The Function And Authority Of The Institutional Church

Kierkegaard also recognized the temporal authority of the institutional church to conduct worship services and to administer the sacraments— at least up until the last year of his life. In his view, all immanent or earthly authority in the 'political, civic, social, domestic, and disciplinary realms' is transitory in nature and vanishes in the essential equality of eternity; only Christ and the apostles possess divine authority, which is given to them by God and thus is eternally valid (WA 99; cf. JP i. 182-3, 189-90). Moreover, true authority does not reside in profundity of thought or power over others but in being willing to sacrifice oneself for the cause of truth (JP i. 183, 187). Within an immanent or conditional context, then, Kierkegaard was prepared to accept the temporal authority of the established church and participated in it without questioning the fundamental validity of the confessional writings, rituals, liturgy, and sacraments that formed the basis of faith and practice in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Denmark. He was even prepared to accept infant baptism as required by the Augsburg Confession, conceding in the voice ofJohannes Climacus that it is 'defensible and commendable' in that it serves the interests of both the church and pious parents as 'a safeguard against fanatics' and as an expression of parental providential care (CUP i. 363-8, 381-2, 601; JP i. 494).19 In Kierkegaard's and Climacus's view, however, one does not become a Christian as a matter of course by being baptized, nor is it decisive for becoming a Christian or for salvation (CUP i. 366-7, 372-3, 418 n.; JP iii. 3086). At best, baptism provides the possibility for becoming a Christian at a more mature stage of life; at worst, without inward appropriation, which is the decisive mark of being a Christian, it contributes to the fundamental confusion of what Christianity is by associating it with an external act rather than inwardness (CUP i. 363-8, 373).

19 On Kierkegaard's view of baptism, see also Law (1988) and Eller (1968: 309-19).

In contrast to his rather lukewarm endorsement of infant baptism, the sacrament of Holy Communion, together with the service of public confession and absolution of sin that precedes it, was very important to Kierkegaard.20 Over against Grundtvig's emphasis on the sacrament of baptism as constituting the basis of the church, Kierkegaard regarded the Lord's Supper as 'the originally true center in the Church' and the place where reconciliation and communion with Christ takes place (JP v. 5089; CD 270-1). The thirteen discourses which he wrote for the communion on Fridays testify to the importance this sacrament had for his life and authorship in that it constitutes the resting point for his authorship as a whole and for his own existential position as a penitent. In the preface to the last set of communion discourses Kierkegaard writes:

An authorship that began with Either/Or and advanced step by step seeks here its decisive place of rest, at the foot of the altar, where the author, personally most aware of his own imperfection and guilt, certainly does not call himself a truth-witness but only a singular kind of poet and thinker who, without authority, has had nothing new to bring but 'has wanted once again to read through, if possible in a more inward way, the original text of individual human existence-relationships, the old familiar text handed down from the fathers.' (WA 165; cf. CUP i. 629-30)


If Kierkegaard was not a truth-witness, neither in his view was Bishop Myn-ster, who died on 30 January 1854 and was eulogized at a memorial service on 5 February by Professor Martensen, who shortly thereafter was named Mynster's successor as Primate Bishop of the Danish People's Church. In his address Martensen claimed that Mynster was one of the 'authentic truth-witnesses' in a long line of glorious personages stretching from the apostles to the present (TM 359). Having waited silently for three years for an admission from the old bishop that the Christianity he represented was a mitigated, toned-down version, Kierkegaard took exception to Martensen's claim and used it as the basis for launching a final open attack upon the state church.

The attack came in two phases, first via a series of articles published in a political newspaper, Fxdrelandet (The Fatherland), followed by a series of self-published pamphlets called The Moment because they allowed Kierkegaard to address his contemporaries instantly. Given his disdain for the press, it is perhaps surprising that Kierkegaard resorted to that medium

20 See also Law (2007); Cappel0rn (2006); Plekon (1992).

for initiating the attack. But he had good reason for doing so. By using a popular medium that everyone reads, he was able to compel his contemporaries to take notice. There were other motivations as well. Noting a statement in one of Luther's sermons that 'preaching actually should not be done inside of churches' (although Kierkegaard points out that this was said inside a church and thus was 'nothing more than talk'), he agrees that preaching should take place 'on the street, right in the middle of life, the actuality of ordinary weekday life' (JP vi. 6957). Due to his lack of physical strength, however, Kierkegaard sought to achieve only 'an approximation of preaching in the streets' by using a political newspaper devoted to mundane issues in order to gain a hearing for his views in the context of everyday life (ibid.). It also enabled him to communicate his views in smaller doses for consumption by the general public and to maintain his independence by publishing in a newspaper that was completely unassociated with him and his cause. In this way Kierkegaard believed that he was able to use the press successfully without contradicting his previous objections to it.

