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Individualism and Religious Transcendence in Kierkegaard’s Thought

  • Robert Gascoigne
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 105)

Abstract

Kierkegaard’s fundamental objection to the philosophy of Hegal and to the world-view of Hegel’s disciples in Germany and Denmark was his rejection of the doctrine of immanence, the thesis that the absolute reveals itself both in the events of history and in the structure of created being. His own analysis of the significance of Christianity for the individual was an attempt to undermine the self-confidence of speculative reason and to lay bare the false pretences of historicism. For Kierkegaard, the work of Christianity, the highest stage of human existence, was its liberation of the individual from the rule of two idols, history and the collective. Neither of these had any authentic role to play in the task of becoming a Christian, and both had attempted to exercise a fatal domination over the individual, cutting him off from the true sources of grace. For Kierkegaard, the attack on history and the collective was a unity, since all groups or collectives are historically formed and all justify their importance through the significance of their historical role. The group, claiming unity with the divine life of history, with the subterranean current released in the human world by the incarnation, can have no meaning apart from a particular view of the historical process — the view that sees this process as the working-out of the deeds of Jesus, the concretization of his spiritual ideas in inner-wordly institutions.

Keywords

Christian Faith Religious Authority Established Order Individual Believer Christian Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    J. Collins, in his The Mind of Kierkegaard (London, 1954), notes that Kierkegaard made a real attempt to keep abreast of intellectual events in Germany, and to acquire a first hand knowledge of Hegel, but that his familiarity with Hegel was less than that he had with the Danish Hegelians, and his attacks on Hegel were generally made through the prism of the presentation of Hegelian thought in Mar-heineke and Martensen, the Danish Professor of Theology and later Bishop. For Collins, * Kierkegaard was not interested in the fine shades of meaning and the purely technical points in Hegel. He studied Hegel as one studies the fons et origo of a broad intellectual and social movement.’ (p. 105)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M.C. Taylor’s Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Authorship: A Study of Time and the Self (Princeton, 1975) has an extended discussion of the meaning of the various ‘stages of existence’ analysed by Kierkegaard. On the general characteristics of the ‘reflective aesthetical’ stage, see pp. 178–182.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Princeton, 1968), p. 119.Google Scholar
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    For H. Diem, in his Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Existence (London, 1959), the object of Kierkegaard’s work was not to develop an anthropology but to ‘work out the decisively Christian existential categories as distinct from existential understanding proper to philosophies of ethical and religious immanence’, (p. 81) In doing this ‘Kierkegaard does not persuade for Christianity but desires to seek out the natural man and to help in the task of existence. ‘(p. 53) The dialectical quality of Kierkegaard’s work proceeds from his concern to find a lived solution to human existence, the conclusion of stages of struggle and hardship, rather than a philosophical anthropology.Google Scholar
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    For M.C. Taylor, in his Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Authorship, op. cit., man’s maturation through the stages, aesthetic, ethical and ‘religion A’, or deism, involves a corresponding increase in the importance and relevance of the ideas of the self and of time: this reaches its climax in the incarnation, when the fully developed individual responds in the instant of faith to the individual Jesus who makes himself known in the instant of the Incarnation. See especially p. 335.Google Scholar
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    The idea of Christ as the forgiver of sins always retained enormous significance for Kierkegaard, fundamentally because of his unwillingness to believe — until his ‘Easter experience’ of 1848 — that his own sins and the sins of his father had been forgiven. His final conviction of Christ’s forgiveness is recorded in his Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays (1851) (printed with For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourselves in W. Lowrie’s translation, Princeton edition). These discourses are, for G. Malantschuk, in his Kierkegaard’s Thought (Princeton, 1974), the ‘fulcrum of Kierkegaard’s authorship’, since ‘in all his dialectical and existential presentations Kierkegaard always considers the doctrine of grace to be the ultimate and most central doctrine. His own existential experiences had fully taught him how little a man can accomplish’, (p. 355) The increasing emphasis on ‘Christ the pattern’ may perhaps be explained — apart from its link to Christian militancy — by its simplicity, its relationship to contemporaneousness. Even the doctrine of the atonement, at least in its articulated forms, is the product of the work of human reason, and uses various concepts that also have relevance in secular culture. As such it is already a product of the ‘1,800 years’. ‘Christ the pattern’, by contrast, is the most immediate form of contemporaneous discipleship.Google Scholar
