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Philosophical Fragments by Sören Kierkegaard


Sören Kierkegaard is one of the towering Christian existential thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century. While his literary style was experimental, his writings call for Christian morality; a defense of faith and religion. Among his many books are Training in Christianity, Sickness Unto Death, and Fear and Trembling. Originally published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey in 1936. Translated by David F. Swenson, translation revised by Howard V. Hong. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter 5: The Disciple at Second Hand


Dear reader! Since by our supposition 1843 years have elapsed between the contemporary disciple and the time of this conversation, there would seem to be ample reason to raise the question of a disciple at second hand, for this relationship must often have been repeated. The question seems one, therefore, that we cannot refuse to discuss; nor does it seem that we can dismiss the demand involved in the question for an explanation of the difficulties that may offer when we seek to determine the disciple at second hand in his resemblance to, and difference from, the contemporary disciple. But in spite of this, should we not perhaps first consider whether the above question is as legitimate as it lies near at hand? For if it should appear that the question is illegitimate, or that one cannot ask such a question without stupidity, and hence forfeiting the right to charge one with stupidity who happens to be so wise as not to be able to answer it -- in that case the difficulties would seem to be removed." -- "Undoubtedly; for when the question cannot be asked the answer need not trouble us, and the difficulty becomes slight indeed." -- "This does not quite follow; for suppose the difficulty lay in perceiving that one cannot ask such a question. Or have you perhaps already perceived this; was it this you meant by what you said in our last conversation (Chapter IV), that you had understood me and all the consequences of my proposition, while I confess that I had not yet entirely understood myself ?" -- "By no means was this my meaning; nor is it my opinion that the question can be dismissed, so much the less as it immediately involves a new question, whether there is not a difference between the many who consort under the head: the disciple at second hand. In other words, is it right to divide so tremendous a section of time into two such unequal parts: the generation of contemporary disciples on the one hand, and all the subsequent generations on the other?" -- "You mean that there must be room for question concerning the disciple at fifth hand, at seventh hand, and so forth. But even if to please you something were to be said about this, does it follow that a discussion of all these differences, unless it be in contradiction with itself, may not properly be comprised under a single head, over against the class: the contemporary disciple? Or would our discussion be justified if it imitated your example, in its simplicity following in the steps of your cunning, so as to transform the problem of the disciple at second hand into an entirely different problem, by which, instead of assenting to or dissenting from my proposal, you would find opportunity to trick me by raising a new question? But since you probably do not wish to continue this conversation from fear of Its degenerating into sophistry and bickering, I will break it off at this point; but from the exposition I now intend to place before you, you will observe that notice has been taken of the remarks that have passed between us."

1

The class of disciples at second hand considered with respect to the differences comprised within it

In this section we do not reflect upon the relation between the secondary disciple and the contemporary disciple, but the differences considered are such as to leave intact the identity which the internally different exhibits over against something external; for the variation which is only a variation within a class remains subordinate to the identity which constitutes the class. For this reason it is not arbitrary to cut off the discussion where we please; the relative differences here in question constitute no sorties, from which a new quality may be made to emerge by a coup de mains, since they are all comprised within a determinate common quality. A sorties would arise only if we subjected the concept of contemporaneity to a false dialectic, for example by showing that in a certain sense no one could be a contemporary, since no one could be contemporary with every moment or phase; or by asking where contemporaneity leaves off and non-contemporaneity begins, whether there may not exist a twilight zone subject to bargaining, of which the prating understanding might say: to a certain degree, and so forth. All such inhuman profundities lead nowhere, or perhaps in our day they may lead to a reputation for genuine speculative insight; for the despised sophism, the devil only knows how, has become the wretched secret of genuine speculation, and the to-a-certain-degree mode of thought (that travesty on tolerance which mediates everything without petty scrupulosity), regarded as negative by the ancients, has now become positive; and what the ancients regarded as positive, the passion for distinctions, has now become a childish folly.

Opposites stand revealed most clearly when they are juxtaposed, and hence we choose for discussion here the first generation of secondary disciples and the last, i.e., that which limits the given spatium, the 1843 years. We shall make our exposition as brief as possible, since we do not speak historically but algebraically, and have no wish to distract or beguile the mind by the enchantments of the manifold. On the contrary, we shall strive constantly to remember to hold fast the common likeness subsisting beneath the differences discussed, as over against the contemporary disciple (not until we come to the next paragraph will we have occasion to note more precisely that the question of the disciple at second hand is at bottom illegitimate); and we shall take care to see that the differences do not swell to such proportions as to confuse everything.

