D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

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

What Christ Judges of Official Christianity

  • What Christ Judges of Official Christianity
  • Hvad Christus dømmer om officiel Christendom
  • 1855
  • KW23, SKS14, SV14

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

This tract was published separately at Kierkegaard's own expense on June 16, 1855, after he had released the first two of the ten installments known as The Moment. Here Kierkegaard again states that he decries the established church in the role of a detective, not in a spiritual, much less official, capacity, calling the clergy freethinkers and perjurers (for not keeping to their sacred oaths).

Kierkegaard had stated more than once that though he was not a Christian—meaning not an idealized example of a Christian—he yet knew the following: what Christianity is; how to describe it; and that what passed for Christianity was decidedly not the Christianity of the New Testament.

This piece begins by situating itself within Kierkegaard's larger authorial scheme, in which he began as a pseudonymous "poet" as well as a writer of religious discourses.

I began by giving myself out to be a poet [in the pseudonymous works], aiming slyly at what I thought might well be the real situation of official Christianity, that the difference between a Freethinker and official Christianity is that the Freethinker is an honest man who bluntly teaches that Christianity is poetry, Dichtung [poetry, poem; fiction], whereas official Christianity is a forger who solemnly protests that Christianity is something quite different, and by this means conceals the fact that for its part it does actually turn Christianity into poetry, doing away with the following of Christ, so that only through the power of imagination is one related to the Pattern, while living for one's own part in entirely different categories, which means to be related poetically to Christianity or to transform it into poetry which is no more morally binding than poetry essentially is; and at last one casts away the Pattern away entirely and lets what it is to be a man, mediocrity, count pretty nearly as the ideal (p. 129f.).

Kierkegaard says that he had given fair warning, not speaking with authority, but as a poet—but they did not give heed.

Then some time elapsed. I even stood on very good terms with these perjured men—and quite quietly I managed to introduce the ideals, and at the same time got acquainted with the men with whom I had to deal. But at last these good men became impatient with the poet, he was too impertinent for them. This was occasioned by the article against Bishop Martensen about Bishop Mynster. Feeling perfectly secure as they did, they then made a great outcry (as one will recall from that time), saying that it was "far too great a standard which was being applied," etc.—feeling themselves perfectly secure. Then this poet suddenly transformed himself, threw away the guitar, if I may speak thus, brought out a book which is called The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and—I may say, with a detective's eye upon them—put it up to these good perjured teachers whether this is not the book to which they were bound by an oath, this book whose standard is a good deal higher than that which the "poet" had employed (p. 130).

The article mentioned above appeared in The Fatherland December 18, 1854, deriding Martensen for calling the deceased Mynster one of a long line of "witnesses" going back to the apostles. The quote "far too great a standard which was being applied" is from Martensen's reaction to Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard then proposes the following requirement, the only punishment he would have inflicted upon the priests.

Certain passages from the New Testament would be selected, and the priest be obliged to read them aloud before the congregation. Of course I should have to make one stipulation, that after he had knocked off reading such a passage from the New Testament the priest should not, as he usually does, put the New Testament aside and proceed thereupon to "explain" what he had read. No, many thanks. No, what I might propose is the following order of service: The congregation assembles; a prayer is said at the church door; a hymn is sung; then the priest goes up to the speaker's seat, takes out the New Testament, pronounces the name of God, and thereupon reads from it before the congregation that definite passage, loudly and distinctly, whereupon he has to be silent for five minutes in the pulpit, and then he can go.... And now for the words of Christ to which I refer. They are found in Matthew 23.29-33; Luke 11.47,48; and they read as follows:

Woe unto you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.... Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell (p. 132f.)?

Kierkegaard holds the teachers and priests blameworthy, and says that if Christ returned he would blame them, but he would not the judge the masses, because they were led astray.

...the Christianity of the New Testament is: in the fear of God to suffer for the doctrine at the hands of men (p. 137).