November 11: Soren Aabye Kierkegaard, Theologian, 1855


“(And Jesus said) As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

St. John 17.18-23


Soren Aabye Kierkegaard, the father of modern existentialism, was born in Copenhagen on May 5, 1813, the seventh and last child of an elderly couple. The mother and five of her children died within two years (only the youngest and the eldest survived); the father, as may well be imagined, became deeply depressed.

As a theological student Kierkegaard learned of the secret guilt of his father who had once cursed god, and this knowledge — “the great earthquake” — convinced the son that god’s curse hung over the family. He became estranged from his father, and for a time lived a life of dissipation. Later he experienced a religious conversion and became reconciled with his father, who died in 1838 and left his sons a considerable fortune. Kierkegaard, a brilliant student, gook his degree in theology but never sought ordination.

Following a broken engagement, he published (not under his own name) a number of significant books: Either-Or, Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Dread, and, in 1849, Sickness Unto Death. In 1854, entered a violent conflict with the Danish church in which he attacked the sterility of “official Christianity.” In the midst of this conflict, lonely, with hardly a single follower, Kierkegaard collapsed on the street on October 2, 1855, and died just over a month later on November 11, 1855; he was but 42 years of age.

Kierkegaard’s highly personal philosophy was opposed to the objective certainty of truth which led the church of his time to an unjustified security, deprived, Kierkegaard thought, of personal choice, risk, will. He charged that the state church institutionalized and killed the essential spirit of Christianity. Kierkegaard’s notion of truth was revolutionary. In his view, truth was not something to be observed by a detached thinker, but something to be experienced by a participant in the risks of life and faith. He realized truth could come in ways other than through intellect, and his writings require readers to search their hearts and to know themselves.

A Reading

(From Sickness Unto Death) Christianity teaches that every individual, whatever (his or her station may be) exists before God. This person exists before God, can talk with God any moment he will, sure to be heard by Him; in short, this person is invited to live on the most intimate terms with God! Furthermore, for this man’s sake God came into the world, let himself be born, suffers and dies; and this suffering God almost begs and entreats this person to accept the help which is offered him! Verily, if there is anything that would make a person lose his understanding, it is surely this! Whoever has not the humble courage to dare to believe it, must be offended at it.

Prayer (from Kierkegaard’s writings)

Father in heaven! Reawaken conscience in our breast. Make us bend the ear of the spirit to your voice, so that we may perceive your will for us in its clear purity as it is in heaven, pure of our false worldly wisdom, unstifled by the voice of passion; keep us vigilant so that we may work for our salvation with fear and trembling; oh, but grant also that when the Law speaks most strongly, when its seriousness fills us with dread, when the thunder booms from Sinai — Oh grant that we may hear also a gentle voice murmuring to us that we are your children, so that we will cry with joy, Abba, Father.

— Pastor Stickley