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Søren Kierkegaard: “But now for Christianity. Yes, the person who defends that has never believed in it.”

3 May 2012

“To defend something is always to discredit it. Let a man have a warehouse full of gold, let him be willing to give away a ducat to every one of the poor – but let him also be stupid enough to begin this charitable undertaking of his with a defense in which he offers three good reasons in justification; and it will almost come to the point of people finding it doubtful whether indeed he is doing something good. But now for Christianity. Yes, the person who defends that has never believed in it.”

— Søren Kierkegaard, in The Sickness Unto Death



5 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 May 2012 3:05 am

    Hmm. Definite food for thought.

    • 4 May 2012 12:15 pm

      It is related, certainly. I admit that I know very little, but do you think there is a difference between the kind of “defending” described above, and explaining? Apologetics, perhaps, encompasses both sometimes, but it seems to me that if people of faith explain nothing, that is also problematic.
      The full nature of Christianity cannot be explained. I have been convinced of that the hard way in trying to explain it to myself. Certainly Christianity should be expressed by how Christ’s followers live more than by what they say. But there are some misunderstandings that can be cleared away by explanation, at least one-on-one.
      Or have I missed some key point here?

      • 4 May 2012 3:23 pm

        I think I see what you are getting at. Both Lewis and Kierkegaard are, I believe, expressing an apophatic theology. Apophatic theology, comes from the realization that we can never truly define God in our words.

        Gregory of Nyssa, in “The Life of Moses” wrote that “The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility,“

        There are different types of knowing, each with its own distinctive features. There is a theoretical or technical knowledge that is concerned with objective data. This kind of knowledge confers a certain power and control: power and control over matter, and even power and control over people. It can be taught and learned in all its particulars by any one possessing the skill. Surgical techniques, business strategies, military tactics, legal procedures, – Paul referred to this as the kind of knowledge that “puffs up”. Knowledge of this kind enables us to externally manipulate things or people, to change them, to exert an influence on them from the outside. The other type of knowledge is personal and intuitive, it arises from within, is highly subjective and cannot really be transmitted by teaching. At its purest it is transcendent, in that it passes through even the hidden levels of the imagination and affective life to the heart of the person known. This is the kind of knowledge the Christian faith is most concerned with. To know another, to know God is to experience him precisely as person. Such knowledge of the Lord is a saving knowledge. It is possible only through love.  

        God is Incomprehensible in His essence, but there is a sense in which He can be known and that knowledge of Him is an absolute necessity for our salvation. In his Catechetical Lectures St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that, “We explain not what God is, but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God, to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge” 

        Dionysius distinguished two different ways that one could speak theologically. cataphatic theology makes positive affirmations about God. Apophatic theology proceeds by way of negations, stating those things which we know are not. Although the first may take you a little ways, Dionysius had a pronounced preference for the second. 

        The pagan philosopher Plato, made the statement that it is difficult to apprehend the Creator and the Father of this world but to express Him is indeed an impossibility. Later St. Gregory the Theologian, referred to Plato and altered his words, emphasizing that “to form an adequate concept of God is even more impossible than to express it when formed”, because “that which may be apprehended may perhaps be expressed by language if not relatively well at any rate imperfectly”. The divine nature or essence is outside the reach of any knowledge and because of that fact human language is absolutely inadequate for the task. God in His essence(ousia) cannot be a subject of human knowing. St. John of Damascus points out that, “God is infinite and incomprehensible, and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility . All that we say about God cataphatically does not show forth His nature but the things that are related to His nature”

  2. 4 May 2012 4:13 pm

    Over the past five years or so I have been coming to understand, at least in part, what you and those you refer to are talking about. The process has, so far, given me both the most pain and the most joy I have ever experienced. I grew up with a theoretical understanding of the incomprehensibility of God, but that only made it harder to REALLY learn the truth of it.

    I know very well, now, that explaining God and Christianity to someone is, in itself, useless. I cannot, in my own strength, convince anyone that my faith has value. I cannot even explain my faith, in logical terms, to myself. I either have to accept or struggle against God, I cannot reason my way to or around Him.
    It is the idea of not explaining at all that gave me pause with the above quote because I do believe that sometimes it is good to explain parts of Christianity even though I cannot explain my faith or God. If I took the quote at face-value, without considering its possible implications, I mgiht dismiss all apologetics, and that seems foolish. That is not to say that I consider the Quote foolish. Words are very limiting when one tries to express truth, and the quote does express truth. It is just that truth can be misunderstood and misapplied to the point where it ceases to be truth.
    I want to be wary of stretching a truth into a lie. Does that make sense?

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