Philosophy

Please help me to write about 5 sentences for journal entry.

Reading: The Sickness unto Death, pp.28-85 (highlighted part)

· “A self which has no possibility is in despair, and so in turn is the self which has no necessity” (Kierkegaard, p. 36). Elaborate on this statement by also integrating the question of the relation between finitude and infinitude.

by

Sören Kierkegaard

 

[Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1941]

 

 

Preface

 

Despair is the sickness, not the cure. In Christian terminology death is

the expression for the greatest spiritual sickness, and the cure is simply

to die, to “die from” despair.

 

Introduction

Only the Christian knows what is meant by the sickness unto death. As

a Christian he acquires a courage which the natural man does not

know. This courage he acquires by learning to fear the still more

dreadful.

 

 

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Part 1: The Sickness Unto Death is Despair

 

Chapter 1: That Despair is the Sickness Unto Death

 

The three forms of despair: not being conscious of having a self, not

willing to be oneself, but also despair at willing to be oneself. Despair

is “sickness unto death.”

 

Chapter 2: The Universality of This Sickness (Despair)

A man’s life is wasted when he lives on, so deceived by the joys of life

or by its sorrows, that he never becomes decisively conscious of himself

as spirit, as self, that is, he never is aware in the deepest sense that

there is a God.

 

Chapter 3 The Forms of This Sickness, i.e. of Despair

 

In every instant a self exists and is in the process of becoming. The self

does not actually “exist,” but is only that which it is to become. In so

 

 

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far as the self does not become itself, it is not its own self, and not to

be one’s own self is despair.

 

Part 2: Despair is Sin

 

Chapter 1: Despair is Sin

 

Sin means to be in despair at not willing to be oneself, or to be in

despair at willing to be oneself. The lives of most men, being

determined by a dialectic of indifference, are so remote from the good (that is, faith) that they are almost too spiritless to be called sinners,

almost too spiritless to be called despairers.

 

Chapter 2: Continuation of Sin

 

A definition of faith: “By relating itself to its own self and by willing to

be itself, the self is grounded transparently in the Power which

constituted it.” This means we must not despair over despairing about

our sins, nor must we abandon faith and instead substitute

indifference.

 

 

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Preface

 

To many the form of this “exposition” will perhaps seem strange; it will

seem to them too strict to be edifying, and too edifying to be strictly

scientific. As to this latter point I have no opinion. As to the first,

however, this does not express my opinion of the matter; and if it were

true that the form is too strict to be edifying, that, according to my

conception, would be a fault. It is one question whether it cannot be

edifying to everyone, seeing that not everyone possesses the capacity

for following it; it is another question whether it possesses the specific

character of the edifying. From the Christian point of view everything,

absolutely everything should serve for edification. The sort of learning

which is not in the last resort edifying is precisely for that reason

unchristian. Everything that is Christian must bear some resemblance to

the address which a physician makes beside the sick-bed: although it

can be fully understood only by one who is versed in medicine, yet it

must never be forgotten that it is pronounced beside the sick-bed. This

relation of the Christian teaching to life (in contrast with a scientific

aloofness from life), or this ethical side of Christianity, is essentially the

edifying, and the form in which it is presented, however strict it may

be, is altogether different, qualitatively different, from that sort of

learning which is “indifferent,” the lofty heroism of which is from a

Christian point of view so far from being heroism that from a Christian

point of view it is an inhuman sort of curiosity. The Christian heroism

(and perhaps it is rarely to be seen) is to venture wholly to be oneself,

as an individual man, this definite individual man, alone before the

face of God, alone in this tremendous exertion and this tremendous

 

 

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responsibility; but it is not Christian heroism to be humbugged by the

pure idea of humanity or to play the game of marveling at world-

history. All Christian knowledge, however strict its form, ought to be

anxiously concerned; but this concern is precisely the note of the

edifying. Concern implies relationship to life, to the reality of personal

existence, and thus in a Christian sense it is seriousness; the high

aloofness of indifferent learning, is, from the Christian point of view,

far from being seriousness, it is, from the Christian point of view, jest

and vanity. But seriousness again is the edifying.

