D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Fifth Period: Direct Communication (1848-51)

Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays

  • Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays
  • Tvende ethisk-religieuse Smaa-Afhandlinger
  • H. H.
  • 1847, published 1849
  • KW18, SKS11, SV11

Originally Kierkegaard wrote a work entitled A Cycle of Ethical-Religious Essays (also known as The Book On Adler and On Authority and Revelation). A portion of it was published separately as The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle. Kierkegaard added another essay entitled "Has a Man the Right to Let Himself Be Put to Death for the Truth?" and published them both under the title Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays . This work appeared under the pseudonym H. H., which is only one of two "higher" pseudonyms used by Kierkegaard for his decidedly religious works, and the only work published under this pseudonym. H. H. does not engage in the same level of intellectual discourse as Anti-Climacus, nor is he (apparently) the representation of idealized Christianity. Yet his voice rings of authority. (For more on Kierkegaard's pseudonyms see Kierkegaard's Authorial Method. For a more complete background to this work on Adler, see The Book On Adler.)

1: Has a Man the Right to Let Himself Be Put to Death for the Truth?

In "Has a Man the Right to Let Himself Be Put to Death for the Truth?" Kierkegaard addresses the very idea and practice of Christian martyrdom. Underlying this theme is Kierkegaard's own abandonment of his fiancée Regine Olsen and of the persistent image of the crucified Christ that was pounded into him as a child by his father—as opposed to the risen Christ or the Christ child. Kierkegaard wonders whether the martyr has a right to die for the truth. This work might remind the reader of Fear and Trembling, in that it too exists on two levels: It is about Abraham and Isaac, and secondarily about Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen.

Kierkegaard concludes that "a man (unlike God) does not have the right to let himself be put to death for the truth...[he should be] lovingly concerned for others, for those who, if one is put to death, must become guilty of putting one to death". Kierkegaard is concerned with what executions (or martyrdoms) do to those people who perform them.

The parson (collectively understood) does indeed preach about those glorious ones who sacrificed their lives for the truth. As a rule the parson is justified in assuming that there is no one present in the church who could entertain the notion of venturing upon such a thing. When he is sufficiently assured of this by reason of the private knowledge he has of the congregation as its pastor, he preaches glibly, declaims vigorously, and wipes away the sweat. If on the following day one of those strong and silent men...were to visit the parson at his house announcing himself as one whom the parson had carried away by his eloquence, so that he had now resolved to sacrifice his life for the truth—what would the parson say? He would address him thus: "Why, merciful Father in heaven! How did such an idea ever occur to you? Travel, divert yourself, take a laxative."

Kierkegaard would later reverse himself on this position in Armed Neutrality, where he says that martyrdom should not be flaunted. However, it is sometimes an inevitable event given the conflict between the world and the truth of the gospel.

2: The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle

The Title Page In Kierkegaard's Hand

Kierkegaard held a fascination with the topic of authority since he was concerned with inspiration and the pastor's vocation. Adolf Peter Adler (1812-1869), a Hegelian, was deposed because he claimed to have had a revelation. To make matters worse, he later recanted, claiming that his work was a work of genius. Kierkegaard asserted that Adler confused the categories of genius and inspiration.

In this work Kierkegaard emphasizes the staggering distance from an apostle, who is a man associated with the absolute (the religious), to a genius. Kierkegaard regarded it as thoughtless to call St. Paul a genius if he was divinely inspired, that is, spoke with authority. Kierkegaard considered himself a genius and made a point of saying that he was "without authority". This is why Practice in Christianity and The Sickness Unto Death have pseudonyms even though Kierkegaard writes "directly". Simply put, he did not consider himself a true Christian, nor to possess authority. Kierkegaard begins:

What, exactly, have the errors of exegesis and philosophy done in order to confuse Christianity, and how have they confused Christianity? Quite briefly and categorically, they have simply forced back the sphere of paradox-religion into the sphere of esthetics.... If the sphere of paradox-religion is abolished, or explained away in esthetics, an Apostle becomes neither more nor less than a genius, and then—good night, Christianity. Esprit and the Spirit, revelation and originality, a call from God and genius, all end by meaning more or less the same thing.... They talk in exalted terms of St. Paul's brilliance and profundity, of his beautiful similes and so on—that is mere estheticism.... As an Apostle St. Paul has no connection whatsoever with Plato or Shakespeare, with stylists or upholsterers [Paul was a tentmaker], and none of them (Plato no more than Shakespeare or Harrison the upholsterer) can possibly be compared with him. A genius and an Apostle are qualitatively different.... All thought breathes in immanence, whereas faith and the paradox are a qualitative sphere unto themselves.... Genius is...immediateness...genius is born.... An Apostle is not born: an Apostle is a man called and appointed by God, receiving a mission from him.... Authority is the decisive quality.

When Kierkegaard mentions the "paradox", he refers to the mystery of Christianity. One cannot intellectually approach the claims of Christ. They must be appropriated by faith since they are not open to empirical scrutiny. The esthetician wants to relate to the Gospel without the miraculous. He cannot see the divine inspiration of the New Testament writers.