Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy


Logic and Thunders

Lament, implore. The Lord will not be afraid. Speak, raise your voice, cry out. God can speak even louder: all the thunder is at His disposal. And thunder is the answer, it is the explanation: firm, trustworthy, primordial. God's answer, even if it smashes man to pieces, is superior to all the chattering by human wisdom and human cowardice about divine justice.


     All Kierkegaard's edifying discourses—and he wrote an immense number of them—are one continual fiery, unrestrained, ecstatic hymn to horrors and suffering. And although he emphasizes many times, with extraordinary persistence, that he possesses no authority and that he presents his edifying discourses as a private individual (for this reason he never calls his discourses sermons)—he speaks in the name of Christianity, refers to its good tidings. "My severity is not of my own making—it comes from Christianity." He repeats this in his later works, especially The Sickness Unto Death and Training in Christianity. He takes great pains to prove to us that the mildness of Christianity's teachings is simply an illusion; that the good tidings they bring amount to the same thing as Spinoza's statement that "happiness is not a reward for virtue, but virtue itself'; and that Christian happiness is, in human estimation, more terrible than the most grievous misfortune. In the intensity and gloomy pathos with which he depicts the horrors of human existence, and the merciless severity with which in the name of Christianity he preaches of cruelty, he does not yield to, and perhaps even surpasses, Nietzsche, who so astonished our age with his words about "love for the far-off." On every occasion, and even without occasion, Kierkegaard reminds us of Christ's earthly sufferings and, in the name of Christ, declares almost word for word what Nietzsche declared in the name of the superman, or Zarathustra: "Do you think that I have come here to make things more comfortable for the suffering? Or to show you who have lost your bearings and taken the wrong road an easier way? No, more and more frequently the best of you will perish, for it will become harder and harder for you." There is no need to enlarge upon the "severity" of Nietzsche's doctrine. It is true that people have become used to hearing it and are accustomed to it, and there are few whom it disturbs—but everyone knows it well enough. I remind you only that Nietzsche, like Kierkegaard, felt constantly obliged to avow that his severity was not of his own making. But then—whence did it come to him? Was it also from Christianity? Or does some other force stand behind the Christianity of Kierkegaard, as behind the superman of Nietzsche? Nietzsche at long last did reveal his secret: he had not chosen cruelty, cruelty had chosen him. His "amor fati" had as its source the invincibility of fate: it was the totally devoted, totally altruistic, totally unlimited love of one helpless in the face of destiny. If we pay close attention to the discourses of Kierkegaard, we will discover the same thing in them.

     They all contain an indirect but nevertheless evident recognition of the invincibility of destiny. "The life of Christ," he says, "is a unique kind of unhappy love: he loved by. virtue of the divine concept of love, he loved all mankind... Christ's love was not sacrificial in the human sense of the word—by no means was it that: he did not make himself unhappy in order to make his followers happy. No, he made himself and his followers as unhappy as was humanly possible... He offered himself as a sacrifice only in order to make those whom he loved just as unhappy as he was himself." [Life and Works of Love, 116 ff] And like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, he did this entirely against his will. He, too, could have cried out: My severity is not of my own making! But if it does not come from Christ, does not come from God—then who is its source? Nietzsche attributed it to fate, Kierkegaard to Christianity. To whom would Christ attribute it, to whom would God attribute it, that God for Whom "nothing is impossible"? Or must we once again return to the Hellenic concept of a God Whose possibilities are limited by the very structure of existence? Is there something which binds God Himself, and does our reason reveal a principle or principles above God, independent of Him, uncreated by Him, which set limits to His will and compel Him to be satisfied with what is possible? Confronted by these principles, God is just as powerless as mortals: He possesses only love and charity, which can do nothing. Kierkegaard firmly declares: "You must love. It is only the duty, only the obligation to love that secures love against any changes, makes it eternally free in blessed independence, guarantees it happiness forever, keeps it from despair." [Ibid., 31] And again he says: "Only when love is a duty is it secure for eternity." The further he advances his "you must," the more abruptly and insistently he does it; not with that serene, disinterested lack of passion with which The Critique of Practical Reason speaks of duty (Kierkegaard never mentions The Critique of Practical Reason, although he was quite familiar with Kant), [1] but with a tension and violent lack of restraint unusual even in his works. One can find in his writings still more words of the sort I have just quoted, that deserve—I almost said, imperiously demand, which would seem more accurate—to be repeated at once: "Christ's love was not self-sacrifice in the human sense, least of all can it be called self-sacrifice: he did not condemn himself, in the human sense, to unhappiness in order to make his followers happy. No, he made himself and his followers as unhappy as was humanly possible... He offered himself as a sacrifice in order to make those whom he loved just as unhappy as he was himself..."