A. The First Generation of Secondary Disciples

This generation enjoys the (relative) advantage of being nearer to an immediate certainty, of being nearer to the attainment of an exact and reliable account of what happened, from witnesses whose reliability is subject to collateral control. We have already in Chapter IV calculated the value of this immediate certainty. To be somewhat nearer to it is doubtless an illusory advantage; for he who is not so near to immediate certainty as to be immediately certain, is absolutely separated from it. But suppose we try to estimate the value of this relative difference, that which marks the first generation of secondary disciples over against later ones; how great a value shall we assign to it? We can evaluate it only by comparing it with the advantage enjoyed by a contemporary. But his advantage, the advantage namely of immediate certainty in the strict sense, we have already shown in Chapter IV to be ambiguous (anceps -- dangerous), and we shall show this further in the next paragraph. -- Suppose there lived a man in the immediately succeeding generation who combined in his own person a tyrant’s power with a tyrant’s passion, and suppose that this man had somehow conceived the idea of concentrating his entire time and energy upon the problem of bringing the truth to light on this point, would this constitute him a disciple? Suppose he possessed himself of all the contemporary witnesses still living, together with the immediate circle of their associates; suppose he subjected them one by one to the most searching inquisition, shutting them up in prison like the seventy interpreters, starving them to make them tell the truth, confronting them with one another in the craftiest possible manner, all for the sake of making sure by every possible means of a reliable account -- would the possession of this account constitute him a disciple? Must not the God rather smile at him, because he thought to arrogate to himself in this manner what cannot be purchased for money, nor yet seized by violence? Even if the fact we speak of were a simple historical fact, difficulties would not fail to present themselves as soon as he tried to realize an absolute agreement in all petty details, which would be of extreme importance to him, because the passion of faith, i.e., the passion with the intensity of faith, had been misdirected upon the merely historical as its object. It is a familiar fact that the most conscientious and truthful of witnesses are the first to involve themselves in contradiction when subjected to inquisitorial treatment and questioned in the light of an inquisitor’s fixed idea; while it is the prerogative of a hardened criminal, on account of the precision which an evil conscience tends to enforce, not to contradict himself in his lie. But leaving this aside, the fact of which we speak is not a simple historical fact: of what advantage then is all this precision? If he succeeded in bringing to pass a complicated account, consistent to the letter and to the minute, he would beyond all doubt be deceived. He would have obtained a certainty even greater than was possible for a contemporary observer, one who saw and heard; for the latter would quickly discover that he sometimes failed to see what was there, and sometimes saw what was not there, and so with his hearing. And besides, a contemporary would constantly be reminded that he did not see or hear the God immediately, but merely a humble human being who said of himself that he was the God; in other words, he would constantly be reminded that the fact in question was based upon a self-contradiction. Would this man then gain anything by reason of the reliability of his account? Historically speaking yes, but otherwise not; for all talk of the God’s earthly beauty, when he was after all only in the form of a servant, an individual human being like one of us, the cause of offense; all talk of his immediately manifest divinity, though divinity is not an immediate characteristic, and the Teacher must first develop in the learner the most profound self-reflection, the sense of sin, as a condition for the understanding; all talk of the immediate miraculousness of his deeds, though a miracle does not exist for immediate apprehension, but only for faith, if it be true that whoever does not believe does not see the miracle -- all such talk is here as everywhere galimatias, an attempt to substitute idle words for serious consideration.

This generation has the relative advantage of being nearer to the shock produced by the impact of our fact. This shock and its reverberations will help to arouse the attention. The significance of such an aroused attention (which may also issue in taking offense) has already been evaluated in Chapter IV. The being somewhat nearer to it in comparison with later generations, well, suppose we call it an advantage; its value can only be relative to the doubtful advantage enjoyed by an immediate contemporary. The advantage is entirely dialectical, like the aroused attention itself. It consists in having one’s attention aroused, whether the result is that one believes or is offended. The aroused attention is by no means partial to faith, as if faith followed from the attention by a simple consequence. The advantage is that a state of mind is induced in which the crucial nature of the decision confronting the individual becomes more clearly evident. This is an advantage, and the only one of any account; aye, so significant is it that it is fearful, by no means an easy and comfortable convenience. Unless in consequence of a stupid insensibility this fact should some time deteriorate into a meaningless human conventionality, each subsequent generation will exhibit the same proportion of offense as the first; for there is no immediacy by the aid of which anyone could come any nearer to it. One may be educated up to this fact as much as you please, it will be of no avail. On the contrary, and especially if the educator is himself accomplished in this direction, it may help one to become a well-drilled chatterer, in whose mind there is no suspicion of the possibility of offense, nor any room for faith.

