Lecture 4: Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855).
Søren Kierkegaard - his surname meaning "church garden" - was born on May 5, 1813 in
Copenhagen, where he also spent all his days. His father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard (1756-
1838), was a wool merchant. His melancholy, pietistic faith and thoughts of sin, suffering, and
grace infected Kierkegaard's worldview. In his poverty-stricken youth, Michael Kierkegaard had
cursed God. Later he constantly thought of the sufferings of Christ. Michael's first wife had died
childless after two years of marriage; he then married his housekeeper Anne, who was already
pregnant. Michael had become so successful in the wool trade and with a fortunate investment
that he had been able to retire at age forty - he was fifty-six at Søren 's birth.
The influence of Kierkegaard's father on his work has been frequently noted. Not only did
Kierkegaard inherit his father's melancholy, his sense of guilt and anxiety, and his pietistic
emphasis on the dour aspects of Christian faith, but he also inherited his talents for philosophical
argument and creative imagination. In addition Kierkegaard inherited enough of his father's
wealth to allow him to pursue his life as a freelance writer. The themes of sacrificial father/son
relationships, of inherited sin, of the burden of history, and of the centrality of the "individual,
human existence relationship, the old text, well known, handed down from the fathers"
) are repeated many times in Kierkegaard's oeuvre. The father's sense of guilt was so
great (for having cursed God? for having impregnated Kierkegaard's mother out of wedlock?)
that he thought God would punish him by taking the lives of all seven of his children before they
reached the age of 34 (the age of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion). This was true for all but two of
the children, Søren and his older brother Peter. Søren was astonished that they both survived
beyond that age. This may explain the sense of urgency that drove Kierkegaard to write so
prolifically in the years leading up to his 34th birthday.
In 1830 Kierkegaard entered the University of Copenhagen, where he studied theology,
philosophy, and literature. After the death of his mother in 1834, Kierkegaard made his first note
into his famous
- the last is dated on September 25, 1855. By 1835 Kierkegaard had