"The book is very nicely produced and has an excellent index. It will be a valuable resource for all libraries supporting religious studies, theological studies, philosophy of religion, and Kierkegaard studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended." —Choice
Discourses at the Communion on Fridaysby Soren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard's 13 communion discourses constitute a distinct genre among the various forms of religious writing composed by Kierkegaard. Originally published at different times and places, Kierkegaard himself believed that these discourses served as a unifying element in his work and were crucial for understanding his religious thought and philosophy as
Søren Kierkegaard's 13 communion discourses constitute a distinct genre among the various forms of religious writing composed by Kierkegaard. Originally published at different times and places, Kierkegaard himself believed that these discourses served as a unifying element in his work and were crucial for understanding his religious thought and philosophy as a whole. Written in an intensely personal liturgical context, the communion discourses prepare the reader for participation in this rite by emphasizing the appropriate posture for forgiveness of sins and confession.
"Putting all these discourses together highlights an important dimension of Kierkegaard's thought that is often overlooked or at least underestimated, by showing the organic connection between that thought and the Christian practice of confession and the Christian sacrament of communion.... The introduction provided for the volume is superb." —C. Stephen Evans, Baylor University
Walsh (Stetson Univ.) brings together and freshly translates 13 discourses by Kierkegaard (1813-55) intended for Holy Communion services. Seven of the discourses come from Kierkegaard's collection Christian Discourses (1848); three originate from an 1849 collection by Kierkegaard; one comes from his book, Practice in Christianity (1850); and two come from an 1851 collection on Communion on Fridays. Walsh begins this volume with a very helpful 33-page introduction that illuminates Kierkegaard's main intentions and themes in the Communion discourses. She observes that Kierkegaard's authorship as a whole, by his own report, culminates in the Communion discourses and thus achieves its 'decisive point of rest' at the foot of the altar. The themes of human consciousness of sin and divine forgiveness of sin loom large in these discourses, and nicely summarize two of Kierkegaard's main concerns. The book is very nicely produced and has an excellent index. It will be a valuable resource for all libraries supporting religious studies, theological studies, philosophy of religion, and Kierkegaard studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above. --Choice P. K. Moser, Loyola University Chicago, March 2012
"Putting all these discourses together highlights an important dimension of Kierkegaard's thought that is often overlooked or at least underestimated, by showing the organic connection between that thought and the Christian practice of confession and the Christian sacrament of communion.... The introduction provided for the volume is superb." C. Stephen Evans, Baylor University
"This is a unique contribution to Kierkegaard studies and deserves to be carefully studies by all who value Kierkegaard's Christian thought." —Lutheran Quarterly
- Indiana University Press
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Discourses at the Communion on Fridays
By Søren Kierkegaard, Sylvia Walsh
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2011 Sylvia Walsh
All rights reserved.
* * *
Father in heaven! We know well that you are the one who enables both willing and completing and that longing, when it draws us to renew communion with our Savior and Atoner [Forsoner], is also from you. But when the longing lays hold of us, oh that we may also lay hold of the longing; when it wants to carry us away, that we may also abandon ourselves; when you are near to us in the call, that we may also keep near to you in supplication; when you offer the highest in the longing, that we may also buy its opportune moment, may hold it fast, sanctify it in quiet hours by earnest thoughts, by pious resolves, so that it may become the strong but also well-tested heartfelt longing that is required of those who worthily want to partake of the holy meal of the Lord's Supper! Father in heaven, the longing is your gift; no one can give it to himself, no one can buy it if it is not given, even if he were willing to sell all—but when you give it, then he can surely sell all in order to buy it. So we pray for those who are gathered here that they may go up to the Lord's table today with heartfelt longing and that when they leave there, they may go away with increased longing for him our Savior and Atoner.
