Repetition, Fear, and Love

Soren Kierkegaard published Either/Or under the pseudonym Victor Erimeta and his Two Upbuilding Discourses in his own name. He used this method of authorship throughout his writings.

His next books were all published on the same date, October 16, 1843.

Repetition: An Essay in experimenting Psychology by the pseudonym  Constantin Constantius

Fear and Trembling, Dialectical Lyric by the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio

Three Upbuilding Discourses 1843
a. Love Will Hide a Multitude of Sins.
b. Love Will Hide a Multitude of Sins.
c. Strengthening in the Inner Being.

Now A is a Young Man and he isn’t speaking to an ethicist but to  a psychologist and Agamemnon is the aesthete who deals with the gods as nature while Abraham is the ethicist who deals with a God who demands that he sacrifice his son. Both these discourses speak of love and that is the theme of Kierkegaard’s Three Upbuilding Discourses, Love Covers a Multitude of Sins.

David F Swenson discussed two of these books in his biography Soren Kierkegaard from Scandanavian Studies and Notes


In his definition of time, Aristotle recognized that the present, past, and future are not homogenous. Kierkegaard would add that the past is not capable of rendering the meaning and reality of that ineffable instant in the present, precisely because it is not on the same level in the hierarchy of time. The instant is the warp of eternity, the perpetual “now,” the ever vivid present, and the past is the only dead timber remaining after the present fire has subsided.

The theory of recollection in Plato is abstract and essentialist by Kierkegaard standards. It holds that a general principle taken from the past can substitute for the originality of the present and be its double. Man, in a concrete situation, asks who and what he is; he searches through the mysteries of his concrete existence; he is not man in general but this or that individual, and generalities fail to account for the deepest and most personal weave of experience. But unable to find his place in the system, man can still make his way by looking within himself, as Socrates had urged so long ago.

Idea-Men of Today by Vincent Edward Smith 1950 p. 246

Was Kierkegaard writing about a trial of probation for Regine Olsen here? Should a prospective wife have a trial of probation?

But here I sit going on at great length about what was mentioned just to show that in fact recollection’s love makes one unhappy. My young friend did not understand repetition; he did not believe in it and did not powerfully will it. His predicament was that he actually loved the girl, but in order actually to love her he first had to be disencumbered of the poetic confusion he had gotten into.

He could have confessed this to the girl, if one wishes to end an affair with a girl, this is, after all, a respectable thing to do. But this he would not do. I was in full agreement with him that this was not right. He would thereby have cut off the possibility for her to exist autonomously in the meantime and would have exempted himself from perhaps becoming an object of her contempt and from the mounting anxiety about whether he would ever manage to make up for what had been spoiled.

If the young man had believed in repetition, what great things might have come from him, what inwardness he might have achieved in this life! The young man was in the wide sense the sorrowful knight of recollection’s only happy love. 

He repeated the same verse that evening when we parted. It will never be possible for me to forget that verse; indeed, I can more easily obliterate the recollection of his disappearance than the memory of that moment, just as the news of his disappearance disturbed me far less than his situation that first day. So I am by nature: with the first shutter of presentiment, my soul has simultaneously run through all the consequences, which frequently take a long time to appear in actuality.

Presentiment’s concentration is never forgotten. I believe that an observer should be so constituted, but if he is so constituted, he is also sure to suffer exceedingly. The first moment may overwhelm him almost to the point of swooning, but as he turns pale the idea impregnates him, and from now on he has investigative rapport with actuality.

If a person lacks this feminine quality so that the idea cannot establish the proper relation to him, which always means impregnation, then he is not qualified to be an observer, for he who does not discover the totality essentially discovers nothing.
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Repetition, Hong p. 145-146 (Repetition)


Instead of the plot in Repetition I could imagine something like this. A young man with imagination and a lot more, but who hitherto has been otherwise occupied, falls in love with a young girl — to use an experienced coquette here is not very interesting except from another angle. This young girl presumably is pure and innocent but very imaginative in an erotic way. He comes with his simple ideas. She develops him. Just when she is really delighted with him, it becomes apparent that he cannot remain with her. A prodigious desire for multiplicity is awakened and she must be set aside. In a way she herself had made a seducer of him, a seducer with the limitation that he can never seduce her. Incidentally, it could be very interesting to have him sometime later, at the peak of his powers, improved by experience, proceed to seduce her as well, “because he owed her so much.” Journals and Papers of Soren Kierkegaard 4A 153

The Mystic finds his joy in the recollective movement and movements of the soul; and hence ever tends, qua Mystic, to ignore and neglect, or to over-minimize, the absolutely necessary contact of the mind and will with the things of sense. He will often write as though, could he but completely shut off his mind from all sense-perceptions, even of grand scenery, or noble works of art, or scenes of human devotedness, suffering, and peace, it would be proportionately fuller of God.

Yet this drift is ever more or less contradicted by his practice, often at the very moment of such argument: for no religious writers are more prolific in vivid imagery derived from noble sensible objects and scenes than are the Mystics, whose characteristic mood is an intuition, a resting in a kind of vision of things invisible. And this contradiction is satisfactory, since it is quite certain that if the mind, heart, and will could be completely absorbed, (from the first or for any length of time,) in the flight from the sensible, it would become as dangerously empty and languid concerning things invisible themselves as, with nothing but an outgoing occupation with the sensible, it would become distracted and feverish.