This little book therefore is in one sense composed in a way that a

seminary student could write it; in another sense, however, in a way

that perhaps not every professor could write it.

But the fact that the form in which this treatise is clothed is what it is,

is at least the result of due reflection, and at all events it is certainly

correct from a psychological point of view. There is a more solemn

style which is so solemn that it does not signify much, and since one is

too well accustomed to it, it easily becomes entirely meaningless.

Only one remark more, doubtless a superfluity, but for that I am willing

to assume the blame: I would call attention once for all to the fact that

in this whole book, as the title indeed says, despair is conceived as the

sickness, not as the cure. So dialectical is despair. So also in the

Christian terminology death is the expression for the greatest spiritual

wretchedness, and yet the cure is simply to die, to “die from.”

1848.

 

 

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Introduction

 

“This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4), and yet Lazarus died; for

when the disciples misunderstood the words which Christ adjoined

later, “Lazarus our friend is asleep, but I go to wake him out of his

sleep” (11:11), He said plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (11:14). So then

Lazarus is dead, and yet this sickness was not unto death; he was dead,

and yet this sickness is not unto death. Now we know that Christ was

thinking of the miracle which would permit the bystanders, “if they

believed, to see the glory of God” (11:40), the miracle by which He

awoke Lazarus from the dead, so that this sickness was not only not

unto death, but, as Christ had foretold, “for the glory of God, that the

Son of God might be glorified thereby” (11:4). Oh, but even if Christ

had not awakened Lazarus from the dead, is it not true that this

sickness, that death itself, was not a sickness unto death? When Christ

comes to the grave and cries with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth”

(11:43), it is evident enough that “this” sickness is not unto death. But

even if Christ had not said these words — merely the fact that He, who

is “the resurrection and the life” (11:25), comes to the grave, is not this

a sufficient sign that this sickness is not unto death, does not the fact

that Christ exists mean that this sickness is not unto death? And what

help would it have been to Lazarus to be awakened from the dead, if

the thing must end after all with his dying — how would that have

helped Lazarus, if He did not live who is the resurrection and the life

for everyone who believes in Him? No, it is not because Lazarus was

awakened from the dead, not for this can one say that this sickness is

not unto death; but because He lives, therefore this sickness is not

 

 

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unto death. For, humanly speaking, death is the last thing of all; and,

humanly speaking, there is hope only so long as there is life. But

Christianly understood death is by no means the last thing of all, hence

it is only a little event within that which is all, an eternal life; and

Christianly understood there is in death infinitely much more hope

than merely humanly speaking there is when there not only is life but

this life exhibits the fullest health and vigor.

So then in the Christian understanding of it not even death is the

sickness unto death, still less everything which is called earthly and

temporal suffering: want, sickness, wretchedness, affliction, adversities,

torments, mental sufferings, sorrow, grief. And even if such things are

so painful and hard to bear that we men say, or at all events the

sufferer says, “This is worse than death” — everything of the sort,

which, if it is not a sickness, is comparable to a sickness, is

nevertheless, in the Christian understanding of it, not the sickness unto

death.

So it is that Christianity has taught the Christian to think dauntlessly of

everything earthly and worldly, including death. It is almost as though

the Christian must be puffed up because of this proud elevation above

everything men commonly call misfortune, above that which men

commonly call the greatest evil. But then in turn Christianity has

discovered an evil which man as such does not know of; this misery is

the sickness unto death. What the natural man considers horrible —

when he has in this wise enumerated everything and knows nothing

more he can mention, this for the Christian is like a jest. Such is the

relation between the natural man and the Christian; it is like the

relation between a child and a man: what the child shudders at, the

man regards as nothing. The child does not know what the dreadful is;

 

 

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this the man knows, and he shudders at it. The child’s imperfection

consists, first of all, in not knowing what the dreadful is; and then

again, as an implication of this, in shuddering at that which is not

dreadful. And so it is also with the natural man, he is ignorant of what

the dreadful truly is, yet he is not thereby exempted from shuddering;

no, he shudders at that which is not the dreadful: he does not know

the true God, but this is not the whole of it, he worships an idol as

God.

