Sunday, April 21, 2024

Existential Christology of Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard’s existential Christology

Søren Kierkegaard, a 19th-century Danish philosopher and theologian, is often regarded as the father of existentialism. His intricate philosophy interweaves theological concepts, existential questions, and a deep exploration of Christian individuality. This essay explores the main themes of Kierkegaard's works, particularly focusing on how these themes argue in favor of Jesus Christ as central to understanding human existence. Additionally, it provides detailed biographical information to contextualize his ideas.

Biographical overview

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was born on May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The youngest of seven children, his early life was markedly influenced by his father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, a sternly religious man whose melancholy and guilt over perceived sins were imposed upon the young Kierkegaard. This familial atmosphere imbued him with a profound sense of existential dread and a fascination with the complexities of human existence and sin.

Kierkegaard studied theology at the University of Copenhagen, though his academic work often veered into the fields of philosophy and literature. His personal life was equally tumultuous, highlighted by a broken engagement to Regine Olsen, which deeply affected him and influenced his subsequent writings. Kierkegaard’s works were mostly published under various pseudonyms, each representing different viewpoints and exploring various philosophical and theological dilemmas. He died on November 11, 1855, leaving behind a legacy that would posthumously inspire existentialist philosophy and modern theology.

Existential Christology

Kierkegaard's theological thought is predominantly centered around the individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Unlike systematic theologians of his time, Kierkegaard believed that Christianity was not just a set of doctrines to be believed, but a personal journey of faith, marked by a subjective relationship with Christ. His works often critiqued the established church and Christian culture of Denmark for promoting what he saw as a superficial, complacent form of Christianity devoid of passion and authenticity.

1. The absurd faith

In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard discusses the concept of the "leap of faith" necessary for true belief, using the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac to illustrate his point. He argues that faith requires a suspension of the ethical, a move beyond reason that he describes as "absurd." Kierkegaard’s focus on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son highlights the existential struggle between human understanding and divine command, which he ties directly to the individual's relationship with Christ, the ultimate 'absurdity' of God becoming man and dying on the cross.

2. The single individual

In Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard emphasizes that genuine understanding of Christian truths can only be grasped by the individual through a personal and subjective experience. This notion contrasts with the objective approach of doctrinal religion, arguing that each person must come to terms with Christ in a singular existential moment.

3. Christian suffering

Works of Love and The Sickness Unto Death explore the Christian concept of agape love and despair. Here, Kierkegaard delves into the idea that to be a Christian is to suffer as Christ did, not only physically but also existentially, by bearing the weight of one's own sin and the absurdity of life without despair.


Kierkegaard’s existential approach to Christianity revitalizes the narrative of Christ by placing the emphasis on personal faith and the paradox of the divine made human. His writings challenge believers to confront the implications of Christ’s life and teachings directly and personally, making a compelling case for the transformative power of true Christian faith.


This bibliography provides a foundation for further exploration of Kierkegaard’s philosophical and theological contributions, particularly as they pertain to his existential interpretation of Christology.
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling. Translated by Alastair Hannay. Penguin Books, 1985.
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Alastair Hannay. Princeton University Press, 1992.
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. Works of Love. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Harper & Row, 1962.
  • Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness Unto Death. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1980.
  • Garff, Joakim. Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography. Translated by Bruce H. Kirmmse. Princeton University Press, 2005.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The joy of confession

Discover the joy, peace, beauty, forgiveness, and healing that comes with the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, also known simply as confession.

By Aaron S. Robertson

A talk I gave during a retreat for high school catechism students at my parish on April 14, 2024.

Sin is the obstacle blocking the joy that God intends for humanity, for each and every one of us. It’s a separation from God and a deviation from His divine will and purpose for creation, and it comes in many forms. Sin is any thought, word, or deed that violates God’s moral law, disrupts the harmony of the created order, and damages the relationship between humanity and God. Now, when we say thought, we really mean dwelling on bad or impure thoughts, whether they’re about ourselves, others, or God. We all have thoughts constantly running through our minds. This is a natural condition of our fallen human psyche. The real question is whether we let them stew to the point that we willingly allow them to turn into something more serious, like lust, jealousy, rage, unjust anger, the desire to harm someone or ourselves, and so on. Sin also comes in the form of not doing what we should have done - we call this omission. Did we purposely fail to stand up for someone or something in a situation in a way that would have been fair, just, holy, right? Did we intentionally withhold information or the entire truth in a situation that could have caused some sort of harm or distress to others? These are just a couple examples of sinning by omission.

Sin creates a barrier between individuals and God, hindering our ability to fully experience the joy, peace, and fulfillment that come from being in communion with Him. The effects of sin also create that same barrier between all of us. Sin leads to misunderstandings, misperceptions, mistrust, a distorted lens. It not only eats away at our individual relationships with God, but with one another.