It is this aversion from Outgoing and from the world of sense, of the contemporaneous contingencies environing the soul, that gives to Mysticism, as such, its shadowy character, its floating above, rather than penetrating into, reality, in contradiction, where this tendency becomes too exclusive, to the Incarnational philosophy and practice of Christianity, and indeed of every complete and sound psychology.

And yet the Incoming, what the deep religious thinker Kierkegaard has so profoundly analyzed in his doctrine of “Repetition” recollection and peaceful browsing among the materials brought in by the soul’s Outgoing, is most essential. Indeed it is the more difficult, and, though never alone sufficient, yet ever the more centrally religious, of the two movements necessary for the acquisition of spiritual experience and life.

The Mystical Element Of Religion Vol II  by Baron Friedrich Von Hugel  Published 1923 p. 284ff

sk 1843 writings

What if you felt that God told you to do something against your conscience? What would you do?

CEE Video Channel

If it really were axiomatic that God could never contravene our conscience and our reason – if we could be sure that he must share our moral judgments – would not God become superfluous as fa as ethics is concerned? A mere redundancy? If God is really to make a moral difference in our lives, Kierkegaard insists, we must admit that he might go against our reason and our conscience, and that he should still be obeyed.

Walter Kaufmann 1962, Introduction to The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard 1846


Job to Aristotle

Job to Aristotle

The poet or orator can do nothing that the hero does; he can only admire, love, and delight in him. Yet he, too, is happy-no less than that one is, for the hero is, so to speak, his better nature, with which he is enamored-yet happy that the other is not himself, that his love can be admiration. He is recollection’s genius. He can do nothing but bring to mind what has been done, can do nothing but admire what has been done; he takes nothing of his own but is zealous for what has been entrusted.

He follows his hearts desire, but when he has found the object of his search, he roams about to every man’s door with his song and speech so that all may admire the hero as he does, may be proud of the hero as he is. This is his occupation, his humble task; this is his faithful service in the house of the hero.

No one who was great in the world will be forgotten, but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved. He who loved himself became great by virtue of himself, and he who loved other men became great by his devotedness, but he who loved God became greatest of all. Everyone shall be remembered, but everyone became great in proportion to his expectancy. One became great by expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became greatest of all.

Everyone shall be remembered, but everyone was great wholly in proportion to the magnitude of that with which he struggled. For he who struggled with the world became great by conquering the world, and he who struggled with himself became great by conquering himself, but he who struggled with God became greatest of all. 
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Repetition, Hong translation p. 15-16 (Fear and Trembling)

Spreading the Word of God

Spreading the Word of God

He who has a teaching to commend to people and strives to win them surely has a witness to which he unhesitatingly directs the single individual, but when this witness fails, then he no doubt perceives that power has been taken from him, and although it is very hard, he nevertheless becomes reconciled with God in his heart. He may sorrow as one abandoned by the bridegroom and by joy, but also as one who did not run aimlessly, who does not forget that higher than saving others is saving one’s own soul, subjugating the unruly mind to the obedience of faith, keeping the straying thoughts in the bonds of love by the power of conviction. It is beneficial to speak of this, and any honest person certainly confesses that it is blessed to put one’s own house in order this way when one has served one’s time with the great work and has been assigned the lesser.

But now Paul! Did he live in the favor of the mighty so that it could commend his teaching? No, he was a prisoner! Did the wise hail his teaching so that their reputation could guarantee its truth? No, to them it was foolishness. Was his teaching capable of quickly supplying the individual with a supranatural power, did it offer itself for sale to people through legerdemain? No, it had to be acquired slowly, appropriated in the ordeal that began with the renunciation of everything.

Did Paul, then, have any witness? Yes, indeed-he had every human witness against him, and in addition he had the concern that the congregation would lose heart or, worse yet, be offended at him, because offense surely is never closer than when truth is suppressed, when innocence suffers, when injustice is sure of its victory, when violence is on the increase, when ignorance does not even need to use power against the good but, careless and unconcerned, remains ignorant of its existence.

But does Paul, forsaken by the witness, despair? By no means. Since he had no other witness to appeal to, he appeals to his hardships. Is this not like a miracle? If Paul had not otherwise effectively demonstrated that he had the power of miracle, is this not a demonstration? To transform hardships into a witness for the truth of a teaching, to transform disgrace into glory for oneself and for the believing congregation, to transform the lost cause into a matter of honor that has all the inspiring force of a witness-is this not like making the cripple walk and the mute speak!

What gave Paul the power for this? He himself has a witness, he was no doubter who in his innermost being retracted the strong thoughts. He had a witness superior to anything in the world, a witness that witnessed all the more powerfully the more the world went against him. Was he a weak man, then? No, he was powerful. Was he wavering? No, he was steadfast; he was mightily strengthened by God’s spirit in his inner being.

Therefore what the apostle desires for every individual in the congregation is what he himself was, what his whole life demonstrates. Even if the situation in his day was different, even if struggle and conflict made it more necessary but also perhaps more difficult to attain this strenghthening in the inner being, nevertheless for all ages and in all circumstances it remains the one thing needful for a person, to save his soul in this inner strengthening.

After all, every person in all ages does indeed have this struggle and his spiritual trials, his distress, his solitude in which he is tempted, his anxiety and powerlessness when the witness slips away.
Soren Kierkegaard, Three Upbuilding Discourses, p. 82-84 (From Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong) Strengthening in the Inner Being.






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