V. The World Well Loved (Continued)

B. Neighbor Love

To love human beings is...
the only salutary consolation for both time
and eternity, and to love human beings is the only true
sign that you are a Christian.
When it is a duty in loving
to love the men we see,
there is no limit to love. If the duty is to be fulfilled,
love must be limitless.
It is unchanged, no matter how the object becomes changed.

It would be quite within the realm of plausible and defensible assertion to claim that, in Works of Love, Søren Kierkegaard has given us the greatest treatment of Christian love to have been produced since the New Testament. The great contemporary works by Nygren and de Rougemont (and Fromm) are so dependent upon S.K. and so anticipated by him that they hardly could be given priority.

The eighteenth century Brethren would have heartily endorsed the title of S.K.'s book and the reasoning which lay behind it, that true Christian love can be recognized and validated only when it shows itself in concrete acts, its very nature being to seek such expression. Thus the Brethren literature included little if anything in the way of abstract treatises, or even exhortations, about love in general but concerned itself immediately with the practical aspects of works of love.

Although not enlarged upon, clues are found within the Brethren writings that indicate that the concept of neighbor love was there derived in the same way as S.K. did. In a poem on 1 Jn 4:16, Jacob Stoll said:

[Those who would know the love of God]
 They, in their whole lives,
Are at all times completely permeated
 With this sort of pure love
Toward God, their highest Good,
 And out of tender love are moved
Also to do good to their neighbors.
 An attribute of pure love:
It is of such noble power
 That it can cleave to nothing;
It seeks to live in God alone.3

To root neighbor love solely and completely in the God-relationship is, as we shall see, thoroughly Kierkegaardian; S.K. called God the middle term of the love relationship between den Enkelte and his neighbor.

And Michael Frantz carried the parallel even further when he specified that love is to do what God has commanded, help those in need, give to him who asks, loan without expecting return, feed enemies, etc.4 In the first place, that "love is to do" is consonant with S.K.'s emphasis on the Works of love. And in the second place, the suggestion that Christian love is motivated and moved primarily out of obedience to God's directive catches up the major theme of S.K.'s great work, that thou shalt love.

Frantz's listing of God's commands points to the source of the Brethren love ethic, the teachings of Jesus and particularly the Sermon on the Mount. As with the simple life, S.K. also followed the pattern here. It is interesting to note that what is probably S.K.'s earliest description of Christian love (1843) is almost a paraphrase of the Matthean passage, with allusions to going the second mile, turning the other cheek, giving the cloak also, forgiving seventy times seven.5 Consultation of the Minear-Morimoto index supports the feeling that S.K. was attracted to these Sermon texts, although the attestation is not quite as spectacular nor S.K.'s expositions quite as extensive as was the case with the simple-life passage.6

As we examine the particular works of love that figured strongly in Brethrenism, the most dominant is the practice of charity. Michael Frantz signalized this in his "Hymn of Brotherly Love and Community":

"Mine" and "thine" do not signify community [Gemeinschaft];
 But a heart full of pure love does.
"Mine" and "thine" create great disunity;
 A heart full of love has everything in common.
Love and warmheartedness
 >Are prepared to give help readily.
Whoever would have fellowship [Gemeinschaft] with God
 And eat of the bread of life
Must share his gifts
 With the poor man when he comes in need....
To give alms out of a pure heart,
 Which is a candle burning with love,
Is much better than treasures of gold.7

In 1760, when the Germantown congregation acquired a dwelling to use as a meetinghouse, several rooms were reserved as a home for the aged or poverty-stricken; later the house was used exclusively for that purpose.8 In the Annual Meetings of 1788 and 1793 the brotherhood as a whole set up procedures by which alms could be distributed in an organized and orderly fashion.9 It must be admitted that the instances cited above constitute charity directed more particularly to "the brethren" than to neighbors as such. But while it is clear that the Brethren saw their own members as being their first responsibility, it is also clear that they drew no hard and fast distinction in their charities. Indeed, the benevolences of Sauer Junior were of such repute that he came to be known as "the Bread Father of Germantown."10 And this tradition has continued within Brethren life, as it has within other churches of sectarian descent. The Brethren, along with the Mennonites and Friends, have been leaders in the field of international relief and rehabilitation; and it is not by accident that these "historic peace churches" are also the churches with a particular reputation for service and outreach. Both emphases stem from the same radical love ethic of sectarianism.

