H. L. Martensen
H. L. Martensen
Abstract and Keywords
The role of the state and the place of the nation in Christian thought forms the backbone of Bishop Hans Lassen Martensen's speculative system. The chapter examines the issue as it appears in Martensen's ‘ethical’ works, most notably the Outline to a System of Morals and Social Ethics. Martensen was concerned to elaborate a theology that ‘goes beyond’ Hegel's extreme universalism, yet retains Hegelian speculation about progression and historical development. Martensen viewed with basic approval the phenomenon of established cultural religion, considering ‘Christendom’ to be the highest expression of Christianity. The chapter considers three ‘pillars’ which support Martensen's vision of the state; underlying philosophical assumptions about the nature of history, ethics and personality that come to their fulfilment in the defence of Christian civilization. Martensen's theology of national identity thus amounts to a defence of the very Christendom against which Kierkegaard was so opposed.
The relation of Christianity to nationality is not only a purifying, but a cultivating or perfect one…It is only by means of Christianity that nationalities can attain the development to which they are really appointed.1
The content and importance of nations and states and their place in Christian thought forms the backbone of Martensen's speculative system. For Martensen, a person does not ‘become’ authentic unless he or she is a Christian, and such a person will not meet the right form of Christianity unless it is embedded in the peculiar particulars of nationality. Supporting his system and his view of the state are three ‘pillars’: underlying philosophical assumptions about the nature of history, ethics and personality. These commitments are put to work to create a theology of nations and states that comes to its fulfilment in the defence of Christian states. For Martensen, national states need Christianity in order to attain their highest level of civilization. More importantly Christianity needs the national state in order to attain its highest expression. Martensen's theology of national identity thus amounts to a defence of the very Christendom against which Kierkegaard was so opposed, and the commitments that Martensen makes in these areas bring into sharp relief the deep differences that exist between himself and his former student.
To look at the relationship between Kierkegaard and Martensen in these terms is in contrast with the general thrust of some scholars. Some tend to emphasize the animosity that existed between the two men, suggesting that Kierkegaard's argument against Martensen was primarily driven by personal (p.35) dislike.2 While it is true that Kierkegaard was antipathetic towards Martensen, emphasizing this aspect of their relationship comes at the expense of recognizing the fundamental philosophical and theological differences between them. Kierkegaard's attack on Martensen was not merely sparked by personal enmity or petty jealousy. Martensen represented a strong line of thought that Kierkegaard opposed at a fundamental level.3 For convenience's sake it is useful to term this thought ‘Hegelian’. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that Martensen was an uncritical follower of Hegel.4 Recent treatments have rightly argued for a more nuanced view which respects Martensen as a thinker in his own right, and recognize that he consciously differed from Hegel on key points, most notably the place of revelation and religion in the grand movement of historical development.5 For all this however, Martensen is clearly ‘Hegelian’ in his speculative approach and outlook, as is evident from his literature. He himself was aware of the Hegelian tag, sometimes admitting and sometimes distancing himself from the connection, but never abandoning ‘Hegelian’ dialectic altogether.6
Martensen consistently appears as a target throughout Kierkegaard's authorship. However, it was Bishop Martensen's relationship to his predecessor J. P. Mynster that cemented his position as the main object of Kierkegaard's ire. The place of Mynster and his thought cannot be the focus of this chapter, but he is a crucial feature of Kierkegaard's Golden Age landscape. For this reason it will help to set the context of Kierkegaard's quarrel with Martensen by considering the man whose protégé and successor he was.
(p.36) 2. J. P. Mynster
Whereas Kierkegaard's personal dislike of Martensen coincided with his intellectual opposition, this was not so simply the case for Mynster. As the friend of Kierkegaard's father, and as the family's pastor, Søren's relationship to the old Bishop could never be anything other than ambivalent.7 While he was alive, Mynster never received the kind of open attack that Kierkegaard meted out to Martensen (and to Grundtvig, as we shall see), and Kierkegaard at times went to extraordinary lengths to (tacitly) disagree with Mynster in print while retaining a degree of his personal and professional approval.8
The primary example of this was the events surrounding the publication of Practice in Christianity, a book that Mynster rightly perceived at the time as being mostly aimed at him.9 The numerous dismissive comments about ‘observations’ in PC was a clue: ‘Observations’ [Betragtninger] being the title of one of Mynster's best known books.10 Kierkegaard's critique runs deeper than a swipe at Mynster's rhetorical style however. PC attempts to upset the comfortable religion of Christendom, an attack on the kind of sophisticated and commonsensical Christianity that bears little resemblance to the offensive and counter‐cultural faith in the New Testament.11 In short, the equation of modern European civilization with Christianity has had a disastrous effect on Christianity. ‘The deification of the established order is the secularisation of everything’ (PC, 91). Kierkegaard makes it clear in his journals that he thinks Mynster ‘idolises’ the establishment, thus committing precisely this heresy,12 but Mynster did not need to read Kierkegaard's diary to see that PC was an indictment on his brand of Christianity.
(p.37) The ‘religion’ which Mynster preached was interchangeable with ‘culture’—to suggest that the two might be in conflict was unthinkable.13 As a result, Mynster's Christianity was also unapologetically conservative and moderate:
It is low and unworthy to will too little, but it can also be harmful to will too much…we will soon find that we can only come to peace by means of a serious and honest intention of perfect obedience.14
The commentator Olesen Larsen argues that Mynster's theology was jointly focussed on duty and deistic providence. Larsen suggests that it was not much more than Enlightenment humanism using religious rhetoric. ‘In Mynster we do not encounter anything, from beginning to end, other than bourgeois humanism which has been united with a faith in Providence and dressed in orthodox expressions.’15 Unsurprisingly, Mynster's emphasis on duty centred on maintaining the established institutions of monarch, church, class, and nation; underwriting what Kirmmse calls ‘the Golden Age cultural synthesis of Christianity and cultural concerns’.16
It is no wonder that Mynster was deeply disturbed by the democratic upheavals of 1848.17 Denmark enjoyed a ‘quiet’ (i.e. bloodless) revolution, but it was a revolution nonetheless, with a constitutional monarch replacing the absolute monarchy, and with elected officials taking over the leadership of the state, and therefore also of the Church. One of the key outcomes was a transition from a ‘State’ to a ‘People's’ Church—a change in emphasis from a constitutional, clerical elite organization to (in theory) a more popular one.18 As Denmark's senior Bishop, Mynster guided this transition as best he could, finding in the new set‐up an opportunity to maintain the close ties between Christianity and national culture towards which he was already inclined. His main aim throughout the upheavals of 1848–49 was to ensure that no matter what, the Danish state remained a Christian state, and that all citizens remained de facto Lutherans.19
(p.38) As long as our people is to be called a Christian people, there must also be ecclesiastical bonds, and whoever wishes to cast these off entirely thereby cuts himself off from the rest of the people and lives as a foreigner in the land.20
Despite his sharp disagreements with Grundtvig (also a supporter of the People's Church)21 Mynster's close association of Christianity with Danish national culture meant that by 1852 he was able to give it his enthusiastic support:
Therefore let us hold fast to the beautiful, living term ‘People's Church’; it signifies that this is the Church to which the people cling, the Church whose confession is rooted in the people, the Church which is one of the strong bonds which holds the people together, and which connects the generations that follow with those that have gone before. Praise and thank God that we still have such a People's Church that binds together the vast preponderance of the people, so that those who deviate from it can quickly be added up. There are indeed people living among us who confess another faith…but everyone feels that they are in many respects guests and foreigners and that in essential ways they are not a part of our people.22
For all his praise of ‘the People’, Mynster supported an open elitism that maintained the status quo of social hierarchy. When he spoke of national culture, it was the good taste of Copenhagen's elites, and not folksy peasant lore, that he had in mind.23 It is significant that Mynster, no fan of Hegel or his followers, nonetheless groomed Martensen as his ecclesiastical successor. Despite his theological leanings, Martensen was a sophisticate—urbane and intellectual with good social connections.24
(p.39) Mynster did not develop a theology of the admixture of Christianity and national identity, nor did he systematically lay out the role that the state plays in the Church, and vice versa.25 It is for this reason that he cannot be the focus of this present chapter, and it is for this reason that we must return to Martensen's theology of the state. Although far more influenced by Hegel than Mynster would have liked, in many ways Martensen shouldered the mantle of responsibility for theologically justifying the established state of Danish Christendom.
3. Martensen and Christendom
It had been Kierkegaard's wish that after reading PC, Mynster would publicly admit the failure of the Church at preserving authentic Christianity and appeal for God's mercy.26 Instead, as we have seen, Mynster remained silent, and the Church retained its comfortable relationship with the established order. When Mynster died Martensen replaced him, assuming the highest ecclesial post in the land. During the memorial service, Martensen made it clear where he stood regarding Mynster's version of Christianity.
