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Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855) was a Danish Christian philosopher and theologian, considered to be a founder of Existentialist thought and Absurdist traditions. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology and philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables.
Born: May 5th, 1813
Died: November 11th, 1855
Quotes: 139 sourced quotes total (includes 2 misattributed, 7 about)
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Out of love, God becomes man. He says: "See, here is what it is to be a human being."
Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.
"It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards."
Once you label me you negate me.
Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
Leap of faith.
The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins.
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.
Since my earliest childhood a barb of sorrow has lodged in my heart. As long as it stays I am ironic — if it is pulled out I shall die.
It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.
Old age realizes the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.
What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.
There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.
It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand, and what those things are. Human understanding has vulgarly occupied itself with nothing but understanding, but if it would only take the trouble to understand itself at the same time it would simply have to posit the paradox.
Where is the boundary for the single individual in his concrete existence between what is lack of will and what is lack of ability; what is indolence and earthly selfishness and what is the limitation of finitude? For an existing person, when is the period of preparation over, when this question will not arise again in all its initial, troubled severity; when is the time in existence that is indeed a preparation? Let all the dialecticians convene-they will not be able to decide this for a particular individual in concreto.
Irony is a qualification of subjectivity.
Job endured everything — until his friends came to comfort him, then he grew impatient.
Kierkegaard was by far the most profound thinker of the last century. Kierkegaard was a saint.
Irony limits, finitizes, and circumscribes and thereby yields truth, actuality, content; it disciplines and punishes and thereby yields balance and consistency.
Father in heaven, when the thought of thee awakens in our soul, let it not waken as an agitated bird which flutters confusedly about, but as a child waking from sleep with a celestial smile.
Human justice is very prolix, and yet at times quite mediocre; divine justice is more concise and needs no information from the prosecution, no legal papers, no interrogation of witnesses, but makes the guilty one his own informer and helps him with eternity’s memory."
It will be easy for us once we receive the ball of yarn from Ariadne (love) and then go through all the mazes of the labyrinth (life) and kill the monster. But how many are there who plunge into life (the labyrinth) without taking that precaution?
I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.
Knowledge can in part be set aside, and one can then go further in order to collect new; the natural scientist can set aside insects and flowers and then go further, but if the existing person sets aside the decision in existence, it is eo ipso lost, and he is changed.
In the external, patience is some third element that must be added, and, humanly speaking, it would be better if it were not needed; some days it is needed more, some days less, all according to fortune, whose debtor a person becomes, even though he gained ever so little, because only when he wants to gain patience does he become one’s debtor.
What the age needs is not a genius — it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr, who in order to teach men to obey would himself be obedient unto death. What the age needs is awakening. And therefore someday, not only my writings but my whole life, all the intriguing mystery of the machine will be studied and studied. I never forget how God helps me and it is therefore my last wish that everything may be to his honour.
History has a way of reducing individuals to flat, two-dimensional portraits. it is the enemy of subjectivity, which is why Stephen Dedalus called it "a nightmare from which I am trying to awake". If we think of Kierkegaard, of Nietzsche, of Hölderlin, we see them standing alone, outside of history. They are spotlighted by their intensity, and the background is all darkness. They intersect history, but are not a part of it. There is something anti-history about such men; they are not subject to time, accident and death, but their intensity is a protest against it. I have elsewhere called such men "Outsiders" because they attempt to stand outside history. which defines humanity on terms of limitation, not of possibility.
I have needed God every day to defend myself against the abundance of thoughts.
A master and way out of the league that the rest of us play in.
Death cannot explain itself. The earnestness consists precisely in this, that the observer must explain it to himself.
The question is asked in ignorance, by one who does not even know what can have led him to ask it.
To stand on one leg and prove God's existence is a very different thing from going on one's knees and thanking Him.
If the ethical – that is, social morality – is the highest … then no categories are needed other than the Greek philosophical categories.
Seek first God's Kingdom, that is, become like the lilies and the birds, become perfectly silent — then shall the rest be added unto you.
The truth is a trap: you can not get it without it getting you; you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you.
For all its critical analysis philosophy has not yet managed to root out its psychopaths. What do we have psychiatric diagnosis for? That grizzler Kierkegaard also belongs in this galere.
For as only one thing is necessary, and as the theme of the talk is the willing of only one thing: hence the consciousness before God of one’s eternal responsibility to be an individual is that one thing necessary.
What is asked of a man that he may be able to pray for his enemies? To pray for one’s enemies is the hardest thing of all. That is why it exasperates us so much in our present day situation.
People are scarcely aware that it is a slavery they are creating; they forget this in their zeal to make people free by overthrowing dominions. They are scarcely aware that it is slavery; how could it be possible to be a slave in in relation to equals?
Death induces the sensual person to say: Let us eat and drink, because tomorrow we shall die – but this is sensuality’s cowardly lust for life, that contemptible order of things where one lives in order to eat and drink instead of eating and drinking in order to live.
Someone in despair despairs over something. So, for a moment, it seems, but only for a moment. That same instant the true despair shows itself, or despair in its true guise. In despairing over something he was really despairing over himself, and he wants now to be rid of himself.
You wanted God’s ideas about what was best for you to coincide with your ideas, but you also wanted him to be the almighty Creator of heaven and earth so that he could properly fulfill your wish. And yet, if he were to share your ideas, he would cease to be the almighty Father.
Take a book, the poorest one written, but read it with the passion that it is the only book you will read-ultimately you will read everything out of it, that is, as much as there was in yourself, and you could never get more out of reading, even if you read the best of books.
This fact, that the opposite of sin is by no means virtue, has been overlooked. The latter is partly a pagan view, which is content with a merely human standard, and which for that very reason does not know what sin is, that all sin is before God. No, the opposite of sin is faith.
Consciousness presupposes itself, and asking about its origin is an idle and just as sophistical a question as that old one, "What came first, the fruit-tree or the stone? Wasn't there a stone out of which came the first fruit-tree? Wasn't there a fruit-tree from which came the first stone? Journals and Papers, Hannay, 1996 1843 IVA49
How close men, despite all their knowledge, usually live to madness? What is truth but to live for an idea? When all is said and done, everything is based on a postulate; but not until it no longer stands on the outside, not until one lives in it, does it cease to be a postulate. (Dialectic - Dispute)
Now just as the historical gives occasion for the contemporary to become a disciple, but only it must be noted through receiving the condition from the God himself, since otherwise we speak Socratically, so the testimony of contemporaries gives occasion for each successor to become a disciple, but only it must be noted through receiving the condition from the God himself.
Dogmatics must be designed in this way. Above all, every science must vigorously lay hold of its own beginning and not live in complicated relations with other sciences. If dogmatics begins by wanting to explain sinfulness or by wanting to prove its actuality, no dogmatics will come out of it, but the entire existence of dogmatics will become problematic and vague.
