Towards a theology of prayer in the thought of Søren Kierkegaard

  • Katherine Schuessler

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


It has become increasingly accepted that, for Kierkegaard, theology and spirituality are practices that cannot be separated from one another. It has also been long acknowledged that Kierkegaard was a man of prayer, one who penned vivid prayers in both his journals and many of his published writings. Yet, little investigation has been done into how Kierkegaard’s theology shapes his understanding of prayer, nor how his understanding of prayer relates to his theology. This dissertation aims to address this lacuna by drawing together what Kierkegaard does say about prayer in a few of his published writings on James 1 and Matthew 6—writings which identify some of the chief theological underpinnings to prayer in Kierkegaard’s thinking. Beginning with his three James 1:17-22 upbuilding discourses published within ‘Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses’, Chapter 1 offers an analysis of Kierkegaard’s understanding of God the Father. Through James 1:17-22 Kierkegaard establishes a paterology that describes the Father as an unchanging Giver who always gives good and perfect gifts, the greatest of which is himself. Chapters 2 and 3 then look at two of Kierkegaard’s Matthew 6:24-34 discourses, which carry the bulk of Kierkegaard’s published comments on prayer. Chapter 2 looks at 1848’s ‘The Cares of the Pagans’, where Kierkegaard articulates that a Christian’s praying is the very thing that makes her a Christian. Chapter 3 then analyzes what Kierkegaard means by “to pray aright is to become silent” within 1849’s ‘The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air’. There prayer is something that begins in silence in order to listen to God, and is how an individual seeks first the kingdom of heaven. The last chapter, Chapter 4, brings the threads of the previous chapters together and provides the beginning of an account of Kierkegaard’s theology of prayer. To pray is to struggle with the heavenly Father’s unchanging love, yet on the basis of the Father’s gift of Jesus Christ and gift of the Spirit as one’s helper. For Kierkegaard, God is the giver and the receiver, and the reason and the motive, for all prayer.
Date of Award30 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorAndrew Bartholomew Torrance (Supervisor) & Charles Stephen Evans (Supervisor)


  • Prayer
  • Theology of prayer
  • Nineteenth century
  • Gospel of Matthew
  • Epistle of James
  • Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
  • Christian spirituality
  • Paterology
  • Gift
  • Christian Discourses
  • Modern theology
  • Christian theology
  • Søren Kierkegaard

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 5th August 2026

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