Relating oneself to the ideal in one’s personal life is never seen. Such a life is the life of the witness to the truth. This rubric disappeared long ago, and preachers, philosophy professors, and poets have taken over the place of servants to the truth, whereby they no doubt are served very well — but they do not serve the truth. Soren Kierkegaard, Journals X 1A 11
Søren Kierkegaard wrote against finding out about Christ in an inadmissible way, that is, by way of historical surveys or statistical tables. A world map showing Christian nations and non-Christian nations would be laughable to him. He believed in a balance between objective and subjective Christianity and between aesthetic, ethical, and religious life in the individual believer or non-believer. He published twenty-seven books between 1841 and 1852, took a two-year break before coming out with his articles in The Moment and other newspapers and then in 1855 he collapsed in the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark and was taken to the hospital until he died on November 11 of that same year.
Even though he published so many books he was against one reading oneself into Christianity or life or philosophy. Life should be lived, not just read about. He feared the creation of a society of spectators. Groups reading about life as presented by historians, philosophers, psychologists, and poets.
The Germans and French were the first to notice him as early as 1861 when Kierkegaard’s The Moment was translated by the Germans. The French translated Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays in 1886.
The International Journal of Ethics reviewed David Ferdinand Swenson’s 1936 translation of Philosophical Fragments in 1937 calling his work “pivotal” in Kierkegaard’s thought and commending Swenson for choosing to translate this book first. Swenson, a Swede who immigrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1882, was first introduced to the works of Kierkegaard when he saw a Danish copy of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific (Simple) Postscript in 1901. He decided to learn Danish and dedicated himself to presenting the writings of Soren Kierkegaard to the English speaking world. Lowrie and Swenson worked together, exchanging letters regarding their work. Swenson lived from 1876-1940.
“The Logical Implicates of the Community. — If the ideal human society is an all-inclusive community of individuals engaged in mutual co-operation, it must first of all rest upon a common understanding. For co-operation without understanding is not the voluntary co-operation of free and rational beings. The foremost logical principle is that of identity. It is a principle which at one and the same time defines the individual mind’s continuity of thinking and the social consciousness of a common thought and a common world.” David F. Swenson 1920
Lee M. Hollander (1880-1972) was professor of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas when he published Selections From The Writings of Soren Kierkegaard in 1923. Hollander earned his BA and Ph D from Johns Hopkins University. He first became aware of Kierkegaard while studying at the University of Oslo, Norway.
Karl Barth influenced English translators when he published The Epistle to the Romans in 1919.
“If I have a system it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the ‘infinite qualitative distinction’ and to my regarding this as possessing negative as well as positive significance: ‘God is in heaven. And thou art on earth.’ The relation between such a God and such a man, and the relation between such a man and such a God, is for me the theme of the Bible and the essence of philosophy. Philosophers name this KRISIS of human perception – the Prime Cause: the Bible holds at the same cross-roads-the figure of Jesus Christ. When I am faced by such a document as the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, I embark on its interpretation on the assumption that he is confronted with the same unmistakable and unmeasurable significance of that relation as I myself am confronted with, and that it is this situation which moulds his thought and its expression.” Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans 1919 Preface (originally published in German) — Crisis would become a major component of American literature in post World War 2 America.
Barth’s book attracted Episcopal clergyman Walter Lowrie (1868-1959) to the writings of Soren Kierkegaard. He used Kierkegaard’s writings from his works to piece together an idea of this Danish author who left practically no trail of himself besides his writings. He buried his life in his writings. Lowrie dedicated his time to the translation of Kierkegaard’s works.
Lowrie was 57 years old when he contacted Charles Williams (1886-1945) of Oxford University Press in 1935 in an attempt to get his biography about Kierkegaard published. Williams was also associated with the likes of CS Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and he had made acquainted of Alexander Dru who edited excerpts from the Journals of Soren Kierkegaard in 1938 and translated Kierkegaard’s The Present Age in 1946, one hundred years after it was first published.
Williams mentioned Kierkegaard in his 1939 book The Descent of the Dove.
In the last fifty years of the eighteenth century the Church had faded; in the first fifty years of the nineteenth it returned everywhere with astonishing vitality; and it returned not as morals or as humanitarianism, but as doctrine. Doctrine might or might not lead to humanitarianism, to social revolution, and it more and more tended to do so; but within the Church those things came from strengthening and not from weakening doctrine. The power of dogma returned and, on the whole, returned without individual leaders. Such leaders there were, but if they were lost the movement did not cease.
There were no Calvinists or Dominics or Augustines. The man who was most like those great ones was a Dane, a contemporary of Hans Andersen, but though Hans Andersen achieved world-wide repute at once, Soren Kierkegaard had to wait for his through some seventy years. It has taken Christendom that long to catch him up; it took fifty years to catch up St. Thomas, and it has not caught up Dante yet. He coordinated experiences in a new manner; say, using the old word, that he caused alien and opposite experience to coinhere.
No doubt as soon as Kierkegaard becomes fashionable he will be explained. His imagination will be made to depend on his personal history, and his sayings will be so moderated in our minds that they will soon become not his sayings but ours. It is a very terrible thing to consider how often this has happened with the great, and how often we are contented to understand what we have neatly supposed that they have said.
The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church by Charles Williams 1939, 2002 P. 213
From 1946 onward the professors went to work interpreting Kierkegaard’s works.
Then Howard Hong (1910-2010) and Edna Hong (1913-2007) began translating Kierkegaard again. Howard Hong studied at the University o Minneapolis from 1934-1938 where he learned that Heinrich Ibsen was interested in Kierkegaard and David F. Swenson taught him about Kierkegaard too. He decided to go to Copenhagen to learn Danish and began his life’s work.
Three publishing houses were responsible for Kierkegaard in English.
Philosophical Fragments 1844 by Soren Kierkegaard translated by David F Swenson 1936 Princeton University Press
Lectures on the Religious Thought of Soren Kierkegaard, by Eduard Geismar 1936 Augsburg Publishing House.
Kierkegaard Volume 1 and 2 by Walter Lowrie 1938, 1962 Oxford University Press and Harper Torchbooks
Repetition by Soren Kierkegaard 1844 translated by Walter Lowrie 1941 Princeton University Press
Charles Williams and His Contemporaries edited by Suzanne Bray and Richard Sturch 2009
If one wishes to strip people of their illusions in order to lead them to something more true, here as always you are “at your service in every way.” On the whole you are tireless in tracking down illusions in order to smash them to pieces. You talk so sensibly, with such experience, that anyone who does not know you better must believe that you are a steady man. But you have by no means arrived at what is true. You stopped with destroying the illusion, and since you did it in every conceivable direction, you actually have worked your way into a new illusion-that one can stop with this. Yes, my friend, you are living in an illusion, and you are achieving nothing.
Soren Kierkegaard Either/Or Vol 2 1843 Hong translation p. 78