Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions is an 1844 work by the Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard. They were published Apr 29, 1845 and one day later Stages on Life's Way was published. These discourses deal with confession, marriage and death from a Christian point of view.
- … this little book […] seeks that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader, or it does not even seek him. Unaware of the time and the hour, it quietly waits for that right reader to come like the bridegroom and to bring the occasion along with him. Let each do a share-the reader therefore more.
- p. 6
On the Occasion of a Confession
- Father in heaven, how well we know that seeking always has its promise; how much the more, then, seeking you, the giver of all the promises and of all good gifts! How well we know that the seeker does not always need to wander out into the world, because the more holy that is which he seeks, the closer it is to him, and if he seeks you, O God, you are closest of all to him! But we also know that seeking always has its toil and its spiritual trial-how much more, then, the terror in seeking you, you Mighty One!
- It is difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle and difficult for the man of the world to find stillness; whether he is powerful or insignificant, it is difficult to find stillness in life’s noise, difficult to find it where it is even when he himself does not bring the noise along with him. How still and how earnest! Yet there is no one who accuses; who would dare to be the accuser where everyone is guilty. Yet there is no one who judges; who would dare to judge where everyone considers his own accounting. There is no one who accuses except one’s thought, no one who judges except the one who sees into what is hidden and hears confessions in secret.
- p. 10
- Whoever says that this stillness does not exist is merely making noise.
- Who is the rich and powerful one to whom the discourse refers here, who else but the injured party, the oppressed one, the one who has been treated unfairly, the one violated! Perhaps the perpetrator of violence who tramples on the oppressed, perhaps the powerful one whose path is marked by the wrongs he does, perhaps the rich whose wealth was increased by the widow’s tears, perhaps the despairing person who violates and mocks-perhaps all these people cared but little about forgiveness; yet surely no king who rules over kingdoms and countries, no Croesus who possesses everything, and no philanthropist who feeds the hungry possesses anything as great or has anything as great to give away or anything as needful to give away as the person whose forgiveness someone else needs.
- p. 13
- If anyone has the task of preaching or teaching others about their guilt, of teaching-something that this discourse, which is without authority, does not do-he does have the consolation that the purest heart is precisely the one most willing to comprehend his own guilt most deeply.
- p. 15
- In our day we are told to the point of fatuousness that it is the highest to live in stillness, where there is no danger-to the point of fatuousness, because danger is there just as much as in confusion, and, to come to the point, the great thing is neither to be in the solitude nor to be in the confusion, but the great thing is to overcome the danger-and the most mediocre thing is to work oneself weary pondering which is the more difficult, because that kind of work is futile and neither here nor there, like the worker himself, who, after all, is neither in the confusion nor in the solitude but in the busy absentmindedness of thoughts.
- pp. 16-17
- The person who wishes also seeks, but his seeking is in the dark, not so much in regard to the object of the wish as in regard to his not knowing whether he is getting closer to it or further away. Among the many goods there is one that is the highest, that is not defined by its relation to the other goods, because it is the highest, and yet the person wishing does not have a definite idea of it, because it is the highest as the unknown-and this good is God. The other goods have names and designations, but where the wish draws its deepest breath, where this unknown seems to manifest itself, there is wonder, and wonder is immediacy’s sense of God and is the beginning of all deeper understanding.
- p. 18
- There was a time in the world when humankind, weary of wonder, weary of fate, turned away from the external and discovered that there was no object of wonder, that the unknown was a nothing and wonder a deception. What once was life’s substance comes again in the repetition of the race. If anyone thinks he is wise when he says that there are bygone formations finished and done with thousands of years ago, it is not this way in life. And you certainly do not think either, my listener, that I would waste your time by telling about great events, mentioning quaint names, and becoming inanely self-important in a consideration of the whole human race!
- p. 21
- Can the Omnipotent One actually have become like a rare natural phenomenon whose existence the scientist demonstrates, or like a variable star observed at century-long intervals and whose existence therefore requires demonstration, especially during the intervening centuries when it is not seen! But one human being cannot teach another true wonder and true fear. Only when they compress and expand your soul-yours, yes yours, yours alone in the whole world, because you have become alone with the Omnipresent One-only then are they in truth for you.
- p. 25
- Just as a person should not seek his peace through another human being and should not build upon sand, so it also holds true that he should not rely on any other person’s work to convince him that he’s a sinner, but rather to remind him of his own responsibility before God if he does not discover it by himself-any other understanding is diversion. It is only a jest if I would pass judgment on you, but it is a serious matter if you forget that God will pass the judgment. So what is sought is given. God is near enough, but no one without purity can see God, and sin is impurity, and therefore no one can become aware of God without becoming a sinner. The first is a beckoning word, and the gaze of the soul is toward the heights where the goal is, but other words that provide the beginning are immediately heard, and these are depressing words. And yet this is the way it is for the person who wants to understand sin.
