Sin as Offence

While the basis for the definition of sin in the previous forms of despair was the theological or infinite self before God, the self in despair of the forgiveness of sin stands directly before Christ, who embodies 'the staggering reality' of the infinite self inasmuch as God only becomes the criterion and goal of the human self in him (SUD 114). Reconciliation with God is thus made possible through Christ, who offers the forgiveness of sin, but Christ's forgiveness may be rejected in either of the two ways previously identified as despair in weakness and defiant despair. Now, however, these forms of despair are the opposite of what they were previously, since the self is viewed not merely in terms of willing to be itself but of willing to be itself as a sinner, that is, from the standpoint of its imperfection (113). Despair in weakness, or not willing to be oneself, thus becomes defiant despair in the outright rejection of forgiveness because one is unwilling to accept oneself as a sinner. Correspondingly, defiant despair becomes despair in weakness by willing to be oneself as a sinner in such a way as to be beyond forgiveness or irredeemably a sinner.

Despair of the forgiveness of sin may also be characterized as offence inasmuch as Christ's claim to forgive sins was not only offensive to the Jews but presents the possibility of offence to Christendom as well. In fact, Anti-Climacus goes so far as to claim that 'the state of Christendom is actually despair of the forgiveness of sins', although it is so spiritless that, like paganism, it lacks a consciousness of sin and only imagines that it has gone beyond paganism by equating the 'pagan peace of mind' in which it lives with the consciousness of the forgiveness of sins (SUD 117). Not only has the qualitative difference between God and human beings been pantheistically abrogated by speculative philosophy and the common life in Christendom, the Christian doctrine of God's incarnation in Christ has also degenerated into a brazen identification of the mob with God and Christ as a result of 'the predominance of the generation over the individual' taught by speculative philosophy (118). As Anti-Climacus sees it, however, 'Christianity has protected itself from the beginning' with its teaching about sin, whose category is the category of individuality, which like sin is not accessible to speculative thought (119). Speculation thinks in terms of abstract universals, such as the concept of humanity, rather than the individual human being. Anti-Climacus thus claims that 'just as one individual person cannot be thought, neither can one individual sinner; sin can be thought (then it becomes negation), but not one individual sinner' (119). Speculative thought abstracts from actuality, whereas Christianity points in the opposite direction towards immersion in actuality Christianly understood, 'Sin is a qualification of the single individual' and has its actuality only in the single individual (120). Anti-Climacus thus concludes that 'The dialectic of sin is diametrically contrary to that of speculation' (120). But he also goes beyond this to claim:

By means of the teaching about sin and particular sins, God and Christ, quite unlike any kings, have protected themselves once and for all against the nation, the people, the crowd, the public, etc. and also against every demand for a more independent constitution. All those abstractions simply do not exist for God; for God in Christ there live only single individuals (sinners). (SUD 121)

As Anti-Climacus sees it, then, the Christian doctrine of sin, which pertains theologically only to the single individual, has political and social implications as well, particularly for democratic societies, inasmuch as in Christendom the category of the single individual has been subsumed under the Aristotelian category of the animal or the crowd (118).55 In protest against this identification Anti-Climacus maintains that 'Being a human being is not like being an animal, for which the specimen is always less than the species. The human being is distinguished from other animal species not only by the superiorities that are generally mentioned but is also qualitatively distinguished by the fact that the individual, the single individual, is more than the species' (121 n., translation modified). The sociopolitical implications of Anti-Climacus's theological anthropology will be examined in a later chapter. Suffice it to remind the reader here that the Revolution of 1848, in which Denmark became a constitutional monarchy with universal male suffrage, occurred a year before the publication of The Sickness unto Death. Thus his comments should be read with that event particularly in mind, although their relevance extends far beyond the local context of that time.

55 Cf. Aristotle, Politics, 3. 11 (1984: ii. 2033-5), where he argues in favour of the principle that 'the multitude ought to be in power rather than the few' because the many presumably make better judgments than individuals, who are only members of the whole, wherein power and a higher authority ought to reside. But Aristotle is somewhat ambivalent about this principle inasmuch as in his view 'the argument would equally hold about brutes'. Hence Anti-Climacus calls it 'the animal category' (SUD 118).

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