A second work of love was the very early opposition of the Brethren to slavery. In his newspaper for February 15, 1761, Sauer Junior carried a strong editorial against the institution, quoting copiously from the antislavery tract by the Quaker Anthony Benezet (the Friends and the Brethren supported one another on this issue).11 And in 1782 the church came out in an unequivocal stand: "It has been unanimously considered that it cannot be permitted in any wise by the church, that a member should or could purchase negroes, or keep them as slaves."12 If the usual economy was in operation here, the Annual Meeting was simply giving official standing to what already was established as the practice of the church; the likelihood is that the Brethren never had held slaves or approved the traffic.

A third work of love was the Brethren refusal to initiate or press lawsuits. We already have noticed this practice in connection with nonconformity, but some of the poems Sauer Junior ran in conjunction with the almanac court calendars make it plain that love for the neighbor was also a primary motive; love for the one who has wronged me must take precedence even over the desire to win justice from him.

My friend, do you now wish
 To sue your friend?
Does a painful gnawing
 Stir in your breast?
Your Jesus gives you counsel
 That you should love your enemy
And through His grace
 Practice self-denial....
Avenge yourself on the Enemy
 Who harms all men;
Avoid his deep-seated evil
 In all your deeds.
If you are now thus minded,
 You immediately will find the justice you seek,
And you do not need to capture
 Or bind any child of man.
Then Justice
 Already has him in custody,
And Mercy itself
 Gives the sentence power.
Do you seek the justice of time?
 Seek it in the justice of eternity;
Then you will find as well
 God and justice and the kingdom of heaven....
Whatever your neighbor has done,
 Come unto Me; I will make it good<
And remove you out of yourself
 Into the highest grace and favor. 13

A fourth and final work of love relates to the Brethren position on carnal warfare, so-called pacifism, more accurately called nonresistance or defenselessness. In some ways this matter becomes a particularly clear indicator of sectarian thought, not because every sect is invariably pacifist but because, traditionally, the teaching has had virtually no standing in churchly thought. There is, of course, nothing about conscientious objection to war that makes it more a true work of love than anything else we have listed, but here is a point at which it is rather easy to test just how radical one's love ethic is. It here becomes both costly and conspicuous to love the neighbor, because both the world and the "churches" have taught and required participation in war, not as an act contrary to Christian love but as one permitted by (if not actually expressing) Christian love. Thus for one to adopt the non-resistant position (particularly in a state-church situation) constitutes clear evidence that his love ethic is sufficiently radical to distinguish it from traditional "churchism." A crucial question for us, then, will be: Was Kierkegaud a "pacifist"?

The Brethren took such a stand from their beginning.14 We already have noted the price Sauer Junior paid for his convictions during the Revolutionary War. However, the most complete discussion from the first half of the century is to be found in Michael Frantz's poem-treatise, where he introduced the topic with these lines:

It has never yet been heard
 That a sheep defends itself against a wolf;
A sheep that heeds the mind of Christ--
 It follows, loves, believes Him15

With this, Frantz began a twenty-stanza section entitled "Of Worldly Belligerence"; what follows is a free summary and paraphrase of some of that material:

A Christian does not resist evil with weapons or sword. Christ did not use war in order to establish a worldly kingdom, and his love prohibits his disciples from fighting. Both Isaiah and Christ teach against hurting one's enemies.... God uses war as the rod of his anger with which to punish the nations that go to war. Thus warfare is not much of an adornment to so-called Christendom. One throws a rod into the fire after it has served its usefulness--and thus it is rather easy to judge whether 'Christendom' is of Christ or not.... When the government reqwres preparation for war, the Christian must obey God rather than man. 16

Undoubtedly the most significant document regarding eighteenth century Brethren nonresistance is a petition submitted jointly by the Mennonites and the Brethren to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on November 7, 1775. At this time the war fever was rising to the point that conscientious objectors could begin to feel the hot breath of persecution. The plea read, in part:

We find ourselves indebted to be thankful to our late worthy Assembly, for ... allowing those, who by the Doctrines of our Saviour Jesus Christ, are persuaded in their consciences to love their enemies, and not to resist evil, to enjoy the liberty of their consciences....