- p. 28
- All comparison is worldly, all emphasis upon it is a worldly attachment in the service of vanity. Even worse than one’s own guilt is one’s own righteousness, and even worse than one’s own righteousness is to take in vain the ultimate and in earnest to become the greatest of sinners by conceitedly wanting to be that. But the person who comes to be alone with the consciousness of sin will certainly feel, though not comparatively, that he is the greatest of sinners, because directly before the Holy One he will be conscious of himself as the single individual and of the essential magnitude of the sin within himself. If it is diversion to want to excuse oneself because others are more guilty, then it is also diversion to want to determine one’s sin by its relation to the sin of others, which, however, no one knows.
- p. 31
- Honesty is difficult. It is easier to hide in the crowed and to drown one’s own guilt in that of the human race, easier to hide from oneself than to become open in honesty before God. This honesty is certainly not a perpetual enumerating, but neither is it the signing of a name on a piece of white paper, a signed confession to an empty generality; and a confessor is not a co-signatory in the human race’s enormous account book. But without honesty there is no repentance.
- p. 34
- Alas, although there come to be more and more who know so very much, experienced people are becoming more and more rare!
- p. 37
- When the poor person or the person who works like a slave for a miserable living for himself and his family, and when the servant, most of whose time belongs to someone else, when these-alas, as it perhaps seems to them-have little opportunity to be able to consider the concerns of the soul, who could doubt, who would be brash and presumptuous enough, instead of having sympathy for this dissimilarity in earthly life, even to want to introduce it into the religious; who would dare to deny-that the blessing like all God’s blessings, is in abundance! But, my listener, if anyone, attacked by that fashionable sickness, had a loathing for existence and in intellectual pride disdained the simple and feared lest there not be tasks enough for his many thoughts, do you not think then that the wonderousness of truth is that the simple person understands it and the wisest person cannot wholly fathom it, and he does not become lazy on account of this thought but enthusiastic.
- p. 40
On the Occasion of a Wedding
- The wedding ceremony is like a wreath of eternity, but love weaves it, and duty says it must be woven; and love’s delight is to weave it, and duty says it must be woven-every day from the flower of the moment. Here eternity is not finished with time, but the covenant is eternity’s beginning in time; the eternal resolution and the duty for eternity must remain with the wedded pair in the union of love through time, and there is be celebration at its remembrance and power in its recollection and hope in its promise. **p. 44
- I shall speak on the theme that, considered as the resolution of marriage, love conquers everything…. When someone who is poor or earns his living in a menial job, without, of course, being excluded from the happiness of love, when he must glean laboriously and make many a burdensome attempt to gather the necessities, while the master or foreman perhaps understands all too well that the job has to be tended to first and foremost, when as a consequence there is only a snatched moment, a scrimpy time, for devoutly considering the affairs of the heart upon which the privileged and the pampered sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, spend so much time-therefore when these two lovers finally stand before the altar and in all brevity are pronounces legally married, ah, my listener, we certainly do agree that the God who is present in the covenant not merely to witness but also to bless, that his blessing does not make the distinction that human discourse makes. Because he is the only rich one, he has only one blessing, and the price is the same for everyone, whether the believer is powerful or insignificant, wise or simple, dressed in gold or in coarse linsey-woolsey, rich in ideas or poor in spirit. But if anyone, man or woman, in the grip of that fashionable sickness, were so inhuman as to find this sacred practice along with its sacred rules too simple, if anyone has in mind the invention of something new, then we of course agree, my listener that the wonder of this godly design is that the simple person finds everything in it and the wise person more than he can fathom if he earnestly thinks of himself in this relationship and thinks earnestly about himself.
- pp. 46-47
- Death does not have the power to create unhappiness.
- p. 50
- The first condition for a resolution is to have, that is, to will to have a true conception of life and of oneself. What is sown with tears is harvested with songs of joy, and one does recover from the sorrow because the first loss is the best, and the first pain is the one that saves, and the rigorous upbringing is the beneficial one, and the early discipline the strengthening one, and the shudder of the resolution gives courage, and the trembling of the resolution toughens one, and the chastisement of the resolution makes one attentive, and to conquer in the end is the main issue, and the final honor is the only true one!
