Works of Love (Kierkegaard)

work by Søren Kierkegaard in 1847; deals with the Christian conception of agape in contrast with eros or phileo, to understand the existence and relationship of the individual Christian
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Works of Love is a book by Søren Kierkegaard written in 1847. It is one of the works which he published under his own name, as opposed to his more famous "pseudonymous" works.

The times are past when only the powerful and the prominent were human beings—and the others were bond servants and slaves. This is due to Christianity.
Since the world does not really believe in God, in the long run the God-fearing person must really love himself. The God-fearing person does not love what the world loves, but then what is left—God and himself. The world takes God away, and therefore the God-fearing person loves himself. The world regards the fear of God as self-love.


as translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (1995)
  • If it were so, as conceited sagacity, proud of not being deceived, thinks, that we should believe nothing that we cannot see with our physical eyes, then we first and foremost ought to give up believing in love. If we were to do so and do it out of fear lest we be deceived, would we not then be deceived? We can, of course, be deceived in many ways. We can be deceived by believing what is untrue, but we certainly are also deceived by not believing what is true. We can be deceived by appearances, but we certainly are also deceived by the sagacious appearance, by the flattering conceit that considers itself absolutely secure against being deceived. Which deception is more dangerous? Whose recovery is more doubtful, that of the one who does not see, or that of the person who sees and yet does not see? What is more difficult—to awaken someone who is sleeping or to awaken someone who, awake, is dreaming that he is awake?
    • p. 5
  • The self-deceived person may even think he is able to console others who became victims of perfidious deception, but what insanity when someone who himself has lost the eternal wants to heal the person who is extremely sick unto death!
    • p. 7
  • If anyone thinks he is a Christian and yet is indifferent toward being that, he is not one at all. When Christ says (Matthew 10:17), “Beware of people,” I wonder if by this is not also meant: Beware of being tricked out of the highest by people, by continual comparison, by habit and by externals.
    • p. 27
  • By the sensuous, the flesh, Christianity understands selfishness. A conflict between spirit and flesh is inconceivable unless there is a rebellious spirit on the side of flesh, with which the spirit then contends; similarly, a conflict between spirit and a stone or between spirit and a tree is inconceivable.
    • p. 52-53
  • God is the middle term. Only by loving God above all else can one love the neighbor. Love for the neighbor is therefore the eternal equality in loving. Equality is simply not to make distinctions and eternal equality is unconditionally not to make the slightest distinction, unqualifiedly not to make the slightest distinction. The essential Christian is itself too weighty, in its movements too earnest to scurry about, dancing, in the frivolity of such facile talk about the higher, highest, and the supremely highest.
    • p. 57-58
  • The times are past when only the powerful and the prominent were human beings—and the others were bond servants and slaves. This is due to Christianity.
    • p. 74
  • If there were a distinguished person whose life, by birth and conditions, belonged especially to the same earthly dissimilarity, a distinguished person who would not assent to this divisive conspiracy against the universally human, that is, against the neighbor, if he did not have the heart to do this, if, clearly perceiving the consequences, he still trusted in God for the strength to bear these consequences while he lacked the strength to harden his heart ... the distinguished corruption would accuse him of being a traitor and self-lover—because he wanted to love the neighbor.
    • p. 76
  • The measure of a person's disposition is this: ... how great is the distance between his understanding and his actions. Basically we all understand the highest. A child, the simplest person, and the wisest all understand the highest. ... But what makes the difference is whether we understand it at a distance—so that we do not act accordingly, or close at hand—so that we act accordingly and "cannot do otherwise."
    • p. 78
  • I has no significance until it becomes the you to whom eternity incessantly speaks and says: you shall, you shall, you shall.
    • p. 90
  • A man who had two sons ... went to the first and said, "Son, go out and work in my vineyard today." But he answered and said, "I will not," but afterward he repented of it and he went. And the father went to the second and said the same. But he answered, "I will, sir," and he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?
    • p. 92
  • If you want to be well off and yet easily manage to become something, then forget God, never let yourself really become aware, never let it become really clear to you that it is he who has created you from nothing; proceed on the presupposition that a human being does not have time to waste on keeping in mind the one to whom he infinitely and unconditionally owes everything. ... Forget it and be noisy along with the crowd, laugh or cry, be busy from morning until night, be loved and respected and esteemed as a friend, as a public official, as a king, as a pallbearer. Above all be an earnest person by having forgotten the one and only earnestness, to relate yourself to God, to become nothing.
    • p. 103
  • If your ultimate and highest goal is to have life made easy and sociable, then never become involved with Christianity, shun it, because it wants the very opposite; it wants to make your life difficult and to do this by making you alone before God. No earnest person, therefore, wearies of tracking down the illusions, because insofar as he is a thinking person he fears most to be in error, however cozy the arrangement is, however good the company—and as a Christian he fears most to be lost without knowing it—however flattering, however splendid the surroundings and the company are.
    • p. 124
  • The relationship between the individual and God, the God-relationship, is the conscience.
    • p. 143
  • There are a you and an I, and there is no mine and yours! For without a you and an I, there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love but “mine” and “yours” (these possessive pronouns) are, of course, formed from a “you” and an “I” and as a consequence seem obliged to be present wherever there are a you and an I. This is indeed the case everywhere, but not in love , which is a revolution from the ground up. The more profound the revolution, the more completely the distinction “mine and yours” disappears, and the more perfect is the love.
    • p. 266
