D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Sixth Period: The Attack Upon Christendom (1854-55)

Articles From The Fatherland

  • Articles from the Fatherland
  • 1854-55
  • KW23, SKS14, SV14, S. Kierkegaards Bladartikler


There are several factors that precipitated Kierkegaard's assault on Christendom. Throughout his writings, and especially during this period, he maintained that conversion to Christ necessitated a qualitative leap of faith and hence involved the entire person. The Lutheran church, on the contrary, maintained that all Danes were born Lutheran and thus de facto Christians, which reduced to nothing the radical conversion to Christ. The church sought to transform the sacred economy of God into a profane state religion, where citizenship in the State and membership in the Church were identical. In fact, birth certificates served to establish citizenship as well as Church membership. One must have had one's name removed from the registry to join a denomination other than Lutheranism. Baptists, for example, were at one time compelled to be baptized in the Lutheran way. Kierkegaard felt that "Official Christianity", or Christendom, had departed so far from the Christianity of the New Testament, that it needed to be torn down and rebuilt—not reformed. The path that Jesus described as "narrow" was declared broad by Christendom. It must, however, be said at once, for this is often misunderstood: Kierkegaard's attack was unusual, since he attacked the Church from within, as a believer. Never did Kierkegaard so squarely and without reservation approach the subject of failed Christendom until the publication of these articles in The Fatherland (Fædrelandet), the daily paper in Copenhagen.

Though there were some responses to Kierkegaard's attack, his portion consisted of the following publications:

  1. The first 20 of the 21 articles in The Fatherland
  2. A Separate tract entitled "This Must Be Said—So Let It Be Said"
  3. The 21st and last article in The Fatherland
  4. The first two installments of The Moment
  5. A Separate tract entitled "What Christ Judges of Official Christianity"
  6. Installments 3 though 9 of The Moment
  7. After Kierkegaard's death the tenth installment of The Moment

Having said this, it must not be thought that Kierkegaard suddenly adopted this point of view about the Church and State. In 1846, almost nine years earlier, his pseudonym Johannes Climacus in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, imagined a wife addressing her "eccentric" husband:

How can you not be a Christian? You are Danish, aren't you? Doesn't the geography book say that the predominant religion in Denmark is Lutheran-Christian? You aren't a Jew, are you, or a Mohammedan? What else would you be, then? It is a thousand years since paganism was superseded; so I know you aren't a pagan. Don't you tend to your work in the office as a good civil servant; aren't you a good subject in a Christian nation, in a Lutheran-Christian state? So of course you are a Christian.

In a journal entry from 1847, he says,

I am well aware that in the matter of priestly robes some prelates use broadcloth, others silk, velvet, bombazine, etc., but I wonder if this is the real vestment. I wonder if the true canonicals are not these: being mocked in a good cause, being scorned and spat upon, it being these that give the order of ranking. Surely, now, Christ isn't a suicide; so the conclusion is evident that it is the world's guilt that was revealed by crucifying him. And how much better the world has become. But preaching about this dressed in silk and finery to a gaping crowd! Disgusting! (VIII I A 102).

Prior works such as For Self-Examination and Judge For Yourself! addressed the topic of true Christianity as opposed to mere, official christendom. In Practice in Christianity, Kierkegaard sought to "re-introduce Christianity into Christendom". He re-published this work in 1855, also publishing an article in The Fatherland, number 20, appearing on May 16, 1855, explaining its appearance.

My earlier thought was: if the establishment can be defended at all, this is the only way, namely, by pronouncing a judgment upon it poetically (therefore by a pseudonym), thus drawing upon "grace" raised to the second power, in the sense that Christianity would not be forgiveness merely for what is past, but by grace would be a sort of dispensation from following Christ in the proper sense and from the effort properly connected with being a Christian. In that way truth would enter into the establishment after all.... Therefore take away the pseudonymity, take away the thrice-repeated Preface and the Moral; Then Practice In Christianity is, Christianly, an attack upon the establishment... (p. 69).

Kierkegaard's journals give us some idea of his thoughts and motivation.

He who must apply a "corrective" must study accurately and profoundly the weak side of the Establishment, and then vigorously and one-sidedly present the opposite. Precisely in this consists the corrective, and in this too the resignation of him who has to apply it. The corrective will in a sense be sacrificed to the established order.

If this is true, a presumably clever pate can reprove the corrective for being one-sided. Ye gods! Nothing is easier for him who applies the corrective than to supply the other side; but then it ceases to be the corrective and becomes the established order.

