Kierkegaard and Radical Discipleship 11
The problem--the terms of which S.K. already has set and to which he must give answer--can be put rather concisely. S.K. must devise (or better, describe) a religious (yet religionless) sociality, i.e. a church, a grouping of men associated with one another for the sake of their relationship to God. His social concept will need to be closely related to his concept of den Enkelte, because it is plain that for S.K. a man cannot be related to God except as den Enkelte. Likewise, this sociality must studiously avoid each and every aspect of crowd-mentality which S.K. attacked so vigorously in the Establishment, for this of course represents a direct threat to den Enkelte. In short, S.K. must provide a concept of sociality that is real and meaningful and yet one that, rather than compromising his concept of den Enkelte, can stand in a true dialectic relationship to it. Thus the crux of the problem of sociality necessarily falls here, within the religious sphere, rather than earlier, for no other reason than that den Enkelte itself is essentially a religious concept.
This was S.K.'s problem; and many commentators feel that it was precisely this
problem that he failed to answer (or to answer adequately). The defect--if
actual--would be a serious one, for then S.K.'s concept of den Enkelte
would lead to a churchless atomism, an alternative that is as little acceptable
to the sectaries as to the "church"men. However, we intend to show that
there was no defect in the quality of S.K.'s answer. Indeed, we
will maintain that he offered as profound an analysis concerning the nature of
the sectarian church (the Gemeinde) as has ever been made and that
this constitutes one of the most valuable contributions of Kierkegaardian thought.
The defect lies solely in the fact that S.K. hid his light under a bushel (as
he did regarding the political relevancy of nonresistance), in this case
confining the crucial statements to a few hitherto untranslated entries in
the journals and dropping only some broad hints in the published works themselves.
Religiously speaking, there is no such thing as a public, but only individuals.... And insofar as there is, in a religious sense such a thing as a "congregation," this is a concept which does not conflict with "the individual," and which is by no means to be confounded with what may have political importance: the public, the crowd, the numerical, etc.
Because sectarianism lays great stress upon the individual believer, and because it is so deeply critical of the churchly concept of corporation, or institution, the temptation might be to epitomize sectarianism simply as individualistic Christianity and churchism as social Christianity. But such a distinction falls far wide of the mark, for it overlooks the fact that a hallmark of the sects is their sense of Gemeinschaft. Although it is very true that sectarianism is insistent against one sort of sociality, this truth always must be supplemented by the recognition that sectaries are equally insistent in favor of another sort of sociality.
The terms that denote the two types are "church" (the rejected sociality) and Gemeinde (the approved sociality). We should pause to clarify this terminology. Gemeinde (German), Menighed (Danish), and "community" (English) would seem to be precise equivalents in the three languages. Each is constructed over the root that means "common" and points toward the definition: "a group of persons drawn together on the basis of something they have in common." It follows that the quality of Gemeinschaft will be in proportion to the extensiveness, intensiveness, and evaluation of the common factor that constitutes the group. Thus a community based solely on the geographical proximity of its residents is not likely to be very strong in Gemeinschaft; one based upon a common concern for the public school, such as a PTA, gives promise of being somewhat stronger; etc. The Gemeinde that should display the most profound Gemeinschaft is that based upon the commonality of a redemptive relationship to God in Jesus Christ, i.e. the Christian church. Therefore, although etymologically speaking Gemeinde and Gemeinschaft have no necessary religious connotations, we will proceed to use them in a highly religious sense.
Ultimately, Christian Gemeinschaft amounts to "the love of the brethren," the love of the brethren for one another, which is consequent upon God's love for them and upon the mutual love they hold for Him. Obviously, true Gemmeinschaft necessarily involves the intimate, face-to-face relationships of comparatively small groups sharing "life together"; the mere recitation of a common creed or attendance at a common service of worship can hardly represent Gemeinschaft at its deepest level. By its very nature Gemeinschaft cannot be a purely formal concept; it must exist as an existential reality or not at all.
