Introduction

Immanuel Kant once gave the following famous definition for the Enlightenment Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. This tutelage is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude Have courage to use your own reason that is the motto of enlightenment.1 The Enlightenment, in this...

The Question of Methodology for Lessing Studies

Whether we can even find such an approach is the question before us. Since the history of Lessing studies tells us that no cure-all method has been discovered, we should like to begin by reexamining old interpretive methods. What interests us here is Lessing's own peculiar way of accepting or appropriating other people's thought into his system. Carl Schwarz simply called it accommodation.59 Martin Haug named it, more specifically, pedagogic accommodation (diep dagogische Akkommodation) or the...

Goezes Attack

The cause of the controversy, as noted above, was that Lessing, in the capacity of editor, published part of the deceased Reimarus's manuscripts under the title Fragments from an Unnamed Author. Goeze grew angry at the publication of such blasphemous documents and took an active part in the ongoing theological controversy that their publication had provoked. The target of Goeze's attack was what Lessing had appended to the fragments under the title Editor's Counterpropositions (Gegens tze des...

Lessings Formative Period Bildungsjahre

Born 22 January 1729 in the parsonage at Kamenz in Saxony, Lessing was destined to come to grips with Christianity throughout his life. He was the first great thinker among the many men of letters and philosophers in Germany who came from a Lutheran parsonage. As the first free writer of the German language (der erste freie Schriftsteller deutscher Sprache), he emancipated himself from the yoke of Christian tradition, yet respected its intellectual and cultural heritage more than his...

The Religious Thought of the Young Lessing

In German intellectual history, philosophers and men of letters who began life in a Lutheran parsonage are by no means rare. H lderlin, Nietzsche, Dilthey, and Hesse are among those who might be named. (Herder, incidentally, was the son of the cantor, or precentor, of a Lutheran church.) But Lessing stands out as the first great German thinker to be born in a parsonage. His grandfather, Theophilus Lessing (1647 1735), was a local dignitary who had published a book on religious toleration1 in...

Lessings Anti Goeze

According to Henry Chadwick, the eleven-part Anti-Goe e that Lessing churned out in record time is mere theological Billingsgate.45 It contains a few brilliant theological discussions, to be sure, but in most cases is nothing more than a vindication of his publication of the Fragments from an Unnamed Author as well as a castigation of his adversary by all possible means. This being the case, it will be unnecessary to discuss each essay in detail. We intend, rather, to focus on the most...

The Beginning of the Pantheismusstreit

On 15 February 1781, when he died at the age of fifty-two, Lessing left behind a great number of fragments and unfinished manuscripts. Among them, those in the fields of theology and philosophy were of special value. When his younger brother Karl edited and published them after a few years in several volumes of Lessing's collected works,14 people were amazed at the breadth and depth of his interests in theology and philosophy of religion. To the surprise of the general public, however, Jacobi,...

Nathan and the Education of Humanity

So far, we have focused exclusively on the parable of the three rings. But in order to grasp the cardinal point of the religious thought that finds poetic expression in Nathan the Wise, it is necessary to take into consideration not only the parable of the three rings but also the entire work at the center of which the parable stands. A rough sketch of the play as a whole will be of some help here. The setting for the play is Jerusalem at the time of the Crusades. Each character in the play...

Lessings Significance for German Intellectual History

Lessing is usually considered an important nodal point in the German intellectual history leading from Luther through Leibniz up to German idealism. According to the well-known literary historian Benno von Wiese, Lessing not only brought European rationalism to completion but also, being anchored in German religious and speculative traditions, transmuted it into a specifically German form. By so doing, he opened the way to the German classicism of Goethe and Schiller as well as to the German...

Lessings Theological Position

Since detailed analyses of the main aspects of Lessing's theological or religious-philosophical thought will be attempted in chapters 2 through 7, our task here is to make clear the basic characteristics of his thought. We approach this limited task by asking why Lessing ventured to publish Reimarus's manuscripts as Fragments from an Unnamed Author. Reimarus himself had chosen not to publish his manuscripts, with their radical criticisms of Christianity, for fear of possible persecution against...

