Kierkegaard's Writings, XV: Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spiritsby Soren Kierkegaard
In his praise for Part I of Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, the eminent Kierkegaard scholar Eduard Geismar said, "I am of the opinion that nothing of what he has written is to such a degree before the face of God. Anyone who really wants to understand Kierkegaard does well to begin with it." These discourses, composed after Kierkegaard had/i>… See more details below
In his praise for Part I of Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, the eminent Kierkegaard scholar Eduard Geismar said, "I am of the opinion that nothing of what he has written is to such a degree before the face of God. Anyone who really wants to understand Kierkegaard does well to begin with it." These discourses, composed after Kierkegaard had initially intended to end his public writing career, constitute the first work of his "second authorship."
Characterized by Kierkegaard as ethical-ironic, Part One, "Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing," offers a penetrating discussion of double-mindedness and ethical integrity. Part Two, "What We Learn from the Lilies in the Field and from the Birds of the Air," humorously exposes an inverted qualitative difference between the learner and the teacher. In Part Three, "The Gospel of Sufferings, Christian Discourses," the philosopher explores how joy can come out of suffering.
Simon D. Podmore
"These new translations are excellent."--Choice
"The decision by Princeton University Press to publish a first paperback edition of the previously difficult to obtain 1993 hardback, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, provides a timely and especially welcome opportunity to review one of Søren Kierkegaard's (1813-55) most pastorally sensitive and lyrically evocative works."--Simon D. Podmore, European Legacy
"The definitive edition of the Writings. The first volume . . . indicates the scholarly value of the entire series: an introduction setting the work in the context of Kierkegaard's development; a remarkably clear translation; and concluding sections of intelligent notes."--Library Journal
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Upbuilding Discourses In Various Spirits
By Søren Kierkegaard, Howard V. Hong, Edna H. Hong, Howard V. Hong Edna H. Hong
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1993 Howard V Hong
All rights reserved.
On the Occasion of a Confession
Father in heaven! What is a human being without you! What is everything he knows, even though it were enormously vast and varied, but a disjointed snippet if he does not know you; what is all his striving, even though it embraced a world, but a job half done if he does not know you, you the one who is one and who is all! Then may you give the understanding wisdom to comprehend the one thing; may you give the heart sincerity to receive the understanding; may you give the will purity through willing only one thing. Then, when everything is going well, give the perseverance to will one thing, in distractions the concentration to will one thing, in sufferings the patience to will one thing. 0 you who give both the beginning and the completing, 6 may you give to the young person early, when the day is dawning, the resolution to will one thing; when the day is waning, may you give to the old person a renewed remembrance of his first resolution so that the last may be like the first, the first like the last, may be the life of a person who has willed only one thing. But, alas, this is not the way it is. Something came in between them; the separation of sin lies in between them; daily, day after day, something intervenes between them: delay, halting, interruption, error, perdition. Then may you give in repentance the bold confidence to will again one thing. Admittedly it is an interruption of the usual task; admittedly it is a halting of work as if it were a day of rest when the penitent (and only in repentance is the burdened laborer quiet) in the confession of sin is alone before you in self-accusation. Oh, but it is indeed an interruption that seeks to return to its beginning so that it might rebind what is separated, so that in sorrow it might make up for failure, so that in its solicitude it might complete what lies ahead. O you who give both the beginning and the completing, may you give victory on the day of distress so that the one distressed in repentance may succeed in doing what the one burning in desire and the one determined in resolution failed to do: to will only one thing.
Everything has its time, says Solomon, and this is how experience speaks of the past and the traversed when the old person reliving his life lives it only in reflective recollection, when wisdom in the old person has outgrown the impressions of life, which as immediately present, in the hustle and bustle of life, are something different from what they are as the past for calm recollection. The time of work and exhaustive effort is over, the time of desire and dance; life makes no more demands upon the old person, and he makes no more demands upon it; by being present, one thing is no closer to him than another, does not change his judgment in the expectation, does not change it in the decision, does not change it in regret. It has all been equalized by the pastness that as something completely past has nothing present to relate to. Oh, what bleakness of old age if this were what it means to be old, if it were true that life at any moment can ever be regarded by a living person as if he himself did not exist, as if life were merely a past event but had no present task whatever for the living person, as if the living person and life were separated in life in such a way that life was over and done with and he had become an absentee. Oh, what lamentable wisdom if everything human were as Solomon said and if the discourse on it had to end in the same way as the one about there being a time for everything–with the familiar words "What benefit from all his striving does he have who exerts himself" (Ecclesiastes 3:9)!
