D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

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

The Moment

  • The Moment
  • Øieblikket
  • 1855
  • KW23, SKS14, SV14

For an introduction to the attack upon Christendom see Articles from the Fatherland.

The attacks that first appeared in The Fatherland were followed by tracts published by Kierkegaard himself under the title The Moment (also translated The Instant). The first installment was dated May 24, 1855, but was not published until all 21 articles in The Fatherland were published—the last of that series appearing on May 26. In this paper Kierkegaard wrote and edited all the articles, and published them at roughly one to four week intervals until his death shortly thereafter. Unlike the articles in The Fatherland, which appeared one at a time, each edition of The Moment contained several articles. Amazingly, they outstripped the circulation of The Fatherland. Some of the articles were so outrageous and acerbic, that many thought that he had lost his mind. After his death some thought to attribute his bile to his illness, but his journal entries give the lie to that hypothesis, as does the great sermon The Changelessness of God. Other reports noted that he never seemed more calm or lucid than during this period. Kierkegaard collapsed in the street after having published his ninth installment. The tenth was found in his study, finished, though not dated for publication. It was published soon after.

Here is a chronology of the tracts of The Moment:

  1. May 24, 1855: comprising 4 articles
  2. June 4, 1855: comprising 10 articles
  3. June 27, 1855: comprising 6 articles
  4. July 7, 1855: comprising 7 articles
  5. July 27, 1855: comprising 9 articles
  6. August 23, 1855: comprising 6 articles
  7. August 30, 1855: comprising 9 articles
  8. September 11, 1855: comprising 7 articles
  9. September 24, 1855: comprising 6 articles
  10. October 2, 1855 (ready for press), published posthumously: comprising 7 articles

As with the other tracts and articles discussed above, Kierkegaard was anxious to show the lunacy of how one could be born into a religion when true Christianity necessitates a qualitative leap of faith when it encounters the paradox of Christ. This decision involves the entire being; it is a supreme act of volition. How could one be declared a Christian by birth? Or how could Danish citizenship and membership in the church be identified?

In the second installment, published June 4, 1855, he wrote an article entitled, "A Eulogy in Praise of the Human Race, or Evidence That the New Testament Is No Longer the Truth".

In the New Testament the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, represents the situation thus: The way that leads to life is straight, the gate narrow—few be they who find it!

—now, on the contrary, to speak only of Denmark, we are all Christians, the way is as broad as it possibly can be, the broadest in Denmark, since it is the way in which we all are walking, besides being in all respects as convenient, as comfortable, as possible; and the gate is as wide as it possibly can be, wider surely a gate cannot be than that through which we all are going en masse.

Ergo the New Testament is no longer truth.

All honor to the human race (p. 115)!

In the fourth installment, published on July 7, 1855, one article is entitled "In 'Christendom' All Are Christians; If All Are Christians, eo ipso the Christianity of the New Testament Does Not Exist at All; Indeed, It Is Impossible". Here is the entire text.

The Christianity of the New Testament rests upon the assumption that the Christian is in a relationship of opposition, that to be a Christian is to believe in God, to love Him, in a relationship of opposition. While according to the Christianity of the New Testament the Christian has all the effort, the conflict, the anguish, which is connected with doing what is required, dying from the world, hating oneself, etc., he has at the same time to suffer from the relationship of opposition to other men, which the New Testament speaks of again and again: to be hated by others, to be persecuted, to suffer for the doctrine, etc.

In "Christendom" we are all Christians—therefore the relationship of opposition drops out. In this meaningless sense they have got all men made into Christians, and got everything Christian—and then (under the name of Christianity) we live a life of paganism. They have not ventured defiantly, openly, to revolt against Christianity; no, hypocritically and knavishly they have done away with it by falsifying the definition of what it is to be a Christian. It is of this I say that it is: (1) a criminal case, (2) that it is playing Christianity, (3) taking God for a fool.

Every hour this lasts the crime is continued; every Sunday that divine worship is conducted in this manner Christianity is played as a game and God is taken for a fool; everyone who participates is participating in playing Christianity and taking God for a fool, and is thus implicated in the Christian criminal case.

Yea, O God, if there were no eternity—the most untruthful word that ever was spoken in the world, Thou, O God of truth, hast spoken: Be not deceived, God will not be mocked (p. 168).

The sixth installment, which appeared on August 23, 1855, begins with "Brief and to the Point", containing nine brief, biting attacks

1) Christianity is capable of being perfected (it is perfectible); it advances; now perfection has been attained. What was striven after as the ideal, but which even the first age could only approximately attain, the ideal that the Christians are a nation of priests, that has now been perfectly attained, especially in Protestantism, more especially in Denmark.

