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Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death Paperback – April 28, 2013
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About the Author
Walter Lowrie (1868-1959) played a leading role in introducing Kierkegaard to the English-speaking world as his first English-language biographer and the first English translator of more than a dozen volumes of his work. Gordon Marino is professor at St. Olaf College, specializing in History of Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, and Kierkegaard. He is the author of Kierkegaard in the Present Age and coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard.
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The book Sickness Unto Death tackles the who issue of sin and how it robs us from really knowing ourselves. The sickness unto death is original sin and its terrible affect on humanity.
The Translator's Note states, "In the individual introductions... I have quoted enough from Kierkegaard's journals to inform the reader of the situation in which these poetical books were produced. When `Fear and Trembling' was first published in Denmark, no one could have the least suspicion that it depicted a crisis in the editor's life. Such a book may be interesting, even enthralling... but it gains immensely in pathos when one knows that it is a transcription, however poetical, of the author's agonizing reflections upon a problem which was gnawing at his viscera." He adds of `Fear and Trembling' and its companion `Repetition' that "both recount his desperate struggle in renouncing every hope of earthly happiness when he gave up the prospect of marriage with the woman he loved [i.e., his broken engagement to Regina Olson]. We know that while he was writing these two works the struggle to attain resignation was complicated by the hope that he might yet make Regina his wife." (Pg. 9)
Fear and Trembling (F&T) is based on the story in Genesis 21-22 of God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Kierkegaard says in F&T, "If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which writhing with obscure passions produced everything that is great and everything that is insignificant, if a bottomless void never satiated lay hidden beneath all---what then would life be but despair?" (Pg. 30) He points out, "What they leave out of Abraham's history is dread; for to money I have no ethical obligation, but to the son the father has the highest and most sacred obligation." (Pg. 39) He observes, "One cannot weep over Abraham. One approaches him with a `horror religious,' as Israel approached Mount Sinai. If then the solitary man who ascends Mount Moriah... if he be not a somnambulist who walks securely above the abyss while he who is stationed at the foot of the mountain and is looking on trembles with fear and out of reverence and dread dare not even call to him---if this man is disordered in his mind, if he had made a mistake! Thanks and thanks again to him who proffers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked---proffers to him the fig-leaf of the word with which he can cover his wretchedness." (Pg. 72)
He states, "Either there is an absolute duty toward God, and if so it is the paradox here described, that the individual as the individual is higher than the universal and as the individual stands in an absolute relation to the absolute/or else faith never existed, because it has always existed, or, to put it differently, Abraham is lost, or one must explain the passage in the fourteenth chapter of Luke as did that tasteful exegete..." (Pg. 91)
In SUD, he comments on Jesus' reported remark about Lazarus ["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 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." (Pg. 144)
He states, "... he is in despair about the eternal, he despairs over himself that he could be weak enough to ascribe to the earthly such great importance, which now becomes his despairing expression for the fact that he has lost the eternal and himself. Here is the scale of ascent. First, in consciousness of himself; for to despair about the eternal is impossible without having a conception about the self, that there is something eternal in it, or that it has had something eternal in it. And if a man is to despair over himself, he must indeed be conscious also of having a self; that, however, is the thing over which he despairs---not over the earthly or over something earthly, but over himself... despair is precisely to have lost the eternal and oneself." (Pg. 195-196) Later, he adds, "Despair is potentiated in proportion to consciousness of self; but the self if potentiated in the ratio of the measure proposed for the self, and infinitely potentiated when God is the measure. The more conception of God, the more self; the more self, the more conception of God. Only when the self as this definite individual is conscious of existing before God, only then is it the infinite self; and then this self sins before God." (Pg. 211)
These two books (along with The Concept of Dread) are perhaps Kierkegaard's most profound (certainly the most "pre-existential") works of a Christian nature. Not only Christians can appreciate his deep reflections on such emotional conditions; these works are "must reading" for anyone studying Kierkegaard.