The Church Militant Versus The Church Triumphant

Kierkegaard's beef with the established church was so uncompromising that he is often accused of lacking a positive conception of the church, which is not so. To be sure, he did not write much on this topic, the only sustained discussion of it in his published works appearing in Practice in Christianity by his Christian pseudonym Anti-Climacus. But his critique of the established church was prompted by a clear understanding of what constitutes the true church in the realm of temporality. As noted above, Kierkegaard associates the true church in the world with a church militant rather than a church triumphant, with which, according to Anti-Climacus, established Christendom illusorily confuses itself (PC 211). In making this charge Anti-Climacus may also have in mind the Grundtvigians, who thought of themselves as constituting the one true church in the form of 'the living congregation' of the cultic community, in which Christ is spiritually present in the Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer, and sacraments of baptism and holy communion.18 As Anti-Climacus sees it, however, the triumphant church does not belong to this world, which is heterogeneous to the essentially Christian and has room for Christ's church only if it makes room for itself by struggling to exist in the interim between his ascension and second coming. In assuming that the time of struggle is over, the church triumphant becomes homogeneous and synonymous with the world, as in established Christendom, whereas the church militant seeks to express Christianity in an environment that is the opposite of the essentially Christian, which means that it involves suffering and self-denial in likeness to Christ in his lowliness. In Anti-Climacus's judgement, therefore, 'the Church triumphant or established Christendom resembles the Church militant no more than a square resembles a circle' (212).

The cause of this illusory identification of the established church with the church triumphant, as Anti-Climacus sees it, can be traced to a

18 See Allchin (1997: 105-14); N. Thulstrup (1984: 220-1); Kirmmse (1990: 212-14).

fundamental confusion concerning the nature of truth, how it is acquired, and what it means to say that Christ is the truth. Anti-Climacus asks whether truth is something that can be summarily appropriated with the help of another person 'without willing oneself to be developed in like manner, to be tried, to battle, to suffer as did the one who acquired the truth for him' (202-3). Is it not an illusion to refuse to understand that there is no abridgement in the acquisition of truth, 'so that every generation and everyone in the generation must essentially begin from the beginning' (203)? These questions are particularly relevant to the nature of truth as it pertains to Christ, who is the truth 'in the sense that to be the truth is the only true explanation of what truth is', which means that 'truth in the sense in which Christ is the truth is not a sum of sentences, not a definition etc., but a life' (205). The task ofhis followers, therefore, is not to know the truth but to be the truth in the sense that they are to reduplicate or actualize it in their lives in such a way as to express 'approximately the being of the truth in the striving for it' (205). In this understanding of truth, knowing the truth is a consequence of being the truth rather than vice versa, with the result that knowing the truth becomes an untruth when it is separated from or made a prerequisite to being the truth, for only when the truth 'becomes a life in me', declares Anti-Climacus, 'do I in truth know the truth' (206).

There is a difference, then, between truth understood as the way, or the reduplication of the truth in one's own life, and truth understood as a result, the final yield that is reached at the end of this journey (PC 206-7). If Christianity were the truth in the form of a result, Anti-Climacus admits that triumph would be in order, but 'only the person who has traveled the way can triumphally celebrate' and that can only take place at the end of life when one is no longer in the world but on high with Christ in eternity (209). Similarly, if Christianity were a result in the form of knowledge that could be passed on to later generations without their having to replicate all the steps in the process of acquiring that knowledge, such as the invention of gun powder or printing, then a triumphant celebration by the church would be appropriate in this instance as well. But if Christianity is the truth in the sense of the way, if it is a matter of becoming the truth rather than knowing the truth, there can be no shortening of the way by passing on knowledge of the truth without each individual having personally traversed the whole way.

