VI. A. The Character of Den Enkelte

A number of S.K.'s major motifs are very closely related to his conception of den Enkelte; they can, indeed, be considered as the first-ranked characteristics of den Enkelte. As we treat them, definite parallels with Brethrenism will appear.

A. Free Personal Decision

A golden key, it is said, fits every lock. But decision too and determination also unlock doors, and that is why they are called resolution; with resolution, or in resolution, the doors are opened to the noblest powers of the soul.1
The heading above could have been: Freedom of the Will. But this would be to say both too much and too little. Too much because neither S.K. nor the Brethren showed particular interest in aligning themselves with any party in the traditional theological controversy over the free or the bound will; the matter was much too crucial to be subjected to that sort of scholasticism. For them, freedom was the essential life blood of their entire ideology. And if something is that necessary, its actuality can be assumed-very simply must be assumed, for one has not time to wait out the argument. S.K. and the Brethren both believed in the freedom of the will, but they afford no help to those who would make a case for it.

But it is also too little to call our topic Freedom of the Will, because the crucial question was not whether the human will possesses the faculty of making a free choice between options That would be a necessary affirmation for S.K. and the Brethren but hardly an adequate one. The end they had in view did not remain on the rather innocuous level of "choice" but became a matter of "resolution," "decision," "determination," "conviction," "venture," or "commitment." Their affirmation was not "We believe that men can choose," but rather "We are confronted with the choice through which a man becomes a man."

S.K. and the existentialists are known as Apostles of Freedom; it is hardly necessary to prove that S.K. was an exponent of the view. However, for S.K. the subject of this freedom was den Enkelte, the one who chooses himself (more accurately, chooses God and in that choice chooses himself). The freedom of den Enkelte, as his entire existence, transpires only and always "before God." And because S.K.'s den Enkelte was a thoroughly religious conception, so was his understanding of den Enkelte's freedom thoroughly religious. Again, S.K.'s position will be seen to be in rather diametric opposition to that which commonly is understood as existentialist. It is upon this difference that our exposition will concentrate.

S.K. did value the human freedom to choose, the bare power of choice; it is basic.2 But this natural ability gains its true significance only in the one choice of all choices, "the absolute venture," the choosing of oneself before God as den Enkelte. This idea was so central for S.K. that it appeared even as out-of-character "leaks" in the pseudonyms. Climacus said: "The fact is that the individual becomes infinite only by virtue of making the absolute venture. Hence it is not the same individual who makes this venture among others, yielding as a consequence one more predicate attaching to one and the same individual. No, but in making the absolute venture he becomes another individual." 3 And it was Judge William, the ethicist, who specified that this choice--far from being a cool, reasoned nod in favor of this over that, a choice based on calculated probabilities--is rather a solemn and passionate commitment to God.4 Thus "resolve," or "venture," stands a whole quality higher than mere choice, or freedom of the will; and it is the fact that it transpires before God that gives it its critical character. Therefore S.K. could call resolution "the only language in which God wills to have intercourse with man."5

This freedom to resolve is the most precious possession of the human spirit but also the most precarious, for it exists only as long as it is rightly used:

The most tremendous thing which has been granted to man is: the choice, freedom. And if you desire to save it and preserve it there is only one way: in the very same second unconditionally and in complete resignation to give it back to God, and yourself with it. If the sight of what is granted to you tempts you, and if you give way to the temptation and look with egoistic desire upon the freedom of choice, then you lose your freedom. And your punishment is: to go on in a kind of confusion priding yourself on having-freedom of choice, but woe upon you, that is your judgment: You have freedom of choice, you say, and still you have not chosen God.6

Is there not something highly ironic-and profoundly significant--in the fact that precisely the sort of freedom prized as ultimate by the existentialists is branded by "the father of existentialism" as punishment and judgment? S.K. here staked the freedom of den Enkelte at an almost infinite distance from any and all concepts that carry overtones of autonomy, egocentricity, Prometheanism, or self-creation; but let it not be said that he has denigrated freedom in the process. From the standpoint of his totally religious perspective, the fact that human freedom is so completely bounded by and tied to God is in no sense a detriment but precisely the source of its glory; man's freedom is the more real and the more precious when guaranteed by God's involvement than it would be if unrestricted by his presence.

