Kierkegaard's Writings, XXIII: "The Moment" and Late Writingsby Soren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard, a poet of ideals and practitioner of the indirect method, also had a direct and polemical side. He revealed this in several writings throughout his career, culminating in The Moment, his attack against the established ecclesiastical order. Kierkegaard was moved to criticize the church by his differences with Bishop Mynster, Primate of the Church of… See more details below
Kierkegaard, a poet of ideals and practitioner of the indirect method, also had a direct and polemical side. He revealed this in several writings throughout his career, culminating in The Moment, his attack against the established ecclesiastical order. Kierkegaard was moved to criticize the church by his differences with Bishop Mynster, Primate of the Church of Denmark. Although Mynster saw in Kierkegaard a complement to himself and his outlook, Kierkegaard challenged Mynster to acknowledge the emptying and estheticizing of Christianity that had occurred in modern Christendom. For three years Kierkegaard was silent, waiting. When Mynster died, he was memorialized as "an authentic truth-witness" in the "holy chain of truth-witnesses that stretches through the ages from the days of the apostles." This struck Kierkegaard as blasphemous and inspired him to write a series of articles in Fædrelandet, which he followed with ten numbers of the pamphlet The Moment. This volume includes the articles from Fædrelandet, all numbers of The Moment, and several other late pieces of Kierkegaard's writing.
"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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The Moment and Late Writings
By Søren Kierkegaard, Howard V. Hong, Edna H. Hong
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1998 Postscript, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Was Bishop Mynster a "Truth-Witness," One of "the Authentic Truth-Witnesses"
—IsThis the Truth?
February 1854 S. Kierkegaard
In the address Prof. Martensen "delivered the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, the Sunday before Bishop Dr. Mynster's funeral," a memorial address, as it perhaps can in a way also be called, since it calls to mind Prof Martensen for the vacant bishopric—in this address Bishop Mynster is represented as a truth-witness, as one of the authentic truth-witnesses; the expressions used are as strong and decisive as possible. With the late bishop's figure, his life and career, and the outcome of his life before our eyes, we are exhorted to "imitate the faith of the true guides, of the authentic truth-witnesses" (p. 5), their faith, for it was, as is explicitly said about Bishop Mynster, "not only in word and confession but in deed and truth" (p. 9). The late bishop is introduced by Prof Martensen (p. 6) into "the holy chain of truth-witnesses that stretches through the ages from the days of the apostles" etc.
* * *
To this I must raise an objection-and now that Bishop Mynster is dead I am able and willing to speak, but very briefly here, and not at all about what made me decide to take the position that I have taken in relation to him.
When proclamation is considered more particularly to be what is said, written, printed, the word, the sermon, one does not need to be especially sharp to be able to see, when the New Testament is placed alongside Mynster's preaching, that Bishop Mynster's proclamation of Christianity (to take just one thing) tones down, veils, suppresses, omits some of what is most decisively Christian, what is too inconvenient for us human beings, what would make our lives strenuous, prevent us from enjoying life-this about dying to the world, about voluntary renunciation, about hating oneself, about suffering for the doctrine, etc.
If, however, proclamation is considered more particularly to be the extent to which the proclaimer's life expresses what he says (and this, note well, is Christianly decisive, and in just this way Christianity has wanted to protect itself against acquiring characterless assistant professors instead of witnesses), one in turn does not need to be especially sharp to be able to see (if by hearing or reading him one is properly acquainted at all with his preaching) that Bishop Mynster's proclamation of Christianity was not in character, that outside the quiet hours he was not in character, not even in the character of his preaching, which indeed, as stated, compared with the New Testament, has considerably scaled down the essentially Christian. In 1848 and thereafter it became apparent even to blind admirers, if they were properly acquainted with his preaching so as to be able to know what this, what these quiet hours lead one to expect.
Thus, when the New Testament is placed alongside, Bishop Mynster's proclamation of Christianity was, especially for a truth-witness, a dubious proclamation of Christianity. But there was, I thought, this truth in him, that he was willing, I am fully convinced, to confess before God and to himself that he was not at all, not at all, a truth-witness—in my view, precisely this confession was the truth.
