D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Fourth Period: A Prelude to The Second Authorship (1846-48)

Upbuilding Discourses In Various Spirits

  • Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits
  • Opbyggelige Taler i forskjellig Aand
  • 1847
  • KW15, SKS8, SV8

These discourses represent the first religious productivity of what I call Kierkegaard's "interlude" period. This is the period from when Kierkegaard made a formal end of writing in 1846 with Concluding Unscientific Postscript, to 1848, when he began his period of "direct" composition. It will, however, appear that this work is direct enough, that is, specifically Christian, yet Kierkegaard classified Purity of Heart as ethical-ironic. Nevertheless it would take the religious experience later in 1848 that would encourage and inspire him to write freely, to feel compelled to speak directly for the first time.

This work is divided into three parts. The first part is entitled "An Occasional Discourse", and is the longest by far. The next section is entitled "What We Learn from the Lilies in the Field and from the Birds of the Air" and contains three discourses. The final section is entitled "The Gospel of Sufferings, Christian Discourses", and contains seven discourses. In Kierkegaard's later work Christian Discourses, he would follow this same pattern of grouping sections into seven discourses.

"Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing" has been published as a separate work. The Kierkegaard scholar Eduard Geismar, speaking of Purity of Heart, said, "I am of the opinion that nothing of what he has written is to such a degree before the face of God. Anyone who really wants to understand Kierkegaard does well to begin with it."

An Occasional Discourse: On the Occasion of a Confession: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

This powerful work concerns itself with double-mindedness and ethical integrity. Kierkegaard, as with several of his edifying discourses, specified that this work be read aloud, since it was intended as a private preparation for public confession. Kierkegaard himself classified this work as ethical-ironic, though it is concerned with what Kierkegaard called Religiousness A to some extent. Sometimes the reader is encouraged to seek God and other times simply the Good, the Eternal or Providence. Kierkegaard's style is hortatory.

God is presented as "simple". I use this term in the same sense as Aquinas. God is singular of nature, and is not divided or contrary in any way. By this, I do not refer to unitarian versus trinitarian theology, but simply that Kierkegaard sees God as a unity of thought, will, and being. The nature of God is changeless (see The Changelessness of God). Man, on the other hand, is divided by nature. In The Sickness Unto Death Kierkegaard addresses man at variance within himself. He despairs at either "willing to be himself" (defiance) or at "not willing to be himself" (denial). In Purity of Heart man is either of singular intent, willing one thing, or is double-minded. The bulk of the work explores this double-mindedness. The move from double-mindedness to purity of heart is a volitive act. Our refusal to will the one thing is due to our grounding in the temporal. Kierkegaard encourages his reader to seek the Eternal.

The existential aspect to Kierkegaard's writing is his emphasis on volition. Socrates could not conceive of a person knowing the Good and then not doing it. He attributed wrongdoing to ignorance. Kierkegaard is concerned with choosing the Good, and in exploring the obstacles to that choice, whether they are cognitive, volitive, psychological, or spiritual.

If there is, then, something eternal in man, it must be able to exist and to be grasped within every change.... For repentance is precisely the relation between something past and someone that has his life in the present time (p. 11).

Although man is naturally divided and double-minded, he must seek the unchanging Eternal. Repentance is a volitive act in relation to the past and to the future, since the person wills to discard past actions and to redirect himself to the Good in the future. Again, this anchors the work in the ethical sphere, especially as Kierkegaard exhorts the reader to commitment, or as he called it, ethical repetition (see Repetition). Moreover, prayer is encouraged because it changes the one who prays.

What is that one thing that we are to will? Can we not will evil with singular intent?

The person who wills one thing that is not the Good, he does not truly will one thing. It is a delusion, an illusion, a deception, a self-deception that he wills only one thing. For in his innermost being he is, he is bound to be, double-minded. Therefore the Apostle says, "Purify your hearts ye double-minded", that is, purify your hearts of double-mindedness; in other words, let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart's purity (p. 25).

The passage Kierkegaard refers to is from the Epistle of James, chapter one. This was a favorite book of his. It has sometimes been called the New Testament book of Proverbs. Though Martin Luther disparaged James because of its weak christology, and because he misunderstood what James said about works—not realizing they were manifestations of faith rather than meritorious—Kierkegaard loved it for its simplicity and emphasis on faith.

