VI. B. The Character of Den Enkelte

C. Inwardness/Subjectivity

Chistianity is spirit, spirit is inwardness, inwardness is subjectivity, subjectivity is essentially passion, and in its maximum an infinite, personal, passionate interest in one's eternal happiness. As soon as subjectivity is eliminated, and passion eliminated from subjectivity, and the infinite interest eliminated from passion, there is in general no decision at all, neither in this problem nor in any other. All decisiveness, all essential decisiveness is rooted in subjectivity.1

Because the choice through which den Enkelte chooses himself before God is not the calculated nod of the intellect but a daring venture of the self, "subjectivity," the involvement of the total person to the roots of his existence, was bound to be a major emphasis with S.K. "Subjectivity" has tended to become the technical term by which this theme is identified (although only because the commentators insist in centering on Postscript). Actually, "inwardness" is the better term; S.K. used it more widely, particularly as he moved out of the pseudonymous and into his religious writings. "Subjectivity" carries with it philosophic connotations, "inwardness" religious ones; and as we have not neglected to mention already, S.K. was a religious author.

It proves most interesting to trace this motif in Kierkegaard, because we discover a movement that does not often appear. There is, of course, the very familiar pattern of the "feigned movement, " the movement from the pseudonyms, with their more abstract presentation, through the gradual revelation of the true and thoroughly Christian grounding of the idea. But it also seems clear that we have here a case in which S.K.'s own thought changed and developed; there are lacking the usual clues and "leaks" that give away the fact that S.K. had in mind more than he was allowing the pseudonyms to say. Basically the movement represents the building of a dialectic--not the mere presentation of a dialectic in which the author knows what the second pole is to be before he delineates the first, but the creation of a dialectic; we see S.K. discover the second pole.

"Inwardness" is the first pole. Its negative, its contradictory, its perverted counterpart, is "hiddenness" (or, in other cases, "superficial emotionalism"). This is not the second pole. Involved here is a most important principle regarding Kierkegaardian dialectic. The relationship between a thing and its contradictory, between a positive and its negative, is never to be understood as dialectical; rather, the positive is to be wholly affirmed and the negative wholly rejected. The word "antithesis" is most confusing in this regard; it customarily is used to identify the second pole of a dialectic (although, more precisely, that of a Hegelian dialectic of philosophical concepts, which is something far different from the Kierkegaardian dialectic of existential life modes).2 But antithesis also has come to mean "the opposite," or "the contradictory." However, for S.K. the second pole is never the contradictory, or antithesis, of the first, because both poles must be "of the truth," i.e. worthy of being affirmed, even though "the whole truth" is achieved only as both poles are affirmed in concert. Therefore, the Kierkegaardian dialectic always consists of two positives (never a positive and its negative) which are paradoxical yet essentially complementary.

The second pole that forms a true dialectic with the pole of "inwardness" is that which constitutes the theme of our next section, "fruitbearing and obedience." The negative, or contradictory, of obedience is "works-righteousness," which will be examined in the further section following. But with inwardness, as with every dialectical motif, S.K.'s thought and witness have not been well understood until the complementary pole also is in view; the doctrine of inwardness is truly Kierkegaardian only when balanced against the doctrine of outward obedience.

We are here dealing with the very fundamental dialectic of "inner-outer." This same dialectic, as was suggested in an earlier chapter, was bred into the eighteenth century Brethren by virtue of their parentage; the powerful inwardness of Pietism came into conjunction with the equally powerful obedience-fruitbearing emphasis of Anabaptism. But with S.K. the achievement of this dialectic (not simply in his thought but even more particularly in his lift) was a most painful and agonizing struggle. All of his natural propensities--his genius, his melancholy, his delicate health, his introvertedness--all pointed him toward inwardness. It is no surprise, then, to discover in his writings the earliness, the strength, and the pervasiveness of this theme. But both in the authorship and in the biography, actually to Witness S.K. move in a direction absolutely counter to that in which every natural factor drove him, into a complementary "outwardness," this is probably the most touching experience in the study of Kierkegaard. He claimed that this movement against the wind happened--and could happen--only by the hand of divine governance; and who would say him nay?