The advice to those who do not find Freedom of conscience to take up arms, that they ought to be helpful to those who are in need and distressed circumstances, we receive with cheerfulness towards all men of what station they may be--it being our principle to feed the Hungry and give the Thirsty drink;--we have dedicated ourselves to serve all men in everything that can be helpful to the preservation of Men's lives, but we find no Freedom in giving, or doing, or assisting in any thing by which Men's Lives are destroyed or hurt. We beg the Patience of all those who believe we err in this point.

We are always ready, according to Christ's Command to Peter, to pay the Tribute, that we Offend no man, and so we are willing to pay Taxes, and to render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's, and to God those things that are God's, although we think ourselves very weak to give God his due Favor, he being a Spirit and Life, and We only dust and ashes.

We are also willing to be subject to the higher powers, and to give in the Measures Paul directs us.... We are not at Liberty in Conscience to take up arms to conquer our Enemies, but rather to pray to God, who has Power in Heaven and Earth, for us and them.

We also crave the patience of all the inhabitants of this country,--what they think to see clearer in the Doctrine of the blessed Jesus Christ, we will leave to them and God, finding ourselves very poor; for Faith is to proceed out of the word of God, which is Life and Spirit, and a Power of God, and our consciences are to be instructed by the same, therefore we beg for patience.17

There are here several items of note. In as unecumenical an age as the eighteenth century, the fact that the Brethren and Mennonites could settle for a single statement says something about the character of the two groups. The strong biblical grounding of the nonresistant position is apparent throughout, but what is perhaps more impressive is the appeal to the rights of conscience. In the concluding sentence, indeed, scripture and conscience even are related to one another in the familiar pattern of the inner-outer dialectic. Also, something of S.K.'s understanding of how conscience says "Regulations be blowed!" is involved. Not that there is reflected any defiance of government, any disdain or even questioning of the state as a rightful authority; quite the reverse. And although in one sense the petitioners were requesting the rights of conscience, in a more profound sense this was not so at all. There is no suggestion that their action in any way would be contingent upon what the state decided; rather, "We are not at liberty in conscience ... i.e. we are going to do what we have to do, we hope that you will not deem it necessary to persecute us for it." This combination of deferential respect for governmental authority along with an absolute intransigence in matters of conscience--this is very typical of the classic sectarian position, as is the sectary's disavowal of any desire to force his understanding onto others, any more than he wants their understanding forced onto him. And finally, the positive emphasis upon service and concrete works of love shows up as a true and essential concomitant of the doctrine of nonresistance.

One other important statement of the Brethren position is a minute of the Annual Meeting of 1785:

We do not understand at all ... that we can give ourselves up to do violence, or that we should submit to the higher powers in such manner as to make ourselves their instruments to shed men's blood, however it might be done.... For the love to God constrains to the obedience of his commandments, as John teaches, and as Christ requires and says, 'If ye love me, keep my commandments'; and his commandments aim throughout at nonresistance.18

It should be noted that these Brethren apologies include no hint of any Social Gospel romanticism regarding "the infinite worth of a human personality" nor modern Gandhian sociodynamics regarding "positive nonviolent action" as a technique for achieving social gains. The early Brethren pointed only to the divine command of neighbor love, the teachings and example of Jesus, and their own responsibility to obey--and found these warrant enough. S.K. would have appreciated (and did himself affect) this same blunt, unsophisticated approach.

In due course, after the evidence is in, we hope to identify S.K. as a sectarian pacifist, but as we proceed our primary interest is to demonstrate the radicalness of his love ethic. The affinity with sectarianism can be established with certainty that far, whether or not there is then agreement that this love ethic did in fact eventuate in nonresistance.

The simplest way to present S.K.'s views would be to direct the reader to Works of Love, or at least attempt a condensation and summary of that volume. However, our purposes will be served by lifting up only those points which are salient in making the comparison with sectarianism.

