Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Kierkegaard's Attack upon "Christendom" and the Episcopal Church

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Kierkegaard's Attack upon "Christendom" and the Episcopal Church

Article excerpt

Kierkegaard's Attack upon "Christendom" was aimed at the established church in Denmark. Since the Episcopal Church often has a fantasy of establishment, this essay explores the implications of Kierkegaard's book for the American church. Kierkegaard first criticizes the preaching and the public worship of the Danish Church. In response to this situation Kierkegaard emphasizes the difficulty of becoming a Christian and living the Christian life. He argues that leniency has led to the abolition of Christianity in Denmark and calls for rigor in these matters. The author describes his own experience of leniency in several dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Then the works of Ruth A. Meyers and the Standing Liturgical Commission on Christian initiation which treat these issues are examined. Finally, Kierkegaard's later works are seen as predicting the horrors of the twentieth century and Kierkegaard scholar Howard A. Johnson's interpretation of this for President Roosevelt are recounted.

Kierkegaard's Attack upon "Christendom" was aimed at the established Lutheran church in Denmark in 1854. The Episcopal Church in the United States has always trailed clouds of glory from its origin in the established Church of England; witness the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, known as the Washington National Cathedral and the site of major national memorial services. The current mission statement of the Cathedral states that it "barkens to the Cathedral founders' intent that it be the spiritual home for the United States." It also states that one of the goals of the Cathedral is to be "a national treasure symbolizing the role of faith in America." Also there is St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, known as "the Church of the Presidents." Then there is the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine of the Episcopal Diocese of New York with "the longest aisle in Christendom," thus firing a shot across the bow of St. Peters Basilica in Rome in which the lengths of other large cathedrals, such as St. Paul's in London, are marked by brass plates in the floor, but not, of course, St. John the Divines whose plate would be several yards out in front. There are also the original and long-term Episcopal chaplaincies at the national Army and Navy training institutions at West Point and Annapolis. Finally there is the Episcopal Saint Grotlesex (St. Paul's, Croton, Middlesex) and Andover-Exeter, Harvard- Yale route to high posts in the U. S. government exemplified in the careers of Henry Cabot Lodge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Acheson, Cyrus Vanee, and many others. This also applies to iiigh posts in business, law, the arts, and media. A modest and reverse version of this sense of establishment is found in the account of novelist Curtis Sittenfeld that at the age of five she had watched the marriage of Diana and Prince Charles on TV. Then she told her parents that she would like to marry a prince some day and asked what steps she might take to achieve this. Her father responded, "That would not be possible, since we are not Episcopalians."1 These factors point to a tendency toward a fantasy of establishment among some Episcopalians. Furthermore, this fantasy refers to the idea that the Episcopal Church is for people who are the most intelligent, cultured, and wealthy, and "at ease in Zion," rather than to its being the church for all people in the nation, which is what establishment really means.2

Of course the Danish church was in fact established, with clergy paid by the government, while the Episcopal Church is established only in the fantasies of its clergy and members. The established churches of Europe are in decline, and this is also true of the Episcopal Church. In 1963 John A. Gates published a book entitled Christendom Revisited: A Kierkegaardian View of the Church Today, in which he argues that Kierkegaard's criticisms of the Danish church of his day "were just and . …

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