     "My severity is not of my own making," Kierkegaard tells us as justification when he says that in his opinion there is only one way to console those who suffer: to heap still more horrors and suffering upon them. And Zeus justified himself in the same way to Chryssip: he would have been kinder to men if he could have done as he pleased. Christ's position is no better: he, too, has no power of choice—whether he wishes to or not, he is forced to condemn both himself and men to unbearable torment. He must love, only love, love in spite of everything, without being able to foretell what his love will bring to him and those he loves. Whence came the "severity" of this "must" to Christ, Christ who—and Kierkegaard never forgets this—is the incarnation of charity, gentleness itself? Kierkegaard's writings do not throw any light on this question. But his depiction of the horrors which accompany the gentle doctrine known as Christianity is all the more brilliant and powerful. If I had wished to quote every relevant passage from the works of Kierkegaard, I would have had to fill many hundreds of pages; nearly half of Kierkegaard's books are devoted to recounting the horrors reserved by Christ for those who accept his good tidings. Whenever he mentions the words of Christ, he does it only to demonstrate once more all the inhuman cruelty, or, as he prefers to call it, all the savagery of the evangelical commandments. He lingers with particular attention, not to say fondness, over the famous passage from the Gospel of St. Luke: if you do not hate your father, mother, and so on, Christ, Christ himself demands that you hate your father, mother, wife, children. This alone can reconcile Kierkegaard; only reaching this paradoxical limit of cruelty can "set his mind at rest," if the phrase "set one's mind at rest" can in any sense be applied to Kierkegaard. [2] It would be better to say that he stopped at this: one can go no further. And perhaps there is no need to. The "dialectic of unhappy love" [3] has accomplished its lofty aim. Love, which can do nothing, love, which is condemned to powerlessness, is transformed, as Dostoevsky predicted, into massive, agonizing, irreconcilable hatred. And this is evidently Kierkegaard's intention. Here is how he "interprets" the words of Christ: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," in his book Training in Christianity: "If you who are the unhappiest of the unhappy want to be helped in such a way that you will become even more unhappy, then go to Him: He will help you" (IX, 50). And in order that there be no doubt of what he understands the power and mission of Christ to be, a few pages later he again remarks sarcastically: "To go to a man who is dying of hunger and say to him: I bring you word of the beneficent forgiveness of sins, is simply shocking! This is almost laughable, but it is too serious to laugh about" (IX, 55) Thus, Christ taught men to rise above the finite, just as the ancients taught and the sages of today teach. Kierkegaard reproaches Hegel: "Some have found immortality in the writings of Hegel, but I have not found it there" (VI, 23).