Only the Christian knows what is meant by the sickness unto death. He

acquires as a Christian a courage which the natural man does not know

— this courage he acquires by learning fear for the still more dreadful.

Such is the way a man always acquires courage; when one fears a

greater danger, it is as though the other did not exist. But the dreadful

thing the Christian learned to know is “the sickness unto death.”

 

 

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Part 1: The Sickness Unto Death is Despair

 

Chapter 1: That Despair is the Sickness Unto Death

 

A. Despair is a Sickness in the Spirit, in the Self, and So It May Assume a Triple Form: in Despair at Not Being Conscious of Having a Self (Despair Improperly So Called); in Despair at Not Willing to Be Oneself; in Despair at Willing to Be Oneself.

Man is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self?

The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in

the relation [which accounts for it] that the relation relates itself to its

own self; the self is not the relation but [consists in the fact] that the

relation relates itself to its own self. Man is a synthesis of the infinite

and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and

necessity, in short it is a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between

two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self.

In the relation between two, the relation is the third term as a negative

unity, and the two relate themselves to the relation, and in the relation

to the relation; such a relation is that between soul and body, when

man is regarded as soul. If on the contrary the relation relates itself to

its own self, the relation is then the positive third term, and this is the

self.

 

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Such a relation which relates itself to its own self (that is to say, a self)

must either have constituted itself or have been constituted by another.

If this relation which relates itself to its own self is constituted by

another, the relation doubtless is the third term, but this relation (the

third term) is in turn a relation relating itself to that which constituted

the whole relation.

Such a derived, constituted, relation is the human self, a relation which

relates itself to its own self, and in relating itself to its own self relates

itself to another. Hence it is that there can be two forms of despair

properly so called. If the human self had constituted itself, there could

be a question only of one form, that of not willing to be one’s own

self, of willing to get rid of oneself, but there would be no question of

despairingly willing to be oneself. This formula [i.e. that the self is

constituted by another] is the expression for the total dependence of

the relation (the self namely), the expression for the fact that the self

cannot of itself attain and remain in equilibrium and rest by itself, but

only by relating itself to that Power which constituted the whole

relation. Indeed, so far is it from being true that this second form of

despair (despair at willing to be one’s own self) denotes only a

particular kind of despair, that on the contrary all despair can in the

last analysis be reduced to this. If a man in despair is as he thinks

conscious of his despair, does not talk about it meaninglessly as of

something which befell him (pretty much as when a man who suffers

from vertigo talks with nervous self-deception about a weight upon his

head or about its being like something falling upon him, etc., this

weight and this pressure being in fact not something external but an

inverse reflection from an inward experience), and if by himself and by

himself only he would abolish the despair, then by all the labor he

 

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expends he is only laboring himself deeper into a deeper despair. The

disrelationship of despair is not a simple disrelationship but a

disrelationship in a relation which relates itself to its own self and is

constituted by another, so that the disrelationship in that self-relation

reflects itself infinitely in the relation to the Power which constituted

it.

This then is the formula which describes the condition of the self when

despair is completely eradicated: by relating itself to its own self and

by willing to be itself the self is grounded transparently in the Power

which posited it.

B. Possibility and Actuality of Despair

Is despair an advantage or a drawback? Regarded in a purely dialectical

way it is both. If one were to stick to the abstract notion of despair,

without thinking of any concrete despairer, one might say that it is an

immense advantage. The possibility of this sickness is man’s advantage

over the beast, and this advantage distinguishes him far more

essentially than the erect posture, for it implies the infinite erectness or

loftiness of being spirit. The possibility of this sickness is man’s

advantage over the beast; to be sharply observant of this sickness

constitutes the Christian’s advantage over the natural man; to be

healed of this sickness is the Christian’s bliss.

