Existence in the thought and theology of Hans Lassen Martensen

Article by Elizabeth Li in Studia Theologica.

This paper brings to light the overlooked existential commitments of the Danish speculative theologian Hans Lassen Martensen. Primarily known and studied today for being the arch-rival of Søren Kierkegaard, Martensen continues to suffer under his Kierkegaardian caricature as a courtesan to Hegelian speculative thought and to Christendom’s cultural religiosity. In contrast to this portrayal, this paper argues that Martensen’s thought can be viewed as part of a wider existentialist movement developing in nineteenth-century Danish philosophy in response to the dry abstractions of rationalism. It is shown that Martensen’s theological and ethical positions spring from a deep-seated concern with questions of existence, which find expression in three distinct but related moments of Martensen’s theological authorship: Firstly, in his definition of religion as an existential relation, secondly in his view that dogmatic theology should be understood as existential knowledge, and finally by understanding his theological ethics as existential striving.