Becomes in You

The weaker you become the stronger God becomes in you.

There is only one obstacle for God, a person’s selfishness, which comes between him and God like the earth’s shadow when it causes the eclipse of the moon. If there is this selfishness, then he is strong, but his strength is God’s weakness; if this selfishness is gone, then he is weak and God is strong; the weaker he becomes, the stronger God becomes in him.” (P. 129)

V The Joy of It: That What You Lose Temporally You Gain Eternally

Kierkegaard has stressed the temporal and eternal in many of his books and does the same here in his fifth and sixth discourse. Individuality is very important to Kierkegaard. He always stressed the single individual over the mass man of the Germans.

He wrote about Abraham contemplating the loss of his son Isaac and knew about the loss of one through the loss of Regine, the only woman he loved. But what of one who lost the eternal in himself by reducing it to the temporal? “If a person in despair wants to be victorious here in time, well, then to him temporality’s defeat is: all is lost. But this is not due to temporality, it is due to him. If, however he is victorious over his mind, then for him the loss is absolutely nothing else than what it is, a temporal loss; he gains eternally.” (p. 140) And when that happens he has lost nothing at all. Many say there are two ways to live; the way of faith and the way of doubt. The way of faith is the way of eternity the other way leads to perdition.

Christianity stresses the individuality of the resurrected believer.

VII The Joy of It: That Adversity Is Prosperity

Suffering, hardship and adversity are a common theme in part 2 of Kierkegaard’s discourses. The Christian has to learn to look at everything turned around. Adversity is prosperity. Suffering is victory. Hardship brings hope. You become rich by becoming poor and strong through your own weakness. (Sounds like Brave New World).

What you lose temporally you gain eternally and even though you gain the whole world you might lose your soul or you might lose nothing at all and still have the whole world. It all depends on you. “Temporality presupposes that everyone knows very well what the goal is, so that the only difference among people is whether they succeed in reaching it or not. Eternity, on the other hand, assumes that the difference among people is that the one knows what the goal is and steers by that, and the other does not know it – and steers by that, that is, steers wrong.” (p. 153)

And then when you have turned around and have caught sight of the goal (eternity’s), let the goal become for you what it is and should be, become so important that there is no question about what the path is like but only about reaching the goal, so that you gain the courage to understand that whatever the path is like, the worst of all, the most painful of all – it leads you to the goal, then it is prosperity. Is it not true that if there is a place that is so important to you to reach because you are indescribably eager to arrive there, then you say, “I will go backward or forward, I will ride or walk or creep – it makes no difference, if only I get there.” It is this that eternity wants first and foremost, it wants to make the goal so important to you that it gains complete control over you and you gain control over yourself to take you thoughts, your mind, your eyes away from the hardship, the difficulty, away from how you arrive there, because the only important thing to you is to arrive there.” (P. 154)

Now Kierkegaard adds the consciousness of sin that was concealed in earlier discourses.

“In this book Kierkegaard is shown in his most attractive mood. He speaks of the Christian life and the inner experience of the awakened soul. There is a pungency in these discourses which has few parallels in devotional literature.” The Dean of St. Paul’s in the Sunday Times (From the back of Lowrie’s 1940 translation of Christian Discourses)

Part III Thoughts That Wound From Behind

Soren Kierkegaard believed in the single individual. The individual standing before God was his goal. Arthur Schopenhauer wrote an essay On Immortality. He does away with the individual in favor of “the all”.

The Will to live is the real and direct aspirant.

Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you and speak every kind of evil against you for my sake and lie. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will bed great in heaven; so have they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

These words will be the basis for the following discourse: But it is blessed – to suffer mockery for a good cause, in order that really for upbuilding we might become aware of the comfort, or rather, the joy, that Christianity proclaims, because these discourses are for upbuilding even if they, as is said, wound from behind. (p. 223) The essentially Christian needs no defense. (p, 161)

  1. Watch your step when you go to the house of the Lord. Ecclesiastes 5:1

God sometimes uses circumstances to preach for awakening. He sometimes preaches to an empty church because everyone there think its God who needs them rather than they who need God. Watch what you pray for because God takes you in earnest as you come to church to let God help you. Always remember that you are in church, no matter how full, as an individual before God there, there for upbuilding.

Watch your step when you go to the house of the Lord – and why? Precisely because in the house of the Lord the one and only deliverance, the most blessed comfort is offered to you; the highest of all, God’s friendship, his grace in Christ Jesus is offered you.” (P. 174)

2. See, We Have Left Everything and Followed You; What Shall We Have? (Matthew 19:27).

Kierkegaard wrote a discourse December 6, 1843, The Lord Gave, and the Lord Took Away; Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Job lost everything but the apostle Peter says, we have left everything. The Lord took in one case and everything was given up voluntarily in the other case. The Old Testament required Abraham to give up Isaac but Christianity, “the religion of freedom”, asks the Christian to voluntarily give up everything to follow Christ. The Knower of Hearts knows if you are earnest in your declarations.

“If God does not require of us that we leave everything, he still does require honesty of us.” (P. 186)

3. All Things Must Serve Us for Good – When We Love God. Romans 8:28 paraphrased

Isn’t this an interesting verse that is easily and readily memorized by the Christian. Kierkegaard takes one word “when” and dwells on it in relation to the rest of the words in this short verse. Do I love God? Will we love God when someone demonstrates something about him? This “when” becomes the only true good and is the preacher of repentance. He once again tells the reader, or listener, that he is dealing only with himself since he doesn’t know exactly “when” the others believe. He says the way you know you love God is because you need him. He wrote a discourse August 31, 1844, To Need God is a Human Being’s Highest Perfection. It’s not only the highest perfection but it is also “when” you love God.

“When a person comes to love God, it is an eternal change more remarkable than the most remarkable event in the world. Whether it happens, when it happens, no one can tell him. The preacher of repentance in his inner being can help him to become aware, can help him in self-concern to seek the certitude of the spirit as God’s Spirit witnesses with this person’s spirit that he loves God. But only God can give him this certitude. Keep him awake in certitude in order to seek after certitude, this the preacher of repentance can do; he says: All things serve you for good when you love God.” (P. 194) “In the dark night of despair, when every light has gone out for the sufferer, there is still one place where the light is kept burning – it is along this way the despairing one must go, which is the way out: when you love God. In the fearful moment of disconsolateness, when there is no more talk or thought of any concluding clause, but humanly speaking the meaning is ended – there is still one clause left, a courageous clause of comfort that intrepidly penetrates into the greatest terror and creates new meaning: when you love God. In the dreadful moment of decisiveness, when humanly speaking no turn is any longer possible, when there is everywhere only wretchedness wherever you turn and however you turn – there is still one more turn possible: it will miraculously turn everything into good for you: when you love God.” (P. 195-196)

4. There Will Be the Resurrection of the Dead, of the Righteous – and of the Unrighteous. Acts 24:15

What happens when the question of immortality becomes an academic question? Then what is a task for action has been turned into a question for thought. Now we just like to think about immortality instead of working for our salvation in “fear and trembling” (P. 210). Kierkegaard wants to be unsure about his salvation until the very end so that he can continue to work.

My God and Father, the question of my salvation indeed pertains to no other person, but only to me – and to you. Is there not bound to be unsureness in fear and trembling until the end if I am who I am and you are who you are, I here on earth, you in heaven, and, alas, the infinitely greater difference, I a sinner, you the Holy One! Should there not be, ought there not be, and must there not be fear and trembling until the end?” (p. 212)

But the human race has rebelled against God and wants to abolish immortality by making it an object for demonstration.

5. We Are Closer to Salvation Now – Than When We Became Believers. Romans 13:11

Someone can know everything about Christianity and still be a pagan according to Kierkegaard in his fifth discourse. How do we know where our there is? Isn’t it important to know where my now is? We have to know when we became a believer to find out if we are closer to our salvation now. Kierkegaard turns to, that simple wise man of old, Socrates, and imagines that he is asking you, the single individual, in a teasing, mocking way, to answer his question. Closer is a comparison and that’s why Kierkegaard thinks Socrates would dwell on this “when” you first believed.

“Can a person be further away from his salvation than when he does not even know definitely whether he has begun to want to be saved?” (p. 220)

6. But It Is Blessed – to Suffer Mockery for a Good Cause. Matthew 5:11

What happens when you are conversing with your friends and one of them mocks you? Don’t you feel singled out and then shut out from the rest of the group? What about Martin Luther (P. 226)? He lived despised and persecuted and derided as long as he lived but he “changed the shape of the world.” That doesn’t mean he had to be despised to change the world but because he was mocked and persevered he became a “witness for the truth.” He followed Christ’s example.

Kierkegaard asks what would happen if Christ returned to the world again after eighteen hundred years. What would Christendom do? Christendom, where everyone is a Christian, would it welcome him or mock and despise him once again?

Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you and speak every kind of evil against you for my sake and lie. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will bed great in heaven; so have they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10)

7. He was believed in the world. 1 Timothy 3:16
1 Timothy 3:16 “And great beyond all question is the mystery of godliness: God was revealed in the flesh, was justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the pagans, believed in the world, taken up in glory.

Kierkegaard looks at this verse from Scripture in his seventh discourse and makes the point that the only part of this famous passage that pertains to you is: “He was believed in the world.” Have you believed him? If you don’t believe then you can’t know if another has believed in him. Only the single individual can know himself and the others must be satisfied with the assurance given by the single individual. In the same way, if you have never been in love you can never know if love exists. You only know by experiencing it. Have you believed? Have you loved?

The one who understood the question and answered, “I have believed in him,” he understood himself. And if he answered, “I have not believed in him,” he still understood himself. Instead of the historical “He was believed in the world.” the personal is “I have believed in him,” when the single individual says, “I have believed in him.” (P. 239)

To take an example from that humanly speaking is unique in the world and that we usually place closest to Christianity. I have admired that noble simple wise man of antiquity. (Socrates) Reading about him has made by heart beat as violently as did the young man’s heart when he conversed with him; the thought of him has been the inspiration of my youth and has filled my soul; my longing for conversation with him has been entirely different from the longing for conversation with anyone with whom I have ever spoken. Many a time, after being together with those who have comprehended everything and know how to talk about everything possible, I have longed for his ignorance and to listen to him, who always said the same thing – ‘and about the same thing .’ I have admired his wisdom, that in his wisdom he became simple! That in his wisdom he became simple so that he could trap the sagacious! That in his wisdom he became simple so that, without having many thoughts and without using many words, he could devote his life in the service of truth – oh, what moving simplicity! that face-to-face with death he spoke about himself, the condemned one, just as simply as he ever did in the marketplace with a passerby on the most everyday subjects; that with the cup of poison in his hand he maintained the beautiful festive mood and spoke just as simply as he ever did at a banquet – oh, what sublime simplicity!” (P. 241)

Part IV: Discourses At The Communion On Fridays. What is Kierkegaard talking about when he designates Friday instead of Sunday?

It’s only after coming to the consciousness of sin that one must come to the Table.
The ultimate for Kierkegaard is Christ.

Preface: Two (II and III) of these discourses, which still lack something essential to be, and therefore are not called, sermons, were delivered in Frue Church. Even if he is not told, the knowledgeable reader will no doubt himself readily recognize in the form and treatment that these two are “delivered discourses,” written to be delivered, or written as they were delivered. February 1848

Soren Kierkegaard is completely and unmistakably a Christian.

Luke 22:15 I have longed with all my heart to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

Kierkegaard does something he didn’t do in his earlier discourses. He begins these last seven discourses with a prayer.

Father in heaven! We know very well that you are the one who gives both to will and to accomplish, and that the longing, when it draws us to renew fellowship with our Savior and Redeemer, is also drawn from you. But when longing grasps hold of us, oh, that we may also grasp hold of the longing; when it wants to carry us away, that we may also surrender ourselves; when you are close to us in the call, that we might also keep close to you in our calling to you; when in the longing you offer us the highest, that we may purchase its opportune moment, hold it fast, sanctify it the quiet hours by earnest thoughts, by devout resolves, so that it might become the strong but also the well-tested, heartfelt longing that is required of those who worthily want to partake of the holy meal of Communion! Father in heaven, longing is your gift; no one can give it to himself; if it is not given, no one can purchase it, even if he were to sell everything – but when you give it, he can still sell everything in order to purchase it. We pray that those who are gathered here today may come to the Lord’s table with heartfelt longing, and that when they leave it they may go with intensified longing for him, our Savior and Redeemer.” (p. 251)

Not many churches use the verse Kierkegaard uses here for the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Yet Christ did sit with his disciples and say he longed for sit with them. Kierkegaard looks at longing. Holy longing that sometimes returns empty handed. The longing that awakens one’s soul. Then he has a long discourse on vanity in imitation of Ecclesiastes (P. 255-257). Later, he asks if you, had you lived contemporary with Christ, would have insulted him had you been in the crowd. Does your longing end when you attend the Lord’s Supper or do you remember the longing so that you can stay awake?

2. Matthew 11:28 Come here to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Soren Kierkegaard published Practice in Christianity September 25, 1850. He dealt very heavily with the verse just mentioned in the book. Perhaps he practiced here with one discourse. What do these words mean? The “come here” sounds good as does the “I will give you rest”. He concentrates on “all who labor and are burdened”. What does it mean to labor and be burdened in the Christian sense. Kierkegaard has already written about suffering and hardships in Part II of these discourses so we have a good idea. Who will come to the Communion table? The one who is burdened with sin and guilt and is looking for release. The one who can only sigh as a work of repentance. Since God loves to show mercy his invitation is the one thing needful.

3. John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Now you are walking along and see someone walking the same way as you are walking. You might think you are going to the same place and it might become more evident if it is a holy day (Sunday). But what if it is Friday and you meet others? Are they all going to church? Kierkegaard thinks Communion on Fridays is a good idea because he is against sitting in a crowd before God since God wants to get the single individual before him in silence. You can make the decision to enter God’s house as the need arises because you know the good shepherd has called you there.

Today is not a holy day; today there is divine service on a weekday – oh, but a Christian’s life is a divine service every day! It is not as if everything were settled by someone’s going to Communion on rare occasions; no, the task if to remain at the Communion table when you leave the Communion table.” (P. 274)

4. I Corinthians 11:23 the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.

What does it mean to betray Christ? This is the concern of Kierkegaard’s discourse. Kierkegaard says Christ’s suffering isn’t past even though eighteen hundred, no no two thousand years have passed. He still waits at the table today as he waited for Peter to return after betraying him and as he sat with Judas as he betrayed him. “Only when saved by him and with him, only when he holds me fast, do I know that I will not betray him.” (P. 280)

“He was betrayed – but he was Love: on the night when he was betrayed, he instituted the meal of love! Always the same! Those who crucified him, for them he prayed; on the night when he was betrayed, he uses the occasion (how infinitely deep the love that finds this very moment convenient!), he uses the occasion to institute the meal of reconciliation. Truly, he did not come into the world to be served without making repayment! A woman anoints his head – in repayment she is recollected through all the centuries! Yes, he makes repayment for what they do against him! They crucify him – in repayment his death on the cross is the sacrifice of Atonement for the sin of the world, also for this, that they crucified him! They betray him – in repayment he institutes the meal of reconciliation for all! If Peter had not denied him, then there would have been at least one person who would not, just like every other individual in the human race, have needed reconciliation. But now they all betrayed him, and thus all need to take part in the meal of reconciliation!” (P. 280-281)

5. II Timothy 2:12 If we deny, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he still remains faithful; he cannot deny himself.

This verse has several clauses. First we deny Christ and are unfaithful then he is faithful and doesn’t deny himself. We come to the Lord’s Supper in fear and trembling but then we dare to trust God and take comfort in the Gospel’s word. We have anxiety that we might at some point become unfaithful but isn’t it true that we have been unfaithful in some way every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper? But even if we have been unfaithful Christ still remains faithful and accepts us back.

Even if we are faithless, he still remains faithful. When he walked here on earth, no sufferer came to him without finding help, no troubled person ever went away from him uncomforted, no sick person ever touched the hem of his cloak without being healed (Mark 6:56) – but if someone had come to him the seventieth time and asked forgiveness for his faithlessness, do you think he would have become weary, or if it had been seven times seventy times! No, heaven will become weary of carrying the stars and will cast them away before he becomes weary of forgiveness and thrusts the penitent away from himself. Oh, what a blessed thought that there still exists a faithful, a trustworthy friend, that he is that; what a blessed thought, if a person dares to entertain this thought at all, how all the more blessed, therefore, that he is the trustworthy friend of the penitent, of the faithless!” (P. 285)

6. 1 John 3:20 even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.

What’s the difference between guilt and guilt? We tend to compare and create this difference. But do we really know anyone’s guilt other than our own? The external signs of God’s majesty are evident in the rainbow and in the beauty of nature. “But God’s greatness in showing mercy is first an occasion for offense and then is for faith. When God had created everything, he looked at it and behold, “it was all very good,” and every one of his works seems to bear the appendage: Praise, thank, worship the Creator. But appended to his greatness in showing mercy is: Blessed is he who is not offended.” (P. 291) God is greater than your own heart which is always ready to condemn you.

Out there the stars proclaim your majesty, and the perfection of everything proclaims your greatness, but in here it is the imperfect, it is sinners who praise your even greater greatness!” (P. 295)

7. Luke 24:51 And it happened, as he blessed them, he was parted from them.

This is Kierkegaard’s shortest discourse. It has to deal with the word blessed. Christ blessed them as he parted from them. The same thing happens to us when we leave the Lord’s Supper. Christ gives is a parting blessing and continues to bless us as we try to become and be a Christian. The blessing is the one thing needful and is God’s consent to our prayer and our godly undertaking.

At the Communion table you are capable of nothing at all. Satisfaction is made there – but by someone else; the sacrifice is offered – but by someone else; the Atonement is accomplished – by the Redeemer. All the more clear it therefore becomes that the blessing is everything and does everything. At the Communion table you are capable of less than nothing. At the Communion table it is you who are in debt of sin, you who are separated from God by sin, you who are so infinitely far away, you who forfeited everything, you who dared to step forward; it is someone else who paid the debt, someone else who accomplished the reconciliation, someone else who brought you close to God, someone else who suffered and died in order to restore everything, someone else who steps forward for you.” (P. 298-299)

Source: Free to borrow from the Archive library.

Christian Discourses (Christelige Taler) by Soren Kierkegaard Apr 26, 1848 and The Crisis in the Life of an Actress “Krisen og en Krise i en Skuespillerindes Liv.” by Inter et inter July 24-27, 1848 by Soren Kierkegaard. Translated by Howard V Hong and Edna H Hong 1997 Princeton University Press 98970691140780

Christian Discourses & The Lilies of the Field and the Birds of the Air & The Discourses at the Communion on Fridays  by Soren Kierkegaard, Apr 26, 1848 Translated by Walter Lowrie 1940, 1961

The International Kierkegaard Commentary, Christian Discourses, by Robert Perkins 2007 (A collection of essays about the book)

Quotes from Christian Discourses

Kierkegaard’s Confession

Christian Discourses 1848 – Discourse IV 1 Corinthians 11:23 the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed. p. 275ff

When the congregation, every time these words are said, “Our Lord Jesus Christ one the night he was betrayed,” surround him anxiously but fervently, as if to ward of the treason, as if to pledge him their loyalty even though everyone else deserted him – let no one dare to forget that on that night he was along as an accomplice, let no one dare to forget this pitiful prototype whom in other ways he scarcely resembles – the Apostle Peter. Alas, we human beings, even if we are of the truth, are still alongside the truth; when we walk side by side with the man who is the Truth, when the Truth is the criterion, we are still like children alongside a giant; in the moment of decision we still remain – accomplices. Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses p. 278

Arnstein Rønning’s Last Supper

Oh, that this happened is to me enough to make it impossible ever to be happy in the thoughtless and worldly way the natural man is, as the youth in his inexperience is, as the child in its innocence is. I do not need to see more, if indeed anything more terrible has happened in the world, something that can terrify the heart more, since there probably is something that can terrify the senses more. Nor is there need for anything terrible to happen to me – this is enough for me; I have seen love betrayed, and I have understood something about myself, that I also am a human being, and to be a human being is to be a sinful human being. I have not become misanthropic because of that, least of all so that I would hate other people, but I will never forget this sight nor what I have understood about myself. The one whom the human race crucified was the Redeemer; as someone belonging to the human race, I, for this very reason feel the need for a redeemer – never has the need for a redeemer been clearer than when the human race crucified the Redeemer.

From this moment I will no longer believe in myself; I will not let myself be deceived, as if I were better because I was not tried as were those contemporaries. No, apprehensive about myself as I have become, I will seek my refuge with him, the Crucified One. I will beseech him to save me from evil and to save me from myself. Only when saved by him and with him, only when he holds me fast, do I know that I will not betray him.

The anxiety that wants to frighten me away from him, so that I, too, could betray him, is precisely what will attach me to him; then I dare to hope that I will hold fast to him – how would I not dare to hope this when that which wants to frighten me away is what binds me to him! I will not and cannot do it, because he moves me irresistibly; I will not inclose myself in myself with this anxiety or with this guilt consciousness that I, too, have betrayed him – I would rather, as a guilty one, belong to him redeemed.

Oh, when he walked about in Judea, he moved many by his beneficial miracles; but nailed to the cross he performs an even greater miracle, he performs love’s miracle, so that, without doing anything – by suffering he moves every person who has a heart!  Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses 1848 p. 280

Soren Kierkegaard was a Christian.

Soren Kierkegaard was the man who wanted to be guilty so he could be redeemed.

Demonic: Goethe, Emerson, Kierkegaard.

Johann Goethe 1749-1832 from his Autobiography book 20

In the course of this biography, we have circumstantially exhibited the child, the boy, the youth, seeking by different ways to approach to the Suprasensible first, looking with strong inclination to a religion of nature; then, clinging with love to a positive one; and, finally, concentrating himself in the trial of his own powers, and joyfully giving himself up to the general faith. Whilst he wandered to and fro, space which lay intermediate between the sensible and suprasensible regions, seeking and looking about him, much came in his way which did not appear to belong to either, and he seemed to see, more and more distinctly, that it is better to avoid all thought of the immense and incomprehensible.

He thought he could detect in nature—both animate and inanimate, with soul or without soul—something which manifests itself only in contradictions, and which, therefore, could not be comprehended under any idea, still less under one word. It was not godlike, for it seemed unreasonable; not human, for it had no understanding; nor devilish, for it was beneficent; nor angelic, for it often betrayed a malicious pleasure. It resembled chance, for it evolved no consequences; it was like Providence, for it hinted at connexion. All that limits us it seemed to penetrate; it seemed to sport at will with the necessary elements of our existence; it contracted time and expanded space. In the impossible alone did it appear to find pleasure, while it rejected the possible with contempt.

To this principle, which seemed to come in between all other principles to separate them, and yet to link them together, I gave the name of Daemonic, after the example of the ancients and of those who, at any rate, had perceptions of the same kind. I sought to screen myself from this fearful principle, by taking refuge, according to my usual habits, in an imaginary creation.

The personal courage which distinguishes the hero is the foundation upon which his whole character rests, the ground and soil from which it sprung. He knows no danger, and willingly is blind to the greatest when it is close at hand. Surrounded by enemies, we may, at any rate, cut our way through them; the meshes of state policy are harder to break through. The Daemonic element, which is in play on both sides, and in conflict with which the lovely falls while the hated triumphs; and, above all, the prospect that out of this conflict will spring a third element, which will answer to the wishes of all men this perhaps is what has gained for the piece (not, indeed, immediately on its first appearance, but later and at the right time), the favor which it now enjoys. Here, therefore, for the sake of many beloved readers, I will anticipate myself, and as I know not whether I shall soon have another opportunity, will express a conviction which, however, I did not form till a considerable period subsequent to that of which I am now writing.

Although this Daemonic element can manifest itself in all corporeal and incorporeal things, and even expresses itself most distinctly in animals, yet, with man, especially does it stand in a most wonderful connexion, forming in him a power which, if it be not opposed to the moral order of the world, nevertheless does often so cross it that one may be regarded as the warp, and the other as the woof.

For the phenomena which it gives rise to there are innumerable names: for all philosophies and religions have sought in prose and poetry to solve this enigma and to read once for all the riddle which, nevertheless, remains still unriddled by them.

But the most fearful manifestation of the Daemonical, is when it is seen predominating in some individual character. During my life I have observed several instances of this, either more closely or remotely. Such persons are not always the most eminent men, either morally or intellectually, and it is seldom that they recommend themselves to our affections by goodness of heart; a tremendous energy seems to be seated in them, and they exercise a wonderful power over all creatures, and even over the elements; and, indeed, who shall say how much farther such influence may extend? All the moral powers combined are of no avail against them; in vain does the more enlightened portion of mankind attempt to throw suspicion upon them as deceived if not deceivers—the mass is still drawn on by them. Seldom if ever do the great men of an age find their equals among their contemporaries, and they are to be overcome by nothing but by the universe itself; and it is from observation of this fact that the strange, but most striking, proverb must have risen: Nemo contra Deum nisi Deus ipse. (No one against God except God himself.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson also wrote about demonology, quoting Goethe, in his essay: Demonology 1838-1839

NIGHT-DREAMS trace on Memory’s wall
Shadows of the thoughts of day,
And thy fortunes as they fall
The bias of thy will betray.

