Noesis and Faith: Eric Voegelin and Søren Kierkegaard

HomeArticlesNoesis and Faith: Eric Voegelin and Søren Kierkegaard

Why Voegelin and Kierkegaard?

Why Voegelin and Kierkegaard? Both of them have pursued an intricate analysis of the structure of existence and of the various possibilities of exis­tence. Many aspects of their examinations are strikingly similar, notwithstand­ing their different technical vocabularies. They both have attempted a recovery of the classic philosophical attempt of the Socratic, while taking seriously the gains of Christianity. For both, the divine and the world are intrinsic parts of the reality of human existence, and the awareness of this fact constitutes an es­sential dimension of their philosophical endeavor.

Because although both work with(in) the same structure of existence, their focus is different. Furthermore, it seems that some of the ways in which Kierkegaard describes the relationship between no­esis and faith can actually help to clarify certain seemingly problematic claims within the Voegelinian endeavor. This is because both authors deal with issues essential to the current debates in the academy and in the agora, namely, the relation­ship between faith and understanding (or, extrapolating to the social dimen­sion, between politics and religion).

More specifically, I will try to clarify the Voegelinian endeavor through a comparison of the ways in which faith and understanding work to­gether in the explanatory structures constructed by the two authors. In order to achieve this end, this study will start with an examination of the manner in which each author describes the structure of human existence. From the de­scription of the structure of existence, a normative dimension will become ap­parent, namely, the ways in which human beings must live in order to conform to the structure of their existence.

For both Voegelin and Kierkegaard, faith and understanding play an essential role in achieving this attunement to reality–yet the role they play is slightly different for each author. The stumbling block in this regard, not surprisingly, is Christianity–and this article will examine the relationship of the radical claims of Christianity to the Voegelinian explan­atory framework.

For this, a closer examination of the relationship between the noetic and faith, starting from Kierkegaard’s description of it, seems to hold significant promise. How could Kierkegaard help in this regard? Well, al­though one should not forget that Kierkegaard’s work is not Christianity but a symbolization of it and, that there are aspects where more could be added and some should be subtracted, Kierkegaard’s strength is in the way in which he is able to express the relationship between the classical noetic endeavor and the central claims of Christianity.

That relationship, however, is also at the core of the Voegelinian endeavor and of some of the debates surrounding that endeav­or. Accordingly, underlying this study is the hope that such a better clarification of the relationship between understanding and faith might help to clarify not only some of the ambiguities within the Voegelinian endeavor but also the very nature of his endeavor–but that is just a hope.

A Cautionary Note

Knowing that there is no way that this article could do justice to the richness of the work of these authors, the reader is asked to bear in mind that the even­tual vulnerabilities in the arguments presented here are not necessarily a reflec­tion of equal shortcomings in the given authors’ work. In fact, this article would fail in its endeavor if anyone were to misjudge the authors or their arguments based on the shortcomings of this study.

When in doubt, the reader would do well to refer to the source; “just go to the text” makes for sound advice. Howev­er, the following arguments would not be presented if I did not trust that they might have some essential points to make and that they could bring some use­ful clarification, especially about the Voegelinian endeavor.

The reader should feel free to pursue any such suggestion on his own–especially if one does not agree with them–in the hope that a useful dialogue might emerge, based on the examination of other neglected parts of these authors’ works. In fact, this article is meant to point out some directions of reading these source materials with increased caution and, accordingly, with greater benefit.

Kierkegaard’s Relational Self

What is a human being, according to Kierkegaard?

“A human being is a syn­thesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two. . . . If . . . the relation relates itself to itself, this relation is the positive third, and this is the self.”

After reading this brief–and dense–definition, someone familiar with Voegelin’s work will notice immediately that it moves very much along the same lines as Voegelin’s analysis of the constitution of the human being, as existing in the metaxy, in a tension of being in-between the Beginning and the Beyond. This will be discussed in greater detail below, but first let us continue to follow Kierkegaard’s examination: what is, then, a human being?

“A human being is spirit . . . [and] spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself . . . . [It] is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.”

This relation–between the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal, freedom and necessity–relates itself to itself, and this latter relationship is the self. Yet this relational self did not establish itself, as a sys­tem of relationships. It has been established by an other, which means that “this relation . . . is yet again a relation and relates itself to that which established the entire relation.”


“the human self is . . . a derived, established relation, a relation [between the temporal and the eternal, and so on] that relates itself to itself and in relating itself to itself relates itself to another. Who or what is this ‘other’ who constituted the self as a relation that relates itself to itself and also relates itself to that ‘other?’ It is ‘God, who constituted man as relation.'”1

The task of the human being, the task of the self, is to be–or to become–what it truly is, to be faithful to the truth of its own existence, to its constitu­tion. Of course, given that it has been established by another and not by itself, the human being cannot actually change the structure of its existence.

How Not to Despair

However, because of the freedom that is an inherent attribute of the relational structure of the self, the human being can choose to misrelate itself to the elements of the structure within which it is constituted. The error–or, as Voegelin would say, the disorder–comes from not acknowledging the structure of reality, and from trying to live (to posit) a deformed existence.

Kierkegaard uses the technical term “despair” to denote such misrelated states: “Despair is the misrelation in the relation of a synthesis that relates itself to itself.”3 Some of the ways of misrelating oneself, of being in despair, are not be­ing conscious of having a self (that is, not becoming itself), not willing to be oneself (as constituted by God), or willing to be oneself (independently from God). Not being in despair means not being in a misrelation with oneself, with the constitution of one’s existence, and with the Other that constituted the self. Thus, “the formula that describes the state of the self when despair [that is, dis­order] is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.”

To use the Voegelinian terms, the difference between order and disorder is the difference between, on the one hand, willingly assuming the constitution of one’s exis­tence (including the relationships inherent in this structure, and especially the constitution of the self by the divine) and, on the other hand, rejecting the way one is constituted, and thus deforming one’s relationship with the structure of existence. Thus, to summarize, “The self is the conscious synthesis of infinitude and finitude that relates itself to itself, whose task is to become itself, [and this] can be done only through the relationship to God.”4

Voegelin: The Sources of Ordered Existence

There is a structure to reality, according to Eric Voegelin, and, as noted above, his description of that structure is similar in many ways to Kierkegaard’s depic­tion of it. How is the human being constituted? He is constituted within be­ing, in the metaxy, in-between the poles of the Beginning and the Beyond. This “common denominator of being” constitutes the one reality that “comprises both philosophy and history.” In fact:

“the divine and the worldly being are not things that lie on this side or that side of a spatial dividing line . . . [but rather] indices attached to being, once the cosmos is definitively dissociated by the experience of transcendence.”