In the first newspaper article, written in February 1854 but not published until the following December, well after Martensen's appointment as primate bishop in April, Kierkegaard begins his objection to Martensen's claim that Bishop Mynster was a truth-witness by repeating his previous charge that, in comparison to the New Testament, Mynster's proclamation of Christianity was a toned-down version that 'veils, suppresses, omits some of what is most decisively Christian', namely such inconvenient requirements as dying to the world, voluntary self-denial, and suffering for the doctrine, which would 'make our lives strenuous' and 'prevent us from enjoying life' (TM 3-4). But if one considers the extent to which 'the proclaimer's life expresses what he says', which in Kierkegaard's view is 'Christianly decisive', then neither the proclamation nor the man was in character, inasmuch as in the New Testament a truth-witness is someone 'whose life from first to last is unfamiliar with everything called enjoyment' and who witnesses for the truth in poverty, lowliness, and abasement, bringing upon oneself flogging, mistreatment, and finally death by crucifixion, beheading, or burning (4-6). Only by advancing to the final ignominy of martyrdom is one admitted to 'the first class in the Christian order of precedence among the authentic truth-witnesses' (6). Denying Martensen's contention in reply (the only time the new bishop deigned to address Kierkegaard's charge in public) that he had made being a truth-witness synonymous with being a martyr, which Mynster admittedly was not, Kierkegaard maintains that he has described the truth-witness as a sufferer 'without in any way whatever asserting that to suffer should mean to suffer death' (9n.; cf. 360-6). Far from suffering for the truth, however, Bishop Mynster had led a life of self-indulgence and worldly sagacity, having 'attained and enjoyed on the greatest scale every possible benefit and advantage' from his office (10).

The point at issue for Kierkegaard, then, was not only Mynster's proclamation of Christianity, which in his view was an illusion and accommodation to the world that constituted 'high treason against Christianity', but also the character of the man, whose life did not resemble a break or heterogeneity with the world 'in even the remotest way' (TM 8, 14, 17). It was clear to Kierkegaard from Martensen's memorial address, however, that the professor and soon-to-be bishop intended to include the clergy in the category of truth-witness as well (12, 20). This was the final straw for Kierkegaard, who exclaims:

As soon, however, as it is heard that the pastor is also a truth-witness, that what we call a pastor means to be a truth-witness, at that very moment the whole ecclesiastical established order, from the Christian point of view, is a shameless indecency. With this claim the established order can no longer be considered an extreme mitigation that still relates itself to the Christianity of the New Testament, but it is an obvious falling away from the Christianity of the New Testament, and with that claim is, from the Christian point of view, a shameless indecency, an attempt verging on making a fool of God____ (TM 20)


With this statement the attack shifts from a focus on Mynster to the clergy and established order in general. Earlier Kierkegaard had envisioned the need for pastors who would assume the role of martyrs to bring about a religious awakening and reformation in the land as a result of the triumph of anarchy in society. Now those who hold appointments in the established church, including pastors, deans, and bishops, are viewed not as truth-witnesses but merely as 'teachers, public officials, professors, councilors' who are in their professions primarily for the sake of securing a livelihood, just like any other profession in society (TM 26, 31, 60, 162-4). These 'silk-and-velvet pastors', as Kierkegaard disdainfully describes them, are excoriated as 'liars' and 'shameless scoundrels' for betraying Christianity and, like Judas, accepting 'blood-money' procured by the death of Christ (43-4, 195). They are accused of being egotists and parasites out for personal financial gain and power; of being more dishonest than moneylenders and merchants; of misleading people and cheating them not only out of their money but also out of the eternal by the 'gibberish' they preach; of 'skulduggery' for 'knavishly abolishing Christianity'; of 'hypocrisy to the second power' in passing themselves off as earnest and true preachers of Christianity; of being 'huckstering knaves' who 'for the sake of business'

have gained millions of Christians by falsifying Christianity; and finally of being 'cannibals' who live off those 'glorious ones' (Christ, the apostles, the truth-witnesses) whose sufferings made it possible for them to enjoy a comfortable life (61, 160, 165-6, 188, 226, 321-3, 340). These epithets and accusations are damning indeed, leading Kierkegaard to advise his readers to 'beware of the pastors!' (197). Yet he claims that he is 'not motivated by any hostility to the clergy' in making these charges; apart from falsely being called truth-witnesses, which they of all social classes are furthest from being, the clergy are in his view just as 'competent, respectable, and worthy a class in society as any other' (53). Nor has he 'taken aim at their making a living in the finite sense'; on the contrary, he claims that he 'would perhaps even be inclined to fight for the clergy' if their livelihoods were attacked (60-1).

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