     But if, as he writes in another part of the same book: "Immortality and eternal life are found only in the ethical" (VI, 218)—then Kierkegaard's reproach is unjustified. In this respect Hegel kept pace with Spinoza; but then his work is in general thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Spinoza—he always speculates sub specie aeternitatis. He probably would have subscribed to the famous words of the Dutch recluse: sentimus experimurque nos aeternos esse. Kierkegaard, of course, was familiar with what the Gospels say about the life and works of Christ: He fed the hungry, healed the sick, gave back sight to the blind, and even raised the dead. Kierkegaard certainly could not forget how Christ answered the messengers sent by John the Baptist: "Go your way and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind can see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached" (Luke 7:22; cf. Isaiah 35: 5, 6). No more could he forget what follows immediately after these words: "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me"—he considered this the fundamental precept of Christianity and never took his eyes from it. But strangely enough he seems to have been afraid to associate "offense" with the idea it is associated with in the Scriptures. Just as in his interpretation of the passage from Acts quoted above, Kierkegaard directs all his energies to "distracting" our attention from everything "miraculous" described in the Gospels about the life and works of Christ, and to turning our attention wholly toward edification concerning the virtues, which can do nothing, but then are not supposed to do anything. Christ, too, finds summum bonum in the ethical; the earthly sufferings of men do not interest him—he does not wish to, and cannot, fight against them. Kierkegaard even becomes incensed when he hears of a pastor comforting a person in distress with quotations from the Scriptures. "If a bereaved person comes to him, the pastor is ready with words about Abraham and Isaac. What sort of nonsense is that? Can it be that to be bereaved means to sacrifice, etc., etc." Kierkegaard is annoyed, not because the pastor confuses "bereavement" with "sacrifice," but because he does not want anyone to look to Scripture for consolation; the purpose of Scripture is not to console people—we have already heard enough on this subject.

     Why is this? Why should one not seek consolation in the Scriptures? Why is Kierkegaard so careful to weed out—both for his readers and for himself—all the miracles related in the Scriptures? It surely cannot be said that he did not realize what he was doing. For a "miracle" means that for God everything is possible. It is possible for the person consoled by the pastor to regain what he has lost, just as it was possible for Job's children to be returned to him, Isaac to be returned to Abraham, etc—as Kierkegaard has already assured us. And then all of a sudden it seems that it is necessary to "distract attention from this" and concentrate solely on contemplation of charity and love and their powerlessness. Has Kierkegaard forgotten his own words: God signifies that everything is possible?

     No, he has not forgotten. When he is composing his hymns to the cruelty of God and the powerlessness of virtue, as if in self-oblivion, precisely then is he most mindful of Job, and Abraham, and the lovesick youth, and his own Regina Olsen. When he rejects the miraculous, he is thinking of nothing but the miraculous. It is as though he were making a desperate and terrible experiment on himself and others: what will happen if one not only rejects the miraculous, but strikes it from life entirely, as the intellectual scrupulosity of a thinking man demands; if God Himself is placed within the limits of what is possible according to our experience and our understanding; and if the "ethical" thus finally and forever becomes "supreme." In his early book Repetition he mentions the Greek philosopher Hegesias, known as the peisithanatos because of his passionate glorification of death, and, evidently foreseeing that he could not escape the necessity of carrying his experiment through to completion, he ends the first half, which constitutes something of an extended introduction to the subject of this book, with these words: "Why has none of the dead ever returned? Because life does not know how to be as persuasive as death. Yes, death is so thoroughly persuasive that no one has been able to devise any objection to its arguments, no one has ever been tempted by the enticements which life can muster in opposition to it. Oh, death—you know how to persuade; and was not your most eloquent champion the peisithanatos, who used your own persuasiveness in speaking of you?" [III, 164]