According to Anti-Climacus, original Christianity held the view that truth is a matter of being rather than knowledge, but the modern age, with its 'comprehending, speculating, observing, etc.', has altered Christianity by defining truth as a matter of knowledge, thus making the 'monstrous mistake' of continually didacticizing Christianity (PC 206). Not only has the modern age committed the fallacy of interpreting truth as a result, thereby missing the essence of Christianity, it has also committed another fallacy that has contributed to the illusion of a church triumphant, namely the pretence that everyone is a Christian, for 'if this is taken as given', Anti-Climacus says, then 'a militant Church seems to be an impossibility' (211). The problem with the assumption that everyone is a Christian, as Anti-Climacus sees it, is that being a Christian becomes a matter of hidden inwardness, which means that there are no direct, outward signs by which one can be recognized as being a Christian (214). He notes that there was a time (presumably in the Middle Ages) when being a Christian in the church triumphant was directly recognizable by virtue of belonging to a particular order whose task was to represent what it means to be a Christian, while the rest of the world looked on and provided an 'environment of admiration' rather than opposition to Christianity. With the rise of secular, bourgeois society in the modern age, however, Anti-Climacus claims that 'a complete change of scene with regard to being a Christian' took place. The illusion of a church triumphant together with its external trappings was abandoned; being a Christian was relegated to inwardness under the assumption that everyone is a Christian 'in exactly the same sense as it is a given that we are all human beings'; and another form of opposition to Christianity was introduced, namely an 'opposition of indifference' towards being a Christian (215). 'Here we have the conception of established Christendom', Anti-Climacus declares (216). Whereas being a Christian in the church triumphant of old was directly recognizable by the honour and esteem a true Christian enjoyed, being a Christian in the new church triumphant of established Christendom is kept hidden, presumably because everyone is 'too Christian' and pious to want to be honoured and esteemed for being one, he suggests ironically (216-17). With biting satire, Anti-Climacus thus warns the visitor to all those countries with millions of pious Christians: 'Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy when you are standing in Christendom, where there is no one but true Christians! Let God keep eternity, where all in all he will scarcely get as many true Christians as there are at any moment in established Christendom, where all are Christians' (217).

Of course, it is impossible to determine whether everyone (or anyone) actually is a Christian in hidden inwardness in established Christendom, as no one but God can know the hearts of human beings. In the Postscript, in which Christianity is defined essentially as (hidden) inwardness, Climacus leaves open the possibility that everyone in Christendom is a Christian, although he is highly suspicious of the idea (CUP i. 236, 475, 510-11). But Anti-Climacus cleverly perceives a way to break open this 'jammed lock' of secretiveness without claiming to be 'a knower of hearts' and without judging others, namely by someone openly deciding 'to confess Christ in the midst of Christendom' in such a way that others will disclose themselves by how this person is judged and treated by them (PC 220). In turn, this person would become inversely recognizable as a member of the church militant by the degree of external opposition or suffering encountered and endured in this situation (212, 215).

As Anti-Climacus sees it, the illusion of a church triumphant in established Christendom is also linked with the human impatience of wanting to have in advance what only comes later, namely the victory of the eternal, whereas 'God's invention and intention' is to make all existence, temporality this life a time of struggle and testing (PC 211). Christianity's idea, then, is that 'as long as this world lasts, or as long as the Christian Church is to exist in this world, it is and must be a militant Church' (219, 221). But Anti-Climacus also points out that 'Christianly, struggling is always done by single individuals, because spirit is precisely this, that everyone is an individual before God' (223). This means that just as the single individual is higher than the species and the universal, the single individual is also higher than the congregation or fellowship. Even though individuals may struggle conjointly with others, they must struggle individually and give an accounting of themselves on judgement day when their lives as single individuals will be examined. The notion of a congregation, then, is really 'an impatient anticipation of the eternal' in that it 'does not belong in time but belongs first in eternity, where it is, at rest, the gathering of all the single individuals who endured in the struggle and passed the test' (223). To the established church Anti-Climacus thus issues the following ominous warning: 'But woe, woe to the Christian Church when it will have been victorious in this world, for then it is not the Church that has been victorious but the world. Then the heterogeneity between Christianity and the world has vanished, the world has won, and Christianity has lost' (223).

This view of the religious community or congregation is reiterated in Kierkegaard's journals of the period, where he once again suggests that the concept of the congregation 'lies on the other side of "the single individual"', who must intervene as a middle term 'in order to make sure that "the congregation" is not taken in vain as synonymous with the public, the crowd, etc.' (JP i. 595, translation modified). Kierkegaard further contends that 'it is not the single individual's relationship to the congregation which determines his relationship to God, but his relationship to God which determines his relationship to the congregation' (595). This statement nicely sums up his understanding of the relation between the single individual and the church in contrast to the established church and the Grundtvigians. Ideally, in his view there should be 'no established religious order at all', so that everyone will be immediately responsible to

God (JP ii. 1415). But since existing continually alone before God is 'too strenuous' and 'almost unendurable' for a human being, religious sociality or an established order has been granted as a 'concession to human weakness' and as a 'middle term' between the single individual and God (JP ii. 1377, 1415, 1416). For all his emphasis upon the single individual, then, Kierkegaard does recognize the need not only for community but also for a religious community to temper the strenuousness of the individual's relation to God.

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