IN the chamber, on the stairs,
Lurking dumb,
Go and come
Lemurs and Lars.

The name Demonology covers dreams, omens, coincidences, luck, sortilege, magic and other experiences which shun rather than court inquiry, and deserve notice chiefly because every man has usually in a lifetime two or three hints in this kind which are specially impressive to him. They also shed light on our structure. The witchcraft of sleep divides with truth the empire of our lives. This soft enchantress visits two children lying locked in each other’s arms, and carries them asunder by wide spaces of land and sea, and wide intervals of time.

There lies a sleeping city, God of dreams!
What an unreal and fantastic world Is going on below!
Within the sweep of yon encircling wall
How many a large creation of the night,
Wide wilderness and mountain, rock and sea,
Peopled with busy, transitory groups,
Finds room to rise, and never feels the crowd.

’Tis superfluous to think of the dreams of multitudes, the astonishment remains that one should dream; that we should resign so quietly this deifying Reason, and become the theatre of delirious shows, wherein time, space, persons, cities, animals, should dance before us in merry and mad confusion; a delicate creation outdoing the prime and flower of actual Nature, antic comedy alternating with horrid pictures.

Sometimes the forgotten companions of childhood reappear

They come, in dim procession led,
The cold, the faithless, and the dead,
As warm each hand, each brow as gay,
As if they parted yesterday :

or we seem busied for hours and days in peregrinations over seas and lands, in earnest dialogues, strenuous actions for nothings and absurdities, cheated by spectral jokes and waking suddenly with ghastly laughter, to be rebuked by the cold, lonely, silent midnight, and to rake with confusion in memory among the gibbering nonsense to find the motive of this contemptible cachinnation. Dreams are jealous of being remembered; they dissipate instantly and angrily if you try to hold them. When newly awaked from lively dreams, we are so near them, still agitated by them, still in their sphere,—give us one syllable, one feature, one hint, and we should repossess the whole; hours of this strange entertainment would come trooping back to us; but we cannot get our hand on the first link or fibre, and the whole is lost. There is a strange wilfulness in the speed with which it disperses and baffles our grasp.

A dislocation seems to be the foremost trait of dreams. A painful imperfection almost always attends them. The fairest forms, the most noble and excellent persons, are deformed by some pitiful and insane circumstance. The very landscape and scenery in a dream seem not to fit us, but like a coat or cloak of some other person to overlap and encumber the wearer; so is the ground, the road, the house, in dreams, too long or too short, and if it served no other purpose would show us how accurately Nature fits man awake.

There is one memory of waking and another of sleep. In our dreams the same scenes and fancies are many times associated, and that too, it would seem, for years. In sleep one shall travel certain roads in stage-coaches or gigs, which he recognizes as familiar, and has dreamed that ride a dozen times; or shall walk alone in familiar fields and meadows, which road or which meadow in waking hours he never looked upon. This feature of dreams deserves the more attention from its singular resemblance to that obscure yet startling experience which almost every person confesses in daylight, that particular passages of conversation and action have occurred to him in the same order before, whether dreaming or waking; a suspicion that they have been with precisely these persons in precisely this room, and heard precisely this dialogue, at some former hour, they know not when.

Animals have been called “the dreams of Nature.” Perhaps for a conception of their consciousness we may go to our own dreams. In a dream we have the instinctive obedience, the same torpidity of the highest power, the same unsurprised assent to the monstrous as these metamorphosed men exhibit. Our thoughts in a stable or in a menagerie, on the other hand, may well remind us of our dreams. What compassion do these imprisoning forms awaken! You may catch the glance of a dog sometimes which lays a kind of claim to sympathy and brotherhood. What! somewhat of me down there? Does he know it? Can he too, as I, go out of himself, see himself, perceive relations? We fear lest the poor brute should gain one dreadful glimpse of his condition, should learn in some moment the tough limitations of this fettering organization. It was in this glance that Ovid got the hint of his metamorphoses; Calidasa of his transmigration of souls. For these fables are our own thoughts carried out. What keeps those wild tales in circulation for thousands of years? What but the wild fact to which they suggest some approximation of theory? Nor is the fact quite solitary, for in varieties of our own species where organization seems to predominate over the genius of man, in Kalmuck or Malay of Flathead Indian, we are sometimes pained by the same feeling; and sometimes too the sharpwitted prosperous white man awakens it. In a mixed assembly we have chanced to see not only a glance of Abdiel, so grand and keen, but also in other faces the features of the mink, of the bull, of the rat and the barn-door fowl. You think, could the man overlook his own condition, he could not be restrained from suicide.

Dreams have a poetic integrity and truth. This limbo and dust-hole of thought is presided over by a certain reason, too. Their extravagance from nature is yet within a higher nature. They seem to us to suggest an abundance and fluency of thought not familiar to the waking experience. They pique us by independence of us, yet we know ourselves in this mad crowd, and owe to dreams a kind of divination and wisdom. My dreams are not me; they are not Nature, or the Not-me: they are both. They have a double consciousness, at once sub- and ob- jective. We call the phantoms that rise, the creation of our fancy, but they act like mutineers, and fire on their commander; showing that every act, every thought, every cause, is bipolar, and in the act is contained the counteraction. If I strike, I am struck; if I chase, I am pursued

Wise and sometimes terrible hints shall in them be thrown to the man out of a quite unknown intelligence. He shall be startled two or three times in his life by the justice as well as the significance of this phantasmagoria. Once or twice the conscious fetters shall seem to be unlocked, and a freer utterance attained. A prophetic character in all ages has haunted them. They are the maturation often of opinions not consciously carried out to statements, but whereof we already possessed the elements. Thus, when awake, I know the character of Rupert, but do not think what he may do. In dreams I see him engaged in certain actions which seem preposterous,—out of all fitness. He is hostile, he is cruel, he is frightful, he is a poltroon. It turns out prophecy a year later. But it was already in my mind as character, and the sibyl dreams merely embodied it in fact. Why then should not symptoms, auguries, forebodings be, and, as one said, the moanings of the spirit?

We are let by this experience into the high region of Cause, and acquainted with the identity of very unlike-seeming effects. We learn that actions whose turpitude is very differently reputed proceed from one and the same affection. Sleep takes off the costume of circumstance, arms us with terrible freedom, so that every will rushes to a deed. A skilful man reads his dreams for his self-knowledge; yet not the details, but the quality. What part does he play in them,—a cheerful, manly part, or a poor drivelling part? However monstrous and grotesque their apparitions, they have a substantial truth. The same remark may be extended to the omens and coincidences which may have astonished us. Of all it is true that the reason of them is always latent in the individual. Goethe said: “These whimsical pictures, inasmuch as they originate from us, may well have an analogy with our whole life and fate.”

The soul contains in itself the event that shall presently befall it, for the event is only the actualizing of its thoughts. It is no wonder that particular dreams and presentiments should fall out and be prophetic. The fallacy consists in selecting a few insignificant hints when all are inspired with the same sense. As if one should exhaust his astonishment at the economy of his thumb-nail, and overlook the central causal miracle of his being a man. Every man goes through the world attended with innumerable facts prefiguring (yes, distinctly announcing) his fate, if only eyes of sufficient heed and illumination were fastened on the sign. The sign is always there, if only the eye were also; just as under every tree in the speckled sunshine and shade no man notices that every spot of light is a perfect image of the sun, until in some hour the moon eclipses the luminary; and then first we notice that the spots of light have become crescents, or annular, and correspond to the changed figure of the sun. Things are significant enough, Heaven knows; but the seer of the sign,—where is he? We doubt not a man’s fortune may be read in the lines of his hand, by palmistry; in the lines of his face, by physiognomy; in the outlines of the skull, by craniology: the lines are all there, but the reader waits. The long waves indicate to the instructed mariner that there is no near land in the direction from which they come. Belzoni describes the three marks which led him to dig for a door to the pyramid of Ghizeh. What thousands had beheld the same spot for so many ages, and seen no three marks.

Secret analogies tie together the remotest parts of Nature, as the atmosphere of a summer morning is filled with innumerable gossamer threads running in every direction, revealed by the beams of the rising sun! All life, all creation, is telltale and betraying. A man reveals himself in every glance and step and movement and rest:

Head with foot hath private amity,
And both with moons and tides.

Not a mathematical axiom but is a moral rule. The jest and byword to an intelligent ear extends its meaning to the soul and to all time. Indeed, all productions of man are so anthropomorphous that not possibly can he invent any fable that shall not have a deep moral and be true in senses and to an extent never intended by the inventor. Thus all the bravest tales of Homer and the poets, modern philosophers can explain with profound judgment of law and state and ethics. Lucian has an idle tale that Pancrates, journeying from Memphis to Coppus, and wanting a servant, took a door-bar and pronounced over it magical words, and it stood up and brought him water, and turned a spit, and carried bundles, doing all the work of a slave. What is this but a prophecy of the progress of art? For Pancrates write Watt or Fulton, and for “magical words” write “steam;” and do they not make an iron bar and half a dozen wheels do the work, not of one, but of a thousand skilful mechanics?

“Nature,” said Swedenborg, “makes almost as much demand on our faith as miracles do.” And I find nothing in fables more astonishing than my experience in every hour. One moment of a man’s life is a fact so stupendous as to take the lustre out of all fiction. The lovers of marvels, of what we call the occult and unproved sciences, of mesmerism, of astrology, of coincidences, of intercourse, by writing or by rapping or by painting, with departed spirit, need not reproach us with incredulity because we are slow to accept their statement. It is not the incredibility of the fact, but a certain want of harmony between the action and the agents. We are used to vaster wonders than these that are alleged. In the hands of poets, of devout and simple minds, nothing in the line of their character and genius would surprise us. But we should look for the style of the great artist in it, look for completeness and harmony. Nature never works like a conjuror, to surprise, rarely by shocks, but by infinite graduation; so that we live embosomed in sounds we do not hear, scents we do not smell, spectacles we see not, and by innumerable impressions so softly laid on that though important we do not discover them until our attention is called to them.

For Spiritism, it shows that no man, almost, is fit to give evidence. Then I say to the amiable and sincere among them, these matters are quite too important than that I can rest them on any legends. If I have no facts, as you allege, I can very well wait for them. I am content and occupied with such miracles as I know, such as my eyes and ears daily show me, such as humanity and astronomy. If any others are important to me they will certainly be shown to me.

In times most credulous of these fancies the sense was always met and the superstition rebuked by the grave spirit of reason and humanity. When Hector is told that the omens are unpropitious, he replies,— “One omen is the best, to fight for one’s country.”

Euripides said, “He is not the best prophet who guesses well, and he is not the wisest man whose guess turns out well in the event, but he who, whatever the event be, takes reason and probability for his guide.” “Swans, horses, dogs and dragons,” says Plutarch, “we distinguish as sacred, and vehicles of the divine foresight, and yet we cannot believe that men are sacred and favorites of Heaven.” The poor shipmaster discovered a sound theology, when in the storm at sea he made his prayer to Neptune, “O God, thou mayst save me if thou wilt, and if thou wilt thou mayst destroy me; but, however, I will hold my rudder true.” Let me add one more example of the same good sense, in a story quoted out of Hecateus of Abdera:

“As I was once travelling by the Red Sea, there was one among the horsemen that attended us named Masollam, a brave and strong man, and according to the testimony of all the Greeks and barbarians, a very skilful archer. Now while the whole multitude was on the way, an augur called out to them to stand still, and this man inquired the reason of their halting. The augur showed him a bird, and told him, ‘If that bird remained where he was, it would be better for them all to remain; if he flew on, they might proceed; but if he flew back, they must return.’ The Jew said nothing, but bent his bow and shot the bird to the ground. This act offended the augur and some others, and they began to utter imprecations against the Jew. But he replied, ‘Wherefore? Why are you so foolish as to take care of this unfortunate bird? How could this fowl give us any wise directions respecting our journey, when he could not save his own life? Had he known anything of futurity, he would not have come here to be killed by the arrow of Masollam the Jew.’”

It is not the tendency of our times to ascribe importance to whimsical pictures of sleep, or to omens. But the faith in peculiar and alien power takes another form in the modern mind, much more resembling the ancient doctrine of the guardian genius. The belief that particular individuals are attended by a good fortune which makes them desirable associates in any enterprise of uncertain success, exists not only among those who take part in political and military projects, but influences all joint action of commerce and affairs, and a corresponding assurance in the individuals so distinguished meets and justifies the expectation of others by a boundless self-trust. “I have a lucky hand, sir,” said Napoleon to his hesitating Chancellor; “those on whom I lay it are fit for anything.” This faith is familiar in one form,—that often a certain abdication of prudence and foresight is an element of success; that children and young persons come off safe from casualties that would have proved dangerous to wiser people. We do not think the young will be forsaken; but he is fast approaching the age when the sub-miraculous external protection and leading are withdrawn and he is committed to his own care. The young man takes a leap in the dark and alights safe. As he comes into manhood he remembers passages and persons that seem, as he looks at them now, to have been supernaturally deprived of injurious influence on him. His eyes were holden that he could not see. But he learns that such risks he may no longer run. He observes, with pain, not that he incurs mishaps here and there, but that his genius, whose invisible benevolence was tower and shield to him, is no longer present and active.

In the popular belief, ghosts are a selecting tribe, avoiding millions, speaking to one. In our traditions, fairies, angels and saints show the like favoritism; so do the agents and the means of magic, as sorcerers and amulets. This faith in a doting power, so easily sliding into the current belief everywhere, and, in the particular of lucky days and fortunate persons, as frequent in America to-day as the faith in incantations and philters was in old Rome, or the wholesome potency of the sign of the cross in modern Rome,—this supposed power runs athwart the recognized agencies, natural and moral, which science and religion explore. Heeded though it be in many actions and partnerships, it is not the power to which we build churches, or make liturgies and prayers, or which we regard in passing laws, or found college professorships to expound. Goethe has said in his Autobiography what is much to the purpose:

“I believed that I discovered in nature, animate and inanimate, intelligent and brute, somewhat which manifested itself only in contradiction, and therefore could not be grasped by a conception, much less by a word. It was not god-like, since it seemed unreasonable; not human, since it had no understanding; not devilish, since it was beneficent; not angelic, since it is often a marplot. It resembled chance, since it showed no sequel. It resembled Providence, since it pointed at connection. All which limits us seemed permeable to that. It seemed to deal at pleasure with the necessary elements of our constitution; it shortened time and extended space. Only in the impossible it seemed to delight, and the possible to repel with contempt. This, which seemed to insert itself between all other things, to sever them, to bind them, I named the Demoniacal, after the example of the ancients, and of those who had observed the like.

“Although every demoniacal property can manifest itself in the corporeal and incorporeal, yes, in beasts too in a remarkable manner, yet it stands specially in wonderful relations with men, and forms in the moral world, though not an antagonist, yet a transverse element, so that the former may be called the warp, the latter the woof. For the phenomena which hence originate there are countless names, since all philosophies and religions have attempted in prose or in poetry to solve this riddle, and to settle the thing once for all, as indeed they may be allowed to do.

“But this demonic element appears most fruitful when it shows itself as the determining characteristic in an individual. In the course of my life I have been able to observe several such, some near, some farther off. They are not always superior persons, either in mind or in talent. They seldom recommend themselves through goodness of heart. But a monstrous force goes out from them, and they exert an incredible power over all creatures, and even over the elements; who shall say how far such an influence may extend? All united moral powers avail nothing against them. In vain do the clear-headed part of mankind discredit them as deceivers or deceived,—the mass is attracted. Seldom or never do they meet their match among their contemporaries; they are not to be conquered save by the universe itself, against which they have taken up arms. Out of such experiences doubtless arose the strange, monstrous proverb, ‘Nobody against God but God.’”

It would be easy in the political history of every time to furnish examples of this irregular success, men having a force which without virtue, without shining talent, yet makes them prevailing. No equal appears in the field against them. A power goes out from them which draws all men and events to favor them. The crimes they commit, the exposures which follow, and which would ruin any other man, are strangely overlooked, or do more strangely turn to their account.

I set down these things as I find them, but however poetic these twilights of thought, I like daylight, and I find somewhat wilful, some play at blindman’s-buff, when men as wise as Goethe talk mysteriously of the demonological. The insinuation is that the known eternal laws of morals and matter are sometimes corrupted or evaded by this gypsy principle, which chooses favorites and works in the dark for their behoof; as if the laws of the Father of the universe were sometimes balked and eluded by a meddlesome Aunt of the universe for her pets. You will observe that this extends the popular idea of success to the very gods; that they foster a success to you which is not a success to all; that fortunate men, fortunate youths exist, whose good is not virtue or the public good, but a private good, robbed from the rest. It is a midsummer madness, corrupting all who hold the tenet. The demonologic is only a fine name for egotism; an exaggeration namely of the individual, whom it is Nature’s settled purpose to postpone. “There is one world common to all who are awake, but each sleeper betakes himself to one of his own.” Dreams retain the infirmities of our character. The good genius may be there or not, our evil genius is sure to stay. The Ego partial makes the dream; the Ego total the interpretation. Life is also a dream on the same terms. ….

The history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from Nature some advantage without paying for it. It is curious to see what grand powers we have a hint of and are mad to grasp, yet how slow Heaven is to trust us with such edge-tools. “All that frees talent without increasing self-command is noxious.” Thus the fabled ring of Gyges, making the wearer invisible, which is represented in modern fable by the telescope as used by Schlemil, is simply mischievous. A new or private language, used to serve only low or political purposes; the transfusion of the blood; the steam battery, so fatal as to put an end to war by the threat of universal murder; the desired discovery of the guided balloon, are of this kind. Tramps are troublesome enough in the city and in the highways, but tramps flying through the air and descending on the lonely traveller or the lonely farmer’s house or the bank-messenger in the country, can well be spared. Men are not fit to be trusted with these talismans.

Before we acquire great power we must acquire wisdom to use it well. Animal magnetism inspires the prudent and moral with a certain terror; so the divination of contingent events, and the alleged second-sight of the pseudo-spiritualists. There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant, and these are such. Shun them as you would the secrets of the undertaker and the butcher. The best are never demoniacal or magnetic; leave this limbo to the Prince of the power of the air. The lowest angel is better. It is the height of the animal; below the region of the divine. Power as such is not known to the angels.

Great men feel that they are so by sacrificing their selfishness and falling back on what is humane; in renouncing family, clan, country and each exclusive and local connection, to beat with the pulse and breathe with the lungs of nations. A Highland chief, an Indian sachem or a feudal baron may fancy that the mountains and lakes were made specially for him Donald, or him Tecumseh; that the one question for history is the pedigree of his house, and future ages will be busy with his renown; that he has a guardian angel; that he is not in the roll of common men, but obeys a high family destiny; when he acts, unheard-of success evinces the presence of rare agents; what is to befall him, omens and coincidences foreshow; when he dies, banshees will announce his fate to kinsmen in foreign parts. What more facile than to project this exuberant selfhood into the region where individuality is forever bounded by generic and cosmical laws? The deepest flattery, and that to which we can never be insensible, id the flattery of omens.

We may make great eyes if we like, and say of one on whom the sun shines, “What luck presides over him!” But we know that the law of the Universe is one for each and for all. There is as precise and as describable a reason for every fact occurring to him, as for any occurring to any man. Every fact in which the moral elements intermingle is not the less under the dominion of fatal law. Lord Bacon uncovers the magic when he says, “Manifest virtues procure reputation; occult ones, fortune.” Thus the so-called fortunate man is one who, though not gifted to speak when the people listen, or to act with grace or with understanding to great ends, yet is one who, in actions of a low or common pitch, relies on his instincts, and simply does not act where he should not, but waits his time, and without effort acts when the need is. If to this you add a fitness to the society around him, you have the elements of fortune; so that in a particular circle and knot of affairs he is not so much his own man as the hand of Nature and time. Just as his eye and hand work exactly together,—and to hit the mark with a stone he has only to fasten his eye firmly on the mark and his arm will swing true,—so the main ambition and genius being bestowed in one direction, the lesser spirit and involuntary aids within his sphere will follow. The fault of most men is that they are busybodies; do not wait the simple movement of the soul, but interfere and thwart the instructions of their own minds.

Coincidences, dreams, animal magnetism, omens, sacred lots, have great interest for some minds. They run into this twilight and say, “There’s more than is dreamed of in your philosophy.” Certainly these facts are interesting, and deserve to be considered. But they are entitled only to a share of attention, and not a large share. Nil magnificum, nil generosum sapit. Let their value as exclusive subjects of attention be judged of by the infallible test of the state of mind in which much notice of them leaves us. Read a page of Cudworth or of Bacon, and we are exhilarated and armed to manly duties. Read demonology or Colquhoun’s Report, and we are bewildered and perhaps a little besmirched. We grope. They who love them say they are to reveal to us a world of unknown, unsuspected truths. But suppose a diligent collection and study of these occult facts were made, they are merely physiological, semi-medical, related to the machinery of man, opening to our curiosity how we live, and no aid on the superior problems why we live, and what we do. While the dilettanti have been prying into the humors and muscles of the eye, simple men will have helped themselves and the world by using their eyes.

And this is not the least remarkable fact which the adepts have developed. Men who had never wondered at anything, who had thought it the most natural thing in the world that they should exist in this orderly and replenished world, have been unable to suppress their amazement at the disclosures of the somnambulist. The peculiarity of the history of Animal Magnetism is that it drew in as inquirers and students a class of persons never on any other occasion known as students and inquirers. Of course the inquiry is pursued on low principles. Animal Magnetism peeps. It becomes in such hands a black art. The uses of the thing, the commodity, the power, at once come to mind and direct the course of inquiry. It seemed to open again that door which was open to the imagination of childhood—of magicians and fairies and lamps of Aladdin, the travelling cloak, the shoes of swiftness and the sword of sharpness that were to satisfy the uttermost wish of the sense without danger or a drop of sweat. But as Nature can never be outwitted, as in the Universe no man was ever known to get a cent’s worth without paying in some form or other the cent, so this prodigious promiser ends always and always will, as sorcery and alchemy have done before, in very small and smoky performance.

Mesmerism is high life below stairs; Momus playing Jove in the kitchens of Olympus. ’T is a low curiosity or lust of structure, and is separated by celestial diameters from the love of spiritual truths. it is wholly a false view to couple these things in any manner with the religious nature and sentiment, and a most dangerous superstition to raise them to the lofty place of motives and sanctions. This is to prefer halos and rainbows to the sun and moon. These adepts have mistaken flatulency for inspiration. Were this drivel which they report as the voice of spirits really such, we must find out a more decisive suicide. I say to the table-rappers: I well believe Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know, And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate.

They are ignorant of all that is healthy and useful to know, and by laws of kind,—dunces seeking dunces in the dark of what they call the spiritual world,—preferring snores and gastric noises to the voice of any muse. I think the rappings a new test, like blue litmus or other chemical absorbent, to try catechisms with. It detects organic skepticism in the very heads of the Church. ’T is a lawless world. We have left the geometry, the compensation, and the conscience of the daily world, and come into the realm or chaos of chance and pretty or ugly confusion; no guilt and no virtue, but a droll bedlam, where everybody believes only after his humor, and the actors and spectators have no conscience or reflection, no police, no foot-rule, no sanity,—nothing but whim and whim creative.

Meantime far be from me the impatience which cannot brook the supernatural, the vast; far be from me the lust of explaining away all which appeals to the imagination, and the great presentiments which haunt us. Willingly I too say, Hail! to the unknown awful powers which transcend the ken of the understanding. And the attraction which this topic has had for me and which induces me to unfold its parts before you is precisely because I think the numberless forms in which this superstition has reappeared in every time and every people indicates the inextinguishableness of wonder in man; betrays his conviction that behind all your explanations is a vast and potent and living Nature, inexhaustible and sublime, which you cannot explain. He is sure no book, no man has told him all. He is sure the great Instinct, the circumambient soul which flows into him as into all, and is his life, has not been searched. He is sure that intimate relations subsist between his character and his fortunes, between him and his world; and until he can adequately tell them he will tell them wildly and fabulously. Demonology is the shadow of Theology. 

The whole world is an omen and a sign. Why look so wistfully in a corner? Man is the Image of God. Why run after a ghost or a dream? The voice of divination resounds everywhere and runs to waste unheard, unregarded, as the mountains echo with the bleatings of cattle.

Soren Kierkegaard also wrote about the demonical in his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety. (p. 41-44, 118-137)

In innocence, man is not qualified as spirit but is psychically qualified in immediate unity with his natural condition. The spirit of man is dreaming. In this state there is peace and repose, but there is simultaneously something else that is not contention and strife, for there is indeed nothing against which to strive. What then is it? Nothing. But what effect does nothing have? It begets anxiety. This is the profound secret of innocence, that it is at the same time anxiety. Dreamily the spirit projects its own actuality, but this actuality is nothing, and innocence always sees this nothing outside itself.