  • The life of the one who loves expresses the apostolic injunction to be a child in evil. What the world actually admires as sagacity is knowledge of evil—whereas wisdom is knowledge of the good. The one who loves does not have and does not want to have knowledge of evil; in this regard he is and remains, he wants to be and wants to remain, a child. Put a child in a den of thieves (but the child must not remain there so long that it is corrupted itself); that is, let it remain there only for a very brief time. Then let it come home and tell everything it has experienced. You will note that the child, who is a good observer and has an excellent memory (as does every child), will tell everything in the greatest detail, yet in such a way that in a certain sense the most important is omitted. Therefore someone who does not know that the child has been among thieves would least suspect it on the basis of the child’s story. What is it, then, that the child leaves out, what is it that the child has not discovered? It is the evil. Yet the child’s story about what it has seen and heard is entirely accurate. What, then, does the child lack? What is it that so often makes a child’s story the most profound mockery of the adults? It is knowledge of evil, that the child lacks knowledge of evil, that the child does not even feel inclined to want to be knowledgeable about evil. In this the one who loves is like the child.
    • p. 284
  • Erotic love is temporality’s invention, temporality’s most beautiful but nonetheless frail invention. Hence there is a more profound contradiction here. There was no fault in the girl; she was and remained faithful to her erotic love. Yet her love changed somewhat over the years. That is the nature of erotic love. The contradiction, then, is this: one with the most honest will, willing to be sacrificed, still cannot be unconditionally faithful in a more profound sense or abide in what does not itself eternally abide-and erotic love does not do that. The one who loves, who abides, has an eternal expectancy, and this eternal element provides evenness in the restlessness, which in time does indeed oscillate between fulfillment and nonfulfillment but independently of time, inasmuch as the fulfillment is by no means made impossible, because time is over-this one who loves does not wither away. What faithfulness in the love that abides! It is far from our invention to want to disparage the loving girl, as if it were a kind of unfaithfulness on her part (alas, an unfaithfulness-to a faithless one!) that she had weakened over the years and had faded away, so that her erotic love had changed and had faded away, so that her erotic love had changed in the change that is the change in erotic love itself over the years. And yet, yet-yes, it is a curious crisscrossing of self-contradicting thoughts, but it cannot be otherwise with even the highest faithfulness in erotic love than that it almost seems to be unfaithfulness, since erotic love itself is not the eternal.
    • 1995 p. 311-313
  • Truly, if you want to ascertain what love there is in you or in another person, then pay attention to how he relates himself to one who is dead. If one wishes to observe a person, it is very important for the sake of the observation that one, in seeing him in a relationship, look at him alone. When one actual person relates himself to another actual person, the result is two, the relationship is constituted, and the observation of the one person alone is made difficult. In other words, the second person covers over something of the first person; moreover, the second person can have so much influence that the first one appears different from what he is. Therefore a double accounting is necessary here; the observation must keep a special account of the influence the second person has on the person who is the object under observation through his personality, his characteristics, his virtues, and his defects. If you could manage to see someone shadowboxing in dead earnest, or if you could prevail upon a dancer to dance solo the dance he customarily dances with another, you would be able to observe his motions best, better than if he were boxing with another actual person or if he were dancing with another actual person. And if, in conversation with someone, you understand the art of making yourself no one, you get to know best what resides in this person.
    • p. 347
  • Yet only in self-denial can one effectually praise love, because God is love, and only in self-denial can one hold fast to God. What a human being knows by himself about love is very superficial; he must come to know the deeper love from God-that is, in self-denial he must become what every human being can become (since self-denial is related to the universally human and thus is distinguished from the particular call and election), an instrument for God. Thus every human being can come to know everything about love, just as every human being can come to know that he, like every human being, is loved by God. Some find this thought adequate for the longest life (which doesn’t seem surprising to me); so even at the age of seventy they do not think that they have marveled over it enough, whereas others find this thought so insignificant (which seems to me very strange and deplorable), since to be loved by God is no more than every human being is-as if it were therefore less significant.
    • p. 363-364
  • That simple wise man of old, who knew how to talk so beautifully about the love that loves the beautiful, at times also conducted another kind of discourse, when he spoke about loving the ugly. He did not deny that to love is to love the beautiful, but he still spoke also about—indeed it was a kind of jest—loving the ugly. What then is meant by the beautiful? The beautiful is the immediate, and direct object of immediate love, the choice of inclination and of passion. Surely there is no need to command that one shall love the beautiful.
    • p. 373
  • And what is the ugly? It is the neighbor, whom one shall love. One shall love him; that simple wise man knew nothing at all about this. He did not know that the neighbor existed and that one should love him; when he spoke about loving the ugly, it was only teasing. The neighbor is the unlovable object, is not anything to offer to inclination and passion, which turn away from him and say, “Is that anything to love!” But for that very reason there is no advantage connected with speaking about having to love the un-lovable object. Yet the true love is love for the neighbor, or it is not to find the lovable object but to find the un-lovable object lovable.
    • p. 373-374, italics and bold in original
  • Since the world does not really believe in God, in the long run the God-fearing person must really love himself. The God-fearing person does not love what the world loves, but then what is left—God and himself. The world takes God away, and therefore the God-fearing person loves himself. The world regards the fear of God as self-love.
    • From JP II 1613 (Pap. VIII.1 A283) n. d., 1847, as cited in note on pp. 468-469
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