The Truth Claim of a Historical Religion in the Interim

The first point to notice when we read the parable of the three rings as a story is that the biblical view of history as a dramatic movement that proceeds from beginning to end is implicitly presupposed as a general framework. The premise that underlies the beginning of the story is the prehistory (Urgeschichte) in which man stands in close relationship with God. According to the story, a man of ancient times who dwelt in eastern lands received a ring of priceless worth from the hand of God....

Bibliography

Edited by Wilfried Barner in collaboration with Klaus Bohnen, Gunter E. Grimm, Helmuth Kiesel, Arno Schilson, J rgen Stenzel and Conrad Wiedemann. 12 vols. Frankfurt am Main Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1985 ff. Werke. Edited by Herbert G. G pfert in collaboration with Karl Eibl, Helmut G bel, Karl S. Guthke, Gerd Hillen, Albert von Schirnding and J org Sch nert. 8 vols. Munich Carl Hanser Verlag, 1970 79. S mtliche Schriften. Edited by Karl Lachmann and Franz...

Dialectical View of Revelation and Reason

Thus far, we have sought to comprehend the spectrum of Lessing's religious-philosophical thought in his last book, The Education of the Human Race. As our detailed reading of the original text has shown, Lessing was unmistakably a many-faceted thinker whose mode of thought was multidimensional and highly flexible. Quite a number of previous studies, sacrificing the multidimensional richness of his ideas, have put Lessing in a straitjacket, only to expose him to sharp criticism from their own...

Lessings Problem and Peters Problem

In his book Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century., Karl Barth presents a remarkably interesting and instructive interpretation of Lessing's theological thought. Barth's interpretation also contains several sharp criticisms. With regard to Lessing's ugly broad ditch, for example, he observes This lament about the impossibility of passing over from historical proof to revelation-faith is not, in fact, genuine. Lessing could perfectly well do without what he represented in those sentences...

Salient Features of Lessings Theological Thought

We have sought to explain the characteristics of Lessing's theological thought mainly in formal terms. Now let us try to elucidate its salient features in material terms. Since more detailed analysis will be attempted in the chapters that follow, our concern here is to characterize the general aspects of Lessing's theological thought. For this task, we give special attention to the Editor's Counterpropositions that Lessing appended to Reimarus's fragments when he published them as the work of...

Revelation and Reason 1 The Old Testament

In order to gain a firm grasp of the relation between divine revelation and human reason in The Education of the Human Race, we propose to extract the essence or outline of Lessing's arguments from the text, setting to one side merely rhetorical statements and unimportant details. We begin by summarizing paragraphs 6 through 53. Human reason was at first immature and imperfect. Even though the first man was furnished at once with a conception of the One God yet it was not possible that this...

Nathan the Wise and Lessings Ideal of Humanity

Friedrich Schlegel, ber Lessing, in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Wege der Forschung, vol. 211, edited by Gerhard and Sibylle Bauer (Darmstadt Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968), 34. 2. Wilhelm Dilthey, Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung Lessing-Goethe-Novalis-H lderlin, 16th ed. (G ttingen Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985), 90. 4. Ernst Troeltsch, Der deutsche Idealismus, in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 4, Aufs tze zur Geistesgeschichte und Religionssoziologie, edited by Hans Baron (T bingen J. C....

Mendelssohn and Refined Pantheism

We have already seen how Mendelssohn reacted to the apple of discord (Zankapfel) that Jacobi hurled at him at an early stage of their controversy. He declared it an outrage that Jacobi would brand Lessing a Spinozist, an atheist, and a blasphemer. His friend Lessing, the author of Nathan the Wise, was, rather, a great and respected champion of theism and of the religion of reason.62 But when he realized that there was little room for doubt as to the authenticity of Jacobi's account, Mendelssohn...