In the first place, the love of neighbor was, for S.K., thoroughly, completely, and exclusively, a religious conception and not a humanistic or even humanitarian one:

Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term."19

Man shall begin by loving the unseen, God, for thereby he himself shall learn what it is to love. But the fact that he really loves the unseen shall be indicated precisely by this, that he loves the brother he sees.... If you want to show that your life is intended as service to God, then let it serve men, yet continually with the thought of God.20

Love of neighbor is not essentially a human action; it does not lie within the human powers of initiation or consummation. Neighbor love can appear only as a consequence of one's relationship to God--and that not merely through learning the nature of neighbor love from God but only as God actually is present as the middle term in the love between den Enkelte and his neighbor. But notice also that this necessary connection between existing before God and loving one's neighbor is specified as holding in the reverse direction as well; not only must one be before God in order truly to love his neighbor, but just as necessarily, if one is truly before God he must love his neighbor, for "to love God is to love human beings."21 Contrary to a common understanding, the very definition of the Kierkegaardian den Enkelte, far from excluding other people, actually includes them--and active works of love toward them--as an essential part of the concept. S.K. did not speak of den Enkelte coming into relation with God by means of his relations with his neighbors; rather, he made it emphatic that it is only out of one's prior relation to God that the concept "neighbor" emerges at all:

It is in fact Christian love which discovers and knows that one's neighbor exists and that--it is one and the same thing--everyone is one's neighbor. If it were not a duty to love [and this phrase presupposes God as the one whose command makes it a duty], then there would be no concept of neighbor at all.22

"Neighbor" is the key term in S.K.'s doctrine; to define "neighbor" is to define the object of Christian love, and to define that object is necessarily to define the quality of the love. This approach arrives at the same distinction achieved by Nygren's analysis of eros and agape and does it, perhaps, in a more concrete and existential way. The neighbor is, first of all, the one who is next to hand, the man one sees. This "at-handedness" precludes Christian love from being a mere feeling, or sentiment, and compels it into the responsibility of demonstrating itself concretely as works of love. But the neighbor is also whoever happens to be next to hand, unconditionally, without discrimination as to who or what he is. "The neighbor"--this man, that man, whatever man-stands in direct antithesis to "the beloved"--this man instead of that man. The difference between agape and eros can be put no more pointedly:

Christian love teaches love of all men, unconditionally all. Just as decidedly as erotic love strains in the direction of the one and only beloved, just as decidedly and powerfully does Christian love press in the opposite direction. If in the context of Christian love one wishes to make an exception of a single person whom he does not want to love, such love is not 'also Christian love' but is decidedly not Christian love.23

The Brethren did not define what they meant by "neighbor, " but their use of the term makes it plain that they would have welcomed S.K.'s definition.

Likewise, S.K. made it plain that he would have welcomed Michael Frants's proposition that love is to do--and specifically, to do as in obedience to God's commands, which obedience is, then, the norm and standard of Christian love:

Christianity says it is a duty to be in debt [the debt of loving one another] and thereby says it is an act--not an expression about, not a theoretical conception of love.... Although love in all its expressions turns itself out toward men, where it indeed has its object and its task, it nevertheless knows that here is not the place where it shall be judged.... It is God who, so to speak, brings up love in a man; but God does not do this in order that he might himself rejoice, as it were, in the sight; on the contrary, he does it in order to send love out into the world, continually occupied in the task. Yet earnestly reared love, Christian love, never for a moment forgets where it shall be judged.24

Because Christian love is not to be judged by the world on the basis of what it accomplishes in the world but by God on the basis of whether it was motivated by true obedience to him, it follows that S.K. would have had little patience with the modern sort of "prudential pacifism" which actually attempts to "sell" people on the way of love as the most effective method for achieving social goals. S.K. denounced in so many words any temptation to commend love as a "paying proposition": The true lover is one "who loves without making any demand of reciprocity, who grounds love and its blessedness precisely in not requiring reciprocity.... The true lover regards the very requirement of reciprocity to be a contamination, a devaluation, and loving without the reward of reciprocated love to be the highest blessedness."25 So radical was the motive of S.K's love ethic that the neighbor is to he loved out of absolute obedience to a divine command, without any regard as to whether or how the loving "succeeds." Just as radical was his ethic in the quality of its love:

In a certain sense [the true lover's] life is completely squandered n existence, on the existence of others; without wishing to waste any ime or any power on elevating himself, on being somebody, in self-sacrifice he is willing to perish, that is, he is completely and wholly transformed into being simply an active power in the hands of God.26

And just as radical as in motive and quality, just so radical was S.K.'s ethic in its extent. That "the neighbor" included all men meant that it included one's enemies; S.K. emphasized--indeed, was insistent--that this was so.