     Even when Kierkegaard was still a child, his father noticed the stille Verzweiflung, the quiet despair, which had established itself in his soul, and which originated in his sense of "powerlessness" before the inescapable. [4] Through the years this sense of powerlessness grew and intensified, and began to take on in his eyes the dimensions of a universally historic event. In his journals he repeats more than once that he will never call by its true name that which hurled him beyond the boundaries of normal existence, and sternly forbids his future biographers to try to find out about it, even warning that he has made every effort to baffle those who are too inquisitive. Biographers and commentators would usually consider themselves obligated to honor a wish so explicitly stated, and not try to pry into his secret. But Kierkegaard's literary legacy—both his books and his journals—imperatively demands something different of us: he says that he wants to carry his secret to the grave, but he does everything to insure that it will remain on earth. "If I had had faith—I would not have had to leave Regina" and the "repetition" which "must give him back the ability to be a husband"—these statements alone are more than enough to establish the concrete fact about which he has forbidden us to inquire. He repudiated faith in order to gain knowledge; he repeated what our forefather had done—and the result was the last thing he could have expected—powerlessness. Knowledge turned out to be a gift similar to the one requested of the gods by the mythical Midas: everything was changed into gold, but then it all either died or was transformed into a lovely phantom, a shadow, an image of reality, just as Regina Olsen became for Kierkegaard a shadow or phantom. This is why he made a connection between all his observations and original sin, and why sin has such central significance, and is so indissolubly linked with faith, in his existential philosophy. Only faith can pave man's way to the tree of life—but in order to attain faith one must lose reason. And then, only then, in the light or the shadow of the Absurd, will the miracle of "repetition" take place: the phantoms and shadows will become living beings and man will be cured of his powerlessness before what knowledge calls the "impossible" or the "necessary." For the opposite of sin is freedom. Kierkegaard felt the burden of "sin" in everything—but at the same time he also felt that only the idea of sin as it exists in Holy Scripture can inspire man and raise him above those self-evidences on whose plane our thinking wanders, to the sphere where divine possibilities dawn for man.

     In contrast to theoretical philosophy, which tries to forget, or, more precisely, tries to make us forget, about sin and the horrors of sinful life on earth, and therefore aims at fitting even original sin into moral categories, i.e., disposing of it as oppressive and foolish nonsense, existential philosophy sees it as a revelation of what is most needful for us. With an enthusiasm which will probably bring a shudder to more than one soul among the educated readers of today, in Repetition, the same book in which he bears witness to his own powerlessness and the powerlessness of every man who has exchanged the fruit of the tree of life for the fruit of the tree of knowledge, that powerlessness which was so unexpectedly and vividly revealed to him when he suddenly became convinced that the woman he loved had, without apparent cause, turned into a shadow, Kierkegaard writes, again referring to Job: "I need you: I need a man whose voice truly cries out to heaven where God and Satan are forging their terrible plots against man. Lament, implore. The Lord will not be afraid... Speak, raise your voice, cry out. God can speak even louder: for all the thunder is at His disposal. And thunder is the answer, it is the explanation: firm, trustworthy, primordial. God's answer, even if it smashes man to pieces, is superior to all the chattering by human wisdom and human cowardice about divine justice." [III, 182] Even Kierkegaard was rarely able to find such original words to express the position in which the human soul finds itself when it touches upon the secret of Holy Scripture: God's thunder is the answer to human wisdom, to our logic, to our truths. It breaks to bits, not man, but the "impossibilities" placed by human wisdom—which is at the same time human cowardice—between itself and the Creator. Everything "terrible" in Scripture is not terrible, for it is of God. On the contrary: the "terrible" in Scripture is irresistibly attractive to Kierkegaard. As is well known, Kierkegaard's father, driven to despair by poverty and the cruelty of those whose servant he was as a child, cursed God when he was still only a boy.[5] The old man could not or would not conceal from his children this horrifying event of his own childhood—and young Sören was compelled throughout his life to remember his father's sin as if it were his own. Not only did he not protest about this to God, Who had held him responsible for an act he did not commit, but he would not even admit the possibility of such a protest. "Life," he writes, "vociferously confirms the teaching of the Scriptures that God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. And it is useless to try to get rid of what is horrible in this by passing it off as a Jewish doctrine. Christianity has never maintained that it put man in the privileged position of being able to start from the very beginning in all external matters." [V, 69]