Early Brethren literature is dominated by the theme; clearly, it was not by accident that the Brethren came to be identified as "the Brethren." For them, the element that made the church the church was precisely Gemeinschaft in Christ--not the possession of true doctrine and efficacious sacraments. Of course, both doctrine and sacraments play their roles in creating Gemeinschaft, but until they do eventuate in Gemeinschaft they have failed to perform one of their major functions. Indeed, it is worthwhile to note that, by filling out the Lord's Supper with the feetwashing and the agape meal, the Brethren explicitly were giving symbolic expression to the fact that true communion with Christ in his body must involve and produce Gemeinschaft with the brethren, a symbolism that is not nearly as clear when the eucharist is left to stand alone.
Although it will become plain that the Brethren and S.K. held a common view of the gemeinschaftlich nature of the church, their points of departure are different enough to add real interest. The Brethren gave most attention to the character of Gemeinschaft, signalizing the quality of the love that hinds the brethren together, describing the means through which this love finds expression. S.K. started farther back, with what might be called the "metaphysics of the Gemeinde," i.e. an analysis of the basic spiritual economy that brings the Gemeinde into being and gives it its distinctive character. S.K.'s work can be of immense value in defining and understanding sectarian ecclesiology.
Rather than attempting a comprehensive survey of eighteenth century Brethren treatments, we will present only three outstanding commentaries on our theme; they communicate the thought and tone that pervade many Brethren writings. The earliest and fullest discussion--a truly notable piece of work for a Brethren author--is an essay (or possibly, a sermon) by Michael Frantz, An die Gemeinde. What follows is a paraphrased condensation, interspersed with observations and comments:
Our communion [Gemeinschaft] is with God in Christ. We have nothing of our own but inherit all things through him, for all is Christ's and we are his. From God's good gifts we bring forth spiritual fruit.... Christ imparts his own nature to us; he knocks at our hearts and would sup with us. O what a true love feast! Our communion is in suffering; suffering with the Jesus who bears the cross, we die with him, rise with him, and go with him to heaven.Clearly, Gemeinschaft is not essentially the work of man--even of those who make up the Gemeinde. It finds its source in the grace of God that comes through Christ, and it is only as men are in fellowship with Him that Gemeinschaft is produced among themselves. Also, suffering for Christ and with Christ gives a strong impetus to Gemeinschaft.
The communion of Christians is in eating, drinking, working, reading, speaking, etc.--in all these things being mindful of the Lord. Thus they have fellowship with one another, admonish, edify, and correct one another; together they follow, imitate, and praise God. They assemble in simplicity before their king to glorify him and to learn from his word. They become one heart and soul, because they have only one knowledge and one gospel basis of the truth they understand in common. So they serve one another with the gifts they have received, obey one another in the fear of God, and practice humility.Just as God's will and work affect a man's total life; so Gemeinschaft is practiced broadly, touching all aspects of life together; it is not confined to public worship or to one day a week.
Those of the community [Gemeinde] are members of one body and one of another; they suffer together and they rejoice together. As do man and wife, so do the children of God become one flesh; they are like him in love, purity, etc. For if their communion is with God, it cannot be with darkness. With his good gifts God also gives Christian virtues; and in the community men partake of God's very nature and thus show forth his virtues.Gemeinschaft produces the most profound sort of unity between man and God and between man and man. And because of God's participation, this Gemeinschaft will always have a very high moral and ethical quality. It will also show the more active character of works of love:
True members of the community love their enemies, feed the hungry, etc. "Thine" and "mine" are no longer heard; one holds his goods to use in behalf of the neighbor (both the one within the community and the one outside). Everything he owns he holds simply as a trustee for the community; this is what it means to "lay it at the Apostles's feet" and follow the practice of the Book of Acts. One will give without stint as long as he can be of help; for God demands back from us what he has given to us through Christ--and that with interest--although always out of love and not through compulsion.It is clear that Gemeinschaft and neighbor love are closely related themes. And Frantz concluded with these words:
