Feast of Soren Kierkegaard (September 8)   1 comment

Above:  Portrait of Søren Kierkegaard, by Luplau Janssen

Image in the Public Domain

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SØREN AABYE KIERKEGAARD (MAY 5, 1813-NOVEMBER 11, 1855)

Danish Philosopher and Theologian, and Father of Existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard comes to A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and The Episcopal Church.  The Lutheran feast day (since 1978) is November 11.  The Episcopal feast day (since 2009) is September 8, also the Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig in The Episcopal Church.  I suspect that the decision to assign Kierkegaard the feast day of September 8, along with Grundtvig, is related to the rationale for group commemorations, but, in this case, without merging the feasts.

Not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation.”  Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense….

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 744; A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016), A74

My father was a United Methodist minister in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  One morning, in Sunday School in one of those congregations, the teacher of an adult class made an assertion (the details of which I cannot recall, and do not matter anyway) then said that he had faith and had proof.  I recognized the elements (faith and proof) of the last part of that statement as being mutually exclusive.  Kierkegaard would have done more than arch an eyebrow, had he heard that Sunday School teacher’s statement.

Kierkegaard:  A Brief Biography

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 5, 1813, became more influential after his lifetime than he was during it.  His father was Michael Pederson Kierkegaard (d. 1838), an erstwhile farmer who had moved to the capital city and became a prosperous wool merchant.  Michael was also a melancholy, puritanical who passed his disposition down to his guild-ridden son.  Søren, initially planning to become a minister in the state Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, studied theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1830 to 1840.  Although our saint never lost his faith in God, he became hostile to the state church, so he never pursued ordination.  He, living off inherited wealth, focused on writing books and articles (often under pseudonyms) in the fields of theology, psychology, ethics, and philosophy.  Our saint never married, for reasons biographers have interpreted in different ways.  He, engaged to Regine Olsen (1822-1904), in 1840-1841, broke off the engagement and never told her his reasons.

As I explained in the post about Bishop Grundtvig, the dominant strain in Danish Lutheranism at the time was Rationalism, which reduced ministers to teachers of morality and Christianity to an idea–a reasonable one, of course.  Grundtvig challenged Rationalism from within the state church, which he transformed.  Kierkegaard, however, condemned the state church as a mockery of Christianity.

In the thought of Kierkegaard proof negated faith.  If one could prove the Incarnation, the existence of God, and the truth of Christianity, one would negate faith and replace it with evidence.  A leap of faith was necessary.  Absolute knowledge was neither rational nor possible, our saint insisted, contradicting Georg Hegel.  Kierkegaard also contradicted a raft of Greek philosophers who taught that people have the truth inside them and need merely to become conscious of that fact.  No, our saint wrote, both the truth and the ability to understand it come from outside–from God, to be precise.

Kierkegaard had another objection to the Danish state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark:  It made being a Christian too easy.  Challenges were inherent in the Christian pilgrimage of faith, our saint understood.  Did not Jesus command each person to take up his or her cross and follow Him?  The union of church and state in Denmark robbed the Danish state church of its authenticity and power, Kierkegaard argued.

Kierkegaard, aged 42 years, died in Copenhagen on November 11, 1855.  He had been paralyzed since he had collapsed in a street on October 2.  To the end our saint refused offers of ministrations by ministers of the state church.  He said,

Royal functionaries are not related to Christianity.

An Influential Legacy

Kierkegaard, although a prolific and widely read author during his lifetime, was also a frequently ignored one, especially by bishops of the state church.  Yet his influence spread posthumously, due in large part to translations of many of his works.  Oft-cited thinkers who owed much to Kierkegaard’s writings included the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and the Neo-Orthodox theologians Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and Karl Barth (1886-1968).

To that list I add another one none of my sources mentioned:  Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998).  He taught that to argue for the truth of the Gospel based on an outside standard of reliability is to make the outside standard more important than the Gospel.  Nothing, Newbigin insisted, was more important than the Gospel, and the sole ground for a Christian’s proper confidence in the truth of the Gospel was Jesus.  Newbigin, like Kierkegaard, opposed efforts to make Christianity”reasonable.”  And Newbigin used gentler rhetoric than Kierkegaard did.

God continues to speak through the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 7, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF COLBERT S. CARTWRIGHT, U.S. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUGLIELMO MASSAIA, ITALIAN CARDINAL, MISSIONARY, AND CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN SCRIMGER, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTRICIUS OF ROUEN, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and dread in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Help us to remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow, you are always with us,

that with your philosopher Søren Kierkegaard,

we may believe what we have not seen and trust where we cannot test,

and so come at length to the eternal joy which you have prepared for those who love you;

through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Exodus 33:14-23

Psalm 22:1-11

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Matthew 9:20-22

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 569

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One response to “Feast of Soren Kierkegaard (September 8)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig (September 8) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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