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One of Soren Kierkegaard's most important writings, Works of Love is a profound examination of the human heart, in which the great philosopher conducts the reader into the inmost secrets of Love. "Deep within every man," Kierkegaard writes, "there lies the dread of being alone in the world, forgotten by God, overlooked among the household of millions upon millions." Love, for Kierkegaard, is one of the central aspects of existence; it saves us from isolation and unites us with one another and with God. This new edition of Works of Love features an original foreword by Kierkegaard scholar George Pattison.
"His most important religious work." -Alexander Dru
"His single greatest work on Christian ethics." -Douglas V. Steere
Love's Hidden Life and Its Recognisability
by Its Fruits
"For each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush." Luke 6: 44
If it were true--as conceited shrewdness, proud of not being deceived, thinks--that one should believe nothing which he cannot see by means of his physical eyes, then first and foremost one ought to give up believing in love. If one did this and did it out of fear of being deceived, would not one then be deceived? Indeed, one can be deceived in many ways; one can be deceived in believing what is untrue, but on the other hand, one is also deceived in not believing what is true; one can be deceived by appearances, but one can also be deceived by the superficiality of shrewdness, by the flattering conceit which is absolutely certain that it cannot be deceived. Which deception is most dangerous? Whose recovery is more doubtful, that of him who does not see or of him who sees and still does not see? Which is more difficult, to awaken one who sleeps or to awaken one who, awake, dreams that he is awake? Which sight is more sorrowful, that which immediately and unrestrainedly moves to tears, like the sight of one unhappily deceived in love, or that which in a certain sense could tempt laughter, the sight of one who is self-deceived, whose foolish conceit of not being deceived is ludicrous, something to be laughed at, if its ludicrousness were not a still stronger expression for horror by signifying that he is not worth a tear?
To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception; it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity. For usually, whatever variations there may be, when there is talk about being deceived in love the one deceived is still related to love, and the deception is simply that it is not present where it was thought to be; but one who is self-deceived has locked himself out and continues to lock himself out from love. There is also talk about being deceived by life or in life; but he who self-deceptively cheated himself out of living--his loss is irredeemable. One who throughout his whole life has been deceived by life--for him the eternal can treasure rich compensation; but the person who has deceived himself has prevented himself from winning the eternal. He who because of love became a sacrifice to human deceit--what has he really lost when in eternity it turns out that love endures; whereas the deception is no more! But one who ingeniously deceived himself by cleverly falling into the snare of cleverness, alas, even if throughout his entire life he has in his own conceit considered himself happy, what has he not lost when in eternity it appears that he deceived himself! In the temporal world a man may succeed in getting along without love; he may succeed in .slipping through life without discovering the self-deception; he mayhave the terrible success, in his conceit, of becoming proud of it; but in eternity he cannot dispense with love and cannot escape discovering that he has lost everything. How earnest existence is, how terrible it is, precisely when in chastisement it permits the wilful person to counsel himself, permits him to live on proud of--being deceived--until finally he is permitted to verify that he has deceived himself for eternity! The eternal does not let itself be mocked; it is rather that which does not need to use might but almightily uses a little mockery in order to punish the presumptuous in a terrible way. What is it that really binds the temporal and the eternal? What is it other than love, which therefore is before everything else and remains when all else is past. But just because love is the bond of the eternal and just because the temporal and the eternal are heterogeneous, to the earthly prudence of temporality love may seem to be a burden, and therefore in the temporal world it may seem a great relief to the sensualist to cast this bond of eternity away.
One who is self-deceived thinks, of course, that he is able to console himself, yes, to have more than conquered; a fool's conceit hides for him how inconsolable his life is. That he " has ceased sorrowing " we will not deny, but, nevertheless, what gain is this when salvation consists precisely in his beginning to sorrow earnestly over himself! Perhaps one who is self-deceived even thinks he is able to console others, who would become a sacrifice to the deceit of perfidy; but what madness, when he who himself has lost the eternal wants to heal him who is at the extremity of sickness unto death. Perhaps the self-deceived, by an odd self-contradiction, even thinks he is being sympathetic with one who is unhappily deceived. But if you scrutinise his comforting words and healing wisdom, you will know love by its fruits-by the bitterness of mockery, by the sharpness of "good sense," by the poisonous spirit of distrust, by the penetrating chill of callousness-that is, by the fruits it will be known that there is no love in this kind of sympathy.
By its fruits one recognises the tree. " Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? " (Matthew 7: 16). If you expect to gather them there, you will not only pick in vain but the thorns will show you that you pick in vain. For every tree is recognised by its OWN fruit. It may well be that there are two fruits which very closely resemble each other; the one is healthful and good-tasting, the other is bitter and poisonous; sometimes, too, the poisonous fruit is goodtasting and the healthful fruit somewhat bitter in taste. In the same way love also is known by its own fruit. If one makes a mistake, it must be either because one does not know the fruit or because one does not know how to discriminate rightly in particular instances..Works of Love. Copyright © by Soren Kierkegaard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard
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