This experience of transcendence, and thus the dissociation between an immanent world of relatively autonomous things and the transcendent, divine ground of being, occurs within the human being; con­sequently, it is also in the human being that “God and world encounter each other again in the manifold of experiences.”5

It is interesting to observe that, in Voegelin’s description, the emphasis falls on the unity of reality, a unity that is provided by the one dimension of be­ing that constitutes it. In Voegelin’s words, between God and the things of the world there is “the common denominator of being.” The “divine ground of being” and “the Beyond” seem thus to be indices that arise only in the process of reality’s achieving luminosity in the human consciousness. Thus, although Voegelin is very emphatic about the pathologies related to the temptation to immanentize the transcendent divine, it is not very clear how the divine is ulti­mately constituted as transcendent within this continuum of being.

The complex of reality–the being that moves and constitutes reality–becomes luminous in and through consciousness. In fact, according to Voege­lin, the existence of consciousness and of understanding is made possible by certain attributes of reality–that it is internally intelligible and internally imaginative.6 Human consciousness is constituted within and by this reality; thus, consciousness can never regard reality (as a whole) as a purely external object, which could be studied with absolute detachment and objectivity.

In fact, consciousness is, in turns, both subject and object within this reality com­plex: “Consciousness, then, is a subject intending reality as its object, but at the same time something in a comprehending reality; and reality is the object of consciousness, but at the same time the subject of which consciousness is to be predicated.”7

Voegelin: The Movement of Being

Furthermore, this reality is not static because the being that constitutes it is not static: “Reality is not a static order of things given to a human observer once and for all; it is moving, indeed, in the direction of emergent truth.” Real­ity is recognizably moving beyond its structure toward the divine Beyond; this movement of being according to Voegelin, is the movement that constitutes history. Reality becomes luminous within this process as part of the “exodus within reality.” In its movement the flux of being constitutes “theophanies” to which the consciousness responds–and those are the moments of “lumi­nosity.”

Each moment of luminosity in a person’s consciousness is part of this movement within reality according to Voegelin. Each such moment of lumi­nosity is a moment of becoming conscious of the structure of reality and of what Voegelin calls “the paradox of a recognizably structured process that is recognizably moving beyond its structure.”8 This is the structure of reality, and “man’s existence as partner in the move­ment of reality toward consciousness is not a matter of choice.”9 Man cannot exempt himself from existing within this structure–but he can choose how he responds to the flux of being that constitutes him and reality.

The pull or call (as in the Socratic pursuit) is the same for all human beings, but not all responses are alike. Order or disorder in the human soul–and, consequently, order or disorder in society–is a function of how the individual human being chooses to respond to this movement in being and to the push of reality toward becoming luminous in the individual consciousness. This movement within the structure of human existence demands from the human being a response; although it is not the choice of man to structure his existence in one way or another, he does have the freedom of choosing how to relate to the structure of existence.

We can clearly see how both the structure of existence in the metaxy and the task before which the human being is set by virtue of his sheer existence are strikingly similar in Voegelin and Kierkegaard, notwithstanding their differ­ent technical vocabularies. In what follows we will continue the investigation, looking more closely into the ways in which, in Voegelin and in Kierkegaard, the human being can and should respond to the call to live according to the structure of his existence–to the truth of existence.

Voegelin: Noetic Luminosity

Each moment of luminosity in a person’s consciousness is both a part and a result of the movement of divine being within reality. Throughout history, human beings have responded to “the kinesis, the attraction from the ground, [without which] there is no desire to know.”10 This is the kinesis of the divine ground of being in consciousness, to which human beings have responded throughout history.

All these responses therefore came about by virtue of what Aristotle described as the metalepsis, that is the mutual participation of the human in the divine and of the divine in the human nous. All responses says Voegelin, whether they come from philosophers or from prophets, are answers to theophanies, to the movement of the divine ground of being in reality which becomes luminous in consciousness.

This is why the myths, the noetic quests, and the pneumatic responses are essentially equivalent since they are all mani­festations of the same universally shared condition of being constituted within this reality and of responding to the dynamic of the divine being within reality. The differences between the various responses are only differences of empha­sis, of degree of clarification, or of cultural color–but the foundation of all experiences and symbolisms is the same according to Voegelin. Here is how he describes these varieties:

“We had to note the peculiar diversification of the complex through the modes of compactness and differentiation; the diversification of compactness through the language of the myth, through mythospeculative constructions of the cos­mogonic type, and through pneumatically differentiated mythospeculations; the further diversification of differentiated types of consciousness through the ex­periential accents on either the divine irruption of the pneuma or on the noetic quest in response to a divine movement; the diversification of these various types in a plurality of ethnic cultures; within the ethnic cultures, the diversification through personalities and social fields; and as a result . . . the creation of diversi­fied historical fields of truth.”11

The most basic type of manifestation of the response to the movement of being in existence is what Voegelin calls non-noetic knowledge, which is the “unaware,” “ordinary,” general knowledge any society has of the world and of its order. This, in fact, is the type of knowledge that usually determines the order within a given society, at any given time. The noetic or pneumatic types of knowledge, however, are more conscious attempts to know and to become aware of reality; they represent more differentiated ways of knowing. What are then these “noetic” and “pneumatic” experiences, and what is the difference between them?

Voegelin: The Noetic Theophanies

The noetic theophanies are moments of man’s openness toward the logos or order of reality, and they are constituted (just like the pneumatic theophanies) by the god revealing himself (as the Nous, in the case of the noetic ones). Participation in the noetic movement within reality is always a response to a theophanic event;12 “the life of reason, thus, is firmly rooted in a revelation” of the divine ground of being.13

Within the flow of being, two poles are experienced by man–one symbol­ized as the temporal and the other as the eternal being. From the temporal pole, which is experienced as being within man, the tension is perceived as a “loving and hopeful pressure toward the divine eternity” (noetic quest); from the eter­nal pole, which is perceived to be beyond all temporal being of the world, the tension appears as “a call and a pressing in of grace” (pneumatic experience).14 All the events of the movement of being are “theophanies” and “revelations;” “revelation,” therefore, is not a term exclusive to pneumatic experiences, according to Voegelin.

