No one who was great in the world will be forgotten, but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved. He who loved himself became great by virtue of himself, and he who loved other men became great by his devotedness, but he who loved God became greatest of all. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Hong p. 16

We put our confidence in boldly daring to praise Christianity. WL 193

Many read what Kierkegaard wrote below about the law and decided that each individual decides what the law is for him or her self. I see it as saying that God has planted the law within each heart and we are to follow possibility because it’s a hint from God. We shouldn’t always be lead by what “the others” tell us.

What after all is the Law, what is the Law’s requirement of a person? Well, that is for people to decide. Which people? Here the doubt begins.

Since one person does not stand essentially higher than another, it is left entirely up to my arbitrary decision with whom I will affiliate in the determination of the highest unless I myself-even more arbitrarily, if possible-could be in a position to hit upon a new determination and as a recruiter win an alliance for it.

It is also left up to my arbitrary decision to assume one thing as the Law’s requirement today and something else tomorrow.

Or should the determination of what is the Law’s requirement perhaps be an agreement among, a common decision by, all people, to which the individual then has to submit.

Splendid-that is, if it is possible to find the place and fix a date for the assembling of all people (all the living, all of them?-but what about the dead?), and if it is possible, something that is equally impossible, for all of them to agree on one thing! How large a number is necessary?

Furthermore, if what the Law requires is merely human determination of what the Law requires (but not by the individual human being, because we thereby become involved in pure arbitrariness, as indicated), how then will the individual be able to begin to act, or is it left to chance to decide where he happens to begin instead of everyone’s having to begin at the beginning?

In order to have to begin to act the individual must first find out from “the others” what the Law’s requirement is, but each one of these others must in turn as an individual find this out from “the others”. In this way all human life transforms itself into one big excuse,-this is perhaps the great, matchless common enterprise, the great achievement of the human race?

The category “the others” becomes fanciful, and the fancifully sought determination of what constitutes the Law’s requirement is false alarm.

God wants each individual, for the sake of certainty and of equality and of responsibility, to learn for himself the Law’s requirement. When this is the case, there is durability in existence, because God has a firm hold on it. There is no vortex, because each individual begins, not with “the others” and therefore not with evasions and excuses, but begins with the God-relationship and therefore stands firm and thereby also stops, as far as he reaches, the dizziness that is the beginning of mutiny.

WL 115-116, 118

Soren Kierkegaard wrote many discourses.

It is in fact Christian love that discovers and knows that the neighbor exists and, what is the same thing, that everyone is the neighbor. If it were not a duty to love, the concept “neighbor” only then is the selfishness in preferential love rooted out and the equality of the eternal preserved. WL 44

When it is a duty in loving to love the people we see, then in loving the actual individual person it is important that one does not substitute an imaginary idea of how we think or could wish that this person should be. The one who does this does not love the person he sees but again something unseen, his own idea or something similar. WL 166

When it is a matter of an art, it certainly is not given to everyone to practice it, even if he is willing to undertake the task. Love, on the other hand-oh, it is not like an art, jealous of itself and therefore bestowed on only a few. Everyone who wants to have love is given it, and if he wants to undertake the task of praising it, he will succeed in that also. WL 360

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard published his Works of Love September 29, 1847 in two series based on the following familiar Bible verses:
Matthew 22:39,  Mark 12:31 ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ‘Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.’

“New readers of Kierkegaard are wise to begin with his nonpseudonymous, religious works such as Works of Love, because they give a relatively straightforward perspective on his thinking.”  In Works of Love, Kierkegaard describes the role of the Christian as a maieutic lover. Love builds up or edifies the other by presupposing that love is present in the other as the ground or foundation of the personality. Love believes in the other and always tries to discover a mitigating explanation of the other’s behavior or put the most loving interpretation possible on his actions.”  
Søren Kierkegaard’s Christian psychology: insight for counseling & pastoral care  by C. Stephen Evans 1990  Grand Rapids, Michigan Ministry Resources Library pp. 97, 128

Works of Love was published by Carl Reitzel publishing with an edition of 500-525 copies. A second edition appeared in 1852. It was reviewed by the editor of Berlingske Tidende,Mendel Levin Nathanson, December 20, 1847: “Kierkegaard represented a view opposite to that of those who, “viewing life from a historical point of view drawn from modern philosophy, pantheistically merge world spirit and God’s spirit and thus become proclaimers of a false peace.”   

An anonymous review in Nyt Aftendladet December 14, 15, 17, 1847: “It could not be our intention to give even a remote conception of the riches this book holds and of all that one can truly learn from it. . … With this we conclude our review, which has been unusually long, but which has been necessitated by the unusual riches of the work.”