Lessings Basic Thought in the Education of the Human Race

Johann Gottfried Herder, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Geb. 1729, gest. 1781, in Horst Steinmetz, ed., Lessing Ein unpoetischer Dichter (Frankfurt am Main Athen um Verlag, 1969), 133. 2. Helmut Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz Studien zur Religions-philosophie Lessings., 4th ed. (G tersloh Gerd Mohn, 1957), 57. 3. Paul Tillich, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 12, Begegnungen (Stuttgart Evangelisches Verlagswerk, 1971), 99. 4. This does not mean, however, that all of Lessing's final convictions...

Truths of History and Truths of Reason

The sharp distinction between truths of history and truths of reason, incidentally, is not Lessing's invention. Leibniz, as is well known, had already clearly distinguished the two kinds of truth. In his theory of knowledge we find that he differentiated between truths of reason (les v rit s de raisonnement Vernunftwahrheiten) and factual truths (les v rit s de fait Tatsachenwahrheiten). Truths of reason are necessary and their opposite is impossible factual truths are contingent and their...

The Young Lessing and His Theological Critique

Next to be considered is Lessing's Some Thoughts about the Moravians (1750). In this fragment, the young Lessing lays the Christianity of his day on the dissecting table, considering it analytically with extraordinary theological insight. Presenting a broad outline of the history of both philosophy and Christianity, he makes a number of sharp criticisms not only about the dogmatism of Lutheran orthodoxy but also about the speculative theology of the Enlightenment. The fundamental proposition of...

The Essence of Nathans Reason

The depth dimension in the idea of humanity that Lessing wanted to express in this play seems implied by the last two words of its title, Nathan the Wise. The wise man, understood literally, is the man who possesses wisdom (Weisheit). What, then, is wisdom What is Nathan's wisdom like Why do people call him the wise man 55 In order to think about these questions, it will be helpful to examine some interesting material provided in a dialogue between Nathan and Saladin in Act 3, Scene 5. Saladin...

Lessings Ugly Broad Ditch

Michalson, Jr., Lessing's 'Ugly Ditch A Study of Theology and History (University Park and London Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985), 2. 2. Ernst Troeltsch, Glaube 4. Glaube und Geschichte, in RGG, vol. 2 1910 , cols. 1447-56. 3. LM 13, 7 G 8, 13 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft). 4. LM 13, 5 G 8, 11-12 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft). 5. Lessing's Theological Writings, translated by Henry Chadwick (Stanford Stanford University Press, 1957). 6. Henry Chadwick,...

The Authenticity of Lessings Ugly Ditch

So far, in order to pursue the theological problem involved in Lessing's ugly broad ditch, we have sought to shed light on the following topics the validity of the proof of the spirit and of power, truths of history and truths of reason, appropriation of the truth, the inner truth of religion, and the quintessence of Christianity. We now return to Lessing's proposition that accidental truths of history can never become the proof for necessary truths of reason in order to reexamine this...

Tasks of Lessing Studies

Taking Lessing as a special admirer or lover of theology, we make it the precise aim of our inquiry to elucidate his theological and religious-philosophical thought. But as the history of previous Lessing studies demonstrates, this is a very difficult task that requires extraordinarily meticulous analysis. The reason that Lessing, as theologian or philosopher of religion, has escaped the persistent pursuit of researchers for more than two centuries is that his thinking is essentially inquiring...

The Background and Main Theme of Nathan the Wise

As noted in chapter 1 and again in chapter 3, the posthumously published work by Reimarus that Lessing, as editor, issued under the title Fragments from an Unnamed Author caused a sensation in Germany. It evoked harsh counterarguments not only from the camp of Lutheran orthodoxy but also from that of liberal theology. This marked the beginning of the fragments controversy. With the intervention of Johann Melchior Goeze, the Inquisitor of Hamburg, the fragments controversy became the...

