Søren Kierkegaard was a Christian author who was against applying the ideas of the Scientific Enlightenment to Christianity. He lived in Denmark from 1813 to 1855. His works were written to the single individual who might be interested in reading them.
(All quotes from Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses)
Three of Kierkegaard’s Edifying Discourses discussed here were translated by David F. Swenson and are available here.
The next three books Kierkegaard wrote were all signed by himself. He had two authorships, one hidden and the other open to others. The pseudonymous character in Repetition differs greatly from Job in his third discourse of 1843.
Kierkegaard presented a Young Man (he had no other name) in his book Repetition, he says.
“Job’s tormented soul breaks forth in powerful cries. Then I understand; these words I make my own. At the same time, I sense the contradiction and smile at myself as one smiles at a little child who has donned his father’s clothes. Indeed, is it not something to smile at if anyone else but Job would say: Alas, if only a man could take God to court as a child of man does his fellow. And yet anxiety comes over me, as if I still did not understand what someday I would come to understand, as if the horror I was reading about was waiting for me, as if by reading about it I brought it upon myself, just as one becomes ill with the sickness one reads about.
Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition p. 206 Hong (Fear and Trembling and Repetition)
Four Upbuilding Discourses December 6, 1843
a. The Lord Gave, and the Lord Took Away; Blessed be the Name of the Lord
Then Job arose, and tore his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped, saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:20-21) p. 109 Later Kierkegaard made the point that Job said this once but didn’t repeat it again. Instead he says of Job:
Only the person who has been tried and who tested the saying in being tested himself, only he rightly interprets the saying; Job desires only that kind of pupil, only that kind of interpreter; he alone learns from him what there is to learn, the most beautiful and the most blessed, compared with which all other art or wisdom is very inessential. Therefore, we quite rightly call Job a teacher of humankind and not of individuals, because he presents himself to everyone as the prototype. p. 112
Kierkegaard is still looking for a teacher but Job failed the test. He can teach the race but not the “individual”. Job teaches all people of all races patience.
Blessed be the name of the Lord! So Job not only overcame the world, but he did what Paul desires his struggling congregation to do: he held his ground after having overcome everything. (Ephesians 6:13) Alas, perhaps that was someone in the world who overcame everything but fell the moment he won the victory. Blessed be the name of the Lord! So the Lord remains the same, and should he not therefore be praised as always. Or had the Lord actually changed? Or did the Lord not remain truly the same, just as Job did?
So the Lord did not take everything away, for he did not take praise away from him, and he did not take away peace in the heart, the bold confidence in faith from which it proceeded, but intimacy with the Lord was still his as before perhaps more inward than before, for now there was nothing at all in any way capable of drawing his thoughts away from it. The Lord took everything away; then Job collected all his sorrow, as it were, and “cast it upon the Lord,” and then the Lord took that away from him also, and only praise was left and in it his heart’s incorruptible joy. p. 121-122
b. Every Good and Every Perfect Gift is From Above. (This is a repetition of a previous discourse so it must be an important verse for Kierkegaard – he repeats it again below)
So there is nothing good and perfect in the world for either the good exists only in such a way that by coming into existence it becomes a dubious good, but a dubious good is not a good, and the good that can be only in such a way that it cannot come into existence is not a good, or it exists in such a way that it is conditioned by a presupposition that must be present and that is not itself the good. So, then doubt became stronger. What he himself had discerned, what he himself had experienced, what he with sympathetic concern and to his own grief had become convinced of-that earthly life is vanity, that even people’s good gifts are weak-willed and only fill him with disgust-this he now found to be confirmed in Scripture also. Thus it was now plain and clear to him that this is what the words meant, and that far from supporting the most beautiful in life and letting it continue, they on the contrary tacitly condemned it and allowed it to disappear. 132
The apostle turns to the single individual in order to explain the condition that makes it possible for him to receive the good and perfect gift. This condition God himself has given, since otherwise the good would not be a gift. This condition is in turn itself a perfection, since otherwise the good would not be a perfect gift. Earthly need is no perfection but an imperfection. … but to need the good and perfect gift from God is a perfection; therefore the gift, which is intrinsically perfect, is also a perfect gift because the need is perfect. Before this need awakens in a person, there must be a great upheaval. All of doubt’s busy deliberation was mankind’s first attempt to find it. However long this continues, it is never finished, and yet it must be finished, ended, that is, broken off, before the single individual can be what the apostle calls the first fruit of creation. 136
Is an apostle a teacher of the single individual? Kierkegaard seems to think so here. Paul had to deal with many different kinds of people in his ministry.