So then it is an infinite advantage to be able to despair; and yet it is

not only the greatest misfortune and misery to be in despair; no, it is

perdition. Ordinarily there is no such relation between possibility and

actuality; if it is an advantage to be able to be this or that, it is a still

greater advantage to be such a thing. That is to say, being is related to

 

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the ability to be as an ascent. In the case of despair, on the contrary,

being is related to the ability to be as a fall. Infinite as is the advantage

of the possibility, just so great is the measure of the fall. So in the case

of despair the ascent consists in not being in despair. Yet this

statement is open to misunderstanding. The thing of not being in

despair is not like not being lame, blind, etc. In case the not being in

despair means neither more nor less than not being this, then it is

precisely to be it. The thing of not being in despair must mean the

annihilation of the possibility of being this; if it is to be true that a

man is not in despair, one must annihilate the possibility every instant.

Such is not ordinarily the relation between possibility and actuality.

Although thinkers say2 that actuality is the annihilated possibility, yet

this is not entirely true; it is the fulfilled, the effective possibility. Here,

on the contrary, the actuality (not being in despair), which in its very

form is a negation, is the impotent, annihilated possibility; ordinarily,

actuality in comparison with possibility is a confirmation, here it is a

negation.

Despair is the disrelationship in a relation which relates itself to itself.

But the synthesis is not the disrelationship, it is merely the possibility,

or, in the synthesis is latent the possibility of the disrelationship. If the

synthesis were the disrelationship, there would be no such thing as

despair, for despair would then be something inherent in human nature

as such, that is, it would not be despair, it would be something that

befell a man, something he suffered passively, like an illness into which

a man falls, or like death which is the lot of all. No, this thing of

despairing is inherent in man himself; but if he were not a synthesis, he

could not despair, neither could he despair if the synthesis were not

originally from God’s hand in the right relationship.

 

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Whence then comes despair? From the relation wherein the synthesis

relates itself to itself, in that God who made man a relationship lets

this go as it were out of His hand, that is, in the fact that the relation

relates itself to itself. And herein, in the fact that the relation is spirit, is

the self, consists the responsibility under which all despair lies, and so

lies every instant it exists, however much and however ingeniously the

despairer, deceiving himself and others, may talk of his despair as a

misfortune which has befallen him, with a confusion of things

different, as in the case of vertigo aforementioned, with which, though

it is qualitatively different, despair has much in common, since vertigo

is under the rubric soul what despair is under the rubric spirit, and is

pregnant with analogies to despair.

So when the disrelationship — that is, despair — has set in, does it

follow as a matter of course that it continues? No, it does not follow

as a matter of course; if the disrelationship continues, it does not

follow as a consequence of the disrelation but as a consequence of the

relation which relates itself to itself. That is to say, every time the

disrelation expresses itself, and every instant it exists, it is to the

relation one must revert. Observe that we speak of a man contracting a

disease, maybe through carelessness. Then the illness sets in, and from

that instant it affirms itself and is now an actuality, the origin of which

recedes more and more into the past. It would be cruel and inhuman if

one were to continue to say incessantly, “This instant thou, the sick

man, art contracting this disease”; that is, if every instant one were to

resolve the actuality of the disease into its possibility. It is true that he

did contract the disease, but this he did only once; the continuance of

the disease is a simple consequence of the fact that he once contracted

it, its progress is not to be referred every instant to him as the cause;

 

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he contracted it, but one cannot say that he is contracting it. Not so with despair: every actual instant of despair is to be referred back to

possibility, every instant the man in despair is contracting it, it is

constantly in the present tense, nothing comes to pass here as a

consequence of a bygone actuality superseded; at every actual instant

of despair the despairer bears as his responsibility all the foregoing

experience in possibility as a present. This comes from the fact that

despair is a qualification of spirit, that it is related to the eternal in

man. But the eternal he cannot get rid of, no, not to all eternity; he

cannot cast it from him once for all, nothing is more impossible; every

instant he does not possess it he must have cast it or be casting it from

him — but it comes back, every instant he is in despair he contracts

despair. For despair is not a result of the disrelationship but of the

relation which relates itself to itself. And the relation to himself a man

cannot get rid of, any more than he can get rid of himself, which

moreover is one and the same thing, since the self is the relationship to

oneself.