If it is God who gives the spirit of power and strength, then it is also the same God who gives “the spirt of self-control,” and if ignoble cowardice and fear of people are just as detestable in any age, the excess of eager enthusiasm, “zeal without wisdom,” are no less corrupting and at times are fundamentally just as detestable, just as blasphemous.
As a thorough Christian — or, as he would have put it, infinitely interested in becoming one — Søren Kierkegaard addressed himself neither to Jews nor to Judaism. But they have overheard him. In part because they could not help it... Jews are well advised to be on the alert for what they can learn not only about him but about themselves also.
One could construe the life of man as a great discourse in which the various people represent different parts of speech (the same might apply to states). How many people are just adjectives, interjections, conjunctions, adverbs? How few are substantives, active verbs, how many are copulas? Human relations are like the irregular verbs in a number of languages where nearly all verbs are irregular.
To be a teacher does not mean simply to affirm that such a thing is so, or to deliver a lecture, etc. No, to be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and the way he understands it.
For whoever has what he has from the God himself clearly has it at first hand; and he who does not have it from the God himself is not a disciple. Let us assume that it is otherwise, that the contemporary generation of disciples had received the condition from the God, and that the subsequent generations were to receive it from these contemporaries – what would follow?
I was brought up in the Christian religion, and although I can scarcely sanction all the improper attempts to gain the emancipation of woman, all paganlike reminiscences also seem foolish to me. My brief and simple opinion is that woman is certainly as good as man-period. Any more discursive elaboration of the difference between the sexes or deliberation on which sex is superior is an idle intellectual occupation for loafers and bachelors.
Aristotle’s view that philosophy begins with wonder, not as in our day with doubt, is a positive point of departure for philosophy. Indeed, the world will no doubt learn that it does not do to begin with the negative, and the reason for success up to the present is that philosophers have never quite surrendered to the negative and thus have never earnestly done what they have said. They merely flirt with doubt.
Married people pledge love for each other throughout eternity. Well, now, that is easy enough but does not mean very much, for if one is finished with time one is probably finished with eternity. If, instead of saying "throughout eternity," the couple would say, "until Easter, until next May Day," then what they say would make some sense, for then they would be saying something and also something they perhaps could carry out.
A line by Thomas à Kempis which perhaps could be used as a motto sometime. He says of Paul: Therefore he turned everything over to God, who knows all, and defended himself solely by means of patience and humility . . . . He did defend himself now and then so that the weak would not be offended by his silence. Book III, chapter 36, para. 2, or in my little edition, p. 131.
So it happens at times that a person believes that he has a world-view, but that there is yet one particular phenomenon that is of such a nature that it baffles the understanding, and that he explains differently and attempts to ignore in order not to harbor the thought that this phenomenon might overthrow the whole view, or that his reflection does not possess enough courage and resolution to penetrate the phenomenon with his world-view.
Deep within every human being there still lives the anxiety over the possibility of being alone in the world, forgotten by God, overlooked among the millions and millions in this enormous household. One keeps this anxiety at a distance by looking at the many round about who are related to him as kin and friends, but the anxiety is still there, nevertheless, and one hardly dares think of how he would feel if all this were taken away.
If someone were to expound that godliness is to belong to childhood in the temporal sense and thus dwindle and die with the years as childhood does, is to be a happy frame of mind that cannot be preserved but only recollected; if someone were to expound that repentance as a weakness of old age accompanies the decline of one’s powers, when the senses are dulled, when sleep no longer strengthens but increases lethargy-this would be ungodliness and foolishness.
The reason I cannot really say that I positively enjoy nature is that I do not quite realize what it is that I enjoy. A work of art, on the other hand, I can grasp. I can — if I may put it this way — find that Archimedian point, and as soon as I have found it, everything is readily clear for me. Then I am able to pursue this one main idea and see how all the details serve to illuminate it.
I may live for thirty years, or perhaps forty, or maybe just one day: therefore I have resolved to use this day, or whatever I have to say in these thirty years or whatever I have to say this one day I may have to live — I have resolved to use it in such a way that if not one day in my whole past life has been used well, this one by the help of God will be. JP VIII 1 A 533
Alas, time comes and time goes, it subtracts little by little; then it deprives a person of a good, the loss of which he indeed feels, and his pain is great. Alas, and he does not discover that long ago it has already taken away from him the most important thing of all-the capacity to make a resolution-and it has made him so familiar with this condition that there is no consternation over it, the last thing that could help gain new power for renewed resolution!
It seems to be my destiny to discourse on truth, insofar as I discover it, in such a way that all possible authority is simultaneously demolished. Since I am incompetent and extremely undependable in men's eyes, I speak the truth and thereby place them in the contradiction from which they can be extricated only by appropriating the truth themselves. A man's personality is matured only when he appropriates the truth, whether it is spoken by Balaam's ass or a sniggering wag or an apostle or an angel.
Every human being is tried this way in the active service of expectancy. Now comes the fulfillment and relieves him, but soon he is again placed on reconnaissance for expectancy; then he is again relieved, but as long as there is any future for him, he has not yet finished his service. And while human life goes on this way in very diverse expectancy, expecting very different things according to different times and occasions and in different frames of mind, all life is again one nightwatch of expectancy.
To understand oneself in existence is the Christian principle, except that this self has received much richer and much more profound qualifications that are even more difficult to understand together with existing. The believer is a subjective thinker, and the difference, is only between the simple person and the simple wise person. Here again the oneself is not humanity in general, subjectivity in general, and other such things, whereas everything becomes easy inasmuch as the difficulty is removed and the whole matter is shifted over into the shadow play of abstraction.
When God chooses to let himself be born in lowliness, when he who holds all possibilities in his hand takes upon himself the form of a lowly servant, when he goes about defenseless and lets people do with him what they will, he surely must know well enough what he is doing and why he wills it; but for all that it is he who has people in his power and not they who have power over him-so history ought not play Mr. Malapert by this wanting to make manifest who he was.
If I were to imagine a girl deeply in love and some man who wanted to use all his reasoning powers and knowledge to ridicule her passion, well, there's surely no question of the enamoured girl having to choose between keeping her wealth and being ridiculed. No, but if some extremely cool and calculating man calmly told the young girl, "I will explain to you what love is," and the girl admitted that everything he told her was quite correct, I wonder if she wouldn't choose his miserable common sense rather than her wealth?
Forgetting when God does it in relation to sin, is the opposite of creating, since to create is to bring forth from nothing and to forget is to take back into nothing. What is hidden from my eyes, that I have never seen; but what is hidden behind my back, that I have seen. The one who loves forgives in this way; he forgives, he forgets, he blots out the sin, in love he turns toward the one he forgives; but when he turns toward him, he of course, cannot see what is lying behind his back.
The truth is always in the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because as a rule the minority is made up of those who actually have an opinion, while the strength of the majority is illusory, formed of that crowd which has no opinion — and which therefore the next moment (when it becomes clear that the minority is the stronger) adopts the latter's opinion, which now is in the majority, i.e. becomes rubbish by having the whole retinue and numerousness on its side, while the truth is again in a new minority.