c. Every Good and Every Perfect Gift is From Above.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change or shadow of variation. According to his own counsel, he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a first fruit of creation. Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, because a man’s anger does not work what is righteous before God. Therefore put away all filthiness and all remnants of wickedness and receive with meekness the word that is implanted in you and that is powerful in making your souls blessed. James 1:17-22
If a person always keeps his soul sober and alert in this idea, he will never go astray in his outlook on life and people or “combine respect for status of persons with his faith.” “Show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.” James 2.1 Then he will direct his thoughts toward God, and his eye will not make the mistake of looking for differences in the world instead of likeness with God. 141
Every upbuilding view of life first finds its resting place or first becomes upbuilding, by and in the divine equality that opens the soul to the perfect, and blinds the sensate eye to the difference, the divine equality. 143
If he sits and broods like a dragon on his earthly treasures, if he hoards, like a miser, the good things of the spirit, jealous of them-well, of what benefit is it to him that the words wanted to teach him to bestow them in the right way? 145
There is much deliberation that certainly makes a person more sagacious and demonstrates his sagacity but does not make him better or more pleasing to God. 147
Are the words of the apostle unable to effect equality before God, or do they teach, an unfair equality when they say that every good and perfect gift is from above and that consequently every human being, whether he gives or receives, essentially has to thank God, since it is proper to thank only for the good and the good indeed comes only from God? 152
Can an apostle teach the single individual that he or she is equal before God? How will the single individual learn that divine equality?
d. To Gain One’s Soul in Patience. In your patience you will gain your souls. Luke 21:19
The internal is in its most universal expression the soul. 163
The imperfect cannot be possessed by a person as his sole possession without his coming to be possessed by it, for when a person only wants the external, secular, temporal, then are the world and temporality unconditionally more powerful than he?
His soul is a self-contradiction between the external and the internal, the temporal and the eternal. It is a self-contradiction, because wanting to express the contradiction within itself is precisely what makes it what it is. Therefore, his soul is in contradiction and is self-contradiction. If it were not in contradiction, it would be lost in the life of the world; if it were not self-contradiction, movement would be impossible. 165-166
“To gain his soul in patience.’ When we put the words together and consider how a person will be able to comply with them, the first requirement is that he have the patience to understand that he does not possess himself, that he have the patience to understand that a gaining of his own soul in patience is a work of patience, and that he therefore out no to pay attention to the passion that rightly thinks that it can grow only in impatience.. 169
In patience, the soul comes to terms with all its possessors, with the life of the world in that it sufferingly gains itself from it, with God in that it sufferingly accepts itself from him, with itself in that it itself retains what it simultaneously gives to both without anyone being able to deprive the soul of it-patience. The soul can obtain nothing through power; it is in the hands of an alien power. If the soul were free in some other way, it would not be the self-contradiction in the contradiction between the external and the internal, the temporal and the eternal.(…) This self-contradiction is again expressed in the soul’s being stronger than the world through its weakness, in its being weaker than God through its strength, in its inability to gain anything but itself unless it wants to be deceived, and in its being able to gain itself only by losing itself. 172
Two Upbuilding Discourses, March 5, 1844
a. To Preserve One’s Soul In Patience Luke 21.19 ( In your patience possess ye your souls. KJV)
b. Patient in Expectancy Luke 2:33-40
Luke 2:33-40 “And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phan’u-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four.”Would you rather,” She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” The Bible (RSV)
Kierkegaard wrote of the individual in his unpublished book The Point of View of My Work as an Author. He said he was “without authority” in all his discourses. Kierkegaard isn’t the one who can teach the single individual anymore than Job is.