Furthermore, “that the insights of the classic philosophers have something to do with ‘natural reason’ as distinguished from ‘revelation’ is a conceit developed by the Patres when they accepted the Stoic symbols of Nature and Reason uncritically as ‘philosophy’.” The ignorance of the fact that the constitution of the psyche–of what is usually called reason, or natural reason–originates in a theophanic event has been caused by the theologians’ eagerness to monopolize the symbol “revelation” for Israelite, Jewish, and Christian theophanies.

Instead, according to Voegelin (or at least to Voegelin toward the end of his career–for example, in volume 4 of Order and History), both the Greek philosophers’ as well as Saint Paul’s answers are responses to theophanies; the difference is one of emphasis on either the divinely noetic or­der as it is incarnate in the world (the Greeks) or the divinely pneumatic salva­tion from disorder (Saint Paul).15

This, however, does not seem to have been Voegelin’s position at an earlier point, at the time of writing some of the studies that were published in Anamnesis. There not all events are “revelations.” Instead, Voegelin distinguishes between philosophy, as when the accent is placed on the human seeking-and-receiving pole, so that the knowledge of the metaxy and of the order of being is the main focus, and revelation, as when the accent is placed on the divine pole, so that the knowledge involved is only the communication of the divine irrup­tion.16

Philosophy and Revelation Become Theophanies

It seems that the meaning of the concepts had changed by the time of writing volume 4 of Order and History, so that at this later point all manifesta­tions of the flux of being in history are considered “revelations,” and what he defined in Anamnesis as philosophy and revelation are conceptualized now as “noetic” and “pneumatic” theophanies, respectively. “Revelation” and “theophany” thus become the generic terms for all mani­festations of the movement of being in reality, and noetic and pneumatic are two different varieties of this movement. What are the specific differences be­tween the noetic and the pneumatic theophanies?

On the one hand, the par­ticipation in the movement of being may be experienced “either [as] the divine irruption of the pneuma or . . . [as] the noetic quest in response to a divine movement.” On the other hand, the object or focus of the individual responses differs: the noetic ones deal more with “the structure of the existence in the Metaxy,” while the pneumatic ones focus on “the structure of divine reality in its pneumatic depth of creation and salvation.”17 Briefly put, the noetic pursuit seems to be of the temporal pole, in terms both of the originating experience and of the object on which it focuses, while the pneumatic theophanies seem to originate and to refer to the eternal pole. Notwithstanding these differences, both the noetic and the pneumatic experiences happen within, and by virtue of, the same movement of being that constitutes reality.

The great advantage of the noetic responses is that they are more advanced analytically in terms of our knowledge of how existence in this world is structured. Even if the Paulinic theophany was much more differentiated in terms of its awareness of the one creator God, the noetic theophanies and thus the Greek philosophers’ responses, were richer in terms of their implications for the structure of temporal existence. This focus of the noetic endeavor we shall see later is important in terms of understanding the Voegelinian endeavor it­self. “Noesis,” according to Voegelin, “lays open the structure of the world in a radical way by removing mythical, revelatory, ideological, and other mortgages on truth.”18

The Scandal of Christianity

According to the explanatory framework proposed by Voegelin, both the noetic and the pneumatic endeavors are possible by virtue of the metaleptic condition of divine participation in the human and human participation in the divine. All men participate in the flux of the divine being in reality, a flux that can become luminous in the human consciousness.

In Voegelin’s words, “All experiences of the ground are in like manner experiences of participation;”19 they only “accentuate different aspects of the one truth of man’s existence under God,” thus resulting in “the Greek noetic or the Israelite-Jewish pneumatic revelations of divine reality.”20a In other words, the noetic and the pneumatic endeavors seem to be occasioned by an equal and universal participation of the human in the divine and of the divine in the constitution of human consciousness: they are all “theophanies” of the same divine ground of being. The divine is universally accessible, by virtue of the very structure of human existence.

Even the “Beyond,” which seemed to be characterized by a certain remoteness, by a transcendence of a more radical nature, is not in fact “a thing beyond things,” but “the experienced presence, the Parousia, of the formative It-reality in all things.” It seems that the god of the mythopoets is the god of the philosophers is the god of the prophets is the god of Christ:

“Unless we want to indulge in extraordinary theological assumptions, the god who appeared to the philosophers, and who elicited from Parmenides the exclamation ‘Is!,’ was the same God who revealed himself to Moses as the ‘I am who (or: what) I am.'”20

This equivalent sharing in the divine ground of being is caused by the fundamental equivalence of how human consciousness is constituted for each and every human being. As mentioned before, all knowledge of the order of being is an event within consciousness:

“There are no Greek insights into the structure of reality apart from those of the philosophers in whose psyches the noetic theophany occurred; nor are there Israelite, Jewish, and Christian insights into the dynamics of transfiguration apart from the prophets, apostles, and above all Jesus, in whose psyche the pneumatic revelations occurred.”21

Then Why the Need for the Incarnation?

Yet at the core of Christianity is the claim that the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is a unique moment, the central moment in history. All other moments are supposed to pale by comparison–in fact, no comparison is possible with the event of God becoming fully man. Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection are the events that, according to Christianity, have changed the very condition of human existence. They have opened eternity in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

In fact, the event of Christ is so unique that everything that went before, or came afterward, will receive its true meaning in relation to the one key “moment” of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Even recognizing that the concept “Incarnation” is a theological symbol that is meant to express a certain reality, and is not the reality itself, one has to recognize still that the reality it claims to express raises such radical demands, that it is necessary to inquire into how it relates to the Voegelinian framework of analysis.

In the Voegelinian analysis, the universality of the condition of sharing in the movement of being in reality implies that we can talk of an ongoing “revelation of the Nous as incarnate in both the psyche and the world.” Indeed, if the movement of being constitutes all reality, and if every consciousness shares in this movement of being by virtue of its very existence, and if all noetic and pneumatic responses are to an equal degree theophanies of this ground of being, then one can see how Voegelin could state the following:

“Transfiguring incarnation . . . does not begin with Christ, as Paul assumed, but becomes conscious through Christ and Paul’s vision as the eschatological telos of the transfiguring process that goes on in history before and after Christ and constitutes its meaning.”22

Then what remains of those claims of uniqueness regarding the Incarnation?