Our analysis begins, however, by focusing particularly upon inwardness. S.K.'s conception was rooted deeply in his understanding of the nature of God, the nature of man, and the nature of their relationship to one another. He stated the case in one of his early Edifying Discourses:

God is faithful, and does not leave Himself without testimony. But God is Spirit, and therefore can give only spiritual testimony, that is in the inner man; every external testimony from God, if one could imagine such a thing, is only a deception.3

And Climacus put the matter most succinctly when he said: "God is a subject, and therefore exists only for subjectivity in inwardness."4 These two quotations speak volumes; and S.K. wrote volumes in his effort to elucidate and establish the point.

It is as important to understand what S.K. did not say here as what he did say. "Every external testimony is a deception." Taken in the total context of his authorship it becomes obvious that S.K. did not mean to deny that God can and does use external events through which to reveal himself to and communicate with man. S.K. was too firmly rooted in the Bible to go this direction; he knew that there, indeed, God is presented as speaking through historical events much more than through inner voices and visions. S.K. was saying, rather, that external events, even when directed by God, can become "spiritual testimony" only when received by the inner man. Examined outwardly, these events can be proved only to be outward, historical events; received inwardly-and only when received inwardly-they are heard as the voice of God. A variation of the "inner-outer" dialectic clearly is at work.

Mack Senior emphasized the same understanding, applying the dialectic to the Scriptures as a specific instance:

No one may say to a believer that he should and must believe and obey the Scriptures, because no one can be a believer without the Holy Spirit, who must create the belief. Now, the Scriptures are only an outward testimony of those things which were once taught and commanded by the Holy Spirit.... All believers are united in it, for the Holy Spirit teaches them inwardly just as the Scriptures teach them outwardly.... Outwardly, [one] reads the Scriptures in faith and hears the inner word of life which gives him strength and power to follow Jesus.5 [Cf. those parts of the same passage quoted above.

We are dealing with two variations of, or contrapuntal movements within, the one, overall "inner-outer" dialectic. God's outward works must become man's inward testimony; in turn, man's inward experience must find expression in outward action. Such two-way alternation is the hallmark of effective dialectic. In his concluding sentence Mack suggested the "outer-inner-outer" movement in its totality. However, both Mack and S.K. were emphatic that there is no faith apart from inwardness, that this is the only site at which a man can meet God. Why? Because "God is a subject, and therefore exists only for subjectivity in inwardness."

S.K.'s wording is crucial: "God is a subject." This is an entirely different thing than to say that God is subjectivity, or that he is an aspect of my subjectivity; the presence of the indefinite article "a" prohibits any such interpretation. The obvious intention is: God is a subject; I am a subject; these are two subjects, two different subjects existing independently and over against each other no matter how intimate the communion between them may become.6 Perhaps it follows that God thus is made an entity alongside other entities, but for S.K. there was no alternative.

"Therefore God exists only for subjectivity in inwardness." And this is an entirely different thing than to say that God exists in subjectivity, or that his existence is located in my subjectivity. Louis Dupre put it well when he said, "Subjectivity is not to be confused with subjectivism.... Indeed, [subjectivity] fosters the fullest objectivity."7 Not simply on the grounds of the statement under examination but of his entire authorship it can be said that S.K. (and for that matter, the Brethren as well) absolutely distinguished themselves from two major nondialectic types of "subjectivism." One is the traditional mystic approach that looks for "the God within"--to the neglect of the inner testimony derived from God's outward works. The other is contemporary existentialist theology, which, ironically enough, understands itself to be the heir of S.K., but which, in one way or another, identifies God with man's own inwardness and undercuts the objectivity of God's outward acts by recasting them into symbols of inward process.

The inwardness of both S.K. and the Brethren was preserved from either fate by maintenance of the dialectic. Thus the "inner" of God's immanence was played off against the "outer" of his transcendence. The God who chooses to meet man only in his inwardness (because this is the appropriate site for encounter between "subjects," or "persons") is nevertheless the God who is "Wholly Other."8 The God who "exists only for subjectivity" nevertheless revealed himself supremely in an objectively historical life recounted in an objectively historical book. The God who speaks to man only in his lonely inwardness nevertheless demands that that conversation be given outward expression in acts of obedience and fruit-bearing.

But because God, man, and their relationship are of this sort, S.K. felt it to be one of the greatest needs of his age that the life of faith become more inward and deep. He sometimes put the matter in more general and abstract terms:

All religiousness consists in inwardness, in enthusiasm, in strong emotion, in the qualitative tension by the springs of subjectivity. When one beholds people as they are for the most part, one cannot deny that they have some religiousness, some concern to be enlightened and instructed about religious things, but without allowing these things to affect them too closely.... I find no better comparison for their religiousness than the exercises in the field of maneuvers. As these exercises are related to battle or to being in battle (where there is danger, which in the field of maneuvers is absent), so is distance-religiousness related to inward religiousness.9

Sometimes, too, S.K. put inwardness into the authentic context of its Christian-biblical grounding--as when he cited Matthew 15:1-12, wherein Jesus castigates the Pharisees.

