Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1844

Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1844

The Søren Kierkegaard statue in the Royal Library Garden og Slotsholmen in Copenhagen, Denmark
Author Søren Kierkegaard
Original title Fire opbyggelige Taler
Translator David Swenson, Howard V Hong
Country Denmark
Language Danish
Series First authorship (Discourses)
Genre Christianity, psychology, theology
Published 1990 Princeton University Press
Publication date
August 31, 1844
Published in English
1946 – first translation
Media type Hardcover
Pages ~110
ISBN 0691020876
Preceded by The Concept of Anxiety
Followed by Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions

This is the last of the Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses published during the years 1843–1844 by Søren Kierkegaard. He published three more discourses on "crucial situations in life" (Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions) in 1845, the situations being confession, marriage, and death. These three areas of life require a "decision made in time".[1]

How does a person make a decision? Søren Kierkegaard had to make some decision. He had to decide if he wanted to get married after having already made the "sacred pledge". He had to decide if he would carry out the wishes of his father, Michael, and become a Lutheran preacher or teacher. He made "negative" resolutions regarding these promises he had made. Perhaps some thought he should remain true to his word.

This word "resolution" is the core of Kierkegaard's idea behind the leap of faith. His question is: Who can make a positive or negative resolution for another? A resolution is best made by the single individual in the quietness of his or her soul through the inward struggle rather than the struggle with external forces.[2]

This discourse has to do with a psychological view regarding the process of decision making and making of vows for "existing" single individuals and has nothing to do with the crowd or with "noisy voting".[3]


Buch des Richters: Seine Tagebücher 1833-1855 (1905) (The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard)

Søren Kierkegaard was born on May 5, 1813 and died on November 11, 1855. He kept a journal and he mentions a "Diary" in Either/Or and another in "Stages on Life's Way" with dates listed here and there. His preface to "Either/Or" says the following:

"The Diary has a date here and there, but the year is always omitted. This might seem to preclude further inquiry, but by studying the individual dates, I believe I have found a clue. Of course every year has a seventh of April, a third of July, a second of August and so forth; but it is not true that the seventh of April falls every year on Monday. I therefore have made certain calculations and have found that this combination fits the year 1834." Either/Or, Part I, Preface, p. 10 Swenson

Later, in Stages on Life's Way he wrote a "Morning" entry in the diary on May 4 about birth and on May 5 at "Midnight" an entry on Periander. Then on "June 18 at Midnight" he wrote about guilt. His mother Ane Kierkegaard was born on June 18. Then on July 7 at midnight he wrote about Regine.[4] There is a genealogy of his family on the internet.[5] He used dates in his discourses also.

Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard
Ane Sørensdatter Lund Kierkegaard

The Four Upbuilding Discourses begin with a Preface, Kierkegaard had just published a book called Prefaces on Jun 17, 1844 and now he's publishing these discourses on August 31, 1844. He had published a preface for his Two Upbuilding Discourses and dated it May 5, 1843, his birthday, for which he gives God thanks for another year in which he can have "his spirit tested". He later dated the Preface to his Lilies of the Field and The Birds of the Air May 5, 1849.[6] Is he placing markers to show the slow but steady process of his own conversion to Christianity?

The preface for this, his last discourses published in this two-year period, was dated August 9, 1844, the date of or after the death of his father, Mikael Pedersen Kierkegaard, (August 9, 1838). It could be possible that these Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses was his way of getting over the loss of his father and his mother, Ane Sørensdatter Lund Kierkegaard, and brothers and sisters too. Soren lost all of his brothers and sisters (Nicholene, Niels, Petrea, Soren Michael, Marin Kristine), as well as his mother and father by August 9, 1838. Only his brother Peter Christian was left. Soren died November 11, 1855 and Peter on February 24, 1888). Perhaps it was his way of grieving. But it's not grieving in a spectacular way. It's grieving as indirectly as possible. And doing it in a thoroughly Christian way by honoring his father and mother even though they were both dead. He wrote about death in his 1845 book Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life, which was translated by David F. Swenson in 1941 and also translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong as Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions in 1993. He wrote:

A pagan has said that death is nothing to be feared, for “when it is, I am not, and when I am, it is not.” This is the jest through which the subtle observer places himself outside. (...) There is a longing after the eternal when death has taken and taken again, and has taken the last of the distinguished men you knew; there is a feverish heat in sickness of soul, or its cold burning, when anyone becomes so familiar with death and with the loss of his nearest and dearest, that life for him becomes a vexation of spirit. It is sheer sorrow when the deceased was yours; it is the birth-pangs of an immortal hope when it was your beloved; it is the trembling breaking forth of earnestness when it was your only counsellor, and solitude lays hold of you; but if it were your child or your beloved, or your only guide in life, it is still a mood; and even if you would gladly die instead of them, this, too, is a mood. The earnestness consists in the fact that it is death that you think, and then that you think it as your own lot, and then that you do what death cannot do, so that you are and death also is. Soren Kierkegaard, Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life, Swenson 78-81

He kept to his familiar formula while writing his preface by dedicating his discourse to his father, who was a clothing merchant living in Copenhagen and writing to my reader, not my readers, because his books were for each single individual to read if she or he wanted to read it. His preface said, in part,

"although this little book (which is called “discourses,” not sermons, because its author does not have authority to preach, “upbuilding” discourses, not discourses for upbuilding, because the speaker by no means claims to be a teacher) is once again going out into the world, it is even less fearful of drawing any impeding attention to itself than it was the first time it started on the journey; it hopes rather that because of the repetition the passersby will scarcely notice it, or if at all only to let it shift for itself. It seeks that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader, in order to pay him a visit, indeed, to stay with him, because one goes to the person one loves, makes one’s home with him, and remains with him if this is allowed." Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 295

The discourses are titled,

To Need God Is a Human Being's Highest Perfection

Kierkegaard "felt inclined to doubt a little the correctness of the familiar philosophic maxim that the external is the internal and the internal the external and was always heretically-minded on this point in philosophy." The external would be experience and the internal revelation.[7] This developed into the discussions about the primacy of Revelation or of Reason in religious matters.[8] At this time a new medium for knowledge was coming of age, newspapers. Kierkegaard wrote about them on November 28, 1835.[9] These newspapers came to be regarded as another form of knowledge. But is this knowledge given by the newspapers an external or an internal form of knowledge or of revelation? Kierkegaard wondered about that.

Mary as a hermit, by El Greco

He many times referred to "the one thing needful" throughout his writings.[10] Now he says "to need God is a human being's highest perfection." This is direct communication instead of the indirect method he chose for most of his pseudonymous writings. He has discussed the goods of the world in comparison to the goods of the spirit which indicates the same external and internal relationship. This fragment of the Bible, "one thing needful", is found in the story of Martha of Bethany and Mary Magdalene from the New Testament.[11] Mary knew she was a sinner[12] and thanked Christ for saving her from her sins, while Martha was busy serving Him. Martha said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”[13][14] Mary represents the one who is related to Christ in an internal way and Martha the external. Speculation might say that Mary is William Blake or Johann Goethe and Martha is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel or Baruch Spinoza.[15] Kierkegaard uses these single individuals to help him "teach his age what it is 'to become a Christian'."[16] Can a single individual be seduced by the religious in such a way that he or she becomes in danger of developing into extreme examples of the internal (mystic) and the external (Don Quixote)?[17]

