Fourth Period: A Prelude to The Second Authorship (1846-48)
Works Of Love
- Works of Love: Some Christian Deliberations in the Form of Discourses
- Kjerlighedens Gjerninger. Nogle christelige Overveielser i Talers Form
- KW16, SKS9, SV9
Note: Page numbers are keyed to the Harper Torchback Hong Translation, 1962, 64.
Works of Love shares a certain kinship with "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing" (see Upbuilding Discourses In Various Spirits). Both works emphasize ethics more than theological themes. The subtitle contains the word "deliberations". As H. Hong points out, Kierkegaard distinguished between a "deliberation" and an "upbuilding discourse" (for the latter see Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses). A deliberation is meant to awaken with the goal of provoking action. A deliberation is a "gadfly". An upbuilding discourse, by contrast, is meant to persuade, move, soften, and reassure. In the foreword, Kierkegaard explains his terminology and purpose.
These Christian reflections, which are the fruit of much reflection, will be understood slowly but then also easily; yet they surely will become very difficult if someone by hasty and curious reading makes them difficult for himself. "That single individual", who first ponders whether he will read or not, will ponder lovingly, if he decides to read, whether or not the difficulty and the ease, when they are thoughtfully placed together on the scales, are rightly related, so that Christianity is not misrepresented by making either the difficulty or the ease too great.
These are Christian reflections; therefore they are not about love but about the works of love (p. 19).
Kierkegaard emphasizes the works of love for at least two reasons. First, love is indescribable, since "God is love" and God is unfathomable. Second, he is concerned with the manifestations of love in the Christian life. Though he agrees with Luther that works do not earn us salvation (p. 353) he asserts that works, grounded in love, are a necessary outpouring of the life of a Christian.
In Works of Love Kierkegaard methodically treats several biblical aspects of spiritual love in relation to erotic love and friendship. His thoroughness is reminiscent of the writings of the Puritans, who would examine their theme from many angles in an attempt to exhaustively treat their subject. He calls it a "little book" (p. 185, 280), but it is over 300 pages long.
I: Love's Hidden Life and Its Recognisability by Its Fruits
In this first chapter, and throughout the work, Kierkegaard emphasizes that Christian love is the only real love, and erotic love and friendship are temporal, and mere shadows of it.
But every tree is known by its own fruit. So also is love known by its own fruit and the love of which Christianity speaks is known by its own fruit—revealing that it has within itself the truth of the eternal. All other love, whether humanly speaking it withers early and is altered or lovingly preserves itself for a round of time—such love is still transient; it merely blossoms. This is precisely its weakness and tragedy, whether it blossoms for an hour or for seventy years—it merely blossoms; but Christian love is eternal. Therefore no one, if he understands himself, would think of saying of Christian love that it blossoms; no poet, if he understands himself, would think of celebrating it in song (p. 25f.).
The nature of love is as elusive as the source of a spring. In other words, love cannot be objectified. Since Kierkegaard emphasizes the subjective approach to truth, he concludes that love can be known by its fruits, its manifestations. Yet love wants to reveal itself.
It would be the greatest torture, if love really could contain such a self-contradiction, for love to require itself to keep hidden, to require its own unrecognisability. Would it not be as if a plant, sensitive to the vigor and blessing of life in itself, did not dare let it become known and kept the blessing to itself as if it were a curse—alas, as a secret in its inexplicable withering away. But this is not so at all. For even if a single, particular expression of love, a single impulse of the heart, were, out of love, forced back into painful concealment—this same life of love would find yet another expression for itself and still become recognizable by its fruits (p. 28).
But no work of charity is a work of love unless it is accompanied by love itself (p. 30). We are therefore to attempt to manifest love in our lives. Although God is ineffable, his love can be revealed in works. These works are designed not only to help others, but to reveal the One who cannot otherwise be revealed.
For one is not to work in order that love becomes known by its fruits but to work to make love capable of being recognized by its fruits. In this endeavor one must watch himself so that this, the recognition of love, does not become more important to him than the one important thing: that it has fruits and therefore can be known (p. 31).
Along with the subjective approach is Kierkegaard's emphasis on the individual.
For the divine authority of the Gospel speaks not to one man about another man, not to you, the reader, about me, or to me about you—no, when the gospel speaks it speaks to the single individual. It does not speak about us men, you and me, but it speaks to us men, you and me, and it speaks about the requirement that love shall be known by its fruits (p. 31).
Finally, only love in a person can recognize the fruits of love.
Therefore the last, the most blessed, the absolutely most convincing evidence of love remains: love itself, which is known and recognized by the love in another. Like is known only by like. Only he who abides in love can recognize love, and in the same way his love is to be known (p. 33).
II A: You Shall Love
Kierkegaard begins this chapter by emphasizing that the commandment of Christ is that we love our neighbor as ourselves—not more than ourselves, which would be idolatry. But who, then, Kierkegaard asks, is our neighbor?
Who, then, is one's neighbor? The word is clearly derived from neahgebur [near-dweller]; consequently your neighbor is he who dwells nearer than anyone else, yet not in the sense of partiality, for to love him who through favoritism is nearer to you than all others is self-love—"Do not the heathens also do the same?" [Matt. 5.46f.] ...The concept of neighbor really means a duplicating of one's own self (p. 37).
The Greek word for neighbor found in the New Testament, like the Danish and the English, also means "the one near you" (to plesion). When the Pharisee asked Jesus about who his neighbor was, Jesus turned the tables with the parable of the Good Samaritan, by stating what sort of neighbor one is to be.
However, the most striking element of Kierkegaard's argument, perhaps the most striking argument in the book, is that love is commanded by God, and solely by virtue of that fact liberated. How can love, which is typically thought to be organic and spontaneous, be commanded, and yet remain love?
"You shall love." Only when it is a duty to love, only then is love eternally secured against every change, eternally made free in blessed independence, eternally and happily secured against despair.