Perhaps the meaning would have been clearer if Solomon had said: There was a time for everything, everything had its time–in order to show that as an old man he is speaking about the past, and that he is actually not speaking to anyone but is speaking to himself. The person who speaks about that human life which changes over the years must indeed be careful to tell his listener in which period of life he is himself; and the wisdom that pertains to the changeable and temporal in a person must, as must everything fragile, be dealt with carefully, lest it do harm. Only the eternal applies at all times and is always, is always true, pertains to every human being of whatever age; the changeable is and is changed when it has been, and therefore the discourse about it is subject to changeableness. What is said by the old person about the past may be wisdom, but it surely would be foolishness in the mouth of a youth or adult if said about the present: The youth would be unable to understand it, and the adult would be unwilling to understand it. A somewhat older person can already agree totally with Solomon in saying: There is a time to dance for joy–and why can he agree with him? Because for him the time for dancing is over, and consequently he speaks of it as one who speaks of something bygone. And whether in those days when there were youthfulness and the pleasure of dancing he grieved that it was denied him or he gladly accepted the invitation to the dance, the somewhat older person will nevertheless calmly say: There is a time for dancing. But daring to hurry off to the dance and having to sit imprisoned at home are for youth two such different things that it does not occur to youth to link them equally and say: There is a time for the one and a time for the other. A person changes with the years, and every time some phase is accomplished he speaks impartially of its varied content, but this does not mean that he has become wiser, for he is only saying thereby that he has changed. There may be something now that stirs him in the same way as dancing stirred the youth, something that occupies him in the same way as a toy occupies the child. This is how a person changes with the years; the old person is the last change, and he speaks impartially of it all, all the changeable that now is past.
But is the story finished here? Has everything been heard that can be said about what it means to be a human being and about human life in time? Surely the most important and the most crucial thing has been left out, because discourse about the natural changes of human life over the years as well as about what happens externally is not essentially different from discourse about plant or animal life.
The animal, too, is changed over the years, in its old age has cravings different from those in its earlier years, also has at certain times its joy in life and must in turn endure hardships. Indeed, late in autumn the flower can utter the wisdom of years and truthfully say: For everything there is a time; "there is a time to be born and a time to die"; there is a time to play lightheartedly with the spring breezes and a time to be snapped off by the autumn storms; beloved by the spring, there is a time to blossom exuberantly by the running water and a time to wither and be forgotten; a time to be sought out for its loveliness and a time to be unrecognizable in its wretchedness; there is a time to be nursed with care and a time to be cast out in contempt; there is a time to delight in the warmth of the morning sun and a time to perish in the cold of the night–everything has its time; what gain does he who exerts himself have from all his striving? Indeed, when it is decrepit, the animal can speak with the wisdom of years and truthfully say: Everything has its time; there is a time to leap for joy and a time to crawl along the ground; there is a time to awaken early and a time to sleep late; there is a time to run with the herd and a time to go apart to die; there is a time to build a nest with its beloved and a time to sit alone on the roof; there is a time to fly free upward toward the clouds and a time to sink oppressed to the earth–everything has its time; what gain does he who exerts himself have from all his striving?
And if you were to say to the flower, "Is there nothing more to tell?" it would answer, "No, when the flower is dead, the story is finished"–otherwise, of course, the story would have had to be a different story from the beginning and in the development and would not have become different only at the end. Suppose that the flower ended its reply in another way and added, "The story is not finished, because when I am dead I become immortal"–would this not be strange talk? In other words, if the flower were immortal, the immortality would certainly have to be precisely what would prevent it from dying, and then the immortality would have to have been present every moment of its life. And the talk about its life would in turn have to have been entirely different in order to express the difference of immortality from everything changeable and from the diversity of the corruptible. Immortality could not be a final change that intervened, if one wants to put it that way, in death as the concluding age; on the contrary, it is a changelessness that is not changed with the change of the years. This is why the wise Solomon added to what the old person said about there being a time for everything, "God has made everything beautiful in its time; he has also put eternity into the heart of human beings" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The sage speaks this way because the discourse about the change and the changed discourse about the change is, after all, confusing, even the old person's–only the eternal is upbuilding; the wisdom of the years is confusing-only the wisdom of eternity is up building.