What the Fathers of the Church conceptualized as Christ’s two natures, divine and human, seems to have become only a description of a more differentiated attunement to the same divine ground of being. Although probably representing the highest differentiation, the event appears as only a part of a historical process that has been going on both before and after Christ’s life and death. “The movement in reality, which has become luminous to itself in noetic consciousness [the Greeks], has indeed unfolded its full meaning in the Pauline vision and its exegesis through the myth [of the Son of God];” yet this unfolding seems to be only a matter of degree and not of radical difference.23

At times, the analysis seems to come dangerously close to those claims that posit Christ as only an exemplary man, or to “humanistic” descriptions of Christ as a role model, as an enlightened person, and so forth. Voegelin must have been quite knowledgeable about the history of heresies; so how could these ambiguities be explained?

The Scandal of the Crucifixion

And then there is the Cross. What possible meaning could the Cross have? Does it become an accident–a consequence of the depraved state of mankind, a Socratic moment of the polis rejecting the enlightened one? This, again, would not be a new claim–but it is not the claim of Christianity, either. Instead, for Christianity, the events of the Cross and of the Resurrection are supposed to be the very accomplishment of the Incarnation; they are supposed to be acts that have accomplished an immutable change in the human condition, that opened the eternal (the Eschaton) to man.

This meaning of the Cross and of the Resurrection of Christ is at the heart of the scandal of Christianity; without these events, there is no scandal–just one more teacher, one more prophet, one more enlightened thinker. Without these events, however, there is no redemption, either, and, according to Christianity, the condition of man, far from being enough in and of itself, was in dire need of redemption.

The recognition of the fact that the condition of man was in need of redemption is another way of saying that the awareness of sin is intrinsic to the meaning of the Cross. “O, felix culpa!” goes the exclamation, as a means of expressing the greatness of the acts of Christ, the redemptor hominis, redemptor mundi. The greater the need, the greater the act; the need was so great, goes the claim of Christianity, that only an act of God could actually remedy it.

Yet if the condition of humankind is one of participation in the divine by sheer virtue of existence–if, in fact, history is participation in the divine– then what need is there for redemption? If all responses are theophanies, including that of Christ, then there can be only increased participation, further differentiation, more analytical clarity–but how and why would there be a need for the Cross and the Resurrection? In what way would these be necessary acts of redemption?

In fact–and this is a subsidiary question–how could the existence of evil be explained, if the initial condition is enough? Voegelin explains the various deformations within the individual responses, by referring to individual defects: he talks about egophanic self-aggrandizement, about alienation and libidinous obsession, about human vices such as “hybris, pleonexia, alazoneia tou biou, superbia vitae, pride of life, libido dominandi, and will to power,” and others.24

Yet even those thinkers who gave deformed answers, a Comte, a Hegel, or a Marx, were responding to the same dynamics of being within reality, to the same structure of reality. The structure remains the same, the condition is the same–yet it is not clear why it is such a problematic, hard-to-bear condition. Why is there a need for an exodus? Why would there be an Eschaton? And why is it so difficult to live an existence that is completely attuned to the divine?

Evil is More Than Mere Ignorance

In other words, since all responses are occasioned by the same structure of reality, are the deformations only a matter of individual lapses, and is the solution to these deformations more knowledge? Clearly, evil is not simply accidental, or a matter of ignorance, but something that affects human existence so that the given condition is not enough–there is a need for a radical change, which nothing within the existing condition can provide.

The question is: is man (within the given structure of existence) enough, or does he need Christ’s Cross and Resurrection? We know that Voegelin considers Christianity a further differentiation. Paul, says Voegelin, went further than Socrates, by virtue of the pneumatic theophany to which he responded. The Greeks, says Voegelin:

“conducted their analysis within the limits set by the fundamentally intracosmic character of the theophany to which they responded, ‘and thus’ the Platonic Third God never became the Pauline one and only God who creates the world and reveals himself in history.”


“Only through Paul’s response to his vision did the philosophers’ athanatizein expand into the pneumatic aphtarsia; the paradigmatic polis, into the organization of man’s spiritual as distinguished from his temporal order; and the third Age of the Nous, into the eschatological structure of history under the one God of all ages.”25

However, Paul’s response and interpretation were “analytically defective,” and in that sense remained inferior to the Socratic one.26 How can this be? Well, it seems that the Paulinic endeavor was higher in what pertains to pneumatic experiences (namely, knowledge about God himself, man’s spiritual order, eschatology, the irruption of grace itself) but deficient in what pertains by (Voegelin’s) definition of the noetic (the structure of temporal existence).

Yet let us not forget that both Socrates and Paul are variations–noetic and pneumatic–of the same intrinsically theophanic structure of reality. The movement of revelation is inherent to how reality is constituted, and all human beings share in this reality. Socrates or Paul, then, might be enough. What use is there, then, for such radical claims as those about Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection? Why would there be a need for such absurd, paradoxical acts? Why would there be a need for a redemptor–and what could “redemption” actually mean, for this intrinsically theophanic reality?

Kierkegaard and the Limits of Socratic Sharing

Let us recall that, for Voegelin, the foundation of human beings’ access to order is the fact that they all share in the same condition, of existing in the metaxy, of sharing in the divine ground of being. This, in fact, is what makes knowledge possible: that reality (of which consciousness is a part) is internally cognitive, and the ground of being that constitutes this reality becomes luminous in and through human consciousness. This flux of being is what constitutes humankind and human history, and this universal sharing in the divine ground of being is what makes the quests intelligible and communicable to all the partners in the pursuit, from Socrates to twentieth-century readers such as Voegelin and twenty-first-century learners such as ourselves.27

This sharing in a preexistent condition, a condition that makes understanding possible, is a key aspect of what Kierkegaard calls the Socratic. The Socratic attempt, according to him, is based on the assumption that all the participants in the quest already have the truth (the eternal, the divine) within, that it has been within them from the beginning. If they did not have the truth within, they could not pursue it, as the pull of:

“the unknown” or of “the god” is perceived and pursued within consciousness. In the Socratic view, every human being is himself the midpoint, and the whole world focuses only on him because his self-knowledge is God-knowledge.”28

Man responds to the pull he perceives in himself; or, to use Voegelin’s terms, the encounter of the divine happens in human consciousness, where divine and human meet, where the movement of being becomes luminous. Thus, according to Kierkegaard, the Socratic task is the pursuit of the truth through “recollection,”29 through what Voegelin describes as the “reflectively distancing remembrance . . . that Plato has symbolized expressively, although still rather compactly, as the noetic anamnesis.”30 Not coincidentally, then, this is a key term for Voegelin, too.