"Resolve," "venture," "decision," "choice"--these are all synonyms for the more familiar Kierkegaardian term "leap." Actually, "leap" is S.K.'s earlier terminology--almost the property of the pseudonyms. These later, more strictly religious terms probably are superior for communicating S.K.'s thought, because "leap" tends to carry connotations of blind abandon, almost of irresponsibility. Such ideas are not truly part of the concept at all. But the point behind this whole family of words is of great importance to S.K.'s witness, for it is through the absolute venture that a man becomes den Enkelte, and that venture is nothing more nor less than what the Christian gospel intends by faith. S.K.'s position on freedom was not a philosophic or even anthropologic affirmation but essentially an exposition of the New Testament: "Christianity and the New Testament understood something perfectly definite by believing; to believe is to venture out as decisively as it is possible for a man to do, breaking with everything a man naturally loves, breaking, in order to save his own soul, with that in which he naturally has his life."7

The nature of this venture--now put into its specifically Christian context (which is the end S.K. had in view all along)--was made more explicit:

There cannot be any direct transition from an historical fact to the foundation upon it of an eternal happiness... How then do we proceed [in relation to Christ]? Thus. A man says to himself, a la Socrates: here is an historical fact which teaches me that in regard to my eternal happiness I must have recourse to Jesus Christ. Now I must certainly preserve myself from taking the wrong turning into scientific inquiry and research.... And so I say to myself: I choose; that historical fact means so much to me that I decide to stake my whole life upon that if. Then he lives; lives entirely full of the idea, risking his life for it: and his life is the proof that he believes. He did not have a few proofs, and so believed and then began to live. No, the very reverse. That is called risking; and without risk faith is an impossibility.8

It would be quite possible at this point to understand S.K. as trying to make the best of a bad situation: when one cannot know, he has to make the venture of faith; it would be nice if we could prove that Jesus Christ is salvation, but since we cannot, we simply will have to act as though he is. It would be quite possible, too, to understand S.K. as making the venture completely unmotivated, fortuitous, subjectivistic, based on nothing more than what the man decides he wants to believe. Both these implications are very wide from the mark, as S.K. made plain in the very important journal entry that follows:

If I truly have a conviction (and that, we know, is an inner determination in the direction of spirit) my conviction to me is always stronger than reasons; actually, conviction is what supports the reasons, not the other way around.... One's conviction, or the fact that it is one's conviction: my, your, conviction (the personal) is decisive. One can deal with reasons half jokingly: Well, if you insist on reasons I don't mind giving you some; do you want 3 or 5 or 7, how many do you want? Still, I cannot say anything higher than this: I have faith! I believe! ... My development, or any man's, proceeds like this: Maybe he too starts out with some reasons, but they represent the lower plane. Then he makes a choice; Under the weight of responsibility before God a conviction will be born in him by God's help.... The matter becomes further personal, or it becomes a question of personality, i.e., one can only defend one's conviction ethically, personally, that is through the sacrifice one is willing to make for it and by the dauntlessness with which one maintains it. There is only one proof of the truth of Christianity: the inner proof, argumentum spiritus sancti. In the Epistle of St. Jn. 5:9 this is hinted: 'If we receive the witness of men' (meaning all the historical evidence and considerations), 'the witness of God is greater' i.e. the inner testimony is greater. And in verse 10: 'He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.' It is not the reasons that motivate belief in the Son of God, but the other way round, belief in the Son of God constitutes the evidence. It is the very motion of the Infinite, and it cannot be otherwise. Reasons do not motivate convictions; conviction motivates the reasons."9

Here in brief compass is an epistemology of religion, the epistemology of freedom's venture, i.e. of faith. Note that it is a supremely religious method of dealing with religious truth; S.K. certainly did not mean to suggest this as a procedure for arriving at scientific fact, or even for constructing theological dogma. This is an epistemology for matters of "infinite, personal, passionate interest," 10 operative in that realm where the human spirit must deal with things of the spirit. And here, in faith's proper sphere, conviction, decision, and venture--enthusiasm (enthousiusmos), if you will--are more powerful, more effective, and more knowledgeable than reasons and evidence and intellectual cognition ever could be. The free venture of den Enkelte is the only possible but also the best conceivable--way to God and to true selfhood.