To preserve one’s soul in patience-that is, to keep the soul bound together in patience so that it does not go outside this and thereby become lost when he must begin the long battle with an indefatigable enemy, time, and with a multifarious enemy, the world.
So, then, the young person went on his way; upon is departure, patience repeated its promise. And the path was narrow, his walking was laborious, and yet it seemed as if he did not move from the spot, so swiftly did the others hurry by, and every time this happened, a shutter went through his soul. The powerful insulted him, the prosperous misunderstood him, the person he had trusted disappointed him. No one stayed with him for fear of being held back; only discouragement stayed behind and wound itself around his soul more tightly than a woman around her love. In vain did patience tell where the danger was-was there then not danger enough? At the same moment someone else passed him so swiftly that he grew faint and dizzy comparing his puny hope with the other’s fortune. He sank down; he could not go on.
We have spoken about the power of patience to preserve the soul. We have spoken as if patience were outside a person; we are well aware that this is not so. And nevertheless I ask you, you who know better how to praise it than I, know better how to accomplish the good, how to commend it to people, since you have known it better, more inwardly and for a longer time-was it nevertheless not so at times, when concern and your laboring thoughts piled up deliberations that were of no benefit except to give birth to new deliberations, that then the plain, simple, but nevertheless forgotten words of patience prodded you from another direction, was it not as if patience stool on the outside? We have made it appear as if patience were outside, and we have let it speak, as it were, for itself. p. 192, 195
What about Anna? Can she be a teacher of the individual? She certainly was patient.
Is Anna not patient in expectancy? Anyone who wants to harvest before he sows or as soon as he has sown, anyone who wants to be victorious without struggling, anyone who wants something but does not want the means is a fool in people’s eyes. Everyone believes that the expectant person needs some patience, and only the person who wants to cast away all patience, he alone is called impatient and childish in his impatience. Some patience! If a person were to go out into the world with this wisdom, he would find scarcely a single impatient person without some patience.
As the Gospel says, humble Anna was a prophet. She, who had given up her earthly expectancy and bound her soul to the eternal alone, was taught by this pain to expect the fulfillment that all generations had hailed from afar.
Whatever God gives, he “gives not the spirit of cowardliness but the spirit of power and self-control. (2 Timothy 1.7) Just as it is required of the expectant person, if his expectancy is noble and worthy of a human being, that he seeks this spirit of power and self-control, and that, just as his expectancy is laudable, he must also be one who is properly expectant, so in turn will the object of expectancy, the more glorious and precious it is, form the expectant person in its own likeness, because a person resembles what he loves with his whole soul.
Worthy she stands beside Simeon, who desired to see nothing but what he saw and then to go home in peace. Blessed are the eyes that saw what he saw and saw it in the say he saw it; even though a person became as gray-haired as Simeon and as aged as Anna, yet it is blessed to be the expectant one who expects and sees the expected one, in whose place no other one shall come.
Kierkegaard moves on from Job and Anna to the Preacher of Ecclesiastes and John the Baptist. Can any of them be the teacher of the individual?
Three upbuilding Discourses June 8, 1844
a. Think About Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”” Ecclesiastes 12:1 RSV
There is nothing in the wide world that is able to compensate a person for the harm he would inflict on his soul if he gave up the thought of God; but the person who demanded the highest, blinded though he was, still let it be understood that in a certain imperfect sense he grasped the significance of what he was abandoning. 235
It is hard to separate those who are inwardly united, but how much harder it is when the Creator and youth’s thought about the Creator are separated. Human language says very littler of this concern, since not only their talk but virtually language itself is so selfish that it talks only of their own affairs and very little of God’s, whose concern this separation is. But what is it that separates them? My listener, should not you yourself know what is was that separated you and should not the single individual know what it was that separated him from God, even though that which separated was very different for different people! 246
b. The Expectancy of an Eternal Salvation.
