Johannes Climacus 1842, 1844, 1846

Soren Kierkegaard as Johannes Climacus in three books.

In October 1830 Soren Kierkegaard entered the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and once there he developed a plan for his authorship. He decided to become a master-thief.  He made the following entry in his Journal on September 12, 1834 (11 1A) “the master-thief has also been thought of as one endowed with natural goodness, kindness, charitableness, together with extraordinary bearing, cunning, ingenuity, one who really does not steal just to steal, that is, in order to get hold of another person’s possessions, but for some other reason. Frequently we may think of him as someone who is displeased with the established order and who now expresses his grievance by violating the rights of others, seeking thereby an occasion to mystify and affront the authorities.”

This master thief has no one who will come to his defense. He has only an “inner voice” that speaks up for him at times. He set out to create a contrast between two different systems at work in Christianity – that of St. Augustine and Pelagius.  “Augustine’s system crushes everything in order to rebuild it – creation, new creation, and then the freedom to choose to become a Christian or not, while Pelagius takes man as he is and makes Christianity fit into the world.” (101 1A 14 January 1837 Journal of Soren Kierkegaard)

This smiling thief thinks he’s been placed in a good position to elucidate this difficulty by stealing wrong ideas from those who possess them. Who would think an idea was something to steal?

Copies_van_gogh_echantillon - CopyKierkegaard stayed in the University for 10 years studying to become eligible to choose to become a priest in the Lutheran State Church of Denmark. But he decided against preaching on a regular basis or becoming a teacher at the University. He had studied languages, philosophy, history, and theology while there and decided to put his knowledge to use by writing in two different styles; one pseudonymous and the other under his own name. Thus Johannes Climacus was born in the mind of Soren Kierkegaard between the years 1834 and 1840. He finished but didn’t publish Johannes Climacus or, De Omnibus Dubitandum Est in 1842 and it was translated into English in 1958 by Thomas H. Croxall.

Everything must begin with doubt according to the philosophical teachings of Rene Descartes and Georg Hegel. Christianity’s place in the world had to be reassessed. Descartes’ method was that there comes a time when an individual, such as Descartes himself, must take a good look at what he knows he knows and what he only thinks he knows. He published his Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641. Kierkegaard, under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, thinks that if one began with doubt one would never finish doubting because new doubts would always arise.

Georg Hegel decided to write about “how” an individual, like Hegel, might go about actually reassessing everything through doubt in his 1807 books, The Phenomenology of Mind (Spirit) and Lectures on The Philosophy of History1837. Religion became a science. William Blake, an English author, asked if this doubt would extend to the natural sciences as well as to the other sciences. But he didn’t get an answer. What would happen if every individual had to doubt the natural sciences in the same way that religion and history is doubted?

On June 13, 1836 Kierkegaard wrote the following in his Journal “Conversion goes slowly. As Franz Baader, 1765-1841, rightly observes, one has to walk back by the same road he came out on earlier. It is easy to become impatient: if it cannot happen at once, one may just as well let it go, begin tomorrow, and enjoy today; this is the temptation.” (1A 174)

Philosophers decided that doubt has to come to an end and one has to move forward with the philosophies as soon as possible. Hegel died in 1831 but his ideas have lived on in universities since that time. Kierkegaard walked back on the same road Hegel walked throughout his authorship, which lasted from 1842 until shortly before his death on November 11, 1855. He was never converted to the Hegelian System of Philosophy. Georg Hegel was born in 1770, Kierkegaard in 1813, a generation later.

While Hegel was pursuing the scientific study of religion another author, Johannes Goethe, 1749-1832, was studying religion from an artistic point of view with such books as Faust, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, and his Autobiography of Johann Goethe, Truth and Fiction related to my Work 1811-1833. Kierkegaard was influenced by Goethe as much as by Hegel. He wondered how the artistic and scientific study of Religion in general and Christianity specifically would affect Christianity as a whole. He envisioned the growth of two different Christianity’s, one for simple people and another for the simple wise (intellectuals); a common stock of Christian and a preferred stock.  However, he knew there is only one Christianity and that in relation to God all people are in the wrong, which makes them all equal before God. Even Christ didn’t know everything:” no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows”. (Mark 13:32) Kierkegaard was afraid “a cold philosophy will explain the whole thing from preexistence and not see it as the endless panorama of life with its varied colorfulness and its innumerable nuances.” (1A 74 1835).