But if Bishop Mynster is going to be represented and canonized in the pulpit as a truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses, then an objection must be raised. The Berlingske Tidende (the official newspaper, just as Prof. Martensen is no doubt the official preacher) is, as I see, of the opinion that with this address Prof. Martensen (who with remarkable haste steals a march on the funeral and also on the monument) has from the pulpit erected a beautiful and worthy monument to the deceased; I would prefer to say: a worthy monument to Prof. Martensen himself. But in any case monuments cannot be ignored; therefore an objection must be raised, which then perhaps could even contribute to making the monument (to Prof. Martensen) even more durable.
Bishop Mynster a truth-witness! You who read this, you certainly do know what is Christianly understood by a truth-witness, but let me remind you of it, that it unconditionally requires suffering for the doctrine. And when it is said more pointedly: one of "the authentic" truth-witnesses, then the word must accordingly be taken in the strictest sense. In order to make it vivid to you, let me try in a few strokes to suggest what must be understood by this.
A truth-witness is a person whose life from first to last is unfamiliar with everything called enjoyment—ah, whether much or little is granted you, you know how much good is done by what is called enjoyment—but his life from first to last was unfamiliar with everything that is called enjoyment; on the contrary, from first to last it was initiated into everything called suffering—alas, and even if you are exempted from the prolonged, the more agonizing sufferings, you still know from personal experience how a person shrinks from what is called suffering! But from first to last his life was initiated into what is even more rarely mentioned among people because it more rarely happens—into interior struggles, into fear and trembling, into shuddering, into spiritual trials, into anxieties of soul, into torments of spirit, and then in addition was tried in all the sufferings that are more commonly talked about in the world. A truth-witness is a person who in poverty witnesses for the truth, in poverty, in lowliness and abasement, is so unappreciated, hated, detested, so mocked, insulted, laughed to scorn—so poor that he perhaps has not always had daily bread, but he received the daily bread of persecution in abundance every day. For him there was never advancement and promotion except in reverse, step by step downward. A truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses, is a person who is flogged, mistreated, dragged from one prison to another, then finally—the last advancement, by which he is admitted to the first class in the Christian order of precedence among the authentic truth-witnesses—then finally, for this is indeed one of the authentic truth-witnesses Prof. Martensen talks about, then finally is crucified or beheaded or burned or broiled on a grill, his lifeless body thrown away by the assistant executioner into a remote place, unburied—this is how a truth-witness is buried!—or burned to ashes and cast to the winds so that every trace of this "refuse," as the apostle says he has become, might be obliterated.
This is a truth-witness, his life and career, his death and burial—and, says Prof. Martensen, Bishop Mynster was one of these authentic truth-witnesses.
Is it the truth? Is talking in this way perhaps also witnessing for the truth, and by this talk has Prof. Martensen himself stepped into the character of a truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses? Truly, there is something that is more against Christianity and the essence of Christianity than any heresy, any schism, more against it than all heresies and schisms together, and it is this: to play at Christianity. But (entirely, entirely in the same sense as the child plays at being a soldier) it is playing at Christianity: to remove all the dangers (Christianly, witness and danger are equivalent), to replace them with power (to be a danger to others), goods, advantages, abundant enjoyment of even the most select refinements—and then to play the game that Bishop Mynster was a truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses, play it so frightfully earnestly that one cannot stop the game at all but plays it on into heaven, plays Bishop Mynster along into the holy chain of truth-witnesses that stretches from the days of the apostles to our times.
This article has, as may be seen from its date, lain ready for some time.
As long as the appointment to the bishopric of Sjælland was in question, I thought that I ought to leave Professor Martensen out of public discussion, since, whether or not he became bishop, he in any case was a candidate for this office, and no doubt desired, while it was pending, that as far as possible nothing pertaining to him would happen.
With Prof. Martensen's appointment as bishop, this consideration dropped out. But since under the circumstances the article could not appear and therefore did not appear right away, I decided that, after all, there was no reason to hurry. Then, too, Bishop Martensen's appointment provoked attack on him from other sides and of a completely different kind; I most definitely did not want to join in with that attack. So I waited; I thought, as stated, that there was no reason at all to hurry and nothing at all to be lost by waiting. Someone might even find that something was gained, find that such a slow emergence of the objection has a deeper significance.
* * *
But an objection must be raised to this, that Bishop Mynster is supposed to have been a truth-witness.
