Christ As A Sign Of Contradiction

The possibility of essential offence at Christ is thus occasioned by the fact that he is a 'sign of contradiction' (PC 124). To be a sign means that something is different from what it immediately is; to be a sign of contradiction means that it contains a contradiction in its composition, that it is the opposite of what it immediately is or appears to be. In the case of Christ, this means that his lowliness is inversely a sign of his loftiness. Christ's lowliness poses the possibility of offence solely because it is a sign of his loftiness, for if he were merely a lowly man there would be no reason to be offended by him. But a sign is a sign only to the person who knows that it is a sign and what it means; otherwise it becomes the opposite of a sign, 'an unconditional concealment' (125). Consequently, there must be something that draws attention to the contradiction, such as a miracle or direct claim to be God, but which is not enough in itself to cancel the contradiction, thus occasioning the possibility of offence. Anti-Climacus makes it quite clear that the kind of contradiction Christ exemplifies as a sign of contradiction is not a logical contradiction, which applies only in the realm of thought, but a qualitative contradiction: 'In Scripture the God-human being is called a sign of contradiction—but what contradiction, if any, could there very well be in the speculative unity of God and humanity? No, there is no contradiction in that; but the contradiction, and it is the greatest possible, is the qualitative contradiction between being God and being an individual human being' (125, translation modified). From the perspective of speculative theology, there is no contradiction, or more precisely, the apparent logical contradiction of the incarnation is annulled or mediated in the higher comprehension of the eternal unity of God and humanity. From Anti-Climacus's perspective, however, such a unity does not have 'the remotest resemblance to the essentially Christian' but is 'a fantastic unity that has never existed except sub specie aeterni [under the aspect of eternity]' or in the realm of pure thought (126). The qualitative contradiction pertaining to Christ, by contrast, is the greatest possible contradiction because it combines qualitative opposites in existence, not merely in thought, and therefore cannot be mediated by abstract thought.


As a sign of contradiction Christ is not directly recognizable as God but takes on 'the most profound incognito' in assuming the form of a servant as a lowly individual human being (PC 128).41 In Anti-Climacus's estimation, however, the modern age has abolished Christ, accepting only his teachings or else making him into a fantastic being who was God 'to such a degree' that he would have been immediately and directly recognizable if one had lived contemporaneously with him, whereas the truth is that he was God 'to such a degree' that he was unrecognizable as such to his contemporaries (128). Although Christ freely willed 'from eternity' to be incognito, in choosing to be born as an individual human being he became subject to 'the power of his own incognito', trapped or bound, as it were, in an 'omnipotently maintained unrecognizability' that was the basis of his purely human suffering (128-9, 132). As Anti-Climacus sees it, Christ's incognito is characterized by 'a strange kind of dialectic' in which 'he, omnipotent, binds himself and does it so omnipotently that he actually feels bound, suffers under the consequences of his loving and free

41 For a comparison of Kierkegaard and Luther on the incognito or hiddenness of God in Christ, see Hinkson (2001).

decision to become an individual human being' (132). Here one can detect a version of the Lutheran doctrine of communicatio idiomatum (impartation of properties), which in its orthodox formulation affirmed a full imparting of the attributes of deity to the humanity of Christ. In some seventeenth- and nineteenth-century Neo-Lutheran kenotic reformulations of this doctrine, however, it was modified so as to involve a self-limitation with regard to the use of certain divine attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence in Christ's earthly existence.42 Anti-Climacus likewise embraces the notion of the self-limitation of the divine but understands it paradoxically inasmuch as Christ is seen to employ omnipotence in the very binding of himself to the limitations and suffering of human existence rather than refraining from the use of his omnipotence or temporarily abandoning it altogether as proposed in some kenotic theories.43


Being the sign of contradiction also means that it is impossible for Christ to communicate who he is directly to human beings, but in Anti-Climacus's view Christ employs a form of indirect communication that is different from the one identified by Johannes Climacus in the Postscript. In that book, it may be recalled, indirect communication takes the form of a double reflection in which the communicator becomes a cipher or 'nobody' in order to set the recipient free 'to untie the knot himself' (PC 133; cf. CUP i. 72-7). But indirect communication can also occur in such a way as to require the communicator's presence through reduplication of the communication in the communicator's own existence. As Anti-Climacus sees it, all communication concerning what it means to exist requires a communicator who exists in what has been understood (134). In order for a communication to be truly indirect, however, the communicator must be 'dialectically defined' as a contradiction, so that even when the communicator speaks directly, as when Christ claims to be God or the Son of God (John 10: 30-6), the communication is not direct but indirect, since 'it is not entirely direct that an individual human being should be God' (134). The recipient of the communication is thus confronted with a choice of whether to believe in him or to be offended. Anti-Climacus

42 See Thompson (2006: 76-87); McGrath (1994: 78-81); Welch (1972: 235-40).

43 See also JFY 172-3, where Kierkegaard suggests that Christ 'hides' the use of his powers of omnipotence from the crowd, thus reflecting the 17th-century krypsis (concealment) school of TĂĽbingen rather than the kenosis (renunciation) school of Giessen as suggested by Gouwens (1996: 169 n.). On these schools see McGrath (1994: 79-80); Schmid (1961: 390-3). On Kierkegaard's kenotic Christology, see also Law (1993: 183-9), and Rose (2001: 107-14).

thus concludes his exposition of the possibility of offence at Christ by re-emphasizing its importance as 'the negative mark' without which Christ would not be the object of faith, for without the possibility of offence, the divinity of Christ would be directly recognizable, which is paganism (143). To abolish the possibility of offence, then, is to abolish not only faith but Christ and Christianity as well.

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