However joyous, however happy, however indescribably confident instinctive and inclinational love, spontaneous love, can be in itself, it still feels precisely in its most beautiful moment the need to establish itself, if possible, more securely. Therefore the two pledge; they pledge fidelity or friendship to one another. And when we talk most solemnly we do not say of the two: "they love another"; we say "They pledged fidelity" or "They pledge friendship to one another." By what, then, do they swear this love? We shall not confuse the issue and be distracted by calling to mind the great variety of invocations used by the poets, the spokesmen of this love—for in relation to erotic love it is the poet who makes the two promise, the poet who joins the two, the poet who prophecies an Eden for the two and lets them swear—in short, the poet is the priest. Does this love swear, then, by something which is higher than itself? No, this it does not do.... Yet it is easy to understand that if one really is to swear, he must swear by something higher; then God in heaven is the only one who is truly in a position to swear by himself. But the poet cannot understand this.... Therefore this spontaneous love has, according to the beautiful misunderstanding of the imagination, the eternal in itself, but it is not consciously grounded upon the eternal and consequently can be changed.... Consequently, only when it is a duty to love, only then is love eternally secure. This security of the eternal casts out all anxiety and makes the love perfect, perfectly secure. For in that love which has only existence, however confident it may be, there is still an anxiety, anxiety over the possibility of change. Such love does not itself understand any more than the poet that this is anxiety, for the anxiety is hidden; the only expression is a burning passion, whereby is merely hinted that anxiety is at the bottom. Otherwise why is it that spontaneous love is so inclined to—yes, so in love with—making a test of the love? This is just because love has not, by becoming a duty, in the deepest sense undergone the test.... Spontaneous love can be changed within itself; it can be changed to its opposite, to hate.... Spontaneous love can be changed within itself; by spontaneous combustion it can become jealousy; from the greatest happiness it can become the greatest torment.... In this way the "You shall" makes love free in blessed independence; such a love stands and does not fall with variations in the object of love; it stands and falls with eternity's law, but therefore it never falls (p. 44-49, 53).
Kierkegaard had addressed the theme of anxiety three years earlier in The Concept of Anxiety. He would two years later devote a work to the theme of despair in The Sickness Unto Death. However, he does touch upon despair here.
How, then, can this love which is commanded be secured against despair? Very simply—by the command—by this "You shall love." It consists first and foremost in this that you must not love in such a manner that the loss of the beloved would make manifest that you were in despair—that is, you absolutely must not love despairingly. Is loving thereby forbidden? By no means. ...the command only forbids loving in a manner which is not bidden. Essentially the command is not negative, but positive—it commands that you shall love. Therefore love's command does not secure itself against despair by means of feeble, lukewarm grounds of comfort; that one must not take things too seriously, etc. Indeed, is such wretched prudence which "has ceased to sorrow" any less despair than the lover's despair? Is it not rather a worse kind of despair! No, love's command forbids despair—by commanding one to love (p. 55).
II B: You Shall Love Your Neighbor
Kierkegaard returns to the theme of the neighbor, recalling the parable of the Good Samaritan. That parable answered the question "Who then is my neighbor?" with the answer, "Here is what a neighbor does". But Kierkegaard both indeed answers the question and tells what a neighbor does. He compares love of the neighbor, Christian love, with erotic love and friendship, which he calls "preferential love".
It is in fact Christian love which discovers and knows that one's neighbor exists and that—it is one and the same thing—everyone is one's neighbor. If it were not a duty to love, then there would be no concept of neighbor at all. But only when one loves his neighbor, only then is the selfishness or preferential love rooted out and the equality of the eternal preserved (p. 58).
Kierkegaard compares the poet to the Christian author. In this text, he assumes the latter role, though in his pseudonymous works, he called himself a poet. In this passage he compares the poet's role as the purveyor of (erotic) love and friendship as good fortune, to the Christian role to praise love as an ethical duty. This emphasis on the ethical is how this work differs from the later, more strictly religious works.
As the poet understands them, love and friendship contain no ethical task. Love and friendship are good fortune. Poetically understood (and certainly the poet is an excellent judge of fortune) it is good fortune, the highest good fortune, to fall in love, to find the one and only beloved; it is good fortune, almost as great, to find the one and only friend. Then the highest task is to be properly grateful for one's good fortune. But the task can never be an obligation to find the beloved or to find this friend. This is out of the question—something the poet well understands.... On the other hand, when one has the obligation to love his neighbor, then there is the task, the ethical task, which is the origin of all tasks.... Erotic love and friendship are preferential and the passion of preference; Christian love is self-renunciation's love, and therefore trusts in this shall. To exhaust these passions would make one's head swim. But the most passionate boundlessness of preference in excluding others is to love only the one and only; self-renunciation's boundlessness in giving itself means not to exclude a single one.... Consequently Christianity has misgivings about erotic love and friendship because preference in passion or passionate preference is really another form of self-love. Paganism had never dreamed of this. Because paganism never had an inkling of self-renunciation's love of one's neighbor, whom one shall love, it therefore reckoned this: self-love is abhorrent because it is love of self, but erotic love and friendship, which are passionate preferences for other people, are genuine love. But Christianity, which has made manifest what love is, reckons otherwise (p. 64-66).
Kierkegaard at this point introduces an interesting thesis of human psychology, of the nature of the self in its activity, which would later inspire Martin Buber. Erotic love and friendship, being a person's love for "the other I", love out of inner compulsion, that is, self-love. Love for the neighbor, that is, for all men, is selfless love, and though commanded, is made free since it is in no way visceral or directly connected to the lover, as in self-love. The love of God is not so much God compelling a reluctant person to love, but rather, it is that the person must know God, who is love, in order to know love; and if he knows love he will love, and conversely, if he does not love, he does not know God. Thus, God's commandment to love, if it were applied to friendship or erotic love, would be perverse, in that a commandment would require the lover to be reconciled to the unlovable, which is a repugnant concept. The command to love the neighbor, on the other hand, exists because you must know God, and you can only know God if you love. Love, which is necessary, frees us, since it is indiscriminate.
