Søren Aabye Kierkegaard wrote a good number of books during his short life-time. He was born May 5, 1813 and died November 11, 1855. He was one of seven children and lived in Copenhagen, Denmark most of his life. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America count him a saint and remember him on the day of his death. The Episcopalians celebrate him on the 8th of September. Philosophers make fun of him and theologians rarely discuss him.
Theology and philosophy produced tons of papers filled with words about religion and psychology. Each refuted the other but Kierkegaard didn’t like that method and proposed a different method. Silence. He made his point very subtly in 1844.
“When the Eleatic School denied the possibility of motion, Diogenes, as everybody knows, stepped forth as an opponent. He stepped forth literally, for he said not a word, but merely walked several times back and forth, thinking that thereby he had sufficiently refuted those philosophers.”
Repetition 1844 p. 33 Soren Kierkegaard, Lowrie 1941
No man will be able to tell you in how far you may succeed in becoming essentially a Christian. But neither will anxiety and fear and despair help one. Sincerity toward God is the first and the last condition, sincerity in confessing to one’s self just where one stands, sincerity before God in ever aiming at one’s task. However slowly one may proceed, and if it be but crawling-—one is, at any rate, in the right position and is not misled and deceived by the trick of changing the nature of Christ who, instead of being God, is thereby made to represent that sentimental compassion which is man’s own invention; by which men, instead of being lifted up to heaven by Christianity, are delayed on their way and remain human and no more.
Soren Kierkegaard, Preparation for a Christian Live, 1850, Hollander 1923 p. 211 (Practice in Christianity)
Kierkegaard was baptized into the State Lutheran Church of Denmark and his brother, Peter Christian Kierkegaard, was ordained and became a bishop. His father was a woolen merchant who started out as a bond servant on the Jutland Heath. Soren Kierkegaard’s pseudonym, Johannes Climacus, said he was perhaps close to becoming a Christian but he had questions. Kierkegaard, himself, said he is a Christian in his 1848 book Point of View. He grappled with how to strive to become a Christian and remain one. He tried to make Christian possibility real for himself.
Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard wanted both his sons to become preachers and teachers but Soren wasn’t in favor of his idea and wanted to make his own choice. He didn’t graduate from the University of Copenhagen until after his father passed away in 1838. Later, in his discourses, he continually wrote that he was not a teacher and was not a preacher. He realized that he didn’t have a calling in those areas. He had a calling to write, which he loved to do.
He wasn’t afraid to read so he read philosophical, historical and religious texts. He studied foreign languages and tutored other students in Latin.
I imagine Kierkegaard sitting in some of the more boring classes at the University thinking about other things. He probably planned a series of books to be published on specific dates throughout the years 1843 and 1845. He published 22 books and articles during that three-year period. Some were long philosophical texts, some shorter psychological texts and very many edifying discourses meant for the single individual.
He summed up his early writing in 1846 with the publication of Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments (which he published in 1844).
He said he had an issue, possibility and interest that he wanted to write about.
The issue presented in the pamphlet, without pretense of having solved it, since the pamphlet wanted only to present it, reads as follows: Can a historical point of departure be given for an eternal consciousness; how can such a point of departure be of more than historical interest; can an eternal happiness be built on historical knowledge?
Doesn’t the possibility of an eternal happiness await me (the single individual) just as it awaits a housemaid or a professor?
How does an ordinary human being enter into a relation with this highest good offered by Christianity called an eternal happiness?
Isn’t it true that Christianity itself presupposes that the single individual has an infinite interest in his or her own eternal happiness? (Postscript Hong 15-16)
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. If passion is taken away, faith no longer exists, and certainty and passion do not hitch up as a team. Concluding Unscientific Postscript 1846 p. 29 Hong
The “how” of Christianity was much more important to Kierkegaard than the “what”. This interest an individual has in Christianity is a subjective interest it isn’t disinterested objectivity as in the sciences. Kierkegaard thinks the devil couldn’t have come up with a better way to destroy Christianity than to make it an objective science to be known through historical surveys and statistics. He was against quantifying oneself into a qualitative decision. He says, What if objective indifference can’t come to know anything about Christianity? What then? Whatever knowing there is would be a delusion because everything that is historical is an approximation.