Freedom’s possibility is not the ability to choose the good or the evil. The possibility is to be able. In a logical system, it is convenient to say that possibility passes over into actuality. However, in actuality it is not so convenient, and an intermediate term is required. The intermediate term is anxiety, but it no more explains the qualitative leap than it can justify it ethically. Anxiety is neither a category of necessity nor a category of freedom; it is entangled freedom, where freedom is not free in itself but entangled, not by necessity, but in itself.
There must have been many who had a relationship to Jesus similar to that of Barabbas (his name was Jesus Barrabas). The Danish "Barrabas" is about the same as "N.N." [Mr. X or John Doe], filius patris, his father's son. — It is too bad, however, that we do not know anything more about Barrabas; it seems to me that in many ways he could have become a counterpart to the Wandering Jew. The rest of his life must have taken a singular turn. God knows whether or not he became a Christian. — It would be a poetic motif to have him, gripped by Christ's divine power, step forward and witness for him.
According to Kierkegaard: Since existence “means the making of moral choices, it is perpetual “either-or” and a life of action. One who merely contemplates a truth is apt to become a “traitor like Judas.” An uncommitted person is not person at all. The ideal of suspended judgment is a high road to moral suicide. Man must act for by his choices he makes himself. In its emphasis upon commitment "Existentialism” comes the nearest to new Testament Christianity. Existence, according to Kierkegaard is a state of anxious suspense and only the paradoxical “leap into faith” will give man certitude in God. The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith. Man’s existence, declared Kierkegaard, “is an experience or process of sustained becoming or developing by moral striving and tension. He can never, therefore, be a Christian but only attempt to become one.” Kierkegaard’s slant on man is sometimes aesthetic, at times ethical, but in its final form it is theological, concerned with the problem of being a Christian. As a theologian, he has had a singular influence on Karl Barth, Reinhold Neibuhr, Paul Tillich, Emil Brunner, and other leading Protestant theologians of our times.
When in sickness I go to a physician, he may find it necessary to prescribe a very painful treatment-there is no self-contradiction in my submitting to it. No, but if on the other hand I suddenly find myself in trouble, an object of persecution, because, because I have gone to that physician: well, then then there is a self-contradiction. The physician has perhaps announced that he can help me with regard to the illness from which I suffer, and perhaps he can really do that-but there is an "aber" [but] that I had not thought of at all. The fact that I get involved with this physician, attach myself to him-that is what makes me an object of persecution; here is the possibility of offense. So also with Christianity. Now the issue is: will you be offended or will you believe. If you will believe, then you push through the possibility of offense and accept Christianity on any terms. So it goes; then forget the understanding; then you say: Whether it is a help or a torment, I want only one thing, I want to belong to Christ, I want to be a Christian.
The world and Christianity have completely opposite conceptions. The world says of the apostles, of the Apostle Peter as their spokesman, "He is drunk,"-and the Apostle Peter admonishes, "Become sober." Consequently the secular mentality considers Christianity to be drunkenness, and Christianity considers the secular mentality to be drunkenness. "Do become reasonable, come to your senses, try to become sober"-thus does the secular mentality taunt the Christian. And the Christian says to the secular mentality, "Do become reasonable, come to your senses, become sober." The difference between secularity and Christianity is not that one has one view and the other another-no, the difference is always that they have the very opposite views, that what one calls good the other calls evil, what the one calls love the other calls selfishness, what the one calls piety the other calls impiety, What the one calls being drunk the other calls being sober. it is precisely the drunken man, the apostle, who finds it necessary to bring home to the sober (I assume) world the admonition: "Become sober!" This very admonition may, as intended, most severely wound the callous secular mentality, which as a rule cannot be wounded very easily or disconcerted. Soren Kierkegaard,
You have surely noticed among schoolboys, that the one that is regarded by all as the boldest is the one who has no fear of his father, who dares to say to the others, "Do you think I am afraid of him?" On the other hand, if they sense that one of their number is actually and literally afraid of his father, they will readily ridicule him a little. Alas, in men’s fear-ridden rushing together into a crowd (for why indeed does a man rush into a crowd except because he is afraid!) there, too, it is a mark of boldness not to be afraid, not even of God. And if someone notes that there is an individual outside the crowd who is really and truly afraid – not of the crowd, but of God, he is sure to be the target of some ridicule. The ridicule is usually glossed over somewhat and it is said: a man should love God.Yes, to be sure, God knows that man’s highest consolation is that God is love and that man is permitted to love Him. But let us not become too forward, and foolishly, yes, blasphemously, dismiss the tradition of our fathers, established by God Himself: that really and truly a man should fear God. This fear is known to the man who is himself conscious of being an individual, and thereby is conscious of his eternal responsibility before God.
Wikiquote: Repetition (Kierkegaard)
Wikiquote: Philosophical Fragments
Wikiquote: Fear and Trembling
Wikiquote: Concluding Unscientific Postscript
Wikiquote: Two Upbuilding Discourses, 1843
Wikiquote: Three Upbuilding Discourses, 1843
Wikiquote: Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1843
Wikiquote: Two Upbuilding Discourses, 1844
Wikiquote: Three Upbuilding Discourses, 1844
Wikiquote: Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1844
Wikiquote: The Concept of Anxiety
Wikiquote: Stages on Life's Way
Wikiquote: Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits
Wikiquote: Sermon Preached at Trinity Church, 1844 (Kierkegaard)
Wikiquote: Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, Soren Kierkegaard, June 17, 1844; Hong, 1993.
Wikiquote: The Sickness Unto Death The Sickness unto Death (1849), as translated by Alastair Hannay (1989), Penguin Classics, ISBN 0-14-044533-1
Editor’s Preface In this book, originating in the year 1848, the requirement for being a Christian is forced up by the pseudonymous author to the supreme ideality. Yet the requirement should indeed be stated, presented, and heard. From the Christian point of view, there ought to be no scaling down of the requirement, nor suppression of it-instead of a personal admission and confession. The requirement should be heard-and I understand what is said as spoken to me alone—so that I might learn not only to resort to grace but to resort to it in relation to the use of grace. S.K.
The meaning lies in the appropriation. Hence the book’s joyous giving of itself. Here there are no worldly “mine” and “thine” that separate and prohibit appropriating what is the neighbor’s. Admiration is in part really envy and thus a misunderstanding; and criticism, for all its justification, is in part really opposition and thus a misunderstanding; and recognition in a mirror is only a fleeting acquaintance and thus a misunderstanding-but to see correctly and not want to forget what the mirror is incapable of effecting, that is the appropriation, and the appropriation is the reader’s even greater, is his triumphant giving of himself.