Christ is here regarded in general as [a] teacher ... [who] insists upon inwardness in contrast with all empty externalism, a teacher who transforms externalism into inwardness. Such is the collision, a collision which recurs again and again in Christendom; briefly expressed it is the collision of pietism with the established order.10

Highly significant is S.K.'s identification of inwardness with pietism (whether he had in mind the specific historical movement or only the broad tendency of piety) and his aligning of himself with it. Indeed, the inwardness of both S.K. and the Brethren appears as a rather clear and direct influence from their Pietistic backgrounds.

The aspects of inwardness presented thus far form a stable element of S.K.'s thought; there is no particular change in this emphasis, except for the usual revelation of its essentially Christian character. When S.K. moved on to stress the second pole of the dialectic, he did in no way alter or deemphasize this conviction about inwardness. However, in the pseudonyms there is another aspect of inwardness which in time very definitely did change, to the point of being consciously renounced and condemned as the negative of true inwardness. This was "secrecy," "invisibility," or "hiddenness." The note is very strong in the pseudonyms. In Fear and Trembling perhaps the most notable characteristic of the "knight of faith" is that there is absolutely no outward sign by which he can be distinguished from other men. And the principle is stated definitively by Johannes Climacus.11

But although it is the pseudonyms who most strongly emphasize secret inwardness, it seems certain that this was S.K.'s own honest opinion. There is no evidence that, in this instance, the edifying author actually stood beyond the pseudonym. And given S.K.'s conviction about the utter necessity of inwardness, plus the "inward" proclivities of his own introverted psyche, it is very plausible that he should have taken such a position. Indeed, he had a very valid religious motive for his belief. Secret inwardness was not thought of as opposed to obedience and fruitbearing; this pole of the dialectic simply had not yet come into view. Secret inwardness was opposed to the hypocrisy that demands an outward sign seen by men in order that one's inwardness not go unnoticed and uncredited. Surely, secret inwardness is the cure for Pharisaism and is indubitably an authentic New Testament teaching.

But it is interesting to trace S.K.'s growing realization that there was another side to the coin and, consequently, his development of a true dialectic. The signs of awakening appear already in Postscript, almost alongside the most insistent demands for secrecy:

The medieval spirit [i.e. monastic asceticism] did not have complete confidence in its inwardness until this became an outwardness. [S.K. elsewhere made it clear that this may not have been motivated by the hypocrisy of wanting to be seen of men but by the more excusable weakness of wanting to transmute the strenuous solitude and insubstantiality of inwardness into safe and sure objectivities.] But the less outwardness, the more inwardness, and an inwardness expressed through its opposite (the outwardness of being wholly like all others, and that there is outwardly nothing to see) is the highest inwardness [To this point, S.K. simply has reiterated the case for secrecy, but he continues with a parenthesis which in the course of the authorship grew in emphasis until it supplanted the demand for secrecy and reduced it to parenthetical status.]--provided it is there. This qualification must always he added, and also the warning that the less outwardness the easier the deception.... Had I lived in the Middle Ages, I could never have chosen to enter a cloister. And why not? Because anyone who entered a cloister was in the Middle Ages accounted a saint, and that in all seriousness.... If a cloister were set up in a modern environment the entrants would be regarded as mad.... This I regard as an extraordinary advantage. To be considered mad is something like; it is encouraging, it protects the inwardness of the absolute relationship.12

Probably without quite realizing what he had accomplished, S.K. here, in the first place, made impossible further insistence on secrecy. "Secret inwardness is the highest inwardnes--provided it is there." S.K. first had detected pharisaic, monastic, or pietistic hypocrisy, i.e. the desire for externalities that will prove one's inwardness, and had countered with the demand for secrecy. Now he began to sense a different sort of hypocrisy, that of established Christendom. In time the emphasis became conscious:

Protestant ministers made the discovery that up and down the land there are true Christians living, who are true Christians in all secrecy--and indeed, in the end we are all true Christians in hidden inwardness, we are all models. How charming! If the New Testament is to decide what is meant by a true Christian, then to be a true Christian in all secrecy, comfortably and enjoyably, is as impossible as firing a cannon in all secrecy.13