So let us now then imitate [Mynster's] faith…that his memory amongst us in truth must be for upbuilding! Let us admonish ourselves as we say: Imitate the faith of the true witness, the faith of the authentic witness to the truth!…[Let his precious memory] guide our thoughts back to the whole line of witnesses to the truth, which is like a holy chain stretching itself through the ages from the day of the Apostles until our own day.27
With this sermon, Martensen signalled his intention to maintain the close relationship between Church and cultured society that characterized Mynsterian Christianity.28 By explicitly linking Mynster to the great chain of authentic Christian witnesses that connects the apostolic age to the present age, (p.40) Martensen was thus staking a claim about his own position. This was not lost on Kierkegaard, and Martensen's sermon became the occasion for him to take his attack to a new level. For this reason, although Mynster is an important foundational character, it is Martensen who becomes the arch‐representative of Christendom's present age. Kierkegaard's attack upon Christendom is an indictment of all aspects of christianized society in general, but he directs his sharpest polemics against Martensen specifically.29
Although Martensen's major works30 were all translated into English and other European languages in his lifetime,31 this auspicious beginning has given way to indifference in the wider academic theological world. Despite apparent popular reception, and the best advertising efforts of Martensen's British publishers32 it is ironic that the only (roughly contemporary) extended treatment of Martensen predicted it would be the first of many articles. It was, in fact, the last for the best part of a century.33 Due to the fact that Martensen is rarely studied, his view of society and the state has not been commented on in the English secondary literature. This is unfortunate, for a grasp of Martensen's speculative system of historical development, individual existence and the Christian state is crucial if we are to understand Kierkegaard's critique of these things.
The state gains the most prominence in the ‘ethical’ works, notably the Outline to a System of Morals written near the beginning of his career,34 and Social Ethics, his last major work before his death. Social Ethics is the third of the three‐volume Christian Ethics that works out in detail the points laid down in the Outline. Of the two fullest treatments of Martensen to date, neither chooses to address these later works. Bruce Kirmmse explicitly decides not to (p.41) comment on the Ethics series, justifying his decision by the fact that it was written long after Kierkegaard had died, and thus presumably is of little value to scholars studying Kierkegaard in Golden Age Denmark.35 Robert Leslie Horn makes a similar decision and for similar reasons. He chooses to deal only with the early and mid‐period Martensen, looking only at the theological writings up to 1850 because ‘these are the last works to exercise any significant influence upon Kierkegaard's thought before his death in 1855’.36
In light of these common‐sense arguments, it would seem that justification for my choice of text is in order. First, it is in Christian Ethics, written sixteen years after Kierkegaard's death, that Martensen (who infamously remained silent during most of Kierkegaard's attack) finally provides us with his assessment of his old opponent.37 This section is invaluable for Kierkegaard scholars seeking to understand the relationship between the two men, and, as we shall see, it highlights key fundamental philosophical and theological differences that exist between Kierkegaard and the ‘Hegelians’. As well as this explicit section devoted to Kierkegaard in the first volume, the third volume of Social Ethics is replete with indirect allusions to Kierkegaard and the ‘Kierkegaardian’ position. Although his enemy had long since departed, Social Ethics is in part Martensen's answer to Kierkegaard's critique of the individual living in Christendom, the most detailed response available. Finally, the Ethics series is the fruit of the Outline, a work that Kierkegaard had access to and whose ideas Kierkegaard would have been familiar with. The progression of the Ethics remains remarkably true to its Outline, even though a span of three decades separates the two works. Kierkegaard's critique of Martensen's position during his lifetime remains apposite even for works written after his death, as Martensen himself was apparently aware.38
However, before assessing the place that the state has in Martensen's thinking, it is important to consider Martensen's overall project as a whole.39 Over a career spanning a multitude of lectures, sermons and books, Martensen pursued a speculative system that sought to explain the totality of history, ethics and the emergence of the authentic individual before God. The ‘becoming’ of true existence (Martensen refers to this as ‘personality’, or the ‘principle of personality’) is synonymous with free and complete identification (p.42) with God's (moral) will. Furthermore, it is the religious‐ethical event that marks the high point of humanity's historical development. Martensen thus put himself on the side of the Christian individual, while strenuously opposing the individualism of Kierkegaard on the one hand, and the universalism of Hegel on the other.
For Martensen, neither extreme adequately accounts for the authentic Christian relationship between God and man. Individualism rips persons from their context of culture and morality and negates the importance that historical development has for Christian truth. On the other side, universalism elevates the development of history too highly. Martensen censures Hegel for making the history of the unfolding Idea the be‐all and end‐all, relegating religion to a level below philosophy and making universalism incompatible with revelation and the historically necessary moment of the incarnation. According to Martensen, such a system bereft of revelation does not allow for persons to attain their authentic identity, as it is only the incarnation which mediates between God and man and reveals God's will to men, thus completing their existence as individuals.
Martensen's solution is to ‘go beyond Hegel’.40 For Martensen's system, this means retaining Hegelian speculation and a sense of historical development, but rejecting Hegel's final formulation, which placed philosophy as the key player in the unfolding drama of the Big Idea. According to Martensen, what philosophy searches for, theology possesses, namely, an apprehension of revelation. Specifically, revelation occurs in the form of the incarnation. History is the track or process by which the world is made ready for the incarnation, and then after the fact, develops according to the economy of God's plan for creation. For Martensen, the key factor in the incarnation event was not atonement, but mediation. Atonement is contingent on human sin, and thus, in a world of free creatures, is not necessary to creation. Mediation is necessary however. Even if there were no ‘Fall’, the incarnation would still have occurred, for it is mediation that history demands. The unfolding idea for Martensen is the attainment of the God‐man relationship. Man was not created with the full capacity to enjoy union with God, and it is only in the development of history, with the growth of culture, religions and ethics, that mankind has come to the place where true relationship with God is possible. This occurs with the advent of the incarnation, the revelation of God to man as the model and mediator of an authentic God‐man existence. It is only in this (p.43) stance before God that ‘the individual’ truly exists. The realization of authentic existence and the apprehension of the incarnation can only happen within our historically developed context of society and culture and all that this entails. Thus, Martensen rejects ‘Kierkegaardian’ individualism, which he claims has no comprehension of history or sociality, and he rejects ‘Hegelian’ universalism, which denies the possibility of divine revelation for the sake of idealism.
With talk of the historically developed context of society and culture, we are brought to Martensen's vision of the state. It was mentioned above how, for Martensen, history was the track that charts the world's process before and after the incarnation. To extend the analogy, if history is the track, then the state is the train. Within Martensen's system, the state serves the invaluable purpose of providing the ‘place’ where salvation history happens, the vehicle in which development occurs. Throughout Martensen's works, the state and all that it protects and provides remains of utmost importance to his system.
4. The Critique of Kierkegaard in Social Ethics
A good way in to considering Martensen's vision of the state comes via his treatment of Kierkegaard in the first part of the Christian Ethics. It is questionable to what extent Martensen recognized the fullness of Kierkegaard's challenge to his speculative thought.41 The best evidence we have of Martensen's responses to Kierkegaard demonstrates a curious mix of accurate criticism and apparent misapprehension of Kierkegaard's position in some key places. At times the misrepresentation of Kierkegaard's position is so gross that one is left with only two alternatives: either Martensen did not understand what Kierkegaard was trying to say, or he wilfully obscures Kierkegaard's point in order to avoid the challenge that it poses to his own position.42 Nonetheless, whether Martensen admitted it or not (and he did not), Kierkegaard remains the Bishop's best and most insightful critic. The challenges posed by Kierkegaard's attack upon Christendom strike at the heart of Martensen's project, and thus Martensen's ‘response’ to Kierkegaard reveals what was most important to his theology, even though he was not framing his response with this in mind. It is to this treatment of Kierkegaard that we now turn, providing a brief (p.44) overview of Martensen's main criticisms before unpacking the three key components.
In the section entitled ‘Sociality and individualism’,43 Martensen argues against Kierkegaardian individualism at the same time as defending his own reputation against charges of ‘Hegelian’ universalism. Universalism is identified as the ‘tendency of mind which places the universal highest…this theory found, as is notorious, its representation in our day in the philosophy of Hegel’.44 Hegelian universalism makes pure ideas and philosophical idealism higher than the ethical and religious categories. Thus, Hegelian philosophy strives to find an ‘impersonal ideal’ of universalism separate from the concerns of real life.45 Martensen distances himself from the heady days of Danish Hegelianism (of which he was one of the leading lights), talking about it as a passing phase, a swirl of idealism and speculation that entranced a lot of Danish thinkers.46 In such a context, Martensen counts it unsurprising that reactions against extreme universalism should rear up. The presence of such one‐sided universalism demanded a reaction on the side of ethics and religion, of personality and individuality.
Martensen thinks that Kierkegaard provided just such a reaction, and portrays him as an advocate of the immediate life against a present age which had forgotten how one could exist as an authentic Christian.47 In the face of a ‘Hegelian’ universalism that sees religion as ‘only valid as a lower form of knowledge’ and which elevates philosophy as having ‘the truth in the form of conception’ resulting in an impersonal ideal,48 Martensen finds that Kierkegaard's assertion that Christianity must stand and fall with the category of ‘the individual’ to be ‘perfectly justifiable’.49
While Martensen praises Kierkegaard for recognizing the importance of the category of the individual for Christianity, and is generous about Kierkegaard's writing ability,50 he does not think Kierkegaard was quite the right man for the job. Nor, indeed even the first man on the job.51 Martensen is keen to downplay Kierkegaard's contribution to the debate, and he suggests that there are others who ‘in a far more comprehensive sense desire to uphold the principle of personality, to maintain the personality of God and of man in opposition to Pantheism’.52 At every stage of his argument, Martensen compares Kierkegaard to ‘others’, or to ‘someone’, that is, to anonymous thinkers who are better than Kierkegaard is at arriving at the authentic individual (or the ‘principle of personality’). It is worth noting that the ‘someone’ is not (p.45) named in this section, and one has to read through the unfolding Ethics series before it becomes clear that the ‘someone’ is, of course, Martensen himself.