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  89. 90.
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  90. 91.
    For Crites, op. cit., the understanding of marriage is a key to the opposition of Hegel and Kierkegaard, since it represents the possibility of a union of secular ethics and sacramental grace. Tor Hegel the marriage ceremony might be said to reveal what is genuinely sacred in the Christian tradition, the authentic distillate remaining after the history of Christendom had purged Christianity of spurious notions of sacredness. For Kierkegaard, who thought marriage had its validity as a social or ethical institution, the elevation of the ceremony to a Christian means of grace was a sign of Christendom’s apostasy.’ (p. 20).Google Scholar
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    Attack upon ‘Christendom’, p. 34.Google Scholar
  92. 93.
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  94. 95.
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  98. 100.
    Attack upon Christendom, p. 39.Google Scholar
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  100. 102.
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  101. 103.
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  102. 104.
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  103. 105.
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  104. 106.
    Ibid., p. 140.Google Scholar
  105. 107.
    Thus Kierkegaard saw himself, even as late as 1851, in the Preface to Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays (in For Self-examination and Judge for Yourselves, Princeton, 1944) as an interpreter of human existence: the author ‘does not by any means call himself a witness to the truth, but only a peculiar sort of poet and thinker, who ‘without authority’, has nothing new to bring but would read the fundamental document of the individual, humane existence-relationship, the old, well-known, from the fathers handed down — would read it through once again, if possible in a more heartfelt way’. Kierkegaard’s attempt to make a thorough analysis of the stages of human existence represents the content of any ‘system’ in his thought. For Malantschuk, op. cit., p. 359, ‘Although the idea that Kierkegaard had created a “system” must be rejected, one should be continually aware that an account of a progressive movement which with the help of a qualitative dialectic poses ever more decisive contrasts, placing a person in the tension of choice and final decision, does give us a coherent survey of existence. It is this coherence that Kierkegaard had in mind and expected people to look for in his authorship.’Google Scholar
  106. 108.
    Attack upon ‘Christendom’, p. 141.Google Scholar
  107. 109.
    For P. Sponheim, in his Kierkegaard on Christ and Christian Coherence (London, 1968) the idea of Christianity as the conclusion of a dialectic of existence must imply some continuity with the earlier stages, which would render Kierkegaard’s understanding of Christian existence less ‘transcendent’ than it is interpreted to be in this study. ‘If we wish to say that the development in Kierkegaard’s thought is not crowned until the transcendent categories of Religion B are reached, we are yet saying that Religion B is reached within a process of development. That fact would suggest that Religion B itself is not fully characterized by a single-minded attention to the dimension of transcendence.’ (p. 35) ‘It seems more correct to see Kierkegaard’s conception of the Christian’s passion as the fulfilment rather than the repudiation of his understanding of the nature of the human spirit set in existence.’ (p. 38).Google Scholar
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    For H. Diem, op. cit., ‘The dialectic of Kierkegaard does not stand in opposition to the authoritative proclamation of the Church, but is dialectically related to the latter.’ (p. 98) ‘The preaching of the Gospel must in various ways be clothed with an authority in which the authority of the Church is expressed. To this extent, even for Kierkegaard, there can be no individual faith apart from the Church.’ (p. 108)Google Scholar
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    As Kierkegaard wrote in the Philosophical Fragments: ‘If the contemporary generation had left nothing behind them but these words: ‘We have believed that in such and such a year the God appeared among us in the humble figure of a servant, that he lived and taught in our community, and finally died”, it would be more than enough.’ (p. 130).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • Robert Gascoigne

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