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Purity of Heart
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Purity of Heart
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About This Book
Crossing the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, and literature, the Danish writer Soren Kierkegaard is regarded as one of the most significant and influential figures in contemporary thought. In Kierkegaard's view, faith is the most essential task of life. Faith is not a matter of dogmatic adherence, but rather of subjective passion. In Purity of Heart, Kierkegaard discusses different aspects of living, particularly the responsibility of single-minded spiritual seeking and ethical integrity, offering clues to the nature of the good while insisting that each reader must work this out for themselves.
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TopicTheology & Religion
SubtopicPhilosophy of Religion
Man and the Eternal
FATHER IN HEAVEN! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion, may Thou early, at the dawn of day, give to the young man the resolution to will one thing. As the day wanes, may Thou give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution, that the first may be like the last, the last like the first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing. Alas, but this has indeed not come to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between. Each day, and day after day something is being placed in between: delay, blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So in this time of repentance may Thou give the courage once again to will one thing. True, it is an interruption of our ordinary tasks; we do lay down our work as though it were a day of rest, when the penitent (and it is only in a time of repentance that the heavy-laden worker may be quiet in the confession of sin) is alone before Thee in self-accusation. This is indeed an interruption. But it is an interruption that searches back into its very beginnings that it might bind up anew that which sin has separated, that in its grief it might atone for lost time, that in its anxiety it might bring to completion that which lies before it. Oh, Thou that givest both the beginning and the completion, give Thou victory in the day of need so that what neither a man’s burning wish nor his determined resolution may attain to, may be granted unto him in the sorrowing of repentance: to will only one thing.
“To everything there is a season,” says Solomon. 1 And in these words he voices the experience of the past and of that which lies behind us. For when an old man relives his life, he lives it only by dwelling upon his memories; and when wisdom in an old man has outgrown the immediate impressions of life, the past viewed from the quiet of memory is something different from the present in all its bustle. The time of work and of strain, of merrymaking and of dancing is over. Life requires nothing more of the old man and he claims nothing more of it. By being present, one thing is no nearer to him than another. Expectation, decision, repentance in regard to a thing do not affect his judgment. By being a part of the past, these distinctions all become meaningless, for that which is completely past has no present to which it may attach itself. Oh, the desolation of old age, if to be an old man means this: means that at any given moment a living person could look at life as if he himself did not exist, as if life were merely a past event that held no more present tasks for him as a living person, as if he, as a living person, and life were cut off from each other within life, so that life was past and gone, and he had become a stranger to it. Oh, tragic wisdom, if it were of everything human that Solomon spoke, and if the speech must ever end in the same manner, insisting that everything has its time, in the well-known words: “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth” (Ecclesiastes 3:9)? Perhaps the meaning would have been clearer if Solomon had said, “There was a time for all, all had its time,” in order to show that, as an old man, he is speaking of the past and that in fact he is not speaking to someone but is talking to himself. For the person who talks about human life, which changes with the years, must be careful to state his own age to his listeners. And that wisdom which is related to such a changeable and temporal element in a man must, as with every frailty, be treated with caution in order that it shall not work harm.
Only the Eternal is always appropriate and always present, is always true. Only the Eternal applies to each human being, whatever his age may be. The changeable exists, and when its time has passed it is changed. Therefore any statement about it is subject to change. That which may be wisdom when spoken by an old man about past events may be folly in the mouth of a youth or of a grown man when spoken of the present. The youth would not be able to understand it and the grown man would not want to understand it. Even one who is a little advanced in age may fully agree with Solomon in saying, “There is a time to dance from sheer joy.” And yet how can he agree with him? For his dancing time is past, and therefore he speaks of it as of something past. And it does not matter whether, in that day when both youth and the longing to dance were his, he grieved at its being denied him, or whether in joyous abandon he yielded to the invitation to dance: one who is a little advanced in age will still say quietly, “There is a time to dance.” But for the youth, to be allowed to hurry off to the dance and to sit shut in at home are two such different things that it does not occur to him to consider them on the same level and to say, “There is a time for the one and a time for the other.” A man is changed in the course of the years, and each time some portion of life lies behind him he tends to talk of its varied content as if it were all on the same level. But it does not follow from this that he has become any wiser. For by this, one has only said that he has changed. Perhaps even now there is something that makes him restless in the same way that the dance disturbs the youth, something that absorbs his attention in the same way that a toy absorbs a child. It is in this manner that a man changes, over the years. Old age is the final change. The old man speaks in the same vein of it all, of all the changeable that is now past.