A white spot is on the horizon. There it is. A terrible storm is brewing. But no one sees the write spot or has any inkling of what it might mean. But no (this would not be the most terrible situation either), no, there is one person who sees it and knows what it means-but he is a passenger. He has no authority on the ship, can take no action. … The fact that in Christendom there is visible on the horizon a white speck which means that a storm is threatening-this I knew; but, alas, I was an am only a passenger.
If one prefers to have little with blessing, to have truth with concern, to suffer instead of exulting over imagined victories, then one presumably will not be disposed to praise the knowledge, as if what it bestows were at all proportionate to the trouble it causes, although one would not therefore deny that through its pain it educates a person, if he is honest enough to want to be educated rather than to be deceived, out of the multiplicity to seek the one, out of abundance to seek the one thing needful, as this is plainly and simply offered precisely according to the need for it.
Above all do not forget your duty to love yourself; do not permit the fact that you have been set apart from life in a way, been prevented from participating actively in it, and that you are superflous in the obtruse eyes of a busy world, above all, do not permit this to deprive you of your idea of yourself, as if your life, if lived in inwardness, did not have just as much meaning and worth as that of any human being in the eyes of all-wise Governance, and considerably more than the busy, busiest haste of busy-ness - busy with wasting life and losing itself.
It is as useless for a person to want first of all to decide the externals and after that the fundamentals as it is for a cosmic body, thinking to form itself, first of all to decide the nature of its surface, to what bodies it should turn its light, which its dark side, without first letting the harmony of centrifugal and centripetal forces realize its existence and letting the rest come of itself. One must learn to know oneself before knowing anything else (gnothi seauton). Not until a person has inwardly understood himself and then sees the course he is to take does his life gain peace and meaning.
Anxiety and nothing always correspond to each other. As soon as the actuality of freedom and of spirit is posited, anxiety is canceled. But what then does the nothing of anxiety signify more particularly in paganism. This is fate. Fate is a relation to spirit as external. It is the relation between spirit and something else that is not spirit and to which fate nevertheless stands in a spiritual relation. Fate may also signify exactly the opposite, because it is the unity of necessity and accidental. … A necessity that is not conscious of itself is eo ipso the accidental in relation to the next moment. Fate, then, is the nothing of anxiety.
Man is a synthesis of psyche and body, but he is also a synthesis of the temporal and the eternal. In the former, the two factors are psyche and body, and spirit is the third, yet in such a way that one can speak of a synthesis only when the spirit is posited. The latter synthesis has only two factors, the temporal and the eternal. Where is the third factor? And if there is no third factor, there really is no synthesis, for a synthesis that is a contradiction cannot be completed as a synthesis without a third factor, because the fact that the synthesis is a contradiction asserts that it is not. What, then, is the temporal?
In the Church which was founded at Corinth, St. Paul had special difficulties of the kind I have mentioned. In that flourishing commercial city, which through its shipping and situation, maintained a vital connexion between East and West, numerous crowds of people flocked together from all quarters, different in speech and in culture. As they mingled with the inhabitants, they produced, by contacts and contrasts, new and ever new differences. Even in the Church this differentiation endeavoured to make itself felt in sects and parties; and a kind of pagan wisdom made a special attempt to force itself forward as a teacher of truth. In his first letter to this church, from which the text I read is taken, St. Paul strongly combats this tendency.
If you listen carefully, in what most definitely must be called Gospel you yourself will hear also rigorousness. For example, what Jesus says to the centurion from Capernaum, “If we will apply these words to ourselves, we are obliged to say, “Be it done for you as you believe; if you have faith unto salvation, then you will be saved.” (Matthew 8:13) How lenient, how merciful! But is it also certain, then, that I have faith-I surely cannot summarily transfer to myself the fact that the centurion believed, as if I had faith because the centurion had it. Let us suppose that someone asked Christianity, “Is it also certain, then, that I have faith?” Christianity would answer, “Be it done for you as you believe.”
Oh, can I really believe the poet's tales, that when one first sees the object of one's love, one imagines one has seen her long ago, that all love like all knowledge is remembrance, that love too has its prophecies in the individual. … it seems to me that I should have to possess the beauty of all girls in order to draw out a beauty equal to yours; that I should have to circumnavigate the world in order to find the place I lack and which the deepest mystery of my whole being points towards, and at the next moment you are so near to me, filling my spirit so powerfully that I am transfigured for myself, and feel that it's good to be here.
I have never worked as hard as now. I go for a brief walk in the morning. Then I come home and sit in my room without interruption until about three o’clock. My eyes can barely see. Then with my walking stick in hand I sneak off to the restaurant, but am so weak that I believe that if somebody were to call out my name, I would keel over and die. Then I go home and begin again. In my indolence during the past months I had pumped up a veritable shower bath, and now I have pulled the string and the ideas are cascading down upon me: healthy, happy, merry, gay, blessed children born with ease and yet all of them with the birthmark of my personality.
It occurs to me that artists go forward by going backward, something which I have nothing against intrinsically when it is a reproduced retreat — as is the case with the better artists. But it does not seem right that they stop with the historical themes already given and, so to speak, think that only these are suitable for poetic treatment, because these particular themes, which intrinsically are no more poetic than others, are now again animated and inspirited by a great poetic nature. In this case the artists advance by marching on the spot. — Why are modern heroes and the like not just as poetic? Is it because there is so much emphasis on clothing the content in order that the formal aspect can be all the more finished?
The immediacy of falling in love recognizes but one immediacy that is ebenburtig (of equal standing), and this is a religious immediacy; falling in love is too virginal to recognize any confidant other than God. But the religious is a new immediacy, has reflection in between-otherwise, paganism would actually be religious and Christianity not. That the religious is a new immediacy every person easily understands who is satisfied with following the honest path of ordinary common sense. And although I imagine I have but few readers, I confess nevertheless that I do imagine my readers to be among these, since I am far from wanting to instruct the admired ones, who make systematic discoveries a la Niels Klim, who have left their good skin in order to put on the “real appearance.”
I felt a real Christian satisfaction in the fact that, if there were no other, there was one man who (several years before existence set the race another lesson to learn) made a practical effort on a small scale to learn the lesson of loving one’s neighbor and alas! Got at the same time a frightful insight into what an illusion Christendom is, and (a little later, to be sure) an insight also into what a situation the simpler classes suffered themselves to be seduced by paltry-newspaper writers, whose struggle or fight for equality (since it is in the service of a lie) cannot lead to any other result but to prompt the privileged classes in self-defence to stand proudly aloof from the common man, and to make the common man insolent in his forwardness.
My hearers, this discourse has not wandered out into the world to look for conflict, it has not tried to get the better of anybody, it has not even tried to uphold anybody, as though there was battle without. It has spoken to you; not by way of explaining anything to you, but trying to speak secretly with you about your relationship to that secret wisdom mentioned in our text. Oh that nothing may upset you in respect to this, “neither life nor death nor things present nor things to come nor any other creature” (Romans 8:38) –not this discourse, which, though it may have profited you nothing, yet has striven for what after all is the first and the last, to help you have what the Scripture calls “faith in yourself before God” (Romans 14:22).