Unlike these ‘other’ thinkers who care about the category of the individual, Martensen holds it against Kierkegaard that he does not seek a desired system of totality. Kierkegaard's individualism is too extreme, his rejection of speculation too complete. He combats all ‘speculation and system’ because he sees the category of the individual as existing only in a negative relation to the category of the Ideal.53 By so doing, Martensen claims that Kierkegaard is fighting the very systems that ‘seek precisely to work out his own category [i.e. the individual], though in a far more universal sense than he has done’.54 He describes Kierkegaard's ‘reckless polemic’ as ‘entirely uncritical’ and ‘merely an attack in flank’.55 With a hint of wounded pride, Martensen complains:
All these views he classes together under the names of ‘speculation’ and ‘mediation’, without in any way permitting himself to institute a closer examination into their internal diversities, especially the diversity in the position they assume towards revelation.56
In Martensen's eyes, Kierkegaard's rejection of all forms of speculation and the universal ideal is represented by the fact that his deepest passion is not the ‘ethical’ or the ‘ethical‐religious’. Instead it is the paradox of the divinely absurd that must be believed in defiance of reasonable, religious or moral categories. Martensen does not mention Kierkegaard's books by name, but it is likely that he is here referring to Fear and Trembling and Philosophical Fragments. FT's equation of the universal with the ethical, and then the suspension of both for the sake of the individual, would have been particularly galling to Martensen, and he censures Kierkegaard for ‘his very defective non‐ethical conception of God’.57 Furthermore, Kierkegaard's particular emphasis on the paradox (in PF) reveals another point of contention:
It may also be complained that existence, particularly the fact of revelation, is so imperfectly exhibited, as that God's becoming man in Christ…which is to him the paradox, is represented as an entirely isolated fact,—a deus ex machina, without any connection with the economy of revelation and its universal principles.58
Martensen thinks that Kierkegaard does not explore this economy of revelation because then he would be ‘brought too deeply in to the ideal and the objective, (p.46) and that thus too much wisdom and intellect would be brought in to the whole’.59 He says some nice things about Kierkegaard's remarkable output and occasional displays of psychological genius, but in the end concludes:
But with all this, it must also be acknowledged that the real significance of this diffuse literature does not equal its pretensions…[Kierkegaard's literary project] harmonises but little with the essence of Christianity…to him God is only the God of the individual, not of the Church—Christ is only the Saviour of the individual, not of the world.60
This last point emerges as Martensen's greatest problem with Kierkegaard, and he devotes the rest of the chapter to a closer contemplation of his position towards sociality:
Ethical organisations of society on earth lie quite beyond [Kierkegaard's] contemplation…and are merely sometimes mentioned as ‘concretions of individuality’…Of a solidaric union between individuals and races of mankind, of history and tradition in the intellectual and organic signification, there is here not the most distant idea.61
Kierkegaard speaks only of ‘the multitude’ and ‘the public’ and as a result he knows only the lowest forms of society.62 From this low view comes Kierkegaard's critique of ‘levelling’,63 which Martensen identifies as pessimism. Kierkegaard's pessimism undermines all socially derived authority, and thus he thinks that it is absurd to view the state or the Church as a sustaining or supporting power for the individual.64 Contra ‘others’, Kierkegaard is said to see the idea of sociality not as the salvation of the age, but rather its sepsis.65
Because of Kierkegaard's low view of society, he has a negligible ecclesiology, and Martensen claims to have looked in vain throughout the whole literature for Kierkegaard's idea of the Church.66 Kierkegaard, he argues, excludes the concept of a Christian community from his idea of edification, making it only a matter of an individual before God.67 Martensen grants that Kierkegaard's critique has some use for those who think that they can abrogate all personal responsibility to the Church, and he identifies this as a problem of ‘nominal Christianity’.68 Given that this is a problem within Christendom, Martensen goes on to claim that ‘what Kierkegaard as a religious writer has endeavoured to accomplish is, however, neither unheard of nor even very unusual…it is what the Church calls “awakening” or revival’. Thus, Martensen sums up Kierkegaard's authorship as the work of a revivalist preacher, and not a very good one at that.69 Because of Kierkegaard's absent ecclesiology, and the (p.47) circuitous, pseudonymous manner in which he carries out what should be a simple mission, he ends up calling people away from the Church, rather than into true communion.70
In Martensen's eyes, all of this adds up to a vastly inferior apprehension of the individual, of society and of the very essence of Christianity. Kierkegaard, simply, has got it wrong. ‘Never in any case will Christianity appear in individuals, without at the same time appearing in the form of society.’71 What is more, because Kierkegaard does not do justice to the principle of society or society itself, as a result he does not do justice to his beloved principle of the individual either.72 If only, sighs Martensen, Kierkegaard could have got sight of the idea of ‘the kingdom’:
Then his horizon would also have widened, and he would have perceived a higher and nobler universalism than that which he at first combated. Then would he also, in the history of the world, in the struggles of nations for the ideals of society, have seen more than mere external circumstances and personalities…and before everything else, he would have learnt from the history of revelation.73
5. Three ‘Pillars’ of the State
Martensen's vision of ‘the state’ is supported by underlying philosophical/theological commitments in three key areas: personality, ethics and history.74 We will consider each aspect in full below, but first a brief overview of how they fit together in Martensen's system is in order. The teleological aim of history is to create unity (right relations) between Creator and created. The individual attains authenticity when he or she stands in a right relation to God's will, which is the Good as revealed by Christ. As the Good is an ethical category, the right relation can only occur within the historically developed moral framework of a society (i.e. ‘morality’ or ‘civic virtue’). In turn, societies (p.48) with their national peculiarities can act as ‘persons’ in their own right, with nations effectively relating to God as individuals. This ultimately leads to the possibility of Christian states, the highest forms of state and of Christianity that can be historically developed, and the home of the individual's highest moral framework. All of these points bring Martensen into sharp disagreement with Kierkegaard, whether Martensen acknowledges it or not.
Against Kierkegaard (and Hegel) Martensen thinks that it is his category of the individual—his principle of personality—which provides the best account of authentic ‘becoming’. It is this principle which marks the high point of his speculative system:
In its actual relation to the Good the will determines itself as personality. Personality is the free‐willing I…[in its] peculiar individuality, in these determinate relations of life…To consider the human individual under the category of personality is therefore to gather the entire ensemble of its multifarious relative moments of life under the one absolute viewpoint. There remains then not the question of what the individual is in its determinate forms of activity, but how through these it relates itself to life's fundamental requirement, how thereby it solves life's universal task.75
‘Personality’, or the ‘free‐willing I’, has two determining components. First are the ‘relations of life’ and its ‘forms of activity’. At the most basic level, the ‘multifarious relative moments’ of life are comprised of time and nature—elemental forces that provide the limits and boundaries that help to forge peculiar individuality. In an 1844 journal article, Martensen considers how rather than considering the universe as subordinate to the laws of nature and necessity, the Church can regard it from the ‘view point of freedom and personality’.76 The laws of the universe serve God's purposes. ‘The powers of nature and of history must all serve to establish the eternal realm of the personal.’77 As we shall see, the laws of history and nature ultimately work themselves out to find expression and form in the ‘structures of this world’, or, the life of society.
(p.49) The second component is the individual's relation towards ‘life's universal task’, which is related to the Good. In this way, the category of the individual and its ‘becoming’ is inseparable from the ethical/moral. ‘The virtuous individual can only reach its destination and realise its ideals in the world of morality [Sædeligheden], in the kingdom of personality.’78 What is this ideal Good that the individual must relate to in order to attain authenticity? ‘In a practical respect the ideal is determined then as the imitation of Christ.’79 Martensen makes it clear that this imitation is accomplished only when ‘the individual settles on a particular vocation in God's kingdom. In this way the religious ideal passes over into the larger context of life‐in‐the‐world.’80
The duty towards the Good, and thus the becoming of the individual, can only be carried out within the structures of this world. Martensen develops the point in his section entitled ‘The Good as kingdom of personality’:
The ethical life of society is developed through the family life and national life with its end in state, art and science into church life [Kirkelivet], where it receives the meaning of the community of saints. Each of these forms of objective life can be considered as stages in the individual's way to its ideal, and as the means to the actualisation of the individual's personal perfection. But if in this way, on the basis of the individual's infinite significance, society can be said to exist for the sake of the individual, then on the other hand the individual may just as well be seen to exist for the sake of society.81
The fortunes of the individual and of society are combined in Martensen's system. Not only do they share in the same ideal endpoint (as discussed below), but the authentic individual can only exist within society, and, in turn, contributes to the unique personality of that society.