But is this all of the story? Has all been heard that may be said about being a man, and about man’s temporal life? The most important and decisive thing of all is certainly left out. For the talk about the natural changes of human life over the years, together with what externally happened there, is not in essence any different from talking of plant or of animal life. The animal also changes with the years. When it is older it has other desires than it had at an earlier age. At certain times it, too, has its happiness in life, and at other times it must endure hardship. Yes, when late autumn comes, even the flower can speak the wisdom of the years and say with truthfulness, “All has its time, there is ‘a time to be born and a time to die'; there is a time to jest lightheartedly in the spring breeze, and a time to break under the autumn storm; there is a time to burst forth into blossom, beside the running water, beloved by the stream, and a time to wither and be forgotten; a time to be sought out for one’s beauty, and a time to be unnoticed in one’s wretchedness; there is a time to be nursed with care, and a time to be cast out with contempt; there is a time to delight in the warmth of the morning sun and a time to perish in the night’s cold. All has its time; ‘what profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?’”
Yes, the animal, too, when it has lived its time may speak the wisdom of the years and say with truth, “All has its time. There is a time to leap with joy, and a time to drag oneself along the earth; there is a time to waken early, and a time to sleep long; there is a time to run with the herd, and a time to go apart to die; there is a time to build nests with one’s beloved, and there is a time to sit alone on the roof; there is a time to soar freely among the clouds, and a time to sink heavily to the earth. All has its time; ‘what profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?’ “ And, in case you should say to the flower, “Is there, then, nothing more to tell?” then it will answer you, “No, when the flower is dead, the story is over.” Otherwise the story must have been different from the beginning and been different as it went along, not merely becoming different at the end. For let us assume that the flower concluded its story in another fashion and added, “The story is not over, for when I am dead, I am immortal.” Would this not be a strange story? If the flower were really immortal then immortality must be just that which prevented it from dying, and therefore immortality must have been present in each instant of its life. And the story of its life must once again have been wholly different in order to express continually immortality’s difference from all the changeableness and the different kinds of variations of the perishable. Immortality cannot be a final alteration that crept in, so to speak, at the moment of death as the final stage. On the contrary, it is a changelessness that is not altered by the passage of the years. Therefore, to the old man’s words that “all has its time,” the wise Solomon adds, “God made all things beautiful in his time; also he hath set eternity within man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). 2 Thus says the sage. For the talk about change, and the varied way of talking about change is indeed confusing, even when it comes from the mouth of an old man. Only the Eternal is constructive. The wisdom of the years is confusing. Only the wisdom of eternity is edifying.
If there is, then, something eternal in a man, it must be able to exist and to be grasped within every change. Nor can it be wisdom to say, indiscriminately, that this something eternal has its time like the perishable, that it makes its circle like the wind that never gets further; that it has its course like the river that never fills up the sea. Nor can it be wisdom to talk of this eternal element in the same vein as if one were speaking of the past, as if it is past and past in the sense that it can never, not even in repentance, relate itself to a present person but only to an absent one. For repentance is precisely the relation between something past and someone that has his life in the present time. It was unwise of the youth to wish to talk in the same terms of the pleasure of dancing and of its opposite. For this clear act of folly betrayed that the youth, in his youth, would like to have outgrown youth. But as for the Eternal, the time never comes when a man has grown away from it, or has become older—than the Eternal.
