Consider the Lilies

Spiritual Writings
A New Translation and Selection
Søren Kierkegaard
Translated by George Pattison
HarperCollins, $15.99, 298 pp.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55) was one of only a few philosophers to devote serious thought to the question of the most effective way of communicating ethico-religious truths—that is, the truths we live by. In response to that question, the Danish thinker devised a novel method of indirect communication that involved the intricate use of pseudonyms. He published all his classic works under pen names. For every one of these dazzling theological/philosophical tracts, however, the virtuoso of inwardness would also publish, under his own name, a more straightforward book intended for “upbuilding” or “edification.”

Ours has become a therapeutic culture, one in which we chatter endlessly about strategies for self-development. Meanwhile, the very idea of “edification” seems to have been packed off to the idea museum. And yet it is from Kierkegaard’s shelf of edifying and Christian works that the Oxford theologian George Pattison has culled selections for the aptly titled Spiritual Writings. A renowned scholar, George Pattison rightly notes that while Kierkegaard’s image is tightly bound to darkling topics such as anxiety, despair, and depression, his religious outlook was at bottom one of “basic trust in the goodness of the life we have been given and faith in the power of love to overcome whatever might threaten such trust or mar such goodness.”

For all the lyricism of his work, Kierkegaard’s dizzying abstractions, irony, and authorial tricks can sometimes...

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