The solution? The sacrament of Reconciliation, commonly called confession. And that solution is available here today. And so I respectfully challenge you to take advantage of it today.

I challenge you to go in there, into that confessional, and give it your best. That’s an absolute requirement if you want God’s forgiveness, healing, and the graces necessary to combat sin and temptation going forward. You must give it your best, and that also means genuinely being sorry. Try with everything you’ve got. Recount all your major, serious, intentional sins since your last confession. If you genuinely forget something, that’s totally okay. We all have flawed memories, and for many people, they’re trying to recount years and even decades of sins. But if you’re aware of something you’ve done or may have done – if it enters your mind at any time from now as you’re listening to me through your time in there – you can’t hide it. You need to disclose it. Is it tough to do this at times? Does it make us feel ashamed, embarrassed, pretty lowly? Dirty? Heck yes, it does. But I’ll tell you what. I promise you, with everything I’ve got, that if you go in there, and you genuinely try your best to recount your sins, to be totally honest with God and with yourself, to not beat around the bush and try to hide the seriousness of your sins in vague language, and just let it all come out; if you’re genuinely sorry, I promise you, with everything I’ve got, that things are gonna start happening in ways that cannot be explained by anything in this world.

If you feel separated, alienated from God and from others right now, if you’re tired of searching for answers and relief and distractions in other things, only to come up empty-handed, if you feel lost, if you’re tired of running and hiding, then today is your day. Go in there and give it your best, and walk out of there tall, forgiven, healed, joyful, and prepared to see the entire world and your life in a new lens. I sure did after 20-plus years. Have nothing to hide or fear. Priests have heard it all. God knows it all. Your secrets are safe with them. There is no sin He can’t or won’t forgive you for, there is no wound He can’t or won’t heal. God bless you. Thank you!

Don Bosco

Biography of Don Bosco

St. John Bosco, also known as Don Bosco ("Don" is a title given to priests in Italy), born Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco on August 16, 1815, in Becchi, Italy, was an influential Roman Catholic priest, educator, and writer known for his work with disadvantaged youth. His lifelong mission was to provide children and young adults with the educational and spiritual foundation to lead successful and upright lives.

Early life and education

Don Bosco | St. John Bosco
Giovanni was the youngest son of Francesco Bosco and Margherita Occhiena. Tragedy struck early when his father died, leaving his mother to raise him and his two elder brothers alone. Despite the family's financial struggles, Margherita ensured that Giovanni received a basic education and instilled in him strong Christian values.

Driven by a calling to the priesthood, Bosco entered the seminary. His education was intermittently paused due to financial constraints, but he persevered and was ordained in 1841. His focus during these formative years sharpened towards helping boys who were left impoverished by the industrial revolution in Turin.

Work and achievements

After ordination, Don Bosco dedicated himself to the education and welfare of street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth in the city of Turin. He established a night school for apprentices and opened his home as a refuge for the young and destitute. Bosco's educational philosophy was revolutionary, emphasizing love over punishment, which was a stark contrast to the harsh measures prevalent in the reformatories of the time.

In 1859, Bosco founded the Salesian Society, named after Saint Francis de Sales, renowned for his kind and gentle demeanor. The Society's mission was to continue his work through a network of educational institutions. It quickly spread beyond Italy, becoming one of the largest missionary organizations in the world.

Later years and legacy

Don Bosco was also a prolific writer and publisher, focusing on educational materials and devotional writings that furthered his pedagogical ideals. His efforts were recognized by the Church, and he received support from many quarters, including Pope Pius IX.

He died on January 31, 1888, in Turin and was canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. His legacy lives on through the Salesians, who continue to operate schools and youth centers worldwide.

Key highlights
  • Birth and early life: Born in 1815 in Becchi, Italy, faced early hardship with the death of his father.
  • Ordination: Became a priest in 1841, dedicating his life to the education and betterment of disadvantaged youth.
  • Educational philosophy: Pioneered a system based on love and moral persuasion rather than punishment.
  • Founding of the Salesian Society: Established in 1859, it has grown into a global organization devoted to education and care of young people.
  • Death and canonization: Died in 1888; canonized as a saint in 1934.
  • Lasting impact: Salesian Society continues to be a significant force in global education and youth development.
Don Bosco's story is a remarkable example of dedication to the betterment of society's most vulnerable. His work and the movement he founded remain pivotal in the lives of millions around the world, demonstrating the enduring power of compassion and education.

For more details on the life of St. John Bosco, also known as Don Bosco, check out the previous post, Feast of Don Bosco.