That passionate preference is another form of self-love will now be shown, together with its opposite, that self-renunciation's love loves one's neighbor, whom one shall love. Just as self-love centers exclusively about this self—whereby it is self-love, just so does erotic love's passionate preference center around the one and only beloved and friendship's passionate preference for the friend. The beloved and the friend are therefore called, remarkably and significantly enough, the other-self, the other-I—for one's neighbor is the other-you, or more accurately, the third-man or equality.... The fire in self-love is spontaneously ignited; the I ignites itself by itself. But in erotic love and friendship, poetically understood, there is also self-ignition. Truly enough one may say that it is only occasionally—and then morbidly—that jealousy shows itself, but this is no proof that it is not always fundamentally present in love and friendship. Test it. Bring a neighbor between the lover and the beloved as the middle term whom one shall love; bring a neighbor between friend and friend as the middle term whom one shall love—and you will immediately see jealousy. Nevertheless neighbor is definitely the middle-term of self-renunciation which steps in between self-love's I and I and also comes between erotic love's and friendship's I and the other-I. That it is self-love when a faithless person jilts the beloved and leaves the friend in the lurch, paganism saw also—and the poet sees it. But only Christianity sees as self-love the devotion of the lover's surrender to the one and only, whereby the beloved is held firmly. Yet how can devotion and boundless abandon be self-love? Indeed, when it is devotion to the other-I, the other-myself.—Let a poet describe what erotic love in a person must be if it is to be called erotic love. He will say much that we shall not dwell upon here, but then he will add: "and there must be admiration; the lover must admire the beloved." The neighbor, however, has never been presented as an object of admiration. Christianity has never taught that one must admire his neighbor—one shall love him (p. 66f.).
Erotic love and friendship, no matter how noble, sacrificial or focussed, has as its object "the other I". In these types of love, which Kierkegaard calls "self-love", we to some degree love ourselves. Even while we love friends and lovers, we are protecting our own interests. Moreover, we have extended ourselves to the recipient so that we are in effect part of the object of our own love. Christian love, on the other hand, loves God, who needs nothing and loves us solely because he is love. Furthermore, in the requirement to love our neighbor, the neighbor stands for "all men", so that we love indiscriminately, that is, we love with a selfless love. When we love our neighbor, we do not love "the other I", but the "you".
In erotic love the I is qualified as body-psyche-spirit, the beloved qualified as body-psyche-spirit. In friendship the I is qualified as psyche-spirit, and the friend is qualified as psyche-spirit. Only in love to one's neighbor is the self, which loves, spiritually qualified simply as spirit and his neighbor as purely spiritual. ...one's neighbor is the first-Thou (p. 69).
Kierkegaard further compares preferential and Christian love by saying that in the former preference is the middle term, while in the latter it is God himself (p. 70).
II C: You Shall Love Your Neighbor
Kierkegaard makes an insightful comparison of erotic love and friendship on the one hand, and Christian love on the other hand.
Let men debate as much as they wish about which object of love is the most perfect—there can never be any doubt that love to one's neighbor is the most perfect love. All other love, therefore, is imperfect in that there are two questions and thereby a certain duplicity: there is first a question about the object and then about the love, or there is a question about both the object and the love. But concerning love to one's neighbor there is only one question, that about love. And there is only one answer of the eternal: this is genuine love, for love to one's neighbor is not related as a type to other types of love. Erotic love is determined by the object; friendship is determined by the object; only love to one's neighbor is determined by love (p. 77).
Since your neighbor is anyone you meet, it is a natural extension of Christian love that it involves love of one's enemy.
Therefore he who in truth loves his neighbor loves also his enemy. The distinction friend or enemy is a distinction in the object of love, but the object of love to one's neighbor is without distinction. One's neighbor is the absolutely unrecognisable distinction between man and man; it is eternal equality before God—enemies, too, have this equality (p. 79).
Another concern of Kierkegaard's is the offense of Christianity. "...Christianity is always accompanied by signs of offense" (p. 74). In Works of Love offense is the natural reaction of human sensibility in the face of self-renunciation, that human love is actually self-love. We are offended to learn that God does not need us, and that he loves us not because we are loveable, but because God is love.
No, Christianity is certainly the highest and the supremely highest, but, mark well, to the natural man it is an offense. He who in describing Christianity as the highest omits the middle term, offense, sins against it: he commits an effrontery.... Christianity is in itself too profound, in its movements too serious for dancing and skipping in such free-wheeling frivolity of talk about the higher, the highest, the supremely highest. Through offense goes the way to Christianity. By this is not meant that the approach to Christianity should make one offended by Christianity—this would be another way of hindering oneself from grasping Christianity—but offense guards the approach to Christianity. Blessed is he who is not offended by it (p. 70f.).
Just as Kierkegaard has already mentioned the offense of Christianity, which he will address later in this work, he mentions that love is often contrary to the world and rejected.
Love to one's neighbor has the perfection of the eternal—this is perhaps why at times it seems to fit in so imperfectly with earthy relationships and with earthy temporal distinctions, why it is easily misunderstood and exposed to hate, and why in any case it is very thankless to love one's neighbor (p. 80).
Every reader of Kierkegaard knows that he emphasized the importance of the individual over the "numeric masses". This certainly holds true in his ethics and theology. God never deals with idealized or mere man, but with individuals.
I wonder if a person looking from a mountain peak at the clouds below is disturbed by the sight; I wonder if he is disturbed by the thunderstorm which rages below in the low regions of the earth? Just so high has Christianity set every man, absolutely every human being—because before Christ just as in the sight of God there is no aggregate, no mass; the innumerable are for him numbered—they are unmitigated individuals.... Christianity is too earnest to present fables about pure man—it wants only to make men pure (p. 80f.).
The world often conceives of equality as the removal of differences and distinctions. Christianity ignores distinctions and loves without distinction, all the while valuing the uniqueness of the individual. Kierkegaard's words also reflect his personal reaction to the political events of the day, for the effects of the French Revolution were manifesting themselves in Denmark.
Earthly likeness, if it was possible, is not Christian equality. And perfect achievement of earthly likeness is an impossibility. Well-meaning worldliness really confesses this itself. It rejoices when it succeeds in making temporal conditions similar for more and more, but it recognizes that its struggle is a pious wish, that it has taken on an enormous task, that its prospects are remote—if it rightly understood itself it would perceive that its vision will never be achieved in time, that even if this struggle were continued for millennia it would never attain its goal. Christianity, on the other hand, aided by the short-cut of the eternal, is immediately at the goal: it allows all distinctions to stand, but it teaches the equality of the eternal. It teaches that everyone shall lift himself above earthly distinctions.... Christianity lets all distinctions of earthly existence stand, but in the command of love, in loving one's neighbor, this equality of lifting oneself above the distinctions of earthly existence is implicit (p. 82f.).
Some people speak of loving humanity, but it is a false love that loves only humans en masse, or loves the idea of mankind.