Bishop Mynster can fairly correctly be said to have carried an entire generation—therefore to bring clarity into our confused religious situation and concepts is a difficulty bordering on the impossible as long as a more truthful light does not fall on the truth of Bishop Mynster's proclamation of Christianity, which is after all also my fault, since Bishop Mynster, precisely Bishop Mynster, was in a way the distress of my life—not just that he was not a truth-witness (that matter would not have been so dangerous), but that he, in addition to all the other advantages that he derived on the greatest scale from proclaiming Christianity, also had the enjoyment, by declaiming in the quiet hours on Sunday and by worldly-sagaciously sheltering himself on Monday, of creating the appearance that he was a man of character, a man of principles, a man who stands firm when everything is tottering, a man who does not fail when all others fail etc. etc., although the truth was that to a high degree he was worldly-sagacious, but weak, self-indulgent, and great only as a declaimer—and in a way the distress of my life (which nevertheless, through the love of Governance, in a very high sense benefited me, became a blessing to me); my distress was that I, brought up by my late father on Mynster's sermons, and also out of devotion to my late father, honored this false bill of exchange instead of protesting it.
Now he is dead—God be praised that it could be put off as long as he was living! This was achieved, what toward the end I almost despaired of, but this was nevertheless achieved, what was my thought, my wish, which I also can remember once having said years ago to old Grundtvig: Bishop Mynster must first live out his life, be buried with full honors—this was achieved; he was indeed, if I dare say so, buried with full honors. And all the contributions that will come in for the monument to him have no doubt come in by now.
So the silence can no longer continue; the objection must be raised, but all the more earnestly because of its slowness, the objection to representing—from the pulpit, consequently before God—Bishop Mynster as a truth-witness, because it is untrue, but proclaimed in this way it becomes an untruth that cries to heaven.
December 1854.CHAPTER 2
There the Matter Rests!
December 28 S. Kierkegaard
From the pulpit to represent Bishop Mynster as a truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses, to assign him a place in the holy chain-against this an objection must be raised; there the matter rests.
To represent him in this way is really to make him ludicrous—for I can readily say the same thing in another way, coming in from another side. To represent a man who, even by proclaiming Christianity, has attained and enjoyed on the greatest scale every possible benefit and advantage, to represent him as a truth-witness, one of the holy chain, is as ludicrous as to talk about a virgin with a flock of children. But this is the situation, as Luther would say: "In this sinful world, people are acquainted with everything pertaining to lewdness; if you want to talk about that, you are promptly understood by everybody, but no one is acquainted with the Christian concepts." This is why they have no understanding of and take exception to the raising of protest against a truth-witness who, from a Christian point of view, is just as ludicrous as that virgin.
There is much that one can be "in addition," and it is the case precisely in connection with everything unimportant that it is suitable for one to be that "in addition." One can be both this and that and in addition an amateur violinist, member of the Friendship Society, captain of the popinjay trap shoot, etc. But to the degree that the important is important, it has precisely the characteristic of being to the same degree unsuitable for one to be that—and something else in addition. The qualification truth-witness is a very imperious and extremely unsocial qualification and scrupulously allows itself to be joined only with: being nothing otherwise. Truth-witness relates to Christianity's heterogeneity with this world, from which it follows that the witness must always be distinguishable by heterogeneity with this world, by renunciation, by suffering, and from this it follows that to be this is so unsuitable to: being something else in addition. But to be willing to accept on the largest possible scale all benefits and advantages (the truth-witness is precisely what he is by renunciation and suffering) and then in addition to be a truth-witness—to that one must, Christianly scrupulous, say: That is a devil of a witness. Such a truth-witness is not only a monstrosity but an impossibility, like a bird that in addition is a fish, or an iron tool that in addition has the oddity of being made of wood.
This is the way it is; please recall that it is not I who began applying the criterion truth-witness to Bishop Mynster's life. No, it is a friend, Prof. Martensen, who has done the deceased this clumsy service and prompted me to say what the truth is, that seen under the light Prof. Martensen supplied Bishop Mynster was "to a high degree a worldly-sagacious man, but weak, self-indulgent, and great only as a declaimer"—this clumsy service, which nevertheless perhaps cannot be called entirely disinterested, since the possible successor to the bishopric of Sjælland, the successor at present, was indeed very well served by also being himself promoted to a truth-witness in such a convenient way.
Excerpted from The Moment and Late Writings by Søren Kierkegaard, Howard V. Hong, Edna H. Hong. Copyright © 1998 Postscript, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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