Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Kierkegaard, critic of Luther

Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish Lutheran and one of Denmark's most revered philosophers,
and began his theological career quite sympathetic to Luther . But that opinion underwent a significant change. By the end of his life, as Walter Lowrie wrote, Kierkegaard had "nothing but denunciations" for Luther. The change in Kierkegaard's thinking is discussed in a recent article by Alice von Hildebrand, "Kierkegaard: A Critic of Luther," Latin Mass magazine (Spring, 2004), pp. 10-14. Some of the quotations from Kierkegaard, tracking the shift in his thinking, are posted on my Philosophia Perennis blog. Just a few are offered below to whet your appetite:

-- [S. Kierkegaard] --

  • Directly challenging Luther, Kierkegaard writes:
    "Luther, your responsibility is great indeed, for the closer I look the more clearly do I see that you overthrew the pope and set the public on the throne.... You altered the New Testament concept of 'the martyr,' and taught men to win by numbers."
  • Again, Kierkegaard criticizes Luther:
    As for the rest, the closer I examine Luther the more convinced do I become
    that he was muddle headed. It is a comfortable kind of reforming which consists in throwing away burdens and making life easier.... True reforming always means to make life more difficult, to lay on burdens; and the true reformer is therefore always put to death as though he were the enemy of mankind. Luther's 'hear me, thou Pope' ... sound[s] to me always disgustingly worldly. Is that the sacred earnestness of a reformer ... who knows that true reformation consists in becoming more inward? Such an expression is just like a journalist's slogan. That unholy political attitude, that desire to overthrow the pope is - [Martin Luther] - what is so confusing about Luther."
  • Kierkegaard became increasingly convinced that Luther had systematically watered down Christianity:
    "[I]t can come to the point in Protestantism when worldliness is honored and venerated as godliness. And that, I maintain, cannot happen in Catholicism.... No wonder Luther very quickly got such great support. The secular mentality understood immediately the break.... [T]hey grinned in their beards ... at Luther ... that chosen instrument of God who had helped men so splendidly make a fool of God."
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