C. Despair is “The Sickness unto Death.”

The concept of the sickness unto death must be understood, however,

in a peculiar sense. Literally it means a sickness the end and outcome

of which is death. Thus one speaks of a mortal sickness as synonymous

with a sickness unto death. In this sense despair cannot be called the

sickness unto death. But in the Christian understanding of it death

itself is a transition unto life In view of this, there is from the Christian

standpoint no earthly, bodily sickness unto death. For death is

doubtless the last phase of the sickness, but death is not the last thing.

If in the strictest sense we are to speak of a sickness unto death, it

 

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must be one in which the last thing is death, and death the last thing.

And this precisely is despair.

Yet in another and still more definite sense despair is the sickness unto

death. It is indeed very far from being true that, literally understood,

one dies of this sickness, or that this sickness ends with bodily death.

On the contrary, the torment of despair is precisely this, not to be able

to die So it has much in common with the situation of the moribund

when he lies and struggles with death, and cannot die. So to be sick

unto death is, not to be able to die — yet not as though there were

hope of life; no the hopelessness in this case is that even the last hope,

death, is not available. When death is the greatest danger, one hopes

for life; but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful

danger, one hopes for death. So when the danger is so great that death

has become one’s hope, despair is the disconsolateness of not being

able to die.

It is in this last sense that despair is the sickness unto death, this

agonizing contradiction, this sickness in the self, everlastingly to die, to

die and yet not to die, to die the death. For dying means that it is all

over, but dying the death means to live to experience death; and if for

a single instant this experience is possible, it is tantamount to

experiencing it forever. If one might die of despair as one dies of a

sickness, then the eternal in him, the self, must be capable of dying in

the same sense that the body dies of sickness. But this is an

impossibility; the dying of despair transforms itself constantly into a

living. The despairing man cannot die; no more than “the dagger can

slay thoughts” can despair consume the eternal thing, the self, which is

the ground of despair, whose worm dieth not, and whose fire is not

quenched. Yet despair is precisely self-consuming, but it is an impotent

 

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self-consumption which is not able to do what it wills; and this

impotence is a new form of self-consumption, in which again,

however, the despairer is not able to do what he wills, namely, to

consume himself. This is despair raised to a higher potency, or it is the

law for the potentiation. This is the hot incitement, or the cold fire in

despair, the gnawing canker whose movement is constantly inward,

deeper and deeper, in impotent self-consumption. The fact that despair

does not consume him is so far from being any comfort to the

despairing man that it is precisely the opposite, this comfort is precisely

the torment, it is precisely this that keeps the gnawing pain alive and

keeps life in the pain. This precisely is the reason why he despairs —

not to say despaired — because he cannot consume himself, cannot get

rid of himself, cannot become nothing. This is the potentiated formula

for despair, the rising of the fever in the sickness of the self.

A despairing man is in despair over something. So it seems for an instant, but only for an instant; that same instant the true despair

manifests itself, or despair manifests itself in its true character. For in

the fact that he despaired of something, he really despaired of himself,

and now would be rid of himself. Thus when the ambitious man whose

watchword was “Either Caesar or nothing”3 does not become Caesar, he

is in despair thereat. But this signifies something else, namely, that

precisely because he did not become Caesar he now cannot endure to

be himself. So properly he is not in despair over the fact that he did

not become Caesar, but he is in despair over himself for the fact that

he did not become Caesar. This self which, had he become Caesar,

would have been to him a sheer delight (though in another sense

equally in despair), this self is now absolutely intolerable to him. In a

profounder sense it is not the fact that he did not become Caesar

 