B. The Last Generation

This generation is far removed from the initial shock, but it has on the other hand the consequences to lean upon, the proof of probability afforded by the results. It has before it, as immediate datum, the consequences with which this fact must doubtless have invested everything; it has an obvious recourse to a demonstration of probability, from which however no immediate transition to Faith is possible, since as we have shown Faith is by no means partial to probability; to make such an assertion about Faith is to slander it.1 If this fact came into the world as the Absolute Paradox, nothing that happens subsequently can avail to change this. The consequences will in all eternity remain the consequences of a paradox, and hence in an ultimate view will be precisely as improbable as the Paradox itself; unless it is to be supposed that the consequences, which as such are derivative, have retroactive power to transform the Paradox, which would be about as reasonable as to suppose that a son had retroactive power to transform his own father. Even if the consequences be conceived in a purely logical relation to their cause, and hence under the form of immanence, it still remains true that they can be conceived only as identical and homogeneous with their cause; least of all will they have a transforming power. To have the consequences as a datum is then precisely as dubious an advantage as to have an immediate certainty; whoever takes the consequences immediately to his credit is deceived, precisely as one who takes the immediate certainty for Faith.

The advantage of the consequences would seem to lie in a gradual naturalization of this fact. If such is the case, i.e., if such a thing is conceivable, the later generation has even a direct advantage over the contemporary generation; and a man would surely have to be very stupid if he could speak of the consequences in this sense, and yet rave about how fortunate the contemporaries were. Under the assumption of naturalization, it will be possible for a later generation to appropriate the fact without the slightest embarrassment, without sensing anything of the ambiguity of the aroused attention, from which offense may issue as well as faith. However, this fact is no respecter of the drill-master’s discipline; it is too proud to desire a disciple whose willingness to attach himself to the cause is based upon the favorable turn that events have taken; it disdains naturalization, whether under the protection of a king or a professor. It is and remains the Paradox, and cannot be assimilated by any speculation. This fact exists for Faith alone. Faith may indeed become the second nature in a man, but the man in whom it becomes a second nature must surely have had a first nature, since Faith became the second. If the fact in question is naturalized, this may be expressed in relation to the individual by saying that the individual is born with faith, i.e., with his second nature. If we begin in this manner all sorts of galimatias will simultaneously begin to jubilate; for now the flood of nonsense has broken through and nothing can stop it. This particular nonsense will naturally have been discovered by the process of making an advance; for in Socrates’ view there was certainly a genuine meaning, though we left it behind in order to discover the hypothesis here set forth; such galimatias as that just described would doubtless feel deeply insulted if anyone refused to concede that it had advanced far beyond Socrates. There is meaning even in a doctrine of transmigration; but the doctrine that a man may be born with his second nature, a second nature involving a reference to a temporally dated historical fact, is a veritable non plus ultra of absurdity. From the Socratic point of view the individual has an existence prior to his coming into being and remembers himself, so that the Recollection here involved is his preexistence, and not a recollection about his preexistence. His nature (his one nature, for here there is no question of a first and second nature) is determined in continuity with itself. But in our project, on the contrary, everything is forward-looking and historical, so that the notion of being born with faith is as plausible as the notion of being born twenty-four years old. Were it really possible to find an individual born with Faith, he would constitute a prodigy, more notable even than the marvel told of by the barber in The Busy Man, the birth in the Neuen-Buden; even though barbers and "busy" men be inclined to regard him as a precious little darling, the crowning triumph of philosophical speculation. -- Or is it perhaps the case that the individual is born with both natures simultaneously; please to note, not with two natures which supplement one another and together form an ordinary human nature, but with two complete human natures, one of which pre-supposes the intermediation of an historical event. If this is the case, everything which we have proposed in our first chapter is confounded, nor do we stand at the Socratic order of things, but we stand before a confusion which not even Socrates would have been able to master. It would be a confusion in the forward direction having much in common with that invented by Apollonius of Tyana in the backward direction. Apollonius was not content like Socrates to remember himself as being before he came into existence (the eternity and continuity of the consciousness is the fundamental meaning of the Socratic thought), but was quick to make an advance; he remembered who he was before he became himself. If this fact has been naturalized, birth is no longer merely birth, but is at the same time a new birth, so that one who has never before been in existence is born anew -- in being born the first time. In the individual life the hypothesis of naturalization is expressed in the principle that the individual is born with faith; in the life of the race it must be expressed in the proposition that the human race, after the introduction of this fact, has become an entirely different race, though determined in continuity with the first. In that event the race ought to adopt a new name; for there is nothing inhuman about faith as we have proposed to conceive it, as a birth within a birth (the new birth); but if it were as the proposed objection would conceive it, it would be a fabulous monstrosity.

