Kierkegaard's multiple influences on theology

The powerful personality and the complex work of Kierkegaard have been the occasion for many revelations of Christian authenticity in great Protestant and Catholic authors, and have shed light on an enormous number of subjects.

Juan Luis Lorda-December 21, 2021-Reading time: 7 minutes

Testo originale in inglese qui

The Christian thinkers of the twelfth century who most affected the theology of the twentieth century are three: Newman, Dostoevskij and Kierkegaard. Curiously, they arrive at this tragic through channels almost common to those of Germania, France and the entire Christian universe. All three have biographies, or parts of them, that can be defined as "dramatic". In Newman, his conversion. In Dostoevskij, all his life. In Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the second part and especially the last part of his brief life (1846-1855), when the philosopher was actually deprived of what he considered his mission: fare dei cristiani di quelli che non sono veramente cristiani.

Una vita drammatica

Only his (long) stay at the university has, more often than not, a relaxed and youthful tone, where he enjoys life, his friends, beer and opera (and corsi). However, he always remains under the threat of "malinconia" (depression), and with the imprint of his serious Lutheran education and the death of five brothers.

The period of infatuation for Regina Olsen, which was quite dramatic, brought her to the mission. Even breaking with him was her way of leaving the ships and beginning her mission, inspired in part by Socrate and in part by Christ. Like Socrate, he feels called to question his Danish companions with irony because they pretend not to be Christians. He goes ahead, he wants to be "Christian" and work for Christ, and he knows that this path leads to the cross. And he experiences it in the contradictions and difficulties he endures until he dies, physically, mentally and economically.

A conflict of interpretations

It is clear that all this made his life more intense and reinforced his personality more and more. He was very conscious of being "intense". And this, by inducing us to admire him, is an obstacle to his understanding, because most of us are not like that.

And even more, he has made it difficult. In the exercise of his socratic irony (the reason for his doctoral thesis), he has written his first works under different pseudony. These are not a mere exercise, a joke, but they really want to represent different positions, in which he seems to situate himself perfectly, not so according to the critics.

His work has generated a "conflict between interpretations". Attracted by his opposition to Hegel, by his strict defense of the personality of the "individual" and by his concept of "angoscia" (esistenziale), he is considered as the inspirer of Heidegger's and Sartre's esistenzialism.
Which, however, Kierkegaard would have been surprised and disappointed.

Because, for Heidegger or Sartre, esistenzialism is to presuppose that God does not exist and, therefore, that it is necessary to be buried in the sphere without aspiring to anything.

 For Kierkegaard it is the opposite: the true realization of the individual's existence is when he puts himself before God, when he overcomes the aesthetic phase (living in search of pleasure) and the ethical phase (seeking to be moral or decorous on his own) to recognize himself as sinful and unworthy before God (the religious phase). It is in this that a person becomes himself (resolves his anguish), thus he becomes an individual and thus he becomes a Christian.

Influenza in personalism 

Instead, Kierkegaard would have been enthusiastic to learn that his defense of the individual had a direct effect on his "philosophers of dialogue". For Ebner and then for Buber it was like a spiritual revulsion, an intellectual and personal conversion. Both of them acknowledged it explicitly. For Martin Buber it was also a great inspiration for his social thought, to oppose fascist and communist totalitarianism, which in some way achieves Hegel, where the individual becomes only a tassel or a moment in the construction of society, of which politics is the true end and object.

With Ebner, Kierkegaard's influence enters into the personalistic ferments that renew Catholic morality and, with Buber, also into Christian anthropology.

On the other hand, it would be unjust not to recognize here the role that the converted and intellectual Theodor Haecker played in the acceptance of Kierkegaard in the Tedesco language. Immediately he grasped the force of his message, translated it and promoted it. Through him, many thinkers of the Tedescan language have encountered Søren Kierkegaard. And also Haecker wrote about him remarkable writings, such as "La Gobba di Kierkegaard".

The revival of Protestantism 

Kierkegaard saw that the Christians of Denmark lived very well, that they defined themselves as Christians because as such they registered their names in the civil registry, because they participated sporadically in the ceremonies and because they tried to live with a standard of public decency. Everything was Christian by inertia, without any tension, without drama, without croci. In other times that society was transformed by Christianity, but then everything went in the opposite direction: goodness had turned Christianity into an innocuous appearance, a decoration.

It is precisely this critique that has provoked the conscience of many Protestant theologians, especially Karl Barth.

Liberal Protestant theology had done exactly what Kierkegaard criticized: it had appianato all the uncomfortable aspects of Christianity to make it acceptable to a benign society, transforming it into a vague openness to the "divine" and in a tendency to solidarity (Schleiermacher) with people who are close to being citizens onesti.

Reading Kierkegaard, Barth realized the dissolution of Christianity that this entailed. It is not the reason with the culture of every age that must judge faith (because it dissolves it). On the contrary: it is the faith, the revelation, that must judge all times and all that is human, to turn them into Christians. This is the famous change of Barth between the first and the second edition of his commentary to the Letter to the Romans.

Even if, in seguito, man mano que la sua consapevolezza ecclesiale cresceva, il maturo Barth non si sarebbe sentito più tanto vicino a Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, in the end, is more individualistic, as we will see later.

Kierkegaard's Christianity

Between the difficulties of interpretation of Kierkegaard and the intellectual tics of the histories of philosophy, it is possible to find presentations in which his Christian being is omitted, or mentioned as if it were a secondary treatment of everything; or even, given his critique of the church as it is constituted, he comes out as an anti-Christian, more or less close to Nietzsche.