Self-Refutation of Kantian Agnosticism, by William T. Harris 1881

Thesis : We cannot know things-in-themselves.

Proof: Because all our knowledge is determined by certain general forms which are forms-of-the-mind — the general constitution or nature of the mind. Some of those forms are the ideas of Time and Space, which are forms of sense-perception; other forms are ideas of Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Mode, which are forms of our reflection upon objects, or forms of generalization of experience. These forms are subjective — the mental coefficient in the product of knowledge. It is impossible to tell what the objective factor of knowledge is, or would be after this mental factor has been removed.

Antithesis: Our knowledge is not merely subjective, but extends to things-in-themselves.

Proof: Because our universal and necessary ideas are all of them seen to possess universality and necessity, for the reason that they are logical conditions of the existence of the world. and of its contents. They are seen to be necessary forms for all experience in the fact that they are the only forms in which objective existence is possible — and hence this necessity and universality arise wholly from the function they have as conditions of the existence of objective reality. Therefore, the universal and necessary ideas of the mind — Time, Space, Quality, Quantity, Relation, Mode, and all others — possess the characteristic of subject-objectivity — i. e., of being equally conditions of thought and Being. That which makes them ” universal and necessary ” is their obvious character of exhaustiveness — they are not some attributes of objectivity, accidental to its being, but essential conditions of it, without which objectivity were impossible.

De omnibus duhitandum

There are but few orthodox Hegelians left among philosophers nowadays, yet Hegel is still supreme over the minds of our contemporaries. It may even be that certain of his ideas have taken deeper root nowadays than when Hegelianism was in full bloom: for instance, the conception that history is the unfolding of the idea in reality, or, to put it more briefly and in terms more familiar to the modern mind — the idea of progress. Try to convince an educated person of the contrary: you are sure to be worsted. But, de omnibus dubitandum, which means in other words, that doubt is called upon to fulfill its mission above all in those cases where a conviction is particularly strong and unshakable. Therefore one must admit, whether he will or no, that progress so called — the development of mankind in time — is a fiction.

Shestov and Kierkegaard

The second book Kierkegaard published under the pseudonym of Johannes Climacus was Philosophical Fragments, June 13, 1844. He asks whether or not an individual wishing to become a Christian would base the decision completely on objective historical evidence or completely on subjective personal evidence. This book was translated into English by David F. Swenson in 1936 and published by Princeton University Press. He refers to Socrates and asks with him, “How far does the Truth admit to being learned?”

philosoophical fragmentsClimacus thinks Socrates “remained true to himself, through his manner of life, giving artistic expression to what he had understood.” (Fragments P. 7) He thinks that all philosophers should strive to do the same, not just the Christian philosophers and teachers but also the Platonists and Aristotelians as well as modern philosophers. Further, Climacus, Hegel and Goethe all thought of the Christ of Christianity in that way. Christ lived what he taught. He didn’t just say forgive your enemies but he actually forgave them. That’s something rare in us human beings and that’s why Climacus makes him the Teacher who is greater than all other teachers, the example for all who profess Christianity to follow. He pointed out sin and forgave sin.

Kierkegaard’s Johannes Climacus is against Hegel, or any philosopher, theologian, or established order (church or state) creating a system and then finding a place where Christianity will fit in nicely. He sees the system as a fictional illusion that only exists on paper in imaginary constructions but not lived out in any realistic way. Once the objective system of Christianity is created all will naturally become Christians, until that time the truth of Christianity must remain in doubt.