The community [Gemeinde] is from God; and whatever its accomplishments, God is to he thanked for them. Indeed, the unity of the one community is its common source in and common loyalty to God.A second portrayal of Brethren Gemeinschaft--this more in the character of a demonstration than a disquisition--has to do with the Hummer incident. Catharine Hummer was a young woman, the daughter of one of the ministers of the congregation at White Oak. In 1762 she developed a propensity for ecstatic trances in which she enjoyed visions. These immediately made her a sensation--and also a focus of strong contention throughout the brotherhood. Her father and others accepted and promoted the visions as divine communications; many condemned them as diabolical. The matter became an Issue of dispute before the Annual Meeting of 1763, but the conference refused to rule on the visions either one way or the other. The wording of the minute makes it plain that the Brethren saw Gemeinschaft as taking precedence over all other considerations, saw it, indeed, as the only basis for any ultimate resolution of the problem:
If there are on both sides conviction and acknowledgment, then we advise out of brotherly love, that on both sides all judgments and harsh expressions might be entirely laid down, though we have not the same opinion of that noted (singular) occurrence, so that those who think well of it, should not judge those who are of the contrary opinion, and those who do not esteem it, should not despise those who expect to derive some use and benefit from it.There is much about this statement that is reminiscent of the "writ of censure" which the Germantown brethren did not serve on Sauer Junior, [see above] and together they underline an important feature of Gemeinschaft. Gemeinschaft does presuppose an openness toward God and a love toward the brethren, but it does not demand that the brethren possess a uniformity in their apprehension of God-whether affecting doctrine, gifts, church order, or whatever. Indeed, the surest way to kill the unity of Gemeinschaft is to enforce uniformity. Gemeinschaft can exist only as den Enkelte is left free in conscience to find God's leading for him and thus make his own peculiar contribution to the Gemeinde. The Gemeinde will step in to discipline or to ban only when it has reason to believe that the individual has deserted his sincerity toward God and/or his love of the brethren.
For the rest, we advise you, beloved brethren, receive one another as Christ has received you, and pardon one another as Christ has pardoned us also, and let us everywhere consider that all disputing, judging, and despising should be entirely laid aside, and thus remain, that everyone leave to the other his own opinion, in the fear of the Lord, and altogether for conscience's sake.... If now one or the other should think we have not sufficiently judged the occurrence, let him consider, that we cannot see the least cause for a separation for conscience's sake. Hence, we have felt constrained not to criticize or judge this (strange) affair, but rather to advise everyone to a godly impartiality and patience.
This line of thought leads directly to the third and undoubtedly greatest portrayal of Brethren Gemeinschaft, namely Mack Junior's open letter on feetwashing which was examined earlier. We will not review that document except to recall that it catches up much of the thought presented above and then goes on to suggest a "gemeinschaftlich epistemology": "Above all, preserve love, for then we shall preserve light." A Gemeinde is the most effective receptor for divine truth and leading; and the religious insight received will be complete and true only so long as it is held and practiced within a setting of Gemeinschaft.
It must be admitted from the outset that S.K. had not the "feel" for Gemeinschaft that the early Brethren did; he showed no similar appreciation of its power, its depth, its efficacy as a way to truth. S.K. saw (intellectually) the Gemeinde as a possibility, indeed, as the only proper alternative for a Christian church, but he did not know (existentially) Gemeinschaft. However, it is not difficult to explain either S.K.'s deficiency of feeling or the fact that he "hid" the insight he did have.
So much as apology for the fact that S.K.'s treatment of Gemeinschaft was not more extensive; we proceed to the demonstration of our thesis that his treatment was very intensive. Amazingly early in S.K.'s writings there appeared notices indicative of his feeling of a need for a doctrine of Gemeinschaft and a reaching after the same; for example:
How dreadful it is when everything historical vanishes before a diseased probing of one's own miserable history! Who is to show us the middle course between being devoured by one's own reflection, as though one were the only man who ever had existed or ever would exist, and--seeking a worthless consolation in the commune naufragium of mankind? That is really what the doctrine of an ecclesia should do.Although statements such as this by no means constitute a full-fledged doctrine, they do reflect both a dissatisfaction with the usual crowd-institutions and the hint that there must he something better. S.K. was getting the problem formulated even before he opened his authorship in 1843.