The principle of personality requires the ‘objective life’ of society, which provides the ‘larger context of life‐in‐the‐world’. It was said above how Martensen considered this to be one of Kierkegaard's fatal flaws. Because Kierkegaard did not do justice to the idea of community, he could not do justice to the individual. In opposition, Martensen claims: ‘I am not formed to stand alone…whilst I am formed for independence, I am at the same time fitted to be a member of one great whole.’82 Later in the Social Ethics Martensen will describe (p.50) the idea of a citizen abstracted from his society as a fiction. ‘No one is a human being in pure generality, but only in a definite peculiarity…in a definite occupation, in a certain circle of society.’83 In Outline society is portrayed as that which provides the dialectical partner for the ‘becoming’ free individual. ‘Amidst its striving to actualise its freedom the will must enter into a system of conditions and barriers.’84 For freedom of the will to happen, and thus for the individual to become authentic, it needs the limits and boundaries that are represented by the various systems of society. ‘Only through the determinate, human individuality and its actual life in the state and religion can a concrete content of duty be developed.’85 The ethical choices that the will must make in accordance with the Good are presented to the individual in terms of civic morality through the structures of society. ‘In order for civic virtue to be developed the individual must belong to a definite station [Stand], appoint itself as an instrument for one of the general ends of the life of the state.’86
A further claim of the principle of personality is that groups can be persons too. Just as the structures of society work to forge the individual, so too the individual contributes to the ‘general ends’ and particular characteristics of his national state. Note again the importance that Martensen places on a nation's unique nature:
Between the people and the country there exists and develops during the course of ages a relation of reciprocity, in consequence of which the country receives in many respects, by means of culture, an impression of the national peculiarity.87
Within his system, Martensen envisions that nations each offer their particular skills and gifts to the service of the larger kingdom of God, in the same way that individual people contribute to their larger social units. Martensen's fluid conception of ‘person’ stretches to include all collectives of individuals and social groupings. He describes the several ‘social organisms’ of family, state, culture, science, Church, etc. as ‘moral individuals on a large scale, having each its special office to discharge’.88 The social grouping that he spends most time on, however, is the state or nation. ‘A nation is an individual social organism…which again is an individual member of the great body of the human race, and exhibits human nature on a small scale.’89
(p.51) The ‘special office’ that individual nations are to discharge is ultimately made known only via revelation. ‘It is only by means of Christianity that nationalities can attain the development to which they are really appointed.’90 For this reason, a nation's highest development only occurs in the event that it is a Christian state, as it is only then that it is able to know and attain the full potential allotted to it in the divine scheme of history. This is not to say only that individuals within the nation are guided and transformed by Christian revelation. On the contrary, nations themselves can, and must, be Christian. In short, not only can nations and groups act as individuals, they can also be Christian individuals, enjoying a relationship with each other and with God that is analogous to that of individual persons. Martensen's conception of how a group, nation or state can be authentically Christian is connected to his category of ‘the ethical’. Thus it is to a closer examination of the second theoretical pillar supporting Martensen's vision of the state that we now turn.
Martensen postulates that it is the category of ‘the ethical’ that lies at the heart of Christianity, and so it is by participating in the ethical that a state can be Christian. By ‘Christian state’ and ‘Christian nation’, Martensen is clear that he does not mean ‘that vital personal Christianity must be possessed by all’ but instead ‘that the nation should on the whole bow to the authority of Christian tradition’.91 In defence of his idea of a ‘Christianity’ imputed to a nation on behalf of its tradition, culture and history, Martensen writes against ‘that spurious, irreligious, and immoral individualism, which at the same time appears as a doctrine, a form of antinomianism’.92 Groups and especially states can be authentically Christian because the core of Christianity lies not in an I‐Thou relation between individual human persons and a personal God, but rather in the category of the ethical. Throughout his works, Martensen conflates ‘ethics’ with ‘Christianity’, both explicitly and by inference.93 ‘Morality and religion are, in their inmost nature, one.’94
(p.52) For Martensen groups can be Christian because groups can be ethical. It is here that we can see how Martensen's ‘ethical’ is indistinguishable from social morality. This is because the ethical finds its natural home in the historically developed systems, organizations and limits provided by social structures. At their most developed, nations demonstrate the highest form of the ethical, and therefore the highest form of Christian life on earth. Within Martensen's scheme, the highest ethics are expressions of the universal ideal embedded in the particular life of society.95 And yet, the universal ethical Idea does not fall from Heaven fully formed. It is in the dialectical and historical development of human society that the ethical comes to its fulfilment.
For Martensen, the universal ethical ideal begins to take on expression in the mores, customs and moral structures of society as those structures unfold in history. In the Outline he censures Kantian thinkers for dividing matters of revealed religion and universal ethics from socially developed morality. They are not mutually exclusive categories, argues Martensen.96 The Good, he writes in Christian Dogmatics, can be realized in the ‘kingdom of freedom only, and Providence can therefore be revealed…not in nature but in history only. Goodness must be realised in history as the development of the freedom of the race’.97
The historical development of human society can be divided into two ‘phases’: pre‐ and post‐revelation.98 As products of fallible humanity, the ethics worked out in pre‐revelation society will necessarily be imperfectly realized. Martensen's first presupposition in the area of ‘history’ is that even these pre‐revelation societies have their place. In the grand scheme of temporal history, non‐Christian cultures have a practical purpose. Martensen charts the progress of civilizations in a Hegelian fashion, with special emphasis on their religious/ethical development.99 He identifies Heathenism, Judaism and Christianity as the three great stages in the development of the religious and ethical consciousness.100 Pantheistic cultures give way to monotheism, which prepares the ground for revealed truth. As the penultimate ethical‐religious civilization (according to Martensen's system) Judaism's failure to recognize (p.53) Christ comes in for special consideration. For Martensen, Judaism's contribution was that it had developed to the point where it truly recognized the gap that existed between creation and the Creator.101 For this reason, the sacred history of revealed truth finds its initial home in Israel. However, it finds its fullness and completion only in the sacred history of Christ.102 Martensen reads the events in the light of national destiny: ‘It was the task of Israel to develop the susceptibility for Christ to a point when it might be able to manifest itself as the profoundest unity of nature and spirit.’103
Talk about the destiny of nations is apposite here. Not only does a society require revelation in order to attain full development, but the revelation itself has been necessarily determined by history for this very purpose. This means that within Martensen's system, the incarnation is an historically necessary event and it is the source of Martensen's complaint against Kierkegaard that his concept of revelation is ‘imperfectly exhibited…without any connection with the economy of revelation and its universal principles’.104 By the ‘economy of revelation’ Martensen is referring to the developing expression of the ethical through the warp and weft of ideas, culture and social morality.105 Revelation is not tangentially connected to all of this, but instead ‘a direct, unambiguous revelation can be found only in the world of spirit, of the word, of conscience, and of freedom, in other words, of history’.106 The incarnation is the absolute, unconditional point in the course of history wherein the economic and the eternal necessities coincide. ‘Revelation and history are therefore not to be separated.’107
As the unconditional point in the course of history, the event of the incarnation is not primarily connected to redemption and atonement, but rather to mediation. Martensen thinks that the incarnation itself was an unconditional necessity, whereas the atonement event was a conditional one.108 Redemption was only conditionally related to the incarnation because of mankind's free will to sin. If sin had not appeared, then Christ would not have appeared to punish and redeem. He would, however, still have appeared. ‘The divine decree submits itself to the conditions of history…No ideal, no eternal truth, is destroyed by the fall of man.’109 According to Martensen, since there was no metaphysical necessity for sin entering the world, ‘Christ could not be our Redeemer, if it had (p.54) not been eternally involved in His idea that He should be our Mediator’.110 It is the destiny of man to bear the image of God, and it is the Mediator who makes this possible by bridging the gap, yet Martensen intimates that it is not the presence of sin that constitutes the essential difference between Creator and created. Even apart from sin, this union of the human race with God is ‘involved in the idea of the perfection of the world’.111 Christ is the Redeemer of the world, yes. But this is separate from the more eternal truth that Christ is primarily the Perfector of the world.112 Thus, the incarnation is not essentially related to atonement or the sinful gap between man and the divine at all, but instead is teleologically related to the development of creation. It is in the Mediator that the heavenly and earthly, the visible and invisible, the forces of the universe, principalities and powers ‘are summed up and combined’.113
In the dialectical system the ideal Good finds expression in actuality, and it does this through the developing stages of civilization. Pre‐revelation, history had developed to the point of necessity that required the incarnation. Post‐revelation, it continues to be the aim of history to give expression to this revealed Good, however, it is not for any and all stages of civilization to enjoy this ‘new development’. Martensen's system of historical development means that only certain cultures can apprehend the importance of the incarnation, and put into practice the expression of the Good that it reveals. The teleology of creation, which is the ideal relationship between God and men, finds its fullest expression in the Christian states of Christendom. It is here at this stage of civilization, and only here, where the development of history will find its proper completion.
The problem with so‐called lesser‐developed cultures is one of recognition and apprehension. ‘Heathendom’ was and is forever destined to be destitute of truth because its cultures do not recognize the difference between the ‘worldly’ and the ‘divine’ spirit.114 It is a characteristic of ‘heathen’ societies (Martensen means pantheistic, Buddhist and Hindu cultures) that history is represented as a cycle of repetition—endless and meaningless. Martensen describes history without enlightenment (i.e. revelation) as knowing neither beginning, end, nor purpose.115 It is important to note that the solution to Heathendom is not a simple matter of evangelism or preaching Christianity to various nations. (p.55) Instead the reception of the gospel is dependent upon a parallel development of the right kind of civilization.116 The Outline states that it is the free development of culture and society in its art, science and organization of state that conditions the development of the spiritual. Individuals will only be able to apprehend the free ethical choices offered to them in relation to the Good insofar as their society provides the framework, and points ‘to a higher substantial world of reason which is reflected in culture’.117
The state's Christianness depends not on the fact that it assumes an immediate religious character…but on the fact that the same general principle, which the church develops through the categories of religion, is developed through the peculiar categories of the state.118
6. Social Ethics, the State and Christendom
It is not until Social Ethics that we see the full fruits of the theology laid out in Outline and Christian Dogmatics. Nations and countries appear as major characters throughout the works as we have seen, but it is in SE that we find Martensen's specific treatment of the state. Furthermore, it is in SE that the relationship between Christianity and developed culture sketched above comes into focus, and thus it is here that we can see the true place of the state within Martensen's theological system.
