The Knight of Faith versus the Knight of Infinite Resignation

Johannes candidly admits that he is incapable of making the movement of faith whereby, by virtue of the absurd, the finite is regained in its entirety after having been renounced in infinite resignation, but he does claim to be able to describe this movement. Although he has never come across an authentic exemplar of faith in his own time, he can very well imagine what one would be like. As Johannes envisions him, the knight of faith bears 'a striking resemblance' to a bourgeois philistine, that is, someone who belongs entirely to finitude, enjoying and taking part in everything 'with a persistence that characterizes the worldly person whose heart is attached to such things' (FT 32).7 In other words, he looks and behaves just like a typical middle-class citizen of nineteenth-century Denmark: 'No heavenly look or any sign of the incommensurable betrays him. If one did not know him, it would be impossible to distinguish him from the rest of the crowd' (33). Unlike the bourgeois philistine, however, the knight of faith does everything by virtue of the absurd, having resigned the finite infinitely and received it back again. Likening the knight of faith to a ballet dancer who is able to make the movement ofinfinity with 'such precision and proficiency that he constantly gets finitude out of it', Johannes observes: 'It is supposed to be the most difficult task for a dancer to leap into a particular posture in such a way that there is no second when he grasps at the position but assumes it in the leap itself. Perhaps no dancer can do it—but that knight does' (34). Unlike most people, who are 'wallflowers who do not join in the dance', the knight of infinite resignation is also a dancer who makes the leap upwards into infinity and then back down again into finitude (34). But there is always a slight hesitation in resuming the posture of finitude which reveals that the knight of infinite resignation is really a stranger in the world, whereas 'to be able to land in such a way that it looks as if one were simultaneously standing and walking, to transform the leap of life into a gait, absolutely to express the sublime in the pedestrian—that only the knight of faith can do—and that is the only miracle' (34).

In Johannes's view, faith is often confused with infinite resignation in that it is thought to be other-worldly rather this-worldly in orientation.

7 The knight of faith as described by Johannes is a man, but women can also become knights of faith (see FT 37-8).

The movement of infinite resignation is a prerequisite of faith inasmuch as it is only through this movement that we become transparent to ourselves in our eternal validity as human beings in relation to God by giving up the finite for the infinite, the temporal for the eternal. Until that happens there can be no question of receiving the finite back again in faith. But infinite resignation is a movement we can make on our own, whereas getting the finite back again is entirely beyond human power and understanding and thus is possible only by virtue of the absurd or the fact that for God everything is possible. At the same time, however, the impossibility of this possibility, humanly speaking, must be acknowledged or else we are self-deceived and have not even attained infinite resignation, let alone faith, which in Johannes's view is not an 'aesthetic emotion' or 'spontaneous inclination of the heart' but the paradox of existence (FT 40-1). To illustrate this difference, Johannes contrasts the movement of faith to the naive conviction of a young girl who believes her wish will be fulfilled despite all difficulties but dares not 'look the impossibility in the eye in the pain of resignation' (40). 'Fools and young people chatter about everything being possible for a human being', he observes, but 'that is a great misapprehension. Spiritually speaking, everything is possible, but in the finite world there is much that is not possible' (37). Knights of infinite resignation make the impossible possible by expressing it spiritually renouncing the content of their wishes in time while recollecting them inwardly in an eternal sense. Knights of faith, by contrast, believe in the possibility of giving their wishes expression in time, should the moment ever come allowing that to happen, even though they are acutely aware that, humanly speaking, it is impossible. Whereas A purely human courage is required to renounce the whole of temporality in order to gain the eternal, ...it takes a paradoxical and humble courage ...to grasp the whole of temporality by virtue of the absurd, and this is the courage of faith', Johannes claims (41). He thus concludes: 'Temporality, finitude is what it is all about' (42). Even though he lacks the courage of faith himself, he is able to appreciate the difficulty and greatness of it and encourages others to do the same, enjoining us to 'either forget Abraham or else learn to be horrified by the prodigious paradox that is the meaning of his life, so that we may understand that our age, like every age, can be joyful if it has faith' (45).

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