The Socratic endeavor is thus one of pursuing understanding, and every understanding is in fact recollection, and recollection is based on the fact that man already has the divine within. In Voegelin’s terms, the noetic (and pneumatic) pursuits are made possible by the fact that all human beings share in the divine ground of being, by virtue of the structure of existence. Yet understanding has a limit, and the limit of knowing is the unknown, from where the pull or call comes, which Socrates has followed up to that point.

The God Who Remains Unknown

This god or unknown, whose pull Socrates perceives, remains always distinct from the pursuer, and Socrates knows he is not the one who can beget the truth. His role, rather, is that of a midwife, of the one who can accompany by virtue of having experienced the pursuit himself. “The work he carried out was a divine commission . . . and the divine intention, as Socrates also understood it, was that the god forbade him to give birth;” or, as Socrates is made to say in Plato’s Theaetetus: “The god constrains me to serve as a midwife, but has debarred me from giving birth.”31

The existence of this unknown/god is central to the whole Socratic endeavor: “He constantly presupposes that the god exists, and on this presupposition he seeks to infuse nature with the idea of fitness and purposiveness.” The very Socratic ignorance is, according to Kierkegaard, “a kind of fear and worship of God, . . . the Greek version of the Jewish saying: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”32

Yet if the condition is given, if anamnesis is the way, if consciousness is the place, if the divine is to be encountered within–why does the divine remain the different, the unknown, and what does this say about understanding, and about the condition itself? If the divine is already within, and can be pursued, yet cannot be attained, what does this say about the relationship between the pursuer and the divine?

What was Socrates’ experience? Encountering “the different,” the unknown, “the connoisseur of human nature [Socrates] became almost bewildered about himself . . . . [H]e no longer knew whether he was a more curious monster than Typhon or whether there was something divine in him.” In fact, Socrates’ wisdom seems to reside exactly in this awareness of his ignorance regarding the unknown/god. The path of understanding led Socrates to a frontier on which he stood guard, by way of his ignorance, to make sure that understanding did not mistake itself for the different:

“As far as it was possible for a pagan he was on guard duty as a judge on the frontier between God and man, keeping watch so that the deep gulf of qualitative difference between them was maintained, between God and man, that God and man did not merge in some way, philosophice, poetice, etc., into one. That was why Socrates was the ignorant one, and that was why the deity found him to be the wisest of men.”33

Sometimes, on the same frontier between understanding and the god, Voegelin can appear just as bewildered as Socrates. If the divine is within, and both the noetic and the pneumatic theophanies are movements of the same ground of being, what does it mean to say that “the God who is experienced as concretely present remains the God beyond his presence,” so that “the language of the gods . . . is fraught with the problem of symbolizing the experience of a not-experientable divine reality?”

What does it mean that there are “limits set to the philosopher’s exploration of reality by the divine mystery of the noetic height and the apeirontic depth?”34 To what are these limits due? It would be simple– and accurate, probably–to say that this is the structure of reality, period. However, if this is the structure of reality that is shared by all, making possible both the noetic and the pneumatic experiences, then one has to ask again: Why and how are the Christian pneumatic theophanies further differentiations? Do pneumatic theophanies reach further in terms of “noetic height” and of “apeirontic depth”? How? Also, if the Christian theophanies represent only further differentiations, then who and what is Christ? If incarnation is an on-going historical process, if it is the generic movement of the divine ground of being in reality–then who is Christ?

The Consciousness of Sin Pierces the Boundaries

Standing on the frontier, says Kierkegaard, Socrates realizes that “understanding has the god as close as possible and yet just as far away.” Yet he remains confused, since this distance goes against the logic of the whole anamnetic endeavor, which is based on the assumption that the condition is shared by all, that it is the divine that pulls, that the man shares in the divine and the divine shares in the human.

Yet Socrates does not have the knowledge that would solve this conundrum–since, if he had it, he would already have surpassed the condition. “What did he lack, then? The consciousness of sin, which he could no more teach to any other person than any other person could teach it to him.”35

What is “sin”? In this context, in Kierkegaard’s explanatory framework, it is the technical term for the essential difference between the condition of a Socrates and the condition necessary for a perfect understanding with the god; one could also use the more familiar technical term “original sin” to describe the pursuer’s condition. As we saw, the Socratic condition is characterized by the fact that knowledge, which is occasioned by the condition, hits an unbridgeable frontier, beyond which there is the unknown, and also the source of the pull that has guided understanding up to that point.

On that frontier, Socrates stands confused, as the same condition that made the pursuit possible is no longer able to take him any further–and what else is there, other than the condition? Is it not, in fact, simply a matter of purifying knowledge (Plato), since the divine is already within? Or is it not simply a matter of individual faults of various thinkers (Voegelin) who, because of their hybris or libido dominandi, deform their answers to the universally accessible movement of being (the given condition)?

Within the condition, these seem to be adequate solutions. Why? Because “no human being can come further than that; no man of himself and by himself can declare what sin is, precisely because he is in sin.”36 No human being can, of himself, surpass his condition, the condition of being affected by sin, and thus the frontiers of understanding.

Yet the pursuer cannot be satisfied with that frontier, either. Understanding (and man) must follow the passion that guided it (him) until that point. “The passion . . . has correctly perceived the unknown as the frontier,” yet “in its paradoxicality the understanding cannot stop reaching it and being engaged with it.” Yet how can it engage it, since the frontier is exactly the incapacity to understand more, to comprehend any further–hence the “unknown” that actually represents the frontier? This is, indeed, “the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.”37

The Need for a Unique Moment

The condition, however, cannot help the pursuer; the condition is no longer enough. What is needed, is a change of condition–a new condition.38 Yet understanding of its own cannot provide that; it can only reveal its limits. It cannot encompass and comprehend the unknown, the god–thus the solution must come from somewhere else. This is a moment unlike any other moment.

All the moments in the Socratic are alike, as they are all part of the same condition; at any moment within the given structure of reality, the pursuer (if he is an able man or woman) can undergo the anamnesis. Yet the anamnesis is not enough. What is needed is a moment, unique, a moment that we could call, with Kierkegaard, “the fullness of time.”