Our own inclination would be to consider S.K.'s teaching regarding enemies as bearing directly upon his views of nonresistance and at this point claim his affinity with the defenseless Brethren. Certainly the Brethren themselves founded their nonresistance upon Jesus' teachings about the treatment of enemies. There is, however, a wide-spread school of thought that accepts a radical ethic of love, forgiveness, and defenselessness toward one's personal enemies (claiming that this was all that Jesus had in mind) while rejecting this ethic in regard to one's official enemies, those who threaten the state and social order rather than simply one's own person. Although all we know about S.K. makes it probable that he would have branded such a distinction as sophistical, out of recognition of the possibility we will forego the drawing of conclusions at this point. However, the evidence now to be presented certainly must be kept in mind as the background and context for the identification that is to follow.

S.K. understood that:

He who in truth loves his neighbor loves also his enemy. The distinction friend or enemy is a distinction in the object of love, but the object of love to one's neighbor is without distinction. One's neighbor is the absolutely unrecognizable distinction between man and man; it is eternal equality before God--enemies, too, have this equality.27

It is, however, not simply that Christian love does include enemies but rather that it is the inclusion of enemies that establishes love as Christian:

One can only love one's enemies for God's sake or because one loves God. The sign that one loves God is therefore quite rightly dialectical, for "immediately" one hates one's enemies. When a man loves his friends it is in no way clear that he therefore loves God; but when a man loves his enemies it is clear that he fears or loves God, and only thus can God be loved.28

Thus the command to love the enemy is an absolute one. Such love is not occasioned by the hidden good one can discover in that enemy, not by the potentialities for good one believes are there, not by the hope of reforming him for good, not even by the faith that there is "that of God in every man." All of these occasions may be true to the facts, and certainly God does use human love as a means of changing men for the better. But it is not the responsibility of the Christian lover to prove that this can or will happen, thus justifying his decision to love. To love is his bounden duty; how or whether that love is to bear fruit is God's concern.29

It is certain that S.K. shared with the sectarian Brethren a radical and absolutist love ethic. In the case of the Brethren this ethic eventuated in a nonresistant position regarding carnal warfare. Indeed, if modern Brethren wanted truly to understand their original heritage in this regard, the best source to which they might be directed would be: Kierkegaard's Works of Love. But the question remains: Did S.K. himself see this ethic as implying nonresistance? It is difficult to know how he could have avoided the conclusion. When his position has been as thoroughly and consistently absolutist as it has been up to this point, it is hard to conceive of him relativizing it in regard to war--relativizing either the ethic itself to make it apply to individual but not to group action, or relativizing the concept "enemy" in order to distinguish between one's "personal" and "official" enemies, or relativizing the concept "love" in order to bring the bombing of a man's home, the killing of his wife and children, under the rubric of "a work of love."

To my knowledge the question of S.K.'s "pacifism" never has been submitted to scholarly research, and indeed the only opinion I have found is that of Robert Bretall. In introducing the selection from Works of Love in his Kierkegaard Anthology, he states: "We know, for example, that [S.K.] was no pacifist; but his only escape from pacifism would seem to be via the dubious distinction between individual and social morality. Otherwise, must not the man who is really in earnest about The Works of Love go on extenuating and forgiving the actions of a Hitler indefinitely?"30 How Bretall "knows" that S.K. was not a pacifist he fails to specify. The only thing I have found that possibly could point to this conclusion is that for four days, as a seventeen-year-old undergraduate, S.K. belonged to the Royal Life Guards, the equivalent of our R.O.T.C. (He proved physically unqualified.) But this incident surely has no bearing on the question before us.

On the other hand I have found no statement which in and of itself would constitute unimpeachable proof that S.K. was a pacifist. But Bretall certainly is correct in suggesting that Works of Love inevitably points toward such a conclusion--and this can be used as the basis for a very strong case of circumstantial evidence. Some of that evidence is as follows:

The means we use, ... the way one fights for his idea, ... the least means one allows oneself for the sake of realizing them, are equally important, absolutely equally important, as the object for which one fights and labors.31

Under no circumstances would S.K. have defended war with an argument to the effect that the end justifies the means.