Anxiety is a qualification of dreaming spirit, and as such it has its place in psychology. Awake, the difference between myself and my other is posited; sleeping, it is suspended; dreaming, it is an intimated nothing. The actuality of the spirit constantly shows itself as a form that tempts its possibility but disappears as soon as it seeks to grasp for it, and it is a nothing that can only bring anxiety. More it cannot do as long as it merely shows itself. The concept of anxiety is almost never treated in psychology. Therefore, I must point out that it is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility. For this reason, anxiety is not found in the beast, precisely because by nature the beast is not qualified as spirit. When we consider the dialectical determinations of anxiety it appears that exactly these have psychological ambiguity.

Anxiety is a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy. One easily sees that this is a psychological determination in a sense entirely different form the concupiscentia [inordinate desire] of which we speak. Just as the relation of anxiety to its object, to something that is nothing (linguistic usage also says pregnantly: to be anxious about nothing), is altogether ambiguous, so also the transition that is to be made from innocence to guilt will be so dialectical that it can be seen that the explanation is what it must be, psychological. The qualitative leap stands outside of all ambiguity. But he who becomes guilty through anxiety is indeed innocent, for it was not he himself but anxiety, a foreign power that laid hold of him, a power that he did not love but about which he was anxious. And yet he was guilty, for he sank in anxiety, which he nevertheless loved even as he feared it. That anxiety makes its appearance is pivotal.

Man is a synthesis of the psychical and the physical; however, a synthesis is unthinkable if the two are not united in a third. This third is spirit. In innocence, man is not merely animal, for if he were at any moment of his life merely animal, he would never become man. So spirit is present, but is immediate, as dreaming. It is in a sense a hostile power, for it constantly disturbs the relation between soul and body, a relation that indeed has persistence and yet does not have endurance, inasmuch as it first receives the latter by the spirit. On the other hand, spirit is a friendly power, since it is precisely that which constitutes the relation. What, then, is man’s relation to this ambiguous power? How does spirit relate itself to itself and to its conditionality? It relates itself as anxiety. Do away with itself, the spirit cannot; lay hold of itself, it cannot, as long as it has itself outside itself. Nor can man sink down into the vegetative, for he is qualified as spirit; flee away from anxiety, he cannot, for he loves it; really love it, he cannot, for he flees from it.

Innocence has now reached its uttermost point. It is ignorance; however, it is not an animal brutality but an ignorance qualified as spirit, and as such innocence is precisely anxiety, because its ignorance is about nothing. Here there is no knowledge of good and evil etc., but the whole actuality of knowledge projects itself in anxiety as the enormous nothing of ignorance. p. 41-44

S2. Anxiety About the Good. (The Demonic) p. 118ff
Rarely is anything said in our day about the demonic. The particular accounts of it in the New Testament are generally left in abeyance. Insofar as theologians seek to explain them, they generally lose themselves in observations upon one or another unnatural sin, and they find examples where the ascendancy of the bestial over a man is such that it almost announces itself by an inarticulate animal sound or by a mimicry of animals and a brutish glance. The bestial may have acquired a pronounced form in man, or it may in a flash, like a disappearing express messenger, suggest premonitions of what dwells within, just as the glance or gesture of the insane in a moment shorter than the shortest moment parodies, ridicules, and jeers at the rational, self-possessed, and clever man with whom he is talking. The phenomenon is described in such a way that it is clearly seen that the subject in question is the bondage of sin, a state that I cannot describe better than by recalling a game in which two persons are concealed under one cloak as if they were only one person, and one speaks and the other gesticulates arbitrarily without any relation to what is said. Similarly, the beast has taken on human form and now constantly jeers at him by gesticulations and farce.

Yet, the bondage of sin is not the demonic. As soon as sin is posited and the individual continues in sin, there are two formations, one of which is described in the foregoing section. If attention is not paid to this, the demonic cannot be defined. The individual is in sin, and his anxiety is about evil. Viewed from a higher standpoint, this formation is in the good, and for this reason it is in anxiety about the evil. The other formation is the demonic. The individual is in the evil and is in anxiety about the good. The bondage of sin is an unfree relation to the evil, but the demonic is an unfree relation to the good. The demonic therefore manifests itself clearly only when it is in contact with the good, which come to its boundary from the outside. For this reason, it is noteworthy that the demonic in the New Testament first appears when it is approached by Christ. Whether the demon is legion (cf. Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) or is dumb (cf. Luke 11:14), the phenomenon is the same, namely, anxiety about the good, for anxiety can just as well express itself by muteness as by a scream. The good, of course, signifies the restoration of freedom, redemption, salvation, or whatever one would call it.

The demonic may be viewed as esthetic-metaphysical. The phenomenon then will come will come under the rubrics of misfortune, fate, etc. and can then be viewed as analogous to being mentally deranged at birth. Then the phenomenon is approached sympathetically. Sympathy, so far from being a good to the sufferer, is rather a means of protecting one’s own egotism. Not daring in the deeper sense to think about such things, one saves oneself by sympathy.

Only when the sympathetic person in his compassion related himself to the sufferer in such a way that he in the strictest sense understands that it is his own case that is in question, only when he knows how to identify himself with the sufferer in such a way that when he fight for an explanation he is fighting for himself, renouncing all thoughtlessness, softness, and cowardness-only then does the sympathy acquire significance, and only then does it perhaps find a meaning, because the sympathetic person is different from the sufferer in that he suffers under a higher form. When sympathy related itself in this way to the demonic, it will not be a question of a few comforting words, a mite, or a shrug of the shoulder, for is a person laments, he has something to lament about. If the demonic is a fate, it may happen to anyone.

The demonic may be viewed ethically, as something to be condemned. The terrible severity with which it has been persecuted, discovered, and punished is well known in our day, we shudder at the account of it, and we become sentimental and emotional at the thought that in our enlightened age we do not act in that manner. Is sentimental sympathy so much more praiseworthy? It is not for me to judge or condemn that behavior, only to observe it. That is was so ethically severe shows precisely that its sympathy was of a better quality. In identifying itself in thought with the phenomenon, it has no further explanation that that the phenomenon was guilt.

Therefore, it was convinced that when all is said and done, the demonic himself, according to his better possibility, would in fact desire all the cruelty and severity that was used against him. To take an example from a similar sphere-was it not Augustine who recommended punishment, even capital punishment, for heretics? Was it because he lacked sympathy? Or was his behavior different from that of our own time because his sympathy had not made him cowardly, so that he would have said about himself: God grant that if it should come to that with me, there would be a Church that would not abandon me but would use all its power.

The person who is not developed ethically to the extent that he would find comfort and relief if, even when he suffered the most, someone had the courage to say to him, “This is not fate, it is guilt,” that he would find comfort and relief when this was told to him sincerely and earnestly-such a person is not in a true sense ethically developed, because the ethical individuality fears nothing so much as fate and esthetic rigmarole that in the cloak of compassion would trick him out of the jewel, which is freedom.

The demonic has been viewed medically-therapeutically. And it goes without saying with power and with pills and then with enemas! Now the pharmacist and the physician would get together. The patient would be isolated to prevent others from becoming afraid. In courageous age, we dare not tell a patient that he is about to die, we dare not call the pastor lest he die from shock, and we dare not tell the patient that a few days ago a man died from the same disease. The patient would be isolated. Sympathy would inquire about his condition. The physician would promise to issue a report as soon as possible, along with a tabulated statistical survey in order to determine the average. And when one has arrived at the average, everything is explained. The medical-therapeutic view regards the phenomenon as purely physical and somatic, and as physicians often do, takes a pinch of snuff and says: It is a serious case.

That three so different views are possible show the ambiguity of the phenomenon and indicates that in a sense it belongs in all spheres: the somatic, the psychic, and the pneumatic. This suggests that the demonic covers a much larger field than is commonly assumed, which can be explained by the fact that a man is a synthesis of psyche and body sustained by spirit, and therefore a disorganization in one shows itself in the others.

The demonic is a state. The demonic is anxiety about the good. In innocence freedom is always posited as freedom; its possibility was anxiety in the individual. In the demonic the relation is reversed. In the demonic freedom is posited as unfreedom, because freedom is lost. The demonic is unfreedom that wants to close itself off in inclosing reserve and in the unfreely disclosed. Inclosing reserve is precisely the mute, and when it is to express itself, this must take place contrary to its will, since freedom, which underlies unfreedom or is its ground, by entering into communication with freedom form without, revolts and now betrays unfreedom ins such a way that it is the individual who in anxiety betrays himself again his will.

The demonic does not close itself up with something, but it closes itself up within itself, and in this lies what is profound about existence, precisely that unfreedom makes itself a prisoner. Freedom is always communicating; unfreedom becomes more and more inclosed and does not want communication. When freedom comes into contact with inclosing reserve, it becomes anxious. A demoniac in the New Testament says to Christ, “What have I to do with you?”, and then says Christ has come to destroy him, (anxiety about the good). Or the demoniac implores Christ to go another way. When the anxiety is about evil, see S1,  the individual has recourse to salvation.

The only thing that can constrain inclosing reserve to speak is either a higher demon (for every devil has his day), or the good, which is absolutely able to keep silent, and if any cunning tries to embarrass it by the examination of silence, the inquisitor himself will be brought to shame, and it will turn out that finally he becomes afraid of himself and must break silence. Face to face with a subordinate demon and subordinate human natures whose consciousness of God is not strongly developed, inclosing reserve conquers unconditionally, because the former is not able to endure and the latter in all innocence are accustomed to live from hand to mouth and wear their hearts on their sleeves. It is incredible what power the man of inclosing reserve can exercise over such people, how at last they beg and plead for just a word to break the silence, but it is also shameful to trample upon the weak in this manner.

The demonic is inclosing reserve, the demonic is anxiety about the good. … Disclosure is the good, for disclosure is the first expression of salvation. There is an old saying that if one dates to utter “the word,” the sorcery’s enchantment is broken, and therefore the somnambulist wakes up when his name is spoken.

The collisions of inclosing reserve with regard to disclosure may be infinitely varied with innumerable nuances, because the exuberant growth of the spiritual life is not inferior to that of nature, and the varieties of the spiritual states are more numerous than those of the flowers. Inclosing reserve may wish for disclosure, wish that it might be brought about from the outside, that might happen to it. It may will disclosure to a certain degree but still retain a little residue in order to begin the inclosing reserve all over again.

Inclosing reserve may wish for disclosure, wish that it might be brought about from the outside, that might happen to it. It may will disclosure to a certain degree but still retain a little residue in order to begin the inclosing reserve all over again.

note p 127 I have deliberately used the word “disclosure.” I could also have called the good “transparency.” If I feared that anyone might misunderstand the word “disclosure” and the development of its relation to the demonic, as if it were always a matter of something external, something tangible discloses in the confessional, but which as something external would be of no help, I certainly would have chosen another word.

What the inclosed person conceals in his inclosing reserve can be so terrible that he does not dare to utter it, not even to himself, because it is as though it would tempt him again What determines whether the phenomenon is demonic is the individual’s attitude toward disclosure, whether he will interpenetrate that fact with freedom and accept it in freedom. Whenever he will not do this, the phenomenon is demonic. This must be kept clearly in mind, for even he who wishes it is essentially demonic. He has two wills, one subordinate and impotent that wills revelation and one stronger that wills inclosing reserve, but the fact that his will is the stronger indicates that he is essentially demonic.

The demonic is the sudden. The sudden is a new expression for another aspect of inclosing reserve. When the content is reflected upon, the demonic is defined as inclosing reserve; when time is reflected upon, it is defined as the sudden. Inclosing reserve is the effect of the negative self-relation in the individuality. Inclosing reserve closes itself off more and more from communication. The sudden is always due to anxiety about the good, because there is something that freedom is unwilling to pervade. The sudden corresponds to weakness.

The question of how the demonic can best be presented may be considered from a purely esthetic point of view. If a Mephistopheles is to be presented, he might well be furnished with a speech if he is to be used as a force in the dramatic action rather than to be grasped in his essence. But in that case Mephistopheles himself is not really presented but is reduced to an evil, witty, intriguing mind. This is a vaporization, whereas a legend has already presented him correctly. It relates that the devil for 3,000 years sat and speculated on how to destroy man-finally he did discover it. If the emphasis is on the 3,000 year it is the brooding inclosing reserve of the demonic.

The demonic is the contentless and boring. The continuity that corresponds to the sudden is what might be called extinction. Boredom, extinction, is precisely a continuity in nothingness. The 3,000 years are not accentuated to emphasis the sudden; instead, the prodigious span of time evokes the notion of the dreadful emptiness and contentlessness of evil. When all ethical determinants of evil are excluded, and only metaphysical determinants of emptiness are used, the result is the trivial, the comic. The contentless and the boring represent inclosing reserve.

One cannot be inclosed in God or the good, because this kind of inclosure signifies the greatest expansion. Thus, the more definitely conscience is developed in a person the more expanded he is, even though in other respects he closes himself off from the whole world.

The negative has the defect that it is more externally oriented; it defines the relation to something else, which is negated, while inclosed reserve defines the state itself. When the negative is understood in this manner, I have no objection to its use as a designation for the demonic, provided that the negative can otherwise rid itself of all the bees that the most recent philosophy has put in its bonnet. The negative has gradually become a vaudeville character.

We now return to the definition of the demonic as anxiety about the good.

The bondage of sin is also unfreedom, but its direction is different, and its anxiety is about evil. Unfreedom, the demonic is a state and psychology regards it as a state. Ethics, on the other hand, sees how out of this state the new sin constantly breaks forth, for only the good is the unity of state and motion.

Freedom may be lost in different ways, and so there may also be a difference in the demonic. This difference I shall now consider under the rubrics: Freedom lost somatically-psychically and freedom lost pneumatically.

The body is the organ of the psyche and in turn the organ of the spirit. The utmost extreme in this sphere is the bestial. As soon as the serving relation comes to an end, as soon as the body revolts, and as soon as freedom conspires with the body against itself, unfreedom is present as the demonic. As long as freedom does not defect to the party of the rebels, the anxiety of revolution will still be present, not as anxiety about the good, but as anxiety about evil. … a hypersensibility and a hyperirritability, neurasthenia, hysteria, hypochondria, etc.-all of these are or could be nuances of it.

The utmost extreme of this sphere is what is commonly called bestial perdition. In this state, the demonic manifests itself in saying, as did the demoniac in the New Testament with regard to salvation: What have I to do with you? Therefore it shuns every contact with the good whether this actually threatens it by wanting to help it to freedom or only touches it casually. But this is also enough, for anxiety is extraordinarily swift. Therefore, from such a demonic is quite commonly heard a reply that expresses all the horror of this state: Leave me alone in my wretchedness. Or such a man says in referring to a particular time in his past life: At that time I could probably been saved-the most dreadful reply imaginable. Neither punishment nor thunderous tirades make him anxious, yet every word that is related to the freedom scuttled and sunk in unfreedom will do so.

Among such demoniacs there is a cohesion in which they cling to one another so inseparably and anxiously that no friendship has an inwardness that can be compared with it. This sociability of anxiety will manifest itself everywhere in this sphere. The sociability in itself furnishes an assurance that the demonic is present, but insofar as there is the analogous condition as an expression of the bondage of sin, the sociability is not present, because the anxiety is about evil. ….


The Autobiography of Goethe 1811-1832 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832
Demonology by Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803–1882 Mr. Emerson gave a course of ten lectures on Human Life, in Boston in the winter of 1838–39, of which “Demonology” was the last.
The Concept of Anxiety 1844 by Soren Kierkegaard 1813-1855

Kierkegaard, Brandes, and Nietzsche

“Why you exist, says Nietzsche with Sören Kierkegaard, nobody in the world can tell you in advance; but since you do exist, try to give your existence a meaning by setting up for yourself as lofty and noble a goal as you can.” (George Brandes, Friedrich NietzscheAn Essay On Aristocratic Radicalism 1889)

Existentialist’s like Georg Brandes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus say there is no God in this world so people have to work things out for themselves. Georg Brandes was aware of both Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. He favored the atheism of Nietzsche over the Christianity of Kierkegaard. Nietzsche was raised in a Protestant vicarage. Kierkegaard was influenced by Hegel and Nietzsche by Schopenhauer. What Kierkegaard called leveling Nietzsche called nihilism. Kierkegaard believed in the problem of repetition, or rebirth, as a new beginning for life while Nietzsche said the new beginning begins with the statement “everything is permissible.”

Brandes was upset that Kierkegaard would seek to free individuals only to make them choose to become Christians in spirit and in truth. He and Nietzsche wanted free personalities who would then listen to a voice within saying, “Become thyself! Be thyself!” But first they asked each individual if he knows if he “Has he a self?” If he doesn’t know then he is not yet aware of having a self. Kierkegaard wanted to get the self before God and said the same thing about knowing your self as did Brandes and Nietzsche.

“When around one everything has become silent, solemn as a clear, starlit night, when the soul comes to be alone in the whole world, then before one there appears, not an extraordinary human being, but the eternal power itself, then the heavens open, and the I chooses itself or, more correctly, receives itself. Then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood that ennobles it for an eternity.” Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II 1843 p. 177 Hong

Existing before God may seem unendurable to someone, because it is impossible for him to come back to himself, become himself. The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed. For every human being is primitively organized as a self, characteristically determined to become himself; and although indeed every such self has sharp edges, that means only that it is to be worked smooth, not ground away, not through fear of man wholly abandon being itself, or even through fear of man simply not dare to be itself in that more essential contingency (which precisely is not to be ground away) in which a person is still himself for himself. Sickness Unto Death, Soren Kierkegaard 1849 p. 62-63

When in sickness I go to a physician, he may find it necessary to prescribe a very painful treatment-there is no self-contradiction in my submitting to it. No, but if on the other hand I suddenly find myself in trouble, an object of persecution, because, because I have gone to that physician: well, then then there is a self-contradiction. The physician has perhaps announced that he can help me with regard to the illness from which I suffer, and perhaps he can really do that-but there is an “aber” [but] that I had not thought of at all. The fact that I get involved with this physician, attach myself to him-that is what makes me an object of persecution; here is the possibility of offense. So also with Christianity. Now the issue is: will you be offended or will you believe. If you will believe, then you push through the possibility of offense and accept Christianity on any terms. So it goes; then forget the understanding; then you say: Whether it is a help or a torment, I want only one thing, I want to belong to Christ, I want to be a Christian. Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity 1850 p. 115 Hong

Kierkegaard wrote about the death of God in his Christian Discourses of 1848. Nietzsche wrote about the same subject in his 1882, 1887 book The Joyful Wisdom aphorism 125. Philosophy and psychology like this short excerpt very much. Nietzsche decided to become Kierkegaard’s eminent pagan and kill God.

Christian Discourses by Soren Kierkegaard 1848.

“Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why! is he lost? said one. Has he strayed away like a child? said another. Or does he keep himself hidden? Is he afraid of us? Has he taken a sea-voyage? Has he emigrated?—the people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub. The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him,—you and I! We are all his murderers!” The Joyful Wisdom by Nietzsche

This is the test: to become and continue to be a Christian, a suffering with which no other human suffering can be compared in pain and anguish. Yet neither Christianity nor Christ is cruel. No, Christ is himself leniency and love, is love and leniency itself; the cruelty comes from the Christian’s having to live in this world and having to express in the environment of this world what it is to be a Christian-for Christ is not so lenient, that is, so weak, that he wants to take the Christian out of this world. Practice in Christianity, Hong tr p. 196 1850

Both Brandes and Nietzsche place the emphasis for self development on the single individual just as Kierkegaard did. They say “follow yourself.” They want autonomy. Think for yourself they say, but then they both wrote so many books. It’s strange. Kierkegaard did the same thing when he said he wanted to get people alone with God. He also wrote so many books to say this.

The Bible from beginning to end emphasizes strongly the value of self-examination. Was one of its intentions to introduce you to a distinguished stranger; yourself?

Christ returns to Christendom

Soren Kierkegaard published Christian Discourses April 26 1848. He wrote about people who say, in Christendom, if Christ came again to the world he would be crucified again. It reminds me of The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky published in The Russian Messenger from January 1879 to November 1880.

Here is Kierkegaard’s 1848 quote:

“If Christ came again to the world now, he would be crucified again, unless the death penalty had been abolished by that time. People drop this remark as casually as they say “Good day,” only with greater pretentiousness; and people find it said so aptly and strikingly, and it does not occur to the person who says it to become aware of this whole mirage of Christendom. Truly this is inexplicable to me. It was almost a saying in Christendom that if Christ came again he would meet the same fate as before, when he came to non-Christians – and yet Christendom is supposed to be the Church triumphant, which presumably, when all is said and done, would add to its triumphs the new one of crucifying Christ.

Well, to goes without saying that the “Church triumphant” has triumphed over the world in an external sense, that is, it has in a worldly way triumphed over the world (since triumphing over it in the religious sense can be done only internally) – so, just as for all victors, there is only one victory left – to triumph over oneself; to become a Christian. As long as one is not aware of this, the concept of “Christendom” is the most dangerous of all illusions. In Christendom, therefore, Christianity is continually still militant. There may be quite a number of true Christians in Christendom, but every such one of them is also militant.” Christian Discourses Hong translation 1997 p. 229

This is a recording of The Grand Inquisitor by John Gielgud.

I like the way Kierkegaard put it since Denmark was part of Christendom. And Christendom was all about making everyone a Christian in the external sense whil Christ works quietly in the internal sense.

Here is a quote from the same book about the Rebel.

“It is the human race that has wanted to rebel against God; it is the human race that has wanted to abolish immortality and has managed to have it made into a problem. With immortality (and what it implies, the immortality of every individual), God is the lord and ruler, and the single individual relates himself to him. But when immortality becomes a problem, then God is abolished and the human race is God. The individuals perhaps do not perceive how they are in the power of the human race and that it is the human race that is speaking through them; therefore they think that the person who calls to them and calls them individuals is a rebel – and so he is indeed; in the name of God he rebels against making the human race into God and immortality into a problem. In the name of God he rebels, and he appeals to God’s word: that there will be the resurrection of the dead, of the righteous – and of the unrighteous!” Christian Discourses p. 213

Tithon and Aurora by Herder

Not to mislead, therefore, with this abused word, and not to make destructive violence a medicine for mortal ills, we will keep the path of healing Nature. Not Revolutions, but Evolutions are the silent process of the great mother, wherewith she awakens slumbering powers, brings germs to maturity, gives renewed youth to premature age, and new life to seeming death. Let us see what this remedy comprehends, and how it heals.

Tithon and Aurora
By Johann Gottfried Herder 1744-1803

Although, in general, no epitaph or panegyric uses to notice how long a man has outlived himself, yet is this one of the most remarkable and not infrequent phenomena in the history of human lives. The earlier the play of the faculties and passions begins, the more impetuously it is continued, and assailed in various ways by external accident, the oftener shall one discover cases of that early exhaustion of the soul, — of the warrior laid prostrate without death or wound, — of a manly, and, often even, of a youthful extreme age. A man may go about for a long while, with a living body, like the image of his own funeral monument; his spirit gone from him, — a shadow and a memory of his former name. Many causes may contribute to his early death: qualities of mind and heart, too great activity and too sluggish patience, relaxation as well as over-tension, too rapid prosperity and too protracted adversity. For it is a general truth, that health, cheerfulness, pleasure, and virtue, are ever the medium between two extremes. Either on the precipitous or the shallow shore of the stream, the vessel may be wrecked. In the middle, it is easy and pleasant sailing.

Johann Gottfried Herder was an important Enlightenment author. He said “not revolution but evolution” in this work and noted that people and institutions “outlive themselves.”

Many a one has grown old because he wanted the true interior source of activity. He was a brook that contracts its waters into itself and soon dries up and shows its melancholy bed. This one endeavoured to make seeming supply the place of being. The darkness passed away, and the glow-worms in the hair glittered as sparkling diamonds no longer. That one would accomplish by toil and memory, what intelligence and genius alone can perform. The overloaded memory gave way, excessive labor tired, and the want of the essential was at last painfully apparent.

Another, while a youth, overstrained his nobler powers; he piled up mountains of imagination to the skies, and soon, without the lightning of Jupiter, found under them his grave. Still another, whose learning and effort had no object but his own ease, abandoned learning and effort as soon as he had obtained that ease and buried himself in a blessed decay. Here, one, without desert, has had his brain turned by an unexpected prosperity, a too rapidly acquired fame, an unlooked for success in action. He has no longer any thought beyond this success. His seductive goddess, Fortune, has crowned him at once with laurel, with poplar, and with poppy. He falls asleep or babbles nonsense in her enervating lap. There, one of great merit has suffered too long with undeserved misfortune, until his shoulders are bowed, his breast contracted, his arm paralysed, and he can no longer stand erect and recruit himself. A thunderbolt from heaven has stricken the oak even to its root and deprived it of the power of life.

