D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Fifth Period: Direct Communication (1848-51)

Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays

  • Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays
  • To Taler ved Altergangen om Fredagen
  • Written 1849, published 1851
  • KW18, SKS12, SV12

Most of Kierkegaard's direct religious writings are called "discourses", as is this work. (See Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses for an overview of Kierkegaard's religious discourses). They are for upbuilding, but are "without authority". As in the description on "The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle" (see Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays), the apostle was in relation to the absolute, whereas he, a mere man (though certainly a genius), spoke with, and possessed, no authority—merely sagacity. Kierkegaard's unique plan of attack through his pseudonymous authorship had been to "wound from behind", which was part of his "godly deception". His philosophical works were meant to insinuate themselves into men's minds. His upbuilding discourses, on the other hand, accompanied the pseudonymous works, and formed a contrast to them by being direct and religious. They were, however—and are still—often neglected in favor of the philosophical works. This was a disappointment to Kierkegaard. For more on this see Kierkegaard's Authorial Method.

This work bears the dedication "To One Unnamed, whose name shall one day be named, is dedicated along with this little work the whole of the authorship from the very beginning". This refers evidently to his former fiancée Regine Olsen, whom Kierkegaard approached after she married Fritz Schlegel, to offer the hand of friendship. Schlegel would have none of it.

Though this is a religious discourse, Kierkegaard refers to his pseudonymity in the preface. Kierkegaard's pseudonymity was not an afterthought late in his writing career. Either/Or, which was his second major work, and his first pseudonymous work, was crafted with several pseudonyms. Kierkegaard took unusual pains to ensure that the public would not know who wrote it. The final draft of the work was done by several hands, so that even employees at the printer's would be deceived.

An authorship that began with Either/Or and advanced step by step seeks here its consummating place of rest at the foot of the altar, where the author, personally most aware of his own imperfection and guilt, certainly does not call himself a witness to the truth but only a singular kind of poet and thinker who, "without authority," has had nothing new to bring but "has wanted to read through once again, if possible in a more inward way, the original text of individual human existence-relationships, the old, familiar text handed down from the fathers."

The preface continues, making a brief and beautiful discourse of itself.

But let me give utterance to this which in a sense is my very life, the content of my life for me, its fullness, its happiness, its peace and contentment. There are various philosophies of life which deal with the question of human dignity and human equality—Christianly, every man (the individual), absolutely every man, once again, absolutely every man is equally near to God. And how is he near and equally near? Loved by Him. So there is equality, infinite equality between man and man. If there be any difference, O, this difference, if difference there be, is peaceableness itself, undisturbed it does not disturb equality in the remotest degree. The difference is that one man bears in mind that he is loved, perhaps day in and day out, perhaps for seventy years day in and day out, perhaps having only one longing, the longing for eternity, impatient to lay hold of it and be off, he is busy with this blessed occupation of bearing in mind that he—ah, not for virtue's sake—is loved. Another does not reflect upon the fact that he is loved, perhaps he is glad and thankful to be loved by his wife, by his children, by his friends, by his acquaintances, and does not reflect that he is loved by God; or perhaps he sighs at the thought that he is loved by nobody and does not reflect that he is loved by God. "Yet," so might the first one say, "I am guiltless, I cannot help it if another overlooks or disdains the love which is lavished as richly upon him as upon me." Infinite divine love which makes no distinction! Ah—human ingratitude!—what if among us men there were likeness and equality in the sense that we are like one another, entirely alike, inasmuch as not one of us rightly reflects that he is loved (p. 5).

Kierkegaard always stressed the importance of the individual, since we are individually accountable before God. Even when he addresses the equality of people before God, he maintains that we are all different sorts of individuals, though equally loved by God. While many in Kierkegaard's day and in our own emphasize each man's right to his free speech and the like, we seldom stress that we are equally loved by God. This, of course, does not always make us feel good, because it does not flatter our pride. We are loved because God is a lover—God is Love. Kierkegaard never allows us to think that we are loved because we are inherently loveable.

1: To Whom Little is Forgiven, the Same Loveth Little

The first discourse uses the text Luke 7.47. Kierkegaard used this same text for An Upbuilding Discourse.