The third book Kierkegaard wrote under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus was his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments published February 28, 1846. This book is ten times as long as Philosophical Fragments. Kierkegaard says it took him four and a half years to complete the book (P. 185, 628). That would mean he began working on it in 1842 when he began his unpublished Johannes Climacus. Climacus knows very much about Christianity, history, and philosophy but he hasn’t reached a decision, hasn’t made the choice to become a Christian. Climacus says after studying Christianity for a possible seventy years, that he’s still unsure that he’s ready to start to try and become a Christian because more evidence might come in. But he also says that if he had started to try to become a Christian in 1825 when he was confirmed into the Lutheran Church of Denmark he would still, at seventy years old, be working toward his goal and trying to win the prize just as Paul said he was. (Philippians 3:14) Unfortunately Soren Kierkegaard didn’t make it to that seventy years, he died when he was 42.

Climacus says, “Suppose that Christianity does not at all want to be understood; suppose that, in order to express this and to prevent anyone, misguided, from taking the road of objectivity, it has proclaimed itself to be the paradox. Suppose that it wants to be only for existing persons and essentially for persons existing in inwardness, in the inwardness of faith, which cannot be expressed more definitely than this: it is the absurd, adhered to firmly with the passion of the infinite. Suppose that Christianity does not want to be understood and that the maximum of any eventual understanding is to understand that it cannot be understood. Suppose that it so decisively accentuates existing that the single individual becomes a sinner, Christianity the paradox, and existence the time of decision. Suppose that speculating is a temptation, the most precarious of all. Objective faith-it is indeed as if Christianity has also been proclaimed as a little system of sorts, although presumably not as good as the Hegelian system. It is as if Christ-it is not my fault that I say it-as if Christ had been a professor and as if the apostles had formed a little professional society of scholars.”, (Johannes Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Edited by Soren Kierkegaard 1846, Hong 1992, P. 214-215)

Kierkegaard, as Johannes Climacus, isn’t against Reason. Hegel elevated Reason over feelings in his study of religion. He created a Theology of Reason, or Theology of Enlightenment; this Theology of Reason can also be called the Theology of the Understanding. Both Hegel and Kierkegaard would say that each individual interested in becoming a Christian comes to a personal spiritual understanding with himself and with God about the content of that faith. But Hegel thinks that Reason has its own objective existence, that it’s the abstract foundation of existing human beings. Reason brings to self-consciousness  a concrete inner life. Kierkegaard’s difficulty with Hegel is this over emphasis on Reason. (Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Vol 1, Spiers Translation 1895)

This would again create two Christianity’s when there is only one. Christ was as interested in the unreasonable as he was in the reasonable people he met. If Reason is elevated then those who can recite by rote will be distinguished from all others. Kierkegaard’s Climacus was against this happening. But he was for Hegel’s idea of freedom. Hegel held to the Freedom to choose if you want to be a State Lutheran Church, a State Catholic Church, or a State Anglican Church. Germany and Denmark chose to be State Lutheran Churches. So the State stands behind the Church and all will become Christian. Kierkegaard’s stance was that each single individual should be allowed to make the choice of becoming a Christian or not without interference.

Kierkegaard has his Johannes Climacus say the following about all the imaginary constructions that were going on in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Concluding Postscript.

Concluding Postscript“In the isolation of the imaginary construction, the whole book is about myself, simply and solely about myself. “I Johannes Climacus, now thirty years old, born in Copenhagen, a plain, ordinary human being like most people have heard it said that there is a highest good in store that is called an eternal happiness, and that Christianity conditions this upon a person’s relation to it. I now ask: How do I become a Christian? I ask solely for my own sake. Indeed, that is certainly what I am doing or, rather, I have asked about it, for that is indeed the content of this book.

