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Unamuno's Faith and Kierkegaard's Religiousness A: Making Sense of the Struggle

From: Hispanófila
Volume 168, Mayo 2013
pp. 55-67 | 10.1353/hsf.2013.0035

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There has been a substantial amount written on the faith of Miguel de Unamuno. Some critics have attempted to situate the Spanish philosopher within various recognized religious perspectives: Unamuno is a Catholic, a modern Erasmus, a Lutheran, a Protestant Liberal, a Krausist and a panentheist. Chief among the defenders of Unamuno as a Catholic is Julián Marías who sees in Unamuno's life a constant working out of the New Testament which Unamuno knows intimately (144-145). Felipe Lapuente says that Unamuno was called a modern Erasmus by the Ayuntamiento in Salamanca after the fateful day, October 12, 1936, in which he dared to oppose General Millán Astray in the Paraninfo of the University (29). In an early article Nemesio González Caminero lays the blame for Unamuno' s loss of his Catholic faith and his "initiation" into the Lutheran faith at the feet of Kant (227). Nelson Orringer has ably demonstrated the influence of Protestant liberal theologians like Ritschl and Harnack on Unamuno's thought, which Michael Gómez further illuminates in his study of Religious Modernism in Unamuno and Nietzsche. Armand Baker has a detailed exploration of Unamuno as a Krausist and panentheist in "The God of Unamuno." In my view, Unamuno would have rejected all of those religious labels.

Some critics have called Unamuno an atheist. The most strident of those is Antonio Sánchez Barbudo. In Estudios sobre Unamuno y Machado he says:

Unamuno era en verdad un ateo, pero tan anheloso de Dios, de eternidad, por un lado, y tan farsante y ansioso de fama, por otro; tan desesperado a veces y tan retórico otras muchas; y sobre todo, tan avisado, tan cuidadoso de ocultar su verdadero problema, esto es, su verdadera falta de fe, que encubriendo ésta en un mar de palabras, y con toda su confusión, estuvo a punto de volver loco a medio mundo.


Other commentators like Carlos Blanco Aguinaga in El Unamuno contemplativo (290) find Sánchez Barbudo's judgments harsh and inaccurate because they do not take into consideration the whole of Unamuno's work.

In January of 1957 the Catholic Church made its judgment official when it included two of Unamuno's works, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida and La agonía de cristianismo, on its then extant Index of Forbidden Books. But already in 1903 Unamuno was condemned by the bishop of Salamanca, Fray Tomás de la Cámara, early in his career at the University of Salamaca (Lapuente 28), and the same ecclesial office prohibited the reading of his Del sentimiento trágico de la vida in 1942 (Nozick 18).

The heterodox nature of the Unamuno corpus gives rise to all of these theories. Much as one can give proof texts from the Bible to substantiate contradictory claims, some critics have gone to the works of Unamuno and have found passages to further their own agendas. Unamuno himself gives plenty of fodder for such critics because of his own penchant for contradiction; he does not want to be confined or limited by any school of thought. The purpose of this study is not to try out one more religious label on Unamuno but rather to relate Unamuno's faith to Søren Kierkegaard's depiction of "Religiousness A" in Concluding Unscientific Postscript so that we may better understand the richness, complexity and depth of Unamuno's faith. In looking to Kierkegaard to help us understand Unamuno we can see a connection between Unamuno's philosophy and his religious beliefs. In the first chapter of Del sentimiento trágico de la vida Unamuno names Kierkegaard as one of the men who possesses the tragic sense of life. Kierkegaard is a man "cargado de sabiduría más bien que de ciencia," one who understands that if philosophy is to matter, it has to be lived (7:120). For Unamuno the tragic sense of life is bound up with the heart's desire for immortality and the objective truth of our death. How we live our lives in face of that paradox gives rise to Unamuno's faith.

For the purposes of this article I will speak about Unamuno's...

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