Credo Quia Absurdum

In introducing the notion of the absurdity of the absolute paradox, Climacus alludes to Tertullian, who not only articulated the two-natures doctrine of Christ that was later adopted by the church but also made the following famous statement in defence of that doctrine: 'The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd [quia ineptum est]. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible [certum est quia impossible].'18 Quoting

17 On the acoustical illusion of the absolute paradox, see further Walsh (2005: 54-62).

18 Tertullian (2004: 12); cf. Osborn (1997: 48-64); Rose (2001: 66-70).

1 Corinthians 6: 20, 'God has chosen the foolish things of the world, that he may put to shame the things that are wise', Tertullian observes that, from the standpoint of worldly wisdom, which is really foolishness in the eyes of God, the claim that the Son of God was truly born of a virgin with a body of flesh and was crucified, died, and resurrected is foolish and not to be believed. Thus, in order to become truly wise, one must become 'a fool in the world through believing the foolish things of God'.19 Against the idea that the Son of God's birth is 'impossible or unseemly', Tertullian points out that 'to God nothing is impossible except what is against his will'.20 If it had been against God's will to be born a human being, then he surely would not have given the appearance of becoming such, inasmuch as God is not a deceiver. For Tertullian, then, the incarnation is not really absurd or impossible, since for God all things are possible, but only from the standpoint of worldly wisdom. Thus he is not encouraging irrational belief in the incarnation because it is in fact absurd or impossible but only because it appears that way from the limited perspective of human beings.

Echoing Tertullian, Climacus claims that the absolute paradox is a paradox quia absurdum (because it is absurd) (PF 52). Thus it is not merely the understanding that is absurd, as suggested earlier in the text, but the absolute paradox itself is absurd and is the absolute paradox because it is absurd. When the understanding declares that the paradox is absurd, therefore, it is only parroting or caricaturing what the absolute paradox announces to the understanding about itself. This means that the absolute paradox proclaims itself as the absolute paradox and is not discovered to be such by the understanding itself. In the Postscript Climacus amplifies his view of the absolute paradox by contrasting it with a Socratic paradox (CUP i: 205-13). In the Socratic relation to truth, the eternal essential truth is not a paradox in itself but becomes paradoxical by virtue of being placed in relation to an existing individual who is passionately committed to eternal truth as an objective uncertainty. In the absolute paradox, by contrast, eternal truth itself is a paradox by virtue of having come into existence in time. It is therefore not merely objectively uncertain, as in the case of the Socratic paradox, but objectively absurd because 'it contains the contradiction that something that can become historical only in direct opposition to all human understanding has become historical', namely that 'the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up, etc., has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being' (210-11). This thesis, he claims, constitutes the absolute paradox sensu strictissimo (in the strictest sense) (217).

These statements clearly identify the incarnation with the absolute paradox and the absurd. However, it must be remembered that Climacus professes (perhaps ironically or humorously) not to be a Christian and thus must be seen as construing Christianity from the standpoint of a person outside of faith.21 In his journals Kierkegaard points out that the absurd functions as a 'negative criterion of that which is higher than human understanding and knowledge' and is 'the negative sign and predicate which dialectically makes sure that the scope of "the purely human" is qualitatively terminated' (JP i. 11; vi. 6598). In other words, the category of the absurd constitutes the negative limit of the understanding and reason with respect to the absolute paradox, which cannot be rationally understood or comprehended. Kierkegaard then goes on to make the following crucial statement:

When I believe, then assuredly neither faith nor the content of faith is absurd. O, no, no—but I understand very well that for the person who does not believe, faith and the content of faith are absurd, and I also understand that as soon as I myself am not in the faith, am weak, when doubt perhaps begins to stir, then faith and the content of faith gradually begin to become absurd for me. (JP vi. 6598; cf. i. 10)

This statement makes it clear that the concept of the absurd is a category of the understanding rather than a qualification of the incarnation itself, which is not absurd to a believer because everything is possible for God (JP i. 9). But the absurd is a factor in faith inasmuch as 'the content of faith, seen from the other side, is the negative absurd' which stands in dialectical tension with it (JP i. 8). Only the passion of faith, not a higher understanding or mediation of the absolute paradox, is able to master the absurd, but one comes to faith only by way of the absurd and the possibility of offence, which remain negative possibilities in the life of faith.


If Climacus, who is presumably not a Christian, construes the incarnation from the obverse side of faith as the absolute paradox and the absurd, one might expect Anti-Climacus, who is a Christian to an extraordinary degree, to eschew the language of paradox in speaking of Christ since he speaks from the perspective of faith rather than that of an unbeliever. But that is far from being the case; if anything, Anti-Climacus heightens the paradox of Christ in his exposition of the incarnation in Practice in Christianity.

