Sunday, June 05, 2005

Kierkegaard: A bit of spice

(Several times over the last few years I have linked to the following piece, thoughtfully made available at a link that is no longer active. I forgot how I came by it, but I post it here for future reference, both for myself and whoever has need of it.)

As a skilful cook says of a dish in which there are already a great many ingredients: "It still needs just a little pinch of cinnamon" (and we perhaps could hardly tell by the taste that this little pinch of spice had been added, but she knew precisely why and precisely how it affected the taste of the whole mixture); as an artist says with a view to the color effect of a whole painting which is composed of many, many, colors: "There and there, at that little point, it needs a touch of red" (and we perhaps could hardly even discover the red, so carefully has the artist shaded it, although he knows exactly why it should be introduced). So it is with Providence.

O, the Providence of the world is a vast housekeeping, a grandiose painting. Yet he, the Master, God in heaven, behaves like the cook and the artist. He says: There must be a little touch of spice here, a little touch of red. We do not understand why, we are hardly aware of it, since that little bit is so thoroughly absorbed in the whole. But God knows why.

A little pinch of spice! That is to say: Here a man must be sacrificed, he is needed to impart a particular taste to the rest.

These are the correctives. It is a woeful error for the one who is used to apply the corrective to become impatient and try to make the corrective the norm for others. That is an attempt to bring everything to confusion.

A little pinch of spice! Humanly speaking, what a painful thing, thus to be sacrificed, to be the little pinch of spice! But on the other hand, God knows well the man he elects to use in this way, and then he knows also, in the inward understanding of it, how to make it a blessed thing for him to be sacrificed, that among the thousands of divers voices which express, each in its own way, the same thing, his will also be heard, and perhaps especially his, which is truly de profundis, proclaiming: God is love. The birds on the branches, the lilies in the field, the deer in the forest, the fish in the sea, countless hosts of happy men exultantly proclaim: God is love. But beneath all these sopranos, supporting them as it were, like the bass part, is audible the de profundis which issues from those who are sacrificed: God is love.

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (b.1813, d. 1855) was a profound and prolific writer in the Danish "golden age" of intellectual and artistic activity. His work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction. Kierkegaard brought this potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom. At the same time he made many original conceptual contributions to each of the disciplines he employed. He is known as the "father of existentialism", but at least as important are his critiques of Hegel and of the German romantics, his contributions to the development of modernism, his literary experimentation, his vivid re-presentation of biblical figures to bring out their modern relevance, his invention of key concepts which have been explored and redeployed by thinkers ever since, his interventions in contemporary Danish church politics, and his fervent attempts to analyse and revitalise Christian faith. Kierkegaard burned with the passion of a religious poet, was armed with extraordinary dialectical talent, and drew on vast resources of erudition.


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