To this one — a man of manifold capacity — there was wanting a capacious breast to despise envy and to wait for better times. He suffered himself to be drawn into conflict with it, and the flying eagle was unworthily vanquished by the viper that held him in her folds. That one, — a man of honest industry, — was wanting in intelligence. His more cunning enemies soon made him powerless and wretched. And thus it befell ten other characters, in other situations. Hard by the theatre of civil life, there is generally a hospital, and in that the greater part of the actors gradually lose themselves.

Two things especially contribute to this result, and they, too, are extremes. In the first place, the arbitrariness of the ruling great; and, secondly, a too refined delicacy and carefulness. As to the former, it is a well-known and favorite saying, that nothing is so troublesome as gratitude, nothing so insupportable as continued respect and the daily spectacle of acknowledged merit. Accordingly, new favor purchases for itself new gratitude; and creatures whom the great purposely attract to themselves, — in whom they even pretend to find gifts and merits which the gods never gave them, — have, for them, a peculiar charm, as their own creation. The sap is withdrawn from the old trees that the young world may bloom and thrive. Whoso, in such cases, is not greater than he on whom he depends, dies inwardly with self-consuming vexation. The majestic voice of Philip the second.  “Yo el Rey” has slain many a one of this description. Opposed to this murder of human merits and powers, there is another, which may be termed the most refined species of self-murder. It is the more to be lamented because it occurs only in the case of the most elect of men; suddenly or gradually breaking in pieces their costly mechanism.

Men of extreme delicacy of feeling have a ‘Highest’ after which they strive, — an idea to which they attach themselves with unspeakable longing, — an ideal perfection which they pursue with irresistible impulse. When deprived of this idea, when this fair image is destroyed before their eyes, the heart of their flower is broken, and feeble, withered leaves alone remain. Perhaps, more of the dead of this description go about in society, than one might at first suppose, because they, of all men, most carefully conceal their grief, and hide even from their friend the slow poison of their death, — that sad secret of the heart. Shakespeare, who depicted all conditions of the soul, has delineated, also, this epoch of the sinking or confusion of the faculties, in various situations and characters, with great truth and exactness. One, — perhaps the crown of lamentations over such a state, — may serve as an example of all.

O! What a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair State,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers! quite, quite down!
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatched form and stature of blown youth,
Blasted with extasy.

Not only individual persons outlive themselves, but much oftener and longer, those politico-moral persons, so called, — institutions, forms of polity, classes, corporations. Often, their body remains, for centuries, as a show, when the soul of that body has long since fled; or they creep about as shadows among living forms. To be convinced of this, let any one enter a Jewish synagogue, or read Anquetils Zend-Avesta, and the sacred books of the Brahmins. There is no doubt that all these religious institutions were once very useful, and that, in every one of these hulls, lay the germs of a great development. Time has developed each of them more or less, —one happily, so that we are disposed perhaps to look for more in it than was there; another imperfectly and feeble; as in the great course of Nature it will fall out. Nevertheless, everything has its goal, and the Rabbi, the Destur, the Mobed, — perhaps also the Brahmin, — has, in the great whole, outlived himself. In some regions of Mahommedanism, something similar is already reported of the Koran, although that is the youngest of bibles. And in Christendom, true as its pure fountain streams, with the water of eternal life, how many a vessel is already broken that was thought to have exhausted this fountain! How many a form which still stands there, had long ago outlived itself! Look at the Romish Mass! Listen to many of their litanies and prayers! Into what times do they take us back! What a strange savor of long-perished ages! As, in Religion, the priestly order, so in other institutions the orders connected with them follow each its living or its dead.

Consider so many institutions and orders of the middle ages! Where they could not follow the Genius of opinion and renew their youth with him, they either remained stationary on the shore or else the stream bore them lifeless on, until they found somewhere their place of rest. Even in Cervantes’ days the Duke of Bejar would not allow that Don Quixote should be dedicated to him, so long as he supposed it to be a serious book of knight-errantry; because the taste for such things had already begun to be ridiculous. He accepted the Dedication gladly when, as the book was read to him, he discovered its true character. Time has enacted novels of this kind with several institutions. The princes and heroes of Corneille are for the most part insupportable to us, and we wonder how other times could ever put together, believe and admire such nonsense. Shakespeare’s court-scenes seem to us like Capital and State acts. The knights of our day are no longer of the ancient order; and that kingly word of Louis XIV. : “L’Etat c’est moi!”‘ will ever remain the appropriate epitaph of that great world-monarch.

“Whatsoever had a birth must die,” says the Brahmin; and that, which seeks to defer its downfall by artificial methods, in resorting to such methods, has already outlived itself. In the early spring, the foliage and grass of the former year are often still visible; much of it has retained its place; but, in a short time, the whole is vanished, and a new raiment covers the trees and the bosom of the earth.

If there is anything in the circle of Humanity which ought not to outlive itself, it is Science and Art. The nature of these is eternal, and they are capable of the purest truth and of infinite extension. And indeed the real essence of Art and Science never dies, never changes. But their forms are all the more perishable, as they appear, above all things, to depend on their masters and discoverers, — to originate, to flourish, and to perish with them. So long as the discoverer lives, so long as the master teaches and directs, men draw living thoughts from his living fountain. In the second and third generation, one already wanders through schools that echo and ape him. The image of the master stands there dead. His science and his art has outlived itself, not in his own, but in his successors’ works.

Travels give us a long catalogue of things which have thus outlived themselves. Travels in the history, as well as in the actual inspection of regions, countries, institutions, persons, classes. Who that enters an ancient castle, an old-fashioned knightly hall, an archive of old diplomas and treaties, of old arms and decorations , old court-houses, churches, convents, palaces and imperial cities, does not feel himself translated into a perished century? In a tour through Germany, one often finds, within a circle of a few miles, the ancient, the middle, the modern and most modern ages together. Here, we breathe still the air of the twelfth century; there, we hear the melodies of the sixteenth, the tenth, the fourth. All at once, you enter cabinets which have been instituted under the luxurious Ducal Government, — galleries collected under Louis XIV., and end with institutions which seem to have been devised for the twentieth century. Instructive as this chaos may be for the traveller, it would be very confusing and oppressive for the resident, did not human nature accustom itself to all things. “Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days;” said the sorrowing sister; one might say, with regard to many institutions, four centuries, and still they are not offensive to their brothers and sisters. These are accustomed to the odor, and find it nourishing.

Italy seems to me the most instructive theatre of these life-epochs and world-ages. There, you can be with Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, nay, if you please, with Chineses, with Hindoos, and with the people of Madagascar! In Rome, alone, you may follow Paganism from Romulus to Diocletian, and Christianity from Constantine to Pius. There, and in the Italian provinces, you may live at pleasure in the fifteenth, the sixteenth, or the eighteenth century. And if you investigate the monuments of Nature, you will come upon self-survivals which will take you beyond the bounds of history. It requires a capacious mind to embrace, to distinguish, to classify all these scenes. But, to such a mind, they exhibit a compend of all history, which floods us, at last, with, I know not, what pleasing but dissolving melancholy.

The cloud-capt towers, & &.
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Enough of sleep and of dying out!
Let us now speak of waking and rejuvenescence!
How is this brought about?
By Revolution?

I confess that, among the misused words of our modern, fashionable vocabulary, few are so displeasing to me as this; because it has entirely departed from its original, pure signification, and carries with it the most mischievous confusion of thought. In astronomy, we call revolution a movement of the great world-bodies which returns into itself, — determined by measure, number and forces; a movement, which is not only the most peaceful order in itself, but, in connection with other harmonious powers, establishes the kingdom of eternal order.

Thus the earth revolves around itself and makes day and night, and by means of these, arranges and regulates the sleep and the waking of its creatures, their time for rest and the circle of their occupations. Thus the earth moves around the sun and makes the year, and by means of that, the seasons, and by means of them, the changes of labour and of mortal enjoyment. The revolution of the moon around our earth gives to the sea its ebb and flood, determines the periods of diseases, and perhaps, of the growth of plants. In this sense it is useful to notice revolutions; for, in them, we observe a course of affairs which returns into itself, and, in that course of things, the laws of a perpetual order.

In such a course there is nothing abrupt, arbitrary, without reason. There is nothing of destruction in it, but a gently vibrating thread of conservation. Revolutions of this kind are the dance of the Hours around the throne of Jupiter. They are the chaplet of victory on the immortal head of the god, after the conquest of chaos.

Also, if we draw down this idea of Revolution from heaven to earth, it can be no other than the idea of a silent progress of things, of a reappearance of certain phenomena, according to their peculiar nature, consequently, of the design of an ever-working Wisdom, Order and Goodness. In this sense, we speak of the revolutions of arts and sciences, that is, a periodical return of them, the causes of which, we endeavor to investigate in history, and, as it were, to calculate astronomically. Thus the Pythagoreans spoke of the revolutions of the human soul, that is, of its periodical return into other forms. Thus have men investigated the laws of the revolution of human thoughts; when they return from oblivion into remembrance; when visions and desires, when activities and passions which had gone to sleep, reappear once more. In all these things, it has been attempted to discover the laws of a hidden, silent order of Nature.

But the meaning of this word has undergone a detestable change, because, in the barbarous centuries, men knew of no other revolutions than conquests, overturns, oppressions, confusions without motive, aim or order. Then it was called revolution, when the nethermost was made uppermost, — when, by the so-called right of war, a nation lost more or less of its property, its laws, its goods; or when, by the right of monarchy, all those so-called rights were enforced, which St. Thomas, Machiavel and Naude afterwards collected from actual events and brought together in one chapter. Then, finally, it was called a revolution, when the ministers did what the rulers themselves would not do; or when, here and there, the People undertook that which they could rarely execute so well as kings or ministers. Hence the numerous Histoires des Revolutions, — a kind of book whose title is all the more popular, that its contents are, for the most part, unintelligible or abominable. The notion of an aim or object was almost lost sight of. History became an exhibition of entanglements without a denouement. For, after the conclusion of each revolution, so called, the confusion, in the kingdoms where they occurred, was greater than before.

Revolutions of this sort, whencesoever they may derive their origin, are signs of barbarism, of an insolent force, of a mad willfulness. The more reason and moderation increase among men, the rarer they will become, until, at last, they entirely disappear. Then the word Revolution will revert to its pure and true meaning. Then it will mean, in history also as elsewhere, a course of things arranged according to laws, — a course of events which peacefully returns into itself. In this view alone is history worth the study; for, as to the revolutions of wild elephants, when they tear up trees and devastate villages, — from these there is not much to be learned.

Not to mislead, therefore, with this abused word, and not to make destructive violence a medicine for mortal ills, we will keep the path of healing Nature. Not Revolutions, but Evolutions are the silent process of the great mother, wherewith she awakens slumbering powers, brings germs to maturity, gives renewed youth to premature age, and new life to seeming death. Let us see what this remedy comprehends, and how it heals.

If we suppose Nature to have an aim on the earth, that aim can be no other than the development of her powers in all forms, kinds and ways. These evolutions proceed slowly, often imperceptibly; and, for the most part, they appear periodically. After a night of sleep, follows a morning of awakening. Under the shade of the former, Nature had re-collected her powers, in order to meet the latter with spirit. In the ages of man, childhood continues long; body and mind advance with a slow growth, until, with collected energies, the flower of youth breaks forth, and the fruit of later years comes gradually to maturity. Very improperly have these periods of development been called revolutions.

There is nothing here that revolves, but faculties are evolved, developed. Ever, the more recondite and deeper-lying come forth to view, which, without many a preceding one, could not have been brought into action. Therefore Nature made periods. She gave the creature time to recover itself from one exertion gone through with, in order to begin, with joy, and to accomplish another and more difficult. For when the plant puts forth a flower, or when the fruit is forming in it, unquestionably more inward and finer forces are put in action than when the sap was entering the stem, and the lowest leaves were brought forth. In the ordinary course of things, Nature does not leave her work until all its physical powers have been brought into action; the innermost, as it were, turned outward, and the development, which, at every step, is assisted by a kindly epigenesis, has become as perfect as it could become, under the given conditions.

Men are accustomed to regard each individual object, and especially each living individual as an isolated whole; but a nearer view shows it to be connected with soil, climate, weather, with the periodical breath of all Nature; and that, according to these, it lasts for a longer or shorter time, grows early old or easily renews its youth. Man, a rational, moral and political creation, lives, by means of these capacities and powers, in a peculiar and infinitely extended element. His reason is connected with the reason of others, his moral culture with the conduct of others, his capacity to constitute himself a free being, — both in himself and in connection with others, — is so intimately connected with the way of thinking, the reasonableness, the active enterprise of many, that out of this element, he must needs be like a fish on dry land, or a bird in a space destitute of air. His best powers die out, his capacity remains a dead capability; and all effort, out of time and place, and without the co-operation of the elements, is like a flower in the midst of winter.

It is Nature that makes seasons; it is she that furthers capacities. She furthers them also in human kind. Individual men, classes, corporations, whole societies and nations, can only advance with this stream, they have done all if they steer wisely upon it. Let no one think that, if all the regents of the earth from the proudest Negro King to the mightiest Khan of the Tartars should combine to make to-day yesterday and to hinder forever the progressive development of the human race, whether it lead to youth or to old age they could ever accomplish their aim. This can never be an aim with wise rulers, simply, because there is no sense in such fruitless endeavor.

A wise ruler then will always regard himself as the householder, not as the antagonist of Nature. He will improve every circumstance which she offers, to the best issues. Here leaves are falling, there a whole autumn of leaves lie already in their shrouds. He will not attempt to restore them again to their former places on limb and twig. Can he give them back their former freshness and sap which made them a living whole with the tree on which they hung? And if he cannot do this, how then? Will he crown himself with a withered wreath of dried leaves, because they were other once than they are now? What Nature could not keep, will the gardener keep it? and that too, not in conformity with the ends of Nature, but in direct opposition to them? Infinitely more beautiful the task to follow Nature, to mark her times, to awaken powers wherever they slumber, to promote thought, activity, invention, joy and love, in whatsoever field of useful employment. Necessity comes at last and compels with iron sceptre. He who obeys reason and measure will prevent necessity. Often, he will need only to beckon with the lily-staff of Oberon, and here new flowers will spring instead of the withered ones, and there, if the blossom-time is past, nourishing fruits will come to maturity. He will come to the aid of the young shoot and take it under his protection against oppressive weeds. The old wild tree he will not cut down but graft more genial fruits upon it, and the rejuvenized tree will wonder, itself, at its nobler existence. A slight anticipation of this kind, by which one nation had got the start of another, has often secured to it, for centuries, unattainable advantages.

England acquired the position which she now occupies, by a somewhat earlier adoption and application of certain points of constitutional finance and commerce, which had long before germinated in other countries, but which folly and passion had suppressed. After many violent revolutions which passed over her, like bloody thunder-showers, it was given to the most peaceful and silent revolution, to awaken a new activity, and thereby to establish, for centuries, the prosperity of a living constitution. If in the time of William the Third, she had attempted to renew the feudal, military and forest laws of William the Conqueror, where would she be now?

All orders and arrangements of society are the children of Time. This ancient mother produced, nourished, educated them; she adorned and fitted them out; and after a longer or shorter term of life, she buries them as she buries and renews herself. Whoever therefore confounds his own being with the duration of an order or institution, gives himself unnecessary torment. That which was before thee, will be behind thee too, if it is to be. For thine own part, act understandingly and wisely; time will proceed in its great course and accomplish its own. Be in thine own person more than thine order; and then, however that may grow old, thou wilt be, for thyself and for others, always young. Yea, the darker the night, the brighter shalt thou beam a star! He who does not raise himself above the breastwork of his order, is no hero within it. An order, as such, makes only puppets. Personality makes worth and merit. The more that idle, dead hull which conceals the best as well as the poorest kernel falls away, the more the fair and ripe fruit appears.

Assuredly, therefore, it is no retrocession, but an evolution of the times, when the order ceases to be all, and men demand to see, in each order, persons, men, active beings. And since, without a new incursion of barbarism, and with the daily increasing necessities of Europe, this feeling must necessarily increase, there remains only one counsel which can secure each one against the senescence of his order. Be something in your order, and then you will be the first to perceive, to avoid and to amend its defects. Its old age will appear rejuvenized in you, precisely because there is something in you which would grace every form and live in all.

The excellent Paolo Sarpi wrote a treatise, the title of which attracted me exceedingly: “How opinions are born and die in us.” I was very curious to become acquainted with its contents. And although I saw from Foscarini’s extract in Grisellini, that it was not likely to contain what I had supposed, this capital problem nevertheless was often in my thoughts. Many are the ways in which, from earliest childhood, we arrive at opinions with which we clothe ourselves, body and soul. Many of them cleave to us with great tenacity, and the silliest we generally keep concealed behind our innermost, ninth skin, where, let no one presume to touch them! Unfortunately, however. Time will touch them, and often with very rude hands. And he who, in order to save his life, that is, his reason, peace and the self-consciousness of internal worth, cannot yield the skin and hair of his opinions to the meddling Satan, is in bad hands. For that which is mere opinion, or even false opinion, will assuredly perish in the fierce fire of purification. But is it not something better that shall arise in its place? Instead of opinions received on authority or even, as Franklin relates, from politeness, knowledge from conviction, reason approved by our own investigation, and a self-acquired felicity shall be our portion. The old man in us must die that a new youth may spring up.

“But how may this be! Can a man return into his mother’s womb and be born again?” To this doubt of old Nicodemus, the only answer that can be given is:  ‘Palingenesia.’! — not Revolution, but a happy Evolution of the faculties which slumber in us, and by means of which we renew our youth. What we call outliving ourselves, — that is, a kind of death, — is, with souls of the better sort but sleep, which precedes a new waking, a relaxation of the bow which prepares it for new use. So rests the fallow field, in order to produce the more plentifully hereafter. So dies the tree in winter, that it may put forth and blossom anew in the spring. Destiny never forsakes the good, as long as he does not forsake himself, and ignobly despair of himself The Genius which seemed to have departed from him, returns to him again, at the right moment, bringing new activity, fortune and joy. Sometimes the Genius comes in the shape of a friend, sometimes in that of an unexpected change of times. Sacrifice to this Genius even though you see him not! Hope in back-looking, returning Fortune, even when you deem her far off”!

If the left side is sore, lay yourself on the right; if the storm has bent your sapling one way, bend it the other way, until it attains, once more, the perpendicular medium. You have wearied your memory? Then exercise your understanding. You have striven too diligently after seeming, and it has deceived you? Now seek being. That will not deceive. Unmerited fame has spoiled you? Thank Heaven that you are rid of it, and seek, in your own worth, a fame which cannot be taken away. Nothing is nobler and more venerable than a man, who, in spite of fate, perseveres in his duty, and who, if he is not happy outwardly, at least deserves to be so. He will certainly become so, at the right season. The Serpent of time often casts her slough, and brings to the man in his cave, if not the fabled jewel on her head and the rose in her mouth, at least medicinal herbs which procure him oblivion of the past, and restoration to new life.

Philosophy abounds in remedies designed to console us for misfortunes endured, but unquestionably, its best remedy is when it strengthens us to bear new misfortunes, and imparts to us a firm reliance on ourselves. The illusion which weakens the faculties of the soul, comes, for the most part, from without. But the objects which environ us are not ourselves. It is sad indeed, when the situation in which a man is placed, is so embittered and made so wretched, that he has no desire to touch one of its grapes or flowers, because they crumble to ashes in his hands, like those fruits of Sodom. Nevertheless, the situation is not himself; let him, like the tortoise, draw in his limbs and be what he can and ought. The more he disregards the consequences of his actions, the more repose he has in action. Thereby the soul grows stronger and revivifies itself, like an ever-springing fountain. The fountain does not stop to calculate through what regions of the earth its stream shall flow, what foreign matter it shall take in, and where it shall finally lose itself It flows from its own fullness, with an irrepressible motion. That which others show us of ourselves is only appearance. It has always some foundation, and is never to be wholly despised; but it is only the reflection of our being in them, mirrored back to us from their own; often a broken and dim form, and not our being itself.

Let the little insects creep over and around you, and be at the uttermost pains to make you appear dead; they work in their nature. Work you in yours, and live! In fact, our breast, our character, keeps us always more and longer upright, than all the acumen of the head, than all the cunning of the mind. In the heart we live, and not in the thoughts. The opinions of others may be a favorable or unfavorable wind in our sails. As the ocean its vessels, so circumstances at one time may hold us fast, at another may powerfully further us; but ship and sail, compass, helm and oar, are still our own. Never, then, like old Tithonus, grow gray in the conceit that your youth has passed away. Rather, with newly awakened activity, let a new Aurora daily spring from your arms.

I ought now to speak to the greater problem, peculiarly adapted to our times: Whether nations, countries, states, must also decline with old age, or whether they too are capable of a new youth? And by what means that youth may be renewed? On this question there is great division of opinion, and, as each opinion knows how to fortify itself with examples from history, this very difference in the answers is itself a proof of the indefiniteness of the question. What is it that can grow old in a nation, a country, a state? What, in them, can or ought to be made young again? Is it the soul, the air, the sky? And how are these changed for the better or worse? Is it the farms, meadows, forests, salt-springs, mines, trees? Or is it the manner of working them, the profit and the application of their products? Is it these alone, or is it man himself, his race, his manners, his education and mode of living, his principles and opinions, his relations and conditions? And how shall these be changed? By speeches and writings, or by institutions and well-directed, consistent, continued action? And what object shall this change accomplish? Superfluity for the few, comfort and idleness for the many, or the happiness of all? And wherein consists the happiness of all? In arts and sciences? In seeming or in being? In loquacious enlightenment or in genuine culture? All these, and perhaps other questions, should be considered with careful reference to place, time and circumstances, and a comparison with more ancient examples and their consequences. And then, it would probably be found:

That land and people never grow old, or only at a very late period; but that States, as human institutions, as children of the times, or even, in many cases, as the mere growth of accident, have their age and their youth, and, consequently, an ever-progressive, imperceptible movement toward growth, toward blossoming, or toward dissolution.

That man, often individual men, may retard or promote these periods, nay, that they are mostly promoted by opposite measures.

That when forces are at work, either for bloom or for dissolution, their progress is rapid, and everything appears to assimilate itself with them, until trivial circumstances, — often again, individual men, — give the stream a different direction; which new direction, again, is the result of a living presence, although it sometimes appears to be the effect of chance.

That, finally, in order to forestall those fearful explosions which are called political revolutions, and which ought to be entirely foreign from the book of human affairs, the State has no other remedy, but to preserve or to restore the natural relation, the healthy action of all its parts, the brisk circulation of its juices, and must not contend against the nature of things. Sooner or later the strongest machine must succumb in that contest; but Nature never grows old. She only renews her youth periodically, in all her living forces.

The timid nature of man, always compassed about with hope and fear, often prophesies distant evils as near, and calls that death, which is only a wholesome slumber, a necessary, health bringing relaxation. And so it generally deceives itself in its predictions concerning lands and kingdoms. Powers lie dormant which we do not perceive. Faculties and circumstances are developing themselves, on which we could not calculate. But even when our judgment is true, it usually leans too much to one side. “If this is to live,” we say, “that must die.” We do not consider, whether it may not be possible that both shall live and act favorably on each other?

The good Bishop Berkeley, who was no poet, was inspired, by his beneficent zeal for America, to write the following:

Westward the star of empire takes its way;
The four first acts already past,
The fifth shall close the drama with the day,
Time’s noblest offspring is the last.

So prophesied the good-natured Bishop, and if his spirit could now glance at yonder up-striving America, he would perhaps discover, with that same glance, that, in the arms of the old Tithon, Europe, also, a new Aurora was slumbering. Not four, scarcely three acts in the great drama of this, still youthful, quarter of the globe, are past; and who shall say how many times yet the old Tithon of the human race may and will renew his youth upon our earth!


Prose writers of Germany by Frederic Henry Hedge, 1805-1890 p. 242-248

Oliver Goldsmith on Resentment

Every part of the universe is beautiful, just, and wise, but man; vile man is a solecism in nature; the only monster in the creation. Tempests and whirlwinds have their use; but vicious ungrateful man is a blot in the fair page of universal beauty. Why was I born of that detested species, whose vices are almost a reproach to the wisdom of the divine Creator!

Has thought changed much since Goldsmith penned this interesting tale?

Asem, An Eastern Tale
by Oliver Goldsmith 1728-1774

Where Tauris lifts its head above the storm, and presents nothing to the sight of the distant traveller but a prospect of nodding rocks, falling torrents, and all the variety of tremendous nature; on the bleak bosom of this frightful mountain, secluded from society, and detesting the ways of men, lived Asem, the man-hater.