Neither would he have allowed the assumption that a decree of the state ipso facto carries Christian authority:

Above all, save Christianity from the State. By its protection it smothers Christianity to death, as a fat lady with her corpus overlies her baby. And it teaches Christianity the most disgusting bad habits, as for example, under the name of Christianity to employ the power of the police.32

The whole concept of a 'Christian' state is actually a self-contradiction, a humbug.... The state conducts itself according to the category: the race; Christianity according to the category: the individual--on this point alone one can see that they are heterogeneous.... But Christianity is infinitely exalted above the state.33

In one sense Christianity is doubtless the most tolerant of all religions, inasmuch as most of all it abhors the use of physical power.34

By unconditionally rejecting the concept of a Christian state, and doubly so by specifying that one point of divergence between Christianity and the state is the use of physical coercion, S.K. cut himself off from any theory that would justify war by granting the state authority in matters of Christian ethics. Thus prohibited are the traditional arguments of "just war," "the two realms," or whatever, all of which presuppose at least some form of a "Christian" state.

But the one argument S.K. would have been least likely to use is the very one Bretall puts forward, although Bretall's timidity in suggesting it is evidence that he realizes that it is not very plausible. Actually, it is unthinkable that S.K. would deny his entire ethical theory, which is based precisely upon den Enkelte, in order to introduce a new, social (crowd) ethic different from what he has interpreted as being the New Testament norm. Although not specifically in connection with war, S.K. in fact explicitly did renounce any such "social" ethic:

If only there are many of us engaged in it, it is not wrong, what the many do is the will of God.... The thing to do is to become many, the whole lot of us, if we do that, then we are secured against the judgment of eternity. Yes, doubtless they are secured if it was only in eternity they became individuals. But they were and are before God constantly individuals.35

The falsehood first of all is the notion that the crowd does what in fact only the individual in the crowd does, though it be every individual. For 'crowd' is an abstraction and has no hands: but each individual has ordinarily two hands, and so when an individual lays his two hands upon Caius Marius they are the two hands of the individual, certainly not those of his neighbor, and still less those of the ... crowd which has no hands.36

If S.K. was not a pacifist, there would seem to be only one way he could have avoided it, a way he would not have been ashamed to have taken, to admit frankly that the Christian requirement was higher than man could attempt.

But the evidence is, rather, that he was at one with the sectarian Brethren, not only in their ethic of radical love (which is unimpeachable) but also in their position on war. At one point in his Papirer S.K. quoted Tertullian's comment to the effect that, in disarming Peter, Jesus took the sword from every Christian. The entry consists of the quotation and nothing more, although S.K.'s transcription of it must have signified approval rather than anything else.37 But the heart and core of S.K.'s "pacifism" is to be found in his development of the concept "martyr." It never was given a full-fledged presentation in any of his published works or even in the journals. By piecing together statements from a variety of sources, however, we can reconstruct a consistent and integrated picture of S.K.'s truly remarkable position. The dating of these materials makes it plain that S.K. formed the concept during the years 1847-1848 and under the direct influence of the war with Germany and the general political unrest in which Denmark was then involved. The place to start is with a series of personal letters which S.K. wrote to J. L. A. Kolderup-Rosenvige during August 1848.38 There is one matter that it would be useful to note beforehand and keep under consideration as we examine the material itself. The category S.K. lifted up and explicated was "the martyr," but this is not quite precise as a description of a role a Christian can set out to play, for one's martyrdom is not of his own doing. The Christian can take a position that invites martyrdom, and that far his duty may extend, but whether he actually then becomes martyred is hardly within his power. Therefore, when S.K. spoke of the Christian duty to be a "martyr," the only portion of that role incumbent upon the individual was to become "a nonresistor," a "conscientious objector," "a defenseless Christian," one who refuses to fight and who, defenselessly, is willing to take the consequences of that refusal, even to the point of martyrdom.

S.K.'s correspondent was urging him to take an active voice and part in the politics of the war with Germany, the establishment of constitutional government in Denmark, and the turmoil that pervaded Europe at the time. S.K. declined, avowing that the situation was such as to make any contribution from him impossible (which in itself may be indicative of a sectarian disinclination against becoming too closely aligned with any particular political interest or party). At this point S.K. offered his analysis of the war and the general European situation. It should be remembered that in the following S.K. was speaking about a war in which his own homeland even then was being invaded. It is one thing, during times of peace, to be critical of wars in general or of other people's wars; it is quite a different matter to speak thus of wars that affect and involve one personally.