My hearer, at the altar the invitation is uttered: "Come hither, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The individual responds to the invitation, he goes up to the altar—then there is another saying which might be inscribed above the church door, on the inside, not to be read by them that go into the church, but only by them that are going out: "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little". The first saying is the altar's invitation, the other is its vindication.... [This] is a word of condemnation, but also a word of comfort.... Commonly the situation is conceived thus: justice means severe judgment; love is the gentle thing which does not judge, or if it does, love's judgment is a gentle judgment. No, no, love's judgment is the severest judgment. The severest judgment ever passed upon the world, more severe than the flood, more severe than the confusion of Babel or than the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—was it not Christ's innocent death, which yet was love's sacrifice? And what was this judgment? Surely this, that "love" was not loved. So it is here (p. 9ff.).

Kierkegaard realizes that his reader may misunderstand the interpretation of the verse, but he is not quick to define his position. First, he wants to lay the groundwork of love. Love is not fluff or sentimentality. Love is dynamic, severe and cataclysmic. He then points us to a common misreading of the text, briefly addressing the doctrine of unmerited grace.

For it does not read, to whom little was forgiven, the same loved little; no, it reads "loves little."... But substantially is it not true then that the forgiveness of sins is merited, if not by works, yet by love? When it is said that to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little, is it not implied that it is love which determines whether and in how far one's sins are to be forgiven—so that the forgiveness of sins is merited? Oh, no. In the same passage of the Gospel, a bit earlier (v. 42 ff.), Christ speaks about two debtors, one of whom was greatly in debt, the other little, and both found forgiveness. He says, "Which of them will love him most?" and the answer is, "He to whom he forgave most." Notice how we do not enter the unblessed territory of meritoriousness, but how everything remains within the sphere of love! When thou dost love much, much is forgiven thee—and when much is forgiven thee thou dost love much (p. 15).

This is a rare passage in the Kierkegaardian corpus, seeing that he almost strictly avoided theological debates.

It is with love as it is with faith. Think of one of the unfortunates whom Christ healed by a miracle. In order to be healed he must believe—now he believes and is healed. Now he is healed—and then faith becomes twice as strong, now that he is saved. It is not as though he believed, and then the miracle occurred, and then it was all over; no, the accomplishment increases his faith as much again, after the accomplishment of the miracle his faith is doubly as strong as when he believed before being saved. And it is with this matter of loving much. Strong is the love, divinely strong in weakness, the love which loveth much and to which so much is forgiven; but still stronger is the second instance of love, when the same love loves a second time, and loves because much was forgiven (p. 16).

Kierkegaard then returns to the beginning of the discourse, where our verse was written so that one might read it when leaving the altar, and be disquieted.

So may God bless this disquieting discourse, that it may have disquieted thee only for a good end, that tranquillized at the altar thou mightest be sensible that thou dost receive the gracious pardon of all thy sins (p. 16).

2: Love Shall Hide the Multitude of Sins

In this second discourse, taken from 1Peter 4.8, Kierkegaard focuses on the individual, especially the individual's conscience and his sense of sin. He begins on a personal note. How often, he asks, have we wanted to hide our sins and shortcomings from others? And as hard as we may try, even if we are successful, we cannot hide them from ourselves. Our conscience is too strong.

...it is also certain that every man has a confidant who is privy to his inmost thoughts, namely conscience. A man may succeed in hiding his sins from the world, he may perhaps rejoice foolishly in his success, or perhaps with a little more truthfulness he may acknowledge to himself that this is a pitiful weakness and cowardice, that he does not possess the courage to reveal himself—but a man cannot hide his sins from himself. That is impossible; for the sin which was hid absolutely even from the man himself would indeed not be sin, any more than if it were hid from God, a thing which cannot be, inasmuch as a man so soon as he is conscious of himself, and in everything in which he is conscious of himself, is also conscious of God, and God of him (p. 19).

As in An Upbuilding Discourse, Kierkegaard returns to the theme that God forgets our sins when he forgives them.

Oh, would it were possible for me to flee to a desert isle where never any man had come or would come; oh, that there were a place of refuge whither I could flee from myself, that there were a hiding place where I am so thoroughly hid that not even the consciousness of sin could find me out. ...that there were a pardon, a pardon which does not make me increasingly sensible of my sin, but truly takes my sin from me, and the consciousness of it as well, would that there were oblivion! (p. 20f.).

As the title implies, Kierkegaard wrote these discourses for the Communion.

Hence the Lord's Supper is called Communion with Him; it is not merely in remembrance of Him, not merely a pledge that thou hast communion with Him, but it is the communion, the communion which thou shalt endeavor to maintain in thy daily life by more and more living thyself out of thyself and living thyself unto Him, into His love who hides the multitude of sins (p. 24f.).

"Living out of thyself" is subjective inwardness. Though Kierkegaard writes for the Church, he focuses on the individual. Ultimately, we stand before God not as a body, but as our naked selves.