What Christianity Is

It is 'of utmost and decisive importance', Climacus declares, to establish a 'preliminary agreement' with speculative thought concerning what Christianity is (CUP i. 370). 'If Christianity is essentially something objective, it behooves the observer to be objective', he concedes, but if it is 'essentially subjectivity', then it is a mistake to be objective (CUP i. 53). In Climacus's view, however, theological reflection on this issue must not be carried out in a 'learned or partisan manner', as that would lead us back to a never-ending process of approximation; instead, it must be raised 'in terms of existence' or what Christianity is for someone interested in existing in it (370). In the present age, he observes, 'the matter has been turned in such

10 See Westphal (1996: 55), for a comparison and contrast of Climacus's ideology critique to that of Marx.

11 Going beyond faith to a rational comprehension of Christianity was a trademark of Martensen's speculative theology that Kierkegaard often alludes to derisively See e.g. FT 3-6.

a way that one takes an interest in being a Christian in order to be able to decide what Christianity is, and not in what Christianity is in order to be a Christian' (612). For Climacus the latter motivation is clearly what should inform one's deliberation on what Christianity is (612).

Climacus further insists that 'the question about what Christianity is must not be confused with the objective question about the truth of Christianity' (CUP i. 371). This is an extremely important point, for he wants to argue that it is possible to ask objectively about what Christianity is quite apart from the question of whether it is true or not. One can also know what Christianity is without being a Christian, but 'whether one can know what it is to be a Christian without being one', Climacus contends, is quite another question that 'must be answered in the negative' (372). Nor does one become a Christian by merely knowing what Christianity is. But if one is interested in becoming a Christian, one does need to know what Christianity is, and if one is a Christian, there must have been a time when one was not a Christian, then came to find out what Christianity is, and can now say what it is by comparing one's earlier life with one's present life (372). In Christendom, however, Climacus observes that 'learned Christians argue about what Christianity actually is, but it never occurs to them to think otherwise than that they themselves are Christians, as if it were possible to know for sure that one is something without knowing definitely what it is' (374)!

What then is Christianity? Given the current state of affairs in Christendom, in which Christianity has been confused with paganism and everyone is considered to be a Christian as a matter of course, Climacus observes that 'it becomes more and more difficult to know what Christianity is' (CUP i. 368). But one thing is clear to him: 'If modern Christian speculative thought has categories essentially in common with paganism, then modern speculative thought cannot be Christianity' (368, cf. 375). As Climacus sees it, however, modern speculative thought does not even bother to raise the question of what Christianity is but immediately assumes an identity with it that actually makes mediation or reconciliation of conceptual contrasts between them impossible since Christianity has already been mediated in speculative thought by being changed into a philosophical theory or doctrine that has been rationally comprehended (375-9).

Over against the speculative understanding of Christianity as a doctrine, therefore, Climacus declares (in agreement with his Danish editor) that Christianity is not a doctrine but an existence-communication (CUP i. 379-80; cf. JP i. 484, 517, 676, 1060).12 More precisely, Christianity is not a doctrine in the sense ofbeing a philosophical theory, for if it were, Climacus

12 See also Adams (2003).

observes, 'the relation to it would not be one of faith, since there is only an intellectual relation to a doctrine' (326). For Climacus 'the immediate identifying mark of every misunderstanding of Christianity is that it changes it into a doctrine and draws it into the range of intellectuality' (327). Insofar as Christianity has doctrines, such as the doctrines of the incarnation and atonement, and in that sense can be called a doctrine, it is a doctrine that is to be actualized in existence rather than speculatively comprehended (379 n.). With respect to a doctrine of this kind, Climacus claims, it is a misunderstanding to want to speculate about it and 'the ultimate of misunderstanding' to have understood it speculatively; rather, the task of the understanding in relation to Christianity is simply 'to understand that it is to be existed in' and 'to understand the difficulty of existing in it' (379 n.). In its claim to have understood Christianity through mediation, therefore, modern speculation constitutes 'the ultimate misunderstanding of Christianity' (380 n.). That being the case, in addition to the fact that 'the nineteenth century is so frightfully speculative' that the word 'doctrine' is 'immediately understood as a philosophical theory that is to be and ought to be comprehended', Climacus has decided to call Christianity an existence-communication 'in order to designate very definitely how it is different from speculative thought' (380n.).

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