Notice, too, that this venture is far from being a subjectivistic leap in the dark, even though there are no so-called objective reasons and evidences to form its rationale. S.K. was emphatic that, in the venture, den Enkelte finds and is found by "God's help," "the inner testimony," "argumentum spiritus sancti," "the very motion of the Infinite:" And here is objectivity enough and to spare; God the Spirit is a reality apart from the man, standing over against him, capable, thus, of confronting, judging, correcting, and disciplining him quite independently of the man's own subjective inclinations and desires. Of course this is an entirely individualized objectivity that never can be "shared," i.e. the inner testimony received by one man will not accomplish a whit in easing the need or paving the way for the next person to make his personal venture. But this in no way affects the powerful objectivity of den Enkelte's relationship to God and thus of his "definition" of himself.

Quite simply, for S.K. faith must possess this character of venture and risk, because it is the committing of oneself in a person-to-person relationship. No other understanding of God except that he is a Person even will begin to give coherence to Kierkegaard's thought--and not his religious thought only, but also his so-called philosophic thought. Nothing S.K. ever wrote is more fundamental than the following journal entries:

Augustine has done incalculable harm. The whole of Christian doctrine through the centuries really rests upon him--and he has confused the concept of faith.
Quite simply, Augustine resuscitated the platonic-aristotelian definition, the whole Greek philosophical pagan definition of faith....
For the Greeks faith is a concept which belongs to the sphere of the intellect.... So faith is related to the probable, and we have the ascending scale of faith and knowledge.
From the Christian point of view faith belongs to the existential: God did not appear in the character of a professor who has some doctrines which must first be believed and then understood.
No, faith belongs to and has its home in the existential, and in all eternity it has nothing to do with knowledge as a comparative or a superlative.
Faith expresses a relationship from personality to personality.
Personality is not a sum of doctrines, nor is it something directly accessible. Personality is bent in on itself, it is a clausum [something closed] an aduton [innermost shrine], a musterion [mystery]. Personality is that which is within, hence the word persona (personare) is significant, it is that which is within to which a man, himself in turn a personality, may be related in faith. Between person and person no other relation is possible. Take the two most passionate lovers who have ever lived, and even if they are, as is said, one soul in two bodies, this can never come to anything more than that the one believes that the other loves him or her.
In this purely personal relation between God as personal being and the believer as personal being, in existence, is to be found the concept of faith.
In the margin:] Hence the apostolic formula, 'the obedience of faith' (e.g. Romans 1:5), so that faith tends to the will and personality, not to intellectuality. href="notes6a.html#f11">11

But it is not enough simply to establish the concept that God is a Person.

Let us suppose that someone, a professor, spends his whole life in study and learning in order to demonstrate the personality of God--and let us suppose that in the end he succeeds. What then? Then at the end of his life he will have come to the beginning, or to the end of the introduction to the beginning....
No, God is personal, the matter is certain.
But with this you are no farther forward. Here again there is a human aberration, it is imagined that when the professor has finally proved that God is personality, then he must be so without further ado for us all.
No, God is certainly personal, but it does not follow from this that he is personal without further ado for you. Take a human relationship: a superior personality is certainly a personality, but does he not have it in his power, in the face of his inferior, to be a personality in relation to him, or to be related objectively to him?12
Yet it is clear that the superior is and remains a personality.
So with God. He is certainly personality, but whether he wills to be this in relation to the single person depends on whether it pleases God. It is God's grace that in relation to you he desires to be personality; and if you squander his grace, he punishes you by relating himself objectively to you.13

And because faith is a living, existential relation between a human person and the God Person, it follows that the relationship will be of the nature of authority.