He kept to this point in his later writings. He asked if one can prove from history that Christ was God in his 1847 book Works of Love. Theologians and historians were busy searching for the historical Jesus. The Bible was looked at objectively and analyzed. A spoke and then B spoke and a dialogue (the highest in Hegelianism) was started. The Everlasting Yea and Nay was discussed by Thomas Carlyle in 1834.
“When we take a religious person, the knight of hidden inwardness, and place him in the existence-medium, a contradiction will appear as he relates himself to the world around him, and he himself must become aware of this. The contradiction does not consist in his being different from everyone else but the contradiction is that he, with all his inwardness hidden within him, with this pregnancy of suffering and benediction in his inner being, looks just like all the others-and inwardness is indeed hidden simply by his looking exactly like others.” Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Postscript 1846 Hong p. 499
But this knight of hidden inwardness isn’t busy spying on his or her neighbor to find if the religious is in place. Kierkegaard says he does this instead, “We frequently enough see a presumptuous religious individuality who is self-importantly busy doubting the salvation of others and offering them his help. An authentic religious individuality is always so lenient with others, so inventive in thinking up excuses; only to himself is he cold and severe like a grand-inquisitor.” Concluding Postscript p. 389-390
Kierkegaard wondered if A had to follow B as it had since Plato and Aristotle wrote their dialogues. He published Either/Or in 1843 and made a change by presenting everything said by A in part one and then everything said by B in part 2. Then he allowed a religious C to speak in his discourse at the end of the book. He decided not to put them into the accustomed order as in philosophy. His goal was peace, a Christian value, the two were to come together and walk along without arguing anymore.
He summed up his later theological writing in the idea of contemporaneousness with Christ. Come unto me …
“He who invites and speaks these words, that is, he whose words they are—whereas the same words if spoken by some one else are, as we have seen, an historic falsification—he is the same lowly Jesus Christ, the humble man, born of a despised maiden, whose father is a carpenter, related to other simple folk of the very lowest class, the lowly man who at the same time (which, to be sure, is like oil poured on the fire) affirms himself to be God. It is the lowly Jesus Christ who spoke these words. And no word of Christ, not a single one, have you permission to appropriate to yourself, you have not the least share in him, are not in any way of his company, if you have not become his contemporary in lowliness in such fashion that you have become aware, precisely like his contemporaries, of his warning: “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.””
Preparation For A Christian Life, Soren Kierkegaard 1850 Hollander p. 179
Everyone not only could be a Christian said the Church but everyone must be a Christian. Kierkegaard thought the requirement had been relaxed so he decided to tighten them a little.
Kierkegaard thought love is a universal value. Many thinkers are against this idea. Freud thought the word evolved over time and might not be useful anymore. Kierkegaard discussed forgiveness and love Christianly. Love will cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) was a thing that Christ had accomplished through the cross. Kierkegaard thought it was something missing in nineteenth century Christendom. If we really believe in the forgiveness Christ offers we are required to forgive as he forgave and to cover the multitude of sins. If you want to be hard-hearted toward your neighbor (he emphasised the neighbor as a Christian presupposition) and expect God to forgive you you’ll be disappointed. He stressed the like-for-like by saying God will be hard-hearted toward you.
He thought faith is a universal value. Both love and faith have to be appropriated and put into use. He said faith doesn’t just come along like teeth anymore than the road to heaven is traveled at ease and in good company by train. These values have been undervalued since Kierkegaard’s time. He warned that philosophy should not make faith into a nothing and psychology must not treat sin. He also taught that hope was in the middle of the two mediating them through the Spirit.
“Faith is: that the self in being itself and in wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God. The opposite of sin is faith, which is why in Romans 14:23 it says, ‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin’. And this is one of the most crucial definitions for the whole of Christianity: that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.” Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, 1849 p. 114-115
Christianity is a paradox that has to be believed, because Thou Shalt Believe. Thou shalt also have faith and if you don’t Kierkegaard says it’s your fault. In Fear and Trembling he wrote “It is great to give up one’s desire but greater to hold fast to it after having given it up” regarding Abraham and Isaac. This is what he thought was great about Abraham’s faith. He had faith for this life but he also had faith in another life with Isaac should he lose him. He was willing to take a risk because he wasn’t sure of the result. There was no certainty involved.