S.K. proposed the analogy of a real-life drama which apparently he actually had witnessed in one of the crowded residential quarters of Copenhagen:

First act: Two dogs get into a fight. The event creates an enormous sensation; an incredible number of heads are stuck out of windows in order to see. Work can wait for a while; everyone leaves it in order to watch.
Second act: Out of the street doors of the two houses lying nearest the battle step two women, each from her own door. These two women appear to be the dogs' owners. The one declares that it was the other's dog that started the imbroglio. Thereupon the women become so excited that they join battle. More I did not see--but the story easily can be continued.
Therefore, the third act: Two men come up, the husbands of the respective women. The one declares that it was the other's wife who started it. Thereupon the two men become so excited that they join battle.
Thus one can assume that more husbands and wives come until ... now it is a European war. The cause is: Who started it? You see, this is the formula for war in the second degree. War in the first degree is war; in the second degree it is a war over who it was that started the first war.39

S.K. here identified the phenomenon which the nuclear age has forced into our vocabulary as escalation; and upon the basis of that observation he was suggesting that war neither is nor can be a valid instrument for achieving social justice, precisely because it cannot be controlled, cannot be confined to the real issue at question. We use the term "escalation"; S.K. coined one that is perhaps even more descriptive. He saw war and the events that lead to war as a "gyration," a whirl that spins faster and faster and faster until it disintegrates into a fling of fragments.

He used this figure as the basis for a subsequent letter; what follows is a paraphrase of it: Given the gyrating character of conflict, what society (particularly 1848 Europe) needs is not movements but brakes. Events are whirling wildly; it requires a fixed point to break up the turbination and bring it to a stop. (S.K. specified that it is den Enkelte who must play the role of the fixed point; and thus are suggested many points of contact between the line of thought he was developing here and his religious perspective as a whole.) Revolution cannot do the job, for the first revolution calls for a counterrevolution to halt it; the counterrevolt is a revolution which itself must be stopped, et cetera ad infinitum. This, for instance, was the pattern of the French Revolution. And in light of the above it follows that the fixed point cannot be something out front toward which one is driving but must be something that lies behind.40

Thus far S.K.; we interrupt the paraphrase in order to comment on this most seminal suggestion. S.K. will categorize as "political" any movement that drives toward a point out ahead, that proposes to establish an order different from the one that presently obtains, that would save the situation by re-creating it. A "religious" movement, on the other hand, is oriented toward a point that lies behind; that is, its basic character is simply obedience to the commands of God, conformance to the mind of Christ, without obligation to accomplish anything. Of course, outward accomplishment may come as a result of religious movement, but in the final analysis this is God's business; den Enkelte's only concern is to be obedient, and that obedience is blessed quite apart from anything it may bring to pass.

S.K. here saw a distinction that makes it possible to define the sectarian doctrine of nonresistance with greater precision than has been possible before. According to the terms of the definition, "positive nonviolent action," which uses lobbying, demonstrations, sit-ins, etc., is still essentially "political" in character, as is any "pacifist" movement that sets itself the goal of building a peaceful world. These movements certainly mark a real gain over those that depend upon violence and coercion as their instrumentalities, but they are not strictly religious movements for all that.

Even so, to identify a movement as "political" is not ipso facto to declare it illicit, although it is to deny that there is anything intrinsically "Christian" about it. A political movement, even "positive nonviolent action," is basically a technique, an action directed toward the accomplishment of a specified goal. A religious movement is in no sense a technique, because it has its telos within itself. Being a technique, the validity of a political movement must be judged by what it accomplishes; a sit-in, for example, "succeeds" when the lunch counter is integrated. A religious movement, on the other hand, cannot be so judged, because it was never committed to succeed. God does not require den Enkelte to accomplish anything in a worldly sense (that involves so many factors that are beyond the man's control); God requires only unconditional obedience (which is precisely what each man does control).

Being a political technique, "positive nonviolent action" can commend itself equally to and be used to equal effect by a non-Christian Mahatma Gandhi or by an atheist Bertrand Russell or by a Christian Martin Luther King. It neither needs a Christian to use the technique, nor does the using of it qualify one as a Christian. The religious movement, on the other hand, is specifically Christian in that the sort of obedience it requires is precisely what S.K. also intended by "Christian faith." Being a technique, "positive nonviolent action," or any other political movement, could as well be directed toward an unworthy goal as a worthy one; there is nothing about the technique itself that dictates for what it is to be used. A religious movement, however, risks no such discrepancy, because it is directed toward a fixed, Christian point behind rather than toward any goal out front.