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4.17-18
If anyone, no matter for what reason, is living in conflict with the future, so that he is not merely ignorant like the alien and the foreigner, not merely light-minded like that romantic knight of thought, but with all his might wants to have it destroyed, then he certainly would be least suited to sit in a deliberative council. So, then, one chooses otherwise; one assumes that the concern not only does not make a person partisan but in a special way makes him competent to deliberate; one assumes that the very close connection between his welfare and that future makes him especially entitled to do that. Therefore, the person who owns treasure in heaven and whose soul is with this treasure, one who has gained friends here on earth who are able to receive him in the next world, (Luke 16.9) one whose concern foresees an explanation that life denies, one whose longing holds the beloved firmly and does not let him go in death, one whose grief continues to follow the dead to the grave, one who would be shocked by the horror of his being canceled out of heaven’s salvation, … 255-256
The Expectancy of an Eternal Salvation with Regard to the Meaning of this Expectancy for the Present Life. 259
The expectancy of an eternal salvation will reconcile everyone with his neighbor, with his friend, and with his enemy in an understanding of the essential. 265
If one was not what in a more elevated way is called a simple man, but what in plain, everyday speech is called a real simpleton, and you, my listener, were a wise person who profoundly asked, “What is truth?” and restlessly pondered the question with competence and success-do you suppose it would disturb you if he became just as blessed as you and heaven’s infinite salvation made you both equal? 271-272
c. He must increase but I must decrease.
He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Gospel of John 3.29-30
[John the Baptizer] was and remained the voice crying in the wilderness. This was his task; he himself certainly perceived its significance, but he also knew that its significance was that it would be abolished and forgotten, like the night watchman’s cry when it is obvious to all that day has broken. Then rose the son of him whose morning star aroused the wonder of the wise men; its glory shone, and no one understood better than John that its rising was the setting of his sun. But he rejoiced over it as deeply as the patriarchs who had longed for the sight, as sincerely as the believers for whom it continues to shine. And yet he knew that the ceremony after which he was named would be abolished, would disappear as a baptism with water in contrast to a baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit. Then the news came to him that this had happened and his disciples were despondent because the person to whom John had borne witness was baptizing and everyone was coming to him, but John replied: This joy of mine is full. He must increase; I must decrease. 277-278
John remained true to himself; precisely when his disciples’ news seemed to call for a different response, he gave witness to them of that which he had proclaimed in the wilderness before the coming one appeared and had preached to the people. He requested them to witness along with him that this had been his witness from the beginning, and the disciples had to witness along with him that this witness was his conclusion, his yes and amen. 284
His joy became more for him the more he was diminished. … This was John, and this is how the single individual is to fulfill something similar in lesser situations. If he has first of all learned to deny himself humbly and to master his mind, then joy will also be victorious. But the first must be learned first-later, that which is greater; one is first initiated into the lesser mystery, later into the mystery. 288
How was John the Baptist a single individual before God? Kierkegaard has presented many single individuals who were called to do a task by God and they all chose to do it.
Where is Kierkegaard leading his readers? If he has readers he presupposes that he has listeners since one who is able to read, through the gift of God, will view that gift as a task if he wants to view it that way.
Kierkegaard wrote against proving the existence of God in some final, scientific, authorized way so that all individuals can accept the definition.
If everything is assumed to be in order with regard to the Holy Scriptures-what then? Has the person who did not believe come a single step closer to faith? No, not a single step. Faith does not result from straightforward scholarly deliberation, nor does it come directly; on the contrary, in this objectivity one loses that infinite, personal, impassioned interestedness, which is the condition of faith, the everywhere and nowhere in which faith can come into existence. Has the person who did believe gained anything with regard to the power and strength of faith?
