2010 - Vol. 38
of Heart Is to Will
Father in heaven, what is man without
you! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped
fragment if he does not know you! What is all his striving, could it even
encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know you: you
the One, who is one thing and who is all!
So may you give to the intellect,
wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive
this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity
may you grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness
to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. O you who
give both the beginning and the completion, may you early, at the dawn
of day, give to the young person the resolution to will one thing. As the
day wanes, may you give to the old person a renewed remembrance of their
first resolution, that the first may be like the last, the last like the
first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing.
Alas, but this has indeed not come
to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between.
Each day, and day after day something is being placed in between: delay,
blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So in this time of repentance
may you give the courage once again to will one thing. True, it is an interruption
of our ordinary tasks; we do lay down our work as though it were a day
of rest, when the penitent (and it is only in a time of repentance that
the heavy-laden worker may be quiet in the confession of sin) is alone
before you in self-accusation. This is indeed an interruption. But it is
an interruption that searches back into its very beginnings that it might
bind up anew that which sin has separated, that in its grief it might atone
for lost time, that in its anxiety it might bring to completion that which
lies before it. O you who give both the beginning and the completion, give
victory in the day of need so that what neither a person’s burning wish
nor their determined resolution may attain to, may be granted in the sorrowing
of repentance: to will only one thing.
…So let us, then, speak about this
sentence: “Purity of heart is to will one thing” as we base our meditation
on the Apostle James' words in his Epistle, Chapter 4, verse 8:
“Draw near to God and he
will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your
hearts you double-minded.”
For only the pure in heart can see God,
and therefore, draw near to him; and only by God's drawing near to them
can they maintain this purity. And he who in truth wills only one thing
can will only the Good, and he who only wills one thing when he wills the
Good can only will the Good in truth.
I. IF IT WILL BE
POSSIBLE, THAT A MAN CAN WILL ONLY ONE THING, THEN HE MUST WILL THE GOOD.
To will only one thing: but
will this not inevitably become a long-drawn-out talk? If one should consider
this matter properly must he not first consider, one by one, each goal
in life that a man could conceivably set up for himself, mentioning separately
all of the many things that a man might will? and not only this; since
each of these considerations readily becomes too abstract in character,
is he not obliged as the next step to attempt to will, one after the other,
each of these goals in order to find out what is the single thing he is
to will, if it is a matter of willing only one thing? Yes, if someone should
begin in this fashion, then he would never come to an end. Or more accurately,
how could he ever arrive at the end since at the outset he took the wrong
way and then continued to go on further and further along this false way?
It is only by a painful route that
this way leads to the Good, namely, when the wanderer turns around and
goes back. For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to
the Good, even the false ones: when the repentant one follows the same
way back. O you the unfathomable trust-worthiness of the Good! Wherever
a man may be in the world, whichever road he travels, when he wills one
thing, he is on a road that leads him to you! Here such a far-flung enumeration
would only work harm. Instead of wasting many moments on naming the vast
multitude of goals or squandering life's costly years in personal experiments
upon them, can the talk do as life ought to do - with a commendable brevity
stick to the point?
In a certain sense nothing can be
spoken of so briefly as the Good, when it is well described. For the Good
without condition and without qualification, without preface and without
compromise is, absolutely the only thing that a man may and should will,
and is only one thing. O blessed brevity, o blessed simplicity, that seizes
swiftly what cleverness tired out in the service of vanity, may grasp but
slowly! That which a simple soul, in the happy impulse of a pious heart,
feels no need of understanding in an elaborate way, since he simply seizes
the Good immediately, is grasped by the clever one only at the cost of
much time and much grief. The way this one thing is willed, he wills is
not the Good; another wills one thing nor is what he wills the Good; a
third wills one thing and what he wills is the Good. No, it is not done
in that way. The person who wills one thing that is not the Good, he does
not truly will one thing. It is a delusion, an illusion, a deception, a
self-deception that he wills only one thing. For in his innermost being
he is, he is bound to be, double-minded. Therefore the Apostle says, “Purify
your hearts you double-minded,” that is, purify your hearts of double-mindedness;
in other words, let your hearts in truth will only one thing, for therein
is the heart's purity.
extract, taken from the introduction to the book, Purity of the Heart
Is to Will One Thing, is slightly adapted from the English translation
by Douglas V. Steere, first published by Harper in 1938.]
Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and theologian. He is considered one
of the towering Christian existential thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century.
He was born in Copenhegan, Denmark in 1813 and died in 1855 at the age
his many books are Training in Christianity, Sickness unto Death, and
and Trembling. In 1846 he wrote Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing
as a meditation on repentance and preparing oneself for confession of sin.
A Selection of
creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does
what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners. - Journals
entry, March, 1836
the age needs is not a genius — it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr,
who in order to teach men to obey would himself be obedient unto death.
What the age needs is awakening. ...I never forget how God helps me and
it is therefore my last wish that everything may be to his honor. - Journals
is in itself separation from the good, but despair over sin is separation
a second time - The Sickness unto Death, 1849
of love, God becomes man. He says: "See, here is what it is to be a human
being." - The Sickness unto Death, 1849
in despair wants despairingly to be himself. But surely if he wants despairingly
to be himself, he cannot want to be rid of himself. Yes, or so it seems.
But closer observation reveals the contradiction to be still the same.
The self which, in his despair, he wants to be, is a self he is not (indeed,
to want to be the self he truly is, is the very opposite of despair). -
Sickness unto Death, 1849
of Kierkegaard in a coffee-house
you not know that there comes a midnight hour when every one has to throw
off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?
Do you think you can slip away a little before midnight in order to avoid
this? Or are you not terrified by it? I have seen men in real life who
so long deceived others that at last their true nature could not reveal
itself... In every man there is something which to a certain degree prevents
him from becoming perfectly transparent to himself; and this may be the
case in so high a degree, he may be so inexplicably woven into relationships
of life which extend far beyond himself that he almost cannot reveal himself.
But he who cannot reveal himself cannot love, and he who cannot love is
the most unhappy man of all.