Asem had spent his youth with men; had shared in their amusements; and had been taught to love his fellow-creatures with the most ardent affection; but from the tenderness of his disposition he exhausted all his fortune in relieving the wants of the distressed. The petitioner never sued in vain; the weary traveller never passed his door; he only desisted from doing good when he had no longer the power of relieving.

From a fortune thus spent in benevolence, he expected a grateful return from those he had formerly relieved; and made his application with confidence of redress: the ungrateful world soon grew weary of his importunity; for pity is but a short lived passion. He soon therefore began to view mankind in a very different light from that in which he had before beheld them: he perceived a thousand vices he had never before suspected to exist: wherever he turned, ingratitude, dissimulation, and treachery contributed to increase his detestation of them. Resolved therefore to continue no longer in a world which he hated, and which repaid his detestation with contempt, he retired to this region of sterility, in order to brood over his resentment in solitude, and converse with the only honest heart he knew; namely, with his own.

A cave was his only shelter from the inclemency of the weather; fruits gathered with difficulty from the mountain’s side his only food: and his drink was fetched with danger and toil from the headlong torrent. In this manner he lived, sequestered from society, passing the hours in meditation, and sometimes exulting that he was able to live independently of his fellow-creatures.

At the foot of the mountain an extensive lake displayed its glassy bosom; reflecting on its broad surface the impending horrors of the mountain. To this capacious mirror he would sometimes descend, and reclining on its steep banks, cast an eager look on the smooth expanse that lay before him. “How beautiful,” he often cried, “is nature! How lovely even in her wildest scenes! How finely contrasted is the level plain that lies beneath me, with yon awful pile that hides its tremendous head in clouds! But the beauty of these scenes is no way comparable with their utility; hence an hundred rivers are supplied, which distribute health and verdure to the various countries through which they flow.

Every part of the universe is beautiful, just, and wise, but man; vile man is a solecism in nature; the only monster in the creation. Tempests and whirlwinds have their use; but vicious ungrateful man is a blot in the fair page of universal beauty. Why was I born of that detested species, whose vices are almost a reproach to the wisdom of the divine Creator! Were men entirely free from vice, all would be uniformity, harmony, and order. A world of moral rectitude should be the result of a perfect moral agent. Why, why then, Alla! must I be thus confined in darkness, doubt, and despair?”

Just as he uttered the word despair, he was going to plunge into the lake beneath him, at once to satisfy his doubts, and put a period to his anxiety; when he perceived a most majestic being walking on the surface of the water, and approaching the bank on which he stood. So unexpected an object at once checked his purpose; he stopped, contemplated, and fancied he saw something awful and divine in his aspect.

“Son of Adam,” cried the genius, “stop thy rash purpose; the Father of the Faithful has seen thy justice, thy integrity, thy miseries, and hath sent me to afford and administer relief. Give me thine hand, and follow without trembling wherever I shall lead; in me behold the Genius of Conviction, kept by the Great Prophet, to turn from their errors those who go astray, not from curiosity, but a rectitude of intention. Follow me, and be wise.”

Asem immediately descended upon the lake, and his guide conducted him along the surface of the water; till, coming near the centre of the lake, they both began to sink; tbe waters closed over their heads; they descended several hundred fathoms, till Asem, just ready to give up his life as inevitably lost, found himself with his celestial guide in another world, at the bottom of the waters, where human foot had never trod before. His astonishment was beyond description, when he saw a sun like that he had left, a serene sky over his head, and blooming verdure under his feet.

“I plainly perceive your amazement,” said the genius; “but suspend it for a while. This world was formed by Alla, at the request, and under the inspection, of our great Prophet; who once entertained the same doubts which filled your mind when I found you, and from the consequence of which you were so lately rescued. The rational inhabitants of this world are formed agreeable to your own ideas; they are absolutely without vice. In other respects it resembles your earth, but differs from it in being wholly inhabited by men who never do wrong. If you find this world more agreeable than that you so lately left, you have free permission to spend the remainder of your days in it; but permit me for some time to attend you, that I may silence your doubts, and make you better acquainted with your company and your new habitation.”

“A world without vice! rational beings without immorality’.” cried Asem in a rapture: “I thank thee, O Alla, who hast at length heard my petitions: this, this indeed will produce happiness, ecstasy, and ease. O! for an immortality, to spend it among men who are incapable of ingratitude, injustice, fraud, violence, and a thousand other crimes, that render society miserable.”

“Cease thine acclamations,” replied the genius.”Look around thee; reflect on every object and action before us, and communicate to me the result of thine observations. Lead wherever you think proper, I shall be your attendant and instructor.” Asem and his companion travelled on in silence for some time, the former being entirely lost in astonishment; but at last recovering his former serenity, he could not help observing that the face of the country bore a near resemblance to that he had left, except that this subterranean world still seemed to retain its primeval wildness.

“Here,” cried Asem,” I perceive animals of prey, and others that seem only designed for their subsistence; it is the very same in the world over our heads. But had I been permitted to instruct our Prophet, I would have removed this defect, and formed no voracious or destructive animals, which only prey on the other parts of the creation.”

“Your tenderness for inferior animals is, I find, remarkable,” said the genius, smiling; “but with regard to meaner creatures, this world exactly resembles the other; and indeed for obvious reasons; for the earth can support a more considerable number of animals, by their thus becoming food for each other, than if they had lived entirely on her vegetable productions. So that animals of different natures, thus formed, instead of lessening their multitude, subsist in the greatest number possible. But let us hasten on to the inhabited country before us, and see what that offers for instruction.”

They soon gained the utmost verge of the forest, and entered the country inhabited by men without vice; and Asem anticipated in idea the rational delight he hoped to experience in such an innocent society. But they had scarcely left the confines of the wood, when they beheld one of the inhabitants flying with hasty steps, and terror in his countenance, from an army of squirrels that closely pursued him.

“Heavens!” cried Asem, “why does he fly? What can he fear from animals so contemptible?” He had scarcely spoken, when he perceived two dogs pursuing another of the human species, who, with equal tenor and haste, attempted to avoid them.

“This,” cried Asem to his guide, “is truly surprising; nor can I conceive the reason for so strange an action.”

“Every species of animals,” replied the genius, “has of late grown very powerful in this country; for the inhabitants at first thinking it unjust to use either fraud or force in destroying them, they have insensibly increased, and now frequently ravage their harmless frontiers.”

“But they should have been destroyed,” cried Asem; you see the consequence of such neglect.”

“Where is then that tenderness you so lately expressed for subordinate animals?” replied the genius, smiling; “you seem to have forgot that branch of justice.”

“I must acknowledge my mistake,” returned Asem; “I am now convinced that we must be guilty of tyranny and injustice to the brute creation, if we would enjoy the world ourselves. But let us no longer observe the duty of man to these irrational creatures, but survey their connexions with one another.”

As they walked further up the country, the more he was surprised to see no vestige of handsome houses, no cities, nor any mark of elegant design. His conductor perceiving his surprise, observed, that the inhabitants of this new world were perfectly content with their ancient simplicity; each had a house, which, though homely, was sufficient to lodge his little family; they were too good to build houses, which could only increase their own pride, and the envy of the spectator; what they built was for convenience, and not for show.

“At least, then,” said Asem, “they have neither architects, painters, nor statuaries, in their society; but these are idle arts, and may be spared. However, before I spend much more time, you should have my thanks for introducing me into the society of some of their wisest men: there is scarcely any pleasure to me equal to a refined conversation; there is nothing of which I am so much enamored as wisdom.”

“Wisdom!” replied his instructor, “how ridiculous! We have no wisdom here, for we have no occasion for it; true wisdom is only a knowledge of our own duty, and the duty of others to us; but of what use is such wisdom here? Each intuitively performs what is right in himself, and expects the same from others! If by wisdom you should mean vain curiosity, and empty speculation, as such pleasures have their origin in vanity, luxury, or avarice, we are too good to pursue them.”

“All this maybe right,” says Asem; “but methinks I observe a solitary disposition prevail among the people; each family keeps separately within their own precincts, without society, or without intercourse.”

“That indeed is true,” replied the other: “here is no established society; nor should there he any: all societies are made either through fear or friendship: the people we are among are too good to fear each other; and there are no motives to private friendship where all are equally meritorious.”

“Well, then,” said the skeptic, “as I am to spend my time here, if I am to have neither the polite arts, nor wisdom, nor friendship, in such a world, I should he glad at least of an easy companion, who may tell me his thoughts, and to whom I may communicate mine.”

“And to what purpose should either do this?” says the genius: “flattery or curiosity are vicious motives, and never allowed of here; and wisdom is out of the question.”

“Still, however,” said Asem, “the inhabitants must be happy; each is contented with his own possessions, nor avariciously endeavours to heap up more than is necessary for his own subsistence: each has therefore leisure for pitying those that stand in need of his compassion.” He had scarcely spoken, when his ears were assaulted with the lamentations of a wretch who sat by the way side, and in the most deplorable distress seemed gently to murmur at his own misery. Asem immediately ran to his relief, and found him in the last stage of a consumption.

“Strange,” cried the son of Adam, “that men who are free from vice should thus suffer so much misery without relief.”

“Be not surprised,” said the wretch who was dying; ” would it not be the utmost injustice for beings, who have only just sufficient to support themselves, and are content with a bare subsistence, to take it from their own mouths to put it into mine? They never are possessed of a single meal more than is necessary; and what is barely necessary cannot be dispensed with.”

“They should have been supplied with more than is necessary,” cried Asem; “and yet I contradict my own opinion but a moment before: all is doubt, perplexity, and confusion. Even the want of ingratitude is no virtue here, since they never received a favor. They have, however, another excellence yet behind; the love of their country is still I hope one of their darling virtues.”

“Peace, Asem,” replied the guardian, with a countenance not less severe than beautiful, “nor forfeit all thy pretensions to wisdom; the same selfish motives by which we prefer our own interest to that of others, induce us to regard our country preferably to that of another. Nothing less than universal benevolence is free from vice, and that you see is practiced here.”

“Strange!” cries the disappointed pilgrim, in an agony of distress; what sort of a world am I now introduced to? There is scarcely a single virtue, but that of temperance, which they practice; and in that they are no way superior to the very brute creation. There is scarcely an amusement which they enjoy; fortitude, liberality, friendship, wisdom, conversation, and love of country, all are virtues entirely unknown here: thus it seems, that to be unacquainted with vice is not to know virtue. Take me, O my genius, back to that very world which I have despised; a world which has Alla for its contriver is much more wisely formed than that which has been projected by Mahomet. Ingratitude, contempt, and hatred, I can now suffer, for perhaps I have deserved them. When I arraigned the wisdom of Providence, I only showed my own ignorance; henceforth let me keep from vice myself, and pity it in others.”

He had scarcely ended, when the genius, assuming an air of terrible complacency, called all his thunders around him, and vanished in a whirlwind; Asem, astonished at the terror of the scene, looked for his imaginary world; when, casting his eyes around, he perceived himself in the very situation, and in the very place, where he first began to repine and despair; his right foot had been just advanced to take the fatal plunge, nor had it been yet withdrawn; so instantly did Providence strike the series of truths just imprinted on his soul. He now departed from the water-side in tranquillity, and, leaving his horrid mansion, travelled to Segestan, his native city, where he diligently applied himself to commerce, and put in practice that wisdom he had learned in solitude. The frugality of a few years soon produced opulence; the number of his domestics increased; his friends came to him from every part of the city; nor did he receive them with disdain: and a youth of misery was concluded with an old age of elegance, affluence, and ease.

Asem, An Eastern Tale

Kierkegaard’s 1845 writings

Alexander Vinet lived in Switzerland from 1797-1847. He took up Pascal’s Thoughts in his book: Studies on Pascal. He said, “The Thoughts are only the papers on which this great man threw out, from time to time, all that occupied his powerful mind, until the excess of physical malady reduced him to complete inaction, and put, so to speak, the seals upon his genius. Great pains have been taken, and not without success, to reduce these scattered materials, by means of art, into a kind of whole. Sometimes, perhaps, the secret of the writer has been guessed; possibly, in certain cases, his intention has been entirely misunderstood. It may sometimes be asked, in the course of the perusal of these fragments, whether this or that passage were intended as it is supposed to have been, or whether its intention were not exactly the contrary.” This situation was perfectly illustrated in Soren Kierkegaard’s book, Either/or part 1 and later in Stages on Life’s Way.

Victor Emerita found some papers in a new desk he bought. One set was very meticulous but the writing slovenly while the other was written on ruled paper. Victor had to put the papers into order for the first part just like the editors of Pascal’s Pensees, or Thoughts, had to do.

What intention does Providence have for you?

Vinet wondered what part of Pascal’s great work was Pascal’s and what part was edited in as a remark of the man’s opponent or the thoughts of someone else. Such things happen with these kinds of works. Pascal’s fragments have become a work of much repute in scholarly fields as has Kierkegaard’s 1843 work, Either/or.

Kierkegaard used the same technique two years later in his book Stages on Life’s Way. Here Hilarius Bookbinder, the pseudonymous author of the book, gets a book from Mr. Literatus who wanted to get a book bound at his shop and left the papers without ever returning. He said, “that a bookbinder stitches together, guides through the press, and publishes a book so that he “might be able to benefit his fellow men in some other way than as a bookbinder,’ no fair-minded reader will take amiss.” Later he goes fishing in Soborg Lake and catches a box containing the papers titled Guilty/Not Guilty. He posted this: “Notice is hereby given to the owner of the box found in Soborg Lake in the summer of 1844 to communicate with me through Reitzel’s bookstore by means of a sealed note marked with the initials F. T.” No one replied so the book was bound and printed. Kierkegaard used the pseudonym Frater Taciturnus for this part of his book.

Kierkegaard began the third part of his book Stages on Life’s Way this way.

Stages on Life’s Way was published one day after Kierkegaard had published Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions under his own name; (Discourses) April 29, 1945 and (Stages) April 30, 1845. Each of these books were divided into three parts. These have been delineated the aesthetic, ethical, and religious stages of life by scholars. The first part of the discourses in a confession and the last part of stages deals with guilt. He had published Either/or before his Two Discourses in 1843, the pseudonym before the work in his own name now he has published the reverse in 1845. He wanted people to read his religious works.

Here are a few readings I did from these two books.

Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions was translated by Howard Hong but David F. Swenson translated it first as Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life.

Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life
From Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life

Kierkegaard wrote In Vino Veritas in imitation of Plato’s Symposium.

From Stages on Life’s Way as traslated by Lee Milton Hollander 1923

Guitly/not Gulty was a long diary in imitation of Young’s Night Thoughts.

About Stages on Life’s Way


Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life

Stages on Life’s Way

Studies on Pascal

This man asked that someone translate Kierkegaard’s works into English. Walter Lowrie tells this story in the next post.

How Kierkegaard Got Into English

by Walter Lowrie as attached to the end of his 1941 translation of Kierkegaard’s Repetition.

Repetition: an essay in experimental psychology by Kierkegaard, Søren, 1813-1855 (1843), tr. 1941 Princeton University Press p. 177ff

After the last war I was impressed by the importance the name of Kierkegaard had acquired throughout the Continent, especially in Germany. I could hardly pick up a serious book without finding his name in it. Every writer who claimed to be abreast of modern thought had to say something about him, and every reputable publisher had to bring out something. S.K. had already taken the place of Nietzsche as the literary vogue in higher circles. I sought to orient myself in this field, but it was not easy. S.K. was accessible to me only in German translations, most of which were not faithful interpretations. I read many commentators, but I confess that I got precious little out of them, except from Geismar and Hirsch. It is not creditable to German scholarship that few of those who lately have been writing about S.K. had taken the pains to lean Danish. At that time I wondered greatly at Unamuno, who in his Del sentimiento tragico de la vida traced all his quotations from S.K. to the Danish text. I learned lately from Dr. John Mackay that Unamuno said somewhere, “I learned to language for the sake of reading Ibsen, and I was rewarded by reading Kierkegaard. At that time the excellent French translations of S.K. were not yet in existence. Now that the French display so fervent an interest in him I remember with amusement the remark may by S.K.’s one-time fiancée in her mature years: “The French will never be able to understand Kierkegaard.”

But at the time of which I am speaking Karl Barth began to make S.K. widely known in religious circles, and his words were being rapidly translated into English. Seeing that Barth expressly claimed S.K. as his spiritual progenitor, it seemed only courteous to take him at his word. This proved to be a misunderstanding, for in 1934 he excommunicated S.K. and Brunner in the same breath … on the ground that they were essentially Catholic. However, two years before he uttered his famous NEIN! I naively set about interpreting Barth in terms of S.K. in a series of lectures I delivered on the Bohlen Foundation (to an audience of one). In publishing these lectures (Our Concern with the Theology of Crisis) I stuck into it a short list of books of and about S.K. in German (there were no others available) and half apologized for this “accusing bibliography as an intrusion,” but I added, perhaps impertently, “But for what reason have we so many universities? Is it to insure that studious youth shall be shielded from all contacts with contemporary thought?” This was printed in such small type and in so insignificant a place that I could reasonably hope it might be overlooked. However, as it has been quoted by two reviewers of the translations of S.K. it may be regarded perhaps as the first shot, a mere pistol shot, in the campaign to introduce S.K. to the English speaking world.

I did not know then that David F. Swenson, Professor of Philosophy in the University of Minnesota, had for many years been trying in a more mannerly way, and therefore with less obvious success, to put S.K. over. He was by far the most competent translator and expounder of S.K. in the English-speaking world, and now after his death the rich fruit of his study has been made available to the public.

My campaign in favor of S.K. was at first exceedingly desultory – in the literal sense which S.K. attached to that word, that is to say, I was hopping about from place to place. “Superannuated” as I was, I declined no invitation to talk in any theological seminary or before any group of ministers. I sometimes used Karl Barth as an entering wedge. I thing still that my misunderstanding of Barth was excusable; for when I became acquainted with S.K.’s words I say that Barth owed much more him that he could acknowledge without pedantry, for he owed him very many of his most telling phrases. That that time I chided Professor Wilhelm Pauck for not expressing wholehearted admiration for Barth, and he replied not ineptly that he might have written more enthusiastically as I if he had felt as free to select only those pars of his doctrine which he liked.

In my desultory campaign I made a tremendous hop to China, where I was invited to lecture to the professors of Yenching University. I grasped eagerly at that invitation, not because I cherished any illusions about furthering there the cause of S.K., but because from my childhood I had a passionate interest in China, and as a serious man I could not without loss of face make so long a journey unless could allege a serious pretext. The winter in Peking was a memorable experience, but of course I made no converts to S.K. Modern Chine looks so exclusively to America for its modern culture that S.K. was not know there the inference was inevitable that he could not be worth knowing. But, as I said, the winter in Peking was a memorable. We discarded the palace of Marquis Li Hung Chang in favor of the more glorious residence of the Prime Minister of Chien Lung, who impoverished the Empire and provoked rebellion in the provinces by the exactions he made to provide for his private extravagances, and was sentenced to death by the next emperor. Yenching University is established in the beautiful park of the Prime Minister’s summer residence, and in one of the American mission compounds I looked with wonder at the monument he was politely allowed to erect in commemoration of his virtues. All this for the glorification of S.K. But to tell the truth we took this big house because we were unable to the little one we wanted. With scant justification I adopted as my style: Dr. Lowrie of Rome and Peking. But S.K. got precious little out of it.

In Japan the situation was very different, for Japan looks quite as much to the Continent of Europe for the enrichment of its culture. There I found myself compelled by a mere change to make an address before the whole University of Doshisha. I protested that I could not speak about S.K. before so general an audience, but I was assured that no subject could be more acceptable, since several articles had lately been written about him in the University Review.

But my interest is in home-missions, and here at home I was soon in touch by correspondence with allt he men in England and America who were then known to be interested in S.K., and enough interested to want to so something about it. How few there were! In Great Britain I know of only three besides Alexander Dru. Two of them, Dr. Bain and Mr. Allen, when in an incredibly short time they had finished their little books, washed their hands of Kierkegaard – Mr. Allen the more vaingloriously because like Schrempf he had been led to him to renounce the Christian faith … and he could not forgive him for the embarrassment in which that had placed him. In America besides Swenson I can enumerate only six, and in the end only one of these did something. The voluminous correspondence I carried on with Professor Swenson for seven years has been collected by Mrs. Swenson and presented to the University of Minnesota. It was exceedingly encouraging and helpful to me.

For some years my correspondence with Mr. Dru was quite as active, and on his side it was highly entertaining. My correspondence with him and Mr. Williams,, supplementing the letter which passed between me and Swenson, provides abundant documentation for the whole story. Charles Williams is the only man I have ever taken to my heart “unsight unseen.” It was a wrench to both of us when eventually I had to withdraw from my association with the Oxford Press. But Dru was twice in the States and therefore I had the pleasure of knowing him face to face. He was perhaps more inclined to accept me as a partner because I am not a don like Professor Swenson and because I do not live in the Middle West. One summer when I was in Italy we almost got together. He had promised to bring Haecker to meet me there in a remote Alpine valley, and I agreed to bring Ferlov, who was cooperating in the French translations, and the first Italian book on S.K. … and then washed his hands of the subject. But the best laid plans. … Dru’s very liberal education includes even Danish. He is a young Catholic layman, and (if I may say so without offense) a man of fashion. He seemed to me ideally fitted to be a translator and expounder of S.K., who only too rightly feared that he would fall prey to the pedantry of the professors and might with even more reason have feared the narrowness of the parsons. In fact Due had done notable service to the cause of S.K. and had proposed to do so much more when his plans were nipped by the war. And yet perhaps his big plans might not have materialized in any case, and that precisely for the reason that he was not a professor or a parson and therefore lacked the indefatigable industry the professor and the parson sometimes have.

Lately I was struck by the justice of an expression which Dr. John McConnachie applied to me: “the indefatigable Dr. Walter Lowrie.” At least so I read it at first. It was hardly a flattering expression. And yet how true! I am exceedingly industrious – and I know that the definition of genius as “an infinite capacity for taking pains” is as far as possible from the mark. I must be indefatigable if, besides having other things to do, I managed to publish four volumes of Kierkegaard translations last year and six this. But in fact Dr. McConnachie described me as “irrepressible.” I don’t like that word. And yet Dr. McConnachie has commonly been generous in his reviews of my books. But this particular book was not about S.K., it was about SS. Peter and Paul in Rome, and because I was spending that winter in Rome I did not go far out of my way when I drew a comparison between the Empire of Augustus and the Fascist regime. But in the meantime came the war. And I have some acquaintance with the perfervidum ingenium scotorum. And yet perhaps there may be some justification for the word “irrepressible.” Mrs. Swenson said of her husband that he did not succeed in making S.K. widely known because he was not so “aggressive” as Dr. Lowrie. That is a hateful word, and yet I know that it is commonly used in America without any notion of implying belligerency. Not travelling salesmen only but simple Christians are told that they must be aggressive. Perhaps I am aggressive in the proper sense of the word. I have had an experience which suggests that this may be so. And the annual garden party of the Graduate College at Princeton I was told that Henry Goddard Leach is looking for me. Mr. Leach is the editor of the Forum and also president of the American-Scandinavian Foundation. I found him surrounded by sever admiring youths whom he was about to send with scholarships to Sweden. When I approached he drew their attention to me and apostrophized me in these words: “The man who has done more than any other to bring Scandinavia and America together… and done it by making everybody mad.” These words were a revelation to me – but thereby hangs a tale which I must tell at some length because this is where Providence comes in, the Providence which rules and overrules, the Divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will, the Providence for which Danish has a distinctive name, Styrelsen, which I have ventured to translate by Governance, and which I am too aggressive to give up, although it has met with no commendation and with some criticism. For it seems to me a pity that in English we have no name to distinguish Providence which rules from the Providence which provides.

It seems to me obvious that a fund must be secured for the publication of S.K.’s works, inasmuch as the public could not be expected to support the venture in its initial stage. It was natural to appeal to the American-Scandinavian Foundation, and Mr. Leach was well known t me. He entered ardently into the plan and made no doubt that ten thousand dollars could be raised by appealing to the friends of the Foundation. It happened at that moment that Mr. Cumberlege of the Oxford University Press was in New York. Mr. Leach charged me to draw up a contract with him. The contract proposed was agreeable to everyone. Mr. Leach was ready to sign it as soon as he had the money in hand, and he drew up at once the preliminary draft of a letter which was to be sent to prospective donors, sending it to me first with a request for my criticism of its form. I was naïve enough to take him at his word, and perhaps I criticized that letter too drastically. At all events I was told by return post that unexpected obstacles had arisen and the whole thing was off. Even then it did not occur to me that I had made “everybody mad.” I learned that some years later at a garden party.

But this is where Providence comes in. Mr. Cumberlege returned to England impressed by the importance of S.K. Mr. Dru wrote to me at once that at last the doors of the Press at which he had knocked in vain were open to him. He had already gained the adhesion of Mr. Charles Williams, who has continued to be the foster father of our undertaking. While Dru held the door open I walked in – metaphorically. This was in 1936. By that time I had ready may big book on Kierkegaard. I could be sure that Oxford would publish it, Dru could go ahead confidently with his big work of translating the Journal, and Swenson, having translated the Philosophical Fragments, got ahead of us all and had it published by the Princeton Press for the American-Scandinavian Foundation, which again later displayed its magnanimity by contributing a part of the cost of publishing Professor Swenson’s translation of the Postscript.