Luke 22:15: I have heartily longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
The sacred words just read, which are Christ's own words, undoubtedly do not belong to the institution of the Lord's Supper, yet in the narrative they stand in the closest connection with it; the words of institution follow immediately after these words. It was on the night when he was betrayed, or rather he was already betrayed, Judas was already bought to sell him and had already sold him; the betrayer now sought only the "opportune time, so that he could betray him to the high priests without a crowd" (Luke 22:6). For that he chose the stillness of the night in which Christ now for the last time was gathered with his apostles. "And when the hour came he sat down to supper, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said to them: 'I have heartily longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.'" That it was the last time he did not learn afterwards; he knew beforehand that it is the last time. Yet he did not have the heart to initiate the apostles entirely into how close the danger is, that it is this very night, and what the danger is, that it is the most ignominious death, and how inevitable it is. He who alone bore the sin of the world, he also bears here alone his frightful knowledge of what will happen there. He who struggled alone in Gethsemane, alone, because the disciples slept, he is also alone here, even though he sits at supper with his only confidants. Thus what will happen this night, how it will happen, by whom it will happen, there is only one person in that little circle who knew, he who was betrayed—yes, and then one more, the betrayer, who is also present. So Christ sits down to supper with the apostles, and as he takes a seat at the table he says: "I have heartily longed for this meal."
My listener, does it not seem to you that this really belongs to the Lord's Supper in a deeper sense, both intimately and exemplarily, not merely in the way it belongs historically to the sacred account? For is it not true that heartfelt longing belongs essentially to Holy Communion? Would it not also be the most frightful contrast to the sacred account of how the institutor longed heartily for this meal, would it not be the most frightful contrast if it were possible that someone from habit, or because it was common practice, or perhaps was impelled by quite incidental circumstances, in short, if someone went to the sacred meal of the Lord's Supper without heartfelt longing! The sacred text just read is then, if I dare say so, the introductory words to the institution of the Lord's Supper, and this in turn is the true godly introduction or entrance for every individual: to come with heartfelt longing.
So let us then use the prescribed moments before the communion to speak on:
the heartfelt longing for the sacred meal of the Lord's Supper.
It is not anything new we shall teach you, even less shall we lead you into difficult investigations by leading you outside faith; we shall merely strive to express what was stirring within you when you felt the longing to go to communion, the heartfelt longing with which you came here today.
The wind blows where it will; you sense its whistling, but nobody knows where it comes from or where it goes. So also with longing, the longing for God and the eternal, the longing for our Savior and Atoner. Comprehend it you cannot, nor should you; indeed, you dare not even want to attempt it—but you should use the longing. Should the merchant be responsible if he does not use the opportune moment, should the seafarer be responsible if he does not use the favorable wind? How much more the one who does not use the opportunity of longing when it is offered. Oh, people talk piously about not squandering God's gifts, but what better and in a deeper sense should be called God's gifts than every prompting of the spirit, every tug of the soul, every fervent stirring of the heart, every holy sentiment, every devout longing, which surely are God's gifts in a far deeper sense than food and clothes, not only because it is God who gives them but because God gives himself in these gifts! And yet how often a person squanders these gifts of God! Alas, if you could peer into the innermost being of persons and very deeply into your own, you would surely discover with dismay how God, who never leaves himself without witness, lavishes these his best gifts on every human being, and how on the contrary every human being more or less squanders these gifts, perhaps throwing them away entirely. What a frightful responsibility when one day, in eternity if not before, recollections rise up accusingly against a person, recollections of the many times and the many ways in which God spoke to him in his inner being but in vain. Recollections, yes, for even if the person himself has long since forgotten what was squandered so that he therefore does not remember it, God and eternity have not forgotten it, it is recalled to him and in eternity becomes his recollection.
Now it is like that with longing. A person can ignore its call, he can turn it into a momentary impulse, into a whim that vanishes without a trace in the next instant, he can resist it, he can prevent its deeper formation within him, he can let it die unused like an unproductive mood. But if you receive it with gratitude as a gift from God, then it will also become a blessing to you. Oh, never let this holy longing therefore return empty-handed when it wants to visit you; even if it sometimes seems to you that by following it you returned empty-handed—do not believe it, it is not so, it is impossible that it can be so, it may yet become a blessing to you.