What, then, was the one thing ' that he willed? As he makes clear in Om min Forfatter- Virksomhed (My Literary Activity 1851, p. 35ff), it was religion; or, more definitely, his one aim was to teach his age what it is ' to become a Christian' or at least "compel the age to take notice." He discussed this further in his 1848 unpublished book, The Point of View For my Work as an Author, where he discusses a factum that made him into a poet and his esthetic production moved him forward to a different place. He wrote:

in this thing of becoming a poet I did not recognize myself in a deeper sense, but rather in the religious awakening. Here the reader can easily perceive the explanation of all the difficulty of the authorship, but he must not ['think'?] that the author was at the same time conscious of this. What was to be done? Well, obviously the poetical had to be evacuated,['evaluated'?] anything else was impossible for me. But the whole esthetic production was put under arrest by the religious. The religious agreed to this elimination but incessantly spurred it on, as though it were saying, Are you not now through with that? While the poetical works were being produced the author was living under strict religious rules. The Point of View For my Work as an Author 84-85, Lowrie translation 1962 Harper and Row

Kierkegaard goes on to tell "the secret of perfection: that to need God is nothing to be ashamed of but is perfection itself."[18] Another way to say that is we become perfect when we learn that we are not perfect. Once that happens the individual struggles with himself rather than with the world. He uses Moses as an example of an individual who knew he was capable of nothing at all but he was confronted by the crowd that demanded a demonstration.[19] He sums up this battle for the self this way:

When man turns about, so as to confront himself in order to acquire an understanding of himself, it is as if he blocked the way for that first self of which we have been speaking. He interferes with its movement outwards, with its yearning for the surrounding world which is its object, and with its pursuit of it; he calls the first self away from external things. For the purpose of inducing the first self to acquiesce in this recall, the deeper self makes the surrounding world reveal itself as it really is, namely as uncertain and precarious. It is indeed the truth that the world about us is unstable, every moment admitting of a change to its very opposite. The man has never lived who by the exercise of his power or by the magic of his wish could hold this variableness within the bonds of restraint. The deeper self thus proceeds to picture the outer world, with its elusiveness and its mutability, in such terms that it no longer seems desirable to the first self. Either the first self must contrive to slay the deeper self, to plunge it into oblivion, when all is lost; or it must admit that the deeper self is right. For to assert stability of that which constantly changes is a contradiction. As soon as it is admitted that it is of the nature of the outer world to change, it follows that it may change at any moment. Edifying Discourses (1843-1844), Swenson translation Vol IV 1958 p. 159
The greatest difficulty seems to be just to get the task firmly set or actually to get set firmly on what the task is. Perhaps people are really not unwilling to spend time and energy and are not incompetent either-if only it could become unmistakably clear to them what the task is. But the point is that this communication cannot in any decisive way come to them from the outside; it has to go through the person who is himself involved. The adult is indeed of age; he is to be his own master. But it is the lord and master who is to assign the task, just as parents and superiors do it for the child. Thus the adult is simultaneously master and servant; the one who is to command and the one who is to obey are one and the same. This is unquestioningly a difficult situation, that the one giving the command and the one obeying the command are the same. It can so easily happen that the servant meddles in the deliberation about the task, and conversely, that the master pays too much attention to the servant’s complaints about the difficulties in carrying out the task. Then, alas, confusion develops; then instead of becoming one’s own master a person becomes unstable, irresolute, vacillating; he runs from one thing to another, tears down and builds up and begins again from the beginning. He is tossed about by every breeze, but without moving from the spot. Finally the situation becomes so awkward that all his energy is expended in thinking up ever new changes in the task-just as a plant goes to seed, so he goes to seed in busy trifling deliberation or in fruitless wishing. In a certain sense he uses much time, much diligence, and much energy, and it is all as good as wasted, because the task does not remain fixed, because there is no master, since he, of course, should be his own master. Soren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, 1847, Hong p. 294-295
Either, Martha and Mary at the tomb, Or?

The outer world is constantly in a state of flux but if a single individual wants to be able to function in such a world he or she must be able to allow the change but stay constant in the inner being through a strengthening process. Kierkegaard believed the world of the spirit is opposed to the world of change because God never changes. And God strengthens in the inner being before asking for external action. Then "when the first self submits to the deeper self, they are reconciled and walk on together."[20] (Edifying Discourses, p. 253ff)

The Thorn in the Flesh

Kierkegaard discusses other Biblical phrases that have been turned into speculative enterprises for scholars as well as lay ministers. Here he discusses "the thorn in the flesh" and "caught up in the third heaven."[21] The Apostle Paul had experience and an assured spirit yet he had this thorn in the side and the order not to discuss being caught up in the third heaven. This unsettled Paul, since he wanted to know all things, and had conflict in his soul. Kierkegaard writes elegantly about Paul's search for peace.

Ecstasy of Saint Paul Nicolas Poussin 1643

A person is looking for peace, but there is change: day and night, summer and winter, life and death; a person is looking for peace, but there is a change: fortune and misfortune, joy and sorrow; a person is looking for peace and constancy, but there is a change: the ardor of purpose and the disgust of weakness, the greenwood of expectation and the withered splendor of fulfillment; a person is looking for peace-where did he look for it-even in the disquietude of distraction-where did he look for it in vain-even in the grave! But an apostle-he uses the strongest expression about a thorn in the flesh, about an angel of Satan who strikes him on the mouth and thereby prevents him from declaring that inexpressible blessedness. So it is so, then, that the more zealously one presses forward, the more dangerous everything becomes? No, the apostle does not speak like an incited man who is merely a desperate witness to how he himself has been tumbled about and at best knows how to describe his ups and downs. That he is not permitted to remain in the third heaven, indeed, that it is an angel of Satan who fetches him down again and strikes him on the mouth-this he knows. He knows that in a certain sense the joining of earthly life with beatitude is always an unhappy marriage and that the truly beatific union is concluded only in heaven, just as it was concluded there in the beginning; but he also knows that it is beneficial to him, and that this thorn in the flesh is given him so that he will not be arrogant. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 328[22]

Those who interpret the Bible can do harm to the single individual who is reading the interpretation because of the way that individual is constituted. Paul learned he would not be able to know everything and said it was beneficial for him that this is the way it is. Kierkegaard says, "he had experienced the beatitude of heaven and had kept the pledge of the spirit, but there was nevertheless a memory. And a memory is difficult to manage. At one time it is far away, and then, presto, it is right there as if it had never been forgotten. Paul had memories of stoning Stephen and persecuting Christians and wandered about in "the fog of unintelligibility."[23]

His intent was exemplified in his 1846 book, Concluding Unscientific Postscript:

The issue is raised objectively; the solid, sensible subject thinks this way: “Just let there be clarity and certainty about the truth of Christianity and I will surely be man enough to accept it; that will follow as a matter of course. “The trouble, however, is that in its paradoxical from the truth of Christianity has something in common with the nettle: the solid, sensible subject only stings himself when he wants to grasp it summarily this way, or rather (since it is a spiritual relationship, the stinging can be understood only in a figurative sense) he does not grasp it at all; he grasps its objective truth so objectively that he himself remains outside.

Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript V. I 46-47 Hong

Kierkegaard challenges the reader with the question, "Do you know what the discourse is about?" Paul had been given Roman citizenship as a gift from God, he had been given this challenge of trying to guide an infant church into existence along with others chosen by Christ. What do we do about the positive gifts we have been given by God? These gifts become thorns if you don't use them. Martin Luther had commented about thorns much in the same way Kierkegaard does here when he wrote to his wife, "Thou mayest tell M. Philipps to correct his postil. He never understood why our Lord, in the gospel, calls riches thorns. Here is the school to learn that. But I shudder to think that thorns, in the Scripture, are always threatened with fire. Wherefore I have the greater patience, if haply, by the help of God, I may be able to bring some good to pass." (Martin Luther, To His Wife 1546)[24] Kierkegaard was grateful for the free gift of intellectual ability, imagination, and dialectical skills and he took these gifts as gifts that should be used in the service of God. Is it better to examine your own positive qualities or the negative qualities associated to your own self? Can knowledge become a thorn in the side? Here is how he said it in 1847 and then 1848,

[Christ] learned obedience from what he suffered-what he suffered when he who possesses the blessing was like a curse for everyone who came near him and for everyone who avoided him, an affliction for his contemporaries, like an affliction for those few who loved him, so that he had to wrench them out into the most terrible decision, so that for his mother he had to be the sword that pierced her heart, for the disciples a crucified love; an affliction for the vacillators, who basically perhaps in the hiddenness of a secret desire grasped the truth of his words but did not dare to join him but for that very reason also kept a thorn in their souls, a split in their inner being, a painful mark of having been his contemporaries; an affliction for the wicked, that he by his purity and holiness had to expose their hearts and make them guiltier than ever. What heavy suffering: to have to be the stumbling stone in order to be the Savior of the world! Soren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits 1847 Hong 1993 p. 254
An observer will perceive how everything was set in motion and how dialectically: I had a thorn in the flesh, intellectual gifts (especially imagination) and culture in superabundance, an enormous development as an observer, a Christian upbringing that was certainly very unusual, a dialectical relationship to Christianity which was peculiarly my own, and in addition to this I had from childhood a training obedience, obedience absolute, and I was armed with an almost foolhardy faith that I was able to do anything, only one thing excepted, to be a free bird, though but for a whole day, or to slip out of the fetters of melancholy in which another power held me bound. Finally in my own eyes I was a penitent. The impression this now makes upon me is as if there were a Power which form the first instant had been observant of this and said, as a fisherman says of the fish, Let it run awhile, it is not yet the moment to pull it in. And strangely enough there is something that reaches back in my recollection, impossible as it is for me to say when I began this practice or why such a thing ever occurred to me: I prayed to God regularly, every day, that He would give me zeal and patience to perform the work He would assign me. Thus I became an author.
  • Soren Kierkegaard, The Point of View of My Work as an Author Lowrie translation, 1939, 1962 p. 82-83

Against Cowardliness

Robert Morrison translating the Bible into Chinese (1813)

Kierkegaard begins with a passage from the Bible in this discourse, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7.[25] Kierkegaard returns to the subject of Either/Or and writes in "praise of the resolution". The decision to make a resolution is the leap of faith because the resolution always leads the person forward. Scholars can interpret this passage and write whole books about it but it seems that there would be "an abundance of interpretations and a poverty of action."[26]

His discourse is against cowardliness not against pride because the single individual aught to be able to "acknowledge the good that he does do". But the single individual evades action by using cowardliness and time. He says the spirit enters into the service of the good so it can build a tower to the Lord.[27] But cowardliness gets in the way. What is cowardliness and does everyone possess it or is it only possessed by the weak and anxious? Kierkegaard answers in this way, "take it for granted that everyone is somewhat cowardly, and in particular it can safely be assumed that anyone who seeks to know himself better will be willing to acknowledge that he has not infrequently caught himself in it, and for that reason he is always a bit dubious about even his boldest enterprise." So remember "the one thing needful".[28]

The single individual can know very many things but not do much of anything that relates to the knowing. One can reflect on what the Bible says or one could decide to do something in relation to what they know. Kierkegaard put it this way in his Concluding Postscript (1846) and again in his journals.

The ethical is not only a knowing; it is also a doing that is related to a knowing, and a doing of such a nature that the repetition of it can at times and in more ways than one become more difficult than the first doing. .... People know everything, and in order not to stop with that, they know also that they are not to do the least of what they know, because with the aid of external knowledge they are in seventh heaven, and if one must begin to do it, one will become a poor, wretched existing individual who stumbles again and again and progresses very slowly from year to year. Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Vol I, Hong pages 160-161, 254-256
At the happy moment everyone received a copy of Holy Scriptures, in which there was one book which was almost always too brief and sometimes almost invisible, and this was, I regret — the Acts of the Apostles. Journals IA 328 1836 or 1837

Kierkegaard wanted to get married but he took his time about making his decision, even after he had made a promise to marry. He consulted with himself and with God and made a negative resolution about marriage. But someone might come along in the future. He learned not to lean on an imagined view of what a woman is through his contact with Regine Olsen and didn't form an opinion of what he wanted. He didn't want to compare girl with girl and find out through comparison that his tower was higher or lower than others.[29]

No wonder one hears so much silly talk about love, since to hear so much talk is already an indication that reflection is universally forcing its way in to disturb the quiet, more modest life where love prefers to reside because in its modesty it is so close to piety. Thus I am well aware that Messrs. Esthetes will promptly declare me incompetent for discussion, and all the more so when I do not conceal that despite being married for eight years I still do not definitely know in a critical sense what my wife looks like. To love is not to criticize, and marital faithfulness does not consist of detailed criticism. Yet this ignorance of mine is not entirely due to my being uncultured; I, too, am able to observe the beautiful, but I observe a portrait, a statue, in that way, not a wife. … as far as my wife is concerned, I am not sure to this day whether she is slim. Stages on Life's Way, Hong p. 125
A Bible handwritten in Latin, 1407AD

The rest of the discourse discusses how cowardliness, false pride, sagacity, and time conspire to keep us out of the world of the spirit and from acting there. But he keeps reminding every single individual that all are equal in the world of the spirit. Kierkegaard preferred to study the Bible alone so he could have a clear understanding of where he stood. Others can't do that and need help or to hear it read aloud in Church. Kierkegaard had to make his own resolution about the world of the spirit. He wrote the following in 1848. "I had to either cast myself into perdition and sensuality, or to choose the religious absolutely as the one thing-either the world in a measure that would be dreadful, or the cloister."[30] In this resolution he maintained, as the apostles had, that he was only an "unworthy servant".[31] He strove to keep his resolution and asked others the following question. "Where does the fault lie if the person and his resolution no longer live together in harmony?"[32]

So banish all curiosity, which is doomed without even knowing it, since its doom is either that he it is unable to understand it or that it will be able to understand it, and its sin is either it neglects lesser matters in order to drop off into reverie about riddles or that it craftily applies its talents to making them ununderstandable and hypocritically pretends that this is a desire for understanding. Let everyone test himself. With regard to what he has experienced, let him be true to himself, but let no one forget that blessedness of the spirit and suffering of the spirit are not something external of which one can honestly and truly say: The circumstances of my life did not provide me the opportunity to experience this. In the world of the spirit, there is neither sport nor spook; there luck and chance do not make one person a king, another a beggar, one person as beautiful as an Oriental queen, another more wretched than Lazarus. In the world of the spirit, the only one who is shut out is the one who shuts himself out; in the world of the spirit, all are invited and therefore what is said about it can be said safely and undauntedly; if it pertains to one single individual it pertains to all. Why, then, this curiosity about what God has given every human being the opportunity to experience, indeed, has been made so available that it even may be said: He must have understood it. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 334ff
consider someone who wants to do an act of mercy-can he do more than give all that he possesses-and did not the widow give infinitely more than the rich man gave out of his abundance! At times the circumstances can determine that a penny signifies little more than it usually signifies, but if someone wants to do something marvelous, he can make the one penny signify just as much as all the world’s gold put together if he gives it out of compassion and the penny is the only one he has. Indeed, someone who has an ear for judging how large the gift is detects the difference just by hearing the jingle of the coins, but compassion and the temple box understand it differently. When someone who enjoys health and strength and who possesses the best gifts of the spirit enters the service of the good with all that he has, with the range of years that seem to stretch out before him, with expectancy’s every demand upon life, every claim expected and demanded only for the sake of the good-and when, on the other hand, someone who sadly sees his earthly frailty and the day of disintegration so close that he is tempted to speak of the time granted him as the pastor speaks of it, when in the hour of resolution a person like that promises with the pastor’s words “to dedicate these moments” to the service to the good-whose tower then becomes higher? Do they not both reach heaven? Or when one person, a stranger to internal enemies, aggressively directs his mind and thoughts toward humankind in the service of the good and wins thousands, and when another, retreating in internal battles, in the moment of resolution saves himself, whose tower then becomes higher? If cowardliness could understand this, it would not be so opposed to resolution, because this is the secret of resolution. It demands everything, that is true; it does not allow itself to be deceived, it tolerates no dishonesty, it is closefisted down to the last penny toward the person who wants to give almost everything. But it is not petty; it relishes the sight of someone who gives away the little he has and is angry only if he wants to hold back, if he wants to put blame on his poverty, if he sophistically wants to delude himself into thinking that it is impossible for him to give away everything since he possesses nothing, if he wants to divert himself by wishing that he had much to give away, if he wants to entertain himself by thinking how magnanimous he then would be, wants to satisfy his urge for resolution with dreams until the urge passes. All this is just cowardliness and concealed pride, which desires to become in obscurity a little more than one is and to put off the resolution with feigned approval. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 361-363