I wanted to say that as soon as just one person could inform me where and to whom one applies for permission to write as a solitary person or to set oneself up as an author in the name of humanity, of the century, of our age, of the public, of the many, of the majority concerning the same matter, to dare, when he himself own up to belonging to the minority, to write in the name of the many, and then as a solitary person simultaneously to have polemical elasticity by being in the minority and recognition in the eyes of the world by being in the majority-if anyone could inform me about what expenses are connected with the granting of such an application, since even if the costs are not paid in money they could very well still be exorbitant-then, on the presupposition that the costs will not exceed my means, I would very likely be unable to resist the temptation to write as soon as possible an exceedingly important book that speaks in the name of millions and millions and millions and billions. Until that time, no one, in consistency with his point of view, and from my point of view the reproach is something else, can reproach the book for being superfluous if he cannot explain what is asked about it. P. 617-618

Earlier he had spoken about different forms the subjective thinker takes.

The subjective thinker’s form, the form of his communication, is his style. His form must be just as manifold as are the opposites that he holds together. The systematic eins, zwei, drei is an abstract form that also must inevitably run into trouble whenever it is to be applies to the concrete. To the same degree as the subjective thinker is concrete, to the same degree his form must also be concretely dialectical. But just as he himself is not a poet, not an ethicist, not a dialectician, so also his form is none of theirs directly. His form must first and last be related to existence, and in this regard he must have at his disposal the poetic, the ethical, the dialectical, the religious. Compared with that of a poet, his form will be abbreviated; compared with that of an abstract dialectician, his form will be broad. (P. 357-358)

But Kierkegaard’s Climacus is really just a humorist and is not interested in becoming an authority who benefits others by having them accept his opinion as a matter of course, like Descartes was accepted as well as Hegel in his time. He thinks people are happier when they form their own opinions and try to live within the framework of understanding or non-understanding that which they have set out to do. He’s no party-liner but concludes that it’s difficult to become a Christian. And then, of all things, Kierkegaard has his Johannes Climacus revoke the whole book because he didn’t really want to publish a book that tried to explain all works previously published by pseudonyms and himself. (P. 619)

In his earlier book, Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard had Climacus say, “God is the Teacher who gives the learner the condition, the circumstances, the occasions for learning the Truth. Kierkegaard agrees with St. Augustine that Christianity crushes everything and rebuilds but he also agrees with the Apostle Paul, that love build up while too much knowledge puffs up. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

I consider Philosophical Fragments as the one book of the three that Kierkegaard expected people to read. He didn’t publish Johannes Climacus or De omnibus dubitandum est and revoked Concluding Unscientific Postscript just like Martin Luther tried to revoke all that he wrote against indulgences with his introductory letter in  The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520). They weren’t really fighting about money as much as they were fighting about who is to be considered eligible to partake of Holy Communion. Will it be based on wealth, honor, power, noble birth, obedience to the church, and knowledge or are all welcome to the table of Christ and thus to the forgiveness of sin. Climacus thought that the consciousness of sin was of equal importance as the consciousness of the forgiveness of sins. (Postscript P. 524)

Each individual has to decide and become resolved in the decision from day to day and know that forgiveness is still available after a relapse.

Why are we human beings so interested in categorizing everything, even the world of the spirit? We tend to think that it’s easier to know God than to know our spouse when it’s difficult to even know ourselves and to make choices for ourselves.

Climacus thinks faith is a task for a life-time and putting faith into action is the most difficult of adventures. A fellow named Anti-Climacus said that “Christian heroism (and perhaps it is rarely to be seen) is to venture wholly to be oneself, as an individual man, this definite individual man, alone before the face of God, alone in this tremendous exertion and this tremendous responsibility; but it is not Christian heroism to be humbugged by the pure idea of humanity or to play the game of marveling at world-history.” (The Sickness Unto Death, July 30, 1849 by Anti-Climacus published by Soren Kierkegaard translated by Walter Lowrie  1941) Anti-Climacus also published Practice (Training) in Christianity September 25, 1850. So in Kierkegaard’s writings we have two pseudonyms having much to do with each other.

Kierkegaard’s books are well worth reading for individual Christian or philosophical-ethical growth. He worked to steal the idea of ranks within the world of the spirit and replace it with the equality of all who come unto Jesus as he calls us from on high.


(1a 17 or any combination like that means the quote came from Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers)



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