But the answer to which S.K. eventually came must itself be read against the background of his understanding of the role that Gemeinschaft (in the general sense of the term) plays in the very constitution and life of mankind:
All through the ages everyone who has thought deeply over the nature of man has recognized in him this need for community.... In the busy, teeming crowd, which as community is both too much and too little, man becomes weary of society, but the cure is not in making the discovery that God's thought [i.e. that Adam needed community] was incorrect.... So deeply is this need grounded in the nature of man that since the creation of the first man there has been no change, no new discovery made; this self-same first observation has only been confirmed in various ways, from generation to generation varied in expression, in presentation, in turns of thought. So deeply is this need grounded in the nature of man and so essentially does it belong to being a human being that even He who was One with the Father and in the communion of love with the Father and Spint, He who loved the whole race, our Lord Jesus Christ, even He felt in a human way this need to love and be loved by an individual human being.This statement, of course, stands in direct contradiction to the understanding of S.K. that many scholars would foster. Granted this was not a major, or even typical, theme with S.K., but it was an authentic one. Any exegesis of den Enkelte that would exclude and prohibit the role of Gemeinschaft is not true to S.K.; he must have and will have den Enkelte in society and in a church.
We come, then, to S.K.'s doctrine of religious Gemeinschaft--which is his ecclesiology. The basic and all-controlling principle is that the Gemeinde must be something categorically different from a "crowd," which by its very constitution is religiously negative--indeed, religiously prohibitive. The Gemeinde, therefore, must be so formed that both in point of order and of value den Enkelte takes precedence over the group itself:
It is not the individual's relationship to the congregation which determines his relationship to God, but his relationship to God which determines his relationship to the congregation. [This sentence recalls much of what was said in the previous chapter regarding the churchly and the sectarian views of the church, baptism, etc.] Ultimately, in addition, there is a supreme relationship in which "the individual" is absolutely higher than the "congregation." ... [When] a person first of all and qualitatively [is] an "individual" ... the concept "Christian congregation" is secured as qualitatively different from "public, " "many, " etc.Given this as his determinative principle, S.K. could then proceed to explicate Gemeinschaft. What follows is his definitive statement on the subject:
[The journal entry bears the title:] The Difference Between "Crowd," "Public"--and "Community" (Menighed).S.K. has here stated the principle that accounts for the characteristic sectarian emphases on the right of conscience, noncreedalism, and anti-authoritarianism in all its aspects. He continues:
In "the public" and the like, the individual is nothing; there is no individual; "the numerical" is the constitution and law of its genesis, a generatio aequivoca [an equivocal beginning]. Detached from "the public" the individual is nothing, and in the public--more deeply understood--he actually has nothing either.
In community, the individual is; the individual is dialectically decisive as prius in order to form community, and in community the qualitative individual is essential and can at any instant become higher than "the community," namely, as soon as "the others" fall away from the idea.
The binding force of community is: that each is an individual--and thus the idea. The public's bond--or rather, its looseness--is: that the numerical is everything. Each individual, in community, guarantees the community; the public is a chimera. The individual, in community, is a microcosm which qualitatively reduplicates the macrocosm; in this respect it is very true, "unum noris omnes" [referring to the saying from Terrence, "To know one is to know all"]. In the public, no individual is; the whole is nothing. Here it is impossible to say, "unum noris omnes," for no "one" is here. A community is certainly more than a sum, but it is in truth a sum of units. The public is nonsense: a sum of negative units, of units which are not units, which become units in the sum, whereas the sum should become sum in the units.The thought about den Enkelte guaranteeing the Gemeinde and being "a microcosm which qualitatively reduplicates the macrocosm" gets directly to the heart of the sectarian understanding of the church; and the matter has never been better put. In the sect, ideally any member--and not simply the pope, or a bishop, or a priest, or a clergyman, or a theologian--demonstrates on a small scale within himself every power, every attribute, every grace that the church itself can demonstrate. And within this context, the sectarian teachings regarding such things as free personal decision, inwardness, obedience, devotional immediacy, equality before God, and Nachfolge suddenly become obvious: the church can be no more Christian than are the individuals who make it up; the church becomes Christian as those who constitute it become Christian.