One Who Prays Aright Struggles in Prayer and Is Victorious—in That God Is Victorious

Mary Magdalene praying

Now Kierkegaard takes the reader where he wanted to take him. To prayer, specifically to the "struggle" involved in prayer. And the prayer hopes for the "reward". Is to struggle in prayer a "contradiction" in terms?[33] Can it be shown artistically and scientifically? It all gets confused and "the strong man is warned not to misuse his power against the weak, but the weak man is also warned not to misuse the power of prayer against the strong."[34] Every single individual prays in his or her own particular way and there is no "scientific method" for praying. But what are we praying about?

One person contends in prayer for his share of the good things that fail to come, another for the honor that beckons, another for the happiness he wants to create for his beloved, another for the happiness that will flourish for him at his beloved’s side. One person contends in prayer against the horror of the past from which he is fleeing, another against the terror of the future into which he is staring, another with the secret horror that resides in solitude, another with the danger everyone sees. One person contends for the fulfillment of the wish, another against the fulfilled wish, since it was precipitous. One person strains every nerve even though he keeps on praying; another is expecting everything from the prayer even though he keeps on working; one ponders the relation of the fulfillment to the work; another ponders the misrelation. Alas, even though there is peace in the land, health and abundance, alas, even though the sun smiles bright and warm, there is still so much struggle. Alas, even when the overarching night sky is silent and starlit and the fields are at rest, there is still so much struggle! Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 387-388
It seems just as ridiculous as for a Hercules of a pastor to take gladiator positions when he prays in order to demonstrate by the rippling muscles of his arms how fervently he is praying etc. It is not muscles that are needed in order to pray and to pray fervently — nor is this the kind of trembling that is of the spirit and inwardness. Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, VA 94

Many Christians as well as individuals associated with other religious bodies pray. It seems to be something everyone does. All struggle but Kierkegaard asks, "But what is the issue in the struggle?" Is it the outcome or result that is the issue?[35] What happens if the praying individual becomes "lukewarm and cold and indifferent"?[36] He says, "One says: To renounce everything is an enormous abstraction-that is why one must proceed to hold on to something. But if the task is to renounce everything, what if one began by renouncing something?"[37]

He's been discussing the relationship of human being to human being, the relationship of a human being with the soul, and a human being in relationship with God. And he's been discussing change. One human being can change another but it can cause many difficulties. The human being who is aware that a soul exists within the inner being can consider it as an individual. "Worship is the maximum for a human being’s relationship with God, and thereby for his likeness to God, since the qualities are absolutely different."[38]

Praying Hands Albrecht Dürer 1508

So we pray to God about what we want and need. Kierkegaard's first discourse says this about needs,

"MAN wants but little here below, nor wants that little long" is a high-minded saying, well worthy of acceptance, and worthy also of being accepted as it desires to be accepted. Let us then take it away from him: wealth and power and influence, and the deceitful service of false friendship, and the obedient subjection of his pleasures to the whim of his desires, and the triumphs of his vanity over the admiration of his worshipers, and the flattering attention of the throngs, and the envied magnificence of his entire presence. Now he has lost it, and is content with less. Just as the world cannot recognize him on account of the great alteration in his circumstances, so he finds it hard to recognize himself— so changed is he: that he who once needed so much now needs so little." Edifying Discourses, a selection, Swenson p. 136-138

How does the crowd decide what it wants and needs compared with the decision of the single individual? The crowd hears stories and wonders if they are true. Repetition of the story increases its validity. Kierkegaard thinks people should reflect on those stories for a longer period of time and choose for themselves if they are believable. He wrote the following in 1846:

“It is spirit to ask about two things. (1) Is what is being said possible? (2) Am I able to do it? It is to lack spirit to ask about two things: (1) Did it actually happen? (2) Has my neighbor done it; has he actually done it? In asking with regard to my own actuality, I am asking about its possibility, except that this possibility is not esthetically and intellectually disinterested but is a thought-actuality that is related to my own personal actuality-namely that I am able to carry it out. The how of the truth is precisely the truth. Concluding Postscript, Hong p. 322-323

At the distance of a dispute from action, at the distance of a noble resolve from action, at the distance of a solemn vow, of repentance, from action-everyone understands the highest. To understand, within the security of conditions unchanged through ancient custom, that a change should be made-everyone can do that, since this understanding is at a distance-is not unchanginess an enormous distance from change? Alas, in the world there is incessantly the pressing question about what this one can do, what that one can do, and what that one cannot do; eternity, which speaks the highest, calmly assumes that every person can do it and therefore asks only if he did it. Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 1847, Hong p. 79

Søren Kierkegaard made many wishes in his life and had them "die in being born". He also hoped much but started out with "a short-lived hope, that tomorrow is forgotten; a childish hope, that old age does not recognize". He was just a young man and young men like to wish and hope and love. He found that his "faith was disappointed and vanished because of the pain of the wish". He wished for happiness and good health and to have money and the possibility of a family; and he wanted to know what he needed for his wish to come true. He hoped that somehow the conditions would be right so he could be happy. That's all he wanted.[39]

The wanderer above the sea of fog

When he was young he complained to the Greek gods Prometheus and Epimetheus because they equipped human beings so gloriously and yet it did not occur to them to give them money also.[40] Here he was the ethicist like Martha. What service she could have done if she only had the money. Earlier, as the esthete, he had asked for an internal good, a sense of humor.[41] Mary knew she was a sinner, that she was unethical and yet she was saved. Imagine what Mary could have done with a sense of humor. One could make prayer an external, scientific act while the other could make it into a suffocating internal private act with no other communication. But neither way, if taken to extremes, would result in faith. He visits this theme again in 1850 with his discourse The Woman Who Was a Sinner where he says, "from a woman you learn concern for the one thing needful, from Mary, sister of Lazarus, who sat silent at Christ's feet with her heart's choice: the one thing needful."[42]

Kierkegaard said he could describe the movements of faith but he couldn't make them[43] because he couldn't understand Abraham. It's difficult to understand each other in the physical world. Sometimes its a miracle.[44] Isn't it much more difficult to understand each other in the world of the spirit, because each single individual in a group of people praying is standing before God? And the secret given through prayer by God is a gift for the individual concerned according to Kierkegaard's view of the Bible.

"How numerous the struggles are, how varied the struggle in which one who prays tries himself with God (since someone who tries himself against God does not struggle in prayer), how varied the means of prayer, the special nature of the prayer, with which the struggler seeks to overcome God! The struggler is indeed so inclined; it is his intention that the struggle be fruitful, that it end with a glorious result, and if anyone were to say to him, in order to calm him down, that God is the unchanging, that God only lives far off in heaven but is even further away from every human being in his changelessness, this kind of talk would certainly upset the struggler. Just as the worst thing that can be said of a person is that he is an inhuman brute, so it is the worst and the most revolting blasphemy to say of God that he is inhuman, no matter if it is supposed to be very fashionable or bold to talk that way.

