Once at a time

February 19, 2013

Work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling.
– Epistle to the Philippians –

In the context of a discussion of Kierkegaard, Etienne Gilson touches on a matter fit for Lenten reflection:

Christianity’s own goal and solemn promise is to give each man eternal beatitude. It is both that promise and the way to fulfill it. Such a promise is for man of a literally “infinite” interest, and the only way for him to welcome it is to experience an “infinite passion” for it. In terms of the religious life, this means that the only answer a man can give to God’s message is a passionate will to achieve his own salvation, that is, to achieve his own infinite beatitude. A half-hearted effort to such an end would be quite out of proportion with it; it would not at all be a will to that end; it would not be that will at all.

On the other hand, if such a will actually arises in any man, it has to be the will to his own salvation, because what God has promised is actually to save him. Whether or not he was aware of the fact, Kierkegaard himself was merely repeating Bernard of Clairvaux, when he said: “This problem concerns no one but me.” And such indeed is the case, if the problem actually is to know how I myself can share in that beatitude which Christianity promises.

True enough, the same problem arises for each and every man, so that for an infinite number of men its solution, which is Christianity itself, is bound to be the same, but this does not mean that there is a general solution to the problem. Quite the reverse. Out of its own nature, this is such a problem as requires to be solved, an infinite number of times, once at a time; to solve it differently is not to solve it at all.

Being and Some Philosophers

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