But of course the Oxford Press had not yet committed itself to the plan of publishing all of S.K.’s works, it was prepared only to take one step at a time, tentatively, and therefore to encourage it in this enterprise I undertook to defray the cost of publishing whatever I might produce, with the tacit understanding that it would assume responsibility for all other translations it would publish. I had no notion then how much I was letting myself in for, since at that time I did not thing of translating anything more than The Point of View, which was published in 1939, and the two volumes entitled Training in Christianity and For Self-Examination which for various reasons was not published until the middle of this year. On the other hand, the English collaborators seemed to going ahead with all sails set. A letter from Mr. Williams of January 21, 1938, said, “Fear and Trembling and Repetition are done… the translations of The Concept of Dread and The Sickness unto Death are well on the way.” Nothing came of all this except the publication of Fear and Trembling – and that I have had to do over again. The consequence is that, while Oxford has received the praise it merited for launching out upon so bold an adventure, I have borne most of the expense. And now that because of the war, and for other reasons, I have had to transfer to the Princeton Press the responsibility of completing the English edition, the cost of it still rests upon me, except so far as it is shared by Mrs. Swenson. I may remark by the way that the total costs involved in the publication of S.K.’s works in English far exceed the sum Mr. Leach and I originally reckoned, and that in spirt of the fact that translators have been paid nothing at all. That had to be a labor of love. And yet that sum as a revolving fund might have been sufficient if the production had been less rapid and more time had been left for the turnover.

It was not until May of 1938 that the Oxford Press resolved to commit itself to the plan of publishing all of S.K.’s works, and as that too came about in a providential way I must express my gratitude by telling the story in some detail. I can say of the success of this edition, as S.K.’s said of his works, that if I must ascribe it to anyone, I must ascribe it to Governance.

From the moment my Kierkegaard biography was published I have been engaged in a constant struggle to keep prices down. I was concerned chiefly about the American price, for, strange as it may seem, we have never been willing in America to pay extra for quality; and in this case the American prices were necessarily enhanced by the duty exacted on books printed abroad, an exaction which, when the author happens to be an American, is so considerably increased that it may be regarded as a penalty upon disloyalty. But surely it was going too far when the New York branch advertised at ten dollars my Kierkegaard when it was sold for half that price in Great Britain, i.e. for 25s.  I was so indignant at this that I wrote at once (perhaps “aggressively”) to the Oxford Press, demanding the return of the manuscripts they then held in order that I might have them published in America. By return post on the date of May 26, 1938, Mr. Williams wrote that he himself characterized as “a passionate appeal” to me to reconsider my decision. He promised, “officially and unofficially,” to remedy the grievances I complained of, which besides the question of price included vexatious delay in printing and negligence on the part of the New York branch in failing to keep on hand a stock of books sufficient to supply the demand. To this letter was appended the following postscript:

“Sir Humphry has been at Oxford while I was writing this letter. He has just returned and has seen the correspondence. He endorses everything I have said above, and has asked me to tell you that the Vice-Chancellor (Dr. Lindsay, Master of Balliol) was so excited by the copy of your book which he had, that he found it difficult to turn to the business of the meeting before him. He insisted on being given all possible information about it, and about any further possibilities.”

This was decisive. Not only did it decide me to continue with the Oxford Press on the assurance that prices would be kept at a tolerable level (my Kierkegaard being at once reduced to seven dollars), but it decided Sir Humphrey Milford to proceed resolutely with the publication of S.K. Dru wrote to me at once:

“Now that the OUP are really excited (as much as they can be) about S.K., all should go smoothly. Williams is always good about it, and now, as you know, Sir Humphrey is convinced that he is backing the right horse.”

The question of the price of these books continues to be a serious problem. It cannot be greatly reduced by the Princeton Press, for most of the volumes are not only bulky but difficult to print and at this stage the editions are necessarily small. I rejoice that the Augsburg Publishing House is able to issue books at a cheaper price, for I desire above all to see them made available to the clergy. But it must be admitted that these are cheaper books, and I have often thought that preachers, if only they knew how many headaches they would be saved in a frantic search for a theme, might count that they could well effort to spend fifty dollars for a whole shelfful of S.K.’s works. Or a parish might well make this gift to their preacher, with better effect and at far less cost than if, as sometimes is done, he were to be sent on a trip to the Holy Land with the vain hope that this experience might make his sermons more glamorous.

But I exaggerate. For I am well aware of the fact that a great many parsons, especially in America, if they were to become acquainted with S.K., would indignantly reject him. He is a “corrective,” and they want no correction. Today as in his own age he presents an either/or – either New Testament Christianity/or none at all – and perhaps there are not many willing to face that dilemma. Moreover, it is true now as then that not all – not even all the reverend parsons – are competent to understand him. For them, if they are men of good will, his thought must be popularized (preferably in cheap books), otherwise he must remain inaccessible to them. For, eager as he was to be heard by the “simple man,” his words, even the Discourses, were addressed to the cultured class. It is inappropriate therefore that in English they are published by a university press. In spite of war and everything else, it has proved to be a great advantage that the first works were launched by the Oxford Press. But for that the reviewers would hardly have been so friendly. And again it was providential that, when I resolved to have my translations printed in my own town, Princeton University Press was under the able direction of Mr. Joseph A. Brandt, who has taken a lively interest in this edition. It should be understood that this change did not involve an absolute breach of continuity, inasmuch as Princeton is careful to maintain the uniformity of the edition, and Oxford is not merely the agent for sales in Europe but in certain cases has adopted the policy of purchasing in sheets a considerable number of copies of translations published here.

But I have got too far ahead with the story. I must return to a point near the beginning.

At the beginning it was obvious that before S.K.,’s works were sprung upon the public totally unprepared to understand them, an entering wedge was needed, in the form of a pretty big book about him. I wonder now that I had the temerity to undertake such a thing, that is, to write a life of S.K. on a large scale. I hardly realized then that, although an immense amount of biographical material had been collected by Danish scholars, nothing that could properly be called a biography had yet been written. I was not so much dismayed as I ought to have been at the necessity of learning Danish; for, though I have no aptitude for learning languages, I have from time to time have been obliged to learn so many that the thought of adding a new one to the list was not an appalling obstacle. When I had barely acquired the rudiments my wife and I made a visit to Denmark, which was made profitable by the extraordinary kindness of Dr. Johannes Prip-Moller and his wife, friends we had made in China, who were our constant guides and instructors during our whole stay in their land. Upon returning home I took the precaution to engage a Danish butler, to help me if necessary over hard places. He was more capable of rendering such aid than one might suppose, for it chanced that he had a passion for philology. Though I hardly had to appeal to him, it gave me peace of mind to have him in the house. Although one-third of my book was translation from S.K., I was in this case free to sidestep or leap over passages which were too hard for me. I did not then foresee that I must subsequently undertake the more exacting task of translating the works as a whole, which did not permit me to avoid difficulties – as the German translators commonly have done. In one way or another I gathered only too much material for my book, and in the end I had to eliminate one-third of what I had written in order to reduce the volume to a possible size.

p. 202

Go here to read more.

Repetition: an essay in experimental psychology, translated by Walter Lowrie 1941 Princeton University Press

Lowrie’s introduction to Training in Christianity

Kierkegaard’s spiritual communism

Faith hope and charity by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1794-1872 1874
Wikimedia Commons
Don’t use these gifts grudgingly.

People blame the world, the environment, the circumstances, the situation for standing in the way of good fortune and peace and joy. But it’s the person himself that stands in the way by being bound up too closely with the world, the environment, the circumstances to be able to come back to himself and to find rest and hope. But what if one could find a trapdoor that lead to the desired goods? What if you walked into wealth? Many will say that without money there is no joy in life and will work very hard to acquire money. But money is an uncertain good. Perhaps Prometheus and Epimetheus made an error by failing to ask for money when they gave the gifts of foresight and hindsight. But the person who works for money does so begrudging because the more money he gets the less money there is available for others. This results in envy.

Pandora Offers the Jar to Epimetheus.
Paolo Farinati  (1524–1606)

Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaestus and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man. Protagoras by Plato

Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his Christian Discourses of 1848 about the parasitic plant that creeps along the ground but has the idea that it wants to grow in height. But it can never grow in height so it has devised a scheme for the making of this opportunity. It finds something on which it can hang and sneaks upward through the help of outside assistance. But Kierkegaard says Eternity has hidden trapdoors to ascent. Christ has shown that God has provided outside assistance to every single human being for the acquiring of his goods.

If a human being had the power to create a scarcity in the material world, he would indeed find much to do; for the merchant says rightly enough that though each article has its price, this price depends so much on favorable circumstances; and when there is a time of scarcity, the merchant earns larger profits.
Soren Kierkegaard, Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life, 1845 Swenson 1941 p. 91

The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs. … Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached in the place of these, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat. The Communist Manifesto 1848
Karl Marx 1875 John Jabez Edwin Mayal (1813–1901)

Karl Marx wrote in his Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” His whole focus was the creation of better material circumstances for the human race. He said, again in his Manifesto: “What else does the history of ideas prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed? The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”

Karl Marx and Soren Kierkegaard had much in common. Both of their fathers died in 1838 while they were still in the University. Soren Kierkegaard graduated from University of Copenhagen in the same year Marx graduated from University of Jena 1841. Both were intensely interested in the writings of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who passed away in 1832. One was devoted to the material world and didn’t believe in the existence of the world of the spirit. The other was devoted to the world of the spirit but couldn’t help noticing the existence of the material world. Marx published The Communist Manifest in the same year that Soren Kierkegaard published his Christian Discourses, 1848. Kierkegaard lived from 1813-1855 and Karl Marx from 1818-1883.

Soren Kierkegaard asked this question in 1848: (Christian Discourses)
What is the difference between riches and riches (earthly/spiritual)?

Kierkegaard says “every earthly good is in itself, begrudging, its possession is begrudging or is envy and in one way or another must make others poor. The more I have, the less someone else must have.” He would designate earthly goods; including worldly honor and power also, unjust and makes for injustice because they cannot be acquired or possessed equally. These goods are begrudging and selfish because they never have any thought for the others.

From the Depths,
William Balfour Ker  (1877–1918)
The worship of mammon by Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919)

The goods of the spirit is communication, so its possession is merciful. While I work in order to acquire my faith I am also working for all others because of this spirit communication. My having faith never is begrudging others anything because it takes nothing from anyone. If I have eternity’s hope I have not taken anything away from others. But, instead I have worked for all. The whole generation and every individual in the generation is a participant in one’s having hope.

Thus the goods of the spirit are in themselves essentially communication; their acquirement, their possession, in itself a benefaction for all. You do not only have hope, but even just by having it (what blessed possession!) you are one who is communication, you are doing a good deed to others. (my emphasis)

If it is to be Possible, That a Man Can Will Only One Thing, Then He Must Will the Good. Purity of Heart 1847

That one person has hope, or that there is one person who has hope, is for all others a much more joyful news, just because it is much more reassuring, than the news, just because it is much more reassuring, than the news that one ship has reached its goal is for all the other ships steering to the same goal. With regard to ships, accidental circumstances can determine the outcome for each one, and “the other” ships are not by an essential possibility participants in the one ship’s good fortune. But that there is one person who has hope, or every time there is a person who has hope, is decisive for all, that they are able to have it. Here it holds true that one is all and all are one. (p. 117)

Here it holds true that one is all and all are one. In the spiritual world the whole is more than its parts because every single individual knowingly or unknowingly helps every other single individual. “This is the humanity of spiritual goods in contrast to the inhumanity of earthly goods. Even if a person is willing to share his earthly goods, at every moment in which he is occupied with acquiring them or is engrossed in possessing them, he is selfish, just as that is which he possesses or acquires. Not so with the goods of the spirit. The believer has only what every human being can have, and to the degree that his faith is greater, that the same degree it is seen, but all the more clearly, that this glory and blessedness are possible as a common possession for all human beings.”

Perfume doesn’t possess its good for itself but gives it freely to all within its radius. It isn’t a begrudging good. It communicates its good to all.

“Oh, how all the blessings of heaven follows these goods of the spirit from first to last and at every moment – for “I do not weary of repeating the same thing,” and to me it seems that the thought is so blessed that it could not be repeated often enough; indeed, it would not even be too often if a person’s life were a repetition of this thought every day.

Whereas earthly goods in themselves are grudging and therefore (what immense latitude for accidental possibilities, what uncertainty!) it must, alas, depend on whether they happen to be possessed by someone who wants to do good with them; and whereas possession of them all too often only tempts the possessor to become begrudging just like the goods, the goods of the spirit are to such a degree a blessing that possession of them (quite apart from any mention of the use of the possessor makes of them) is a blessing to others, is communication, sharing. It is just as impossible to possess the goods of the spirit for oneself in the selfish sense as it is impossible to prevent air from penetrating even the thickest walls.

If we may speak this way, this is not due – and precisely this is what is so eternally reassuring – this is not even due to the possessor but is due to the goods themselves, which are communication, although it is self-evident that if the possessor does correspond to the goods, he does not possess the goods of the spirit either. Just as costly fragrant essence spreads fragrance not only when it is poured out but, to the extent that it contains fragrance in itself, is fragrance, so that it permeates the vial in which it is contained and even in concealment spreads fragrance – likewise to that degree the goods of the spirit are communicated, so that possession is communication, and just to acquire them is to enrich others.” (Christian Discourses p. 118)

Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; wisdom (centre), fortitude (top) and then in clockwise direction: counsel, understanding, fear of the Lord, piety, and knowledge.

These gifts depend on whether they happen to be possessed by someone who wants to do good with them or not. Sometimes the possessor becomes begrudging with them just as many do with the material gifts. Some don’t want to communicate them but want to become more and more learned and end up becoming so learned that no one can understand them. “But of the true goods of the spirit it holds true that they can be possessed only in truth, and the one who does not possess them in truth does not possess them at all.” (119)

Christian Discourses by Soren Kierkegaard published in 1848 and translated first in 1941 by Walter Lowrie and then by Howard V and Edna H Hong in 1997. These ideas were taken from the Hong translation.

III The Joy of It: That the Poorer You Become the Richer You Are Able to Make Others. Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses 1848, Hong 1997 starting on page 114 All images from wikimediacommons.

The story of Epimetheus and Prometheus by Plato from his Protagoras

Once upon a time there were gods only, and no mortal creatures. But when the time came that these also should be created, the gods fashioned them out of earth and fire and various mixtures of both elements in the interior of the earth; and when they were about to bring them into the light of day, they ordered Prometheus and Epimetheus to equip them, and to distribute to them severally their proper qualities.

Epimetheus said to Prometheus: “Let me distribute, and do you inspect.” This was agreed, and Epimetheus made the distribution. There were some to whom he gave strength without swiftness, while he equipped the weaker with swiftness; some he armed, and others he left unarmed; and devised for the latter some other means of preservation, making some large, and having their size as a protection, and others small, whose nature was to fly in the air or burrow in the ground; this was to be their way of escape. Thus did he compensate them with the view of preventing any race from becoming extinct.

And when he had provided against their destruction by one another, he contrived also a means of protecting them against the seasons of heaven; clothing them with close hair and thick skins sufficient to defend them against the winter cold and able to resist the summer heat, so that they might have a natural bed of their own when they wanted to rest; also he furnished them with hoofs and hair and hard and callous skins under their feet.

Then he gave them varieties of food-herb of the soil to some, to others fruits of trees, and to others roots, and to some again he gave other animals as food. And some he made to have few young ones, while those who were their prey were very prolific; and in this manner the race was preserved.

Thus did Epimetheus, who, not being very wise, forgot that he had distributed among the brute animals all the qualities which he had to give-and when he came to man, who was still unprovided, he was terribly perplexed. Now while he was in this perplexity, Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. The appointed hour was approaching when man in his turn was to go forth into the light of day; and Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaestus and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man.

Thus man had the wisdom necessary to the support of life, but political wisdom he had not; for that was in the keeping of Zeus, and the power of Prometheus did not extend to entering into the citadel of heaven, where Zeus dwelt, who moreover had terrible sentinels; but he did enter by stealth into the common workshop of Athene and Hephaestus, in which they used to practise their favourite arts, and carried off Hephaestus’ art of working by fire, and also the art of Athene, and gave them to man. And in this way man was supplied with the means of life. But Prometheus is said to have been afterwards prosecuted for theft, owing to the blunder of Epimetheus.

Thanks for reading if you got this far.

Fear and Trembling

The boy meets a ghost
Grimm’s fairy tales
Jacob Grimm 1785–1863
William Grimm 1786–1859
He meets a giant.

Soren Kierkegaard used Grimm’s story “The Story Of The Youth Who Went Forth To Learn What Fear Was” in his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety. Nothing could make this young man fear and tremble. But Abraham trembled, I don’t know if Agamemnon trembled, but Tobias trembled, I’m not sure if Faust trembled; perhaps Isaac, Iphigenia, Sarah, and Marguerite trembled. Kierkegaard took a look at these characters in his 1843 book “Fear and Trembling”. What does it mean to be favored by God? Does it mean you’re going to have a happy life?

Abraham and Iphigenia

There is a sacrifice have first to offer here.
Yea, ’tis thy duty to heed religion with aid of holy rites.
Thou wilt witness it, for thou wilt be standing near the laver.

Soren Kierkegaard compared the story of Abraham and Isaac to that of Agamemnon and Iphigenia in his 1843 book Fear and Trembling. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, to prove his faithfulness. The Greek god Artemis told Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter before she would let him sail for Troy and go to war. Abraham was silent, Agamemnon talked to everyone.

Fear and Trembling

No, not one shall be forgotten who was great in the world. But each was great in his own way, and each in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved.
Everyone shall be remembered, but each became great in proportion to his expectation.

Kierkegaard asked about what is lost temporally in his book. Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faithfulness to God. He believed he would get him back from God even if he did sacrifice him.

Kierkegaard discussed this idea again in his 1848 book, Christian Discourses under chapter V The Joy of It: That What You Lose Temporally You Gain Eternally:

“Eternity does not give you back the lost temporality in the sense of temporality. No, precisely this is the gain of eternity: what was lost it gives back in the sense of eternity. Is it not joyful, that in temporality, wherever there is loss and the pain of loss, eternity is right there to offer the sufferer more than compensation for the damage? After all, the sufferer himself is a synthesis of the temporal and the eternal. If now temporality inflicts upon him the greatest loss it is able to inflict, then the issue is whether he, traitorous to himself and to eternity, will give temporality’s loss the power to become something totally different from what it is, whether he will lose the eternal, or whether he, true to himself and the eternal, does not allow temporality’s loss to become anything else for him than what it is, a temporal loss. If he does this, then the eternal within him has won the victory.

In the religious sense it makes absolutely no difference whether a person is struggling to get along in life or is at the head of hundreds of thousands under the cannon fire; the struggle is continually about saving his soul – whether he wills to lose the eternal temporally which is to be lost, or whether by losing the temporal temporally he gains the eternal. That this is what should be looked at escapes the worldly person entirely. The one who in truth wants to save his soul looks at what ought to be looked at, and just by looking at that he simultaneously discovers the joy, that what one loses temporally one gains eternally. ” (p. 140-142 Hong tr 1997)

Tobit has served God faithfully from his home in Nineveh making sure to bury any soldier thrown from the wall in revolt of the law forbidding it. Tobit is blind and has much affliction. His son, Tobias, is in a similar situation. He is guided by the angel Raphael to visit Tobit’s relatives and meets Sarah in Media who is plagued by the demon Asmodeus. Tobias wants to marry Sarah. Kierkegaard discussed the work.

The young Tobias wanted to marry Sarah the daughter of Raguel and Edna. But a sad fatality hung over this young girl. She had been given to seven husbands, all of whom had perished in the bride-chamber. Tobit was the only son of his parents
Fear and Trembling Problem II p. 157-158 Lowrie

It is Sarah that is the heroine. Put a man in Sarah’s place, let him know in case he were to love a girl the spirit of hell would come and murder his loved one ….
Fear and Trembling Problem II p. 161-162

Johann Goethe finished his play Faust in 1831. Kierkegaard decided to discuss his work in his 1843 book Fear and Trembling.

Faust is a doubter whose sharp sight has discovered fundamentally the ludicrousness of existence. Even in Goethe’s interpretation of Faust I sense the lack of a deeper psychological insight into the secret conversations of doubt with itself. In our age, when indeed all have experienced doubt, no poet has yet made a step in this direction.
Fear and Trembling  p. 168

Faust and Marguerite

Faust sees Marguerite — not after he had made the choice of pleasure, for my Faust does not choose pleasure — he sees Marguerite, not in the concave mirror of Mephistopheles but in all her lovable innocence, and inasmuch as his soul has preserved love for mankind he can perfectly well fall in love with her. But he is a doubter, his doubt has annihilated reality for him.
ibid p. 170

Kierkegaard says, “Put a man in Sarah’s place.” We have certainly heard that refrain in the past century or so. Kierkegaard quoted often from The Book of Tobit.

Faust keeps silent, ethics condemns him if he speaks, so he keeps silent, just like Abraham did about Isaac, he didn’t tell that other Sarah anything about what was about to happen on Mount Moriah. Kierkegaard also wrote about Faust in Either/or. “There is evidently something very profound here, which has perhaps escaped the attention of most people, in that Faust, who reproduces Don Juan, seduces only one girl, while Don Juan seduced hundreds; but this one girl is also, in an intensive sense, seduced and crushed quite differently from all those Don Juan has deceived, simply because Faust, as reproduction, falls under the category of the intellectual.” (p. 98-99 Swenson tr)

Iphigenia in Aulis
Tobit at his son’s return.
Jan Lievens  (1607–1674)
Wikimedia Commons

Lee M. Hollander translated selections of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in 1923 but he didn’t translate the parts about Tobit, Iphigenia, or Faust. You can borrow Walter Lowrie’s translation of the book from Archive dot org for an hour at a time. Fear and Trembling Lowrie Translation or from religion online Fear and Trembling

Abraham and Isaac, Bernhard Rode  (1725–1797)
WikiMedia Commons


Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a many sided character. He was foremost a Christian psychologist, then a social critic, and lastly a philosopher. He calls you “my dear reader” and is grateful that you have taken an interest in his work. He hopes that you find what you are seeking and in the seeking find yourself.

Soren and his father
Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard 1756-1838

He learned to see greatness in smallness from his father.

Kierkegaard created a pseudonym to describe his childhood. Johannes Climacus always felt like an alien in the world as he walked up and down his room at home holding his father’s hand while discussing imaginary people and events.

Soren and his mother
Anne Sorensdatter Kierkegaard 1768-1834

He learned to respect simple people from his mother.

Father and son from David Swenson’s
Scandanavian Studes Article 1920

Soren says Johannes developed the aesthetic and intellectual sides of his personality but another side of his soul was also being formed, a sense for the sudden, the surprising. The older he became the more intimate he was with his father. He always told himself “I will do it” when confronted with a difficulty he wanted to overcome. He learned that from his father.

Soren Kierkegaard’s teachers at the University of Copenhagen.
Hans Lassen Martensen was his tutor.

This article about Frederik Christian Sibbern, Hans Lassen Martensen and Soren Kierkegaard was published in the Western Literary Messenger in 1850.

Nicholas of Cusa lived in The Holy Roman Empire from 1401-1464. His 1453 book, The Vision of God, mentioned many walls to overcome as one tries to come to a knowledge of the ignorance one has of God. There is the leap over the wall of invisible vision, the wall of absurdity, of Paradise, and the wall of the coincidence of opposites where the end is the beginning. Nicholas leaped over those walls and became a believer. He wondered about the thing in itself.

Modern philosophical works didn’t satisfy Johannes Climacus because it was fixated on doubt. He heard everyone say with Rene Descartes and the German Idealists De Omnibus Dubitandum (Everything begins with doubt). He enthusiastically began to doubt everything and to his surprise found that he could never come to a stop. He always had more to doubt but he couldn’t begin to be a philosopher until he had doubted. But the philosophers said, enough, we can now begin to philosophize. They all wanted to “go further” as soon as possible. Johannes decided to doubt speculative philosophy.

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” Francis Bacon The Advancement of Learning

Francis Bacon 1561-1626
Rene Descartes 1596-1650

In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things. Rene Descartes, Principles of Philosophy

John Dryden lived from 1631-1700. He wrote about doubt in his 1682 book Religio Laici: Or, A Layman’s Faith. An Epistle. I like the poets better than the philosophers, or am coming to like them more.