No the God to whom he prays is human, has the heart to feel humanly, the ear to hear a human being’s complaint; the even though he does not fulfill every wish, he still lives close to us and is moved by the struggler’s cry, by his humble request, by his wretchedness when he sits abandoned and as if in prison, by his speedy joy over the fulfillment when in hope he anticipates it. Indeed, this God is moved by the struggler’s lament when he is perishing in despondency, by his shout when he is sinking in the maelstrom of change, by the thanksgiving he promises for all time; he is moved, if not earlier, then by the final sigh when, humanly speaking, it already seems to be too late."

  • Soren Kierkegaard Four upbuilding Discourses 1844 One who Prays Aright Struggles in Prayer and Is Victorious-In That God Is Victorious 1843-1844 p. 387 Hong 1990


Kierkegaard was noticed by The Western Literary Messenger, Sept 1849, which wrote that everything exists for Kierkegaard in this one point, the human heart and as he reflects this changing heart in the eternal unchangeable, in that which became flesh and dwelt among us he has found a lively group of readers among the ladies.[45]

In 1848 Kierkegaard wrote: "I almost never made a visit, and at home the rule was strictly observed to receive no one except the poor who came to seek help."[46] One could speculate that each time a poor single individual came to his door his first self shouted "Me wants"[47] regarding the money he gave away. This corresponds with what Andrew Hamilton, a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of the North, Copenhagen, wrote about Søren Kierkegaard in 1852 in his book Sixteen Months in the Danish Isles (1852).[48] Kierkegaard did his research among the living in the streets of Copenhagen during the day and among the dead in books during the evening hours. This author does not mention the discourses he wrote from 1843-1844. Yet his discourses always seem to finally meet that single individual whom he with joy and gratitude called his reader, sometimes in the second, third or fourth hour. The reader who takes with the right hand what was offered with the right hand and takes an interest in the seeker. This reader transforms the discourse into a conversation even though many will scarcely notice the discourses because of the repetition.[49]

There is a man whom it is impossible to omit in any account of Denmark, but whose place it might be more difficult to fix; I mean Søren Kierkegaard. But as his works have, at all events for the most part, a religious tendency, he may find a place among the theologians. He is a philosophical Christian writer, evermore dwelling, one might almost say harping, on the theme of the human heart. There is no Danish writer more in earnest than he, yet there is no one in whose way stand more things to prevent his becoming popular. He writes at times with an unearthly beauty, but too often with an exaggerated display of logic that disgusts the public. All very well, if he were not a popular author, but it is for this he intends himself. I have received the highest delight from some of his books. But no one of them could I read with pleasure all through. His “Works of Love” has, I suppose, been the most popular, or, perhaps, his "Either — Or," a very singular book. A little thing published during my stay, gave me much pleasure, “Sickness unto Death." Kierkegaard's habits of life are singular enough to lend a (perhaps false) interest to his proceedings. He goes into no company, and sees nobody in his own house, which answers all the ends of an invisible dwelling; I could never learn that anyone had been inside of it. Yet his one great study is human nature; no one knows more people than he. The fact is he walks about town all day, and generally in some person's company; only in the evening does he write and read. When walking, he is very communicative, and at the same time manages to draw everything out of his companion that is likely to be profitable to himself. I do not know him. I saw him almost daily in the streets, and when he was alone I often felt much inclined to accost him, but never put it into execution. I was told his "talk" was very fine. Could I have enjoyed it, without the feeling that I was myself being mercilessly pumped and sifted, I should have liked very much.
  • Andrew Hamilton, Sixteen Months in the Danish Isles (1852) p. 268-270

The year Kierkegaard died, 1855, The Journal, Evangelical Christendom published a work entitled, Christian Work and the News of the Churches which stated that Kierkegaard wrote against the use of the arts and sciences in religion. Hans Lassen Martensen wrote about Kierkegaard's ideas in his book, Christian Ethics, and said Kierkegaard claimed himself as the inventor of the category of the "single individual" and saw only Socrates as his predecessor.[50] But Kierkegaard may have been reacting to Johann Gottlieb Fichte's (1762 - 1814) category of the race over the individual in his lecture, Idea of Universal History, or of his discussion of pure Ego and Non Ego in his 1794 book The Vocation of the Scholar or even of Johann Goethe's view of Shakespeare as the self-made man, or possibly of George Brandes account of Ludwig Tieck's (1773 - 1853) poem Love/I in his Main Currents of Nineteenth Century Literature, Volume 2. But Kierkegaard was most interested in finding a way to get along with himself.

Here, I say, and in these discourses only, shall this be so ; for, strictly speaking, and in the higher flights of speculation, Human Life on Earth, and Earthly Time itself, are but necessary Epochs of the ONE TIME and of the ONE ETERNAL LIFE; and this Earthly Life with all its subordinate divisions may be deduced from the fundamental Idea of the ETERNAL LIFE already accessible to us here below. It is our present voluntary limitation alone which forbids us to undertake this strictly demonstrable deduction, and permits us here only to declare the fundamental Idea of the Earthly Life, requesting every hearer to bring this Idea to the test of his own sense of truth, and, if he can, to approve it thereby. Life of MANKIND on Earth, we have said, and Epochs of this Life. We speak here only of the progressive Life of the Race, not of the Individual, which last in all these discourses shall remain untouched, and I beg of you never to lose sight of this our proper point of view. The Idea of a World-Plan is thus implied in our inquiry, which, however, I am not at this time to deduce from the fundamental Idea indicated above, but only to point out. I say therefore, and so lay the foundation of our rising edifice, the End of the Life of Mankind on Earth is this, that in this Life they may order all their relations with FREEDOM according to REASON. Fichte, Johann Gottlieb, 1762-1814; Popular works; (1889) translated by Smith, William, 1816-1896 P. 4-5 Idea of Universal History, Lecture I[51]
The pure Ego can only be conceived of negatively,- as the opposite of the Non-Ego, the character of which is multiplicity, - consequently as perfect and absolute Unity; - it is thus always one and the same,-always identical with itself. Hence the above formula may also be expressed thus, - Man should always be at one with himself,-he should never contradict his own being. The pure Ego can never stand in opposition with itself, for there is in it no diversity, but it constantly remains one and the same; but the empirical Ego, determined and determinable by outward things, may contradict itself; and as often as it does so, it is a sure sign that it is not determined according to the form of the pure Ego,-not by itself, but by something external to itself. It should not be so; - for man is his own end, - he should determine himself, and never allow himself to be determined by anything foreign to himself; - he should be what he is, because he wills it, and ought to will it. The determination of the empirical Ego should be such as might endure for ever. I may here, in passing, and for the sake of illustration merely, express the fundamental principle of morality in the following formula: - “So act, that thou mayest look upon the dictate of thy will as an eternal law to thyself.” The ultimate vocation for every finite, rational being is thus the absolute unity, constant identity, perfect harmony with himself. The Vocation of the Scholar, by Johann Gottlieb Fichte 1794 p. 20-21[52]
But the building of the new theatre, in my time, made the greatest noise; in which his curtain, when it was still quite new, had certainly an uncommonly charming effect.Oeser had taken the Muses out of the clouds, upon which they usually hover on such occasions, and set them upon the earth. The statues of Sophocles and Aristophanes, around whom all the modern dramatic writers were assembled, adorned a vestibule to the Temple of Fame. Here, too, the goddesses of the arts were likewise present; and all was dignified and beautiful. But now comes the oddity! Through the open centre was seen the portal of the distant temple: and a man in a light jerkin was passing between the two above-mentioned groups, and, without troubling himself about them, directly up to the temple; he was seen from behind, and was not particularly distinguished. Now, this man was to represent Shakespeare, who without predecessors or followers, without concerning himself about models, went to meet immortality in his own way. The Autobiography of Goethe, Vol 1p. 266[53]
"Welcome, sublime thought, that makes of me a god. Things are, because we have thought them. — In the dim distance lies the world; into its dark caverns walls My outer self thus rules the material, my inner self the spiritual world. Everything is subject to my will; I can call every phenomenon, every action what I please; the animate and the inanimate world are in leading-strings which are controlled by my mind; my whole life is only a dream, the many forms in which I mould according to my will. I myself am the only law in all nature, and everything obeys this law." Georg Brandes in Main Currents in Nineteenth, Century Literature, Vol II (English Translation 1906) p. 62-63[54]
Johann Georg Hamann

Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) both rebelled against Hegel's philosophy. Neither had a systematic approach to philosophy or religion. And both were compared to Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788), the "Magus of the North". Kierkegaard lived at the time Hegel was writing but Nietzsche had help with his battle because of the work of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860). Both were identified with this category of the single individual.[55]

David F. Swenson translated the Edifying Discourses during 1944–1945. The publisher (Augsburg Publishing House) said, "no real understanding of Kierkegaard is possible unless these devotional works are understood and assimilated."[56] He wrote about Kierkegaard's idea of the inner and outer self in 1941. He agrees with Kierkegaard in that this "first self" must learn that it is not infallible and come to an agreement with the "deeper self" before growth can occur.

First, the individual's self-consciousness must be so far developed, so profoundly stirred, that it confronts the ideal of an absolute good, an eternal telos, which is identical with its own immortality. Otherwise no consciousness of sin in the Christian sense can ever arise. The existence of such an ideal for the individual is not determined by the possession of a more or less adequate intellectual conception of what this good may be, in the sense of logical content, but depends solely on whether the individual acknowledges something which is absolutely the transformation of his personal existence, so that all other ends become by comparison relative. This is existential pathos, which expresses itself, not as esthetic pathos is satisfied to express itself, namely in words, but in deeds, or rather in an inner transformation and direction of the subject's existence with respect to the absolute good. The development of this attitude is tantamount to the development of the personality to its highest potentiality. David F. Swenson, Something About Kierkegaard, Chapter VII Kierkegaard's Treatment of the Doctrine of Sin p. 179, 1941, 1945 Augsburg Publishing House

Existential philosophers have the category of the other which was an entity outside of the single individual. This "other" is something one is to be freed from because it wants to enslave the single individual wishing to remain a single individual in the face of the other. Kierkegaard would disagree with this interpretation and would insist that the other is the anxiety created by the interplay of the first self and the deeper self as it relates itself to the external world. He wrote the following in The Concept of Anxiety, which was published just two months before this final discourse of 1844.

Anxiety is a qualification of dreaming spirit, and as such it has its place in psychology. Awake, the difference between myself and my other is posited; sleeping, it is suspended; dreaming, it is an intimated nothing. The actuality of the spirit constantly shows itself as a form that tempts its possibility but disappears as soon as it seeks to grasp for it, and it is a nothing that can only bring anxiety. More it cannot do as long as it merely shows itself. The concept of anxiety is almost never treated in psychology. Therefore, I must point out that it is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility. For this reason, anxiety is not found in the beast, precisely because by nature the beast is not qualified as spirit. The Concept of Anxiety, Nichol p. 42

Howard V. Hong who translated the Upbuilding Discourses in 1990 said the following in his introduction to the book. "The movement is to arrive at the simple, the movement is from the public to the single individual." Kierkegaard tried to sell his discourses individually, then as Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, published in 1845. After he ran out of his Two Upbuilding Discourses, 1843 he combined them into a set of sixteen which he called Sexten opbyggelige Taler.[57] Sales were meager nonetheless. But he kept his faith in what he was called to do and continued writing.


Critics have been against putting so much stress on the inner life of the spiritual self at the expense of the outer life of the physical self. Kierkegaard would agree that a balance is necessary for one to be happy. George Brandes said in his memoirs (1906), "That God had died for me as my Saviour,—I could not understand what it meant."[58] As far as Kierkegaard was concerned he would say Brandes was making a good start at becoming a Christian. Brandes also introduced Friedrich Nietzsche who was also interested in the problems of faith and knowledge and the idea that "

one thing is needful".[59] Nietzsche wrote the following in his book, Beyond Good and Evil:

The old theological problem of “Faith” and “Knowledge,” or more plainly, of instinct and reason-the question whether, in respect to the valuation of things, instinct deserves more authority than rationality, which wants to appreciate and act according to motives, according to a “Why,” that is to say, in conformity to purpose and utility-it is always the old moral problem that first appeared in the person of Socrates, and had divided men’s minds long before Christianity. Socrates himself, following, of course, the taste of his talent-that of a surpassing dialectician-took first the side of reason; and, in fact, what did he do all his life but laugh at the awkward incapacity of the noble Athenians, who were men of instinct, like all noble men, and could never give satisfactory answers concerning the motives of their actions? In the end, however, though silently and secretly, he laughed also at himself: with his finer conscience and introspection, he found in himself the same difficulty and incapacity. “But why”-he said to himself-”should one on that account separate oneself from the instincts! One must set them right, and the reason also-one must follow the instincts, but at the same time persuade the reason to support them with good arguments.” Beyond Good and Evil, 1909 Zimmerman translation p. 111-112[60]
Compare to what Kierkegaard wrote in this essay. Kierkegaard's deeper self is pictured in an internal conversation with the first self. "Would you be better off now by having lost some of that burning desire and having won the understanding that life cannot deceive you; is not that kind of losing a winning? That little secret we two have between us, as the deeper self said. What, presumably, is this secret, my listener? What else but this, that with regard to the external a person is capable of nothing at all. If he wants to seize the external immediately, it can be changed in the same instant, and he can be deceived; on the other hand, he can take it with the consciousness that it could also be changed, and he is not deceived even though it is changed, because he has the deeper self’s consent. If he wants to act immediately in the external, to accomplish something, everything can become nothing in that same moment; on the other hand, he can act with this consciousness, and even if it came to nothing, he is not deceived, because he has the deeper self’s consent. But even if the first self and the deeper self have been reconciled in this way and the shared mind has been diverted away from the external, this is still only the condition of coming to know himself. But if he is actually to know himself, there are new struggles and new dangers." Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, 1844, Hong translation p. 316-317
And he carried the idea further in his 1847 book, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits where he makes faith practicable. "Doubt very much wants to rob the sufferer of bold confidence, wants to leave him stuck in the hardship, to let him perish in the despondent, indeed, the presumptuous thought that he is forsaken by God, as if it were in a hopeless sense that the apostle said “that we are destined for hardships” (1 Thessalonians 3:3), as if the hardship had no qualification but we were simply appointed to hardship. When, however, the hardship has the qualification of being the road, there is immediately a breath of air, then the sufferer draws a breath, then it must lead to something, because then the hardship is indeed itself the forwarding agent. It is not a difficulty on the road that makes, if I dare say so, a new team of horses necessary, but the hardship itself is a team, the very best; if one only lets it rule, it helps one forward, because hardship is the road. Is it not joyful how the sufferer can breathe in this thought with bold confidence! Not only does he commend himself to God alone and advance against the hardship. No, he says: The hardship itself is a sign to me that I have good references, the hardship is my helper-because hardship is the road. As long as the child is still afraid of the teacher, it surely can learn a great deal, but when trust has driven out the fear and bold confidence has conquered, then the highest level of education begins. So it is also when the when the sufferer, convinced that hardship is the road has overcome the hardship, because in the highest sense it is not an overcoming of the hardship to will to believe that hardship is the road, is the helper! The Apostle Paul declares somewhere: Faith is our victory, and in another place says: Indeed, we more than conquer. But can one more than conquer? Yes, if before the struggle begins one has changed the enemy into one’s friend. It is one thing to conquer in the hardship, to overcome the hardship as one overcomes an enemy, while continuing in the idea that the hardship is one’s enemy; but it is more than conquering to believe that the hardship is one’s friend, that it is not the opposition but the road, is not what obstructs but develops, is not what disheartens but ennobles. The hardship must be passable and practicable." Soren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, Hong p. 302-303 (1847)

Critics have concentrated on the personality of Kierkegaard to a greater degree than on his writings, especially his discourses. Early interpreters of his works were Georg Brandes, Harald Hoffding and O. P. Monrad according to this article written in 1915.