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which is intolerable to him, but the self which did not become Caesar is

the thing that is intolerable; or, more correctly, what is intolerable to

him is that he cannot get rid of himself. If he had become Caesar he

would have been rid of himself in desperation, but now that he did not

become Caesar he cannot in desperation get rid of himself. Essentially

he is equally in despair in either case, for he does not possess himself,

he is not himself. By becoming Caesar he would not after all have

become himself but have got rid of himself, and by not becoming

Caesar he falls into despair over the fact that he cannot get rid of

himself. Hence it is a superficial view (which presumably has never seen

a person in despair, not even one’s own self) when it is said of a man

in despair, “He is consuming himself.” For precisely this it is he despairs

of, and to his torment it is precisely this he cannot do, since by despair

fire has entered into something that cannot burn, or cannot burn up,

that is, into the self.

So to despair over something is not yet properly despair. It is the

beginning, or it is as when the physician says of a sickness that it has

not yet declared itself. The next step is the declared despair, despair

over oneself. A young girl is in despair over love, and so she despairs

over her lover, because he died, or because he was unfaithful to her.

This is not a declared despair; no, she is in despair over herself. This

self of hers, which, if it had become “his” beloved, she would have

been rid of in the most blissful way, or would have lost, this self is now

a torment to her when it has to be a self without “him”; this self which

would have been to her riches (though in another sense equally in

despair) has now become to her a loathsome void, since “he” is dead,

or it has become to her an abhorrence, since it reminds her of the fact

that she was betrayed. Try it now, say to such a girl, “Thou art

 

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consuming thyself,” and thou shalt hear her reply, “Oh, no, the torment

is precisely this, that I cannot do it.”

To despair over oneself, in despair to will to be rid of oneself, is the

formula for all despair, and hence the second form of despair (in

despair at willing to be oneself) can be followed back to the first (in

despair at not willing to be oneself), just as in the foregoing we

resolved the first into the second (cf. I). A despairing man wants

despairingly to be himself. But if he despairingly wants to be himself,

he will not want to get rid of himself. Yes, so it seems; but if one

inspects more closely, one perceives that after all the contradiction is

the same. That self which he despairingly wills to be is a self which he

is not (for to will to be that self which one truly is, is indeed the

opposite of despair); what he really wills is to tear his self away from

the Power which constituted it. But notwithstanding all his despair,

this he is unable to do, notwithstanding all the efforts of despair, that

Power is the stronger, and it compels him to be the self he does not

will to be. But for all that he wills to be rid of himself, to be rid of the

self which he is, in order to be the self he himself has chanced to

chose. To be self as he wills to be would be his delight (though in

another sense it would be equally in despair), but to be compelled to

be self as he does not will to be is his torment, namely, that he cannot get rid of himself.

Socrates proved the immortality of the soul from the fact that the

sickness of the soul (sin) does not consume it as sickness of the body

consumes the body. So also we can demonstrate the eternal in man

from the fact that despair cannot consume his self, that this precisely is

the torment of contradiction in despair. If there were nothing eternal in

 

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a man, he could not despair; but if despair could consume his self,

there would still be no despair.

Thus it is that despair, this sickness in the self, is the sickness unto

death. The despairing man is mortally ill. In an entirely different sense

than can appropriately be said of any disease, we may say that the

sickness has attacked the noblest part; and yet the man cannot die.

Death is not the last phase of the sickness, but death is continually the

last. To be delivered from this sickness by death is an impossibility, for

the sickness and its torment . . . and death consist in not being able to

die.

This is the situation in despair. And however thoroughly it eludes the

attention of the despairer, and however thoroughly the despairer may

succeed (as in the case of that kind of despair which is characterized by

unawareness of being in despair) in losing himself entirely, and losing

himself in such a way that it is not noticed in the least — eternity

nevertheless will make it manifest that his situation was despair, and it

will so nail him to himself that the torment nevertheless remains that

he cannot get rid of himself, and it becomes manifest that he was

deluded in thinking that he succeeded. And thus it is eternity must act,

because to have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession made to

man, but at the same time it is eternity’s demand upon him.

