Silence and goodness

March 9, 2012

From the very start, everything that is good in a person is silent, and just as it is essentially God’s nature to live in secret, so also the good in a person lives in secret.  Every resolution that is fundamentally good is silent, because it has God as its confidant and went to him in private; every holy feeling that is fundamentally good is silent and concealed by a modesty that is holier than a woman’s; every pure sympathy for the human that is fundamentally good is silent, because it is hidden in God; every emotion of the heart is silent, since the lips are sealed and only the heart expanded.

— Søren Kierkegaard,
“Against Cowardliness”.

9 Responses to “Silence and goodness”

  1. Janet Says:

    I’m not sure I buy that. I love silence. I’m about to go away for a few days and I plan to speak to as few people as possible, but everything good? How do we share that which is good about us with anyone else? One of the things which a person has from the very start is a voice, and he soon lets everyone know he has it? What is the voice for?


  2. cburrell Says:

    All good points. I wouldn’t let this stand as is either, but I do think there is something to it: holding the tongue is a counterweight to thoughtless dissipation, and gives goodness a chance to ripen. His ‘knight of faith’ is riding the hills nearby.

    And I do catch the irony of posting this and then following up, a few minutes later, with a post about music. Well.

  3. Janet Says:

    Well, I agree with what you said in the first paragraph. And I don’t totally disagree with SK, it was just the “everything” that I thought was too much.

    This quote reminds me of St. Therese who said that when we speak of the things that God does for us their fragrance dissipates. She may have even used that word. I wish I could find my copy of Story of a Soul but it isn’t where it ought to be.


  4. cburrell Says:

    This particular passage comes from one of his “Edifying Discourses”, which are heavily rhetorical, intended to provoke and (naturally) edify. The genre justifies a certain amount of emphatic exaggeration, which I am inclined to forgive. (Mind, I’m inclined to forgive Kierkegaard pretty much anything.)

    You know, I’ve got St. Therese next to my bed, intending it for Lenten reading if I ever get to the end of the Pope’s books on Jesus. It’s been years since I read her book, and I don’t remember the part you refer to. But I do remember that St. John of the Cross also says something similar: never speak of the work of grace in your heart, lest you smother or distort it. The point, I think, is that we need to cultivate a quiet and secret place within ourselves where we can listen and be (re-)formed, a place of intimacy between ourselves and God, and we ought not to be too cavalier in how we describe what is going on there. Perhaps we don’t even truly understand it ourselves.

    All of this is related, I think, to the command to pray in secret.

  5. cburrell Says:

    Oh, and I’ve noticed, Janet, that on a couple of occasions your “name” has shown up as your email address in comments. When I notice that, I will try to switch it back to your name, because I’d not want an email address harvesting robot to scoop yours up.

  6. Janet Says:

    I noticed that. I think it was my work computer that was responsible.



  7. Janet Says:

    I’m about to read a book called Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux by Heather King.


  8. cburrell Says:

    I have heard of that book, but not heard about it (if you know what I mean). For your sake, I hope that it is worthwhile.

  9. Janet Says:

    Her second memoir, Redeemed: A Spiritual Misfit Stumbles Toward God, while uneven, has some very excellent chapters.


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