The fundamental and decisive element in Soren Kierkegaard’s personality is found by George Brandes in his combined reverence and scorn; by H. Hoffding (more in accordance with the fact that he was his father’s son) in his melancholy; by O. P. Monrad,[61] his latest biographer, in emotion or passion. Certainly the emotional factor-as it forms the decisive element in personal characteristic generally-best suggests the distinctive features of Kierkegaard’s personality. In his published writings and in his journals we are in touch with a nature of unwonted intensity, with and inner life at white heat. This is seen his abnormal sensitiveness; he was touched to the quick by things that others might have ignored or easily forgotten. Again, while he was admittedly the most original mind that Denmark ever produced, his thought seldom operated in cool dialectic, but was in its nature ‘existential,’ expressive of his whole personality; with amazing imaginative fertility he constructs, not chains of reasoning, but ‘experiments in psychology’ i.e. persons and situations depicting a real, living experience. Similarly, religion was for him, not a group of doctrines requiring merely to be believed, defended, or systematized, but a fact making a tremendous demand upon life; the joy of salvation was to be won in the most intense appropriation of the truth and the most impassioned submission to its claim. Soren Kierkegaard, Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, Volume VII, James Hastings, John Alexander Selbie, Louis Herbert Gray T. & T. Clark, 1915 p. 697 (696-700)

Thomas Merton wrote a book in 1955 called No Man Is An Island in response to the interest scholars had in the category of the single individual because he thought this idea would lead people away from the Church. He writes very similarly to what Kierkegaard stated. Here is part of his prologue.

Thomas Merton
No matter how ruined man and his world may seem to be, and no matter how terrible man’s despair may become, as long as he continues to be a man his very humanity continues to tell him that life has a meaning. That, indeed, is one reason why man tends to rebel against himself. ... In the last analysis the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself”. ... If he persists in shifting this responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence. ... I do not intend to divorce myself at any point from Catholic tradition. But neither do I intend to accept points of that tradition blindly, and without understanding, and without making them really my own. ... Man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother. This division cannot be healed by a love that places itself only on one side of the rift. Love must reach over to both sides and draw them together. Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island, 1955, Prologue[62]

Rollo May discussed Kierkegaard's ideal of creating oneself in his 1975 book, The Courage to Create. He agrees with Kierkegaard’s assessment that the self is always only in the process of becoming that which it will be. Determinism, or the accidents of life, are what they are, but the thinking and self-creating that goes on with each single individual is what allows each of us to face our own fantasies.[63]

Ib Ostenfeld argued that Kierkegaard must have been a "healthy and stable individual" once his personal psychology is considered. He noted that "at the outset psychiatry was not a medical specialty in Denmark until the period 1880 to 1890 and that psychiatric studies of Kierkegaard are themselves quite recent. Indeed, the first author to study Kierkegaard from a medical point of views was P.A. Heiberg, who was himself a physician." (Author’s Introduction). See link in Secondary sources for his 1978 book, Søren Kierkegaard's Psychology.

Kierkegaard used the Bible as a source book. Jon Stewart has written two books about Kierkegaard's use of the Bible in his works.[64] The Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters states, "The Bible was the most important piece of literature in Søren Kierkegaard's life."[65]

There is this tension between those who want to go it alone and those who want company along the way. Kierkegaard was concerned about those who want to teach themselves everything and those who can barely teach themselves anything. If they want to argue with one another then there should be no "scorn and contempt and ways of frightening".[66] One ought to help the other. He wrote about egotistical and sympathetic depression, autopathetic doubt,[67] autopathetic and sympathetic resolutions, and suffering autopathetically and sympathetically.[68] Some things have to be done alone but that doesn't apply to all things. He liked to pray and this discourse was about prayer. He wrote the following prayer in Practice in Christianity (1850), a book for "awakening and deepening."

John 12:32: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself. Lord Jesus Christ, whether we are far away or nearby, far away from you in the confused human throng, in worldly business, in earthly cares, in temporal joy, in purely human loftiness, or far away from all this in solitude, in forsakenness, in unappreciation, in lowliness-and closer to you: draw us, draw us wholly to yourself.
But you, Lord Jesus Christ, we pray that you will draw us and draw us wholly to yourself. Whether our lives will glide calmly along in a cottage by a quiet lake or we shall be tried in battle with the storms of life on rough seas, whether we shall “seek honor in living quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) or, struggling, in abasement: draw us, and draw us wholly to yourself. If only you draw us, then all is indeed won, even if we, humanly speaking, won nothing and lost nothing, even if we, humanly speaking, lost everything-then this, that life-condition, would be the truth of our life, since you draw no one to an unworthy distance from dangers, but neither do you draw anyone out into foolhardy ventures.
Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, Hong, p. 259-260