It is worth noting from the outset that Martensen only occasionally differentiates between ‘state’, ‘country’ and ‘nation’.119 Throughout his writings he does not consistently adhere to these theoretical divisions, and in practice the concepts are all but indistinguishable in Martensen's thought. At times Martensen uses a concrete definition of the state, referring to a straightforward organization comprised of laws, boundaries, familial groups, governors and the governed:
The family enlarges into the people, and when a people is organised into a community subject to common legal institutions determining the relation between authorities and subjects, a state has come into existence.120
However, this apparently simple usage, when combined with the high dialectical value that Martensen places on such phenomena as historically developed (p.56) public ethics, language and nationality, results in a view of the ‘state’ that goes far beyond simple political practicalities.121 For Martensen, the state presupposes the existence of a nation and a country.122 ‘Country’ refers here to the ‘spot of earth’: physical land and geography.123 ‘Nation’, however, is by far the most important factor, and Martensen identifies it as the ‘natural basis of the state’ and as the ‘condition of all human, all moral and mental development’.124 Nations are unique:
Between the people and the country there exists and develops during the course of ages a relation of reciprocity, in consequence of which the country receives in many respects, by means of culture, an impression of the national peculiarity.125
This peculiarity is composed of the accumulated cultural artefacts of a people, primarily identified by Martensen as their language, literary and scientific output.126 Together, these elements constitute ‘a people’. This has been laid out earlier in Outline:
The concept of the state is inseparable from the concept of the people. The folk‐spirits or spirits of the people, whose natural boundary lines are language, are given a right to external existence in the states.127
Not only language, but also the ‘political and scientific, the artistic and religious life which is stirring in the age’128 contribute to the colour and contents of national culture, all of which are necessary components of the state.
The question then arises: what is to be the Christian attitude towards the national state? The extent and nature of Christian participation in the life of the state was a ‘live’ question in nineteenth century Denmark. Different groups of dissenters supported varying degrees of non‐cooperation with the secular sphere and the official Church. Revivalists and pietists encouraged separation between nominal Christians and the ‘awakened’. Danish nationalists like Grundtvig (discussed in the following chapter) agitated for a ‘People's Church’, based in part on christianized Norse‐Scandinavian culture and (p.57) separated from any coercion or collusion with the modern state. Representing his own singular position, Kierkegaard had years earlier made his mark as the most vociferous opponent of the marriage of Christianity and politics. ‘What the devil do these two things have to do with each other?’ he asked, providing a resounding negative answer to his own question.129
In SE, Martensen considers this possibility that the concerns of Christianity and the affairs of state do not mix, asking his own rhetorical query: What does Christianity have to do with the national state? Could it be, he asks, that his opponents are correct and that Christianity ‘denied instead of acquiesced in national feelings and decisions’?130 Martensen runs through the list of possible biblical reasons why one might conclude that Christians should be ambivalent about national states: Paul's assertion that in Christ there is no Greek and no Jew (Gal. 3:28); the New Testament's insistence on the universal nature of the gospel; the emphasis on God's kingdom rather than man's; the fact that the apostles forsook their native lands and people for the sake of missions and Christ's prediction of the destruction and scattering of the Jewish state (Mtt. 24).131 But with an eye to proponents of Kierkegaardian ‘New Testament’ Christianity, Martensen finally concludes:
This position [of separation], alien to nationality, this circumstance of living as a citizen of heaven, without a native land or home on earth, was by no means intended to be permanent. The kingdom of God was to be the leaven which should leaven the life of the world.132
6.1 Patriotic citizens
In a telling sermon printed in 1875, Martensen expounds on Matthew 22:15–22 (‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar's…’), censuring those who would falsely separate Christianity from the social life, and finding Christ as the prime exemplar of the Christian citizen.
It is often said…that the servants of the Word must not have anything to do with what pertains to civic life [borgerlige Livs], must not here impose and resume the civic political struggle [borgerlige Partikampe] and disputes, and that we should not come here to the house of God in order to hear sermons on this subject, to hear about the kingdom of the world, but together to edify each (p.58) other, to hear about eternal life…however, today's reading shows us that there is another meaning, and we cannot dare to remove ourselves from the position that deals with civic virtue, because our gospel also clearly shows us that the Lord himself did not remove himself from these matters.133
When faced with the question of whether God's people should pay tax, Jesus' response to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's ‘gives us a rule and a benchmark for our duty towards civic authorities [borgerlige Øvrighed] and our duty towards God and God's kingdom’.134 Rather than seek a sharp distinction between what is Caesar's and what is God's, Martensen interprets Jesus' response as a demonstration of how closely the duties are intertwined. Regarding the state and the Church, Martensen claims that ‘these main institutions there constitute the whole human society [menneskelige Samfund]’. Because these institutions ‘are deeply and intensely combined…we have a duty in both’, for the same ‘people [Menneske], the same nation [Folk]’ live their lives in both.135
Martensen makes a direct analogy between giving the civic authorities their due, and giving God his due. Refusal to undertake civil duties because of a sense of separation or ‘set‐apartness’ is misguided and un‐Christian. According to Martensen, at the same time that the Pharisees and the ‘Jewish nation’ refused to give to Caesar, they thereby failed to give to God. This is because they ‘would not acknowledge God's revelation [Åbenbarelse] in the Saviour who said to them, “Everyone who does sin is in sin's thrall, but if the Son sets you free, then you are truly free” ’.136 Freedom from sin means freedom to partake in the life of the (admittedly sinful) state without participating in its sin, it does not mean freedom from the state. Christ is held up as the prime example of one who, sinless, nonetheless submitted to Caesar's rule: ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and submit yourself like this under God's will.’137
Martensen's sense of ‘what is due’ to Caesar may be summed up in one word: patriotism.
[Patriotism] may be more particularly defined as an affection for the country, ‘the spot of earth’ where we first opened our eyes to the light of this world…where we grew up and learned what home meant…patriotism attains its full moral character when it is love of a certain state.138
(p.59) Patriotism forms the foundation for all civic virtue.139 Commenting on Romans 13, Martensen finds that ‘in its political aspect, civic virtue appears in the submission of subjects to rulers’. Patriotism, especially insofar as it extends to participation in military duty, is singled out here as primarily included in ‘what is due’ in 13:7.140 Quietistic submission is not enough. ‘The subject relation must develop into the patriotic, and this implies that the idea of the state itself (the state as the whole) is active in the individual citizen.’141 In service of the kingdom of God, the Christian is to spend himself on behalf of his nation.
Never should he doubt that the faithfulness to duty, carried out to the uttermost by labour and conflict for his earthly fatherland, will have its importance with respect also to the heavenly country.142
War has its downside, admits Martensen, but at least it arouses a slumbering patriotism, and calls citizens from their self‐interest into sacrificing for the common cause.143
One important outcome of Christian patriotic participation in the state is that it might succeed as an earthly power. As an alternative to the extremes of individualism on the one hand and the excesses of revolutionary populism on the other, Martensen proposes what he calls Christian or Ethic Socialism.144 The theory attempts to combine Christian ethics with the practical economic concerns of the state, and is concerned with achieving success and social stability. The material life of the state cannot be separated from its religious‐ethical life. Martensen thinks that it is part of the Christian's duty ‘to struggle against care and want, so that the kingdom of God, and therewith the true kingdom of man, embracing, as it does, not only his spiritual but also his material life, may come upon earth and prosper’.145 Christians are to provide and preserve the moral framework in which the state conducts its business, and in so doing, they provide for and preserve the state itself.146
(p.60) 6.2 The Christian state
Christians are to work in and for all manner of societies; however, Martensen's ideal state is the ‘Christian state’. Ideally, the Christian state exists in a relationship with other Christian states, which together make up Christendom. Only in Christendom will nations be able to attain their full, divinely appointed purpose. Christianity can make states Christian because of its intimate relationship with nations.