The advantage afforded by the consequences is dubious for still another reason, in so far as the consequences do not follow directly, as simple consequences. Let us assess the advantage of the consequences at its highest maximum, and assume that this fact has completely transformed the world, that it has interpenetrated even the smallest detail of life with its omnipresence -- how has this come to pass? Surely not all at once, but by a succession of steps; and how have these steps been taken? By each particular generation again coming into relationship with this fact. This intermediary determination must be brought under control, so that the entire virtue of the consequences can redound to one’s advantage only by means of a conversion. Or may not a misunderstanding also have consequences, may not a lie also be powerful? And has it not happened so to each generation? If now the previous generations collectively propose to bequeath to the last the whole splendid array of consequences without further ado, will not the consequences constitute a misunderstanding? Or is not Venice built over the sea, even if it became so solidly built up that a generation finally came upon the scene that did not notice it; and would it not be a sad misunderstanding if this last generation made the mistake of permitting the piles to rot and the city to sink? But consequences founded on a paradox are humanly speaking built over a yawning chasm, and their total content, which can be transmitted to the individual only with the express understanding that they rest upon a paradox, are not to be appropriated as a settled estate, for their entire value trembles in the balance.

C. Comparison

We shall not pursue these considerations further, but leave it to each one in particular to practice for himself the art of coming back to this thought from the most diverse angles, using his imagination to hit upon the strangest cases of relativity in difference and situation, in order thereupon to cast up the account. Thus the quantitative is confined within its limits, and within these limits it has unrestricted scope. It is the quantitative that gives to life its manifold variety, ever weaving its motley tapestry; it is that sister of Destiny who sat spinning at the wheel. But Thought is the other sister, whose task it is to cut the thread; which, leaving the figure, should be done every time the quantitative attempts to create a new quality.

The first generation of secondary disciples has the advantage that the difficulty is patently there; for it is always an advantage, an alleviation of a difficult task, that it is made to appear difficult. If the last generation, beholding the first, and seeing it almost sink under its burden of awe and fear, were to find it in its heart to say: "It is impossible to understand why they should take it so hard, for the whole is not heavier than that one could easily take it up and run with it," there will doubtless be someone to answer: "You are welcome to run with it if you like; but you ought at all events make sure that what you run with really is that of which we are speaking; for there is no disputing the fact that it is easy enough to run with the wind."

The last generation has the advantage of a greater ease; but as soon as it discovers that this ease is precisely the danger which breeds the difficulty, this new difficulty will correspond to the difficulty of the fear confronting the first generation, and it will be gripped as primitively by awe and fear as the first generation of secondary disciples.

2

The problem of the disciple at second hand

Before taking up the problem itself, let us first present one or two considerations by way of orientation. (a) If our fact is assumed to be a simple historical fact, contemporaneity is a desideratum. It is an advantage to be a contemporary in the more precise sense described in Chapter IV, or to be as near to such contemporaneity as possible, or to be in a position to check the reliability of contemporary witnesses, and so forth. Every historical fact is merely relative, and hence it is in order for time, the relative power, to decide the relative fortunes of men with respect to contemporaneity; such a fact has no greater significance, and only childishness or stupidity could so exaggerate its importance as to make it absolute. (b) If the fact in question is an eternal fact, every age is equally near; but not, it should be noted, in Faith; for Faith and the historical are correlative concepts, and it is only by an accommodation to a less exact usage that I employ in this connection the word "fact," which is derived from the historical realm. (c) If the fact in question is an absolute fact, or to determine it still more precisely, if it is the fact we have described, it would be a contradiction to suppose that time had any power to differentiate the fortunes of men with respect to it, that is to say, in any decisive sense. Whatever can be essentially differentiated by time is eo ipso not the Absolute; this would be to make the Absolute itself a casus in life, or a status relative to other things. But though the Absolute is declinable in all the casibus of life, it remains itself ever the same; and though it enters continually into relations with other things, it constantly remains status absolutus. But the absolute fact is also an historical fact. Unless we are careful to insist on this point our entire hypothesis is nullified; for then we speak only of an eternal fact. The absolute fact is an historical fact, and as such it is the object of Faith. The historical aspect must indeed be accentuated, but not in such a way that it becomes decisive for the individuals, for then we stand at the alternative described in (a), though when so understood it involves a contradiction; for a simple historical fact is not absolute, and has no power to force an absolute decision. But neither may the historical aspect of our fact be eliminated, for then we have only an eternal fact. -- Now just as the historical gives occasion for the contemporary to become a disciple, but only it must be noted through receiving the condition from the God himself, since otherwise we speak Socratically, so the testimony of contemporaries gives occasion for each successor to become a disciple, but only it must be noted through receiving the condition from the God himself.

Now we are ready to begin. From the God himself everyone receives the condition who by virtue of the condition becomes the disciple. If this is the case (and this has been expounded in the foregoing, where it was shown that the immediate contemporaneity is merely an occasion, but not in the sense that the condition was presupposed as already present), what becomes of the problem of the disciple at second hand? For whoever has what he has from the God himself clearly has it at first hand; and he who does not have it from the God himself is not a disciple.