Christianity came into the world on the basis of authority, its divine authority; therefore the authority is superior. But for a long time now the situation has been quite changed around: one seeks to prove and establish authority on grounds of reason.... A so-called philosophical Christianity has discovered that authority is imperfect, at best something for the plebs, and that perfection consists in getting rid of it.... And theology seeks to establish the authority of Christianity by reason, which is worse than any attack, since it confesses in-directly that there is no authority.14

Of course faith's venture certainly does represent a free, centered act on the part of the individual, but that is not to say that the act is self contained, involving nothing but the person's private power and action. Indeed, in the venture the individual need free himself only far enough that God can get at him, as it were; once a man makes the effort, God stands by to energize and direct the leap. In no sense does den Enkelte become self-creating, because even with his strong emphasis upon human freedom S.K. also held a strong concept of enabling, and even prevenient, grace:

It is as when one gives a present to a child and then, to please him, pretends that he is giving us what we had given him, which in fact was ours. But our relationship with God is not even of that kind, for God is also at the same time the One Who gives us the power to succeed. It would, therefore, be like the father and mother who themselves help the child to write a congratulatory letter for their anniversary, which letter will be received as a present on the anniversary day.15

The role here assigned to grace explains why S.K. could as much as guarantee that he who leaps will leap correctly:

For one can guarantee to make a Christian of every man he can get to come under this category [i.e. den Enkelte]--insofar as one man can do this for another, or we may say rather, that he can vouch for it that such a man will become a Christian. As a single individual he is alone, alone in the whole world, alone before God--and with that there is no question about obedience! All doubt ... is just simply disobedience to God.16

The work of the Holy Spirit--although not usually posed under that name--is an integral part of S.K.'s concept of freedom, even if this aspect of the matter customarily is disregarded by his interpreters. But with this inclusion it is made very apparent that, for all his notorious subjectivity, S.K.'s basic thought is oriented toward and involved in a Reality that is objective and trancendental in the highest sense possible.

As did S.K., so did the Brethren believe in (or rather, assume) the freedom of the will, although they were as little concerned to prove the point as he was. Certainly it is the case that all Protestants, churchly as well as sectarian, are eager to preserve an emphasis both on the sovereignty of God and on faith as personal decision. At the same time it is rather clear that the sectarian tradition, with its insistence upon adult baptism, conversion, etc., has been more emphatic on the latter point than has the churchly. And in this regard it is unimpeachable that, historically, the sectaries were more inclined to uphold a doctrine of freedom of the will while the churches tended toward predestination and the bound will.

Implicit hints rather than explicit discussion make it plain that the Brethren were part of the sectarian, free-will tradition, even though they came out of a Calvinist background.17 In the only Brethren word at all resembling a "theological" statement on the issue, Mack Junior took a position not intrinsically different from S.K.'s, striving to attribute all possible credit to the work of grace yet without impinging on the decisive rote of human freedom: "God, indeed, can require of His creatures whatever He wishes. But when He does require something of us, He first influences the will--if one accepts it--so that the person wills as He wills. Thus He also effects and gives the accomplishment according to His pleasure. And then things are good; God is pleased and the person is blessed."18 The crucial little parenthesis "if one accepts it" amounts to the same thing as the child following his parents' suggestion and letting them help him write a congratulatory letter. From one standpoint this does not amount to much in the way of freedom, but as real freedom it marks a substantial move away from the doctrine of the bound will. The Brethren-Kierkegaardian view is far from the utter and infinite freedom of existentialism, but it is also far from churchly predestinarianism.

The heart of the matter, for Mack, came at the same place it did for S.K. Mack said: "The covenant of God under the economy of the New Testament demands genuinely voluntary lovers of God and His truth."19 It can he put no more forth-rightly--and S.K. would have been the first to applaud: The affirmation of human freedom is primarily and eminently a demand of the gospel, not a necessary concept of philosophical theology nor even an empirical observation regarding the human situation.