Dim as the borrow’d beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wandering travellers,
Is reason to the soul: and as on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
Not light us here; so reason’s glimmering ray
Was lent, not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day’s bright lord ascends our hemisphere
So pale grows reason at religion’s sight:

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) discussed the turn toward the subjective “I” in his 1935 book What is a Thing? (translated in 1967). He writes:

“Modern philosophy is usually considered to have begun with Descartes (1596-1650), who lived a generation after Galileo. The following is the usual image of Descartes and his philosophy:

During the Middle Ages philosophy stood – if it stood independently at all – under the exclusive domination of theology and gradually degenerated into a mere analysis of concepts and elucidations of traditional opinion and propositions. It petrified into an academic knowledge which no longer concerned man and was unable to illuminate reality as a whole. Then Descartes appeared and liberated philosophy from this position. He began by doubting everything, but this doubt finally did run into something which could no longer be doubted, for, inasmuch as the skeptic doubts, he cannot doubt that he, the skeptic, is present and must be present in order to doubt at all. As I doubt I must admit that “I am.” The “I,” accordingly, is the indubitable. As a doubter, Descartes forced men into doubt in this way; he led them to think of themselves, as their “I.” Thus the “I,” human subjectivity, came to be declared the center of thought. From here originated the I-viewpoint of modern times and its subjectivism.” p. 98-99

God as the defendant

Kierkegaard was against basing Christian belief on more and more external evidence to the abandonment of the internal proofs. Maybe some of these philosophers should have began by doubting a little of what philosophers taught.

There is much said in the world about there being two ways to truth: the way of faith and the way of doubt. But this is just as strange as to say that there are two ways to heaven, and one of them leads to hell. Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses, 1848 p. 146

Immanuel Kant 1724-1804 liked the idea of doubting and wrote critiques of reason. Georg Hegel 1770-1831 liked the idea of using Reason to question faith and when asked about doubting reason he said Reason couldn’t be doubted because that was the very instrument that was being used. Hermann Samuel Reimarus 1694-1768 doubted the historical roots of Christianity. The Fragments from Reimarus and the book was published by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in 1774. Baron d’Holbach 1723-1789 published his Good Sense in 1772 . The Quest for the Historical Jesus was born. Christendom was under attack.

Immanuel Kant wrote an essay What Means, To Orient One’s Self in Thinking in 1786. He and Kierkegaard had much in common concerning objective and subjective grounds of proofs in the supersensible world.

“There is a vast empire, governed by a monarch, whose strange conduct is to confound the minds of his subjects. He wishes to be known, loved, respected, obeyed; but never shows himself to his subjects, and everything conspires to render uncertain the ideas formed of his character. The people, subjected to his power, have, of the character and laws of their invisible sovereign, such ideas only, as his ministers give them. They, however, confess, that they have no idea of their master; that his ways are impenetrable; his views and nature totally incomprehensible. These ministers, likewise, disagree upon the commands which they pretend have been issued by the sovereign, whose servants they call themselves.” Good Sense by baron d’ Holbach.

Martin Heidegger described how doubt can arise in his 1935 example of a piece of chalk.

“Here is the chalk.” This is a truth; and here and the now hereby characterize the chalk so that we emphasize by saying; the chalk, which means “this.” We take a scrap of paper and we write the truth down: “Here is the chalk.” We lay this written statement beside the thing of which it is the truth. After the lecture is finished both doors are opened, the classroom is aired, there will be a draft, and the scrap of paper, let us suppose, will flutter out into the corridor. A student finds it on his way to the cafeteria, reads the sentence. “Here is the chalk,” and ascertains that this is not true at all. Through the draft the truth has become an untruth. Strange that a truth should depend on a gust of wind. … We have made the truth about the chalk independent of us and entrusted it to a scrap of paper. What Is A Thing? Heidegger, Martin. Translated by W.B. Barton and V. Deutsch. What Is A Thing? Gateway Editions, 1968. p. 29-30

Have we taken too many things as truth because of a piece of paper?

Whether it is a word, a sentence, a book, a man, a society, whatever it is, as soon as it is supposed to be a boundary, so that the boundary itself is not dialectical, it is superstition and narrow-mindedness. In a human being there is always a desire, at once comfortable and concerned, to have something really firm and fixed that can exclude the dialectical, but this is cowardliness and fraudulence toward the divine. Even the most certain of all, a revelation, precisely thereby becomes dialectical when I am to appropriate it; even the most fixed of all, an infinite negative resolution, which is the individuality’s infinite form of God’s being within him, promptly becomes dialectical. As soon as I take away the dialectical, I am superstitious and defraud God of the moment’s strenuous acquisition of what was once acquired. It is, however, far more comfortable to be objective and superstitious, boasting about it and proclaiming thoughtlessness. Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript 1846 Hong p. 35 note

William Blake and Soren Kierkegaard had much in common.

Perhaps a System can be built by which one can come to believe in Christendom. Georg Hegel decided to encapsulate religion under the heading “philosophy”.

Soren Kierkegaard doubted the efficiency of using objective doubt in the realm of religion, especially in Christianity. He said Descartes doubted many things but he never doubted the existence of God. However, doubt was carried into the religious realm, it has remained there to the present age. He was a doubter of System. He discussed doubt in his 1846 book Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments.

Proof of immortality
Concluding Postscript 1846
Swenson p 188-189

Soren Kierkegaard turned to Socrates in his search for Christian truth. There is no place in Christianity for an objective approximation process so he leaves it to speculative philosophers and said the absurd is the closest we can come.

Robert Browning 1812-1889 wrote a long poem about the death of St. John. Death in the Desert was published in 1864. I like the way he puts the relationship of the first disciple to that of other generations.

Browning sees a threefold man: What Does, what Knows, what Is;

Kierkegaard constantly turned to the lily and the bird of Matthew 6:26-29 “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Be like the bird if you want to be a Christian in the great opposition between paganism and Christianity. I like his advice best.

Thanks for reading if you got this far.

L. Harold DeWolf and Soren Kierkegaard

Lotan Harold DeWolf was professor of systematic theology at Boston University and became Martin Luther King Jr.’s dissertation adviser at Boston University’s School of Theology in 1955. DeWolf was a Methodist minister and he lived from 1905-1986.  Albert Cornelius Knudson (1873–1953) was DeWolf’s teacher in theology. Knudson published The Philosophy Of Personalism (1927).

DeWolf’s funeral oration for King can be found here.

DeWolf published The Revolt Against Religious Reason in 1949 and A Theology of the Living Church in 1953 with a revised edition in 1960 and The Case for Theology in Liberal Perspective 1959.

.  Here is a quote from A Theology Of The Living Church.

Sometimes with the more mature discoveries of freedom come experiences of a fearful insecurity attendant upon the blazing of new paths in the unknown wilderness of the future where rewards beckon but where the infinite darkness of death also threatens. As Kierkegaard taught, this dread, so far from keeping the pilgrim from wandering, actually lures him with a strange, wild fascination all its own. Reinhold Niebuhr and others have shown many of the ways in which this dreadful sense of insecurity leads to the seeking of false self-assurance in wealth, social power, military force and other earthly idols. But such search is unending. Only an infinite defense will serve since the perils of the future to a finite creature are limitless. Hence, however great the wealth or power achieved, the insatiable demand continues unabated. So arise the monstrous competitions and conflicts for self-advantage which are continually blighting every community and periodically laying waste ever-greater portions of the world.

L. Harold DeWolf,  A Theology Of The Living Church Revised Edition 1960 p. 196

Personal Idealism:

DeWolf mentioned Kierkegaard very often in his book The Revolt Against Religious Reason.  He says his task in the book is “simply the description, analysis and critical evaluation of the irrationalistic trend in recent theology, especially in Kierkegaard, in whom it is most thoroughly developed, and the drawing of some conclusions from this study.” (19) Karl Barth (1886-1968) is credited for doing the most since World War I to discredit reason and he is linked to Heinrich Emil Brunner (1889–1966) who along with Barth says man can obtain no knowlege of God from reason.

DeWolf says:

The remarkable influence of irrationalism among educated men today is largely due to the critical and literary genius of its greatest modem proponent, Søren Kierkegaard. A study of the modern revolt against reason, and particularly of the religious revolt, must consequently be devoted principally to a study of his ideas. Kierkegaard, in fact, presented a critique of reason at once so bold and so penetrating as to be unmatched in the history of Christendom. In addition he gave to this critique a literary expression of extraordinary vividness and persuasive power. Many a recent reader of Kierkegaard’s strange but brilliant works has found in his defiance of reason an attitude which seemed altogether novel. There is no denying the creative genius of his thought. On the other hand, the partial or complete rejection of reason as arbiter of truth in theology is in principle as old as rational theology itself. Such rejection has appeared usually as a reaction to rationalistic attacks on religion. (32-33)

Wherever the distrust of reason is conspicuous in recent theology the reader is almost sure to find the name of Soren Kierkegaard. Walter Lowrie and David F. Swenson, who have been mentioned as crisis theologians prominent in the revolt, are the principal translators of Kierkegaard’s works into English, and both are devoted disciples. British and American thinkers not directly dependent on Kierkegaard but influenced by the crisis theology are usually readers of Barth and Brunner, both of whom derived their antirational bent largely from him.

Karl Barth s dependence on Kierkegaard is too general and too well known to need extended comment here. When Barth is charged with “imposing a meaning on the text of the Epistle to the Romans rather than extracting its meaning from it,” he declares significantly, My reply is that, if I have system, it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the infinite qualitative distinction between time and eternity, and to my regarding this as possessing negative as well as positive significance.

Brunner, as regards his distrust of rational approaches to God, points to Kierkegaard as his only modern predecessor who has expounded his own specific view:  As all natural human action reveals the sinful heart, so all philosophical speculation, when left to itself, bears witness to the obscuration in the inmost recesses of our reason. For this cause it is impossible to build up the Christian proclamation of the Gospel and its theology on the basis of a philosophical doctrine of God. It was Kierkegaard alone among the great men of later times who had a firm and vital hold of this truth.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) cites Kierkegaard’s ideas and writings with conspicuous frequency and usually with approval. Occasionally he lavishes on him such high praise as he rarely bestows on any modern writer. In The Nature and Destiny of Man, Niebuhr refers to Kierkegaard oftener than to any other writer since the Reformation. He calls him “the greatest of Christian psychologists.” And, “Kierkegaard’s explanation of the dialectical relation of freedom and fate in sin is one of the profoundest in Christian thought.” (46-49)

DeWolf read both volumes of Walter Lowrie’s biography of Soren Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard (1938) and A Short Life of Kierkegaard (1942).

Lowrie (1868-1959) wrote in 1942: “Several Freudians have rashly undertaken to psychoanalyze S.K. without observing these very exacting conditions. Hjalmar Helweg, Director of the Hospital for the Insane at Oringe, Denmark, has taken the pains to read every word S.K. wrote and studied them with sympathy. He modestly concludes his preface with these words: “‘However well one may think one has managed to say a thing, he will always discover that S.K. has said it better.” I have no fault to find with the verdict he renders except that it is not very illuminating. He concludes that S.K. suffered from a condition of depression alternating with, or more commonly blended with, maniacal exaltation. It is to be noted that “”maniacal” is a technical word: S.K. was not pronounced insane. In my opinion S.K. “said it better.” (22)   Hjalmar Helweg lived from 1886-1960.

DeWolf compares Georg Friedrich Hegel (1776-1831) and Kiekegaard in his book.

Kierkegaard’s consuming purpose was to bear witness to mans need of God and to God’s all-sufficient grace. This he did by an extraordinary variety of writings which represent three stages in a great dialectic. As in Hegel’s dialectic, one level of thought, or of life, after another is elaborated, shown inadequate and transcended. However, he rejects the lower levels rather than including them, as did Hegel, E.g., he writes, “When my poet comes he will assign me a place among those who have suffered for an idea; he will say about me: The martyrdom which this author suffered was due to the fact that he was a genius living in a market town.” Quoted by David F. and Lillian M. Swenson in the Introduction to their edition of Edifying Discourses, Vol. II, xx. in more comprehensive syntheses. Whereas Hegel resolved his antinomies, Kierkegaard rejected all synthetic solutions and insisted on absolute commitment to God in a faith which scorns the contradictions of all human thought. Thus, while Hegel is the philosopher of both-and, Kierkegaard is the author of Either/Or . (51-52)

Many and serious are the objections made by Kierkegaard and other recent thinkers to the use of reason in determining the proper content of theology. The objectors have not often brought these accusations together in one place. Moreover, even when that has been done, as by Kierkegaard in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, the method has been called, with peculiar appropriateness, “Unscientific,” which is to say, unsystematic. As a result, it has been difficult to see the objections in distinct outline and in their relations to each other. The defender of rational method is likely to feel that he is being shot at from behind every bush and tree without once having a fair view of the enemy against whom he fights. Likewise, many a revolter against reason as a decisive instrument in theology fails to recognize how many and relatively important are the arguments which have been advanced in support of his own position. (54)

Hegel, of course, was all reason. He once said somewhere that Reason could not be doubted as faith was because reason is the very instrument used to doubt faith.

DeWolf quoted David F Swenson (1876-1940) thus in regard to Kierkegaard’s use of reason:

Kierkegaard has had no more appreciative and authoritative interpreter than David F. Swenson. It is he who writes as follows in a note on a passage in Philosophical Fragments: (1844)

The thoughtful reader will already have noted that “Reason,” as used in this chapter and throughout, is not to be taken in any abstract-intellectual sense, but quite concretely, as the reflectively organized common sense of mankind, including as its essential core a sense of life’s values. Over against the “Paradox” it is therefore the self-assurance and self-assertiveness of man’s nature in its totality. To identify it with any abstract intellectual function, like the function of scientific cognition, or of general ideas, or of the a priori, or of self-consistency in thinking, etc., is wholly to misunderstand the exposition of the Fragments. Specifically, Kant’s distinction between Reason and Understanding, or any other similar distinction, is wholly beside the point . All our activities of thinking and speaking can have only a secondary significance and, as activities of the creature, cannot possibly coincide with the truth of God that is the source of truth in the world . (55-56)

It is precisely one of Kierkegaard’s greatest claims to fame that he was the first of all Christian theologians to make a sustained attack on reason, not merely from the religious standpoint of a dogmatic existentialist, but also from the theoretical standpoint of the rationalists themselves. (58)

I leave you with one more quote from DeWolf and point you to the Sources below if you want to read more.

Consider, then, the case of the philosopher seeking to know whether he is immortal or whether there is a God to whom he owes allegiance. Such a man faces an ultimate question concerning his own eternal destiny. If he is to make legitimate and hence reliable use of his reason, he must be as detached in spirit as if he were an intelligence in some other universe, curiously inquiring whether that little creature, man, might have any important future awaiting him. In all this weighing of evidences, all this subtle balancing of value-judgments and sense perceptions, this facing of experiential data and the demands of systematic clarity, not by one iota must he allow his concern for his own soul to affect his thought. If he does he has lost objectivity and with it the reliability of his reason. But here arise the first charges against reason. (60)


The Philosophy Of Personalism by Albert C. Knudson 1927

A Short Life of Kierkegaard, Walter Lowrie 1942 (he quotes Kierkegaard extensively)

The Revolt Against Religious Reason  L. Harold DeWolf 1949

Herbert Read and Kierkegaard

Herbert Read 1893-1968 was an anarchist who was also an art historian and literary critic.  He discussed artistic movements throughout the ages in A Coat of Many Colors in 1945. One section was devoted to Soren Kierkegaard:  I reproduce it here as well as quotes from other books.

Kierkegaard, like Marx, is a product by reaction of Hegel. Hegel had at least this virtue: he left behind him a progeny, not of slavish disciples, but of active intelligences, and among these Kierkegaard and Marx represent the widest possible extremes of thought.

For whilst Marx turned the Hegelian dialectic outwards, making it an instrument with which he could interpret the facts of history and so arrive at an objective science which insists on the translation of theory into action, Kierkegaard, on the other hand, turned the same instrument inwards, for the examination of his own soul or psychology, arriving at a subjective philosophy which involved him in the deepest pessimism and despair of action.

To what extent either Kierkegaard or Marx rightly interpreted Hegel is only an academic question; but for the extremist — and every philosopher or lover of the truth is an extremist — they represent the only possible alternatives to-day.

The significance of Marx is evident enough, and becomes more evident with the progress of economic affairs; the significance of Kierkegaard is recognized abroad, by Protestant theologians like Barth, and, at first sight more surprisingly, by Catholic theologians.

His chief advocate and best translator in Germany, Theodor Haecker, is a Catholic; and most of the people in this country who take any serious interest in him are Catholics. But Kierkegaard himself was never a Catholic; he was a son of Lutheran parents and intended for the Lutheran ministry, but he spent his intense life, not in hovering between one sect and another, but in a vain struggle to reconcile himself to Christianity itself. It is because in this struggle he revealed the inner meaning and consequences of the Christian faith more clearly and more acutely than any mystic since Pascal that he exercises such an attraction for Christians to-day. It is open to them, of course, to say that Kierkegaard was never vouchsafed the final grace which would have perfected his faith; but the fact remains that only a very few mystics like Meister Eckhart and Pascal have written so illuminatingly on the Christian Mysteries.

It would be a mistake, however, to give the impression that Kierkegaard is only concerned with Christianity; his range is much wider. He was, in fact, an individual in conflict with all the tendencies — philosophical, political and cultural — of his time. He refused, that is to say, to keep his religion in a separate compartment of his mind, but the more he realized the implications of that religion, the more he found it impossible to reconcile himself with the tendencies of his time — which are still the tendencies of our time.

He was, in short, the complete personalist, in the sense in which Berdyaev today uses the term. Truth, he would say, is in the person believing and not in the proposition believed. This principle of the subjectivity of truth he carried into every sphere of knowledge — into ethics and aesthetics, for example. It is in the latter sphere that I personally find him so illuminating, his doctrine of Innerlichkeit being of the essence of any real understanding of poetic creation.

I have called Kierkegaard a mystic, but that is one of the points in dispute. In so far as the word implies a being of a rare and superior kind, Kierkegaard would have rejected it. But there is no doubt that some of his experiences, as recorded in his Journals and other writings, imply a direct or “ inspired ” relationship with God which we should normally describe as mystical. But Kierkegaard was also a dialectician, trained in the logic of Hegel; with the result that he is in no sense naive or simple.

He is, indeed, one of the subtlest thinkers that ever lived, and though many of his readers go to him for a confirmation or elaboration of their Christian faith, he is quite capable of attracting others by the quality rather than the content of his thought.

Kierkegaard was the son of a well-to-do Danish merchant, and during his life was never under the necessity of earning a living. His father was excessively severe and gloomy, a fanatic labouring under a sense of guilt and remorse. Kierkegaard many times deplores his early upbringing, and utters warnings which still have their force — for example: If the child is not allowed, as, he should be, to play innocently with holy things, if his existence is sternly forced into the decisive Christian concepts, such a child will have to suffer much. Such an upbringing will either, by inhibiting immediacy, result in despondency and anguished dread, or else incite the lusts of pleasure and the anguish of lust in a measure which even paganism did not know.

This describes Kierkegaard’s own case. His first reaction was towards the lusts of pleasure, but then, after one of the mystical experiences referred to, he returned to a condition of dread and anguish, out of which he slowly built up his spiritual faith. He elaborated his famous dilemma, his “either — or” — either the aesthetic life or the ethical. He came to the conclusion that the aesthetic life — “living in the moment”, as he called it — always entailed despair.

He insisted that the choice is not to be avoided — that if we do not make it, as an act of freedom, the choice will be made for us, by obscure movements in our unconscious or impersonal self. On the inevitability of that dilemma the whole of Kierkegaard’s philosophy depends. Personally I do not believe that the choice is free.

In Kierkegaard’s own case it was so obviously conditioned by the circumstances of his childhood, by his physical disease and his depressive melancholia. His philosophy, beautiful in its intricacy and depth, sensitive to all the poetic and tragic aspects of life, is but a sublimation of this inherent suffering. But Kierkegaard was driven too far by his masochism. The story of his treatment of Regina Olsen — the young girl to whom he made love and to whom he became engaged, only to break off the engagement from “ethical scruples” — merely reveals to what fantastic heights (admittedly heights) the aberrations of the human spirit can reach. That in the end they lead to “the religious absolute can scarcely justify the wanton sacrifice of another person’s feelings. Kierkegaard’s own comment (one of many!) was: “Either you throw yourself into wild diversions or religiousness absolute, of a different sort from that of the parsons,” The qualification is significant, Kierkegaard’s intense subjectivity, the very sincerity of his religious experiences, led him in the end into a bitter conflict with the organized Church. He had escaped one dilemma only to discover another: either Christ or the Church.

Kierkegaard is a new world of thought, a rare mental atmosphere in which we live dangerously, as many people have already discovered at the cost of their complacency.

No book of his illustrates this truth better than Stages on Lifers Way, a “passion narrative ” in the form of a long diary which is an intimate relation, stage by stage, of Kierkegaard’s own love story. This diary is preceded by “In Vino Veritas”, an account of a banquet in the manner of Plato’s Symposium and not unworthy of comparison with that supreme masterpiece: and by “Various Observations about Marriage , a document in which a certain Judge Williams answers the objections which had been voiced at the Banquet. The Banquet is in effect a plea for keeping the sexual relationship on a superficial or sensuous level: woman is represented as the most seductive power in heaven and on earth, but man must not be caught by the bait.

“The highest thing a woman can do for a man is to come within his range of vision at the right instant — but that, after all, she cannot do, it is the kindness of fate — but then comes the greatest thing she can do for a man,, and that is, to be unfaithful to him, the sooner the better.” That is to say, from this point of view it is only in a negative relationship that woman makes a man idealistically productive.

Judge Williams presents a very different point of view: his “Observations ” constitute, indeed, the most beautiful and profound defence of conjugal felicity ever written — and as Coventry Patmore once pointed out, this theme is of all great themes the most difficult and the most neglected.

Marriage is the confirmation of love by resolution, rather, its transformation. “Love’s gait is light as the feet which dance upon the meadow, but resolution holds the tired one till the dance begins again.” It is only against this profound appreciation of the “validity” of marriage that we can measure the tragic significance of Kierkegaard’s own renunciation. For just as the ethical stage represented by the Judge is far beyond the erotic stage represented by the speakers at the Banquet, so beyond the ethical stage is the religious, towards which Kierkegaard was driven by a kind of demoniacal fury.

He was fond of comparing himself with Periander, of whom it was said that he talked like a wise man and acted like a maniac. But it is perhaps more to the point to compare him with Abelard, whose “case” fascinated him, but about whom he never ventured to write at length. Kierkegaard was an Abelard — that is to say, a man dedicated to God — who resisted the temptation of his Heloise. The accident that he was not a priest only made it more difficult to justify his action in breaking off his engagement, especially as his Regina was a comparatively simple girl without that sense of religious immediacy which alone would explain such inhuman conduct. There can be no doubt of the reality of Kierkegaard’s love for Regina— the “Diary” is the revelation of a tortured and divided mind, and in the subtlety of its introspection and analysis it reminds us of Proust.

Granted the book is too long and too boring, written with that dialectical prolixity for which Hegel must be held responsible: nevertheless, it is of absorbing interest, not only for its diagnosis of the sexual relationship — its main theme — but also for its abundant asides, for the observations on nature and metaphysics, on poetry and music, on human suffering and human joy, which are to be found on almost every page. To begin reading Kierkegaard is to embark on a long journey, a journey which will be difficult and dangerous, but with such a reward at the end that all the incidental pain will be immediately forgotten.

The Unscientific Postscript is but one more voluminous commentary on the main theme of all Kierkegaard’s work, the dilemma which he represented by the phrase “either-or”: either aesthetic immediacy, which includes not only the eudaemonistic search for pleasure, but also despair (the “sickness unto death”) and religious or metaphysical self-explanation; or the ethical along with the religion of immanence and immediacy and (as its culmination) Christianity apprehended as a paradox.

In the Postscript Kierkegaard is chiefly concerned to define the nature of the religious alternative: to make it clear to his readers that it is not a choice between the aesthetic life and any sort of religion, but between true religion and every other possible alternative. And true religion is distinguished by its immediacy, without which it cannot live. Immediacy is opposed to reflection: it is direct apprehension, either by the senses or by intuition, and it is the only means by which we can apprehend “being“ Subjectivity is the truth”, and it is upon this basis that Christianity must be interpreted and believed.

The Unscientific Postscript is an obscure and ungainly book, yet it has had an incalculable influence upon the development of modern theology, and a so-called “existential philosophy’’ in Germany is largely based on it.

When the late Professor Geismar of Copenhagen first read it, his mental excitement was so great that his physician had to forbid him reading anything of Kierkegaard’s for a year.

Dr. Lowrie, in his Introduction to the English edition, claims that no great work on philosophy or theology, if we except the Dialogues of Plato, has been written with so much wit, with so much art. The wit we must grant: the art we must question, and Kierkegaard himself seems to have disclaimed it.