  1. Fear and Trembling, Hong p. 15ff
  2. Either/Or p. 108ff Stages on Life’s Way, Hong p. 108-112, 363-365, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, To Need God Is A Human Being’s Highest Perfection p. 297-326, Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Life, 1845 Swenson translation 11
  3. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong p. 620-621
  4. Stages on Life's Way, Hong p.322ff, 380-382, 396-397
  6. Christian Discourses, Lowrie translation, 1961 p. 313
  7. Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Part I, Swenson Preface, Fear and Trembling, Hong p. 27-28; The argument between A (the esthete) and B (the ethicist) in Either/Or resulted in the revelation that both of them was wrong (the discourse at the end). Moses in Fear and Trembling argued with God for three days in a completely internal way. The Young Man in Repetition argued externally with everyone and used Job as a guide for arguing with God. But Job didn't argue with everyone, everyone argued with him while he kept quiet and listened and then argued with God. (Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1843) And Mary, the mother of Jesus, repeated everything the angel of the Lord said to her, but internally, to herself, rather than externally to everyone else.(Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments Volume I, 259-260)
  8. Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, (1841) Hong translation p. 333ff notes on Schelling's Philosophy of Revelation
  9. Journals of Soren Kierkegaard IB 2Our Journalistic Literature A Study from Nature in Noonday Light. Talk given to the Student Association
  10. I have indicated a few places he discussed this one thing in the second part of Either/Or: "What you lack, altogether lack, is faith. Instead of saving your soul by entrusting everything to God. when I declare that God is incomprehensible, my soul raises itself up to the highest Either/Or, Part II Hong p. 14-16; A religiously developed person makes a practice of referring everything to God, of permeating and saturating every finite relation with the thought of God, and thereby consecrating and ennobling it. Either/Or II, p. 43; Like every human life, every marriage is simultaneously this particular and nevertheless the whole, simultaneously individual and symbol. Consequently, it gives the lovers the most beautiful picture of two human beings who are not disturbed by reflection about others; it says to the two individuals: you also are a couple just like them [Adam and Eve]; the same event is being repeated here in you, and you also are standing here alone in the infinite world, alone in the presence of God. Either/Or, Part II, p. 90; His self is, so to speak, outside him, and it has to be acquired, and repentance is his love for it, because he chooses it absolutely from the hand of God. Either/Or, Part II, p. 217; It is a sign of a well brought up child to be inclined to say it is sorry without too much pondering whether it is in the right or not, and it is likewise a sign of a high-minded person and a deep soul if he is inclined to repent, if he does not take God to court but repents and loves God in his repentance. Without this, his life is nothing, only like foam. Either/Or, Part II, p. 237-238; The mystic has chosen himself absolutely, and consequently according to his freedom, and consequently is eo ipso acting, but his action is internal action. The mystic chooses himself in his perfect isolation; for him the whole world is dead and exterminated, and the wearied soul chooses God or himself. This expression, “the wearied soul,” must not be misunderstood. Must not be misused to the disparagement of the mystic, as if it were a dubious matter that the soul did not choose God until it was weary of the world. By this expression, the mystic undoubtedly means his repentance over not having chosen God before, and his weariness must not be regarded as identical with boredom with life. Already here you will perceive how little the mystic’s life is ethically structured, since the supreme expression of repentance is to repent that he did not choose God earlier, before he became concrete in the world, while his soul was only abstractly defined, consequently as a child." Either/Or, Part II, p. 241-245, "The ignorant person can gradually acquire wisdom and knowledge, but the self-deceived person, if he won the one thing needful, would have won purity of heart." Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, Hong 1993 p. 23-24
  11. Luke chapter 10 and John chapter 11
  12. Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2,3
  13. Luke 10:38-41
  14. Paul Tillich, wrote similarly about Martha and Mary in his 1955 book, The New Being:
    "What, then, is the one thing that we need? What is the right thing that Mary has chosen? Like our story, I hesitate to answer, for almost any answer will be misunderstood. If the answer is "religion," this will be misunderstood as meaning a set of beliefs and activities. But, as other New Testament stories show, Martha was at least as religious as Mary. Religion can be a human concern on the same level as the others, creating the same anxiety as the others. Every page of the history and psychology of religion demonstrates this. There are even special people who are supposed to cultivate this particular human concern. They are called by a highly blasphemous name: religionists—a word that reveals more about the decay of religion in our time than does anything else. If religion is the special concern of special people and not the ultimate concern of everybody, it is nonsense or blasphemy. So we ask again, what is the one thing we need? And again it is difficult to answer. If we answer "God," this will also be misunderstood. Even God can be made a finite concern, an object among other objects; in whose existence some people believe and some do not. Such a God, of course, cannot be our ultimate concern. Or we make Him a person like other persons with whom it is useful to have a relationship. Such a person may support our finite concerns, but He certainly cannot be our ultimate concern. The one thing needed—this is the first and in some sense the last answer I can give—is to be concerned ultimately, unconditionally, infinitely. This is what Mary was. It is this that Martha felt and what made her angry, and it is what Jesus praises in Mary. Beyond this, not much has been said or could be said about Mary, and it is less than what has been said about Martha. But Mary was infinitely concerned. This is the one thing needed." (See link in secondary sources for the chapter in Tillich's book)
  15. Blake, Kierkegaard, and the Spectre of the Dialectic, Lorraine Clark, Trent University 1991, Cambridge University Press p. 1ff
  16. Encyclopaedia of religion and ethics Vol 7 (1908) p. 696ff
  17. Either/Or, Part II, Hong p. 241-245, Stages on Life's Way, Hong p. 402ff
  18. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 302-303
  19. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 310-312
  20. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 316
  21. 2 Corinthians 12, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 327ff, 334ff, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong p. 454-455
  22. Concluding Unscientific Postscript Vol I, 1846, Hong translation p. 220-221
  23. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 336ff
  24. Martin Luther, To his Wife 1546, p. 26 (Prose Writers of Germany 1847
  25. 2 Timothy chapter 1
  26. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 347-350
  27. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 369-370 Luke 14:28 Works of Love, Hong 1995 p. 209ff
  28. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 355-356
  29. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 361-363
  30. Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View, Walter Lowrie, 1962 p. 18
  31. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 372, Luke 17:10
  32. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 365
  33. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 377-381
  34. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 384, Concluding Unscientific Postscript Vol 1 p. 89-92
  35. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 388ff
  36. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 391ff
  37. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, p. 405
  38. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, p. 162-163, 278-279, 412ff
  39. Either/Or, Part II, Hong p. 184ff, Purity of Heart, Steere p. 49-51
  40. Either/Or, Part II, p. 179
  41. Either/Or Vol I, Swenson p. 33
  42. Without Authority, Hong translation p. 149
  43. Fear and Trembling, Hong p. 37
  44. Johannes Climacus, by Søren Kierkegaard, Edited and Introduced by Jane Chamberlain, Translated by T.H. Croxall 2001 p. 20-21, 75, 79-80, Either/Or, Part 2, p. 96-97, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 41, 83-84, .243, Philosophical Fragments, p. 26-28, 38, 49, 71, The Concept of Anxiety, Note p. 12, Three Discourses on Imaged Occasions, On the Occasion of a Wedding, Søren Kierkegaard, June 17, 1844, Hong 1993 p. 59-62, Stages on Life's Way, Hong p. 90-91, Purity of Heart, p. 174, The Sickness Unto Death, Hannay 68
  45. Living Philosophers in Denmark pp. 182–183
  46. Point of View, Lowrie, p. 50
  47. Kierkegaard carried his ideas forward to his other works. He wrote the following in 1847 "It is a mark of childishness to say: Me wants, me-me; a mark of adolescence to say I-and I; the sign of maturity and the devotion of the eternal is to will to understand that this I has no significance unless it become the you to whom eternity incessantly speaks and says: You shall, you shall, you shall. Youthfulness wants to be the only I in the whole world; maturity is to understand this you personally, even if it were not even addressed to a single other person. You shall, you shall love the neighbor." Works of Love, Hong p. 90
  48. Sixteen Months in the Danish Isles (1852)
  49. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p 5, 107, 179, 231, 259
  50. Christian Ethics, General Part (1871) p. 219
  51. Idea of Universal History, Lecture I
  52. The Vocation of the Scholar, by Johann Gottlieb Fichte 1794, translated by William Smith 1847
  53. The Autobiography of Goethe
  54. Main Currents Vol 2
  55. Nietzsche, Frederich, and His Influence, p. 144ff The Book-Lover. Published 1900 quotes from p. 145-146 The Book Lover, 1900 p. 144ff and Swenson, David F. (1921). "Søren Kierkegaard". Scandinavian Studies and Notes
  56. Edifying Discourses, Volume II, translated by David F. and Lillian M. Swenson 1944 front jacket
  57. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong Introduction
  58. Reminiscences of My Childhood and Youth, By George Brandes September 1906 p. 108
  59. See section 290 of his book The Gay Science One Thing is Needful
  60. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, prelude to a philosophy of the future, 2d ed. Friedric Nietzsche; translated by Helen Zimmernan, Published 1909
  61. (O.P. Monrad, Soren Kierkegaard. Sein Leben und seine Werke (Jena, 1909)
  62. Merton's book reflects the writings of John Donne's poem which states ""All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." (Meditation XVII)
  63. Rollo May, The Courage to Create, 1975, 1994 p. 99ff
  64. Kierkegaard and the Bible Edited by Lee C. Barrett and Jon Stewart
  65. The Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, p. 609, 2007, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
  66. This is what Kierkegaard thought about intimidation and it can be applied to both sides in the argument: "How is it that Hegel and all Hegelians, who are generally supposed to be dialecticians, at this point become angry, yes, as angry as Germans? Or is “spurious” a dialectical qualification? From where does such a predicate enter logic? How do scorn and contempt and ways of frightening find a place as legitimate means of movement within logic, so that the absolute beginning is assumed by the individual because he is afraid of what his neighbors on all sides will think of him if he does not do it? Is not “spurious” an ethical category?" Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong Vol 1 p. 112-113
  67. Either/Or, Part II, Hong p. 25-26, 271
  68. Concluding Postscript, Hong p. 112-113, Stages on Life's Way, Hong p. 265-266


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