The relation of Christianity to nationality is not only a purifying, but a cultivating or perfect one…It is only by means of Christianity that nationalities can attain the development to which they are really appointed.147
It is Christianity's role to redeem not only individuals, but also ‘to make nations Christian’.148 For a nation to become Christian means that its ‘heathenism and national selfishness’ are ended, and that it submits itself to the guidance and purification of the Spirit.149
According to Martensen, Christian nations are recognized by the way in which they partake, by faith, in the blessings of the gospel, finding in it refuge and support. In its national life, the Christian state will cultivate the unique gifts bestowed on it by the Spirit (the ‘national peculiarities’ discussed above), and it will occupy its God‐ordained position in the entirety of the human race, contributing to the time when all nations shall be comprised under Christ in one Christendom.150 Martensen stresses that this relation is not merely ephemeral and ‘spiritual’, for ‘Christendom’ here also presupposes a direct involvement in legislative bodies and state institutions. It is precisely because states exist ‘for the sake of human nature itself’ and the general development of human culture and prosperity that it is necessary for Christianity to make its mark on social life in its entirety.151
For Martensen, it is only as an established institution that the Church can fully preserve and promote Christian tradition to the nation. One cannot have a Christian state without a state Church.152 There are, of course, dissenting Christian sects (and certain rabble‐rousers with uneven trouser legs whom Martensen does not mention by name) who count the collusion of Constantine and the Christian Church as a transition to corruption. Martensen describes them as pessimists who ‘regard the entire development of Church history as a failure, national churches as a Babel…as civil institutions with a (p.61) Christian appearance, etc.’153 Instead, Martensen optimistically attributes to the state a higher ethical significance with a divine vocation that can only be fulfilled as a Christian state and he does not accept that a state Church can, ‘in principle and nature, be of evil’.154 Rather than marking the beginning of the end, it was through the Constantinian settlement that the Church
entered upon that course in which she first became capable of fully carrying out her mission. [The state Church] is a thing which must and ought to exist, a thing which, despite all false individualism, must be maintained and defended.155
The established Church is the means by which states become, and remain, Christian. This does not happen primarily through legislation (although that does have its place), but through the Church's maintenance of national culture.
How far the Christian state can be a fact, depends chiefly on whether the ‘Christian nation’ is a fact. By this it is not meant that vital personal Christianity must be possessed by all, but that the nation should on the whole bow to the authority of Christian tradition.156
It is important to note that for Martensen, ‘Christian tradition’ includes customs specifically associated with Church life, such as the observance of Sundays and Holy Weeks, but it also extends to areas such as law, education, science and art.157 In short, Martensen sees the remit of ‘Christian tradition’ as extending over all human culture, and not just being confined to ecclesiastical matters. In working for the kingdom of God the Church is also working for the kingdom of humanity and all that this encompasses, very much including ‘the ideals of humanity, a Christian family and a Christian state, Christian art and Christian science’.158 For Martensen, the refined European, there was ultimately no difference between a nation's highest civilized culture and a fully developed state Christianity.159
In the Social Ethics section headed ‘Foreign and Home Missions’, Martensen takes Christ's command to preach the gospel to all nations (Mtt. 24:14) as (p.62) a command to form all nations into ‘civilised’ Christian nations. What this entails in practical terms for Martensen is clear:
The relation between the Christian and the human is shown in missions, on the one side, by the fact that Christianity cannot be brought to uncivilised nations unless we bring them civilisation—for without a minimum of culture, Christianity cannot be truly appropriated, nor the Christian Church attain its development.160
According to Martensen, then, there exist different levels of nationalities, some of which exhibit a form of culture, which, being uncivilized and un‐Christian, are less than human.
Earlier in SE, Martensen refers to nationalist theologians who fail to see that, while Christianity purifies and criticizes worldly nationality, it does not revive a non‐critical sense of national mythology.161 To do so is to look back at an earlier stage of development. History has moved on—Christianity judges those forms of nationality in order to arrive at the fullness of its history. Christianity is intimately connected to nationality, but it is concerned with nationality only insofar as the possibility of true humanity lies in the national consciousness. ‘Humanity is above nationality, indeed the latter is only a natural form in which the former is realised.’162 Thus, it is backwards and wrong when a nation sets its own peculiarity above its general humanity, reverting to its own unique (and heathen) nationalistic religion as a symbol of uniqueness. The ‘state of humanity signifies more that a state of culture, since the inmost and deepest interests of humanity is not culture, but morality and religion.’163 It is only under the influence of the true religion, Christianity, ‘that [humanity made up of nations] can reach its full and true development…Hence the truly humanistic state is one and the same with the Christian state.’164
It is with the notion of a ‘truly humanistic state’ that we come to Martensen's vision for the vocation of the state itself. We have seen that in service of the state, it is the Church's duty to aid and foster the development of a Christian nation and culture and so produce a Christian state. It is important to note that for Martensen, Christianity does not transcend states, but rather the reverse is almost true. It is in the Christian state that Christianity finds its raison d'être, consequently enabling the state to find its fulfilment and purpose in history. Thus, in Martensen's system, the state (albeit a Christian one) occupies a higher stage in the dialectic of historical development than does the Christian religion itself. The Christian state is the highest form of state, whose duty it is in turn to promote and enable the flourishing and ‘becoming’ of authentic humanity before God, the endpoint of Martensen's dialectic. A state (p.63) has not reached its full potential until it is Christian. But more importantly, Christianity has not reached its potential until it is embedded in a state.165 Only when ‘a people’ arrive at a concrete set of social laws and customs (what Martensen refers to as an ‘actual condition of rights’), does it ‘come into possession if its spiritual property, does it come to feel and know itself as a people’.166 It is here that ‘nationality’ transcends the everyday transactions of family, property and the like.
Nationality is sacred because it is the means through which the in‐and‐for‐itself sacred, the eternal and universal shall be taken up and appropriated. For if the spiritual is to become our actual property, if it is to become life and nature in us, then it must be presented for us in a native form.167
Martensen has already established in CD that it is only where Christianity is combined with a certain level of cultural development that human societies look back ‘upon a past which is full of meaning…and can contemplate its development as an organic whole’.168 Thus for Martensen the relationship between Christianity and highly developed culture is not one of simple cause and effect. It is not merely the presence of Christianity that produces civilization, but rather revelation itself needs a certain level of culture and social development in which to adhere.
In turn, that culture will be given fresh impetus to continue the course of its development, moving from strength to strength. It is only then that the endpoint of earthly history can finally be fulfilled: Christendom.
Now will be found in a true and full sense an alliance of nations…Christendom will be one flock under one Shepherd (Christ), and the ideals of humanity, a Christian family and a Christian state, Christian art and Christian science, will be fully realised.169
7. Concluding Remarks
Behind Martensen's vision of the state lie a number of important philosophical and theological presuppositions relating to the areas of personality, ethics and (p.64) history. Regarding the person, Martensen is committed first to a definition that finds the identity of the authentic person in its free choice of the Good, which is identified as God's will. This does not take place in a vacuum, but only within the web of relations, barriers and customs given form by culture and society.
Secondly, Martensen assumes that groups can be ‘persons’ too. Societies and nations relate to each other and to God in a manner analogous to the relationship that exists between God and individual human beings. Thus, states can be Christian. This can happen because (unlike Kierkegaard) Martensen does not locate at the heart of Christianity a relationship of individual persons before a personal God. Instead, his first commitment in this area is to find the core of Christianity to be synonymous with highest expression of ‘the ethical’. Secondly, whilst it represents a universal ideal, the category of the ethical is not primarily a matter of abstract thought. Instead ethics finds its natural home in the concrete culture, morality and laws of human societies. What is more, as cultures inhabit different stages of development, some societies express the ethical ideal better than others. ‘Historically’, this is reflected by Martensen's idea of pre‐ and post‐revelation cultural development. Pre‐revelation societies have their part to play in the grand unfolding drama of history, especially Israel of the Old Testament, which represents the necessary penultimate stage of cultural development. Secondly, the divine revelation that took the form of the incarnation was an historically necessary event. It could not but have taken place at the point in time and in the culture that it did. As such it is essentially related to the mediating of God to man and the development of the ethical idea of the Good in human society, rather than to the conditional event of atonement and defeat of sin.
Martensen's third commitment is related to this idea of post‐revelation development. The presence of certain ‘Christian’ tropes in a society does not in itself make a culture civilized. Rather it is only in cultures developed to a sufficient stage that the revelation of the incarnation can be correctly apprehended at all. It is only in the most ‘civilized’ cultures that the meaning of the incarnation is understood, and the Good given expression. Authentic Christianity, and thus the authentic ethical relation of ‘persons’ to God, finds its true home only in the conditions best described as the world of (European) Christendom. This is made up of Christian states that bear a striking resemblance to Martensen's idealized picture of his own Denmark, with its national culture, morality and established Church. Over all of which, incidentally, Martensen presided as Bishop.
Thus Martensen's entire body of writing works out to a robust defence and justification of the very Christendom against which Kierkegaard was so opposed. Not only does Kierkegaard's attack take on the surface manifestations of the Christian state that Martensen extols in Social Ethics and elsewhere, but, as we shall see, he is also brought into fundamental disagreement (p.65) with each of the commitments that undergird Martensen's vision of the state. Kierkegaard's attack was not sparked by mere personal dislike of Martensen, but rather it stems from a critique that strikes at the heart of all such approaches to the development of history, the nature of true Christianity and the role that the state plays in the becoming of the authentic individual. However, it was not only Martensen's theology of sophisticated christianized culture which bore the brunt of Kierkegaard's critique, and thus it is to N. F. S. Grundtvig and his brand of populist religious nationalism that we must now turn.
(1) H. L. Martensen, Christian Ethics: Special Part. Second Division; Social Ethics, trans. Sophia Taylor (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1882), 93–4.
(2) Two examples are Joakim Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, trans. Bruce H. Kirmmse (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), and Jon Stewart, Kierkegaard's Relations to Hegel Reconsidered (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), see esp. 64–7.
(3) Cf. the study of Martensen's theological method provided by Robert Leslie Horn, Positivity and Dialect (Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzel, 2007). Horn's treatise focuses on Martensen's early theological development rather than Kierkegaard's opposition, however, Horn suggests a number of points of divergence between the two, at 223ff.