Let us assume that it is otherwise, that the contemporary generation of disciples had received the condition from the God, and that the subsequent generations were to receive it from these contemporaries -- what would follow? We shall not distract the attention by reflecting upon the historical pusillanimity with which the contemporary accounts would presumably be sought after, as if everything depended on that, thus introducing a new contradiction and a new confusion (for if we once begin in this manner, the confusions will be inexhaustible). No, if the contemporary disciple gives the condition to the successor, the latter will come to believe in him. He receives the condition from him, and thus the contemporary becomes the object of Faith for the successor; for whoever gives the individual this condition is eo ipso (cf. the preceding) the object of Faith, and the God.

Such a meaningless consequence will surely deter thought from making this assumption. If on the contrary the successor also receives the condition from the God, the Socratic relationships will return, of course within the total difference which is constituted by the fact in question, and by the individual’s (the contemporary’s and the successor’s) particular relationship to the God. The above meaningless consequence on the other hand is unthinkable, in a different sense than when we say of the fact in question and of the individual’s particular relationship to the God, that it is unthinkable. Our hypothetical assumption of this fact and of the individual’s particular relationship to the God contains no self-contradiction, and thought is free to occupy itself therewith as with the strangest proposal possible. But the meaningless consequence developed above contains a self-contradiction; it does not rest content with positing an absurdity, the content of our hypothesis, but within this absurdity it brings forth a self-contradiction, namely that the God is the God for the contemporary, but that the contemporary is the God for a third party. Only through placing the God in particular relationship with the individual did our project go beyond Socrates; but who would dare to appear before Socrates with the nonsense that a human being is a God in his relation to another human being? The nature of the relationship between one human being and another is something that Socrates understood with a heroism of soul which it requires courage even to appreciate. And yet it is necessary to acquire the same understanding within the framework of what has here been assumed, namely the understanding that one human being, in so far as he is a believer, owes nothing to another but everything to the God. It will doubtless be readily perceived that this understanding is not easy, and especially not easy constantly to preserve (for to understand it once for all without meeting the concrete objections that present themselves in life, i.e., to imagine that one has understood it, is not difficult); and he who will make a beginning of practicing himself in this understanding will often enough catch himself in a misunderstanding, and will have need of the utmost circumspection if he proposes to enter into communication with others. But if he has understood it, he will also understand that there is not and never can be a disciple at second hand; for the believer, and he alone is a disciple, is always in possession of the autopsy of Faith; he does not see through the eyes of another, and he sees only what every believer sees -- with the eyes of Faith.

What then can a contemporary do for a successor? (a) He can inform him that he has himself believed this fact, which is not in the strict sense a communication (as expressed in the absence of any immediate contemporaneity, and in the circumstance that the fact is based upon a contradiction), but merely affords an occasion. For when I say that this or that has happened, I make an historical communication; but when I say: "I believe and have believed that so-and-so has taken place, although it is a folly to the understanding and an offense to the human heart," then I have simultaneously done everything in my power to prevent anyone else from determining his own attitude in immediate continuity with mine, asking to be excused from all companionship, since every individual is compelled to make up his own mind in precisely the same manner. (b) In this form he can relate the content of the fact. But this content exists only for Faith, in the same sense that colors exist only for sight and sounds for hearing. In this form, then, the content can be related; in any other form he merely indulges in empty words, perhaps misleading the successor to determine himself in continuity with the inanity.

In what sense may the credibility of a contemporary witness interest a successor? Not with respect to whether he really has had Faith, as he has testified of himself. This does not concern a successor in the least; such knowledge would profit him nothing; it can neither help him nor hurt him with respect to becoming a believer. Only one who receives the condition from the God is a believer. (This corresponds exactly to the requirement that man must renounce his reason, and on the other hand discloses the only form of authority that corresponds to Faith.) If anyone proposes to believe, i.e., imagines himself to believe, because many good and upright people living here on the hill have believed, i.e., have said that they believed (for no man can control the profession of another further than this; even if the other has endured, borne, suffered all for the Faith, an outsider cannot get beyond what he says about himself, for a lie can be stretched precisely as far as the truth -- in the eyes of men, but not in the sight of God), then he is a fool, and it is essentially indifferent whether he believes on account of his own and perhaps a widely held opinion about what good and upright people believe, or believes a Münchausen. If the credibility of a contemporary is to have any interest for him -- and alas! one may be sure that this will create a tremendous sensation, and give occasion for the writing of folios; for this counterfeit earnestness, which asks whether so-and-so is trustworthy instead of whether the inquirer himself has faith, is an excellent mask for spiritual indolence, and for town gossip on a European scale -- if the credibility of such a witness is to have any significance it must be with respect to the historical fact. But what historical fact? The historical fact which can become an object only for Faith, and which one human being cannot communicate to another, i.e., which can indeed be communicated to another but not so that the other believes it; and which if communicated in the form of Faith is so communicated as to prevent the other, so far as possible, from accepting it immediately. If the fact spoken of were a simple historical fact, the accuracy of the historical sources would be of great importance. Here this is not the case, for Faith cannot be distilled from I even the nicest accuracy of detail. The historical fact that the God has been in human form is the essence of the matter; the rest of the historical detail is not even as important as if we had to do with a human being instead of with the God. Jurists say that a capital crime submerges all lesser crimes, and so it is with Faith. Its absurdity makes all petty difficulties vanish. Inconsistencies which would otherwise be disconcerting do not count for anything here; they make no difference whatsoever. But it does make a difference on the contrary, if someone by petty calculation should try to auction off faith to the highest bidder; it makes so much difference as to prevent him from ever becoming a believer. If the contemporary generation had left nothing behind them but these words: "We have believed that in such and such a year the God appeared among us in the humble figure of a servant, that he lived and taught in our community, and finally died," it would be more than enough. The contemporary generation would have done all that was necessary; for this little advertisement, this nota bene on a page of universal history, would be sufficient to afford an occasion for a successor, and the most voluminous account can in all eternity do nothing more.

