To Gain One’s Soul in Patience

To Gain One’s Soul in Patience

Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1843

Søren Kierkegaard


LUKE 21:19

In your patience you will gain your souls.


The rich bird comes swishing, comes flaunting; the poor bird — and patience is a poor bird, which does not come parading and posturing but comes like a soft breeze and the incorruptible essence of a quiet spirit” (159)


“To gain one’s soul.” Does, then, a person not possess his soul, and can this be the true direction to blessedness, one that instead of teaching a person to gain the whole world by means of his soul teaches him to use his life to gain his soul?”  (160)


Kierkegaard draws attention to the curious self-contradiction of needing to gain something thought to be already possessed. “But if a person possesses his soul, he certainly does not need to gain it, and if he does not possess it, how then can he gain it…He can give away what he possesses and then see whether he can gain the same thing again; he can use what he possesses to gain something new, but he cannot simultaneously posses and gain the very same thing.” (163)

The answer to the simultaneity of gaining and possessing seems to come in the doubling of time and the doubling of self; that we are both temporal & eternal, particular & universal.

The eternal is not either a something possessed or a something gained but is only a something possessed that cannot be gained any more than it can be lost. Then this self-contradiction must be sought, if anywhere, in the internal, but the internal is, after all, in its most universal expression, the soul.” (163)

So, time is doubled; temporal & eternal.

And the self is doubled; particular (external) & universal (internal)

The self-contradiction of needing to gain something one already possesses is the pursuit from the particular self to the universal self which occurs internally, in the universal expression of the self which is the soul. “the soul is the contradiction of the temporal and eternal” (163) The soul is the thing that can be both possessed and gained. But if it can be gained, then whose possession is it? “This possessor must possess his soul as legitimate property but nevertheless must not possess it in such a way that the person himself cannot gain it as his legitimate possession. Therefore, this possessor can be none other than the eternal being, than God himself.” (166)

The soul is to be possessed and gained at the same time, the soul is in contradiction and is self-contradiction, “it belongs to the world as its illegitimate possession; it belongs to God as his legitimate possession, that is a possession that is to be gained. Consequently he gains — if he actually does gain — his soul from God, away from the world, through himself.” (167)


“In patience.” The words do not say “through” or “by means of” patience, but “in” patience, and therby suggest that the condition stands in a special relation to the conditioned.” (167)


“In the external, patience is some third element that must be added, and humanly speaking, it would be better if it were not needed; some days it is needed more, some days less, all according to fortune, whose debtor a person becomes, even though he gained ever so little, because only when he wants to gain patience does he become no one’s debtor.” (168)


“Since the external is a dubious good, any condition for gaining it can also be only a dubious good, and the ultimate consequence of imperfection is that there is no certainty that can assure it with full certainty. The perfect, however, can be gained with full certainty, because it can be gained only by coming in to existence within its own presupposition.” (169)


“It grows in patience.” In these words, the condition and the conditioned are again inseparable, and the words themselves suggest duplexity and unity. The person who grows in patience does indeed grow and develop. What is it that grows in him? It is patience. Consequently, patience grows in him, and how does it grow? Through patience.” (169)


The nature of gaining patience in patience, seems to be this movement of going inward and expanding at the same time. Kierkegaard locates the universal soul on the internal; one dives in in order to go out. Kierkegaard calls this motion a redoubling repetition.That which is to be gained is both within the person and outside oneself, in the patience.


“To gain his soul in patience.” When we put the words together and consider how a person will be able to comply with them, the first requirement is that he have the patience to understand that he does not possess himself, that he have the patience to understand that a gaining of his own soul in patience is a work of patience, and that he therefore ought not to pay attention to the passion that rightly thinks it can grow only in impatience. The words inculcate this in a twofold way by containing in their brevity a redoubling [fordoblende] repetition.” (169)


“If a person wants to embark upon this gaining, he is required to have the patience to begin in such a way that he truthfully confesses to himself that it is a work of patience.” (171)

It is not an earthly gain that is made in the work of patience.


The Apostle James says, that the one who hears the Word properly is the one who does it.

As long as he merely hears the Word, he is outside it, and when the proclaimer is silent, he hears nothing; but when he does the Word, he continually hears what he himself is proclaiming to himself.” (173)


The person who wants to gain his soul in patience knows that his soul does not belong to him, that there is a power from which he must gain it, a power by whom he must gain it, and that he must gain it himself. He never abandons patience, not when he has gained it, since it was indeed patience that he gained, and as soon as he gives up patience, he gives up the acquisition again; neither does he abandon patience when it seems that his efforts are frustrated, because insofar as that is the case, he knows that it must be because of a wrong kind of patience or because of impatience. Therefore, whether he gains patience in the terrible moment of decision or gains it slowly, he gains his soul in patience, whether he is immediately transferred into eternity or from that moment on he is transferring himself at every moment into eternity. When the impatience of feelings dangles the gain before him, he knows that it is deceiving him, for it wants to render patience superfluous to him, and the gain is only in patience.” (174)



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