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 
Free Audio

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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