The Need For Education In Christian Concepts

Shortly after the publication of Concluding Unscientific Postscript Kierkegaard drafted The Book on Adler, a work occasioned by the deposing of the Danish parson and theologian Adolph Peter Adler (1817-69) by the state church on grounds of mental confusion concerning his claim to have received a new revelation from Christ. Kierkegaard was interested in the case of Adler partly because he knew the man personally but mainly because Adler provided a timely, concrete example of just the sort of conceptual confusions about Christianity and Christian subjectivity pointed out by Climacus in the Postscript. On the one hand, Adler constituted a 'bitter epigram' or satire on the modern age inasmuch as he was representative of a general theological confusion and volatilization of Christian concepts that was characteristic of the time, especially in Hegelian speculative theology and philosophy of which Adler was a faithful adherent and expositor prior to receiving his so-called revelation (BA 23, 93-4, 121-3). On the other hand, Adler stood out as a 'phenomenon' or special individual over against the universal or established order of the time by virtue of his claim to have received a revelation and by the fact that, unlike most people in Christendom, where 'all are Christians of sorts', he apparently had undergone a genuine religious awakening (25, 28-31, 49, 103-4, 133). In Kierkegaard's estimation, it was highly doubtful that Adler had received a revelation, especially since he did not stand firm in asserting that claim and eventually acquiesced to the judgement of the church authorities, but it was also highly doubtful that he had experienced a Christian religious awakening (88, 112-16). Adler thus constituted an actual contemporary subject, not a poetic or imaginary figure such as Kierkegaard was accustomed to concoct in his pseudonymous writings, through whom he could illustrate and emphasize the need for 'proficiency and schooling in the Christian conceptual definitions' that constitute the 'qualitative, unshakable criterion' by which both a revelation and a Christian religious awakening can be distinguished from a more universal ethical-religious enthusiasm (89, 114-15).


Like Kierkegaard, Adler was baptized and confirmed in the Christian faith and was a theological graduate of Copenhagen University. Upon receiving his degree, he immersed himself in Hegelian philosophy, delivering lectures at the university and publishing a popular account of Hegel's logic. He then became a pastor in a remote rural community, where he was brought into contact with simple, ordinary people who lacked acquaintance with Hegel. The humorous incongruity of this situation gave Kierkegaard an opportunity, first of all, to highlight class differences in Danish society between the common people of the countryside, who in his view earnestly represented the essentially Christian even though they had received little formal Christian education, and the cultured elite of the city, among whom Hegelian philosophy was popular and regarded as the highest development of Christianity (BA 96-8).25 As a dyed-in-the-wool, sophisticated Hegelian urbanite, Adler was 'a wild, alien bird in the country', having essentially nothing in common with simple people, with the result that his situation was one not only of loneliness but also self-contradiction, since it was his duty to preach what he was by education presumably already far beyond (97-8). Then an event occurred that changed Adler's life, transporting him via a qualitative leap from 'the fantastic medium of Hegelian philos-ophy...into the sphere of religious inwardness', from the objectivity of abstract thinking to the subjectivity of religious self-concern, whereby, as Kierkegaard characterizes it, his life 'acquired a rhythm very different from the cab-horse trot in which most people, in the religious sense, dawdle through life' (98-100, 103).

25 On the contrast between city and country in Kierkegaard's writings, see Pattison (1999). See also Kirmmse (1990) on the cultural and political differences between the peasant and bourgeois classes in 19th-cent. Denmark.

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