But in the second place, in this same early quotation from Postscript S.K. paved the way for a dialectic relationship which could protect against both types of hypocrisy simultaneously. If the outward expressions of inwardness were such that father than evoking the praise and admiration of the world they called up its enmity, then, of course, outward works would lose their illegitimate appeal. This too, in due course, became a conscious emphasis:

Christianity in the New Testament has more hidden inwardness than you find in Protestantism, but that is not enough for it, it wants to be recognizable in a paradoxical form, and it is at this point that all the Christian conflicts arise.14

And thus the way was open to bring in outward obedience as the dialectic corollary of inward faith; and thus were the Kierkegaardian motifs of non-conformity to the world, the scandal of Christianity, and suffering for the faith drawn into the basic pattern of that dialectic.

All this is but hinted in the quotation from Postscript; the actual development took time and agony. A further step, in which the value and need of secrecy strove for preservation but in which the outward also gained in standing, came a few years later in a most penetrating analysis from The Book on Adler:

Alas, the need of giving an inward resolution a striking outward expression is often an illusion.... Not rarely there is a suspicious incongruity between inward decision (the strength of resolution, salvation, healing) and the outward signs of decision.... That the outward expression is not always the inward is true not only of the ironists who intentionally deceive by a false outward expression, but it is true also of the immediate natures who unconsciously deceive themselves, yea sometimes feel a need of self-deception.... A man of some seriousness would rather hide the decision and test himself in silent inwardness in order to see whether it might not deceptively be true that he the weak one felt the need of a strong outward expression of resolution.... But if the change has really come about, then it is permissible, then one always may change little by little the outward expression, if one has quite seriously been on the watch lest the change might be before others in the outward, not before God in the inward.15

This statement has some implications that form an interesting parallel with Brethrenism, for the sort of "striking outward exhibition of decision" that S.K. deprecates here does not really touch the concept of outward obedience and fruitbearing to which both S.K. and the Brethren came. Indeed, we shall see that their understanding of obedience involved a change in one's mode of life, the sort of conformance to the will of God which only could be attained deliberately, gradually, studiedly. S.K. did not specify, but his "striking outward exhibition" would seem to point to the phenomenon of an actual outwardness that appears as the deepest sort of inwardness, or put conversely, the kind of inwardness that comes closest to being outwardness. This is revivalism, ecstaticism, emotionalized conversion, enthusiasm (in the popular and not the strictly etymological sense). Emotion itself, of course, is something basically inward, but emotionalism inevitably focuses on the outward manifestation.

It is not only of interest but quite significant that although both S.K. and the Brethren were strong in their emphasis on inwardness, devotional immediacy, and the like, both were equally strong in their suspicion of revivalism and hyperemotionalism. It is rather plain that there was nothing of this tendency in S.K.;16 but the same is true of the Brethren. Their tradition was quite staid and dignified, particularly in comparison with the excesses of Radical Pietism and of many groups in colonial and frontier America. During the nineteenth century the Annual Conference actually prohibited the holding of revival meetings. But earlier, one aspect of the Brethren break with the Radicals was the rejection of their emotionalism; and in eighteenth century America, "awakened souls" among the Brethren almost inevitably fled to the more congenial atmosphere of the Ephrata Cloisters.

Although not for a moment denying the place of genuine emotion (S.K.'s "passion") as a concomitant of inwardness, the thing that guarded either S.K. or the Brethren (or the Anabaptist tradition in general) from going the way of revivalism was the dialectical balance with obedient fruitbearing. If humble, day-by-day obedience is the authentic outward correlate of true Christian inwardness, then a quick, highly charged emotionalism is no acceptable substitute. Something of this thought was revealed in a letter by Mack Junior. His correspondent, John Price (a descendant of the John Price mentioned earlier), had delayed being baptized because he could point to no concrete assurance of his sins having been forgiven. Mack responded:

It must indeed be accepted gratefully when the Lord by the inward joyful strength and comforting voice of the Good Shepherd gives to the soul a sure marrow- and bone-penetrating assurance that his sins are now forgiven and that his name is written down in heaven. However, it seems to me that our prayer should be more to the effect that the Lord may keep us from sin and may lead us into the pleasure of His will, in order that our will, our desire, and our entire pleasure may become a daily burn t-offering to the pure love of God."17

This would seem well qualified as a specific instance of S.K.'s stated preference for step-by-step transformation as over against "the striking outward exhibition." Yet the entire discussion also becomes important from another standpoint. Inwardness is a strong emphasis among the sects (although not by that token entirely absent in the churches), but contrary to the popular impression, revivalism is not necessarily the form in which that inwardness expresses itself and indeed not the normative form for classic sectarianism; the complementary emphasis on obedience tended to check emotional excesses.