What is this moment? It is the self-revelation of the Truth–it is Incarnation. It is the moment of the god becoming man–sharing in his condition, while at the same time remaining fully god. What is the effect of this act? It opens the eyes of man to his original condition–that he, in fact, is in untruth (sin)–and at the same time as it reveals the problem, it also brings the solution to it. Through Incarnation, the gap between that condition and God is surpassed; the God “annul[s] this absolute difference in the absolute equality” of the Incarnation. No other act can bridge the absolute difference; no other act can change the condition of man, but the Incarnation. “In order for the teacher to be able to give the condition, he must be the god, and in order to put the learner in possession of it, he must be man.”39

The Incarnation is Not Socratic

No other act but the Incarnation can change the condition of man. As Kierkegaard expresses it, “In order for the teacher to be able to give the condition, he must be the god, and in order to put the learner in possession of it, he must be man.”39 This is why the Incarnation is unlike any moment in the Socratic; this is why the flux of being that makes understanding possible and becomes luminous in consciousness is not the same as the Incarnation.

This is why the Incarnation has not been going on throughout history: “A moment such as this is unique.”40 The central claim of Christianity is this: God’s becoming man in Christ and Christ’s life, death on the cross, and resurrection constitute together the redemptive “moment’ without which man would remain in sin, and without which the eternal, the god, would never have become accessible.

The understanding, however, will not know what to make of this paradox, of God’s becoming man; for understanding, since it cannot comprehend it, it seems absurd. If understanding cannot comprehend it, then how can the human being arrive at accepting it? How can the unhappy relationship between the understanding and the paradox be transformed into a happy one?

The understanding wills its own downfall, since it wants to follow the passion that takes it toward the unknown: it wants to reach the end of the road. The paradox, on the other hand, wants to give itself, since this is why it has come in the first place. What new thing could make possible such a happy encounter between the passion of understanding and the paradox?

When the understanding and the paradox happily encounter each other in the moment, when the understanding steps aside and the paradox gives itself . . . the something in which this occurs . . . is that happy passion . . . [that] [w]e shall call faith. Who can provide this happy passion–since it was not part of the original condition of the pursuer?

“This passion . . . [is the] condition that the paradox provides. Let us not forget this: if the paradox does not provide the condition, then the learner is in possession of it; but if he is in possession of the condition, then he is eo ipso himself the truth.”41

Living Beyond Despair

Faith is the new condition that makes it possible for understanding to let go and for the paradox to give itself; faith is the passion that allows for a happy encounter between the pursuer and the Truth. What is this moment? It is the moment of faith, which allows for the pursuer to partake in the god, by virtue of the god becoming alike to the pursuer. This is what Kierkegaard describes as the only form of self-positioning in which the human being does not misrelate himself to the structure of his existence.

Despair, as Kierkegaard describes it, has many faces, yet in its essence it is the human being’s misrelation to the other that constituted and continues to constitute the whole relational structure that is the self. Thus:

“the formula for the state in which there is no despair at all [is that] . . . the self rests transparently in the power that established it. This formula in turn, as has been frequently pointed out, is the definition of faith.”42

Incarnation–the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ–is thus the only remedy to the condition in which man finds himself (sin), and it is also the act that makes it possible for the human being to live in accordance with the true structure of his existence.

The Radical Difference: Christianity vs. the Socratic

If in the Socratic the moment has no importance, because the eternal is already within man, the moment, in Christianity, is of fundamental importance, as it is the unique moment of the eternal becoming temporal, so that the temporal can become eternal.

In the Socratic, the paradox is already part of the structure of consciousness–half-human, half-divine–and it is this given metaleptic nature of reality that makes understanding (anamnesis) possible; in Voegelin’s words, Incarnation has been going on forever.

In Christianity, on the other hand, Incarnation is not an intrinsic, everyday part of the universal condition of man–it is a violation of the “regular” condition of man, but also the healing of the condition; it is an act that could never have been possible within the normal circumstances of the human condition.

Faith as the Organ for Truth

Existence, as it is, is under sin, yet the understanding cannot see that it is in untruth, without Truth revealing it to the pursuer, by revealing itself as the Truth. This is why, for the understanding, the Incarnation is the paradox; this is why the moment seems to be of the absurd: because the understanding cannot comprehend the Truth, as it is in untruth.

This is why the god must himself help the pursuer go beyond the limits of understanding, and the god does this through the new condition it provides, and the name of this new condition is faith. In Kierkegaard’s words:

“A new organ has been assumed here: faith; and a new presupposition: the consciousness of sin; and a new decision: the moment; and a new teacher: the god in time.”43

Does this mean that the Socratic, or understanding, is now dismissed? Does faith replace understanding? That would be a strange thing, indeed, since understanding, as Voegelin made it clear, is possible only by virtue of the divine origin of all existence.

Socrates Protects Our Ignorance

Socrates was found to be wise because he remained truthful to understanding, especially with regard to the limits of understanding; his ignorance was the sign of his wisdom. Precisely this is no doubt what our age, what Christendom needs: a little Socratic ignorance with respect to Christianity–but please note, a little ‘Socratic’ ignorance.44

Why does the age need a little Socratic ignorance? Because the age has assumed not only that it has gone beyond Socrates but also that it has surpassed Christianity. And it has assumed these things by presuming that it has understood it all, that it has surpassed the condition, that understanding has comprehended the unknown. This, of course, is very un-Socratic–and, thus, very unwise.

Any qualification that claims to render the god directly knowable,” far from being an advance beyond Christianity, is “retrogression rather than progress, movement away from the paradox rather than toward the paradox, back past Socrates and Socratic ignorance.” Thus, “what the world, confused simply by too much knowledge, needs is a Socrates.44A

Furthermore, the Socratic remains necessary not only as the wisdom of recognizing both the importance as well as the limits of understanding–not only, as it were, “before” faith. The Socratic also remains valid in terms of the relationships between human beings, after the moment.

Let us not forget that, according to Kierkegaard, faith is the realm of the relationship between man and God; Socratic midwifery, on the other hand, is by definition the realm of the relationship between human beings. Thus, “once the condition is given, that which was valid for the Socratic is again valid”;45 midwifery remains a noble calling for man, in terms of the relationship of one man to another.

Is St. Paul’s Analysis Defective?