Kierkegaard did, however, delay his assault out of affection and respect for Jakob Mynster, the Bishop Primate of the Church of Denmark, who was a friend of his father, and to some extent part of the family.

...I have something upon my conscience as a writer. Let me indicate precisely how I feel about it. There is something quite definite I have to say, and I have so much upon my conscience that (as I feel) I dare not die without having uttered it. For the instant I die and so leave this world (so I understand it) I shall in the very same second (so frightfully fast it goes!), in the very same second I shall be infinitely far away, in a different place, where, still within the same second (frightful speed!), the question will be put to me: "Hast thou uttered the definite message quite definitely?" And if I have not done so, what then?... There is something quite definite I have to say. But verily I am not eager to say it. On the contrary, I would so infinitely prefer that another should say it—which, however, would not help me, since (as I understand it) it was and remains my task.... For it is not a cheerful message, this definite thing, and I cannot but think that there are several persons dear to me to whom it would be unwelcome to hear it said. Above all there is a right reverend old man, a consideration which has constantly held me back, laid a restraint upon my tongue and upon my pen, a consideration for the highest dignitary of the Church, a man to whom by the memory of a deceased father I felt myself drawn with an almost melancholic affection—and I must think that to him especially it will be very unwelcome that this is said (Journals, 1853).

This very same man, Bishop Mynster, was responsible for the attempt to apply compulsory baptism on the Baptists (mentioned above). This should be proof enough that Kierkegaard did not act out of mean-spiritedness, but out of a sense of duty to the truth and to God. His love for Pastor Mynster, and for his deceased father who loved the pastor, made this task so much the more difficult. When Mynster died in 1854, a year before Kierkegaard's death, Kierkegaard felt he could at last openly address his concerns. One event that incited him was a commemorative sermon given for Mynster by H. L. Martensen, a professor of theology (a Hegelian) who later succeeded to the See of Zealand. Martensen stated that Mynster was part of a chain of witnesses for the truth going back to the apostles. This speech, besides being a political bid for promotion on the part of Martensen, was offensive to Kierkegaard, despite his affection for Mynster.

An excerpt from the Journals helps to clarify further Kierkegaard's view of himself as attacker.

Imagine a big, well-trained obedient hunting dog. He accompanies his master on a visit to a family where, as all too often in our time, there is a whole assembly of ill-behaved youths. Their eyes hardly light upon the hound before they begin to maltreat it in every kind of way. The hound, which was well-trained, as these youths were not, fixes his eye at once upon his master to ascertain from his expression what he expects him to do. And he understands the glance to mean that he is to put up with all the ill-treatment, accept it indeed as though it were sheer kindness conferred upon him. Thereupon the youths of course became still more rough, and finally they agreed that it must be a prodigiously stupid dog which puts up with everything.

The dog meanwhile is concerned only about one thing, what the master's glance commands him to do. And lo, that glance is suddenly altered; it signifies—and the hound understands it at once—use your strength. That instant with a single leap he has seized the biggest lout and thrown him to the ground—and now no one stops him, except the master's glance, and the same instant he is as he was a moment before.—Just so with me.

The Articles

From December 18, 1854 to May 26, 1855 Kierkegaard published 21 articles in The Fatherland. These were assembled posthumously in 1857 as S. Kierkegaards Bladartikler. These articles were a departure from all of his previous works in that they were void of dialectic. They are full of hyperbole, sharp criticism and poignant comparisons. They are intentionally one-sided. They are meant to shock, to swing the pendulum away from its extreme position.

Here is a complete list of the articles appearing in The Fatherland.

