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...

Lessings Panentheism

The first thing to observe is that Lessing introduces his ev ko n5v as a concept that stands in antithesis to the orthodox concepts of the divinity (die orthodoxen Begriffe von der Gottheit). The simplest interpretation would be to take it as implying allegiance to the pantheistic worldview, which can be characterized by the motto ev k I ir v or ev itdvta or V n VTa. According to this interpretation, Lessing could no longer believe in Christian theism but would have to be an adherent of...

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,...