single individual

The paradox of faith then is this, that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual, to recall a now rather rare theological distinction, determines his relation to the universal by his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute

Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy), 61.

I find this a very interesting part of Fear and Trembling. I think this is what Kierkegaard means by “faith” – the distinction between the single individual and the universal, and the relationship between the single individual and the absolute. And I think people’s misunderstanding of him, and his thought, comes from a misunderstanding of this distinction and relationship.

First to make it clear: I do not think that Kierkegaard is anti-community. Kierkegaard writes for the single individual and not for a theological school or ecclesial tradition. In some ways, his writing is closer to spirituality than theology or philosophy. He is speaking of the relationship between the individual and God, not between two or more individuals. Community is part of God’s good creation but it is not the goal of the individual’s life. The goal is a relationship with the “absolute” – to transcend the here and now. And it is this transcending relationship that must proceed any other relationship.

Belonging to a Christian community is very different to belonging to Jesus. Or, as I once read Kierkegaard saying, “being in the parish register is not the same as being in the Book of Life”. Yes, I need other people! And I have really learned what that means in the last three months. But I need Jesus more. And my relationship with Jesus gives context to my relationship with others, and not vice versa.

Anyway, I like the above quote!

anonymous in Jesus?

[the individual] is incognito, but [their] incognito consists precisely in looking just like everyone else.

Kierkegaard: Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy), 345.

Kierkegaard writes the above in his broader discussion of monasticism.

The individual does not stop being a human being, take off finitude’s motley in order to be dressed in the abstract garb of the monastery.


Kierkegaard’s gripe with monasticism is that monasticism is worldly defining itself by distinction in changing their dress (and name). The issue of dress is one of making oneself different from everyone else and that is the attitude of the world. Ok, the discussion is a little more involved!

So the quote about being incognito is not anti-monasticism but against the idea of being different in religious life. For me, it speaks of being “human” while being anonymous. To be anonymous in Jesus by looking just like everyone else! To fully live for Jesus while looking just like everyone else!

So the lesson for me? It is not about being outwardly different but about being inwardly attached to Jesus. It is about a relationship that is at the same time extremely private and life transforming.

christian heroism?

It is Christian heroism – a rarity, to be sure – to venture wholly to become oneself, an individual human being, this specific individual human being, alone before God, alone in this prodigious strenuousness and this prodigious responsibility; but it is not Christian heroism to be taken in by the idea of man in the abstract or to play the wonder game with world history.

Sickness unto Death, Hong 5