  1. December 18, 1854: "Was Bishop Mynster a 'Truth-Witness,' One of 'the Authentic Truth-Witnesses'—Is This the Truth?"
  2. December 30, 1854: "There the Matter Rests!"
  3. January 12, 1855: "A Challenge to Me by Pastor Paludan-Möller"
  4. January 29, 1855: "The Point at Issue with Bishop Martensen, as Christianly Decisive for the, Christianly Viewed, Dubiously Established Ecclesiastical Order"
  5. January 29, 1855: "Two New Truth-Witnesses"
  6. March 20, 1855: "At Bishop Mynster's Death"
  7. March 21, 1855: "Is this Christian Worship or Is It Making a Fool of God?"
  8. March 22, 1855: "What Must Be Done—It Will Happen either through Me or through Someone Else"
  9. March 26, 1855: "The Religious Situation"
  10. March 28:, 1855 "A Thesis—Just One Single One"
  11. March 30, 1855: "'Salt'; Because 'Christendom' Is: the Decay of Christianity; 'a Christian World' Is: a Falling Away from Christianity"
  12. March 31, 1855: "What Do I Want?"
  13. April 7, 1855: "On the Occasion of an Anonymous Proposal to Me in No. 79 of This Newspaper"
  14. April 11, 1855: "Would It Be Best Now to 'Stop Ringing the Alarm?'"
  15. April 11, 1855: "Christianity with a Royal Certificate and Christianity without a Royal Certificate"
  16. April 27, 1855: "What Cruel Punishment!"
  17. May 10, 1855: "A Result"
  18. May 10, 1855: "A Monologue"
  19. May 15, 1855: "Concerning a Fatuous Pompous in Regard to Me and the conception of Christianity to Which I Am Calling Attention"
  20. May 16, 1855: "For the New Edition of Practice in Christianity"
  21. May 26, 1855: "That Bishop Martensen's Silence is (1) Christianly Indefensible; (2) Ludicrous, (3) Obtuse-Sagacious;, (4) in More Than One Regard Contemptible"

On December 18, 1854, Kierkegaard published the first tract entitled "Was Bishop Mynster a 'Truth-Witness,' One of 'the Authentic Truth-Witnesses'—Is This the Truth?" (Var Biskop Mynster et "Sandhedsvidne", et af "de rette Sandhedsvidner", er dette Sandhed?). Kierkegaard delayed publishing this tract until the episcopal election. To Kierkegaard's mind Mynster represented lukewarm theology. If Mynster was a witness for the truth, then so were all pastors. In his hyberbolic style of this last phase of his life, Kierkegaard says that a witness for the truth must suffer for it, even to the point of being derided, abused and tortured. (Note the beginning and closing dates of the article, which indicate that Kierkegaard delayed its publication).

February 1854. In the address which Professor Martensen "delivered on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, the Sunday preceding the burial of Bishop Mynster," a speech of remembrance it might be called for the reason that it brought to Professor Martensen's remembrance the vacant episcopal see—in this address Bishop Mynster is represented as one of the genuine witnesses to the truth, this being affirmed in the strongest and most decisive terms it would be possible to use. With the figure of the deceased bishop, his life and manner of it, and the issue of it, before our eyes, we are exhorted "to imitate the faith of the true guide, the genuine witness to the truth," to imitate his faith, for that, as was said expressly of Bishop Mynster, was shown, "not merely by word and profession, but in deed and truth." The deceased bishop is by Professor Martensen introduced "into the holy chain of witnesses to the truth which stretches through the ages from the days of the Apostles," etc.

Against this I must protest—and now that Bishop Mynster is dead, I can speak willingly, but in this place very briefly, and not at all about what determined me to assume the relationship to him which I assumed. ...Bishop Mynster's preaching soft-pedals, slurs over, suppresses, omits something decisively Christian, something which appears to us men inopportune, which would make our life strenuous, hinder us from enjoying life, that part of Christianity which has to do with dying from the world, by voluntary renunciation, by hating oneself, by suffering for the doctrine, etc.—to see this one does not have to be particularly sharp-sighted, if one puts the New Testament alongside of Mynster's sermons....

So I cannot keep silent longer, the protest must come, all the more serious for its tardiness, the protest against representing from the pulpit, that is, before God, Bishop Mynster as a witness to the truth; for that is false, and proclaimed in this way it is a falsehood which cries to heaven. December 1854 (p. 3, 8).

Following this exchange, Kierkegaard was the recipient of published assaults from several fronts (though most members of the official Church remained silent). Martensen said that it was unfair of Kierkegaard to limit the definition of a witness to mean "martyr", which, he continued, would exclude Saint John. Kierkegaard had always said, however, that one can suffer internally for the doctrine. Martensen remained silent for some time. Kierkegaard again addressed the subject of Mynster in article 6, entitled "With regard to Bishop Mynster's death" (March 20, 1855). In the final article (number 21, May 26, 1855) Kierkegaard addressed Martensen's unwillingness to address his claims. The article was entitled "That Bishop Martensen's Silence is (1) Christianly Indefensible; (2) Ludicrous, (3) Obtuse-Sagacious;, (4) in More Than One Regard Contemptible".