S.K. went on to show that it is precisely the stance of contradiction between Christianity and the world, between the Gemeinde and the public, that gives Christian Gemeinschaft its depth and power. Nonconformity and Gemeinschaft are two sides of the same coin. S.K.'s metaphor is a striking one:
CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY: In order to indicate where it lies I see no better illustration than an analogy, although it actually is beyond comparison. The criminal world creates a little society for itself which lies on the other side of human society, a little society which also has an intense solidarity that is not entirely common to the world--perhaps because each person feels himself expelled from human society.Finally, S.K. addressed himself to what must be the decisive question for sectarian ecclesiology: Is the Gemeinde a necessary feature for the faith of den Enkelte? If the church is in no sense a "saving institution," and if den Enkelte possesses in himself all the attributes of the church, why can he not "go it alone"? Does faith require a Gemeinde as its context?
So with the society of Christians. Each one, by accepting Christianity, in consequence of becoming a believer, i.e. by accepting--indeed, by basing his life upon--the Absurd, has told the world goodbye, has broken with the world. For this very reason there is a society among these who of their own free will have put themselves outside of society in the general sense; and their society is all the more intense because each of them feels how isolated he is from "the world." But as with the criminal club it must be precisely the case that no one can come into the club if he does not discover this, so with the society of Christians: it must be that no one comes into this society except precisely those who are known to have been polemical in the extreme against society in general. This, the Christian community, is a society consisting of qualitative "individuals," the fervor of which society is determined by this polemical attitude toward the great society of mankind.
But when, as in the course of time and in the constant advance of nonsense, to be a Christian became identical with to be human, so did the Christian community become the human race--good night nurse! Now the Christian community is the public, and in every cultured cleric's eyes and finally in the eyes of the lay people, it is offensive to talk about "the individual."
Surprisingly enough, the answer of S.K.--who probably never experienced true Christian Gemeinschaft, whose career marked a struggling free from the "church," and who died separated from both "church" and Gemeinde--was a strong affirmative. And as we shall see, that affirmation of the Gemeinde seems to have been based directly on the lack, the "sickness," he felt in his own ungemeinschaftlich experience "Here, upon this point, properly lies the significance of religious sociality, namely, that as the fact of God's ideality becomes powerful to the individual (thus he cannot indeed desire an unmediated revelation of God, and reflection [i.e. thinking about God] catches him); he now must have other men with whom he can talk about it. But one sees, therefore, that sociality is not the highest but is a concession as regards what it is to be man in his infirmity." It will become apparent that for S.K. to call sociality "a concession" was in no way intended as derogatory. Indeed, by far the greater part of the Christian faith represents God's "concession as regards what it is to be man in his infirmity." God's election of Israel, the Incarnation, particularly Christ's death on the cross-every manifestation of grace--all are concessions made necessary only because of man's sin and finitude. But concession or not, these things were necessary and are necessary for every man; and just so with sociality. S.K. continues:
Here again, then, lies the significance of the fact that God relates himself to the whole race. The race (sociality) is thus a middle term between God and the individual.The character and function of the Gemeinde here are coming into focus. The direct relationship of den Enkelte with God is too strenuous for any man to maintain or endure without interruption; the sheer finitude of our nature makes this inevitable. However, the full alternation between being in relationship to God and then being wholly out of relationship certainly would not be good. Thus God has set up the Geminde to help carry den Enkelte over the troughs. Here one is somewhat sustained in his relationship to God through the aid of his brethren (and the "caravan" analogy is nowhere more apropos). Here is made possible a "semi-" or "secondary"relationship to God which allows the tension to be relaxed without the connection being completely broken; den Enkelte now can supplement his talking to God with talking to his brethren about God.
This is the retrogressive movement; but wherever there shall be preaching for revival, wherever the price will be hiked up, there individuality shall be maintained. And in point of order this is the more necessary movement, because men in general live slackly and lazily enough.