There is a book published in 1988 by the publishing house Aguilar, entitled "Il mio punto di vista", a translation of the poet José Miguel Velloso, probably from Italian.

In passing, it is said that the history of the Spanish translations of Kierkegaard is "infinite". And it is obligatory to quote Unamuno, who wanted to teach the Danish to read it directly, and imitated it as much as possible.

Velloso's translation (notwithstanding his not perfect knowledge of Italian) presents some advantages: first, it reads very well; second, it brings together three key writings of Kierkegaard in which he will tell how he feels Christian and how he intends his mission.

A longer text, entitled "My point of view", is from 1846 and was written by his brother, a priest of the Church of Danimarca. In addition there is the short text, entitled "That individual", where he argues that to be fully a person is also to be a Christian.

Later, but very brief, a text entitled "Sul mio lavoro come scrittore" (1849) and another entitled "La mia posizione come scrittore religioso" (1850). These writings, signed by him without a pseudonym, leave no doubt about the intensity with which Kierkegaard wanted to be and to testify to being a Christian. These writings can be considered as his intellectual testament.

Kierkegaard and Christ 

Obviously Kierkegaard is not a conventional Christian. His mission was precisely that of opporsi alla trasformazione del cristianesimo in a convention of social character. He had received from his father an intensely Christian and pious education, even if this point was somewhat exaggerated. Egli kept it in his heart for the rest of his life.

The most exciting thing is that one can observe in him a growing identification with Christ, especially in his last period. In this he remembers Dostoevskij very much. He not only admires the figure of Christ and promotes his devotion, but identifies with him even when he suffers the misunderstandings to which his mission exposes him.

In this regard, José García Martín, a Spanish specialist of Kierkegaard, writes to me: "Regarding his adhesion to Christ, I must say that it was totally and essentially committed starting from his spiritual conversion, but without going to a 'blood martyrdom', even if he sacrificed his life and his fortune to Him. In fact, we can indeed consider Christ as the most significant and decisive figure of his life and work".

By the way, this author has a remarkable article on the acceptance that Kierkegaard received in Latin America. Many articles can also be found online, including an excellent "Introduction to the reading of Søren Kierkegaard".

Cornelio Fabro, diaries and exercises

To access the understanding of Kierkegaard's soul, there are certainly those small works that we mentioned in the "My point of view". And there are his diaries, of which in castigliano we have only a selection.

In this field and in that of the general Christian interpretation of Kierkegaard, the Thomistic philosopher Cornelius Fabro has played a very important role. He has made a very meritorious Italian translation in several volumes, as well as many studies and an excellent introduction to the diaries, which occupies an entire volume of the Italian edition and offers a clarifying vision of Kierkegaard's life and work. Online we have also recorded an interesting interview.

 Fabro has also produced an Italian edition of "Esercizio di cristianesimo".

"Esercizio di cristianesimo" (1848), in Danish Indøvelse i Christendom, is one of Kierkegaard's great Christian works, published under the pseudonym Anticlimacus.

As we have already said, the pseudonyms in Kierkegaard's works often introduce difficult changes of perspective. But here he uses the pseudonym because, in other words, he does not consider himself at the height of speaking with his own name.

Metto qui appresso la citazione dal primo volume della meritoria traduzione che Guadarrama fece di alcune sue opere (1961), ove nel prologo si chiarisce:

In this writing [...] the obligation: to be a Christian, which is not only a pseudonym but the highest degree of ideality [...]. The need must be felt; and I understand what I have said only to myself - that I must teach not only to seek refuge in 'grace', but to trust it with respect to the use I make of it".

Ecumenical Kierkegaard 

Observing these citations related to "grace", as well as his criticism of the official Protestant church, some have tried it as close to Catholicism.

The question is complicated. Perhaps it would be better to say that Kierkegaard is an "ecumenical" personage, he does not suit anyone, even if he has a message for everyone, because he touches some authentic and central aspects of Christianity: passionate love for Christ, awareness of God's need in the human being and longing for his own salvation.

Kierkegaard did not succeed in perceiving the beauty of the liturgy and its profound relationship with the essence of the Church. That experience did not belong to his world. He saw an official church confounded with the traditional Danish society, whose most authentic center was preaching.

He studied at the University to become a pastor; it was his father's strong desire and, at various times, he had strongly desired it and was dedicated to it. He was also attracted by preaching and practiced it in various ways, producing a curious and complex series of "edifying sermons". Soon, however, he realized that his Christian mission was much more solitary and socratic. Egli did not come from inside the system, but rather from outside, from where he would have had to fight and die for the cause.


One of the most surprising aspects of the vast literature on Kierkegaard is the work of the American philosopher John Stewart. In addition to several monographs, he has directed a vast series of collaborations on Kierkegaard's influence on all aspects of thought, including theology (3 volumes).

From the Catholic point of view we have quoted Cornelius Faber, and we have also cited the classic writings of Régis Jolivet.

In philosophy, Mariano Fazio has a "Guida al pensiero di Kierkegaard", which can be consulted online, and the corresponding voice of the encyclopedia Philosophica, always online. There is also a study by Sellés on Kierkegaard's anthropology,

Indubbiamente c'è anche c'è molto di più. Kierkegaard è un autore che ha bisogno di presentazioni per non perderei nei labirinti che lui stesso ha creato e anche in quelli creati dai suoi commentatori.

Without ever forgetting that "My point of view", with its extensions, is really his point of view.

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