None of S.K.'s statements suggest that it would be anything but proper and perhaps even obligatory for a Christian to support political movements which are dedicated to the attainment of worthy political and social goals. His point, however, was that the fundamental problems of human conflict and violence ultimately will have to be solved by religious and not merely political means:

Tis is the distinction between political and religious movement. very merely political movement, which thus is godless or lacking eligiousness, is a whirling that cannot stop and that only fools tself with the fancy that it wants a fixed point in front, that t wants to stop with the help of a brake--because the fixed point, he only fixed point, lies behind. And therefore this is my view of the whole European confusion, that it cannot be stopped except by religiousness.41

S.K. concluded this letter with the observation that the religious martyr is the prime example of the way to brake turbination; the martyr does not strive to move society toward a point out ahead but acts solely in relation to the fixed point behind.

These letters to Kolderup-Rosenvige add to our understandmg of another statement written about the same time, this in one of S.K.'s prefaces to The Book on Adler (which he never published). In this case as with the letters, the war with Germany stands as the immediate context:

To get eternity again requires blood, but blood of a different sort, not the blood of thousands of warriors, no, the precious blood of martyrs, of the individuals--the blood of martyrs, those mighty dead who are able to do what no living man can do who lets men be cut down by thousands, what these mighty dead themselves could not do while they lived but are able to do only as dead men: to constrain to obedience a furious mob, just because this furious mob in disobedience took the liberty of slaying the martyrs. For the proverb says 'He laughs best who laughs last'; but truly he conquers best who conquers last--so not he who conquers by slaughter--oh, dubious conquest!--but he who conquers by being put to death--an eternally certain conquest! And this sacrifice is the sacrifice of obedience, wherefore God looks with delight upon him, the obedient man, who offers himself as a sacrifice, whereas he gathers his wrath against disobedience which slays the sacrifice--this sacrifice, the victor, is the martyr; for not everyone who is put to death is a martyr. For tyrants (in the form of emperors, kings, popes, Jesuits, generals, diplomats) have hitherto in a decisive moment been able to rule and direct the world; but from the time the fourth estate [presumably, that is to say, the Christian martyrs as opposed to the three traditional estates of lords temporal, lords spiritual, and commoners] has come into the picture--when it has had time to settle itself in such a way that it is rightly understood--it will be seen that in the decisive moment only martyrs are able to rule the world. That is, no man will be able to rule the human race in such a moment, only Deity can do it with the help of the absolutely obedient men who at the same time are willing to suffer--but such a man is the martyr.42

A final statement--written in 1847, a year earlier than the others, and although speaking of the apostles rather than the "martyr" per se--nevertheless climaxes S.K.'s insight into the dynamics of nonresistance:

But the Apostles were indeed also constantly suffering; they not only had sufferings, for there can also be suffering where there is acting, but their entire course of action was a suffering; their conduct was a yielding; they did not preach rebellion against authority; on the contrary, they recognized its power, but in suffering they obeyed God rather than men. They did not plead to be excused from any punishment. They did not grumble because they suffered punishment, but though punished they continued to preach Christ. They did not wish to coerce anyone, but let themselves be oppressed, they triumphed precisely through letting themselves be oppressed. If this is not the relationship, then neither can courage perform miracles; for the miracle consists precisely in the fact that it looks to everyone like defeat, while to the Apostle it is victory.43

Of course, "suffering" here is used not so much in the sense of "experiencing pain" as of "allowing oneself to be acted upon" rather than acting upon another, "absorbing" as against "effecting." Thus "suffering" is the correlate of "the fixed point that lies behind," which is, in turn, the correlate of "absolute obedience." Thus, too, S.K.'s "suffering" becomes a rather precise equivalent of early Brethren "nonresistance" and "defenselessness."

As regards his love ethic then, Søren Kierkegurd did not simply show "sectarian tendencies"; he offered the best presentation of the sectarian ethic that has been made---and that both in regard to its basic nature and motivation (this in Works of Love) and its political relevance and application (this in the concept "martyr").

Copyright (c) 1968