Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing by Søren Kierkegaard

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Summary

Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing is a sermon about goodness. The opening condemns "double-mindedness," which, as we are to learn, represents willing more than one thing, or willing anything besides Good. Kierkegaard spends a paragraph making sure the audience doesn't worry that willing only one thing might interfere with their lives, because the ways their wills direct them down their paths still points them to Good.

Kierkegaard believes that all paths point to Good because all people have good inherent in them. This also means that no one can simply choose to will against the Good: they can only be double-minded.

Kierkegaard blames this double-mindedness on academic education, which he says conceals the Good and calls it by other names so that people become confused. He also calls into question people who claim to want any singular thing besides Good, because he says that each of these desires actually represents a multitude of complex and often contradicting wants, and that no pleasure besides the satisfaction of Good can actually be satisfying in the long term—especially not into death.

The power of the Good is so thoroughly a part of people, even those who try to avoid it, that Kierkegaard says that this is a defense mechanism for God, because no one can fully rebel without being held back in hesitation by the Good inside them.

Kierkegaard finally exhorts people to give up the idea that they will become successful if they will any one thing—be it good or bad—because exerting consistent control is how man expresses his greatness. He reiterates that earthly values and success are meaningless, and that the only truly consistent thing to will is Good. He ends the sermon with a reminder that if someone seeks to will Good and misses the mark, they will nevertheless find the path eventually, because all roads lead to Good.

Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The seventh son of a wealthy wool merchant, Søren Kierkegaard resided all his life in the large family dwelling in central Copenhagen, where he was prominent as a literary figure. An unhappy love affair, quarrels with other writers, and, in his last years, disputes with the Church—all documented in lengthy journals—make up the story of his life. Graduated in theology, he put off taking orders (Lutheran); still, an overriding sense of what the Gospel can mean to those who embrace it with faith and love led him to sandwich between his various poetical and philosophical writings a number of “Edifying Discourses,” of which the present book is a memorable example.

Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing is a penitential sermon intended to accompany the office of Confession. To be sure, it is an amplified sermon, not meant to be preached but to be read; still, it is a sermon, with a text, appropriate divisions, long, somnolent stretches, and a conclusion exhorting the reader to change his or her ways. The sermon, which enjoins holiness, deserves a place in the literature of Christian perfection. “Purity of heart,” Søren Kierkegaard’s name for holiness, is conceived as right willing, that is, willing the Good, or what God wills—“the one thing needful.” The text comes from James 4:8: “Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts ye double-minded.” “Double-minded” (Greek dipsychos, a term peculiar to Jewish-Christian wisdom literature) means doubting, wavering, uncertain, and especially division of interest between the world and God. Appropriately in a preconfessional sermon, the preacher’s main concern is to expose double-mindedness (or, as we might say, bad faith, not in the sense of deceiving others but in the deeper sense of deceiving oneself). In any case, the opposite of double-mindedness, that is, willing one thing, does not lend itself to any elaboration. For Kierkegaard, it is equivalent to obeying the secret voice of conscience.

The divisions of the sermon (obscured by extraneous section headings in the American version) are...

(The entire section is 2,798 words.)