Poetical Venture

Having dialectically distinguished Christianity from philosophical idealism and other immanent approaches to the knowledge and acquisition of eternal truth, Climacus embarks on a poetical venture in the imaginative construction of a poetic analogy to the human learner and divine teacher in the parable of the king and the maiden. To recap the parable briefly, the king/god is motivated out of love for a lowly maiden/learner to do away with the inequality between them in order to establish a happy love relation, 'for only in love is the different made equal, and only in equality or in unity is there understanding' (PF 25). The king/god determines that this equality cannot be brought about by an ascent of the maiden/learner, as that would involve only a deceptive 'change of costume', not a real change of station. He thus decides to bring it about by a descent on his part, becoming the equal of the lowliest of persons by taking the form of a servant, which for the god is 'not something put on like the king's plebeian cloak' or Socrates' summer cloak but is 'his true form' (31-2).13 In appearing truly in the form of a servant, the god displays a boundlessness of love that neither the king nor Socrates was capable of showing, which according to Climacus 'is why their assumed characters were still a kind of deceit' (32).

In this imaginative portrayal of the incarnation in the form of a parable we get a first glimpse of Climacus's Christology, which clearly reflects Philippians 2: 5-8 in affirming Christ's divinity while stressing his humanity and lowliness in the form of a servant. That the god's appearance in the lowly form of a servant was his true form and not something merely put on, as in docetic views of the incarnation, is obviously very important to Climacus since he repeats it several times (PF 31-3, 55). For this reason, too, he insists that 'the god must suffer all things, endure all things, be tried in all things, hunger in the desert, thirst in his agonies, be forsaken in death' (32). As Climacus sees it, Christ's whole life, not merely his death, is a story of suffering that happens precisely because the god wills to be the equal of the lowliest of the lowly out of love. As in the case of his thought-project, Climacus readily admits that he is likely to be charged with 'the shabbiest plagiarism' in composing this imaginative parable or 'poem' as he calls it (35). But in this instance it is the god, not a human author, who has been robbed, since in Climacus's view 'it could occur to a human being to poetize himself in the likeness of the god or the god in the likeness of himself, but not to poetize that the god poetized himself in the likeness of a human being' unless there were some prior indication from the god of a need for a relation to human beings (36). In other words, while it is within the power of the human imagination to project a human likeness to God and vice versa, Climacus maintains that it is beyond the ability of human imagination as well as human reason to come up with the Christian idea of the incarnation without a revelation of God's love and desire for understanding and unity with human beings. Otherwise, he asks, 'how could it occur to a human being that the blessed god could need him?', since the divine is by definition self-sufficient and not in need of a relation to human beings in order to acquire self-understanding (24, 36, translation modified).

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