Spiritual Imagination and Contemporaneity Re-interpreting Anti-Climacus’ Polemic in Practice in Christianity



Published Oct 11, 2021
Mimi Nicholson


What does Anti-Climacus mean when he tells us to become contemporary with Christ? Practice in Christianity, written pseudonymously under the name Anti-Climacus late in Kierkegaard’s career, embeds his strange concept of “contemporaneity” in a provocative literary artwork which exhorts readers to imitate Christ, whilst discouraging them from the production of Christian art. This “riddle” (as he goes on to describe it) offers compelling insight into an ever-present concern of theological aesthetics: the role of the imagination and of human creativity in Christian faith. Specifically, in the case of Practice, we are forced to confront the question of what function art or creativity can have in our “becoming contemporary” with Christ, and how their neglect may hinder such an endeavour. In the pursuit of this enquiry, this paper will evaluate two (supposedly) opposing readings of the theme of “contemporaneity”, namely the “imaginative” and “spiritual”. I will argue for the necessity of both, as opposed to one or the other, of these readings as useful in illuminating the heart of Anti-Climacus’ notion of contemporaneity, which is, I argue, to focus on awakening and engaging the existential disposition of a believer in a way that can transform the empirical status of his or her surroundings. Thus, I will analyse how Anti-Climacus’ own literary artistry functions to encourage readers to engage imaginatively in the spiritual reality of Christ. Crucially though, these reformulations and adjustments in perspective only matter to Anti-Climacus if they culminate in choosing to devote our temporal selves to the eternal God in imitatio Christi, thereby providing teleological direction for an elsewise unchartered or stupefying artistic wilderness.

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Søren Kierkegaard, Imitatio Christi, Aesthetics, Art, Contemporaneity, Existentialism