 

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Chapter 2: The Universality of This Sickness (Despair)

 

Just as the physician might say that there lives perhaps not one single

man who is in perfect health, so one might say perhaps that there lives

not one single man who after all is not to some extent in despair, in

whose inmost parts there does not dwell a disquietude, a perturbation,

a discord, an anxious dread of an unknown something, or of a

something he does not even dare to make acquaintance with, dread of

a possibility of life, or dread of himself, so that, after all, as physicians

speak of a man going about with a disease in him, this man is going

about and carrying a sickness of the spirit, which only rarely and in

glimpses, by and with a dread which to him is inexplicable, gives

evidence of its presence within. At any rate there has lived no one and

there lives no one outside of Christendom who is not in despair, and

no one in Christendom, unless he be a true Christian, and if he is not

quite that, he is somewhat in despair after all.

This view will doubtless seem to many a paradox, an exaggeration, and

a gloomy and depressing view at that. Yet it is nothing of the sort. It is

not gloomy; on the contrary, it seeks to throw light upon a subject

which ordinarily is left in obscurity. It is not depressing; on the

contrary it is uplifting, since it views every man in the aspect of the

highest demand made upon him, that he be spirit. Nor is it a paradox;

on the contrary, it is a fundamental apprehension consistently carried

through, and hence it is no exaggeration.

 

 

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On the other hand, the ordinary view of despair remains content with

appearances, and so it is a superficial view, that is, no view at all. It

assumes that every man must know by himself better than anyone else

whether he is in despair or not. So whoever says that he is in despair is

regarded as being in despair, but whoever thinks he is not in despair is

not so regarded. Consequently despair becomes a rather rare

phenomenon, whereas in fact it is quite universal. It is not a rare

exception that one is in despair; no, the rare, the very rare exception is

that one is not in despair.

But the vulgar view has a very poor understanding of despair. Among

other things (to mention only one which, if rightly understood, would

bring thousands, yea, millions under this category), it completely

overlooks the fact that one form of despair is precisely this of not

being in despair, that is, not being aware of it. The vulgar view is

exposed, though in a much deeper sense, to the same fallacy it

sometimes falls into when it would determine whether a man is sick or

not. In a much deeper sense, I say, for the vulgar view has a far more

inadequate notion of spirit than of sickness and health — and without

understanding spirit it is impossible to understand despair. It is

ordinarily assumed that a man is well when he does not himself say

that he is sick, and still more confidently when he says that he is well.

The physician on the other hand regards sickness differently. And why?

Because he has a definite and well thought out conception of what it

is to be in sound health, and by this he tests the man’s condition. The

physician knows that just as there is sickness which is only imaginary,

so also there is such a thing as fictitious health. In the latter case,

therefore, the physician first employs medicines to cause the disease to

become manifest. Generally the physician, just because he is a

 

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physician, i.e. the competent man, has no unconditional faith in a

person’s own assertion about the state of his health. If it were true that

what every man says about the state of his health (as to whether he is

sick or well, where he suffers, etc.) were absolutely to be relied upon, it

would be an illusion to be a physician. For a physician does not merely

have to prescribe medicines, but first and foremost he has to be

acquainted with sickness, and so first and foremost to know whether a

supposedly sick man really is sick, or whether a supposedly well man is

not really sick. So it is also with the physician of souls when dealing

with despair. He knows what despair is, he is acquainted with it, and

hence he is not satisfied with a man’s assertion that he is in despair or

that he is not. For it must be observed that in a certain sense not even

all who say they are in despair always are so. One may affect despair,

and one may make a mistake and confuse despair with all sorts of

transitory dejection or grief which pass away without coming to the

point of despair. However, the physician of souls does, it is true, regard

these states also as forms of despair. He perceives very well that this is

affectation — but precisely this affectation is despair. He perceives very

well that this dejection etc. does not mean much — but precisely this

fact, that it does not mean much, is despair.