But at a distance one's neighbor is only a figment of the imagination—he who by being close at hand, the first one the best, is unconditionally every man. At a distance one's neighbor is a shadow which in imagination enters every man's thought and walks by—but alas, one perhaps does not discover that the man who at the same moment actually walks by him is his neighbor. At a distance every man recognizes his neighbor, and yet it is impossible to see him at a distance. If you do not see him so close that you unconditionally before God see him in every man, you do not see him at all (p. 89).
But in being a neighbor we are all unconditionally like each other. Distinction is temporality's confusing element which marks every man, but neighbor is eternity's mark—on every man. Take many sheets of paper and write something different on each one—then they do not resemble each other. But then take again every single sheet; do not let yourself be confused by the differentiating inscriptions; hold each one up to the light and you see the same watermark on them all. Thus is neighbor the common mark, but you see it only by help of the light of the eternal when it shines through distinction (p. 97).
Kierkegaard's view of the self looks outward, so that it is not egoistic, contrary to what some readers think. It looks out, not to the masses, but to individuals.
III A: Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law
The New Testament declares that love is the fulfillment of the law, that if we love our neighbor we will not steal, kill, defraud or harm our neighbor in any way. Christ himself is the fulfillment of the law since he is the only sinless man to have lived, and he freed believers from the tyranny of the law, which demands perfection from sinners.
The relation of love to the law is like the relation of understanding to faith. The understanding reckons and reckons, calculates and calculates, but it never attains the certainty which faith has. So it is with the law: it defines and defines but never reaches the sum, which is love (p. 111).
Since love is defined by God in Christ as the fulfiller of the law, then all love must center on God, as the One who personified love.
Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teachers that love is a relationship between: man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term. However beautiful the love-relationship has been between two or more people, however complete all their enjoyment and all their bliss in mutual devotion and affection have been for them, even if all men have praised their relationship—if God and the relationship to God have been left out, then, Christianly understood, this has not been love but a mutual and enchanting illusion of love. For to love God is to love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved (p. 112f.).
But we ought to be warned about the high stakes of love. It may make us wretched or unhappy, since many will oppose love. The perfect example of love was crucified, since love as a force is oppositional to all programs that vaunt the self or the masses or the program over love of the neighbor. Christ's program led not to happiness for him; he was crucified. It did not make the apostles happy; they carried on the mission and were persecuted.
The facts are these: extreme self-love the world also calls selfishness; the self-love of a group the world calls love; a noble, sacrificial, high-minded human love, which still is not Christian love, is ridiculed by the world as foolishness; whereas Christian love is hated and detested and persecuted by the world (p. 124).
III B: Love Is a Matter of Conscience
Conscience has to do with the individual, with the inner man. Conscience also refers back to the earlier "You shall" of the work. Though we are continually charged in the New Testament to obey God, we are also answerable to our consciences. The text that Kierkegaard uses for this chapter is 1Tim. 1.5. "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith". In this emphasis on conscience, God holds us each responsible as individuals.
[God] lays on the heart of each one individually that it is a matter of conscience; he makes an affair of the heart a matter of conscience. It cannot be expressed more definitely and more clearly, and yet still another expression for the same view is contained in the form of the question or in addressing the question to each one individually. To ask the individual—this is a more common expression for the relationship of conscience, and therefore it is also Christianity's essential view of the human race, first and foremost to regard the mass individually every one by himself as the single individual (p. 139).
Christianity never seeks to make changes in externals; neither does it seek to abolish impulse or inclination; it seeks only to make an infinite change in the inward man. Christianity wants above all to make the infinite change (which is the hidden man of inwardness oriented in inwardness towards the God-relationship and therein different from the inwardness which is oriented outwards and away), and therefore it also wants to transform all love into a matter of conscience (p. 140).
Since love is a matter of conscience, other loves have a duty to remain subordinate to Christian love.
The wife shall first and foremost be your neighbor; the fact that she is your wife is then a narrower definition of your special relationship to each other. But what is eternally basic must also be the basis of every expression of what is special. If this were not so, how could one then find room for the doctrine of love to one's neighbor; and yet people generally forget it altogether. Without being aware of it himself, a person talks like a pagan about erotic love and friendship, arranges his life paganly in these relationships and then adds a bit of Christianity by loving his neighbor—that is, some other men (p. 141f.).
This can happen because Christian love "transforms erotic love and friendship" (p. 143). Throughout this book Kierkegaard tells what love must do, but does not define love outrightly. This is consistent with Saint Paul in the so-called love chapter (13) of 1Corinthians. Paul says that love is patient and kind, and then describes what love does and does not do.
Love is a matter of conscience and thus is not a matter of impulse and inclination or a matter of feeling or a matter of intellectual calculation. According to the secular or purely human point of view many different kinds of live are discernible.... With Christianity the opposite is the case. It recognizes only one kind of love, spiritual love, and does not busy itself very much in elaborating on the different ways in which this essentially common love can reveal itself. All distinctions between the many different kinds of love are essentially abolished by Christianity (p. 143f.).
Kierkegaard returns briefly to emphasize inwardness versus outwardness and the theme of offense. Since love is a matter of conscience, it will be tried and tested, and men will oppose it (p. 146). But love is inwardness, and thus spiritual. This meets with opposition (offense). Works of Love can be compared to "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing" in its emphasis on the ethical aspects of Christianity. In this chapter Kierkegaard also introduces the element of purity, as if to recall the former work. Love is not freely available to a believer, that is, freedom is not sufficient.
Love is a matter of conscience and must therefore be from a pure heart and sincere faith (p. 147).
IV: Our Duty to Love Those We See
As I have stated elsewhere. Kierkegaard has wrongly been accused of being against community, of being an isolationist. Actually, he was opposed to the "numeric masses" and the assumed righteousness of the majority. In this work he presumes that God views the entire world of men made up of individuals, and that they indeed play a role in community.
How often has man recognized in him this need for community. How often has this been said and repeated again and again, how often have men cried woe upon the solitary person or portrayed the pain and misery of loneliness, how often have men, weary of the corrupting, noisy, confusing life in society, let their thoughts wander out to a solitary place—only to learn again to long for community! Thus man is always turned back to that observation by God, this the first thought about man ["It is not good that man be alone" Genesis]. In the busy, teeming crowd, which as community is both too much and too little, man becomes weary of society, but the cure is not in making the discovery that God's thought was incorrect. No, the cure is precisely to learn al over again the most important thing, to understand oneself in one's longing for community (p. 153).