Lord Jesus Christ, our foolish minds are weak; they are more than willing to be drawn-and there is so much that wants to draw us to itself. There is pleasure with its seductive power, the multiplicity with its bewildering distractions, the moment with its infatuating importance and the conceited laboriousness of busyness and the careless time-wasting of light-mindedness and the gloomy brooding of heavy-mindedness-all this will draw us away from ourselves to itself in order to deceive us. But you, who are truth, only you, our Savior and Redeemer, can truly draw to person to yourself, which you have promised to do-that you will draw all to yourself. Then may God grant that by repenting we may come to ourselves, so that you, according to your Word, can draw us to yourself-from on high, but through lowliness and abasement.
A man who for a long time has gone around hiding a secret becomes mentally deranged. At this point one would imagine that his secret would have to come out, but despite his derangement his soul still sticks to its hideout, and those around him become even more convinced that the false story he told to deceive them is the truth. He is healed of his insanity, knows everything that has gone on, and thereby perceives that nothing has been betrayed. Was this gratifying to him or not; he might wish to have disposed of his secret in his madness; it seems as if there were a fate which forced him to remain in his secret and would not let him go away from it. Or was it for the best, was there a guardian spirit who helped him keep his secret.
Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs to dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science can explain. He who becomes guilty in anxiety becomes as ambiguously guilty as it is possible to become.
Even Plato assumes that the genuinely perfect condition of man means no sex distinction (and how strange this is for people like Feuerbach who are so occupied with affirming sex-differentiation, regarding which they would do best to appeal to paganism). He assumes that originally there was only the masculine (and when there is no thought of femininity, sex-distinction is undifferentiated), but through degeneration and corruption the feminine appeared. He assumes that base and cowardly men became women in death, but he still gives them hope of being elevated again to masculinity. He thinks that in the perfect life the masculine, as originally, will be the only sex, that is, that sex-distinction is a matter of indifference. So it is in Plato, and this, the idea of the state notwithstanding, was the culmination of his philosophy. How much more so, then, the Christian view. Journals VA 14
In the New Testament sense, to be a Christian is, in an upward sense, as different from being a man as, in a downward sense, to be a man is different from being a beast. A Christian in the sense of the New Testament, although he stands suffering in the midst of life’s reality, has yet become completely a stranger to this life; in the words of the Scripture and also of the Collects (which still are read-O bloody satire!-by the sort of priests we now have, and in the ears of the sort of Christians that now live) he is a stranger and a pilgrim-just think, for example of the late Bishop Mynster intoning, “We are strangers and pilgrims in this world”! A Christian in the New Testament sense is literally a stranger and a pilgrim, he feels himself a stranger, and everyone involuntarily feels that this man is a stranger to him.
One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?
The two guides call out to a man early and late. And yet, no, for when remorse calls to a man it is always late. The call to find the way again by seeking out God in the confession of sins is always at the eleventh hour. Whether you are young or old, whether you have sinned much or little, whether you have offended much or neglected much, the guilt makes this call come at the eleventh hour. The inner agitation of the heart understands what remorse insists upon, that the eleventh hour has come. For in the sense of time, the old man’s age is the eleventh hour; and the instant of death, the final moment in the eleventh hour. The indolent youth speaks of a long life that lies before him. The indolent old man hopes that his death is still a long way off. But repentance and remorse belong to the eternal in a man.
In all the flat, lethargic, dull moments, when the sensate dominates a person, to him Christianity is a madness because it is incommensurate with any finite wherefore. But then what good is it? Answer: Be quiet, it is the absolute. And that is how it must be presented, consequently as, that is, it must appear as madness to the sensate person. And therefore it is true, so true, and also in another sense so true when the sensible person in the situation of contemporaneity (see II A) censoriously says of Christ, “He is literally nothing”-quite so, for he is the absolute. Christianity is an absolute. Christianity came into the world as the absolute, not, humanly speaking, for comfort; on the contrary, it continually speaks about how the Christian must suffer or about how a person in order to become and remain a Christian must endure sufferings that he consequently can avoid simply by refraining from becoming a Christian.
Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is paltry; for it lacks passion. Men’s thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace, they are themselves pitiable like the lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm it might be regarded as a sin to harbor such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God. Their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy. They do their duty, these shopkeeping souls, but they clip the coin a trifle, like the Jews; they think that even if the Lord keeps ever so careful a set of books, they may still cheat Him a little. Out upon them! This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. I feel that those who speak there are at least human beings; they hate, they love, they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations, they sin.
Once in his early youth a man allowed himself to be so far carried away in an overwrought irresponsible state as to visit a prostitute. It is all forgotten. Now he wants to get married. Then anxiety stirs. He is tortured day and night with the thought that he might possibly be a father, that somewhere in the world there could be a created being who owed his life to him. He cannot share his secret with anyone; he does not even have any reliable knowledge of the fact. –For this reason the incident must have involved a prostitute and taken place in the wantonness of youth; had it been a little infatuated or an actual seduction, it would be hard to imagine that he could know nothing about it, but now this this very ignorance is the basis of his agitated torment. On the other hand, precisely because of the rashness of the whole affair, his misgivings do not really start until he actually falls in love.
And how does the God’s existence emerge from the proof? Does it follow straightway, without any breach of continuity? Or have we not here an analogy to the behavior of the little Cartesian dolls? As soon as I let go of the doll it stands on its head. As soon as I let it go – I must therefore let it go. So also with the proof. As long as I keep my hold on the proof, i.e., continue to demonstrate, the existence does not come out, if for no other reason than that I am engaged in proving it; but when I let the proof go, the existence is there. But this act of letting go is surely also something; it is indeed a contribution of mine. Must not this also be taken into the account, this little moment, brief as it may be – it need not be long, for it is a leap. However brief this moment, if only an instantaneous now, this "now" must be included in the reckoning.
Hegel was the great system-maker. What others viewed as his grand achievement Kierkegaard viewed as his unforgivable crime, the attempt to rationally systematize the whole of existence. The whole of existence cannot be systematized, Kierkegaard insisted, because existence is not yet whole; it is incomplete and in a state of constant development. Hegel attempted to introduce mobility into logic, which, said Kierkegaard, is itself an error in logic. The greatest of Hegel’s errors, however, was his claim that he had established the objective theory of knowledge. Kierkegaard countered with the argument that subjectivity is truth. As he put it, “The objective uncertainty maintained in the most passionate spirit of dedication is truth, the highest truth for one existing.” … Kierkegaard, it remains to be said, is not a systematic theologian. We know what he thought of systems and system makers, of which Hegel was the prime example. There is hardly a page in his writings that does not prompt from the systematically minded reader a protest against disconnections and apparent contradictions. Like Flannery O'Connor, he shouted to the hard of hearing and drew startling pictures for the almost blind.
