Irony 1841

Soren Kierkegaard liked to think and write about the future of Christianity. And he had solid faith in God’s ability to take care of the future not only of the church but of the single individual interested in becoming a Christian also.

He noticed that Christianity was quickly turning into a professional business with the growth of theology and philosophy. The “expert knowers” would be the voice of the future and the Christian would become the reader or listener who absorbs the Word of God in a toned-down mediated way instead of directly through the mediation of the Holy Spirit.


Soren entered the University of Copenhagen in 1830 and graduated in 1841. He studied for a long time. He kept a diary, or journals, throughout his life. Below is a quote from an entry from 1839.

There is a contrast of primary significance between Augustine and Pelagius. The former crushes everything in order to rebuild it again. The other addresses himself to man as he is. The first system, therefore, in respect to Christianity, falls into three stages: creation – the fall and a consequent condition of death and impotence; a new creation – whereby man is placed in a position where he can choose; and then, if he chooses – Christianity. The other system addresses itself to man as he is (Christianity fits into the world). From this is seen the significance of the theory of inspiration for the first system; from this also is seen the relationship between the synergistic and the semipelagian conflict. It is the same question, only that the syngeristic struggle has its presupposition in the new creation of the Augustinian system.

  • Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, Volume 1 Hong translation 1967 p. 14-15 1 A 101 January 14, 1837

Pelagus aristotle a and b

Very different were the habits and doctrines of the Jansenists, so called from their founder, Jansenius, Bishop of Ipres, who, by plunging into a controversy respecting the nature of grace and freewill, not only “found no end, in wandering mazes lost,” but laid the foundation of a dispute respecting inexplicable terms, which continued, throughout two centuries, convulsing, at intervals, both the Church and State of France to their very centres.

Introduction to Lives of the Ancient Philosophers, François Fénelon 1651-1715


His first book was his thesis paper: On the Concept of Irony With Constant Reference to Socrates. This is the way he viewed irony in a Christian sense.


This is a quote from his thesis (page 56-57 of Howard V Hong’s translation)

The dialogue Protagoras is aware of a lack of conclusion, indeed it seems to take a certain pleasure in the fascinating game of demolition and does not relish only an annihilation of the Sophist. Socrates himself says, “The present outcome of our conversation seems, like a human being, to approach us and to laugh at us and, if it could speak, would say:

‘What strange people you are, Socrates and Protagoras.’ “That is, after the two antagonists have tried every kind of grappling, following Protagoras’s abandonment of his epideictic discourse, in that Socrates asks the questions at first and Protagoras answers, and then the latter asks the questions and the former answers, and finally Socrates once again is the questioner and Protagoras the answerer, and thus, to use a possibly illuminating expression, they have repeatedly weighted the salt with each other, there is the curious turn that Socrates defends what he has wanted to attack and Protagoras attacks what he has wanted to defend.

The whole dialogue is reminiscent of the well-known argument between a Catholic and a Protestant that ended with their convincing each other, so that the Catholic turned Protestant, and the Protestant turned Catholic, except that here the ridiculous is taken up in the ironic consciousness.

Note: The anecdote I refer to here provides the second form of an ironic negative result, for here the irony is due to arriving at an actual conclusion. But since the actual conclusion is wholly personal and as such is neutral to the idea, and since the Catholic convert presumably will in turn have the same persuasive power over the newly hatched Protestant as the latter had over him in the first lap, and so on, we perceive the possibility of a never-ending dispute that for the disputants is at all times convincing despite the fact that neither of them has a conviction at any time.

There is only the relation of correspondence between them, so that the moment A is Catholic B becomes Protestant, and the moment B becomes Catholic A becomes Protestant, which means, of course, that neither of them changes his habitus [inner disposition] but each of them changes his suit [Habit].

Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, Hong 1989 p. 56-57

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