That is to say, in case what we call a priest is what it really is to be a priest...then we are all priests.

2) In the magnificent cathedral the Honorable and Right Reverend Geheime-General-Ober-Hof-Prädikant, the elect favorite of the fashionable world, appears before an elect company and preaches with emotion upon the text he himself elected: "God hath elected the base things of the world, and the things that are despised"—and nobody laughs.

7) Is this the same teaching, when Christ says to the rich young man, "Sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor"; and when the priest says, "Sell all that thou hast and—give it to me" (p. 203f.)?

In the ninth installment, published on September 24, 1855, Kierkegaard wrote an article entitled "That the Pastors are Cannibals, and in the Most Abominable Way".

Everyone understands what cannibals are, they are man-eaters.... I shall now show that the pastors are cannibals, and in a far more odious way. What is the Christianity of the New Testament? It is the suffering truth. ...the truth must suffer, Christianity is the suffering truth and is in this world. For this reason the Founder not only suffered death upon the cross, but His whole life was suffering from first to last. For this reason the Apostles suffered, for this reason the witness to the truth. And the Savior required one thing: imitation.

But what does the "pastor" do? This educated man is far from being crazy. "To imitate him! What a proposal to make to a shrewd man! First this shrewd man must have undergone a transformation, he must have become crazy, before it could occur to him to go in for such a thing. No, but might it not be feasible to describe the sufferings of these glorious ones, to preach their teaching as doctrine, and in such a way that it would yield so much profit that a man could live off it, marry on it, beget children who are fed on it? That is to say, is it not feasible to turn the glorious ones into money, or to eat them, with wife and children to live by eating on them" (p. 320)?

Kierkegaard goes on to show that pastors are worse than cannibals because the cannibal is savage, while he is educated. The cannibal eats his enemies, while he eats those he is devoted to. The cannibal pounces on his enemy and eats him quickly, while the pastor spends his whole life devouring his food.

Then he dies, as fundamentally depraved as it is possible for a man to be—and he is buried as a witness to the truth (p. 323).

In the tenth and final (posthumous) installment, Kierkegaard published an article entitled "My Task", which was written on September 1, 1855.

"I do not call myself a Christian, do not say myself that I am a Christian." It is this I must constantly reiterate, and which everyone who would understand my quite peculiar task must train himself to be able to understand.

Yes, I know it well enough, it sounds almost like a sort of madness, in this Christian world where all and everybody is Christian, where to be a Christian is something therefore which everyone is as a matter of course—that there, in this Christian world, one says of oneself, "I do not call myself a Christian," and especially one whom Christianity concerns to the degree that it concerns me.

But it cannot be otherwise; in the world's twaddle the truer view must always seem like a sort of madness....

The only analogy I have before me is Socrates. My task is a Socratic task, to revise the definition of what it is to be a Christian. For my part I do not call myself a "Christian" (thus keeping the ideal free), but I am able to make it evident that the others are that still less than I....

It is in an abyss of sophistry Christianity is lying—far, far worse than when the Sophists flourished in Greece. These legions of priests and Christian docents are all Sophists, living (as was said of the Sophists of old) by making those who understand nothing believe something, then treating this human-numerical factor as the criterion of what truth, what Christianity is....

My task is to revise the definition of a Christian....

Thou plain man! The Christianity of the New Testament is infinitely high; but observe that it is not high in such a sense that it has to do with the difference between man and man with respect to intellectual capacity, etc. No, it is for all. Everyone, absolutely everyone, if he absolutely wills it, if he will absolutely hate himself, will absolutely put up with everything, suffer everything (and this every man can if he will)—then is this infinite height attainable to him.

Thou plain man! I have not separated my life from thine; thou knowest it, I have lived in the street, am known to all; moreover I have not attained to any importance, do not belong to any class egoism, so if I belong anywhere, I must belong to thee....

Thou plain man! I do not conceal from thee the fact that, according to my notion, the thing of being a Christian is infinitely high, that at no time are there more than a few who attain it, as Christ's own life attests.... Yet nevertheless it is possible for all. But one thing I must adjure thee, for the sake of God in heaven and all that is holy, shun the priests, shun them, those abominable men whose livelihood it is to prevent thee from so much as becoming aware of what Christianity is, and who thereby would transform thee...into what they understand by a true Christian, a paid member of the State Church, of the National Church, or whatever they prefer to call it. Shun them... (p. 340ff.).