Who is to blame but her and the third factor, from whence no one knows, which moved me with its stimulus and transformed me? After all, what I have done is praised in others.-Or is becoming a poet my compensation? I reject all compensation, I demand my rights-that is, my honor. I did not ask to become one, I will not buy it at this price. – Or if I am guilty, then I certainly should be able to repent of my guilt and make it good again. Tell me how. On top of that, must I perhaps repent that the world plays with me as a child plays with a beetle?-Or is it perhaps best to forget the whole thing? Forget-indeed, I shall have ceased to be if I forget it. Or what kind of life would it be if along with my beloved I have lost honor and pride and lost them in such a way that no one knows how it happened, for which reason I can never retrieve them again? Shall I allow myself to be shoved out in this manner? Why, then, was I shoved in?
Posito I assume and when I say posito, I have the right to assume the unlikely; therefore posito, I assume that Mr. A.A., whose promises supposedly have not weakened him, went to work and wrote the system. Posito, I assume, and when I say posito, I have the right to assume what is more unreasonable than the most unreasonable; therefore; posito, I assume that if Mr. A.A. did not write the system, then Mr. B.B. wrote it-then what? Let us linger for a moment on this thought, with which, of course, we have all been familiar for several years: the thought of the prospect for the hope of the system. Therefore, in order to be very brief, posito, I assume that the system appeared here in Copenhagen, then what? Then one would indeed have to read it, unless Mr. C.C. would instantly be kind and philanthropic enough to promise a summary of the system and also position us in the point of view; then we would again be saved by the promise. If this does not happen, then of course one would have to read it. How troublesome, and who would finally benefit from that?
But this I thought was the meaning of life, that the individual shook off the habit of accepting the favors of difference, should that be tempting, steeled himself against its humiliation, should that weigh down on him, in order to find the universal, what is common to all human beings, to concern oneself only with that. Oh! How beautiful to lose oneself in this way. But then I thought again that in the having of this concern the meaning of life was to be concerned for oneself as if the particular individual were all there was. Oh! How beautiful thus to find oneself in the universal! If the universal is the rule then the individual is the paradigm [corrected from demand]; if the universal is the demand then the universal is the fulfillment; if the universal is everything, if the universal says everything, then the particular individual believes that the everything is said about him-him alone. So if the place and context here did not require signature, none would be needed, for again it is infinitely inconsequential who has said it (as though the favored one said it, the one who was wronged being in no position to say it, since after all they all have it in them to do it).
When it is stated in Genesis that God said to Adam, “Only from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat,” it follows as a matter of course that Adam really has not understood this word, for how could he understand the difference between good and evil when this distinction would follow as a consequence of the enjoyment of the fruit. When it is assumed that the prohibition awakens the desire one acquires knowledge instead of ignorance, and in that case Adam must have had knowledge of freedom, because the desire was to use it. The explanation is therefore subsequent. The prohibition induces in him anxiety, for the prohibition awakens in him freedom’s possibility. What passed by innocence as the nothing of anxiety has now entered into Adam, and here again it is a nothing-the anxious possibility of being able. He has no conception of what he is able to do; otherwise-and this it what usually happens-that which comes later, the difference between good and evil, would have to be presupposed. Only the possibility of being able is present as a higher form of ignorance, as a higher expression of anxiety, because in a higher sense it both is and is not, because in a higher sense he both loves it and flees from it.
A man who but rarely, and then only cursorily, concerns himself with his relationship to God, hardly thinks or dreams that he has so closely to do with God, or that God is so close to him, that there exists a reciprocal relationship between him and God, the stronger a man is, the weaker God is, the weaker a man is, the stronger God is in him. Every one who assumes that a God exists naturally thinks of Him as the strongest, as He eternally is, being the Almighty who creates out of nothing, and for whom all the creation is as nothing; but such a man hardly thinks of the possibility of a reciprocal relationship. And yet for God, the infinitely strongest, there is an obstacle; He has posited it Himself, yea, He has lovingly, with incomprehensible love posited it Himself; for He posited it and posits it every time a man comes into existence, when He in His love makes to be something directly in apposition to Himself. Oh, marvelous omnipotence of love! A man cannot bear that his ‘creations’ should be directly in apposition to Himself, and so he speaks of them in a tone of disparagement as his ‘creations’. But God who creates out of nothing, who almightily takes from nothing and says, ‘Be’, lovingly adjoins, ‘Be something even in apposition to me.’ Marvellous love, even His omnipotence is under the sway of love!
In vain do individual great men seek to mint new concepts and to set them in circulation — it is pointless. They are used for only a moment, and not by many, either, and they merely contribute to making the confusion even worse, for one idea seems to have become the fixed idea of the age: to get the better of one's superior. If the past may be charged with a certain indolent self-satisfaction in rejoicing over what it had, it would indeed be a shame to make the same charge against the present age (the minuet of the past and the gallop of the present). Under a curious delusion, the one cries out incessantly that he has surpassed the other, just as the Copenhageners, with philosophic visage, go out to Dyrehausen "in order to see and observe," without remembering that they themselves become objects for the others, who have also gone out simply to see and observe. Thus there is the continuous leap-frogging of one over the other — "on the basis of the immanent negativity of the concept", as I heard a Hegelian say recently, when he pressed my hand and made a run preliminary to jumping. — When I see someone energetically walking along the street, I am certain that his joyous shout, "I am coming over," is to me — but unfortunately I did not hear who was called (this actually happened); I will leave a blank for the name, so everyone can fill in an appropriate name.
After a considerable walk through the forest, where I became acquainted with several of the little lakes I am so fond of, I came to Hestehaven and Lake Carl. Here is one of the most beautiful regions I have ever seen. The countryside is somewhat isolated and slopes steeply down to the lake, but with the beech forests growing on either side, it is not barren. A growth of rushes forms the background and the lake itself the foreground; a fairly large part of the lake is clear, but a still larger part is overgrown with the large green leaves of the waterlily, under which the fish seemingly try to hide but now and then peek out and flounder about on the surface in order to bathe in sunshine. The land rises on the opposite side, a great beech forest, and in the morning light the lighted areas make a marvelous contrast to the shadowed areas. The church bells call to prayer, but not in a temple made by human hands. If the birds do not need to be reminded to praise God, then ought men not be moved to prayer outside of the church, in the true house of God, where heaven's arch forms the ceiling of the church, where the roar of the storm and the light breezes take the place of the organ's bass and treble, where the singing of the birds make up the congregational hymns of praise, where echo does not repeat the pastor's voice as in the arch of the stone church, but where everything resolves itself in an endless antiphony — Hillerød, July 25, 1835
In order to learn true humility (I use this expression to describe the state of mind under discussion), it is good for a person to withdraw from the turmoil of the world (we see that Christ withdrew when the people wanted to proclaim him king as well as when he had to walk the thorny path), for in life either the depressing or the elevating impression is too dominant for a true balance to come about. Here, of course, individuality is very decisive, for just as almost every philosopher believes he has found the truth, just as almost every poet believes he has reached Mount Parnassus, just so we find on the other hand many who link their lives entirely to another, like a parasite to a plant, live in him, die in him (for example, the Frenchman in relation to Napoleon). But in the heart of nature, where a person, free from life's often nauseating air, breathes more freely, here the soul opens willingly to every noble impression. Here one comes out as nature's master, but he also feels that something higher is manifested in nature, something he must bow down before; he feels a need to surrender to this power that rules it all. (I, of course, would rather not speak of those who see nothing higher in nature than substance — people who really regard heaven as a cheese-dish cover and men as maggots who live inside it.) Here he feels himself great and small at one and the same time, and feels it without going so far as the Fichtean remark (in his Die Bestimmung des Menschen) about a grain of sand constituting the world, a statement not far removed from madness.