The object of Voegelin’s analysis, and the very condition that makes his analysis possible, is the metaleptic dimension of human existence: the reciprocal participation of the human in the divine and of the divine in the human, which constitutes history. “The historical dimension of humanity is neither world-time nor eternity but the flux of presence in the Metaxy.”46

Since history (the metaxy) is constituted both by the eternal and by the temporal, it is of primordial importance, for Voegelin, that neither the divine nor the human be excluded from the analysis of human existence. Maintaining this balance of historical existence is then a central concern of the Voegelinian endeavor, and Plato and Aristotle are the models in this sense: “The establishment of the balance through Plato and Aristotle, both in fact and as a postulate of reason, is one of the principal events . . . in the history of mankind.”46A

The metaxy, then, is the object of his examination and the measure for judging the various noetic or pneumatic endeavors, and his criticism of some of the prophets’ attempts or of Paul’s words refers to their failure to maintain or support the balance within the metaxy. Thus, Voegelin talks about “Paul’s analytically defective interpretation of his vision.”47

But did Paul actually intend to analytically clarify the structure of existence? In other words, is not his endeavor of a different kind? According to Voegelin himself, it is:

“Paul concentrates not on the structure of reality that becomes luminous through the noetic theophany, as the philosophers do, but on the divine eruption that constitutes the new existential consciousness.”48

Yet this is exactly the difference between the noetic and the pneumatic endeavors in Voegelin’s thought: if the first is a quest from the temporal, focusing the answer on the structure of existence, the second is lived as an eruption of grace from the divine, and its object is the relationship of man with the divine.

What Then is the Noetic Analysis After Christ?

Of what sort, then, is the Voegelinian endeavor? His object is the balance of existence in history, and his instrument is the noesis that is made possible by the given structure of existence; according to the Voegelinian paradigm, his is a noetic endeavor. If his endeavor is a noetic one, what does this mean for us as readers, and for the objects of his analysis? For example, are there certain characteristics of the noetic, coming from the very nature of the endeavor, of which we should be aware?

What makes the noetic endeavor possible? The condition that all the pursuers already have the truth within, that they already share in the divine–which is the metaleptic condition. We see, then, that the Socratic condition described by Kierkegaard is the same thing as the condition that allows for the noetic endeavor.

Also, both Socrates and Voegelin know and recognize that there are intrinsic limits to this condition, that is, that there is a limit set to understanding; in fact, this awareness is what makes Socrates the wise one. Socrates stood on the frontier but was confused, because he did not have the instruments to sharply define what that border actually stands for, and thus he was not sure “whether he was a more curious monster than Typhon or whether there was something divine in him.”

Voegelin, however, does have the necessary instruments at his disposal. He is writing after the birth of Christ, and he knows the difference between the noetic and the pneumatic endeavors. Yet Voegelin affirms that both the noetic and the pneumatic are theophanies, or revelations (of the divine ground of being). However, if they are only variations within the theophanic condition, then the condition would be enough. If the condition is enough, then Paul’s is a more differentiated variety, one that is focused on the divine pole–but only a variety. And then who, and what, is Christ?

Reconciling Christianity with Noesis

The central claim of Christianity is the claim that Christ himself expressed: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That Christ is the way–that the condition of man is not enough; that it is in need of redemption, and that the acts that have redeemed this condition were Christ’s birth, life, death on the cross, and resurrection; that these acts have done something that man could never have achieved within his given condition; that these are the acts that have opened for man the path toward his true end, which is the true, final end of the Socratic pursuit, passion, pull; that there is no redemption without the Incarnation–is the central radical claim of Christianity.

Who would argue that Voegelin was not familiar with this claim? Yet this claim of Christianity seems difficult to reconcile with the idea of the essential equivalence of all “theophanies” by virtue of a condition that man had since the beginnings of human existence. How can this seeming contradiction be explained?

Voegelin was very much aware of the differences between the noetic experiences, such as Socrates,’ and the pneumatic ones, such as Paul’s. Yet perhaps he was not equally aware of his own endeavor, of the inherent implications of being involved in an endeavor of a certain type. His is a Socratic analysis–a noetic analysis–and what does that mean?

It means that his endeavor is made possible by historical existence (the metaleptic condition) and that this historical existence is also the object of his study. Just like Plato or Aristotle, he focuses his attention on the clarification of the structure of existence. As Voegelin makes clear, experience and instrument cannot be distinguished absolutely, since the differentiation of concepts is in fact the very experience that these concepts endeavor to express. Thus, in terms of the condition, of his instruments, and of his object, Voegelin’s is a noetic, Socratic endeavor.

Voegelin as Midwife Among Men

He is the midwife, careful not to let any learner think that he is the god and “immanentize the eschaton”–since he knows that no pursuer is the source of the truth. He is the midwife, and midwifery is the realm–by definition–of the relationship between one human being and another; his whole attempt is “located” within the movement of being in reality that constitutes humankind and history. The Voegelinian endeavor happens within this condition of the metaleptically constituted existence in history, by virtue of this condition, and having this condition as the object of its analysis. Yet this condition is not all; all is not this condition.

The noetic endeavor is valid both before and after the “moment” of the Incarnation (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), but it cannot comprehend the “moment” itself. The pursuer can enter this new moment only if he receives a new condition, and this new condition is conferred by the paradoxical act of God taking up the condition of the pursuer, and thus changing it definitively; the passion that allows for the pursuer to partake in this has the name of faith. And Voegelin seems to be aware, at times at least, that he is not working within the moment but before or after it, that the object of his analysis is not the divine irruption but existence in a divinely constituted metaxy.

“In view of the intellectual confusion in our contemporary “climate of opinion,” it will not be superfluous to state again that I am not dealing with problems of theology. The present study is concerned with man’s consciousness of his humanity as it differentiates historically.”49

It is worthy indeed, in view of the dichotomous thinking of modernity, to reiterate with Voegelin and Socrates and Aristotle, that historical existence already has the divine within, that history is the movement of divine ground of being in reality. The noetic endeavor itself is made possible by this sharing in the divine ground of being, as it is a quest of knowledge (a recollection, an anamnesis) that uses this very structure of existence as the path to the source of Truth.

The Metaxy Transcended by Self-Revelation of God

The metaxy is not all, however; God or the divine always remains away. The understanding or the noetic reaches a limit, beyond which it cannot pursue the path; what is encountered is the different, because it cannot comprehend it. The only way to bridge this frontier is the self-revelation of the god, of the Truth. The Christian pneumatic event is an outcome of this unique moment: of Christ’s birth, life, death on the cross, and resurrection. It is not something that happens by virtue of the original condition–like the noetic endeavor.

What is then the relationship between the Christian pneumatic event and the other events that Voegelin calls pneumatic? The radical difference is that the Incarnation is a single moment, not one moment among many equal moments in the condition. In other words, the difference is that most of what he calls pneumatic events are events that happen by virtue of the already existing condition–simply by virtue of the divine participation in existence, as the very ground of existence.