So then longing awakened in your soul. Even if it was inexplicable, inasmuch as it is indeed from God, who draws you in it; even if it was inexplicable, inasmuch as it is by him "who lifted up from the earth will draw all to himself" (John 12:32); even if it was inexplicable, inasmuch as it is the work of the Spirit in you—you still understood what was required of you. For truly, even though God gives everything, he also requires everything, requires that the person himself must do everything in order to use rightly what God gives. Oh, in the ordinary pursuits of daily life how easy it is, spiritually understood, to doze off; in the routine course of monotony, how difficult to find a break! In this respect God assisted you through the longing which he awakened in your soul. You then promised yourself and God, is it not true, that you would now also gratefully use it. You said to yourself: "Just as the longing has torn me away from what so easily entangles a person in a spell, so by earnest thoughts I shall also come to its assistance in order to tear myself completely away from what might still hold me back. And by holy resolutions I shall strive rightly to hold on to what those earnest thoughts permit me to understand, for resolution is useful in securing oneself in what one has understood.
"What sheer vanity, after all, the earthly and the temporal are! And even if my life thus far has been so fortunate, so carefree, so entirely without acquaintance with a frightening or even merely sad experience, I shall now call forth those earnest thoughts. Allied with the longing for the eternal and with the holy meal before my eyes, to which no one dare come without being well prepared, I shall not be afraid of becoming earnest. For Christianity, after all, is not melancholy; on the contrary, it is so joyful that it is glad tidings to all the melancholy; only the frivolous and defiant can it make gloomy-minded. Behold, everything, everything I see is vanity and vicissitude as long as it exists, and in the end it is the prey of corruption. Therefore, when the moon rises in its splendor, with that pious man I shall say to the star, 'I do not care about you; you are indeed now eclipsed'; and when the sun rises in all its grandeur and darkens the moon, I shall say to the moon, 'I do not care about you; you are indeed now eclipsed'; and when the sun goes down, I shall say, 'I thought as much, for all is vanity.' And when I see the bustle of running water, I shall say, 'just keep on running, you will never fill the sea'; and to the wind I shall say, yes even if it tears up trees by the roots, I shall say to it, 'just keep blowing; after all, there is no meaning or thought in you, you symbol of inconstancy.' Even if the loveliness of the field that charmingly captivates the eye, and even if the melodiousness of the birdsong that falls blissfully upon the ear, and even if the peace of the forest that invitingly refreshes the heart were to employ all their persuasion, I still shall not allow myself to be persuaded, shall not allow myself to be deceived, I shall remind myself that it is all illusion. And even though the stars have been ever so firmly fixed through thousands of years without changing position in the heavens, I still shall not allow myself to be deceived by this stability; I shall remind myself that some day they must fall down.
"So I shall remind myself how uncertain everything is, that a human being is cast out into the world at birth and from that moment lies upon the depth of a thousand fathoms, and every moment, yes every moment the future is for him like the darkest night. I shall remind myself that never has anyone been so fortunate that he could not indeed become unfortunate, and never anyone so unfortunate that he could not indeed become more unfortunate! That even if I were to succeed in having all my wishes fulfilled, in having them brought up into one building—that still no one, no one would be able to guarantee me that just at the same moment the whole building would not collapse upon me. And if I succeeded (supposing this could otherwise be called a success) in rescuing a wretched scrap of my former good fortune out of this ruin, and if I prepared my soul to be patiently content with this—that still no one, no one would be able to guarantee me that at the next moment this remnant also would not be taken from me! And if there were one or another misfortune, one or another horror, a brief or slowly torturing one, that I especially dreaded, and even if I had already become a very old man—that still no one, no one would be able to guarantee me that it would not be able to come upon me even at the last moment!