The overall emphasis in this chapter is on the ethical duty to love, which situates this entire work in the realm of the ethical-religious, in distinction to the later overtly religious works. Again, the "You shall" is emphasized.
When it is a duty to love the men we see, then one must first and foremost give up all fanciful and extravagant ideas about a dream-world where the object of love is to be sought and found; that is, one must become sober, win actuality and truth by finding and continuing in the world of actuality as the task assigned to one (p. 159).
When it is a duty to love the men we see, it holds true that in loving actual individual men one does not slip in a fanciful idea about how one thinks or could wish this man should be. He who does this does not love the man he sees but again something invisible, or his own imagination, or something of that sort (p. 161).
Again, the ethical nature of love is emphasized with another reference to double-mindedness, as we find in "Purity of Heart".
No, if a man is going to fulfill the task of love by loving men he sees, he must not merely find those he loves among actual human beings, but he must root out all double-mindedness and fastidiousness in loving them, so that in earnestness and truth he loves them as they are... (p. 163).
Love does not expect the neighbor to change before he is to be loved. He is to be loved as he is found.
Christ's love for Peter [after his denial] was so boundless that in loving Peter he accomplished loving the one he sees. He did not say, "Peter must change first and become another man before I can love him again" (p. 168).
Alas, but we men talk about finding the perfect person in order to love him. Christianity speaks about being the perfect person who limitlessly loves the person he sees (p. 170).
V: Our Duty to Be in the Debt of Love to Each Other
Kierkegaard continues his quest to look at Christian works of love from many angles, here by contrasting love to envy. Envy desires to hoard for itself and is careful not to lose its investment. But love freely acknowledges that it is in debt to all men. Kierkegaard uses Romans 13.8 as his text: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another". He says that the true lover is in "infinite debt" to the neighbor (p. 172), though one might expect the opposite. Humanly speaking, the beloved is like one who has been rescued. Christianly speaking, the lover is obeying the injunction of God because he is in an infinite debt to God, who is love. In true love there is no comparison. Here Kierkegaard posits the single-mindedness of Christian love and the error of comparison.
And what must be done in order to be in the debt of love to each other? When a fisherman has caught a fish in his net and wishes to keep it alive, what must he do? He must immediately put it in water; otherwise it becomes exhausted and dies after a time. And why must he put it in water? Because water is the fish's element, and everything which shall be kept alive must be kept in its element. But love's element is infinitude, inexhaustibility, immeasurability. If you will keep your love, then, by the help of debt's infinitude, imprisoned in freedom and life, you must take care that it continually remains in its element....
But what can take love out of its element? As soon as love concentrates upon itself it is out of its element. What does that mean, to concentrate upon itself? It means to become an object for itself. But an object is like a finite fixed point, a boundary, a stopping-place, a dangerous thing for infinitude. Love can never infinitely become its own object; nor is their danger in that. For infinitely to be an object for itself is to remain in infinitude and thus, simply by existing or continuing to exist (since love is a reduplication in itself) is as different from the particularity of natural life as is the reduplication of the spirit. Consequently, if love concentrates upon itself, it must become an object for itself in its individual expression, or another and separate love becomes its object, love in this person and love in that person. When the object is thus finite, love concentrates on itself, for infinitely to concentrate on itself means precisely a becoming. But when love finitely concentrates on itself, everything is lost.... [Love] becomes for itself an object, which, more accurately defined, is comparison. Love cannot infinitely compare itself with itself, for infinite self-comparison would only be a way of saying that it is itself; in such an infinite comparison there is no third factor; love is a reduplication and therefore there is no comparison. All comparison requires a third factor together with similarity and dissimilarity....
But what can comparison's third factor be? A person can compare his love with the love of another.... The moment of comparison is a selfish moment, a moment which wants to be for itself.... [This sort of] love expects by way of comparison to get status in relationship to others' love or in relationship to its own achievements.... To love by way of comparison more than all other men, even if this were the case, is: not to love. To love is to remain in infinite debt; the infinitude of the debt is the bond of perfection (p. 177-79).
This love comes from God, and is offered back to God who perfects it. With Kierkegaard's conception of Christian love is his interpretation of self-denial.
The purely human conception of self-renunciation is this: give up your selfish desires, longings and plans—and then you will become appreciated and honored and loved as a righteous man and wise.... The Christian conception of self-renunciation is this: give up your selfish desires and longings, give up your arbitrary plans and purposes so that you in truth work disinterestedly for the good—and submit to being abominated almost as a criminal, scorned and ridiculed for this very reason...but choose it freely (p. 188).
Kierkegaard would later oppose a relaxed and diluted form of Christianity, urging people to flee the Church rather than attend to false teaching. Here he cautions the reader to count the cost of becoming a Christian. He uses an analogy of a person with sharp a sword, which, if handed to someone, would be accompanied by a solemn warning: this sword is sharp. Be careful.
So it is with Christianity. If what is needed is to be done, we should not hesitate, aware of the highest responsibility, to preach in Christian sermons—yes, precisely in Christian sermons—AGAINST Christianity.
It is as if to say that Kierkegaard does not want anyone to become a Christian under a false impression. Better to be hot or cold, rather than lukewarm. It is at this point in the work where Kierkegaard addresses in more detail the role of offense.
Christianity can be recommended only when at every point the danger is incessantly made clear—how Christianity according to merely human conceptions is foolishness and offense.... If it is true that so many "Christians" in these times miss the point of Christianity, how does it happen except that the possibility of offense—this dreadful thing, please note, escapes them. ...for at one time the world was offended by Christianity—that was the intention; but now the world imagines that it is Christian, that it has made Christianity its own without detecting anything of the possibility of offense—and then is offended by the real Christian.... But since the world essentially does not know and does not want to know that this criterion (the God-relationship) exists, it cannot explain such a person's behavior except as eccentricity.... (p. 191-94.).
Kierkegaard would later return specifically to the theme of offense at Christ in Practice in Christianity.
I: Love Builds Up
This chapter, like several of the remaining chapters, is based on passages from 1Corinthians. Kierkegaard begins part two with a short discourse on the use of language.