No, not in the least; in this prolix knowledge, in this certainty that lucks at faith’s door and craves for it, he is rather in such a precarious position that much effort, much fear and trembling will be needed lest he fall into temptation and confuse knowledge with faith. Whereas up to now faith has been a beneficial taskmaster in uncertainty, but it would be its worst enemy in this certainty. If passion is taken away, faith no longer exists, and certainty and passion do not hitch up as a team.
Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong p. 29
It is generally thought that to be subjective is no art. But now to become what one is as a matter of course-who would waste his time o that? That would indeed be the most dispensable of all tasks in life. Quite so. But that is why it is already so very difficult, indeed, the most difficult of all, because every human being has a strong natural drive to become something else and more. That is how it is with all apparently insignificant tasks: just this apparent insignificance makes them infinitely difficult, because the task does not clearly beckon and thus lend support to the aspirer, but works against him so that it takes an infinite effort just to discover the task, that is, that this is the task, a drudgery from which one is otherwise exempted. To think about the simple, something that the simple person also knows this, is extremely deterring, for even through the most extreme effort the difference itself by no means becomes obvious to the sensate person. No then the grandiose is glorious in a quite different way.
When one ignores this little Socratically jesting and Christianly infinitely concerned distinction between being a so-called subject of sorts and being a subject of becoming one and being what one is by having become that-then the admired wisdom turns out to be that the subject’s task is to strip away more and more of his subjectivity and become more and more objective. From this it is easy to see what this guidance understands by being a so-called subject of sorts, that it thereby quite correctly understands the accidental, the angular, the selfish, the eccentric, etc., of which every human being can have plenty. Christianity does not deny, either, that such things are to be discarded; it has never been a friend of impudent antics. But the difference is simply that science and scholarship want to teach that becoming objective is the way, whereas Christianity teaches that the way is to become subjective, that is, truly to become a subject. Lest this seem to be a verbal dispute, let it be said that Christianity explicitly wants to intensify passion to its highest, but passion is subjectivity, and objectively it does not exist at all.
Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong p. 130-131
Our age wants to have a systematic Christmas tree raised in order to rest and take time off, but the trees have to be content with a bramble bush. If I, not in the capacity of a king but as a lowly servant, were to compare myself with this bush I say I am unfruitful as it is; there is not much shade, and the thorns are sharp.
Consequently, to become subjective should be the highest task assigned to every human being, just as the highest reward, an eternal happiness, exists only for the subjective person or, more correctly, comes into existence for the one who would become subjective. Moreover, becoming subjective should give a person plenty to do as long as he live; thus it should not happen to the zealous person but only the busy trifler that he will be finished with life before life is finished with him. And he should not be entitled to ignore life but should instead be obliged to understand that he very likely had not comprehended life’s task correctly, since it otherwise would follow as a matter of course that the task of life should last as long as life lasts, that is the task of living.
Consequently, if the individual comprehends that to become subjective is his highest task, then, in the carrying out of that task, issues should become manifest to him that in turn could suffice for the subjective thinker fully as well as the objective issues that the objective thinker has at hand suffice for him, this person who goes further and further, who, scorning repetition’s ever deepening absorption in the one thought, never repeats himself but astounds the age first by being a systematician, than a world historian, than an astronomer, vegetarian, waterworks inspector, geographer, etc. Suppose a person is given the task of entertaining himself for one day and by noon is already finished with the entertainment-then his speed would indeed be no merit.
So it is also when life is a task. To be finished with life before life is finished with one is not to finish the task at all. My power is not that of a ruler or a conqueror; for the only power I have is the power to restrain. I have power only over myself, and I do not have even that if I do not exercise restraint every moment. The task is to exercise restraint, since the temptation is to finish too quickly, then nothing is more certain than that the task is enough for a lifetime.
Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong p. 163-165