"So I shall remind myself that just as every uncertainty of the next moment is like the dark night, so in turn the explanation of every single event or incident is like a puzzle that no one has solved. That no one who would speak the truth in an eternal sense can tell me with certainty which is which, whether it would actually be more beneficial to me that all my wishes were fulfilled or that they were all denied. And even if, like a shipwrecked person, I saved myself upon a plank from certain death, and even if my dear ones gladly greeted me on the beach and marveled at my rescue—that nevertheless the wise person would be able to stand by and say, 'perhaps, perhaps it would have been better for you if you had perished in the waves,' and perhaps, perhaps he is just telling the truth! I shall remind myself that the wisest person who has ever lived and the most stupid person who has ever lived get equally far when it comes to guaranteeing the next moment, and when it comes to explaining the slightest occurrence get equally far to a 'perhaps,' and that the more passionately someone rages against this 'perhaps,' the closer he is only to losing his mind. For no mortal has broken or pushed through; indeed, not even the prisoner who sits within walls fourteen feet thick, chained hand and foot, bolted to the wall, is so constrained as every mortal is in this clamp made from nothing, in this 'perhaps.' I shall remind myself that even if my soul were concentrated in one single wish, and even if it were concentrated in it so desperately that I would be willing to throw away the blessedness of heaven for the fulfillment of this wish—that yet no one could say for certain to me in advance whether the wish, when it was fulfilled, still would not seem empty and meaningless to me. And what then is more miserable, that the wish was not fulfilled and I retained the sad and painful idea of the—missed good fortune, or that it was fulfilled and I retained it, embittered by the certainty of how empty it was!
"So I shall bear in mind that death is the only certainty, that mocking, mocking me and all the uncertainty of earthly life, which at every instant is equally uncertain, it is equally certain at every instant; that death is no more certain for the old man than for the infant born yesterday; that whether I am overflowing with health or lying upon a sickbed, death is equally certain for me at every instant, a fact of which only earthly apathy can remain ignorant. I shall remember that no covenant, not the most tender nor the most heartfelt, is entered into between human beings without also being entered into with death, which is officially present in everything.
"And I shall remind myself that every human being is after all alone, alone in the infinite world. Yes, in good days, during calm weather when fortune smiles, it does indeed seem as if we live in association with one another. But I shall remind myself that no one can know when news might come to me, news of misfortune, misery, horror, which along with the frightfulness of it would also make me alone or make it evident how alone I am, like every human being, make me alone, deserted by those nearest and dearest to me, misunderstood by my best friend, an object of anxiety that everyone avoids. I shall remind myself of the horrors which indeed no cry of alarm, no tears, no appeals averted, the horrors that have separated a lover from the beloved, a friend from friend, parents from children; and I shall remind myself of how a little misunderstanding, if it then went fatally wrong, sometimes was enough to separate them horridly. I shall remind myself that humanly speaking there is no one, no one at all to rely on, not even God in heaven. For if I truly held fast to him, I would then become his friend—oh, who has suffered more, who has been more tested in all sufferings than the pious person who was God's friend."
This is how you talked with yourself; and the more you abandoned yourself to these thoughts, the more the longing for the eternal triumphed in you, the longing for communion with God through your Savior, and you said: "I heartily long for this meal. Oh, there is after all only one friend, one trustworthy friend in heaven and on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ. Alas, how many words a person employs and how many times he goes to get another person to do him a favor, and if this other person does him a favor only with some sacrifice, he who has learned to know human beings and knows how seldom favors are done when they cannot be returned, how firm he then sticks to his benefactor! But he who also for me, yes for me (for that he did the same for all others certainly ought not to diminish my gratitude, which of course is for what he has done for me), he who died for me—should I not long for communion with him! No friend has ever been able to be more than faithful unto death, but he proved to be faithful precisely in death—his death was indeed my salvation. And no friend can after all do more at most by his death than save another's life, but he gave me life by his death; it was I who was dead, and his death gave me life.
Excerpted from Discourses at the Communion on Fridays by Søren Kierkegaard, Sylvia Walsh. Copyright © 2011 Sylvia Walsh. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author
Sylvia Walsh is Scholar in Residence at Stetson University. She is author of Kierkegaard: Thinking Christianly in an Existential Mode.
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