If we wish to express the relation subsisting between a contemporary and his successor in the briefest possible compass, but without sacrificing accuracy to brevity, we may say: The successor believes by means of (this expresses the occasional) the testimony of the contemporary, and in virtue of the condition he himself receives from the God. -- The testimony of the contemporary provides an occasion for the successor, just as the immediate contemporaneity provides an occasion for the contemporary. And if the testimony is what it ought to be, namely the testimony of a believer, it will give occasion for precisely the same ambiguity of the aroused attention as the witness himself has experienced, occasioned by the immediate contemporaneity. If the testimony is not of this nature, then it is either by an historian, and does not deal essentially with the object of Faith, as when a contemporary historian who was not a believer recounts one or another fact; or it is by a philosopher, and does not deal with the object of Faith. The believer on the other hand communicates his testimony in such form as to forbid immediate acceptance; for the words: I believe -- in spite of the Reason and my own powers of invention, present a very serious counter-consideration. There is no disciple at second hand. The first and the last are essentially on the same plane, only that a later generation finds its occasion in the testimony of a contemporary generation, while the contemporary generation finds this occasion in its own immediate contemporaneity, and in so far owes nothing to any other generation. But this immediate contemporaneity is merely an occasion, which can scarcely be expressed more emphatically than in the proposition that the disciple, if he understood himself, must wish that the immediate contemporaneity should cease, by the God’s leaving the earth.