     It is always thus in his writings: the point at which common sense and "natural justice" become indignant over the "terrible" and the "thunders of God" described in the pages of Holy Scripture is where Kierkegaard's thinking always finds what it, what man, needs most of all, "the one thing that is needful." Of course, it is very tempting to dismiss Kierkegaard and all his insights by citing the exaggerated and unusual sensibility which always accompanies a nervous disorder. And, if we approach the thinking of Kierkegaard with our usual criteria, there will be little left of it. All the horrors he suffered can then be easily challenged. He said himself that men cannot bear what madness and death have to tell them. It may be that in a certain sense, i.e., "practically speaking," men are right: but they have not the strength to reduce madness and death to silence. Madness and death can be driven away temporarily, but they will return, and, having returned, will carry out their purpose: they will ask man questions which he would rather forget forever. Kierkegaard was aware of all this; in Stages on Life's Way he wrote: "The bustling parsons and their advisors from the laity, who wish to deliver man from fear of the terrible, are opposed to me. It is true that anyone who wants to attain anything in this life would be better off forgetting about the terrible. But anyone who sets himself problems of a religious nature must open his soul to the terrible." [IV, 341]

     And it cannot be disputed that the "religious" and the terrible are bound together by mysterious ties. This was no secret to the Greeks: Plato even defined philosophy as meletê thanatou, training for death, and the enigmatic peisithanatos mentioned by Kierkegaard was far closer to Plato than one might think; Kierkegaard even considered him a precursor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. But—here we once again return to the basic question: what can man do when confronted with the horrors of existence? The Greeks sought salvation in katharsis: in liberation from attachment to the transitory and the finite, which are by their very nature doomed to destruction. Any attempt to revolt against Necessity, to which even the gods must submit, was considered madness by the Greeks. Their wisdom led to renunciation; other than that they saw no escape for man. Greek wisdom was unacceptable to Kierkegaard. He wanted to think, he wanted everyone to think, that for God there is no Necessity. And yet in the name of Christianity he summons us to the bliss of katharsis, purification. But strangely enough, in contrast to the Greeks and an overwhelming majority of Christian preachers, he paints such a shockingly dismal picture of the "bliss" of those who have experienced purification that it would reduce even the most ardent of his supporters to fear and trembling—moreover, a fear by no means full of awe, but instead ordinary, almost animal. Kierkegaard could not remain in the middle, among the "more or less's" within which men are accustomed to hide themselves from the summonses and secrets of existence. If Necessity is primordial, uncreated, if there is no justice higher than it, then not only is the bliss reserved for men by Christianity Worse than the most horrible torment imaginable—so, too, is the bliss of God.

     The life of Christ is one uninterrupted failure of love, like the life of Sören Kierkegaard. "Quiet despair" had also made its home in Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and over him there hung the same curse that hangs over man: he was powerless; he wanted to, but could not, stretch forth his hand to the tree of life; instead he plucked the fruit of the tree of knowledge and all reality turned into a shadow that continually slipped from his grasp. There is no other way out than to accept man's powerlessness and the powerlessness of God, and to regard this as bliss. One must not become embittered by the horrors of life, but seek them out just as God, Who became incarnate in human form for that very purpose, sought them. Immortality and eternal life exist in the ethical. The idea of voluntary sacrifice reigns supreme. Not sacrifice of the sort that directed Abraham's hand when he raised the knife to Isaac; Abraham believed that even if he should kill his son, he would regain him: for God nothing is impossible. This kind of sacrifice is pleasing to God, but unacceptable to the ethical. The ethical, which takes pride in its own powerlessness, forbids man to entertain thoughts of a God for Whom everything is possible. Abraham must offer his son in sacrifice to a God for Whom, as for man, the return of the dead to life is an absolute impossibility. God can shed tears, can grieve—but can accomplish nothing. However, this is all that is necessary, for love and charity are revealed in all their spotless purity only when they are doomed to inaction. In his journal for 1854—that iS to say, in the final year of his life—Kierkegaard wrote: "When Christ cried out: My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?—this was terrible for Christ, and so it has usually been described. But it seems to me that it was still more terrible for God to hear. It is terrible to be so inflexible! But this is still not what is most terrible: the most horrible thing is to be so inflexible and at the same time to be love: this is endless, profound, abysmal suffering! Alas, I, too, unhappy man that I am, have experienced something of this sort, have experienced this conflict—not to be in a position to alter my course, and, at the same time, to love—and what I have experienced helps me to form, from a great distance, of course, a very great distance, a faint idea of the suffering of divine love." [Journal, II, 364]