- p. 52
- We are willing to show respect for the poet’s rate gift if he uses it well, but the erotic love that inspires the poet to song, is it always to be found like that in life and in every couple united by the covenant of marriage? After all, the poet himself says that it is rare, and the poet’s happy gift is in turn a rarity like that erotic love: a supreme wish for a more perfect existence-but no, rather, a most beautiful dream arising from a less perfect view of life. That is why the poet explains nothing.
- p. 56
- Just as it is true that in everyone’s soul there is longing like that erotic love the poets celebrate, so there is also in everyone a longing, a wish, that craves what might be called a guide and teacher in life, the tested person whom one can trust, the wise person who knows how to counsel, the noble person who encourages by his own example, the gifted person who has the power of eloquence and the substance of conviction, the earnest person who safeguards the appropriation. […] Freedom and choice are not to become a snare. The sought after guide of that longing is a rarity. Sometimes he is not even found in every generation, and although you are contemporary with such an eminent person, someone to whom you dare to give yourself entirely, he may not be in the same place as you are, or he was there but must leave it, or you must leave it-and then, yes, then you have to be satisfied with less-that is, you must see to taking care of yourself.
- p. 58-59
- Where, then is earnest learned? In life. Most certainly, and the God-pleasing state of marriage indeed provides a rare opportunity. So earnestness is learned-if one takes the resolution along and with it a true conception of oneself. The resolution itself is the earnestness. In order to learn earnestness from what is called the earnestness of life, earnestness is already presupposed. The earnestness of life if not like a school-teacher in relation to the learner, but in a certain sense is like an indifferent power in relation to the person who must himself be something of a teacher in relation to himself as the learner.
- p. 60
- So, then, a true conception of life and of oneself is required for the resolution of marriage; but this already implies the second great requirement, which is just like the first: a true conception of God. No one can have a true conception of God without having a corresponding conception of life and oneself, or a true conception of life without a corresponding conception of God, or a true conception of life without a corresponding conception of oneself. But a true conception of God is required; an understanding between God and the happy one is required, and thus a language is required in which they talk to each other. This language is the resolution, the only language in which God will involve himself with a human being.
- p. 63
- There is a government loan officer where the poor can go. The indigent person is helped, but do the poor have a joyful conception of this loan office? Likewise, there perhaps are marriages that seek God only in adversity, alas, and seek him as a loan office; and anyone who only then seeks him always runs this danger. Would such a late resolution, which even though worthy is still not bought at the last moment without shame and without great danger-would it be more beautiful and wiser than the first resolution of marriage?
- p. 67
At a Graveside
- Life’s earnestness is earnest, and yet there is no earnestness unless the external is ennobled in one’s consciousness; in this lies the possibility of illusion. The earnestness of death is without deception, because it is not death that is earnest but the thought of death. To think of oneself dead is earnestness; to be a witness to the death of another is mood. … Earnestness is that you think death, and that you are thinking it as you lot, and that you are then doing what death is indeed unable to do-namely, that you are and death also is. Death is the schoolmaster of earnestness, but in turn its earnest instruction is recognized precisely by its leaving to the single individual the task of searching himself so it can then teach him earnestness as it can be learned only the person himself. Death says, “I exist; if anyone wants to learn from me, then let him come to me.”
- p. 74-76
- The person who is without God in the world soon becomes bored with himself-and expresses this haughtily by being bored with all life, but the person who is in fellowship with God indeed lives with the one whose presence gives infinite significance to even the most insignificant.
- p. 78
- Death’s decision is like a night, the night that comes when one cannot work; indeed death has been called a night, and the conception has been mitigated by calling it a sleep. It is supposed to be mitigating for the living one when, sleepless, he futilely seeks rest on his bed at night, when, fleeing from himself, he futilely seeks a hiding place where consciousness cannot discover him, when the tormented one, weary in body and soul from intense suffering, futilely seeks a position in which there is relief, when he cannot stand still because of the pain and cannot walk because of exhaustion, until he collapses and then in a new effort futilely seeks a restful position, futilely seeks coolness in the heat. It is supposed to be mitigating to thing that there is still one position in which the exhausted one finds rest.
- p. 80
- Earnestness certainly understands the same about death but understands it differently. It understands that all is over. Whether this, mitigated in mood, can be expressed by saying that death is a night, a sleep, is of minor concern to it. Earnestness does not waste much time in guessing riddles; it does not sit sunk in contemplation, does not rewrite expressions, does not think about the ingeniousness of imagery, does not discuss, but acts. If it is certain that death exists, which it is ; if it is certain that with death’s decision all is over; if it is certain that death itself never becomes involved in giving any explanation-well, then it is a matter of understanding oneself, and the earnestness of understanding is that if death is night then life is day, that if no work can be done at night then work can be done during the day; and the terse but impelling cry of earnestness, like death’s terse cry, is: This very day.