But on the other hand, the understanding, reflection, is also a gift of God. What shall one do with it, how dispose of it if one is not to use it? And if one then uses it in fear and trembling not for one’s own advantage but to serve the truth, if one uses it that way in fear and trembling and furthermore believing that it still is God who determines the issue in its eternal significance, venturing to trust in him, and with unconditional obedience yielding to what he makes use of it: is this not fear of God and serving God the way a person of reflection can, in the somewhat different way than the spontaneously immediate person, but perhaps more ardently. But if this is the case, does not a maieutic element enter into the relation to other man or to various other men. The maieutic is really only the expression for a superiority between man and man. That is exists cannot be denied-but existence presses far more powerfully upon the superior one precisely because he is a maieutic (because he has the responsibility) than upon the other. As far as I am concerned, there has been no lack of witnesses. All my upbuilding discourses are in fact in the form of direct communication. Consequently there can be a question only about this, something that has occupied me for a long time (already back in earlier journals): should I for one definitely explain myself as author, what I declare myself to be, how I from the beginning understood myself to be a religious author. But now is not the time to do it; I am also somewhat strained at the moment, I need more physical recreation.
He fixed his definition thus: reflection is the possibility of the relation, consciousness is the relation, the first form of which is contradiction. He soon noted that, as a result, the categories of reflection are always dichotomous. For example ideality and reality, soul and body, to recognize – the true, to will – the good, to love – the beautiful, God and the world, and so on, these are categories of reflection. In reflection, these touch each other in such a way that a relation becomes possible. The categories of consciousness, on the other hand, are trichotomous, as language itself indicates, for when I say I am conscious of this, I mention a trinity. Consciousness is mind and spirit, and the remarkable thing is that when in the world of mind or spirit one is divided, it always becomes three and never two. Consciousness, therefore, presupposes reflection. If this were not true it would be impossible to explain doubt. True, language seems to contest this, since in most languages, as far as he knew, the word ‘doubt’ is etymologically related to the word ‘two’. Yet in his opinion this only indicated the presupposition of doubt, especially because it was clear to him that as soon as I, as spirit, become two, I am eo ipso three. If there were nothing but dichotomies, doubt would not exist, for the possibility of doubt lies precisely in that third which places the two in relation to each other. One cannot therefore say that reflection produces doubt, unless one expressed oneself backwards; one must say that doubt presupposes reflection, though not in a temporal sense. Doubt arises through a relation between two, but for this to take place the two must exist, although doubt, as a higher expression, comes before rather than afterwards.”
But it never occurred to him to want to be a philosopher, or dedicate himself to Speculation; he was still too fickle for that. True, he was not drawn now to one thing and now to another – thinking was and remained his passion – but he still lacked the self-discipline required for acquiring a deeper coherence. Both the significant and the insignificant attracted him equally as points of departure for his pursuits; the result was not of great consequence – only the movements of thought as such interested him. Sometimes he noticed that he reached one and the same conclusion from quite different starting points, but this did not in any deeper sense engage his attention. His delight was always just to be pressing on; wherever he suspected a labyrinth, he had to find the way. Once he had started, nothing could bring him to a halt. If he found the going difficult and became tired of it before he ought, he would adopt a very simple remedy – he would shut himself up in his room, make everything as festive as possible, and then say loudly and clearly: I will do it. He had learned from his father that one can do what one wills, and his father’s life had not discredited this theory. Experiencing this had given Johannes indescribable pride; that there could be something one could not do when one willed it was unbearable to him. But his pride did not in the least indicate weakness of will, for when he had uttered these energetic words he was ready for anything; he then had a still higher goal – to penetrate the intricacies of the problem by force of will. This again was an adventure that inspired him. Indeed his life was in this way always adventurous. He needed no woods and wanderings for his adventures, but only what he possessed – a little room with one window.
"In hidden inwardness all are Christians; who would dare deny this? Anyone who would take it upon himself to deny it surely runs the risk of wanting to play the knower of hearts. So no one can deny it. That everyone is Christian in hidden inwardness is in this way a secretiveness that is almost locked up, so to speak, behind a jammed lock: it is impossible to find out whether all these thousands upon thousands actually are Christians, for they all are that, so it is said, in hidden inwardness. And not only for the Church but for everybody it holds true that one does not pass judgment on hidden and secret things, because one is unable to judge. Should it not, however, be possible to break this secretiveness and have a little disclosure without becoming guilty of being a knower of hearts? Yes, indeed! How so? In this way, that someone quite simply on his own responsibility takes it upon himself to confess Christ in the midst of Christendom. He does not judge a single person, far from it, but many will disclose themselves by the way they judge him. He does not claim to be a better Christian than others, no, far from it; on the contrary, to the others he makes the admission that they undoubtedly are better Christians than he, they who keep it hidden out of religious fear of winning honor and esteem, whereas he, poor simpleton that he is, on his own behalf is so afraid that it might prove to be shadowboxing with such an extreme Christianity, and therefore he holds to the old Christianity of confessing Christ. Therefore he does not inform against any of the others, that they are not Christians; far from it, he informs only against himself, that he is such a poor simpleton. Nevertheless the thoughts of many hearts would be disclosed by how they judge this poor simpleton, this imperfect Christian."
Accept the invitation so that the inviter may save you from what is so hard and dangerous to be saved from, so that, saved, you may be with him who is the Savior of all, of innocence also. For even if it were possible that utterly pure innocence was to be found somewhere, why should it not also need a Savior who could keep it safe from evil! –The invitation stands at the crossroad, there where the way of sin turns more deeply into sin. Come here, all you who are lost and gone astray, whatever your error and sin, be it to human eyes more excusable and yet perhaps more terrible, or be it to human eyes more terrible and yet perhaps more excusable, be it disclosed here on earth or be it hidden and yet known in heaven-and even if you found forgiveness on earth but no peace within, or found no forgiveness because you did not seek it, or because you sought it in vain: oh, turn around and come here, here is rest! The invitation stands at the crossroad, there where the way of sin turns off for the last time and disappears from view in-perdition. Oh, turn around, turn around, come here; do not shrink from the difficulty of retreat, no matter how hard it is; do not be afraid of the laborious pace of conversion, however toilsomely it leads to salvation, whereas sin leads onward with winged speed, with mounting haste-or leads downward so easily, so indescribably easily, indeed, as easily as when the horse, completely relieved of pulling, cannot, not even with all its strength, stop the wagon, which runs it into the abyss. Do not despair over every relapse, which the God of patience has the patience to forgive and under which a sinner certainly should have the patience to humble himself. No, fear nothing and do not despair; he who says “Come here” is with you on the way; from him there is help and forgiveness on the way of conversion that leads to him, and with him is rest.