All human language about the spiritual, yes, even the divine language of Holy Scriptures, is essentially transferred or metaphorical language. This is quite in order or corresponds to the order of things and of existence, since even though man is spirit from the moment of birth he first becomes conscious as spirit later, and therefore prior to this he has lived for a certain time within sensuous-psychic categories. ...the one has made a transition or has let himself be led over to the other side; whereas the other has remained on this side. Yet there is something binding which they have in common—they both use the same language.... Transferred language is, then, not a brand new language; it is rather the language already at hand. Just as spirit is invisible, so also is its language a secret, and the secret rests precisely in this that it uses the same language as the simple man and the child but uses it as transferred (p. 199f.).
On the following pages Kierkegaard tries to show that the Danish word opbygge, which literally means "build up", is such a transferred word. For many of Kierkegaard's religious discourses he would use the word opbyggelige, meaning upbuilding or edifying. In fact, Kierkegaard favored compound words with the prefix op. But in this section he spends an unusual amount of ink to convince the reader that this terminology is special and important. Moreover, Kierkegaard, like many Christian authors, acknowledged that faith sees the same objects as others, but sees them differently. Along these same lines, language is equipped to be interpreted one way for the average reader, and another for the spiritually insightful reader. In fact, Kierkegaard's whole method of authorship had a dual aspect to it. Only those of understanding would discern his plan.
II: Love Believes All Things—And Yet Is Never Deceived
Next he summarizes 1Corinthians 13, the so-called love chapter, and then discusses false love, mistrust and deception. He is concerned to show that Christian love is open in its belief in all things, but is not therefore foolish. The opposite of faith is mistrust. Unwarranted skepticism and rash opinion are actually foolish, not the faith of love.
Only superficial, impetuous, passionate men judge straight off, men who do not know themselves and consequently do not know that they do not know others.... But most men do not even faintly notice that in one way or another at every moment of their lives they live by virtue of an ergo, by a faith—so carelessly do they live. In knowledge there is no decision; decision, the determinedness and determining characteristic of personalities is first in ergo, faith (p. 217f.).
Kierkegaard further compares the positivity of love's belief versus the individual skepticism.
It is very common to hear men express great fear of making a mistake in judging. But when you listen a little more carefully to what is said, alas, there is often a sad misunderstanding in this—solemn fear.... All men have a natural fear of making a mistake—by believing too well of a person. However, the error of believing too ill of a person is perhaps not feared, at least not in the same degree as the other (p. 219).
Mistrust, however, has a penchant for evil (naturally not through it's knowledge, which is infinitely indifferent, but through itself, through its unbelief). To believe nothing is right on the border where believing evil begins; the good is the object of faith, and therefore one who believes nothing begins to believe evil. To believe nothing is the beginning of being evil, for it shows that one has no good in him, since faith is precisely the good in a man, which does not come through great knowledge, nor need it be lacking because knowledge is meagre. Mistrust cannot maintain knowledge in equilibrium; it defiles its knowledge and therefore tends toward envy, spite, corruption, which believes all evil (p. 220f.).
Love believes everything—and yet is never deceived.Amazing! To believe nothing in order never to be deceived—this seems to make sense. For how would a man ever be able to deceive someone who believes nothing! But to believe everything and thereby, as it were, to throw oneself away, fair game for all deception and all deceivers, and yet precisely in this way to assure oneself infinitely against every deception: this is remarkable (p. 221).
The emphasis of faith over skepticism is common to Christian thought, as well as to Kierkegaard's epistemology. In Johannes Climacus Kierkegaard addressed Cartesian and Hegelian skepticism and the famous Cogito ergo sum.
III: Love Hopes All Things and Yet Is Never Put to Shame
Kierkegaard continues expanding on the positive elements of Christian love based on 1Corinthians. Here he uses verse 13.7, "Love...hopes all things".
To hope all things or, which is the same, to hope always. At first glance it might seem as if to hope all things were something which could be done once and for all, since all things indeed gathers multiplicity into one and to that extent into what one might call an eternal moment, as if hope were at rest, in repose. Yet this is not so. Hoping is composed of the eternal and the temporal; from this it arises that the expression for the task of hope in the form of the eternal is to hope all things and in the form of the temporal to hope always. The one expression is no truer than the other; rather, each of the expressions becomes untrue if it should be contrasted to the other expression, instead of unitedly expressing the same thing: in every moment always to hope all things (p. 233).
Only in pure possibility, consequently for the purely or indifferently expectant, is the possibility of the good or of the evil equivocal. In the differentiation (and the choice is indeed differentiation) the possibility of the good is more than possibility, for it is the eternal. This is the basis of the fact that one who hopes can never be deceived, for to hope is to expect the possibility of the good; but the possibility of the good is the eternal (p. 234).
Hope can be a reasonable position since the eternal is greater than the temporal, and the Christian has his hope in the eternal God. This is a work (or manifestation) of love which is eternal, since God is love.
IV: Love Seeks Not Its Own
Kierkegaard makes use of yet another verse from Paul (1Corinthians 13.5). This is a return of sorts to the earlier theme of the other-self and the other-I.
Love seeks not its own; for in love there is no mine and yours. But mine and yours are only rational qualifications of "one's own"; consequently, if there is no "mine" or yours", there is no "one's own", either; but if there is no "one's own", it is indeed impossible to seek one's own" (p. 248).
Let us first try to take away completely the distinction yours from the distinction mine and yours. What do we have then? Then we have crime, offense. For the thief, the robber, the seducer, and the bandit recognize no yours at all in the distinction mine and yours.... Now take away completely the distinction mine and yours, and what do we have? Then we have the sacrificing one who renounces himself in all things—we have true love. But at the same time the category yours disappears.... It is the curse of the criminal that his mine evaporates because he wants to do away entirely with the yours. It is the blessing of the true lover that the category yours disappears. Consequently everything becomes the true lover's... (p. 250).
Love seeks not its own. For the true lover does not love his own individuality. He rather loves each human being according to the other's individuality. But for the other person "his own personality" is precisely "his own", and consequently the lover does not seek his own; quite the opposite, in others he loves "their own" (p. 251f.).
V: Love Hides the Multitude of Sins
Kierkegaard begins this chapter with a more metaphysical approach, dividing time into three aspects in contrast to eternity.