(4) Some commentators seem to lend themselves to this conclusion. For example, Niels Thulstrup effectively sees ‘Hegel’ as the target whenever Kierkegaard criticizes ‘Martensen’. See, for example, the chapter entitled ‘Kierkegaard's Direct and Indirect Clash with Hegel in the Authorship from Either/Or to Concluding Unscientific Postscript’ in Kierkegaard's Relation to Hegel, trans. George L. Stengren (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 320–80. Contra Stewart, who convincingly argues for a reconsideration of Thustrup's thesis, and proposes that in these cases Kierkegaard's main target was, in fact, Martensen himself. Passim, but see for example Relations, 241, 249; also Horn, Positivity, 2ff, 223ff.
(5) See, for example, Stewart and also Curtis L. Thompson and David J. Kangas, Between Hegel and Kierkegaard: Hans L. Martensen's Philosophy of Religion (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).
(6) Cf. Thompson, Between, 8, 58; Bruce H. Kirmmse, Kierkegaard in Golden Age Denmark (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), 170, 172; J. H. Schjørring, ‘Martensen’ in Niels Thulstrup and Marie Mikulová Thulstrup (eds), Kierkegaardiana 10: Kierkegaard's Teachers.(Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzel, 1982), 182, 186–8, 190.
(7) Kierkegaard was confirmed by Mynster on 20 April 1828. On Mynster's ‘fatherly’ connection to Kierkegaard see for example JP 1:663; 5:6073.
(8) See Christian Fink Tolstrup, ‘Playing a Profane Game with Holy Things: Understanding Kierkegaard's Critical Encounter with Bishop Mynster’ in Robert L. Perkins (ed), International Kierkegaard Commentary: Practice in Christianity (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2004), 274; Kierkegaard's private journals mention Mynster by name more than any other opponent. At the same time Mynster is named rarely in the public works, and then usually in a context of respect. Niels Thulstrup, ‘Mynster’ in Niels Thulstrup and Marie Thulstrup (eds), Kierkegaardiana 10: Kierkegaard's Teachers (Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels, 1982). The glaring exception is Kierkegaard's attack on Mynster a year after that Bishop's death. See below.
(9) Kierkegaard's version of Mynster's reaction is detailed in JP 6:6691, 6697; PC supplement, 356–8. Mynster does not mention PC in his autobiography. Meddelelser om min Levnet [Notes on my Life] (København: Gyldendal, 1854). Cf. Tolstrup, ‘Playing’, 245.
(10) Betragtninger over de christelige Troeslærdomme [Observations about the doctrines of the Christian faith] (first published in 1833) was the most popular devotional book in Denmark at the time. Cf. Kirmmse, Golden, 107–8.
(12) JP, 5:5961.
(13) See Kirmmse, Golden, 116; Tolstrup argues that Mynster's and Kierkegaard's conception of theology were so different that no real communication was going to be possible between them. Because he saw no problem in the collusion of civilization with Christianity, Mynster's conscience was clear, and he felt insulted rather than chastened by PC. Tolstrup, ‘Playing’, 267.
(14) Mynster Prædikener [Sermons] vol. 2 (København, 1815), 289, in Kirmmse, Golden, 104. Tolstrup reports that ‘rest’ and ‘temperance’ were favoured themes of Mynster, following Christ's invitation in Matthew 11.28. Tolstrup, ‘Playing’, 265. This adds a further polemical twist to the ‘Invitation’ in PC and that book's appropriation of the same biblical passage.
(15) K. Olesen Larsen, Søren Kierkegaard læst af K. Olesen Larsen vol.1, Kirkehistoriske Studier (Københaven: G. E. C. Gad, 1966), 117, in Kirmmse, Golden, 103. After looking at Mysnter's Observations, Kirmmse agrees, thinking that Larsen's assertions are ‘well‐grounded’, 107.
(16) Kirmmse, Golden, 113.
(19) Jens Rasmussen, J. P. Mynster Sjælands Biskop 1834–1854 (Odense: Odense Universitets Forlag, 1999), 117. Cf. Tolstrup, ‘Playing’. There is some debate as to the extent of Mynster's ultimate success guiding Church policy. Rasmussen claims that Mynster's impact on the Danish Church was greater than Grundtvig's (or Kierkegaard's for that matter), while Thulstrup is less confident that Mynster had a long‐lasting influence on Church structures. ‘Mynster’, 31–2.
(20) Sermon delivered June 1848 in Prædikener holdte i Aarene 1846 til 1852 [Sermons Delivered in the Years 1846 to 1852] vol. 2 (København: Gyldendal, 1854), 74, trans. Bruce Kirmmse Mynster on the Identity of Christianity and Nationality (unpublished paper, August 2007).
(21) Grundtvig and his party were altogether too bombastic and populist for Mynster's refined taste, and he often referred to Grundtvigian preaching as ‘screeching’. See Kirmmse, Golden, 119–24 and ch. 3 below.
(22) Sermon delivered 1852 in Prædikener 1846 til 1852, 17–18, trans Kirmmse, 2007.
(23) In his memoirs, Mynster notes with satisfaction that his church was filled with a majority of people ‘who belong to the more cultivated [dannede] classes’. Blandede Skrivter [Various Writings] vol. 1 (Københaven: Gyldendal, 1852–57), 464; Kirmmse, Golden, 132.
(24) Prompting Kirmmse to comment: ‘A certain political and social style was, finally, more determinative of Mynster's Golden Age religiosity than any particular content.’ Golden, 124. In any case, as we shall see below, by the middle stage of his career Martensen was keen not to be seen as merely a disciple of Hegel, and sought to position himself as a critic of both Hegelian and Kierkegaardian approaches to theology.
(25) Thulstrup reports how administrative duties curtailed much of Mynster's planned writing projects, including a history of the Church. ‘Mynster’, 32.
(26) Speaking of the challenge implied by PC, Kierkegaard writes that ‘in the hands of Governance I became the occasion for Bishop Mynster to pronounce judgement upon himself.’ Moment, 13. See ‘The Moral’ in PC, 67–8. Kierkegaard later retracted this section when his call for an admission of failure was ignored by ‘the old bishop’. Moment, 69–70.
(27) Leilighedstaler. (Prædiken holdt i Christiansborg Slotskirke, paa 5te Søndag efter Hellig‐Tre Konger, Søndagen før Biskop Dr. Mynster's Jordefærd) [Special Occasion Talks. (Sermon held in Christiansborg palace chapel…the Sunday before Bishop Dr. Mynster's funeral)] (Kjøbenhavn, 1884), 20.
(28) Kirmmse argues that both Mynster and Martensen retained the favour of Denmark's artistic ‘Golden Age’ by keeping the definition of ‘Christianity’ vague enough in order to include non‐orthodox playwrights and poets such as Oehlenschläger and Heiberg as pillars of Christian culture. Kirmmse, Golden, 183–5, 196–7.
(29) See, for example, Moment, 3–12, 19–27, 79–85, 98, 100.
(30) Christian Dogmatics, trans. William Urwick (T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1866); Christian Ethics, trans. C. Spence (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1873); Christian Ethics: Special Part, First Division; Individual Ethics, trans. William Affleck (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1881); SE.
(31) Walter Lowrie reports that Martensen was ‘well known’ in England and the USA before Kierkegaard's death in 1855. Kierkegaard (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), 504. See also Hobhouse's introduction to Martensen's Jacob Boehme: Studies in his Life and Teaching, trans. T. Rhys Evans. Revised edition with notes Stephen Hobhouse (London: Rockliff, 1949), xvi. By contrast, the first English translated ‘selections’ of Kierkegaard did not appear until 1923, the first books not until the late 1930s and early '40s.
(32) In promoting further works by Martensen, the publisher's advertising copy in the back of the 1873 English edition of Christian Ethics feels confident in describing the author as ‘the greatest Scandinavian, greatest Lutheran, divine of our century’.
(33) ‘Christendom will not…either readily or willingly let his name sink into oblivion.’ R. Munro, (probably) ‘Bishop Martensen’ in Methodist Review 68S (1886), 716. Note that this version of the article is an anonymous, and unreferenced, reprint of an earlier essay. I have traced the probable authorship to a Mr. R. Munro who wrote for the British and Foreign Evangelical Review in the late nineteenth century.
(34) Outline to a System of Moral Philosophy printed in Between Hegel and Kierkegaard: Hans L. Martensen's Philosophy of Religion, trans. Curtis L. Thompson and David J. Kangas (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).
(35) Kirmmse, Golden, 171.
(36) Horn, Positivity, 3.
(37) Cf. CE, 217–36, discussed below.
(38) Habib Malik locates the Kierkegaardian references in Christian Ethics amongst a general upsurge of interest in Kierkegaard at the time of its writing. He credits Martensen with admitting ‘substantial concessions’ to Kierkegaard and presenting a fair account of his position. Receiving Søren Kierkegaard (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 222–3. Whilst I agree that Martensen was responding to the ‘live’ issue of Kierkegaard, I do not agree with Malik's assessment of Martensen's ‘fairness’. See the discussion below.
(39) For this brief overview I have dispensed with source references. Each element of Martensen's project is discussed below with full references.