“Without risk, no faith. Faith is the contradiction between the infinite passion of inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am able to apprehend God objectively, I do not have faith; but because I cannot do this, I must have faith. If I want to keep myself in faith, I must continually see to it that I hold fast the objective uncertainty, see to it that in the objective uncertainty I am “out on 70,000 fathoms of water” and still have faith. The thesis that subjectivity, inwardness, is truth contains the Socratic wisdom, the undying merit of which is to have paid attention to the essential meaning of existing, of the knower’s being an existing person.” Concluding Postscript 1846 Hong p. 204
Kierkegaard taught that the only Christ we know is the one who existed on earth “1800 years ago”. We don’t know anything about the Christ who sits at the right hand of God. This is the Christ Christians imitate. He thinks too many want to imitate the Christ who is on high at the throne of God instead of the lowly Christ who came in the form of a servant.
Christ’s disciples called themselves unworthy servants. Kierkegaard thought disciples of his age wanted to be a little more than unworthy servants. This would create a pecking order for Christians that Christ never established. All are equal before God and each individual can enter into the presence of God. But no one can enter into that presence with anyone else. Each stands before God alone. Kierkegaard envisioned angels standing at the door to God’s throne shooting at anyone wanting to accompany the single individual.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is where Adam made his fatal error. He learned, along with Eve, about sin. Kierkegaard thinks everyone has to learn that lesson. He even went so far as to say that the highest in Christianity is to learn that you are a sinner who stands before God. God’s prohibition made Adam and Eve anxious. This anxiety has a place and should be dealt with in a particular manner. He was against blaming anyone but yourself for your shortcomings.
“Sin does not properly belong in any science, but it is the subject of the sermon, in which the single individual speaks as the single individual to the single individual. In our day, scientific self-importance has tricked the pastors into becoming something like professorial clerks who also serve science and find it beneath their dignity to preach. Is it any wonder then that preaching has come to be regarded as a very lowly art.” Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, p. 16
All these lessons are part of the Christian experience for those who have an interest in the possibility of an eternal happiness.
Kierkegaard thought faith is a task for a life-time. He didn’t want to say he has faith because his task isn’t finished until he is gone. And when God speaks to him and says I sent you to learn about faith, and love, and peace, and patience, and hope, and joy. What kept you from completing the task? Kierkegaard thinks the only correct answer is: “I died.”
Kierkegaard thought that Christians often have to go where they do not want to go.
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:17-18
The God-man is the sign of contradiction. The God-man is an individual human being-not a fantastic unity that has never existed. He discloses the thoughts of hearts. A contradiction placed squarely in front of a person—if one can get him to look at it—is a mirror; as he is forming a judgment, what dwells within him must be disclosed. It is a riddle, but as he guesses the riddle, what dwells within him is disclosed by the way he guesses. The contradiction confronts him with a choice, and as he is choosing, together with what he chooses, he himself is disclosed.
Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, 1850 Hong p. 126-127
The difference between poetry and history is no doubt this, that history is what has really happened, and poetry, what is possible, the action which is supposed to have taken place, the life which has taken form in the poet’s imagination. But that which really happened (the past) is not necessarily reality, except in a certain sense, viz., in contrast with poetry. There is still lacking in it the criterion of truth (as inwardness) and of all religion, there is still lacking the criterion: the truth FOR YOU. That which is past is not a reality—for me, but only my time is. That which you are contemporaneous with, that is reality—for you. Thus every person has the choice to be contemporaneous with the age in which he is living—and also with one other period, with that of Christ’s life here on earth; for Christ’s life on earth, or Sacred History, stands by itself, outside of history.
Soren Kierkegaard, Preparation for a Christian Live, 1850, Hollander 1923 p. 208-209 (Practice in Christianity)