But how does this chief bishop of the land comport himself? Pretty much like the boys on New Year's Eve, who when they see their chance seize the opportunity to throw a pot at people's doors, and then make off, around by another street, so that the police may not catch them. Thus Bishop Martensen thought he saw his chance in the big rumpus occasioned by my article about Bishop Mynster, and threw over my head a garbage-pail of abuse and coarse words—and then made off.... But Bishop Martensen preserves the profoundest silence. And that in spite of the fact that he had been challenged to express his view (p. 79).

But in response to public criticism he published his twelfth installment on March 31, 1855, an article entitled "What Do I Want?"

Quite simply—I want honesty. I am not, as one man with the best of intentions has desired to represent me, I am not Christian severity contrasted with Christian leniency. Not at all. I am neither severity nor leniency—I am...mere human honesty. I want honesty. If that is what this race and this generation want, if it will uprightly, honestly, frankly, openly, directly rebel against Christianity and say to God, "We can, but we will not be subject to this authority"—but observe that it must be done uprightly, honestly, frankly, openly, directly—well then, strange as it may seem, I am for it; for honesty is what I want. And wherever there is honesty I can take part. An honest rebellion against Christianity can only be made when one honestly admits what Christianity is and how one is related to it (p. 46).

The ninth installment, entitled "The Religious Situation", was written in January 1855, but published on March 26.

We have what one might call a complete inventory of churches, bells, organs, benches, alms-boxes, foot-warmers, tables, hearses, etc. But when Christianity does not exist, the existence of this inventory, so far from being, Christianly considered, an advantage, is far rather a peril, because it is so infinitely likely to give rise to a false impression and the false inference that when we have such a complete Christian inventory we must of course have Christianity, too. A statistician, for example, when he had assured himself of the existence of this Christian inventory, would think that he was thoroughly justified in putting into his statistics that the Christian religion is the prevailing one in the land (p. 35).

The tenth installment in The Fatherland was entitled "A Thesis—Just One Single One", and was written on January 26, 1855, though published March 28.

O Luther, you had 95 theses—terrible! And yet, in a deeper sense, the more theses, the less terrible. This case is far more terrible, there is only one thesis. The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist. Here there is nothing to reform; what has to be done is to throw light upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through centuries, perpetrated by millions (more or less guiltily), whereby they have cunningly, under the guise of perfecting Christianity, sought little by little to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making Christianity exactly the opposite of what it is in the New Testament (p. 39).

Kierkegaard was acutely aware that he could be opening himself for criticism. He had always said that he was "without authority". How could he now claim that he had the right to damn the church? He addresses this at the end of this brief essay.

And to say a word about myself: I am not what the age perhaps demands, a reformer—that by no means, nor a profound speculative spirit, a seer, a prophet; no (pardon me for saying it), I am in a rare degree an accomplished detective talent. What a marvellous coincidence that I am contemporary precisely with that period of Church history which, in a modern sense, is the period of "witnesses to the truth", when all are "holy witnesses to the truth" (p. 40).

In Judge For Yourself! Kierkegaard explained that he was no reformer, and derided the current tendency to want to make political reforms in the Church, rather than to suffer for the doctrine.

The evil in our time is not the established order with its many faults. No, the evil in our time is precisely: this evil penchant for reforming, this flirting with wanting to reform, this sham of wanting to reform without being willing to suffer and to make sacrifices, this frivolous conceitedness of wanting to be able to reform without even having a conception, to say nothing of a lofty conception, of how uncommonly elevated is the idea of "to reform," this hypocrisy of avoiding the consciousness of one's own incompetence by being busy with the diversion of wanting to reform the Church, which our age is least of all competent to do (p. 212f.).

The fourteenth installment appeared on April 11, 1855, entitled "Would It Be Best Now to 'Stop Ringing the Alarm?"

This proposal has been made to me. However, I cannot in this respect humor anybody (supposing it is I who am ringing the bell); it would be inexcusable to leave off tolling as long as the fire is burning. But strictly speaking it is not I who am ringing the bell, it is I who am starting the fire in order to smoke out illusions and knavish tricks; it is a police raid, and a Christian police raid, for, according to the New Testament, Christianity is incendiarism, Christ Himself says, "I am come to set fire on the earth".... Anybody can see that merely casting a fleeting but impartial glance at the Gospels, and then looking at what we call "Christianity" (p. 51f.).