The temporal has three times and therefore essentially never is completely nor is completely in any one of the periods; the eternal is. A temporal object can have a multiplicity of varied characteristics; in a certain sense it can be said to have them simultaneously, insofar as in these definite characteristics it is that which it is. But reduplication in itself never has a temporal object; as the temporal disappears in time, so also it exists only in its characteristics. If, on the other hand, the eternal is in a man, the eternal reduplicates itself in him in a double mode: in an outward direction and in an inward direction back into itself, but in such a way that it is one and the same, for otherwise it is not reduplication. The eternal is not merely by virtue of its characteristics but in itself is in its characteristics; it does not merely have characteristics but exists in itself in having the characteristics.
So it is with love. What love does, it is; what it is, it does—at one and the same moment; simultaneously as it goes beyond itself (in an outward direction) it is in itself (in an inward direction), and simultaneously as it is in itself, it thereby goes beyond itself in such a way that this going beyond and this inward turning, this inward turning and this going beyond, are simultaneously one and the same (p. 261).
The works of love, as manifestations of God, are eternal, just as love is eternal. Love has its own being in an eternal sense, and its characteristics are not dependent upon temporality. When Kierkegaard says that the "eternal is not merely by virtue of its characteristics but in itself is in its characteristics", he gives support to a phrase that would later be assigned to describe a basic existentialist tenet: existence precedes essence. Kierkegaard is saying that the eternal in itself has its characteristics (its essence) aside from its natural existence as itself. It does not exist because of its essence, but it exists with it.
Laying such a groundwork Kierkegaard endeavors to show the efficacious nature of love, in that it has the power to hide the multitude of sins. This is achieved by reduplication, an outward motion toward others and motion back to the lover.
Note the reduplication here: what the lover does, he is or he becomes; what he gives, he is or, more accurately, this he acquires.... Yet someone may say, "It is not so remarkable that the lover has what he gives; it is always the case that what one does not have he certainly cannot give". Well, yes, but is it always the case that one retains what he gives or that one himself acquires what he gives to another, that one acquires precisely by giving and acquires the very same which he gives, so that the given and the received are one and the same?...
In this way love is always reduplicated in itself. This also holds when it is stated that love hides the multiplicity of sins....
Love hides the multiplicity of sins. For it does not discover sins; but not to discover what nevertheless must be there, insofar as it can be discovered, means to hide (262f.).
This chapter is directly related to the previous chapter on love believing all things. Kierkegaard likens love's hiding of sins to a child who is in a room with thieves. He observes everything that happens but is unaware of the criminal activity, even though he could describe in detail what had transpired during the day. Love hides the multiplicity of sins because love does not judge, and love believes all things.
Love hides the multiplicity of sins, for what it cannot avoid seeing or hearing, it hides in silence, in a mitigating explanation, in forgiveness (p. 268).
Blessed is the man of faith; he believes what he cannot see. Blessed is the lover; he believes away what he nevertheless can see!... But one is not unaware of that which is forgotten, for one is unaware of that which he does not know or never knew. What one has forgotten he has known. To forget in the highest sense is therefore the opposite—not of remembering but of hoping—because to hope means to give being by thinking and to forget is by thinking to take being away from that which nevertheless is, to blot it out.... What is hidden from my eyes I have never seen, but what is hidden behind my back I have seen. And this is the very way in which the lover forgives: he forgives, he forgets, he blots out the sin... (p. 274f.).
The reader needs perhaps to be reminded that during the following year Kierkegaard finally came to fully believe that God had forgotten as well as forgiven his sins. Perhaps the preparation for this work contributed to his understanding.
VI: Love Abides
This chapter title is from 1Corinthians 13.13. Love abides, once again, because God, who is Love, is eternal. And love abides in the individual as well.
The earnestness of Christianity immediately concentrates the attentiveness of the eternal upon the single individual, upon each single individual of the pair [of lovers]. Now when two persons relate themselves in love to each other, each of them all by himself is related to love. Now the break does not come easily at all. Before they reach the breaking-point, before one comes to break his love in relationship to the other, he must fall away from LOVE. This is the important thing.
Perhaps Kierkegaard had his failed relationship with Regine Olsen in mind. Beyond the two lovers, there is love, which is an actual force.
What marvellous strength love has! The most powerful word which has been said, yes, God's creative word, is: "Be". But the most powerful word any human being has ever said is, if said by a lover: I abide (p. 286).
VII: Mercifulness, a Work of Love, Even if It Can Give Nothing and Is Capable of Doing Nothing
This chapter and the remaining chapters are not based on the love passage in Paul. Kierkegaard's main point in this chapter is the primacy of mercy as a work of love. Acts of mercy are essential to the expression of love, even if they do not succeed. Jesus pointed out the poor widow who gave all she had, just two coins, but which was a gift greater than others who put in more, because she was poor. Kierkegaard stresses that if she had been defrauded of her money just before she was prepared to give it all, the act would have been the same, because the intent was there. While this book emphasizes works of love, and that they must be attended by mercifulness, the intent, unfulfilled though it may be, is an act of mercy, because it is grounded in love, and love is eternal.
Does mercifulness consist in giving hundreds of thousands to the poor? No, Mercifulness is how it is given (p. 302).
The eternal has understanding only for mercifulness; therefore if you want to learn to understand about mercifulness, you must learn from the eternal. But if you are to have understanding for the eternal there must be stillness around you while you wholly concentrate your attention on inwardness (p. 304).
Thus, the work of love works from within.
VIII: The Victory of Reconciliation in Love Which Wins the Vanquished
The victory that Kierkegaard envisions here is that of goodness over evil.
Inasmuch as this discussion is about the vanquished, a first victory which has been won is presupposed. What is this? It is to triumph over evil with the good.... The good the lover has done toward the unloving, indeed, the longer he has persevered in repaying evil with good, the closer, in a certain sense, lies the danger that evil nevertheless finally overcomes the lover, if in no other way than by making him cold and indifferent toward such an unloving person. O, a great kingdom's depth of goodness, which only the lover has, the steady warmth of an unquenchable, purified fire, is needed to hold out for a long time of repaying good with evil!—But this victory is won; the unloving one is the vanquished (p. 308).
The struggle over evil is different from other struggles.
Two are required in every strife, and now there is only one: the unloving one, for the lover is in reconciliation his best friend, who wishes to win the vanquished. To win the vanquished. What a wonderful reversal there is in the whole thing!... [But] it is humiliating to be vanquished; therefore the vanquished person avoids particularly the one who vanquished him, because his downfall becomes greater by contrast and no one makes his downfall more clear than the one who vanquished him. And yet here it is the victor who is to win the vanquished, and consequently they must be brought together (p. 311f.).