(40) ‘Going beyond’ [at gaae videre] is an important idea for Martensen and the phrase was closely identified with him. In his memoirs, he describes the aim of his 1838–39 lectures as getting his listeners to go beyond Hegel. Af mit Levnet: Meddelelser [From My Life: Notes] (København: Gyldendal, 1882–83), 2:4–5. Quoted in Stewart, Relations, 65, also Thompson, Beyond, 8. Kierkegaard uses it pejoratively as a code‐phrase to identify when he is attacking Martensen. For example, see FT, 5–7 and the impossibility of going beyond doubt that is exampled in JC. See also Schjørring, ‘Martensen’, 199–202, and Stewart, Relations, 308–10.
(41) On the related (and as yet unanswered) question of Kierkegaard's influence on Martensen, see Horn, Positivity, 225–6.
(42) Martensen's first and only response to the attack during Kierkegaard's lifetime was in an 1854 edition of Fatherland, where he builds up and then tears down a straw‐man version of Kierkegaard's category of the ‘authentic truth witness’. Cf. Moment, 360–6. Martensen's other significant response to Kierkegaard occurs in Christian Ethics. Here he caricatures Kierkegaard as an incompetent revivalist preacher. This is discussed below.
(43) CE, 217–36.
(50) See CE, 226.
(51) ‘At the time when S. Kierkegaard appeared, individualism was already in full activity by the side of universalism.’ CE, 219.
(57) CE, 224. Martensen's ethic is discussed below.
(63) Levelling is the process by which anyone of daring, skill or authenticity is pulled back and punished by the mediocre communal expectations of the ‘herd’. See especially TA, 84–96.
(64) CE, 232.
(70) Ibid. Of course Kierkegaard recognized the problem of nominal Christianity, but he also specifically (and publicly) included Martensen in that category in his attack, extending the problem to all of modern Christendom. Kierkegaard's point is not that there are some ‘Christians’ who have not yet made a choice of faith. Instead it is that Christendom with ‘sophisticated villainy’ has lost contact with authentic Christianity (Moment, 35). As a result even self‐professed believers have been given false options to choose from in the first place (Moment, 39). Martensen has either misunderstood this or he has conveniently left it out of his account, thus avoiding the need to deal with Kierkegaard's accusation.
(71) CE, 234.
(74) These categories are my own, and I have teased them apart for the purpose of comment and analysis. Martensen himself does not refer to them separately, but integrates personality, ethics and history into his whole system.
(75) Outline, 266.
(76) ‘Kirke‐Aaret’, Urania: Aarbog for 1844 [‘The Church Year’, Urania: Yearbook 1844] (København, 1844), 163. Quoted and translated by George Pattison in Kierkegaard: Religion and the Nineteenth‐Century Crisis of Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 158.
(77) Urania, 188, in Pattison, 159. Cf. John Elrod, who notes how Kierkegaard criticized Danish thought, and particularly Martensen's theology, for its co‐option of philosophy and the natural sciences into ‘pure thought’ at the expense of honest self‐reflection. Kierkegaard and Christendom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 58. On Kierkegaard and ‘science’, see 58–61.
(78) Outline, 267.
(80) Ibid. (emphasis added). Note that ‘God's kingdom’ is not eschatological, but here refers to the life lived now in creation. ‘The true faith in the religious ideal leads to considering the development of the world as the development of God's kingdom.’ Outline, 284. Martensen's understanding of the imitation of Christ as one which primarily contributes to society is diametrically opposed to Kierkegaard's understanding of imitatio Christi which can only lead to suffering in this world. See ch. 6 below.
(82) CE, 230. In a related comment in the Christian Dogmatics, Martensen is almost certainly alluding to Kierkegaard when he writes: ‘Where religion becomes a merely private thing, only a concern of individuals, then we may discern a sign of a state of dissolution, of a break between the individual and society.’ CD, 7.
(83) SE, 196.
(84) Outline, 259 (emphasis added).
(87) SE, 88.
(89) SE, 88. See also SE, 87–8, 90, 98, 125; CD, 147, 233; Outline, 304.
(90) SE, 94.
(93) Cf. CD, 6, 57–8; CE, 218, 221; Outline, 248, and 254 where the ‘Moral Philosophy’ that Martensen is attempting has its ‘final ground’ in the ‘actual morality which in all nations is intimately connected with religion’. SE often links the lack of Christian religion in a state to the removal of morality itself: 24, 87, 229, 347. See also 135, 160 where the removal of Christianity from questions of national prosperity is said to be equivalent to the absence of morality from political economy.
(95) Hence Martensen's criticism that Kierkegaard ignored ethics and thus missed Christianity because of his faulty view of society. CE, 236.
(96) Outline, 255.
(97) CD, 215.
(98) By ‘revelation’, Martensen means the incarnation. See, for example, Outline, 257, 283; CD, 171: ‘…the advent of Christ, the revelation of the highest good’. Also 16, 20, 172, 239.
(100) CD, 14.
(101) Ibid., 16 See also SE, 212, where he writes that the Jews were indeed ‘conscious that the time had now arrived in which Christ must appear’. But they deluded themselves by looking for a military messiah instead of correctly understanding the spirit of the age.
(102) CD, 13.
(104) CE, 224–5. Discussed above.
(105) Elsewhere described as ‘the living drama of freedom’. CD, 173.
(108) CD, 171.
(113) Ibid., 262–3. In this light it is worth noting Climacus' objection to theological systems that downplay sin: ‘Sin is a crucial expression for the religious existence. As long as sin is not posited, the suspension [of the God‐Human relationship] becomes a transient factor that in turn vanishes or remains outside of life as the totally irregular.’ CUP, 267. Also PF, 47.
(114) CD, 12.
(116) ‘…for without a minimum of culture, Christianity cannot be truly appropriated, nor the Christian Church attain its development.’ SE, 333. See below.
(117) Outline, 302.
(120) SE, 82.
(121) Martensen's use of ‘state’ here is analogous to Kierkegaard's use of ‘Christendom’ in that it is initially a term that seems to denote a relatively uncomplicated notion, but which in fact comes to represent a whole nexus of ideas, assumptions and values. ‘Martensen viewed the state both as the expression of the religious, moral and intellectual development of a hierarchical and organic Christian society and as the means of that society's further development.’ Kirmmse, Golden, 170.
(122) SE, 88.
(127) Outline, 303 (emphasis added).
(129) Moment, 109. Kierkegaard refers to ‘this disastrous confusing of politics and Christianity’ in ‘An Open Letter’ in The Corsair Affair, 53. See also Kirmmse's essay in Robert Perkins (ed), International Kierkegaard Commentary: The Corsair Affair (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1990), 179–84. Kierkegaard's opposition both to the idea of ‘state Christianity’ and to populist, ‘national’ movements is discussed in the following chapters.
(130) SE, 92.
(133) Prædikener paa alle Søn‐og Helligdage i Aaret, forhen trykte og utrykte af Dr. H. Martensen. [Sermons for all Sundays and Holydays in the year, formerly printed and publicized by Dr. H. Martensen] (København: Gyldendal 1875), 544. Hereafter Sermon.
(137) Sermon, 546. Martensen also alludes briefly to Matt 22:21 in the Social Ethics in relation to the demand of obedience that the state has over Christians. SE, 100.
(138) SE, 206.
(141) Ibid. See also 234: ‘Obedience, indeed, to be of true inward value, must be inspired by love for king and country.’ And the Outline, where Martensen provides a more idealistic definition of patriotism, linking it to free and conscious life lived ‘on behalf of the ideals of the spirit of the people’. Outline, 305.
(142) SE, 208–9. See also 6.
(143) Ibid., 233. If he had been alive to comment on SE, doubtless Kierkegaard would have had something to say about the fact that immediately after Martensen argues for ‘universal compulsory defensive service’, he takes pains to exempt clerics like himself from military duty. SE, 236.
(144) Ibid., 160–71. Social Ethics incorporates material published four years previously in the tract Socialism og Christendom. Et Brudstykke af den specielle Ethik [Socialism and Christiaity. A Fragment of the Special Ethic] (Kjøbenhavn: Gyldendal, 1874).
(145) SE, 160.
(147) SE, 93–4.
(152) See SE, 341: ‘When the notion of a Christian state finds acceptance, the necessity for the existence of a Christian state Church…is thereby admitted.’
(156) Ibid., 102–3. This is similar to the tone struck by later defenders of established religion in England such as T. S. Eliot, who defines a Christian society as a society of ‘men whose Christianity is communal before being individual’ in The Idea of a Christian Society (London: Faber, 1939), 59. Also John Baillie, What is Christian Civilisation? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947).
(159) As Kirmmse points out, this is why Martensen was incapable of interpreting Kierkegaard's attack on the officially ‘Christian’ social order as anything other than an attack on the religion itself. ‘In the Golden Age view, social and religious order were inseparable, and Christianity was inconceivable apart from Christendom.’ Kirmmse, Golden, 192.
(160) SE, 333 (emphasis added).
(165) In this light it is worth noting Martensen's role in the censuring of the left‐Hegelian theologian Hans Brøchner, who was denied permission to take the pastoral candidacy exam in 1841. Martensen agreed that the state should intervene in the case of conscious ‘anti‐Christian’ positions that do not remain in a positive dialectical relationship to ecclesiological principles. See Horn, Positivity, 183, 184.
(166) SE, 206.
(168) CD, 223.
(169) SE, 357.