* *

But I think I hear someone say: "It is very strange; I have now read your exposition through to the end, and really not without a certain degree of interest, noting with pleasure that there was no catchword, no invisible script. But how you twist and turn, so that, just as Saft always ended up in the pantry, you inevitably always manage to introduce some little word or phrase that is not your own, and which awakens disturbing recollections. This thought, that it is profitable for the disciple that the God should again leave the earth, is taken from the New Testament; it is found in the Gospel of John. However, whether this procedure of yours is intentional or not, whether you have perhaps desired to give this remark a special significance by clothing it in this form or not, as the case now stands it would seem that the advantage of the contemporary, which I was originally inclined to estimate very highly, is considerably reduced, since there can be no question of a disciple at second hand; which in plain English is as much as to say that all are essentially alike. But not only so for the immediate contemporaneity viewed as an advantage seems by your last remark so dubious that the most that can be said for it is that it is better that it should cease. This would seem to indicate that it is an intermediate situation, having its significance indeed, and not eliminable without, as you would say, turning back to the Socratic order of things, but nevertheless without absolute significance for the contemporary; he is not deprived of anything essential by its cessation, but rather profits by it; although if it had not been he loses all, and returns to the Socratic order of things." -- "Well said, I would reply, did not modesty forbid; for you speak as if it were myself. It is precisely as you say, the immediate contemporaneity is by no means a decisive advantage. This is readily seen if we think it through, and are not merely prompted by curiosity; provided we are not in too much of a hurry, provided we are not overly desirous, aye, perhaps in desire already standing on tip-toe in readiness to risk our lives to be first to tell remarkable news, like the barber in ancient Greece; and provided we are not so stupid as to consider such a death to be the death of a martyr. The immediate contemporaneity is so far from being an advantage that the contemporary must precisely desire its cessation, lest he be tempted to devote himself to seeing and hearing with his bodily eyes and ears, which is all a waste of effort and a grievous, aye a dangerous toil. But these considerations, as you have doubtless observed, belong in another place, in connection with the problem of what advantage a contemporary believer, after having become a believer, might have of his contemporaneity; while here we speak only of how far the immediate contemporaneity makes it easier to become a believer. A successor cannot be so tempted, for he is confined to the testimony of contemporaries, which in so far as it is the testimony of believers, has the prohibitive form of Faith. If the successor therefore understands himself he will wish that the contemporary testimony be not altogether too voluminous, and above all not filling so many books that the world can scarce contain them. There is in the immediate contemporaneity an unrest, which does not cease until the word goes forth that it is finished. But the succeeding tranquillity must not be such as to do away with the historical, for then everything will be Socratic." -- "In this manner then equality seems to have been achieved, and the differences between the parties involved brought back to a fundamental likeness." -- "Such is also my opinion; but you should take into consideration the fact that it is the God himself who effects the reconciliation. Is it thinkable that the God would enter into a covenant with a few, such that this their covenant with him established a difference between them and all other men so unjust as to cry to heaven for vengeance? That would be to bring strife instead of peace. Is it conceivable that the God would permit an accident of time to decide to whom he would grant his favor? Or is it not rather worthy of the God to make his covenant with men equally difficult for every human being in every time and place; equally difficult, since no man is able to give himself the condition, nor yet is to receive it from another, thus introducing new strife; equally difficult but also equally easy, since the God grants the condition. This is why I looked upon my project in the beginning as a godly one (in so far as an hypothesis can be viewed in this light), and still so consider it, though not on that account being indifferent to any human objection; on the contrary I now ask you once more, if you have any valid objection, to bring it forward." -- "How festive you suddenly become! Even if the case did not demand it, one would almost have to make some objection for the sake of the festiveness; unless it should be regarded as more festive to omit it, and your solemn challenge is merely intended indirectly to enjoin silence. But that the nature of the objection may at least be such as not to disturb this festive mood, I will draw it from the festivity by which it seems to me that a later generation will distinguish itself from the contemporary generation. I recognize indeed that the contemporary generation must profoundly feel and suffer the pain entailed by the coming into being of such a Paradox, or as you have put it, the God’s implantation of himself in human life. But gradually the new order of things will presumably struggle its way through to victory; and then at last will come the happy generation which garners with songs of joy the fruits of the seed sowed in the first generation with so many tears. Now this triumphant generation, which passes through life with song and clang, is surely different from the first and earlier ones ?" -- "Aye, undoubtedly it is different, and perhaps so different as not to retain the resemblance which makes it necessary for us to take it into consideration; it may be lacking in the condition which could cause its difference to disconcert our efforts to establish equality. But can such a triumphant generation, which goes through life as you say with song and clang, by which if my memory does not fail me you intend to remind me of the sophomoric and ale-Norse translation of a scripture passage by a not unknown genius -- can this generation actually be a believing generation? Verily, if Faith ever gets the notion of marching forward triumphantly en masse, it will not be necessary to license the singing of songs of mockery, for it would not help to forbid them to all. Even if men were stricken dumb, this mad procession would draw upon itself a shrill laughter, like the mocking nature-tones on the island of Ceylon; for a faith that celebrates its triumph is the most ridiculous thing conceivable. If the contemporary generation of believers found no time to triumph, neither will any later generation; for the task is always the same, and Faith is always militant. But as long as there is struggle there is always a possibility of defeat, and with respect to Faith it is there fore well not to triumph before the time, that is to say, in time; for when will there be found time to compose songs of triumph or occasion to sing them? If such a thing were to happen it would be as if an army drawn up in battle array, instead of marching forward to meet the enemy, were to march home again in triumph to their barracks in the city -- even if no human being laughed at this, even if the entire contemporary generation sympathized with this abracadabra, would not the stifled laughter of the universe break forth where it was least expected? What would the behavior of such a so-called believer be but an intensification of the offense committed by the contemporary believer (compare Chapter II) who begged of the God -- in vain, since the God would not -- that he refrain from exposing himself to humiliation and contempt? For this later so-called believer was not only himself unwilling to bear humiliation and contempt, unwilling to strive as the world’s fool, but was willing to believe when this could be done with song and clang. To such a man the God will not, nay cannot say, as to the contemporary in question: And so you love only the omnipotent wonder-worker, but not Him who humbled himself to become your equal! But here I will break off. Even if I were a better dialectician than I am, there would still be a limit to my powers; at bottom it is an immovable firmness with respect to the absolute, and with respect to absolute distinctions, that makes a man a good dialectician. This is something that our age has altogether overlooked, in and by its repudiation of the principle of contradiction, failing to perceive what Aristotle nevertheless pointed out, namely that the proposition: the principle of contradiction is annulled, itself rests upon the principle of contradiction, since otherwise the opposite proposition, that it is not annulled, is equally true. One further remark I wish to make, however, with respect to your many animadversions, all pointing to my having introduced borrowed expressions in the course of my exposition. That such is the case I do not deny, nor will I now conceal from you that it was done purposely, and that in the next section of this piece, if I ever write such a section, it is my intention to call the whole by its right name, and to clothe the problem in its historical costume. If I ever write a next section; for an author of pieces such as I am has no seriousness of purpose, as you will doubtless hear said about me; why then should I now at the end feign a seriousness I do not have, in order to please men by making what is perhaps a great promise? It is a frivolous matter, namely, to write a piece -- but to promise the System is a serious thing; many a man has become serious both in his own eyes and in those of others by making such a promise. However, what the historical costume of the following section will be is not hard to see. It is well known that Christianity is the only historical phenomenon which in spite of the historical, nay precisely by means of the historical, has intended itself to be for the single individual the point of departure for his eternal consciousness, has intended to interest him otherwise than merely historically, has intended to base his eternal happiness on his relationship to something historical. No system of philosophy, addressing itself only to thought, no mythology, addressing itself solely to the imagination, no historical knowledge, addressing itself to the memory, has ever had this idea: of which it may be said with all possible ambiguity in this connection, that it did not arise in the heart of any man. But this is something I have to a certain extent wished to forget, and, making use of the unlimited freedom of an hypothesis, have assumed that the whole was a curious conceit of my own; which I did not wish to abandon, however, until I had thought it through. The monks never finished telling the history of the world because they always began with the creation; if in dealing with the relations between philosophy and Christianity we begin by first recounting what has previously been said, how will it ever be possible -- not to finish but to begin; for history continues to grow. If we have to begin first with ‘that great thinker and sage, executor Novi Testamenti, Pontius Pilate,’ who in his own way has been of considerable service to Christianity and to philosophy, even if he did not discover the principle of mediation; and if before beginning with him we must wait for one or another decisive contribution (perhaps the System), for which the banns have several times already been published ex cathedra; in that case how will we ever come to begin ?"

