Kierkegaard and the theology of crisis (1940)

The Terrible Crystal; studies in Kierkegaard and modern Christianity, By: Melville Chaning-Pearce,  b. 1886. Published: (1940)

Three years before he died, Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his Journal—”Denmark has need of a dead man.” “My life,” he said again, “will cry out after my death.”


And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.
 Ezekiel 1:22 (KJV)

The Terrible Chrystal  was written during World War II. This was a time of great conflict and a search to understand the conflict and determine if conflict is a good or an evil occupied this reader of Kierkegaard.


“There is indeed much in the apocalpytic vision of Ezekiel from which the phrase is taken which, like the cognate vision of El Greco so many centuries later, curiously mates with the modern mood. But the conception of the celestial firmament “as the colour of the terrible crystal “, a crystalline purity as of white fire or ice in which all conflicting or component elements are fused and therefore terrible to look upon, seems, in particular, to typify this conception of Christianity as of a new life reborn from ” dread and trembling “, disaster and death, which is characteristic of the thought of such as Kierkegaard and Karl Barth —the religion of a terrible and intense candour of spirit wrought to a diamond-like induration and brilliance by a poignant inner experience of catastrophe.”

The axiom underlying the thought discussed in this book is that this climate of crisis and catastrophe is also the essential climate of real religion, that the rhythm of religion and reality is essentially, inevitably, and eternally catastrophic, a rhythm from beyond the compass and running counter to the familiar systole and diastole of the human heart and its history, that the vraie verite (truth) of life lies “beyond the tragic
climax”.

the terrible crystal

The “Theology of Crisis”, driving me back to its source in the strangely seminal thought of Soren Kierkegaard, has constituted my own crisis. I believe that my experience has been also that of very many minds today for whom the issue of religion is also the most urgent issue of life. The progress of my reactions towards this “existential” religious thinking has therefore been something of a “pilgrim’s progress”, passing from the strong bias of first contact with the dynamic and revolutionary thought of Karl Barth and his followers, through a more critical phase, back to Kierkegaard, and so to a rekindled reading of Christianity, to a condition of more balanced assessment of its significance and the cloudy conception of a Christianity of “inwardness” and the spirit, yet born of blood and brain, emerging from the ruins of religion and that “dark night of the soul” which is our day.

Apart from the Bible his writings give no evidence of any other strong positive literary influence in his life. In philosophy, Hegel, and in theology, Luther powerfully impressed his thought, but rather, for the most part, by repulsion than by attraction.

He is a Socrates enthralled by Christianity, by an “inwardness” of spiritual life which he has himself brought to birth.

His fastidiousness is “trampled to death by geese

We are increasingly accustomed today to seek in rhythm for the roots of culture and religion and in philosophy for a dance of ideas of which the measure is often of more moment than the matter; it is a clue which Kierkegaard had caught a hundred years ago.

It is not surprising to find this Corybantian strain in Kierkegaard allied to an enthusiastic appreciation of music and, in particular, the music of Mozart. It is notable that, for him, music conveys not merely consolation and peace, but also that self-annihilation, dread and catastrophe which are the pre-conditions of revelation and redemption.


During his life he provoked and incurred what he has called the “martyrdom of laughter” in the press by his bitter polemics against all the gods of the market-place and by his own personal eccentricities.

This link will take you to the whole book… if interested.

perfection of birds

 

 

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