If there is, then, something eternal in a man the discussion of it must have a different ring. It must be said that there is something that shall always have its time, something that a man shall always do, just as one Apostle says that we should always give thanks to God. 3 For that which has its time must properly be looked upon as an associate and an equal with other temporal things that in their turn shall pass away. But the Eternal is that which is set over all. The Eternal will not have its time, but will fashion time to its own desire, and then give its consent that the temporal should also be given its time. So the Scripture says, “The one shall be done, the other shall not be neglected.” 4 But that which shall not be neglected is just that which cannot come into consideration until that is done which ought to be done. In like fashion with the Eternal. If the wisdom of life should ever alter that which concerns the eternal in a man to the point of changing it into something temporal, then this would be folly whether it be spoken by an old man or by a youth. For in relation to the Eternal, age gives no justification for speaking absurdly, and youth does not exclude one from being able to grasp what is true. Should someone explain that the fear of God, in the sense of that felt in this world of time, should belong to childhood and therefore disappear with the years as does childhood itself, or should be like a happy state of mind that cannot be maintained, but only remembered; should someone explain that penitence comes like the weakness of old age, with the wasting away of strength, when the senses are blunted, when sleep no longer strengthens but weakens; then this would be impiety and folly. Yes, to be sure, it is a fact that there was a man who with the years forgot his childish fear of God, was swindled out of the best, and was taken in by that which was most insolent. Yes, to be sure, it is a fact that there was a man whom repentance first overtook in the painfulness of old age, when he no longer had the strength to sin, so that the repentance not only came late, but the despair of late repentance became the final stage. But this is no story of an event that calls for an ingenious explanation or that would even of itself explain life. When it happens, it is a horrible thing. And even if a man should become a thousand years old, he would not have become so old that he dares speak otherwise of it than the youth—with fear and trembling. For in relation to the Eternal, a man ages neither in the sense of time nor in the sense of an accumulation of past events. No, when an old person has outgrown the childish and the youthful, ordinary language calls this, maturity and a gain. But willfully ever to have outgrown the Eternal is spoken of as falling away from God and as perdition; and only the life of the ungodly “shall be as the snail that melts, as it goes” (Psalm 58:8).
2. Remorse, Repentance, Confession:
Eternity’s Emissaries to Man
THERE IS, then, something which should at all times be done. There is something which in no temporal sense shall have its time. Alas, and when this is not done, when it is omitted, or when just the opposite is done, then once again, there is something (or more correctly it is the same thing, that reappears, changed, but not changed in its essence) which should at all times be done. There is something which in no temporal sense shall have its time. There must be repentance and remorse.
One dare not say of repentance and remorse that it has its time; that there is a time to be carefree and a time to be prostrated in repentance. Such talk would be: to the anxious urgency of repentance—unpardonably slow; to the grieving after God—sacrilege; to what should be done this very day, in this instant, in this moment of danger—senseless delay. For there is indeed danger. There is a danger that is called delusion. It is unable to check itself. It goes on and on: then it is called perdition. But there is a concerned guide, a knowing one, who attracts the attention of the wanderer, who calls out to him that he should take care. That guide is remorse. He is not so quick of foot as the indulgent imagination, which is the servant of desire. He is not so strongly built as the victorious intention. He comes on slowly afterwards. He grieves. But he is a sincere and faithful friend. If that guide’s voice is never heard, then it is just because one is wandering along the way of perdition. For when the sick man who is wasting away from consumption believes himself to be in the best of health, his disease is at the most terrible point. If there were some one who early in life steeled his mind against all remorse and who actually carried it out, nevertheless remorse would come again if he were willing to repent even of this decision. So wonderful a power is remorse, so sincere is its friendship that to escape it entirely is the most terrible thing of all. A man can wish to slink away from many things in life, and he may even succeed, so that life’s favored one can say in the last moment, “I slipped away from all the cares under which other men suffered.” But if such a person wishes to bluster out of, to defy, or to slink away from remorse, alas, which is indeed the most terrible to say of him, that he failed, or—that he succeeded?