So, then, the deliberation goes back to its beginning. To build up is to presuppose love; to be loving is to presuppose love; only love builds up. To build up is to erect something from the ground up – but, spiritually, love is the ground of everything. WL  224

Christian love abides, and for that very reason it is. What perishes blossoms, and what blossoms perishes, but something that is cannot be sung about-it must be believed and it must be lived. WL  8 love for the neighbor does not want to be sung about, it wants to be accomplished. WL 46

Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche on neighbor love.
Works of Love 1847, 2nd edition1852

No generation has learned to love from another, no generation is able to begin at any other point than the beginning, no later generation has a more abridged task than the previous one, and if someone desires to go further and not stop with loving as the previous generation did, this is foolish and idle talk. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling 1843 P. 122 Hong tr

Science begins with no presuppositions. But Kierkegaard says Christianity presupposes many things. The loving one presupposes love is present in the “other” person and therefore builds the person up rather than first tearing down in order to build up.
When it is said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” this contains what is presupposed, that every person loves himself. Thus, Christianity which by no means begins, as do those high flying thinkers, without presuppositions, nor with a flattering presupposition, presupposes this. Dare we then deny that it is as Christianity presupposes? WL 17
If it is usually difficult to begin without presuppositions, it is truly most difficult of all to begin to build up with the presupposition that love is present and to end with the same presupposition-in that case one’s entire work is made into almost nothing beforehand, inasmuch as the presupposition first and last is self-denial, or the builder is concealed and is as nothing. WL 218

Kierkegaard is saying that presupposing is a work of love, yet it is a silent and quiet work that asks for no reward because it only presupposed and kept to the presupposition. You have done something to yourself rather than to the other individual by presupposing that love is present in the other. Isn’t that something hard to do?

Love is not a being-for-itself quality but a quality by which or in which you are for others. WL p. 223

Exodus 21:23-25 – And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Matthew 7:12 – Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Luke 6:31 – And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

Kierkegaard looked at the like for like of the Old Testament and the Christian like for like of the New Testament.

Just one more thing, remember the Christian like for like, eternity’s like for like. This Christian like for like is such an important and decisive Christian specification that I could wish to end, if not every book in which I develop the essentially Christian, then at least one book, with this thought. The matter is altogether simple. Christianity has abolished the Jewish like for like: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”; but it has replaced it with the Christian, eternity’s like for like. Christianity turns our attention completely away from the external, turns it inward, and makes every one of your relationships to other people into a God-relationship-then you will surely receive like for like in both the one and the other sense.  WL p. 376

In the Christian sense, to love people is to love God, and to love God is to love people-what you do unto people, God does unto you. If you are indignant with people who do you wrong, you actually are indignant with God, since ultimately it is still God who permits wrong to be done to you.

If you gratefully accept the wrong as from God’s hand as a “good and perfect gift” you will not be indignant with people either. If you refuse to forgive, then you actually want something else: you want to make God hard-hearted so that he, too, would not forgive-how then could this hard-hearted God forgive you?

If you cannot bear another’s faults against you, how then should God be able to bear your sins against him? No, like for like. God is actually himself this pure like for like, the pure rendition of how you yourself are. If there is anger in you, then God is anger in you; if there is leniency and mercifulness in you, then God is mercifulness in you.
Works of Love, Hong p. 384 God is the middle term

Kierkegaard stressed that it was the love of God that covered our sins. He puts our sins behind his back and sees them no more. He wrote about love covering a multitude of sins in his Three Edifying (Upbuilding) Discourses of 1843.

John Lippitt “Moral Criticism, Self-Righteousness and Generosity of Spirit” KIERKEGAARD AND LOVE.

John Lippitt is a professor at University of Notre Dame in Australia, He was part of the Kierkegaard and Love Workshop given November 4-5, 2021.

And just as God forgives so the Christian learns to forgive and stop being hard-harted because God forgave us first, without even being asked. “It is indeed God in heaven who through the apostle says, “Be reconciled”; it is not human beings who say to God, “Forgive us.” No, God loved us first; and again a second time, when it was a matter of Atonement, God was the one who came first-although in the sense of justice he was the one who had the furthest to come. To win the one overcome. What a wonderful inversion there is in the whole matter! WL 334-337 Matthew 5:23-24″