21 On Climacus as a humorist, see Lippitt (2000); Walsh (1994: 210-17); Evans (1983: 185-205).

In agreement with Climacus, he states quite plainly: 'The God-human being [Gud-Mennesket] is the paradox, absolutely the paradox; therefore, it is altogether certain that the understanding must come to a standstill on it' (PC 82, translation modified; cf. 25, 30, 63, 123). With Anti-Climacus, however, we get a more biblically oriented, theological depiction of Christ in contrast to Climacus's poetical, philosophical portrayal. Anti-Climacus begins with Christ's invitation in Matthew 11: 28, 'Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest', interpreting it as an expression of the unconditional love extended to all human beings by Christ, who in order to be able to invite everyone in this way must 'live in the very same manner, poor as the poorest, poorly regarded as the lowly man among the people, experienced in life's sorrow and anguish, sharing the very same condition as those one invites to come to one, those who labor and are burdened' (13). In line with Climacus's parable of the king and the maiden, he explains: 'If someone wants to invite the sufferer to come to him, he must either alter his condition and make it identical with the sufferer's or make the sufferer's condition identical with his own, for if not, the contrast makes the difference all the greater' (13). Moreover, if one wants to invite all sufferers, then 'it can be done in only one way by altering one's condition in likeness to theirs if it is not already originally so designed' (14). Reflecting the traditional Lutheran distinction between the two states ofChrist (the state ofhumiliation during his lifetime and the state of exaltation in his resurrection, ascension, and coming again), Anti-Climacus points out that the person who issues this invitation is Jesus Christ in his abasement, which is an inverse sign of his state of glory, about which nothing can be known and must therefore be believed, but one becomes a believer only by coming to Christ in his state of abasement (24).22


The first point Anti-Climacus wishes to make about Christ is that nothing can be known or demonstrated about him from history. This is a radical claim that must be carefully examined. Anti-Climacus is not saying that nothing can be known about the historical Jesus—a conclusion some nineteenth- and twentieth-century biblical scholars came to on the basis of a historical-critical study of the gospels, resulting in a radical separation

22 On the two states of Christ see Schmid (1961: 376-407).

between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.23 For Anti-Climacus the problem is not that we can know nothing about the historical Jesus but that whatever knowledge we do have about him reveals nothing about who he is in truth, which is God incarnate. Just as Climacus and Kierkegaard found it foolish and impossible to demonstrate the existence of God, Anti-Climacus asks rhetorically: 'Can any more foolish contradiction be imagined than this, to want to demonstrate... that an individual human being is God?' (26). In his view, the only thing that can be demonstrated about the incarnation is that it conflicts with all human reason, which makes it offensive in an eminent sense because it cannot be shown to be the rational actuality it is assumed to be. The so-called demonstrations of the divinity of Christ from scripture, such as the miracles, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, are only for faith and thus are not really demonstrations at all. Nor do they demonstrate a harmony of the scriptures with reason. Reprising Climacus's argument against 'the eighteen hundred years' as proof of the truth of Christianity, Anti-Climacus suggests that the most history can demonstrate about Jesus is that he was a great man. But one would be guilty of a gross Ui€Ta,aois €is aAAo yevos (shifting from one category to another) as well as blasphemy if one were to move from the quantitative epithets of 'great, greater, greatest' to the qualitative conclusion that 'ergo he was God' (27, 29). And if one begins with the assumption that Christ is God, then one has 'eo ipso [for that very reason] crossed out, canceled, the eighteen hundred years as making no difference either way, demonstrating neither pro nor contra, because the certitude of faith is infinitely higher' (27).

Having shown the impossibility of rationally demonstrating that Christ is God, Anti-Climacus examines the blasphemous idea that the results of Christ's life were more important than his life. This idea, he thinks, is 'what lies at the base of this whole enterprise' of demonstrating the divinity of Christ from history (30). Anti-Climacus does not deny that the results of Christ's life were extraordinary, but if one wants to make the claim that Christ's life was extraordinary because of the results of his life, this is once again to make a mockery of God. Unlike other great figures in history, Christ's life is extraordinary in itself, not because he accomplished great things. Anti-Climacus asks us to imagine a person—Martin Luther King, Jr. would be a good example—who suffered wrong from his contemporaries but was justified by history and shown to be the extraordinary person he was on the basis of the results of his life. But the same does not apply to Christ, for two reasons. First, we cannot know anything about who Christ really was from the historical results of his life. Second, to judge Christ on

23 See Schweitzer (1961); Kahler (1964); Bultmann (1958). See also Paget (2001); Theissen and Merz (1998); Funk and the Jesus Seminar (1998); Evans (1996); Funk et al. (1993).

the basis of the results of his life is to make his abasement into something accidental rather than a self-willed condition which, together with his divinity, constitutes a 'dialectical knot' that cannot be untied until his coming again in glory (33). The calamity of Christendom, Anti-Climacus observes, is that 'Christ is neither the one nor the other, neither the person he was when he lived on earth nor the one he will be at his second coming... but is someone about whom we have learned something in an inadmissible way from history' (35).

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