Faith versus Knowledge

Climacus proceeds to distinguish faith from what it is not as well as to state more explicitly what it is. First and foremost, he denies that faith is knowledge, since 'all knowledge is either knowledge of the eternal, which excludes the temporal and the historical as inconsequential, or it is purely historical knowledge, and no knowledge can have as its object this absurdity that the eternal is the historical' (PF 62). Here Climacus again applies the basic distinction of Leibniz, Lessing, and Hume between two types of knowledge: necessary, rational (demonstrative) eternal truths and contingent, empirical (probable), historical truths of fact.15 As Climacus sees it, faith does not fit into either of these categories, inasmuch as the object of Christian faith is not an eternal truth that can be rationally known and comprehended, nor does it have the probability that is required for historical knowledge. On the contrary 'the paradox specifically unites the contradictories, is the eternalizing of the historical and the historicizing of the eternal', which is not only objectively uncertain but objectively absurd from the standpoint of all human understanding (PF 61; CUP 210).

But if faith is not knowledge, it likewise does not lead to knowledge or a higher understanding that resolves the paradox, as the understanding that faith arrives at regarding the absolute paradox is precisely that it cannot be understood. In rejecting the notion of a higher understanding of the content of faith, Climacus joins Kierkegaard in setting himself against the classic formula of the Middle Ages, credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand), which in Kierkegaard's view simply reinstates the Greek view of faith in Plato and Aristotle, for whom faith belongs in the sphere of the intellectual rather than the existential (JP i. 180; ii. 1148, 1154; iii. 3023).16 Climacus also parts company with modern speculative thinkers such as Hegel and Martensen, for whom the goal of theology is the mediation of faith in knowledge.17 As Climacus sees it, the object of faith is not a teaching about Christ that is to be comprehended through philosophy or theology but rather the teacher himself, who is the absolute paradox and thus not subject to mediation or a higher understanding in knowledge. He thus concludes:

Faith, then, is not a lesson for slow learners in the sphere of intellectuality, an asylum for dullards. But faith is a sphere of its own, and the immediate identifying mark of every misunderstanding of Christianity is that it changes it into a doctrine and draws it into the range of intellectuality. What holds as the maximum in the sphere of intellectuality, to remain completely indifferent to the actuality of the teacher, holds in just the opposite way in the sphere of faith—its maximum is the quam maxime [in the greatest degree possible] infinite interestedness in the actuality of the teacher. (CUP i. 327)

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