Thus the Brethren were not content, any more than S.K. was, to stop simply with the assertion that human freedom exists; they hurried on to the idea of faith as freedom committed through the absolute venture. Mack Junior, although speaking much less precisely than S.K., made the same point: "To have faith and to believe are to be distinguished, just as to live and to act...." Here we must clarify Mack's terminology, for it is in some respects the precise opposite of that to which we are accustomed in English. Modern theology uses "faith" (with overtones of commitment and trust) as superior to "belief" (mere intellectual assent to cognitive propositions), but this is not at all the distinction Mack had in mind. He is contrasting "to have faith," which is in the passive voice, thus that which is held merely as an inanimate possession, with "to believe," which is in the active voice, thus a dynamic, creative work of the believer. The contrast is the same as that between "to live," i.e. merely to be alive, in existence, with "to act." Mack continues:

'Behold the kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21).' Now, where the kingdom of God is in a person, there also is faith--nevertheless, with great disparity. With many it lies as dead and obscure as the fire in a cold stone; with others it lies as a little spark in the ashes; conversely, with others as a rather large coal.

Here lies the crux of the sectarian protest against the concept of faith as practiced, if not taught, by the churches--which protest led even to the denial of the Reformation principle of sola fide. The difference ultimately is a semantic one as to what is intended by the word "faith," and it may well be that the sectaries stood closer to what Luther intended by sola fide than the churchmen did. But whether the debate over the word "faith" was legitimate or not, the distinction is a real one. Mack is resisting any concept of faith that makes it an almost natural endowment, one that is achieved, at any rate, simply by being born in a Christian country and following the accepted social pattern of church life. The most that can be said for faith on this level is that it is potential faith, which, by being acted upon, lived by, ventured, can be fanned into true faith. Mack continues:

But with everyone something must first happen 20 [Cf. below] inwardly or outwardly--the commonest way is inwardly and outwardly together--something real first must happen so that the person might come to believe, or to demonstrate, that faith is not his belonging but that, much more, lack of faith [Unglaube] is the element in which he chooses to live and die. In that connection Paul witnesses (Acts 17:31? [16:31?]) that God charges every person to believe.21

But the Brethren emphasis on faith as free venture comes through most characteristically as poetic exhortation rather than prosaic theologizing. Mack Junior, again, is the author:

When now a child of man
 In this short life
Considers now and then
 To whom he shall give himself,
God or his Enemy,
 So is the number of days
For this great choice
 Appointed by his Friend
God Himself makes him brave
 So that he conquers,
Reveals to him the noble crown,
 And metes out for him the time,
That in this conflict he
 May bring off the prize.22

Here is the theme of choice and its importance, the fact that God himself aids and enables one in the choice, and a new emphasis regarding the time factor involved. This last forms a specific parallel with S.K.; he developed the idea of what he called "the moment," or "the instant?' This is the hour of decision, the kairos destined for the venture of faith. When fulfilled in the venture, "the moment" is the point at which eternity enters time, at which a man comes into existence before God. And the moment always is now. Yesterday has proved too early; it was allowed to pass without being used. Tomorrow will be too late; the longer one delays choosing the more likely that he will continue to delay and so never choose. Today is the day, this the moment God offers and has destined for the absolute venture.

In Brethren thought this idea is best represented in the poetry of Jacob Stoll; the urgency of decision becomes the next thing to an obsession with him. "O, the time of grace is urgent!/Therefore, buy it well."23 Into two lines Stoll managed to cram his three favorite phrases: "this time of grace," "the time so urgent," and "buying the time." One of his best hymns is built on the recurrent line: "O, how is the time so urgent?"24 But the most "Kierkegaardian" passage of all is his hymn "The Single Choice":

Each person is what he chooses
As being his desire and joy;
Each person is what he strives for
As his enjoyment.
There must be some significance
To what one chooses as his portion;
And shall it prove, then,
To be only vanity?
So what shall now be my choice?
What shall my portion signify?
Thee, Jesus, my crown,
Thee will I prize eternally.
Of two things, choose one;
Indeed, more you cannot have;
And if you choose nothing,
The world does bury you,
And it eventually passes away
With all its lusts,
And what here pleased you
Will fill your breast with sorrow.25

Copyright (c) 1968