Kierkegaard also addresses a theme that he would later address in the Sickness Unto Death, namely, despair.

Is not despair simply double-mindedness? For what is despairing other than to have two wills? For whether the weakling despairs over not being able to wrench himself away from the bad, or whether the brazen one despairs over not being able to tear himself completely away from the Good: they are both double-minded, they both have two wills. Neither of them wills one thing, however desperately they may seem to will it (p. 30).

Once again, since God is one (simplex) and man is a complex whose functions are divided, unity is a goal. Man's natural state is lack of unity. Either we are unaware of our self, which Kierkegaard says is not true despair, or we are aware of having a self, and then the self either wills to be itself (defiance) or wills not to be itself (weakness).

In truth to will one thing, then, can only mean to will the Good, because every other object is not a unity; and the will that only wills that object, therefore, must become double-minded. For as the coveted object is, so becomes the coveter. Or would it be possible that a man by willing the evil could will one thing, provided that it was possible for a man so to harden himself as to will nothing but the evil? Is not this evil, like evil persons, in disagreement with itself, divided against itself? Take one such man, separate him from society, shut him up in solitary confinement. Is he not at odds with himself there, just as a poor union between persons of his sort is an association that is ridden with dissension? But a good man, even if he lived in an out-of-the-way corner of the world and never saw any human being, would be at one with himself and at one with all about him because he wills one thing. Each one who in truth would will one thing must be led to will the Good, even though now and then it happens that a man begins by willing one thing that is not in its deepest sense the Good although it may be something quite innocent; and then, little by little, he is changed really in truth to will one thing by willing the Good (p. 34f.).

And now the means that you use. What means do you use in order to carry out your occupation? Are the means as important to you as the end, wholly as important? Otherwise it is impossible for you to will only one thing, for in that case the irresponsible, the frivolous, the self-seeking, and the heterogeneous means would flow in between in confusing and corrupting fashion. Eternally speaking, there is only one means and there is only one end: the means and the end are one and the same thing. There is only one end: the genuine Good; and only one means: this, to be willing only to use those means which are genuinely are good—but the genuine Good is precisely the end. In time and on earth one distinguishes between the two and considers that the end is more important than the means. One thinks that the end is the main thing and demands of one who is striving that he reach the end. He need not be so particular about the means. Yet this is not so, and to gain an end in this fashion is an unholy act of impatience. In the judgment of eternity the relation between the end and the means is rather the reverse of this (p. 141).

Kierkegaard clearly holds to the primacy of the Good. Evil cannot exist whole and entire apart from the Good. The Good is original. Even something negative, like greed, is desire for something good, but in a depraved or unlawful way. A man who wills one thing, says Kierkegaard, must eventually will the Good, because it is original and singular. But there are barriers to willing one thing. These are hope for reward and fear of punishment. Promises of "pie in the sky" and threats of hell fire miss the point. Heaven would be heaven only for one who wants the God of heaven, who is Good. The Good (the Eternal, Providence, God) must be willed solely for it's own sake. "There is only one proof that the Eternal exists: faith in it". On the other hand, willing the one thing may involve suffering and punishment. But this punishment does not come from God.

If, then a man in truth wills the Good, then HE MUST BE WILLING TO DO ALL FOR IT OR HE MUST BE WILLING TO SUFFER ALL FOR IT (p. 78).

The following quote seems to allude to the time when Kierkegaard was ridiculed in The Corsair (see The Activity of a Traveling Esthetician).

Alas, often enough such an unfortunate person, in addition to this heavy, innocent suffering must bear the severe judgment of the arrogant, the busy, and the stupid, who are indeed able to irritate and hurt him, but who can never understand him (p. 80).