     When God hears the cries of His tormented, exhausted Son, He cannot even answer him, just as Kierkegaard could not answer Regina Olsen. Above Him stands the ethical, deaf and therefore indifferent to all, with its implacable "you must": you must be inflexible. And one cannot even ask: whence came this unlimited power of the ethical? The only thing left for us to do is to imitate God and the Son of God incarnate in man: without asking any questions, to bear the horrors which descend upon us and find our bliss in that. We must suppose that even God Himself felt bliss at having delivered His Son to torment: He had gratified the ethical. And this, Kierkegaard informs us, is the content of the good tidings Christianity has brought men: Christianity's aim is the realization on earth of the "ethical." But then how is Christianity different from the wisdom of the Greeks? The Greeks also taught that a virtuous man will be blissful even in the bull of Phalaris. For the Greeks, philosophy was not yet mere theoretical speculation, but a kind of action. Plato's katharsis, as we have seen, is still an action, but the Platonically minded Epictetus unmasked with almost Socratic candor and sarcasm those philosophers who, instead of following the example of Zeno and Chryssip, memorized and commented upon excerpts from their works. If existential philosophy has not thought of anything different, then what is the reason for forsaking Socrates and exchanging Hellenic wisdom for Biblical revelation? Why should anyone turn his back on Athens and place his hopes in Jerusalem?

     However, the surprising thing is that Pascal, who was so sincerely well-disposed toward Epictetus, whose austerity of life and indifference to earthly blessings even today impress everyone favorably, still felt the existence in Epictetus of something extremely hostile to him, something he could not accept, which he expressed in the words superbe diabolique. Even Kierkegaard himself inexplicably draws back from Epictetus and calls him a slave. He never gave any reason for this harsh judgment, but it would hardly be wrong to assume that he, like Pascal, perceived an element of superbe diabolique in Epictetus' soul. Epictetus, like Socrates, considered the "ethical" supreme and himself in bondage to the ethical, and, as a dutiful bondman, he compelled himself to live in those categories in which he thought; in this "philosophical" life he found, and commanded others to find, the happiness to which a rational being can aspire. As he read Epictetus, Kierkegaard must have recalled the words of the Apostle Paul: all that is not of faith is sin (no doubt Pascal, too, remembered them.) Or his own reflections on the father of faith: if the ethical is supreme, then Abraham is lost. Lost—for the ethical would maim him as no torturer has ever maimed his victim, if he did not forget his Isaac. What disturbed Kierkegaard most in Epictetus was that Epictetus unquestionably did live in the categories in which he thought, and found that sort of life completely satisfying.