Democratic-Republican Party

The Democratic-Republican Party, also known simply as the Republican Party or Jeffersonian Republicans, was a political party during the early history of the United States. Formed in the 1790s by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others, the Democratic-Republicans emerged in opposition to the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.

The Democratic-Republican Party represented a distinct political faction with its own platform, ideology, and goals. They advocated for a decentralized federal government, strict interpretation of the Constitution, agrarian interests, and a foreign policy favoring France over Britain. They also championed individual liberties, states' rights, and agrarian democracy, contrasting sharply with the Federalists' support for a strong central government, commercial interests, and closer ties with Britain.

The Democratic-Republicans organized themselves into local, state, and national committees; held conventions; and nominated candidates for political office. They ran campaigns, mobilized supporters, and sought to influence public opinion through newspapers, pamphlets, and political speeches.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Democratic-Republicans dominated American politics, winning several presidential elections, including those of Thomas Jefferson (1800, 1804), James Madison (1808, 1812), and James Monroe (1816, 1820). They also controlled Congress for much of this period, shaping legislative agendas and policy priorities.

The Democratic-Republican Party's existence as a political party in the traditional sense is evident in its organization, activities, and electoral successes during the early history of the United States. While it eventually split into various factions and evolved into different political entities, such as the Democratic Party and the National Republican Party, its role in shaping the nation's political landscape during its formative years cannot be denied.

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers stand as one of the most influential collections of political essays in American history. Published between 1787 and 1788, these essays played a crucial role in shaping the discourse surrounding the ratification of the United States Constitution. Comprising 85 essays, the Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the pseudonym "Publius." The primary objective of the Federalist Papers was to advocate for the ratification of the Constitution, presenting a robust defense of its principles and structure.

The need for the Federalist Papers arose out of the contentious debate over the proposed Constitution. After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where delegates from the states gathered to draft a new framework for government, the document faced significant opposition. Anti-Federalists, who feared centralized power and distrusted a strong national government, voiced their concerns through newspapers, pamphlets, and public speeches. In response, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay embarked on a concerted effort to counter these arguments and persuade the public of the Constitution's merits.

The essays covered a wide array of topics, ranging from the necessity of a strong central government to the structure of the proposed system of checks and balances. One of the central themes of the Federalist Papers was the concept of federalism itself - the division of power between the national government and the states. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay argued that a balance between federal authority and state sovereignty was essential for maintaining stability and protecting individual liberties. They contended that the Constitution achieved this balance by granting specific powers to the federal government while reserving others to the states.

Moreover, the Federalist Papers delved into the intricacies of the proposed governmental structure, elucidating the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Hamilton, in particular, expounded upon the role of the executive in Federalist Nos. 67–77, defending the concept of a unitary executive with strong authority in foreign affairs and national defense. Madison, often hailed as the "Father of the Constitution," outlined the rationale behind the system of checks and balances in Federalist Nos. 47–51, emphasizing the need to prevent any one branch from usurping excessive power.

Beyond discussing the theoretical underpinnings of the Constitution, the Federalist Papers addressed practical concerns regarding its implementation. Hamilton, for instance, tackled issues related to taxation and finance in Federalist Nos. 30–36, advocating for a robust fiscal policy to secure the nation's credit and ensure economic stability. Meanwhile, Madison explored the mechanics of representation and the dangers of factionalism in Federalist Nos. 10 and 51, proposing institutional remedies to mitigate the negative effects of partisan strife.

The Federalist Papers were not merely a theoretical treatise; they were a strategic campaign aimed at persuading the American public and influencing the ratification process. The authors understood the importance of public opinion in determining the fate of the Constitution and sought to address the concerns of ordinary citizens. By disseminating their arguments through newspapers and other media outlets, they sought to sway public sentiment in favor of ratification.

The impact of the Federalist Papers cannot be overstated. Although the Constitution faced staunch opposition in several states, the cogent arguments presented in the essays helped to shift the tide of public opinion. Their influence was particularly pronounced in key battleground states such as New York and Virginia, where the ratification debates were fiercely contested. Ultimately, the Federalist Papers played a pivotal role in securing the ratification of the Constitution, laying the foundation for the American system of government that endures to this day.

In conclusion, the Federalist Papers represent a seminal contribution to American political thought. Through their eloquent defense of the Constitution, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay helped to shape the course of American history, ensuring the establishment of a strong and enduring federal republic. The essays remain a testament to the power of reasoned argumentation and continue to be studied and debated, reaffirming their enduring relevance in the annals of American political discourse.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise: Balancing act in a divided nation


The Missouri Compromise, enacted in 1820, was a pivotal legislative act in the early history of the United States that aimed to balance the power between slave and free states. This compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, sought to maintain a delicate balance in Congress. It also established a geographic line (the 36°30' parallel) across the Louisiana Territory, north of which slavery was prohibited (except in Missouri). The Missouri Compromise was one of the first major attempts to address the growing sectional conflict over slavery and set a precedent for future compromises in the antebellum period.