If a person is unwilling to make a decisive resolution, if he wants to cheat God of the heart’s daring venture in which a person ventures way out and loses sight of all shrewdness and probability, indeed, takes leave of his senses or at least all his worldly mode of thinking, if instead of beginning with one step he almost craftily seeks to find out something, to have the infinite certainty changed into a finite certainty, then this discourse will not be able to benefit him. There is an upside-downness that wants to reap before it sows; there is a cowardliness that wants to have certainty before it begins. There is a hypersensitivity so copious in words that it continually shrinks from acting; but what would it avail a person if, double-minded and fork-tongued he wanted to dupe God, trap him in probability, but refused to understand the improbable, that one must lose everything in order to gain everything, and understand it so honestly that, in the most crucial moment, when his soul is already shuddering at the risk, he does not again leap to his own aid with the explanation that he has not yet fully made a resolution but merely wanted to feel his way. Therefore, all discussion of struggling with God in prayer, of the actual loss (since if pain of annihilation is not actually suffered, then the sufferer is not yet out upon the deep, and his scream is not the scream of danger but in the face of danger) and the figurative victory cannot have the purpose of persuading anyone or of converting the situation into a task for secular appraisal and changing God’s gift of grace to the venture into temporal small change for the timorous. It really would not help a person if the speaker, by his oratorical artistry, led him to jump into a half hour’s resolution, by the ardor of conviction started a fire in him so that he would blaze in a momentary good intention without being able to sustain a resolution or to nourish an intention as soon as the speaker stopped talking.
It is not uncommon to hear a man who has become confused about what he should do in a particular situation complain about the unique nature of the situation, thinking that he could easily act if the situation were a great event with only one either/or. This is a mistake and a hallucination of the understanding. There is no such situation. The presence of the crucial either/or depends upon the individual’s own impassioned desire directed toward acting decisively, upon the individual’s own intrinsic competence, and therefore a competent man covets an either/or in every situation because he does not want anything more. But as soon as the individual no longer has essential enthusiasm in his passion but is spoiled by letting his understanding frustrate him every time he is going to act, he never in his life discovers the disjunction. And even if his penetrating, resourceful understanding is adequate for managing an entire household, he still has not had an understanding of his life in advance or in the moment of action, and it cannot be understood afterwords, either, because the action essentially did not take place, and the coherence of his life, became a garrulous continuation or a continued garrulity, a participial or infinitive phrase in which the subject must be understood or, more correctly, cannot be located at all because, as the grammarians say, the meaning does not make it clear for the simple reason that it lacks meaning. The whole thing becomes a flux, a blend of a little resolution and a little situation, a little prudence and a little courage, a little probability and a little faith, a little action and a little incident. Anyone who has made the fraudulent trade of getting abnormally good sense by losing the capacity to will and the passion to act is very inclined to stiffen his spinelessness with various and sundry predeliberations that feel their way ahead and various and sundry postmortem reinterpretations of what happened. Compared to this, an action is a brief something and apparently a poor something, yet it is in fact a definite something. The other is more splendid, but for all that it is a splendid shabbiness.
I have never fought in such a way as to say: I am the true Christian, others are not Christians. No, my contention has been this: I know what Christianity is, my imperfection as a Christian I myself fully recognize — but I know what Christianity is. And to get this properly recognized must be, I should think, to every man’s interest, whether he be a Christian or not, whether his intention is to accept Christianity or to reject it. But I have attacked no one as not being a Christian, I have condemned no one. Indeed, the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, who sets the problem ‘about becoming a Christian’, does exactly the opposite: he denies that he is a Christian and concedes this claim to the others — the remotest possible remove, surely, from condemning others! And I myself have from the first clearly asserted, again and again repeated, that I am ‘without authority’. My tactics were, by God’s aid, to employ every means to make it clear what the requirement of Christianity truly is — even though not one single person should be induced to enter into it, and though I myself might have to give up being a Christian (in which case I should have felt obliged to make open admission of the fact). On the other hand, my tactics were these: instead of giving the impression, in however small a degree, that there are such difficulties about Christianity that an apology for it is needed if men are to be persuaded to enter into it, rather to represent it as a thing so infinitely lofty, as in truth it is, that the apology belongs in another place, is required, that is to say, of us for the fact that we venture to call ourselves Christians, or it transforms itself into a contrite confession that we have God to thank if we merely assume to regard ourselves as a Christian. But neither must this ever be forgotten: Christianity is just as lenient as it is austere, just as lenient, that is to say, infinitely lenient. When the infinite requirement is heard and upheld, heard and upheld in all its infinitude, then grace is offered, or rather grace offers itself, and to it the individual, each for himself, as I also do, can flee for refuge.
There was a time, and not so long ago, when one could score a success also here with a bit of irony, which compensated for all other deficiencies and helped one get through the world rather respectably, gave one the appearance of being cultured, of having a perspective on life, an understanding of the world, and to the initiated marked one as a member of an extensive intellectual freemasonry. Occasionally we still meet a representative of that vanished age who has preserved that subtle, sententious, equivocally divulging smile, that air of an intellectual courtier with which he has made his fortune in his youth and upon which he had built his whole future in the hope that he had overcome the world. Ah, but it was an illusion! His watchful eye looks in vain for a kindred soul, and if his days of glory were not still a fresh memory for a few, his facial expression would be a riddle to the contemporary age, in which he lives as a stranger and foreigner. Our age demands more; it demands, if not lofty pathos then at least loud pathos, if not speculation then at least conclusions, if not truth then at least persuasion, if not integrity then at least protestations of integrity, if not feeling then at least verbosity of feelings. Therefore it also coins a totally different kind of privileged faces. It will not allow the mouth to be defiantly compressed or the upper lip to quiver mischievously; it demands that the mouth be open, for how, indeed, could one imagine a true and genuine patriot who is not delivering speeches; how could one visualize a profound thinker’s dogmatic face without a mouth able to swallow the whole world; how could one picture a virtuoso on the cornucopia of the living world without a gaping mouth? It does not permit one to stand still and to concentrate; to walk slowly is already suspicious; and how could one even put up with anything like that in the stirring period in which we live, in this momentous age, which all agree is pregnant with the extraordinary? It hates isolation; indeed, how could it tolerate a person’s having the daft idea of going through life alone-this age that hand in hand and arm in arm (just like itinerant journeymen and soldiers) lives for the idea of community.