Kierkegaard is not, in the usual acceptation of these words, a philosopher or a theologian, but a poet. Quite unoriginally, it repeats what Kierkegaard often and in diverse ways said of himself, that he is “only a peculiar kind of poet or thinker,” not the philosophic skald whose penetrating eye scans the ramparts of Being, nor the theological “witness for the truth” of Christianity who authoritatively propounds the Faith. … To write a compendium of Kierkegaard’s doctrines by means of a review of his works is like summarizing the philosophy of Shakespeare by means of a survey of the plays. Preface    What it all comes to is this: Kierkegaard has been treated, even by those otherwise sensitive to the poetic dimension of his work, as if he were a straightforward philosophical or theological writer. He has been studied almost exclusively with the help of those means of analysis that are presumed appropriate to philosophical systems and theological essays. And this inevitably skews the perspective of the student who is trying to understand him.  P. 10 Kierkegaard: a Kind of Poet by Louis Mackey 1972 University of Pennsylvania Press 

Love is a matter of conscience and therefore must be out of a pure heart and out of a sincere faith. A pure heart. WL 147

Christian love is not supposed to soar up to heaven, since it comes from heave and with heaven. It comes down and thereby accomplishes loving the same person in all his changes, because it sees the same person in all the changes. WL 173

Comparison is the noxious shoot that stunts the growth of the tree; the cursed tree becomes a withered shadow, but the noxious shoot flourishes with noxious luxuriance. Beware of comparison in your love. WL 186

“Kierkegaard demands more of his readers than most philosophers this is not because his “truths” are so difficult to grasp; but because, according to his own philosophy, they don’t mean anything unless the readers have taken them up into their own lives. Kierkegaard’s philosophy can be summarized in such a way that transcends the particular concerns he had about the state of Philosophy, Christianity and culture in the early nineteenth century.

He was reacting against Hegel who placed the idea of a transcendent God, as being who is distinct from human beings and from whom we would then feel alienated, with an immanent God, who is one with human consciousness.

The individual is eliminated altogether in Hegel’s theory of Geist, a universal consciousness. In Hegel’s eyes, individuals are essentially representatives of their age. By reducing God to Geist, eliminating any distance between human beings and God, Hegel is attempting to make it too easy to be religious.

Before Kierkegaard it was thought, by philosophers and theologians, that to believe in God one must be convinced that the doctrines of one’s religion are rationally defensible.  Kierkegaard strongly objected to the attempts to make it rational and easy to be religious, in particular to be a Christian. He also rejected the central premise of organized religion, that being religious is as group activity. According to Kierkegaard, becoming religious involves establishing a one-to-one relationship with God and no one else can help you do this.”
On Kierkegaard by Susan Leigh Anderson 2000 Wadsworth/Thomson Learning p. 22-27

If someone were to say “Either love or die” and thereby mean that a life without love is not worth living, we must completely agree.

But if by the first he understood possessing the beloved and thus meant either to possess the beloved or die, either win this friend or die, then we must say that such a misconceived love is dependent. As soon as love, in its relation to its object, does not in that relation relate to itself just as much to itself, although it still is entirely dependent, it is dependent in a false sense, it has the law of its existence outside itself and is dependent in a corruptible, in an earthly, in a temporal sense.

But the love that has undergone the change of eternity by becoming duty and loves because it shall love – that love is independent and has the law for its existence in relation of love itself to the eternal. This love can never become dependent in a false sense, because the only thing it is dependent upon is duty, and only duty is liberating. Spontaneous love makes a person free and at the next moment dependent. It is just as with a person’s coming into existence; by coming into existence, he becomes free, but at the next moment he is dependent on his self.

Duty, however, makes a person dependent and at the same moment eternally independent. “Only law can give freedom.” Alas, we very often think that freedom exists and that it is law that binds freedom. Yet it is just the opposite; without law, freedom does not exist at all, and it is law that gives freedom.  Works of Love p. 38-39

Photo by Shelagh Murphy on
Photo by Brett Sayles on

Suppose there are two artists and one of them says, “I have traveled much and seen much in the world, but I have sought in vain to find a person worth painting. I have found no face that was the perfect image of beauty to such a degree that I could decide to sketch it; in every face I have seen one or another little defect, and therefore I seek in vain.

The other artist, however, says, “Well I do not actually profess to be an artist; I have not traveled abroad either but stay at home with the little circle of people who are closest to me, since I have not found one single face to be so insignificant or so faulted that I still could not discern a more beautiful side and discover something transfigured in it. That is why, without claiming to be an artist, I am happy in the art I practice and find it satisfying.” WL 158


You can borrow Kierkegaard’s books here:

Works of Love, translated by David F Swenson and Lilian Marvin Swenson 1946

Works of Love Some Christian Reflections in the form of Discourses  Published in September 29, 1847 Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1995 Princeton University Press   Kjerlighedens Gjerninger (Love’s Deeds)  (Kjerlighedens Gjerninger. Nogle christelige Overveielser i Talers Form)

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