Background: A nation divided

As the United States acquired more territory and admitted new states, the balance of power between North and South became increasingly contentious. The admission of Missouri as a state in 1819 triggered a national debate over the expansion of slavery. The North saw the expansion of slavery as a threat to the concept of equal opportunity and to the balance of power, while the South viewed the restriction of slavery as a threat to its economic interests and political power.

The terms of the compromise

The Missouri Compromise consisted of three main conditions:

Missouri's admission as a slave state: Missouri would be admitted to the Union as a slave state, which appeased Southern interests concerned about maintaining a balance of power in the Senate.

Maine's admission as a free state: To balance Missouri’s admission, Maine was admitted as a free state, which pleased Northern interests.

Prohibition of slavery north of 36°30' parallel: Perhaps the most significant aspect of the compromise was the stipulation that in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 36°30' (the southern boundary of Missouri), slavery would be prohibited. This provision attempted to set a long-term framework for the expansion of new territories.

Impact and legacy

Immediate effects

The Missouri Compromise temporarily resolved the crisis over the admission of new states and the expansion of slavery, but it was a clear sign of the growing sectionalism that would eventually lead to the Civil War. It provided a short-term political solution but did not address the underlying moral and economic tensions that divided the nation.

Long-term consequences

The Missouri Compromise had significant long-term implications for the United States. It established the precedent of Congressional intervention in the expansion of slavery, which would be a contentious issue in future compromises and decisions, such as the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The compromise also highlighted the increasingly sectional nature of American politics.


In conclusion, the Missouri Compromise was a crucial moment in the history of the United States, representing an early attempt to deal with the divisive issue of slavery as the nation expanded. While it succeeded in temporarily maintaining the balance of power between slave and free states, it also highlighted the profound divisions within the country. The compromise was a testament to the complexities of managing a nation with deeply entrenched economic, moral, and social differences. Its legacy is a reminder of the challenges that the United States faced in its early years and foreshadowed the greater conflicts that would eventually lead to the Civil War.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854: A prelude to the Civil War


The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in American history. Proposed by U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat representing Illinois, the Act created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands to settlement and, most controversially, allowing the settlers there to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery through the principle of popular sovereignty. This legislation overturned the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery in that region for over three decades, and it significantly escalated the sectional conflict that would eventually lead to the American Civil War.

Background: The desire for a transcontinental railroad

The origins of the Kansas-Nebraska Act are closely linked to the development of a transcontinental railroad. Senator Douglas envisioned Chicago as the eastern end point of the railroad, which required organizing the region west of Missouri and Iowa into U.S. territories. However, this region lay north of the latitude 36°30' line established by the Missouri Compromise as the boundary between free and slave territories.

The provisions of the Act

To gain Southern support for the Act and the railroad, Douglas proposed applying the principle of popular sovereignty to the new territories, allowing settlers to vote on the legality of slavery. This was a direct contradiction to the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery in the same latitude. The Act was passed in May 1854 and signed into law by President Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, leading to immediate and significant repercussions.

The impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act

Political realignments

The Act led to a profound realignment of American politics. The Whig Party, already weakened, disintegrated under the strain of the slavery issue, while the Democratic Party became increasingly sectionalized. The political turmoil catalyzed the formation of the Republican Party, which unified various anti-slavery groups and individuals committed to opposing the spread of slavery into the new territories.

"Bleeding Kansas"

The most immediate and violent impact of the Act was in Kansas Territory, where pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers rushed to establish a majority. The resulting conflict, known as "Bleeding Kansas," was marked by widespread violence and fraud in electoral processes. This mini civil war served as a grim preview of the national conflict that would erupt less than a decade later.

National divisions

The Act exacerbated sectional tensions to a breaking point, with Northerners outraged over the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and Southerners emboldened by the opportunity to expand slavery into new territories. The debate over the Act and its implementation revealed the deep moral, economic, and political divisions between the North and South.


In conclusion, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was a pivotal moment in the lead-up to the American Civil War. By introducing popular sovereignty into the territories, the Act not only nullified the Missouri Compromise but also transformed the political landscape of the United States. The violent conflicts in Kansas and the national uproar that followed demonstrated the intractability of the slavery issue and signaled the failure of legislative compromise as a means to resolve the sectional strife. The Act not only shaped the course of American history by accelerating the approach of war but also underscored the profound consequences of political decisions on the fabric of the nation.