- p. 82-83
- Time also is a good.
- p. 83
- Even if generation noisily united with generation in one common task and if the single individual forgot himself and found himself very secure under the cover of the crowd-behold, death takes each one separately-and he becomes silent. Whatever difference you want to imagine in the one living, death makes him just like the person whose dissimilarity did not make him distinguishable. To the vain person, the mirror of life sometimes depicts his dissimilarity with flattering faithfulness, but the mirror of death does not flatter; its faithfulness shows all to be identical; they all look alike when death with its mirror has demonstrated that the dead person is silent. Death’s decision is therefore not definable by equality, because the equality consists in annihilation. And pondering this is supposed to be alleviating for the living. When the spirit, weary of dissimilarity, which goes on and on and never ends, proudly withdraws into itself and in the defiance of powerlessness accumulates anger over its inability to check the life force of dissimilarity-then it is supposed to be alleviating to consider that death has this power, then this conception is supposed to fan that enthusiasm of annihilation into a glow in which there is supposed to be heightened life.
- p. 86
- Earnestness understands the same thing about death but understands it in a different way. It understands that death makes all equal, and this it has already understood, because earnestness has taught it to seek before God the equality in which all are able to be equal. In this endeavor the earnest person discovers a dissimilarity, namely, his own dissimilarity from the goal that is assigned to him, and discovers that a condition most distant from his goal would be like the equality of death. But every time earthly dissimilarity wants to tempt, wants to delay, the earnest thought about the equality of death intervenes and again impels. Just as no evil spirit dares name the holy name, so every good spirit shudders before the empty space, before the equality of annihilation, and this shudder that is productive in the life of nature is impelling in the life of spirit.
- p. 89
- Take the joyful one, let him rejoice in his good fortune-if you, the unfortunate one, were joyful again over his good fortune, would you not then both be joyful? Take the person of distinction, let him delight in his advantages-if you, the insulted one, had forgotten the affront and now saw his excellence, would the difference indeed be great? Take the youth, let him hurry on with the confidence of hope-if you, although disappointed by life, perhaps assisted him secretly, would the difference then be so great? Ah, good fortune and honor and wealth and beauty and power-these do indeed constitute the dissimilarity. But if the only difference is that one person’s good fortune and wealth and beauty and power are a field plant and the other’s a grave flower that is cultivated in the sacred soil of self-denial-is the difference then so great; after all, they are both fortunate and honored and rich and beautiful and powerful. Alas, no, then a person needs no compensation, least of all the kind that deceitfully suppresses the fact that he himself becomes nothing. However oppressive the dissimilarity was, the earnest thought about the equality of death, like the strict upbringing, did help to renounce worldly comparison, to understand annihilation as something even more terrible, and to want to seek the equality before God. The equality of death was not permitted to enchant you with its sorcery-after all, there is no time for that either. Just as death’s decision is not definable by equality, so it is likewise not definable by inequality.
- pp. 90-91
- Earnestness, then, understands the same thing about death, that it is the indefinable by inequality, that no age or circumstance of life situation is a safeguard against it, but thereupon the earnest person understands it in another way and understands himself. See, the axe already lies at the root of the tree; every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down-no, every tree will be cut down, also the one that bears good fruit. The certainty is that the axe lies at the root of the tree. Even if you do not notice that death is passing over your grave and that the axe is in motion, the uncertainty is still there at every moment, the uncertainty when the blow falls-and the tree. But when it has fallen, then it is decided whether the tree bore good fruit or rotten fruit.
- pp. 93-94
- See, one can have an opinion about remote events, about a natural object, about nature, about scholarly works, and about another human being, and so on about much else, and when one expresses this opinion the wise person can decide whether it is correct or incorrect. No one, however, troubles the opinion-holder with a consideration of the other side of truth, whether one actually does have the opinion, whether it is just something one is reciting. Yet this other side is just as important, because not only is that person mad who talks senselessly, but the person is fully as mad who states a correct opinion if it has absolutely no significance for him. The one shows the other the confidence, the acknowledgment, of assuming that he means what he says. Alas, yet it is so easy, so very easy, to acquire a true opinion, and yet it is so difficult, so very difficult, to have an opinion and to have it in truth.
- Three Discourses On Imagined Occasions, Soren Kierkegaard, June 17, 1844, Hong 1993