The knight of faith
is an individual who has placed complete faith
in himself and in God. The 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard
vicariously discusses the knight of faith in several of his pseudonymic works, with the most in-depth and detailed critique exposited in Fear and Trembling
Johannes de Silentio, Kierkegaard's pseudonymous author of Fear and Trembling, argues that the knight of faith is the paradox, is the individual, absolutely nothing but the individual, without connections or pretensions. The knight of faith is the individual who is able to gracefully embrace life:
The Three Stages
- Main: The Three Stages
Kierkegaard recognized three levels of individual existence: The Aesthetic, The Ethical, and The Religious. In Fear and Trembling
, Silentio refers to individuals in each stage as "slaves", "knight of infinite resignation", and "knight of faith", respectively. Each of these levels of existence envelops those below it: an ethical person is still capable of aesthetic enjoyment, for example. It is also important to note that the difference between these ways of living are inward, not external, and thus there are no external signs one can point at to determine at what level a person is living.
Knight of Faith and the Knight of Infinite Resignation
Kierkegaard's Silentio contrasts the knight of faith with the other two, knight of infinite resignation (infinity) and the aesthetic "slaves". Kierkegaard uses the story of a princess and a man who is madly in love with her, but circumstances are that the man will never be able to realize this love in this world ever. A person who is in the aesthetic stage would abandon this love, crying out for example, "Such a love is foolishness. The rich brewer's widow is a match fully as good and respectable." A person who is in the ethical stage would not give up on this love, but would be resigned to the fact that they will never be together in this world. The knight of infinity may or may not believe that they may be together in another life or in spirit, but what's important is that the knight of infinity gives up on their being together in this world; in this life
The knight of faith feels what the knight of infinity feels, but with exception that the knight of faith believes that in this world; in this life, they will be together. The knight of faith would say "I believe nevertheless that I shall get her, in virtue, that is, of the absurd, in virtue of the fact that with God all things are possible." This double movement is paradoxical because on the one hand it is humanly impossible that they would be together, but on the other hand the knight of faith is willing to believe that they will be together through divine possibility.
Abraham and Isaac
Johannes de Silentio believes that Abraham
is one such knight of faith. In the Book of Genesis
, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham dearly loved his son, but although bemoaning this fate, Abraham obeyed this command faithfully. Just as he was about to commit the act, an angel stopped Abraham and rewarded him with his son and his steadfast faith. In the same paradoxical act of committing murder, which would humanly kill off his son, Abraham believed, through virtue of the absurd, he would get his son back.
Who are (or Are there) knights of faith?
Silentio personally believes that only two people were ever knights of faith: The Virgin Mary
, and Abraham. It is also possible that Silentio regards Jesus as a knight of faith. Silentio grants that there may be knights of faith out there that we do not know about, or that there never have been knights of faith. This is because knights of faith exist alone in isolation. Only God is in a position to judge whether a person's actions are divinely inspired or demoniacal; to the rest of us, they may appear identical.
- Kierkegaard: A Biography by Alastair Hannay. Cambridge University Press, New edition 2003, ISBN 0-521-53181-0.
- Kierkegaard and Fear and Trembling by John Lippit. Routledge 2003, ISBN 0-415-18047-3
- Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography by Joakim Garff. Princeton University Press 2005, ISBN 0-691-09165-X.