But the difficulty that hampered S.K. in moving out of secret inwardness into the full-fledged dialectic was not an intellectual one; the doctrinal solution undoubtedly would have come much more quickly and easily had not S.K. encountered within himself a personal compulsion toward secrecy. He spoke in one place of a despairing feeling of being shut up that was "inwardness with a jammed lock.18 This was S.K.'s own cross; and how hard it was to bear, those of a different psychology scarcely can imagine. For S.K. to venture out of his secret inwardness was a tremendous personal achievement, but once he saw that it must be done, he saw also that he had a personal obligation to his readers:

And yet perhaps it is my duty to God [to speak openly about my own religious experience], and my hidden inwardness something which God countenanced my having until I had grown strong enough to talk about it.19 Hidden inwardness, that is what must be rejected--all the lying, hypocritical, conceited confusion which "hidden inwardness" has brought about.... It is to a certain extent true of me that I was unfortunate enough to go about and conceal a hidden inwardness. For that very reason, because there was some truth in me, I am the one who was given the task of throwing some light on this point.20

Without in the slightest deemphasizing the need for inwardness as such, and without approving the pharisaical hypocrisy that requires outward credit for its inwardness, S.K. now felt obliged to damn hidden inwardness just as strongly as he had insisted upon it earlier.21

But the truest picture of S.K.'s position comes not through his polemic against hidden inwardness but in his presentation of the complete inner-outer dialectic. This was done most effectively when he used Christian love as a specific example:

As the quiet lake is fed deep down by the flow of hidden springs, which no eye sees, so a human being's love is grounded, still more deeply, in God's love.... Yet this hidden life of love is knowable by its fruits--yes, there is a need in love to be recognizable by its fruits.... For one is not to work in order that love becomes known by its fruits but to work to make love capable of being recognized by its fruits....
What love does, it is; what it is, it does--at one and the same moment; simultaneously as it goes beyond itself (in an outward direction) it is in itself (in an inward direction), and simultaneously as it is in itself, it thereby goes beyond itself in such a way that this going beyond and this inward turning, this inward turning and this going beyond, are simultaneously one and the same.22

Essentially the same inner-outer alternation was applied by the Brethren in a wide variety of instances. In fact, it is, as we have seen, the basic pattern of early Brethrenism. Mack Senior suggested the double movement of "outer-inner-outer." Michael Frantz made rather wide use of the dialectic.23 But perhaps the most extensive and self-conscious presentation of the pattern came in a poem by Mack Junior. He used the dialectic as S.K. did, pinpointing the same two types of hypocrisy, when he said:

The outward service of God is correct
Where one is not the servant of sin;
The inward is supremely good
Where one does not deceive himself.
For how do all appearances help us
Where we are not true Christians?24

The statements of this dialectic by S.K. and by the Brethren form a rather clear parallel--not that this makes it the exclusive property of S.K. and sectarianism, yet S.K. must have felt that the emphasis runs at least somewhat counter to churchly thought or he would not have been so polemic in asserting it.

But because, for S.K., this matter involved a deeply personal "jammed lock" rather than simply a doctrinal formulation, his most significant demonstration came not in the form of statements but of decisive actions. First, in a preliminary way by challenging the Corsair and then by launching a full-scale attack upon Christendom, S.K. deliberately and with full knowledge of what it would cost chose to give his inwardness outward expression--an expression, indeed, that was conspicuous and flagrant in its very outwardness. The Attacker of Christendom is at some remove from the incognito Knight of Faith; and the basic significance of the battle stance that concluded S.K.'s career is that he was determined to practice what he had been preaching, namely: What a Christian believes, he is; what he is, he does; what he actually believes is what he is and does. Thus when S.K. took signal action, he not only had formulated but had lived the most fundamental dialectic of Christianity-and this on the part of a man totally unqualified by nature to achieve it. Only when inwardness is coupled with outward obedience is S.K.'s doctrine understood, and only when he had matched the hidden depths of his faith with an equivalent action was his witness complete.

Copyright (c) 1968