The sacred (to use Mircea Eliade’s term) is a general characteristic of human existence; man is a religious being by virtue of the very structure of his existence (as both Voegelin and Kierkegaard make clear when they described this structure). Christianity, on the other hand, has at its core the radical act that revealed, healed, and surpassed the already existing condition: the act of redemption. Christianity cannot happen by virtue of the condition; Christianity cannot be contained within the condition, because God who reveals himself cannot be contained within the condition (as Socrates seemed to know).

Voegelin’s work is the pursuit of the “classical noesis” of Plato and Aristotle,50 noesis that happens by virtue of the condition. Thus, when Voegelin examines the Incarnation, he does it from the perspective of the condition (the metaxy), of the already given participation of the divine ground of being in existence, and in consciousness.

Noesis Misses the Moment of Christ

The noetic, which cannot comprehend the new moment, will judge it from the perspective of the realm that occasions the noetic, and within which the noetic functions–from within the condition. From that perspective, Christ (the different, the paradox, the absurd), if at all accepted, appears as the highest moment among other moments in the condition–a moment, a further differentiation (maybe the highest), among other moments. That, however, is not the truth that Christ claimed about himself, that Christianity claims as its foundational moment–but how could noesis comprehend the God?

The noetic sees only within the condition, and sees noetic, pneumatic, and mythic symbolisms all happening within the condition that is both the instrument and the object of the noetic. With the self-revelation of the God, the condition is surpassed. Then, “once the [new] condition is given, that which was valid for the Socratic is again valid.”51

While working consciously within the further differentiation of Christianity, Voegelin is involved in the classical noetic attempt of Plato and Aristotle. However, the foundation of that classical attempt (the condition) has been changed–not abolished, but changed. The structure of existence in the metaxy is still the same in its essence, only now one has to take into account not only the moments that are all the same within the condition but also the effects of the unique moment of the Incarnation.

In other words, the universal participation in the divine is just as much a truth as it always was, only there has been an event that has redeemed that condition, and thus opened the doors of understanding to reach beyond the condition, with the help of the new passion or condition of faith.

From our perspective as readers, it is crucial to be very clear about the type of endeavor in which a given author is engaged. This will help us to understand both what an analysis can offer and what are its limits; for example, the noetic (Socratic) endeavor works within the condition, but cannot, of its own, surpass the condition. Continuing this work of clarification and applying it to our very own pursuit remain crucial tasks for our own faithful pursuit of the path of understanding.



1. Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Up­building and Awakening, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 13-14,16.

2. This freedom is the self’s freedom to relate itself to itself in various ways. “The self is com­posed of infinitude and finitude. However, this synthesis is a relation, and a relation that, even though it is derived, relates itself to itself, which is freedom. The self is freedom” (ibid., 29).

3. Ibid., 15.

4. Ibid., 14,29.

5. Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (hereafter CW), 34 vols. (Columbia: Uni­versity of Missouri Press, 1990-2009), vol. 6, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, ed. David Walsh and trans. M. J. Hanak (2002), 163, 312, 164-65, 168.

6. “Reality as internally imaginative and, inasmuch as the symbols are meant to be ‘true,’ as internally cognitive” (Voegelin, CW, vol. 18, Order and History, Volume V: In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz [2000], 52-53).

7. Ibid., 30-31.

8. Voegelin, CW, vol. 17, Order and History, Volume IV: The Ecumenic Age, ed. Michael Franz (2000), 279, 271.

9. Ibid., 279.

10. Ibid., 250.

11. Voegelin, CW, 18:46.

12. Ibid., CW, 17:280.

13. Ibid., 292.

14. Voegelin, CW, 6:322-23.

15. Voegelin, CW, 17:96 (quote), 300, 305.

16. Voegelin, CW, 6:335.

17. Voegelin, CW, 18:44,17:375.

18. And it achieves that “by examining the truths of non-noetic experiences with a view to their compatibility with the noetic knowledge of the logos of consciousness” (Voegelin, CW, 6:404 [emphasis added]).

19. Eric Voegelin, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (hereafter CW), 34 vols. (Columbia: Uni­versity of Missouri Press, 1990-2009),Voegelin, CW 17:400, 410.

20. Ibid., 6:372 (emphasis added).

20a. Voegelin, CW 18:44, 17:292, 337.

21. Ibid.

22. Voegelin, CW 17:301,337.

23. “The movement in reality, which has become luminous to itself in noetic consciousness, has indeed unfolded its full meaning in the Pauline vision and its exegesis through the myth” (ibid., 316).

24. See ibid., 333; and Voegelin, CW 18:53.

25. Voegelin, CW 17:375.

26. Ibid., 334.

27. “The Question as a structure in experience is part of, and pertains to, the In-Between stra­tum of reality, the Metaxy” (ibid., 404). Also, “the Question [is] a constant structure in the expe­rience of reality and . . . in the structure of reality itself” (ibid., 399). “The Question is not just any question but the quest concerning the mysterious ground of all Being” (ibid., 393).

28. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments; or, A Fragment of Philosophy, ed. and trans. E. H. Hong and H. V. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 11.

29. See discussions of “recollection” in ibid., 9, 20-21, 96-97.

30. Voegelin, CW 18:55.

31. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 61; Socrates’ words from Theaetetus 150c, as quoted in ibid., 10-11.

32. Ibid., 44; Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 99.

33. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 47; Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 99.

34. Voegelin, CW, 18:83 (emphasis added), 17:56.

35. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 46,47.

36. Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Up­building and Awakening, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 95.

37. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 44, 37.

38. “To remain ignorant that the whole understanding between them was a delusion . . . is the untruth of paganism” (ibid., 33).

39. Ibid., 47, 62.

39a. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 47, 62.

40. Ibid., 18.

41. Ibid., 59.

42. Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 241.

43. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 111.

44. Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 99; Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 64n; Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 92.

44A. Ibid.

45. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 62.

46. Voegelin, CW 17:376, 292.

46A. Ibid.

47. “Without drawing too clear a line between the visionary center of the irruption and the translation of the experience into structural insight” (Ibid., 334).

48. Ibid., 311.

49. Voegelin, CW 17:373.

50. Voegelin, CW 6:372-73.

51. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 62.


This excerpt is from Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought (University of Missouri Press, 2011). An essay of the book is here and our book review is here. Other chapters are available about the following thinkers: Heidegger, Schelling, Kant, Hegel, and Derrida.

Eugen L. Nagy

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Eugene L. Nagy teaches Political Science at Central Washington University.