The Idea of Reincarnation

In the concluding portion of The Education of the Human Race there are eight paragraphs that will astound the reader. Without prior guidance, nearly every reader will find it hard to understand why these timeworn hypothetical propositions were included in this book. It is so Must every individual man one sooner, another later have travelled along the very same path by which the race reaches its perfection Have travelled along it in one and the same life Can he have been, in one and the selfsame...

The Controversy Between Lessing and Goeze

In May 1770, Lessing put an end to his long career as a freelance journalist to take up public service as a librarian at the famous Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenb ttel.1 Beginning 13 February 1772, the Duke of Brunswick permitted him immunity from censorship on condition that he never take advantage of this immunity to attack Christianity. Two years later Lessing began to publish valuable manuscripts and other library acquisitions in a series entitled Contributions to Literature and...

Contents

Note on Texts and Translations xv Lessing's Significance for German Intellectual History 3 Lessing and Modern Protestant Theology 5 The Question of Methodology for Lessing Studies 11 1 Lessing and Christianity 14 Lessing's Formative Period (Bildungsjahre) 14 Lessing and the Fragments Controversy (Fragmentenstreit) 18 Lessing's Theological Position 20 Lessing and the Pursuit of Truth 22 Salient Features of Lessing's Theological Thought 25 2 The Religious Thought of the Young Lessing 29 The Young...

Jacobi and Spinozism

Personal contact between Lessing and Jacobi began, incidentally, on 18 May 1779 when Lessing, in token of thanks for a complimentary copy of Woldemar from Jacobi, sent him a copy of his newly published Nathan the Wise. Deeply moved by this gift, Jacobi wrote a lengthy letter of thanks on 20 August 1779, expressing his wish to pay a visit to Lessing when he next traveled to Wolfenb ttel. Having received a cordial invitation, he visited Lessing's home in Wolfenb ttel for the first time from 5 11...

Revelation as the Education of the Human Race

The main section of the book begins with the seemingly innocuous proposition that what education is to the individual man, revelation is to the whole human race 1 . This is followed by the supplementary proposition that education is revelation coming to the individual man and revelation is education which has come, and is still coming, to the human race 2 . Lessing then asserts the great advantage to theology of conceiving revelation as the educating of the human race. Whether it can be of any...

Lessings Hen Kai

So far, we have gained some idea of the nature of the philosophical conversations between Lessing and Jacobi, conversations which, when their content was disclosed, gave rise almost immediately to the Spinoza controversy between Mendelssohn and Jacobi and, eventually, to the pantheism controversy that engaged almost all the best minds of late eighteenth-century Germany. We have seen that the controversy between Mendelssohn the Jewish philosopher and Jacobi the poet-philosopher of Goethe's era...

Lessings Spinozism

For the student of Western philosophy today, it is simply a matter of common sense that the most important philosophical event to take place during the 1780s and 1790s was the appearance of Immanuel Kant's three critiques the Critique of Pure Reason 1781 2d ed., 1787 , the Critique of Practical Reason 1788 , and the Critique of Judgment 1790 . But the common sense of the present is not always that of the past. Much to our surprise, at the time it came into being, Kant's critical philosophy was...

New Eternal Gospel and the Completion of the Human Race

The fact that Lessing's The Education of the Human Race is still a subject for research and discussion is due not so much to its importance for the philosophy of religion or the philosophy of history as to the new, eternal gospel that he made famous in this book. For he is generally regarded as the thinker who has rendered the greatest service to the rediscovery of the eternal evangel.46 Having mentioned the time of the perfecting in 85, Lessing declares that it will assuredly come the time of...

The Proof of the Spirit and of Power

On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power ber den Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft, 1777 was published during an early stage of the fragments controversy. It was a flat rebuttal of On the Evidence of the Proof for the Truth of the Christian Religion,9 a treatise by Johann Daniel Schumann, director of a lyceum in Hanover, intended to refute the Fragments from an Unnamed Author. Purporting to represent Lutheran orthodoxy, Schumann denied the unnamed author's bold assertion as to the impossibility...