IX: The Work of Love in Remembering One Dead
This oddly titled chapter is to some extent odd in content. Kierkegaard argues that when one remembers the dead, it is the most unselfish act, because the dead cannot repay kindness. Moreover, in human relationships, one lover may claim that the other has changed. Not so here. For the dead person, who is remembered, is beyond change. It is difficult to determine whether Kierkegaard is jesting or simply taking his views to what he thinks is their logical conclusion.
X: The Work of Love in Praising Love
The Scriptures encourage believers to praise God, because he is deserving of credit for what he has done. Since God is Love, the praise of love is a work that is appropriate. Moreover, we tend to emulate what we respect, admire and praise. Kierkegaard calls it a work done "in truth" (p. 331). But how is this done?
If praising love is to be done effectively, one must persevere for a long time in thinking one thought, in maintaining it, spiritually understood, with the greatest abstemiousness concerning everything heterogeneous, alien, irrelevant, disturbing, in maintaining it with the most punctilious and dutiful renunciation of every other thought.... It is one thing to think in such a way that one's attentiveness is solely and constantly directed towards an external object; it is something else to be so turned in thought that constantly at every moment one himself becomes conscious, in reflection, conscious of one's own condition or how it is with oneself under reflection. But only the latter is essentially what thinking is; it is, in fact, transparency. The first is unclear thinking which suffers from a contradiction: that which in thinking clarifies something else is itself basically unclear. Such a thinker explains something else by his thought, and lo, he does not understand himself; externally in the direction of the object he perhaps utilizes his natural talents very penetratingly but in the direction of inwardness he is very superficial, and therefore all his thought, however fundamental it seems to be, is still basically superficial. But when the object of one's thought is complicated in the external sense, or when one transforms what he is thinking about into a scientific object, or when one moves from one object to another, one does not discover this last discrepancy: that an unclearness constitutes the basis for all its clarity—instead of discovering that true clarity is only in transparency. When, on the other hand, a man thinks only one thought, he does not have an external object, he has an inward direction towards self-deepening, and he makes a discovery concerning his own inner situation; and this discovery is at first very humbling (p. 331f.).
The singleness of intent may remind the reader of Kierkegaard's "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing" (see Upbuilding Discourses In Various Spirits). The concept of transparency refers to the clearly envisioned understanding one has particularly with regard to one's own ethical behavior. It is the connection between the rigors of abstract thought and one's actions as a closely-knit result of that cognition. The more transparent one's nature, the closer and more consistent is one's thought to one's action. Understanding an external object without understanding the self is a lack of transparency because self-knowledge is antecedent to all other knowledge. This is not to be confused with the view of Descartes in his meditations, where he sought to prove the existence of the self and then of other things including God. This is knowledge of the self, which is assumed to exist. This transparency is related to self-knowledge in that it thinks one thought. Kierkegaard calls this self-renunciation, which no poet can achieve (p. 335). This is significant in that Kierkegaard often called himself a poet.
He who praises art and science emphasizes the cleavage between the talented and untalented among men. But he who praises love equalizes all, not in a common poverty nor in a common mediocrity, but in the community of the highest.
The work of praising love must OUTWARDLY be done in sacrificial disinterestedness (p. 335f.).
This is accomplished by making oneself nothing before God. Disinterestedness has to do with self-renunciation and reliance upon God. Kierkegaard calls this reliance swimming over 70,000 fathoms of water, an expression he also used in Stages On Life's Way (p. 334). But there are obstacles to this single-mindedness.
Alas, the time of thinkers is past!... Yes, it is as if all communication must finally be so contrived opportunely into a light pamphlet and be supported by untruth upon untruth (p. 338).
In the previous year Kierkegaard published Two Ages. There he said:
The present age is essentially a sensible, reflecting age, devoid of passion, flaring up in superficial, short-lived enthusiasm and prudentially relaxing in indolence. ...whereas a passionate age accelerates, raises up, and overthrows, elevates and debases, a reflective apathetic age does the opposite, it stifles and impedes, it levels... (p. 68).
Thus, Kierkegaard's main criticism of his generation is that when they think, it is on the external, the objective, rather than on the subjective as it relates itself to the individual. But it is passionless and self-referential, meaning that inquiry into the external is not to discover the subjective but to annex it. They were more willing to engage thought in an external object, rather than to contemplate their own individuality, much less their own individuality before God. In Works of Love Kierkegaard blames this in part on an attention deficit.
Consequently, in order to be able to praise love, there is need of inward self-denial and outward sacrificial disinterestedness. If, then, one undertakes to praise love and is asked if it is really out of love on his part that he does it: the answer must be, "No other person can decide this accurately; possibly it is vanity, pride—in short, of evil—but it is also possible that it is love" (p. 343).
Kierkegaard has often been enjoyed by Catholics because of his emphasis on works. And in fact he says "truly a profession of faith is not enough" (p. 344). Kierkegaard was in some ways critical of Luther, whom he felt substituted the mob for the pope. Moreover, Luther had called the Epistle of James "an epistle of straw", because he thought its mention of works were works toward salvation, rather than an outpouring of one's salvation. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, often referred to this epistle as a favorite of his. However, he makes it clear, on the final page of the work, that he does not believe in merit.
Certainly we do not say, nor is it our thought, that a person ultimately earns grace. O, what you learn first of all in relating yourself to God is precisely that you have no merit at all. Test this merely by saying to the eternal, "I have merited"; then the eternal answers "You have merited..." If you wish to have merit and think you have merited something, punishment is all it is... (p. 353).
A journal entry from 1842-43 helps to clarify Kierkegaard's understanding of grace.
The reason why man is saved by faith and not works, or more accurately, in faith, is deeper than one thinks. The whole explanation derived from sin is by no means exhaustive. The reason is that, even if man himself accomplished the good, he cannot know that, for then he would have to be omniscient. Therefore no one can argue with our Lord. I dare not call even the most exalted deed, humanly the most noble deed, for I must always say: God alone knows if it was really that. So I cannot possibly build my salvation upon it (IV C 82).
Kierkegaard no doubt left this point to the end so that no reader would look down upon works of love. They are required indeed, but not for salvation. They ought to be a natural expression of it.