The subjective thinker, he says, has a style of his own; it is existential, which seems to mean that it has no form. “The subjective thinker does not have the poetic leisure to create in the medium of the imagination, nor does he have time for aesthetically disinterested elaboration.” This is rather like making a virtue out of necessity, but it does state a fact which the reader must be prepared for: the nature and form of Kierkegaard’s thought and style are not comparable to ordinary scientific exposition or aesthetic creation. You read Kierkegaard as you would swim with a tide: you immerse yourself totally in what is the most extraordinary flood of subjectivity ever poured from a philosophical mind.

Kierkegaard began his Journals in 1834, when he was twenty-one. Though nothing is truer than his statement that “everyone is essentially what they are to be when they are ten years old”, it is nevertheless surprising to find with what sureness he has already discovered himself, decided on the nature of his personality and the course of his destiny.

What is truth, he asks, but to live for an idea?

In order to lead a complete human life and not merely one of the understanding” he sees the necessity of basing the development of his thought upon “something which grows together with the deepest roots of my life, through which I am, so to speak, grafted upon the divine:

It is with joy, and inwardly strengthened, that I contemplate those great men who have thus found the precious stone, for the sake of which they sell all, even their lives, whether I see them intervene forcefully in life, and without faltering’ go forward on the path marked out for them, or discover them remote from the highway, absorbed in themselves and in working for their noble aim. And I look with reverence even upon the errors which lie so near by. It is this divine side of man, his inward action which means everything, not a mass of information; for that will certainly follow and then all that knowledge will not be a chance assemblage, or a succession of details, without system and without a focusing point. I too have certainly looked for such a centre.

It is only by realizing that Kierkegaard had set out with this determination to find a centre, to know himself before anything else, and thus to see his way through life, that we can understand the two decisive moments in his career — his refusal of marriage and his break with the official Church.

As soon as he had become engaged to Regina Olsen, Kierkegaard realized that he had made a mistake. He thought of many ways out of his predicament, even suicide, but finally decided on self-abasement. He behaved as if he were “subtle, false and treacherous” with the object of killing her love for him. His action caused anger, resentment, bewilderment, and was never properly understood until the publication of his Journals; but even with the help of his confession, it needs a certain effort of sympathy and perhaps a spiritual affinity to appreciate his motives.

‘‘It was a time of terrible suffering; to have to be so cruel and at the same time to love as I did. She fought like a tigress. If I had not believed that God had lodged a veto she would have been victorious.”

God had lodged a veto— such love of God as Kierkegaard had conceived could not co-exist with the love of a human being. It compelled him to an asceticism as rigorous as that of the saints and indeed, from this moment Kierkegaard’s life was in every sense that of a saint. He is perhaps the most real saint of modern times.

This same intensity and integrity of spiritual experience inevitably brought him into conflict with the organized Church, or Christendom. His attack only became open and embittered towards the end of his life, and there is some truth in the suggestion that it had its origins as a psychological release from parental repression — from the oppressive fanaticism of a father overwhelmed by a sense of guilt. But the criticism of Christianity runs throughout the Journals and is not confined to the Church; we find him, for example, as early as 1835, contrasting the luxuriance of the Christian imagination when it deals with eternal suffering and torment with its poverty when it deals with the happiness of the chosen and the faithful.

The Protestant Church of his own country receives the most frequent and the most fatal blows ; but Catholicism is not spared. At the same time, Kierkegaard’s arguments can have little appeal to the sceptic or agnostic. Kierkegaard’s “true inwardness” is a passion that pierces through all collective forms of religion to “the contemplation of God face to face”.

It would be a mistake to give the impression, however, that the Journals are exclusively concerned with Kierkegaard’s religious development. Kierkegaard was essentially a poet — a child of the Romantic Movement — and he analyses every aspect of life with profundity, with irony and often with lyrical feeling.

His Journals have been compared with the Confessions of St. Augustine, the Pensies of Pascal and the Apologia of Newman; they have some- thing of the quality of all these great books, and still some- thing more — something nearer to Nietzsche than to anything these other names convey, though Pascal is very near. But of the three spheres into which Kierkegaard divided existence — the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious — it is only Nietzsche who rivals him in his understanding of the significance of the aesthetic.

In his study of this Danish philosopher, Theodor Haecker emphasizes the fact that Kierkegaard’s work is so complex that it is possible for three classes of reader to occupy themselves with it independently of each other: the theologian, the philosopher and the critic. It is possible, however, that Kierkegaard himself would not have approved of such a separation.

His criticism of Hegel is fundamental, but nothing in Hegel seemed to him so misleading as that evolutionary or historical distinction between the aesthetic, the religious and the rational faculties. For Kierkegaard the whole man included all three faculties in their full force, and the very object of philosophy was to reconcile them, to unite them in one synthesis. Kierkegaard’s work is perhaps best regarded as a protest against the cul-de-sac of objective knowledge.

Professor Swenson, to whom we owe a translation of the Philosophical Fragments, say: In his case the entire energy of a great genius of reflection was expended upon the clarification of the realm of the subjective, which is the realm of spirit. There exists at present a school of thinkers whose fundamental principle it is to make a sharp cleavage between what they call “logical” and “emotive” significance, denying to the latter all verifiability, and hence all real truth or error. . . . The Kierkegaardian literature is not so much an argument against this view, which erects into a philosophical principle the vulgar prejudice which identifies the emotional with the structureless and the arbitrary, as it is a demonstration of its falsity through the actual production of a reflectively critical system of evaluations.

The dialectics of subjectivity might do as a phrase to describe Kierkegaard’s philosophy, but always on the understanding that with such a philosophy he was necessarily, as Haecker brings out so clearly, a realist and not an idealist.

He made a break with European philosophy because he wished to go “from the person over the things to the person, and not from the things over the person to the things. It was his reflection on the being and essence of the person that brought him to that demonstration of the existence of God with which the Fragments are concerned. It is not possible to explain shortly the particular evidence or experience which Kierkegaard called the Moment or the Absolute Paradox, nor the dialectical method which forced on him the recognition and acceptance of God.

It is sufficient to note that Christians of widely different views are united in their praise of the beauty and acceptability of this demonstration. Kierkegaard, more deeply than any other modern philosopher, had pierced to the heart of the Christian mystery. But then? If we are to accept Kierkegaard’s own last works as his final message, it involved an utter condemnation of organized Christianity. ‘‘Officialdom is incommensurable with Christianity” — that was his final message, and it is only possible to pretend otherwise by assuming that Kierkegaard’s last works represent an almost pathological decline in his powers. Professor Haecker, who is a Catholic, makes that assumption; Professor Swenson, who might be a Unitarian from the way he quotes Emerson, vigorously protests against it. But Kierkegaard remains, profound, enigmatic, endlessly significant. He himself wrote his own epitaph:

“The cause he served was Christianity, and his life was from childhood wonderfully adapted to this end. He succeeded in realizing the reflective task of translating Christianity whole and entire into terms of reflection. The purity of his heart was to have had but a single aim.”

Other quotes by Read from other books:

The Cult of Sincerity 1968 

Sincerity! All my life I have been reproved for attempting to use this word, and rightly so because the very notion of sincerity implies a consciousness of one’s self as a circumscribed entity, a ‘single one’ (Kierkegaard) or a ‘unique one’ (Stirner), to be defined and defended, and that state of self-consciousness is itself insincere. P. 13

I cannot bear witness to the presence of God either in Burber’s sense or in Jung’s sense, and yet I am not a materialist. All my life I have found more sustenance in the work of those who bear witness to the reality of a living God than in the work of those who deny God – at least, the witness of deniers, Stirner, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Shaw, Russell has been out-balanced by the witness of those who affirm God’s existence – George Herbert, Pascal, Traherne, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Hopkins, Simone Weil. In that state of suspense, ‘waiting on God’, I still live and shall probably die. P. 34

For the first time the personality is deliberately cultivated as such; and from that time [the European Renaissance] until today it has not been possible to separate the achievements of a civilization from the achievements of the individuals composing it. I have not the slightest doubt that this form of individuation represents a higher stage in the evolution of mankind. The future unit is the individual, a world in himself, self-contained and self-creative, freely giving and freely receiving, but essentially a free spirit.

The Philosophy of Anarchism by Read, Herbert Edward, Sir, 1893-1968 Publication date  1940

For the first time the personality is deliberately cultivated as such; and from that time [the European Renaissance] until today it has not been possible to separate the achievements of a civilization from the achievements of the individuals composing it. I have not the slightest doubt that this form of individuation represents a higher stage in the evolution of mankind. The future unit is the individual, a world in himself, self-contained and self-creative, freely giving and freely receiving, but essentially a free spirit.  p. 11-12

The materialist can always be driven into a position of nescience, and has to content himself with such logical banalities as cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I exist. These are precisely the kind of rational paradoxes that Tolstoy found so unsatisfying. They do not answer the existential questions: Why do I exist, why does the world exist, what is the meaning of life? p. 129

Forms of things unknown: essays towards an aesthetic philosophy 1960

We are not ignorant of love — we all experience it to the degree that we are human. But there is a mystery about the command of Jesus: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. In what is perhaps his greatest work, Works of Love, Kierkegaard explored the meaning and the consequences of this command, this ‘fulfilling of the law’, as St Paul called it. Kierkegaard began by pointing out that a different meaning can be read into the command according to the emphasis we give to different words —

Thou shalt love thy neighbour

Thou shalt love thy neighbour

Thou shalt love thy neighbour

Kierkegaard explores all the implications of the command, but later writers, such as Martin Buber and Hubert Benoit, have shown that he did not exhaust them.

Kierkegaard was concerned to prove what might be called the activist nature of love, and in this respect he returns to the conception of the early Greek philosophers. He goes so far as to say that the poet who sings of earthly love cannot be a Christian, ‘for love of one’s neighbour is not sung, it is acted’.

And there is no partiality in neighbourly love: ‘Earthly love and friendship are partiality and the passion of partiality; Christian love is self-denying love.’ Love is a matter of conscience, and only when it becomes a matter of conscience is there love from a pure heart and an unfeigned faith.

Love works its miracles in stillness. ‘Lo, the world raises a tumult just to bring about a little change; it sets heaven and earth in motion for nothing, like the mountain which brought forth a mouse: Christianity in all stillness brings about the change of the infinite as if it were nothing. It is so quiet, quiet as nothing worldly can be; as quiet as only the dead and inwardness can be; and what else is Christianity but inwardness!’

Most of us have no hesitation in speaking of force, of power, of might, but the word ‘love’ embarrasses us. It does so because it is an ambiguous word, and it was perhaps with a realization of its ambiguity that the English translators of the Authorized Version of the Bible, in certain significant passages, substituted the word ‘charity’. But that word, too, has become hopelessly ambiguous in modern English usage, and quite ineffective in our present context — the context of force.

We must retain the word ‘love’ and try to use it realistically. Tolstoy devoted many pages to the effort of redefining the meaning of love in a context of force. He pointed out that true love, universal love, has nothing to do with sentimental or emotional love, which even animals experience. Kierkegaard was clear about that, too.

Loving your neighbour, he pointed out, is a matter of equality, but of equality before God.

Your neighbour is not the man for whom you have a passionate partiality; he is not your equal in education or social status. Nor is he the man you admire for his distinction, nor the man you pity for his inferiority — partiality or condescension are feelings of selfishness. The neighbour is every man and ‘he is your neighbour through equality with you before God, but every man unconditionally has this equality, and has it unconditionally’. 214-215

Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Buber and Jung are all saying the same thing: Love is God — God is love. But I wish to resist the temptation to make abstract statements about the concrete reality.

The love Tolstoy and Kierkegaard, Jung and Buber are discussing is an active love which we must practice in our daily life: ‘To live,’ as Tolstoy said, ‘so as in all things to remember first of all, with every man, thief, drunkard, rough officer, or dependent, not to swerve from love: that is to say, in the business you have with him, to remember his need rather than your own.’  p. 216

A Coat of Many Colours 1945 by  Read Herbert 1893-1968 p. 247-258

Forms of things unknown: essays towards an aesthetic philosophy 1960, 1963 by Herbert Edward Reed   p. 214-215

Herbert Read on Wikipedia

I now ask: How do I become a Christian?

Sowing seeds again
Mercy triumphs over justice – The Epistle of James

Soren Aaby Kierkegaard lived eighteen hundred years after the Christian Era (CE) had been inaugurated through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Christ chose twelve single individuals to follow him. He demonstrated to them what it means to be like God, his Father.

These twelve became seventy and then the seventy single individuals became more as the Good News of salvation through Christ spread throughout the area. Kierkegaard wondered if the message spread through group learning or from one single individual interacting with another. Christ seemed to use both methods in his ministry. The “assembly” of those single individuals into one group came to become known as the church.

paul of tarsus Broad_overview_of_geography_relevant_to_paul_of_tarsus
The missionary Journeys of Paul the Apostle (a witness to the truth)

A book called the Bible came together over time and became the authorized text for information about this new idea called Christianity.

“The invisible Church is not a historical phenomenon; as such it cannot be observed objectively at all, because it is only in subjectivity.”     Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 54 (1846) Subjectivity is truth.

Where did the Authority come from for one individual to talk to another about becoming a Christian? Kierkegaard asked this question in full in his 1846 book, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments using the pseudonym Johannes Climacus.

In the isolation of the imaginary construction, the whole book is about myself, simply and solely about myself. “I Johannes Climacus, now thirty years old, born in Copenhagen, a plain, ordinary human being like most people have heard it said that there is a highest good in store that is called an eternal happiness, and that Christianity conditions this upon a person’s relation to it.

I now ask: How do I become a Christian?  I ask solely for my own sake.

I wanted to say that as soon as just one person could inform me where and to whom one applies for permission to write as a solitary person or to set oneself up as an author in the name of humanity, of the century, of our age, of the public, of the many, of the majority concerning the same matter, to dare, when he himself owns up to belonging to the minority, to write in the name of the many, and then as a solitary person simultaneously to have polemical elasticity by being in the minority and recognition in the eyes of the world by being in the majority-if anyone could inform me about what expenses are connected with the granting of such an application, since even if the costs are not paid in money they could very well still be exorbitant-then, on the presupposition that the costs will not exceed my means, I would very likely be unable to resist the temptation to write as soon as possible an exceedingly important book that speaks in the name of millions and millions and millions and billions.

Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p 617-619, 1846 Hong translation

Who did the Apostle Paul go to to get permission to write his epistles? Who did Matthew go to before he wrote what he wrote? More importantly, who did Christ go to when he spoke the words he spoke? The Roman Empire under Constantine issued an edict stating that Christianity was to be tolerated in his realm and he planted one capital of his empire in Rome and another in Constantinople.


The religion of Christ moved from single individual  to single individual until the temporal authorities became anxious to organize and create systems of order based on past examples. The map below shows where the religion of Christ spread throughout a large area between 481 and 814.


Clovis,  another ruler, issued a proclamation about making Christianity the religion of his people. Does that mean everyone instantly became a Christian? Charlemagne started what became known as The Holy Roman Empire around 800 AD.

The Eastern Orthodox Church broke away from the Western Roman Catholic Church in 1054 and this act, which was somewhat like the Confederacy breaking away from the Union in the United States, was the cause of an enduring controversy over the Authority in the world of the spirit. The religion of Christ was fast becoming the Christ of religion.


The same external problems happened again in the 1500’s. The Catholic Church argued over external, human, distinctions and divided itself. From The History of Anglicanism on YouTube

“Dear Reader: I wonder if you may not sometimes have felt inclined to doubt a little the correctness of the familiar philosophic maxim that the external is the internal and the internal the external. … For my part I have always been heretically-minded on this point in philosophy, and have therefore early accustomed myself, as far as possible, to institute observations and inquiries concerning it. I have sought guidance from those authors whose views I shared on this matter; in short, I have done everything in my power to remedy the deficiency in the philosophical works. Gradually the sense of hearing came to be my favorite sense; for just as the voice is the revelation of the inwardness incommensurable with the outer, so the ear is the instrument by which this inwardness is apprehended, hearing found a contradiction between what I saw and what I heard, then I found my doubt confirmed, and my enthusiasm for the investigation stimulated.”

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or I Preface 1843

Paracelsus 1493-1541

Having first invocated the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior, we will enterprize his Work; wherein we shall not only teach how to change any inferior Meter into better, as Iron into Copper, this into Silver, and that into God, etc. but also to help all infirmities, whose cure to the opinioned and presumptuous Physicians, doth seem impossible: But that which is great, to preserve, and keep mortal men to a long, sound, and perfect Age. This ART was by our Lord God the Supreme Creator, engraven as it were in a book in the body of metals, from the beginning of the Creation, that we might diligently learn from them.

Therefore when any man desireth thoroughly and perfectly to learn this Are from its true foundation,  it will be necessary that he learn the same from the Master thereof, to wit, from God, who hath created all things, and only knoweth what Nature and propriety he himself hath placed in every Creature. Wherefore he is able to teach every one certainly and perfectly, as he hath spoken, saying, of me ye shall learn all things: for there is nothing found in Heaven nor in Earth so secret, whose properties he perceiveth not, and most exactly knoweth and seeth, who hath created all things.

We will therefore take him to be our Master, Operator, and Leader into this most true Art. We will therefore imitate him alone, and through him learn and attain to the knowledge of that Nature, which he himself with his own finger hath engraven and inscribed in the bodies of these Metals. Hereby it will come to pass, that the most high Lord God shall bless all the Creatures unto us, and shall sanctify all our Ways; so that in this Work we may be able to bring our Beginning to its desired End, and the Consequence thereof to produce exceeding great Joy and Love in our Hearts.

But if any one shall follow his only Opinion, he will not only greatly deceive himself, but also all others who cleave and adhere thereunto; and shall bring them unto loss. For mankind is certainly born in ignorance, so that he can neither know nor understand any thing of himself; but only that which he receiveth from God, and understandeth from Nature.

He which learneth nothing from these, is like the Heathen Masters and Philosophers, who follow the Subtleties and Crafts of their own Inventions and Opinions, such as are Aristotle, Hippocretes, Avicenna, Gallen etc. who grounded all their Arts upon their own Opinions only. And if at any time they learned anything from Nature, they destroyed it again with their own Phantasies, Dreams, or Inventions, before they came to the end thereof; so that by them and their Followers there is nothing perfect at all to be found.

This therefore hath moved and induced us hereunto, to write a peculiar book of Alchemy, founded not upon men, but upon Nature itself, and upon those Vertues and Powers, which GOD with his own Finger hath impressed in Metals. Of this impression Mercurius Trismegistus was an Imitator, who is not underservedly called the Father of all Wise-men, and of all those that followed his ART with love, and with earnest desire, and that man demon strateth and teaches that God alone is the only author, cause and Original of all creatures in this ART.

But he doth not attribute the power and virtue of God, to the creatures or visible things, as the said heathen, and such-like did. Now feeling all ART ought to be learned from the Trinity; that is, from God the Father, from God the Sone of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, and from God the holy Ghost, three distinct persons, but one God: We will therefore divide this our Alchymistical worke into three parts, or Treatises: in

the first whereof, we will lay down what the ART containeth in itself; And what is the propriety and nature of every Metal:

Secondly, by what means a man may worke and bring the like power and strength of Metals to effect.

And Thirdly, what Tinctures are to be produced from the Sun and Moone.

Paracelsys of the supreme mysteries of nature: Of the spirits of the planets. of occult philosophy. The magical, sympathetical, and antipathetical cure of wounds and diseases. The mysteries of the twelve signs of the zodiack.


Dry water from the Philosophers Clouds! Look for it, and be sure to have it, for it is the key to inaccessibles, and those locks that otherwise would keep thee out.

Chorus Omnium: It is a middle nature between fixt, and not fixt, and partakes of a Sulphur Azurine. It is a Raw, Cooling, Feminine fire, and expects its Impregnation from a Masculine, Solar Sulphur.

Our Stone in the beginning is called water; when the body is dissolved Air, or Wind; when it tends to consolidation, then it is named Earth, and when it is perfected and fixed it is called Fire.

Zoroaster’s Cave, Or, The Philosopher’s Intellectual Echo to One another from their Cells, by George Thor and Pontanus Isacius 1571-1639, published 1667

Johannes Isaaksz Pontanus

If in all orderly Speeches and matters of Learning it first of all behoveth to agree upon the Thing in hand, what it is, and what is the Reason and Bounds [or definition] of the same: It seemeth very needful in this Discourse of the Way to Bliss, to show first what is Bliss, because it is a thing much in doubt, and in question among the Learned.

The Way to Bliss: in Three Books, Elias Ashmole 1617-1692, John Everard 1575-1650

Elias Ashmole

René Descartes 1596-1650 How can I find bliss?

Principles of Philosophy 1647

Jean Jacques Rousseau came up with a method by which he could come to an understanding with himself about G0d in his book Emile published in 1762

John Churton Collins was a literary critic who lived from 1848-1908. In 1904 he became professor of English literature at Birmingham University (United Kingdom). His posthumous essays were published in 1912.  I liked the three below that I read into Librivox and converted to video.

Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592 had definite ideas about Christianity as did Robert Browning 1812-1889.

Robert Browning and Bishop Butler on Christianity 1752. Churton compares the writings of Bishop Joseph Butler 1692-1752 with those of Robert Browning 1812-1889 regarding the Christian religion.

Gotthold Ephriam Lessing was born in 1729 at Kamenz in the Electorate of Saxony. The son of an orthodox Lutheran pastor and studied theology at Leipzig University. In 1769 he became librarian at Wolfenbuttel. Lessing decided to publish a book written by Hermann Samuel Reimarus 1694-1768 questioning the death and resurrection of Christ. Churton described the circumstances in the essay below.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) wanted to find out “how” God taught the nations to become Christendom. Kierkegaard wanted to find out “how” he, as a single individual, can become an individual and stand before God in accountability.

Hegel wrote the following in his Phenomenology of the Spirit (Mind)

Self-consciousness has before it another self-consciousness; it has come outside itself. This has a double significance. First it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as an other being; secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for it does not regard the other as essentially real, but sees its own self in the other. It must cancel this its other. The Phenomenology of Mind (Spirit) by Hegel

Hegel’s psychology:

Kierkegaard’s psychology:

Kierkegaard used a pseudonym to ask this question. Johannes Climacus was the hero of the first part of his authorship (1843-1846). Climacus was someone like Johann Goethe or Friedrich Hegel who wanted to create a system that would make the question: “How do I become a Christian?” obsolete.

Goethe searched for God in his own artistic way. He discussed his venture into this thing called Christianity in his book, The Autobiography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

Hegel wanted to explain Christianity Scientifically and create a universal ethic. If a method could be acceptable to all single individuals wars would come to an end and society would progress toward the Christian ideal of making everyone mature in Christ.
Goethe thought people learn best through poetry and the arts but Hegel thought people learn best by trying to follow an ethical standard. Kierkegaard studied the books written by both these authors and wrote his own critique of them in his writings. He came out against systematic Christianity because the single individual doesn’t need an authoritative system but what the single individual does need is a relationship with God using the way, life, and truth of Christ as the example  He started out with the idea of God in his first writings because God came first and then Christ came in “the fullness of time”.

This is a video of the seventh book of Goethe’s Autobiography. He explains the spirit of the age in the 1750’s and 1760’s.

Here is Goethe’s Autobiography. It’s a long read but it can also be listened to. We are all readers and listeners and hearers and seekers. Goethe was a seeker.

The Autobiograpy of Johann Goethe
Free Text

Goethe’s Autobiography 
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Goethe was asking: “How do I, Johann Goethe, become a Christian? Should every single individual follow his method? Should we all follow how Descartes tried to do it? Should we follow Paul’s method? Or Job’s method? No. Christ said,

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:24-26

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.
 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:1-9

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Christ’s disciples were with Christ in person and found it difficult to follow him at that time. Each single individual has the same problem they had. Here’s a video about Kierkegaard’s point of view.

These are links to some of the books he wrote. Just as one would read the Bible to find out about Christianity one should also read Kierkegaard’s books to find out about him.

This link will take you to several books published by Kierkegaard

David F. Swenson translated many of Kierkegaard’s books in the 1930’s and 1940’s and advised readers to begin with Philosophical Fragments.

Howard V and Edna H Hong translated many of Kierkegaard’s books in the 1980’s and 1990’s and advised readers to begin with Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing is the first section of that book)

This link will take you to his Edifying Discourses

I like working my way through Kierkegaard’s Discourses. He wrote 80 of them in all.

Kierkegaard liked to “Provoke” thought and action

These are the books Kierkegaard published with his own money and his own advertising. He basically left the results of his work up to God. He left wondering if anyone would read what he had written.

This is a picture of Soren Kierkegaard and his family. He lived from 1813-1855 and never married.

When Mikael Kierkegaard (Michael) died on August 9, 1838 Soren had lost both his parents and all his brothers and sisters except for Peter who later became Bishop of Aalborg in the Danish State Lutheran Church.
When Mikael Kierkegaard (Michael) died on August 9, 1838 Soren had lost both his parents and all his brothers and sisters except for Peter who later became Bishop of Aalborg in the Danish State Lutheran Church.
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