In his later attack upon the church, Kierkegaard would maintain that Christendom had eradicated the element of suffering from faith. When Mynster, a noted pastor and friend of Kierkegaard's father, was given a commemorative sermon by H. L. Martensen, a professor of theology, Martensen stated that Mynster was part of a chain of witnesses for the truth going back to the apostles. If Mynster was a witness for the truth, Kierkegaard asserted, then so were all pastors. Kierkegaard maintained that a witness for the truth must suffer for it, even to the point of being derided, abused and tortured. 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. (For more on this see Articles From The Fatherland). However, suffering of itself is not necessarily a sustained will to suffering. It is the will to pursue the Good in suffering that is purity. For one may suffer accidentally, or may suffer unavoidably, without remaining true to the Good, but helplessly (p. 148). True purity of heart does not seek comfort but the Good, even to the willing of suffering if necessary (p. 159). Suffering, however, does not benefit others, but merely incites pity, and is a burden to them (p. 153). But ultimately, healing does come. "But the sufferer who does not wish to be healed by the Eternal is double-minded" (p. 166).

Kierkegaard cites other pitfalls from willing one thing, all under the category of cleverness, which seeks to find excuses. One excuse is a perceived lack of courage, another is a failure to act because of pressing obligations. Worldly wisdom, for example, tells us not to put all our hopes into one thing for fear of disappointment, and so forth. Willing the Good means listening to and obeying the Eternal as opposed to the temporal. Then the discourse turns to the specifically Christian, namely, God's Son.

For He truly willed the Eternal in the eternal sense, and yet in the temporal order He became distinguished by being repudiated, and so accomplishing but little. As it had happened to God's son, so it went with the Apostles, just as they themselves had expected, and so it has gone with so many witnesses of the Good and the true in whom this eternal will has burned fiercely (p. 89f.).

Again, Kierkegaard returns to the theme of despair that he would later take up in The Sickness Unto Death.

To be true to himself in relation to this eternal vocation is the highest thing a man can practice, and, as that most profound poet [Shakespeare] has said: "Self-love is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting." Then there is but one fault, one offense: disloyalty to his own self or the denial of his own better self (p. 93).

Kierkegaard's emphasis on the self is not egotism. Quite simply put, God has created us as individuals and has called us to follow him as individuals. We are judged and saved as such. The masses are not judged as a whole. Selfishness, on the other hand, is the vaunting of one's self over that of another. But concern with one's self is a requirement. In fact, when we begin to hide in the company of others, then we cease to give up ourselves as individuals. The fellowship of individuals is healthy. The subjugation of one's self in the crowd is damnable, as it means loss of self.

And therefore the good man, in case he is also a clever one, will see that if anything is able to be done for the Good, then he must try to get men to be alone. The same persons, who singly, as solitary individuals, are able to will the Good, are immediately seduced as soon as they associate themselves and become a crowd.... As soon as God is present, each man in the presence of God has the task of paying attention to himself.... The talk asks you, then, whether you live in such a way that you are conscious of being an "individual." Each man himself, as an individual, should render his account to God. No third person dares to venture to intrude upon this accounting between God and the individual.... Each one shall render account to God as an individual. The king shall render account to God as an individual. No one may pride himself at being more than an individual, and no one despondently think that he is not an individual, perhaps because here in earth's busyness he had not as much as a name, but was named after a number. For, after all, what is eternity's accounting other than that the voice of conscience is forever installed with its eternal right to be the exclusive voice? (p. 96, 126, 128).

Does this mean that Kierkegaard has no place for fellowship or associations? This has often been thought. However, there is a place for sermons, fellowship and worship. He addresses the role of the preacher and congregation.

Alas, in regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor—not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk.... In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God (p. 124f.).

Moreover, toward the end of Purity of Heart Kierkegaard does mention how an individual will relate to others. Here he seems to be expressing a belief in the invisible and universal Church.

But to will only one thing, genuinely to will the Good, as an individual, to will to hold fast to God, which things each person without exception is capable of doing, this is what unites. And if you sat in a lonely prison far off from all men, or if you were placed out upon a desert island with only animals for company, if you genuinely will the Good, if you hold fast to God, then you are in unity with all men (p. 144f.).

Kierkegaard returns to the theme of freedom, arguing that people cannot understand how singleness of intent is freedom, nor how suffering can exist in freedom. When suffering happens, we are not free. When we will the one thing, even in suffering, we are free.