MORAL

The projected hypothesis indisputably makes an advance upon Socrates, which is apparent at every point. Whether it is therefore more true than the Socratic doctrine is an entirely different question, which cannot be decided in the same breath, since we have here assumed a new organ: Faith; a new presupposition: the consciousness of Sin; a new decision: the Moment; and a new Teacher: the God in Time. Without these I certainly never would have dared present myself for inspection before that master of Irony, admired through the centuries, whom I approach with a palpitating enthusiasm that yields to none. But to make an advance upon Socrates and yet say essentially the same things as he, only not nearly so well -- that at least is not Socratic.

 

Notes:

1. The idea, in whatever concrete form it may be understood, of attaching a demonstration of probability to the improbable (to prove -- that it is probable? but in that case the concept is altered; to prove that it is improbable? but in that case it is a contradiction to use probability for the purpose) is so stupid when seriously conceived, that it would seem impossible for it to be entertained; but as jest and banter it is in my view extraordinarily amusing; to practice in this narrow turning is a very entertaining pastime. -- A good man wishes to serve humanity by presenting a probability-proof, so as to help it accept the improbable. He is successful beyond all measure; deeply moved, he receives congratulations and addresses of thanksgiving, not only from the quality, who know how to appreciate the proof as experts, but also from the general public -- and alas! the good man has precisely ruined everything. -- Or a man has a conviction; the content of this conviction is the absurd, the improbable. The same man is not a little vain. The following procedure is adopted. In as quiet and sympathetic a manner as possible you prompt him to an expression of his conviction. Since he suspects nothing wrong, he presents it in sharply defined outlines. When he has finished, you come down upon him with an attack calculated to be as irritating as possible for his vanity. He is embarrassed, abashed, apologetic, "to think that he could entertain so absurd an opinion." Instead of replying calmly: "Honored sir, you speak like a fool; of course it is absurd, as it ought to be, in spite of all objections, which I have thought through myself in a far more terrible shape than anyone else could bring them home to me; in spite of which I have deliberately chosen to believe the improbable" -- instead of replying thus, he seeks to bring a probability demonstration to bear. Now you come to his assistance, you permit yourself to be vanquished, and finally wind up about as follows: "Ah, now I see it; why, nothing could be more probable!" And then you embrace him; if you wish to carry the jest very far you kiss him, and thank him ob meliorem informationem. In saying farewell you look once more into the depths of his romantic eyes, and part from him as from a friend and brother in life and death, a congenial soul whom you have learned to understand for ever. Such banter is justified; for if the man had not been vain, I would have stood revealed as a fool over against the sincere earnestness of his conviction. -- What Epicurus says about the individual’s relationship to death (though his view contains but a sorry comfort) holds of the relation between the probable and the improbable: when I am, it (death) is not, and when it (death) is, I am not.

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