If, then, there is something eternal in a human being, this must be able to be and able to be claimed throughout every change. Thus neither can it be wisdom to talk impartially about it and say that it has its time just as the corruptible has, that it has its cycles just as the wind does, which really never makes any headway, that it has its course just as the river, which still never fills the ocean. Nor can it be wisdom to speak impartially about the eternal as one speaks of the past when it is gone, and gone in such a way that it cannot be related at all to a person present, not even in regret, but only to an absentee, because regret is indeed the relation between a past and someone who is living in the present time. It would be unwise of the youth to want to speak impartially of the delight of dancing and of its opposite, because this wise foolishness would betray that the youth in his youth would have outgrown youth. But with respect to the eternal, no time ever comes when a person has outgrown it or has grown older–than the eternal! If there is something eternal in a human being, then the discourse about it must be different; it must say that there is something that should always have its time, something that a person should always do, just as an apostle declares that we should always thank God. Something that has its time must duly be regarded as an associate and equal of something temporal that likewise must have its time in turn, but the eternal is the dominant, which does not want to have its time but wants to make time its own and then permits the temporal also to have its time. Thus Scripture declares: The one should be done; the other should not be neglected. But that which must not be neglected is, of course, that which can come under consideration only when that which should be done is done. So also with the eternal. If, then, any worldly wisdom wants to change what should pertain to the eternal in a human being into something also temporal, this would be foolishness, whether it is an old person or a youth who is speaking, because with regard to the eternal the years constitute no justification for talking foolishly, and youth constitutes no exclusion from being able to comprehend what is right. If someone were to expound that godliness is to belong to childhood in the temporal sense and thus dwindle and die with the years as childhood does, is to be a happy frame of mind that cannot be preserved but only recollected; if someone were to expound that repentance as a weakness of old age accompanies the decline of one's powers, when the senses are dulled, when sleep no longer strengthens but increases lethargy–this would be ungodliness and foolishness. It is of course true that there was the one who over the years forgot the godliness of childhood, was cheated of the best and deceived by the most presumptuous; it is of course true that there was the one whom repentance did not catch up with before the painfulness of old age, when he did not have even the strength to sin, so that repentance was not only late but the despair of late repentance became the final stage–but this is no story about an event that is to be cleverly explained or is itself presumably even to explain life: it is a nightmare. And even if a person became a thousand years old, he still would not be old enough to dare to speak of it in any other way than the young speak of it–with fear and trembling. In relation to the eternal, a person does not in a temporal sense grow older than the eternal, therefore not in the sense of pastness either. No, human language calls it maturity and an advantage to have outgrown, as an adult, the childish and the youthful, but to want at any time to have outgrown the eternal it calls falling away from God and perdition, and only the life of the ungodly "will be like the snail, which dissolves into slime as it goes along" (Psalm 58:8).
So, then, there is something that must always be done, something that is not to have its time in the temporal sense–and if, alas, it is not done, if it is neglected, or if even the opposite is done–then there is again something (or rather it is the same thing that comes back again, presumably changed but not changed in essence) that always must be done, something that is not to have its time in the temporal sense–that must be repented and regretted. We dare not say of repentance and regret that it has its time, that there is a time to be carefree and a time to be crushed in repentance. Such talk would be unpardonably slow compared with the concerned haste of repentance; it would be ungodly compared with godly grief, pointlessly procrastinating about what should be done this very day, in this moment, in the moment of danger. There is indeed a danger; there is a danger that is called going astray; it does not stop by itself but still continues and then is called perdition. But there is a solicitous guide, an expert, who makes one aware, who shouts to the wanderer so that he is on his guard. This guide is regret; he is not as nimble as the suppleness of the imagination, which serves the wish; he is not as strongly built as the victorious intention–he comes slowly afterward, aggrieved, but he is a trustworthy and sincere friend. If the voice of this guide is never heard, then it is precisely because the way of perdition is being followed, for when the invalid, wasting away in consumption, feels most healthy, the sickness is at its worst. If there was someone who early hardened his heart to regret nothing and who regretted nothing–ah, it will surely come back again, provided that this can be regretted at all. So strange a power is regret, so sincere is its friendship, that there is in fact nothing more terrible than to have escaped it entirely. A person may wish to sneak away from much in this life and he may succeed, so that the indulged one can say in the last moment: I escaped all the toil and moil in which other people drudge. But if anyone wants to run away from, to be defiant toward, or to sneak away from regret–alas, which is worse, to say that he failed or–that he succeeded!
Excerpted from Upbuilding Discourses In Various Spirits by Søren Kierkegaard, Howard V. Hong, Edna H. Hong, Howard V. Hong Edna H. Hong. Copyright © 1993 Howard V Hong. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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