Beginning and Development of the Controversy

In the first phase of the fragments controversy, the target of people's reproach and criticism was, as observed earlier, the unnamed author. In addition, all the critics were men of minor importance. Thus Lessing was able to continue in his chosen role as a mere editor of the fragments. He was able to behave as if he were no more than a disinterested spectator. The intervention of Johann Melchior Goeze,3 however, brought about a complete change in the character and pace of the controversy....

Genuine Christian Love

Lessing concluded On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power with the enigmatic words, May all who are divided by the Gospel of John be reunited by the Testament of John. Admittedly it is apocryphal, this testament. But it is not on that account any the less divine.43 To clarify these words, we need to consider The Testament of John, for this testament and Lessing's On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power form a set. In order to understand the real point of On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power,...

The Parable of the Three Rings

The parable of the three rings, as Lessing himself frankly admits, is an adaptation of Boccaccio's Decameron, Giornata 1, Novella 3. Yet it is not simply a matter of making use of this portion of the work of the Italian humanist, for in a masterly way Lessing adapted and reworked it at several important points.24 Lessing's parable of the three rings contains important hints and allusions to his own religious thought. It is therefore worth citing in full. We shall omit only Saladin's words and...

Lessings Historical Position

Most of Lessing's writings during the period of the fragments controversy open with a citation in Latin or Greek taken from the church fathers or from ancient writers. The Education of the Human Race likewise opens with a quotation from one of the classical languages. Taken from Augustine's Soliloquies 2, 10, the citation reads Haec omnia inde esse in quibusdam vera, unde in quibusdam falsa sunt.17 What significance does this epigraph have for understanding the content of Lessing's discussions...

Lessing and the Fragments Controversy Fragmentenstreit

The fragments controversy, a dispute ignited by his publication of parts of Hermann Samuel Reimarus's unpublished manuscripts under the title Fragments from an Unnamed Author, made Lessing's name immortal in the history of Protestant theology. Reimarus, a deceased professor of Oriental languages at a Gymnasium in Hamburg, was highly respected during his lifetime for his warm personality and academic excellence. His contemporaries regarded him as a good Christian. He was regarded as standing up...

The Spinoza Conversations Between Lessing and Jacobi

According to Jacobi's report, his conversations with Lessing31 began when he showed the author of Nathan the Wise Goethe's unpublished poem Prometheus.32 Since this poem is important for the argument to follow, the English translation is here cited in full. Cover your heaven, Zeus, With cloudy vapors And like a boy Beheading thistles Practice on oaks and mountain peaks Still you must leave My earth intact And my small hovel, which you did not build, And this my hearth Whose glowing heat You...

The Inner Truth Of Religion

As we have already seen, in his Editor's Counterpropositions, Lessing boldly insisted on the inner truth of religion. He emphatically declared, The Christian religion is not true because the evangelists and apostles taught it. They taught it, rather, because it is true. The written traditions must be interpreted by their inner truth, and no written traditions can give a religion inner truth if it has none.33 What, then, is the inner truth of religion On the face of it, this concept gives the...

Lessing and Modern Protestant Theology

The first thing to bear in mind when considering Lessing's theology or philosophy of religion is that he was neither a theologian nor a philosopher by profession. He states his relationship to theology as follows I am a dilettante in the field of theology, not a theologian. I have never taken an oath to uphold any particular system.14 In apparent endorsement of his statement, hardly ever does he receive serious treatment in textbooks on the history of Protestant theology.15 Lessing's...

Lessing and the Pursuit of Truth

Lessing was himself a child of the Enlightenment and deemed it the supreme end of his literary activity to make everyone think about religion rationally. For him, orthodoxy was something like impure water, long unusable, to be thrown away sooner or later. But he did not side with the new-fashioned theology, or neology. According to him, this newfangled theology, under the pretext of making us reasonable Christians, merely turned us into extremely unreasonable philosophers. For this reason,...