     The more consistent Epictetus was and the more his life conformed to the decrees of the rational and the ethical, the stronger Kierkegaard's exasperation and suspicion became. We hardly ever find Spinoza mentioned in Kierkegaard's writings—although it is known that he had in his library all the works of Spinoza and was very familiar with them. But in all likelihood Kierkegaard was inwardly provoked and offended by Spinoza even more than by Epictetus. Acquiescentia in se ipso ex ratione oriri potest et ea acquiescentia qua ex ratione oritur maxima est quae dari potest ("Inward peace can be born of reason and the peace which is born of reason is the greatest gift it can give")—these words by Spinoza, as well as the words which crown his ethic: Beatitudo non est praemium virtutis, sed ipsa virtus ("Happiness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself"), must have sounded to Kierkegaard like a sentence of death. All human hopes rest on virtue and reason, which is at the same time free will; in Spinoza's work the ethical rejoices in its complete victory. I repeat, Kierkegaard very seldom speaks of Spinoza, but he does not venture to attack him—perhaps in part because Schleiermacher, whom Kierkegaard held in high regard, positively worshipped Spinoza, and also perhaps because he himself was impressed in spite of everything by the profound thinking and detachment of the Dutch recluse who scorned all that men think valuable (divitiae, honores, libidines—riches, honors, passions—according to Spinoza, this is what all ordinary human interests amount to) for the sake of amor dei intellectualis (intellectual love of God). But there is no doubt that Spinoza, with his acquiescentia and beatitudo, troubled Kierkegaard's heart much more than Epictetus. If there was any man, at least in modern times, who came close to realizing that most difficult of commandments: thou shalt love the Lord thy God, certainly that man was Spinoza, and he was also first among those for whom virtue itself meant happiness. But it is for precisely that reason that he horrified Kierkegaard even more than Epictetus had horrified Pascal, for the more perfect he was, in the human sense, the more evident was his superbe diabolique. He was truly capable of bearing, and bore with tranquil and serene heart, utramque faciem fortunae. Everything took second place and lost its significance sub specie aeternitatis, with the exception of spiritual love of God and a similarly spiritual joy in virtue.

     The greatest genius is, at the same time, the greatest sinner: it is "hard" to admit this, as Kierkegaard makes clear to us, but one cannot remain silent about it. Socrates and Spinoza, and even the modest Epictetus, were not righteous men, as we have been accustomed to think, but sinners who by their righteousness concealed from themselves and from others the powerlessness of unbelief. I repeat once more that perhaps they are the sinners over whom, it is said, there will be more rejoicing in heaven than over dozens and hundreds of righteous men—but then, the passage from Scripture which tells of this is just as incomprehensible and enigmatic to us as the passage in which it is said that the sun rises for good men and evil alike, or the passage about Cana in Galilee, which is intended to persuade us that God can concern Himself with such trifles as the entertainment of guests at someone's wedding. Hegel, in speaking of Cana, purposely mentioned Voltaire's most malicious and blasphemous gibes at the Bible, and Socrates, Epictetus, and Spinoza would all have sided with Hegel. Hegel was not speaking for Himself: he was speaking in the name of reason and ethics, in the name of wisdom. Is wisdom then the expression of superbe diabolique? That is, of the greatest sin, of which it is written: initium omnis peccati superbia? ("Pride is the beginning of every sin.")

[1] Cf. XII, 1 : "Real seriousness begins when a man, armed with the necessary strength, feels that something higher obliges him to work in spite of his own inclinations, i.e., if I may say, to direct all his abilities against his inclinations." This sounds exactly like a translation from The Critique of Practical Reason, yet it was written in the last year of Kierkegaard's life.

[2] Kierkegaard did not know it, but Epictetus, in Chapter XIV of his Discourses, also calls for renunciation of father, mother, etc., in the name of "you must."

[3] As early as Stages on Life's Way, Kierkegaard wrote, not in reference to Christ, but to a character in his story: "Unhappy love has its own dialectic, not within itself, but outside it" (IV, 374).

[4] Cf. what Kierkegaard says in Fear and Trembling (III, 41) about infinite resignation: "Infinite resignation is the shirt described in the old folk tale: the thread is spun with tears, the cloth is bleached with tears, the shirt is sewn with tears; and yet it is a better protection than iron and steel." This emphasizes very clearly that Kierkegaard sought in the lugere et detestari rejected by Spinoza what intelligere should have given him. That is why he said despair is the beginning of philosophy. It can be rendered in the words of the Psalm: De profundis ad te, Domine, clamavi, as a dimension of thought hidden from theoretical thinking.

[5] In his journal (I, 238) Kierkegaard describes in these words what his father told him: "A terrible thing happened to a man who, as a little boy, herded sheep on a heath in Jutland, endured much, went hungry, and, reduced to complete misery, ran to the top of a hill and cursed God: and that man could not forget about it even when he was eighty-two years old."

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