The relief, on the other hand, is to apply sociality. It is not good for man to be alone, it is said, therefore woman was given to him for society. But it is beholden upon us to be alone--literally alone--with God. That the neighbor is not to stand in one's stead, this is terribly strenuous; therefore man seeks society.... Religious sociality, then, is God pointing away from himself, as it were. Being love, he nevertheless says, in effect: "Yes, yes, my child, now let this [the seeking of relaxation in sociality] be for good; also remember that I am still God. How humble, how believing, how burning your prayer and devotion are even so [even though you cannot sustain a direct, immediate, unbroken relationship]; in this way neither can you nor should you be thinking of me at every moment."
And although S.K. did not speak to the point, there is an implication which should be followed up. It would not be correct to picture the situation as though den Enkelte rests in the Gemeinde during his troughs but rises out of it and beyond it during his peaks, for although it is during his troughs that he needs the Gemeinde, it is during his peaks that the Gemeinde needs him. In other words, den Enkelte must help to carry his brethren as well as being carried by them.
From all this, we can derive insight into the character of true Gemeinschaft. In its life and work the Gemeinde must strike the fine dialectical balance that truly bears up den Enkelte--but without infringing on his personal relationship to God. It must afford him true repose--but without encouraging him to stay in repose. It must provide him a truly helpful "secondary" relationship to God--but without letting this become a substitute for the "primary" relationship.
As S.K. continued this same passage, he made the point that to try--or even to desire--to bypass the Gemeinde in the interests of living solely as den Enkelte, far from being heroism, is actually presumption, a sin against God:
Here lies a dangerous point, namely, that the highest culmination of true religiousness [a personal, intimate, and individual relationship with God] can indeed hang by a hair and also can come to be recognized as a presumption, because even the humblest consciousness of being less than a sparrow before God, of being a nothing--yes, this is good--but presumption still can lie within it, within this consciousness that would think upon God at every instant and be conscious of itself as existing before him. It is proper to be conscious of oneself as nothing before God, but it is asking too much to wish to have this consciousness at every instant--or, if I dare say so (in order to indicate the error, because it is like a love affair), to wish to see the beloved every instant, even if one understands deeply enough that before him one is nothing.In the next succeeding journal entry, which clearly is to be read in continuity with the foregoing, S.K. proceeded to describe the fruits of such presumption, the sort of soul-sickness to which it gives rise. And it is here that S.K. may have been referring to his own experience:
A particular, individual God-relationship (in which each individual relates himself to God) is still the goal and norm.... But when the particular God-relationship of the individual becomes sick [which, he has implied, is inevitable if the individual presumes to "go it alone"], then one sets up temporarily the middle term of sociality, or "the other people." This sickness can take indeed the almost physical character of melancholy and the like. [Is S.K. referring to his own melancholy?] But principally it is the passion which, through vanity, is mistaken about how the individual relates himself to God, imagining that he wishes to be or that he is the entirely exceptional individual, [S.K. often spoke of himself as "the exceptional individual"; is he here repenting of at least some aspects of that role?] thus troubling himself to do nothing but sit and play the coquette with God as it were. But the fact is that he cannot remain in unhealthy intoxication with the thought of how the individual relates himself to God--if he becomes sober with the help of that which is possible to everyone, which is indeed commanded to everyone [i.e. through a consciousness of sociality].As S.K. continued this particular entry he also pointed out that this sickness in the God-relationship might be a temptation, leading den Enkelte to seek refuge in sociality before that was appropriate, so the passage may not be as confessional as it sounds. In any case, it is clear that S.K. recognized the Gemeinde as a real and necessary aspect of the Christian life. And indeed, it may he that some of the tragedy of S.K.'s melancholy life came about through the fact that he was a convinced sectary who never found a Gemeinde.
But whether consciously or not, S.K. was here constructing one of his characteristic dialectics--perhaps the most fundamental of them all. Den Enkelte is a good and necessary concept--but not apart from the Gemeinde. The Gemeinde is a good and necessary concept--but not apart from den Enkelte. Den Enkelte, apart from the Gemeinde, contracts a sickness in his God-relationship, becomes melancholy and/or vain. The Gemeinde, if it loses sight of den Enkelte, also loses its Gemeinschaft and degenerates into a crowd. Although he failed to emphasize it as he might have, S.K.'s most basic premise was not "den Enkelte before God" but actually "Enkelter in Gemeinschaft before God."[notes]