A Providence watches over each man’s wandering through life. It provides him with two guides. The one calls him forward. The other calls him back. They are, however, not in opposition to each other, these two guides, nor do they leave the wanderer standing there in doubt, confused by the double call. Rather the two are in eternal understanding with each other. For the one beckons forward to the Good, the other calls man back from evil. Nor are they blind guides. Just for that reason there are two of them. For in order to make the journey secure, they must look both forward and backward. Alas, there was perhaps many a one who went astray through not understanding how to continue a good beginning. For his course was along a false way, and he pressed on so continuously that remorse could not call him back onto the old way. There was perhaps someone who went astray because, in the exhaustion of repentance, he could go no further, so that the guide could not help him to find the way forward. When a long procession is about to move, a call is heard first from the one who is furthest forward. But he waits until the last has answered. The two guides call out to a man early and late, and when he listens to their call, then he finds his way, then he can know where he is, on the way. Because these two calls designate the place and show the way. Of these two, the call of remorse is perhaps the best. For the eager traveler who travels lightly along the way does not, in this fashion, learn to know it as well as a wayfarer with a heavy burden. The one who merely strives to get on does not learn to know the way as well as the remorseful man. The eager traveler hurries forward to the new, to the novel, and, indeed, away from experience. But the remorseful one, who comes behind, laboriously gathers up experience.
The two guides call out to a man early and late. And yet, no, for when remorse calls to a man it is always late. The call to find the way again by seeking out God in the confession of sins is always at the eleventh hour. Whether you are young or old, whether you have sinned much or little, whether you have offended much or neglected much, the guilt makes this call come at the eleventh hour. The inner agitation of the heart understands what remorse insists upon, that the eleventh hour has come. For in the sense of time, the old man’s age is the eleventh hour; and the instant of death, the final moment in the eleventh hour. The indolent youth speaks of a long life that lies before him. The indolent old man hopes that his death is still a long way off. But repentance and remorse belong to the eternal in a man. And in this way each time that repentance comprehends guilt it understands that the eleventh hour has come: that hour which human indolence knows well enough exists and will come, when it is talked about in generalities, but not when it actually applies to the indolent one himself. For even the old man thinks that there is some time left and the indolent youth deceives himself when he thinks that difference in age is the determining factor in regard to the nearness of the eleventh hour. See, then, how good and how necessary it is that there are two guides. For whether it be the lightly armed desire of youth which it is presumed will press forward to victory, or whether it be the mature man’s determination that will fight its way through life, they both count on having a long time at their disposal. They presuppose, in the plans for their efforts, a generation or at least a number of years, and therefore they waste a great deal of time and on that account the whole thing so readily ends in delusion.
But repentance and remorse know how to make use of time in fear and trembling. When remorse awakens concern, whether it be in the youth, or in the old man, it awakens it always at the eleventh hour. It does not have much time at its disposal, for it is at the eleventh hour. It is not deceived by a false notion of a long life, for it is at the eleventh hour. And in the eleventh hour one understands life in a wholly different way than in the days of youth or in the busy time of manhood or in the final moment of old age. He who repents at any other hour of the day repents in the temporal sense. He fortifies himself by a false and hasty conception of the insignificance of his guilt. He braces himself with a false and hasty notion of life’s length. His remorse is not in true inwardness of spirit. Oh, eleventh hour, wherever thou art present, how all is changed! How still everything is, as if it were the midnight hour; how sober, as if it were the hour of death; how lonely, as if it were among the tombs; how solemn, as if it were within eternity. Oh, heavy hour of labor (although labor is at rest), when the account is rendered, yet there is no accuser there; when all is called by its own name, yet there is nothing said; when each improper word must be repeated, in the light of eternity! Oh, costly bargain, where remorse must pay so dearly for what seemed in the eyes of lightheartedness and busyness and proud struggling and impatient passion and the judgment of the world to be reckoned as nothing! Oh, eleventh hour, how terrible if Thou shouldst remain, how much more terrible than if death should continue through a whole life!
So repentance must have its time if all is not to be confused. For there are two guides. The one beckons forward. The other calls back. But repentance shall not have its time in a ...
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APA 6 Citation
Kierkegaard, S. (2011). Purity of Heart ([edition unavailable]). HarperCollins. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/588614/purity-of-heart-pdf (Original work published 2011)
Kierkegaard, Soren. (2011) 2011. Purity of Heart. [Edition unavailable]. HarperCollins. https://www.perlego.com/book/588614/purity-of-heart-pdf.
Kierkegaard, S. (2011) Purity of Heart. [edition unavailable]. HarperCollins. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/588614/purity-of-heart-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Kierkegaard, Soren. Purity of Heart. [edition unavailable]. HarperCollins, 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.