Yes, for many men it is almost an impossibility for them to unite freedom and suffering in the same thought.... But what then is courage? Is it courage to go where pleasure beckons in order to see where pleasure is? Or, in order for courage to be revealed, is it not required that there be opposition...as though the courageous person looks the danger in the eye, even though the danger is not what the eye wants to see?... On the other hand (and this is what we must primarily consider, for we are speaking of the true sufferer), the sufferer can voluntarily accept that suffering which in one sense is forced upon him, in so far as he does not have it in his power to get rid of it (p. 117f.).

Kierkegaard would also address fellowship in Works of Love.

What We Learn from the Lilies in the Field and from the Birds of the Air

This section—which is not to be confused with the later discourse, The Lily of the Field, The Bird of the Air)—consists of three discourses: "To be Contented with Being a Human Being", "How Glorious it is to be a Human Being", and "What Blessed Happiness Is Promised in Being a Human Being". There Kierkegaard first asks us to engage in a "godly diversion", in which we gaze upon the birds above and the lilies below, and learn.

(More notes forthcoming on this section.)

The Gospel of Sufferings: Christian Discourses

One discourse in this section is entitled "The Joy of It That It Is Not the Road That Is Hard but That Hardship Is the Road". Here Kierkegaard is anxious to communicate that suffering is an intricate part of true Christianity, that is, the Christianity of the New Testament, as opposed to Christendom.

There is a commonly accepted figure of speech, used by everyone, which compares life to a way. The simile can certainly be used to advantage in many ways, but the necessary unlikeness implied in the figure is no less worth attention. In the material sense the way is an external reality, indifferent as to whether anyone travels on it or not, indifferent as to how the individual travels it, the way is the way. In the spiritual sense, on the contrary, the way naturally cannot be physically pointed out. It does indeed exist, whether anyone travels it or not; and yet in another sense it only really becomes a way, or it becomes a way for each individual who travels it; the way is: how it is traveled (p. 289).

Kierkegaard has often been criticized for his emphasis on subjective truth, since he seems to say that only the individual can appropriate truth for himself. This is not to say that there is no objective truth, but rather that we cannot relate to objective truth since we are subjective beings. Thinking and being are two different things for a human—though for God they are one. All knowledge is approximation and faith. We cannot even prove our own existence. Descartes only assumed his own existence when he said "I think therefore I am". "I" is already in the premise, thus the statement is a tautology. (For more on this see Johannes Climacus, or de Omnibus Dubitandum Est and Concluding Unscientific Postscript). Note that Kierkegaard says that the way exists, "whether anyone travels it or not", that is, objectively. But then objective truth does us no good unless we as individuals approach it subjectively.

Kierkegaard cites several scriptures on suffering, saying that the whole tenor of the Bible promises suffering for the believer.

When affliction is the way, then is this the joy: that it is hence immediately clear to the sufferer, and that he immediately knows definitely what the task is, so he does not need to use any time or waste his strength, in reflecting whether the task should not be different.... Is it not then a joyful thought that it is true that affliction is the way? For then it is indeed immediately clear what the task is? Doubt wishes to make the sufferer wonder if it might not still be possible for the affliction to be taken away, and he still continue to walk on the same way—without affliction. But if affliction is the way, then it is indeed impossible for it to be taken away, and the way still remain the same (p. 293).

Affliction is not an end, since the Christian comes into bliss in eternity. But it is so inextricably a part of Christianity that Kierkegaard does not wish to allow any room for someone to think that suffering might not be a part of being a Christian.

The affliction must lead to something. That is, one cannot draw an inference in this way: a way is hard, consequently it must lead to something. In so far as a way is a way, the inference is valid, that it must lead to something, for as soon as it does not lead to something, it also ceases to be a way. The inference is valid in so far as the way is a way, but not because it is hard; this adjective makes it, for one who is not yet strong in the faith, almost, as it were, more doubtful whether the way can also lead to something. If, on the contrary, the affliction itself is the way, then the conclusion follows: it must lead to something. For here the inference is not drawn from the fact that it is hard, but from the fact that it is the way.... If, on the contrary, the purpose of the affliction is to be the way, then there is immediately a breath of air, then the sufferer breathes, then it must lead to something... (p. 301).

For more on Kierkegaard's belief that inward suffering was essential to Christianity see notes on Purity of Heart above.

(More notes forthcoming).