The preceding chapters have drawn attention to several important aspects of Lessing's philosophy of religion in the course of its historical development. Though we have indicated the results, or at least some implications, of our observations in each chapter, it is appropriate, by way of conclusion, to undertake a general summary of our findings on Lessing's view of Christianity and reason and to discuss certain implications of his work for contemporary thinking. Our observations have shown that Lessing is a thinker who stood at the turning point from the theological culture of "the Confessional Age"1 to the eminently secular culture of modern times and that during this transition he rendered significant service to theology and philosophy. This does not mean, however, that he, like Voltaire and other French Enlightenment thinkers, turned his back on Christian tradition in favor of the emergent modern secular culture. His relationship with Christianity was dialectical. He was himself a child of the Enlightenment and deemed it the supreme end of his literary activity to make everyone think rationally about everything—including Christianity and religion. But he never sided either with the Enlightenment in its debunking of Christianity or with neology in its easy amalgamation of Christianity and modernity. While critical of both "the old religious system" and "the new-fashioned theology," he continued to hold the intellectual and cultural heritage of Christianity in the greatest respect. Having discerned the weaknesses of Christianity and its difficult situation in modern times, he sought to diagnose the main causes of the trouble so as to rehabilitate it for the modern age. Though not a theologian by profession, he engaged in theology with the utmost love and admiration for its subject matter throughout his life. In serious dialogue and inner battle with it, he developed his own sophisticated philosophy of religion. In this manner, he became the very first of the "non-theologians who propelled theology forward" and rendered notable service in the formation of modern Protestantism (Neuprotestantismus). There is thus good reason for regarding him as one of the founders of modern Protestantism. As our inquiry has demonstrated, Christianity stood at the forefront of Lessing's concerns throughout his life. The Christianity he wished to preserve, however, was not institutional Christianity as such but its quintessence, or essential Christianity. He placed special importance on genuine Christian love. "Love thine enemy" is for him "one of the most important commandments of Christianity," the touchstone for whether one is truly Christian. What he calls the message of The Testament of John, "Little children, love one another" (Kinderchen, liebt euch!), is for him the unum necessarium of the Christian religion. "This alone, this alone, if it is done, is enough, is sufficient and adequate." Lessing's espousal of the idea of toleration as expressed in his early comedy The Jews., or in the dramatic masterpiece of his later years Nathan the Wise, is essentially the practical application of this genuine Christian love.
The reason Lessing is included among the founders of modern Protestantism is that he interpreted Luther's spirit, or the Reformation principle, in an utterly new, modern direction. As we have seen, he had recourse to Luther, especially to his spirit, in his theological battle with the Lutheran orthodox pastor Goeze. At that time he boldly asserted:
The true Lutheran does not wish to be defended by Luther's writings but by Luther's spirit; and Luther's spirit absolutely requires that no man may be prevented from advancing in knowledge of the truth according to his own judgment.
This is a completely modern interpretation of Luther's doctrine of "justification by faith alone," a unique adaptation of this doctrine to the field of epistemology. One-sided though it may be in its subjectification of the Reformation principle, it is certain that Lessing hereby ushered in "a new concept of Protestantism." Protestantism appears here as "the religion of conscience and conviction, without dogmatic compulsion" (die Religion des Gewissens und der Überzeugung ohne dogmatischen Zwang)? The dogmatic, institutional religion of early Protestantism has thus been transformed into the subjective, individualistic religion of modern Protestantism.
The role Lessing played in the transformation of Protestantism is immensely significant. Yet his service to Protestant Christianity also involves a touch of irony. For the fragments controversy he ignited, particularly in his life-and-death struggle with Goeze, put an end to the period of Protestant Orthodoxy and brought about the final end of the lingering "Age of Religion."3 To this extent, he gave impetus, however indirectly and unconsciously, to the arrival of a secular age.
To be sure, he did not endorse the French Enlightenment's out-and-out denial of religion. Instead, he held fast to religious piety despite his over-whelmingly positive view of life in this world. He also severely criticized the "Berlin freedom" of speech and though under Frederick the Great as "the freedom to put so many silly and malicious remarks against religion on the market" (die Freiheit, gegen die Religion so viel Sottisen zu Markte zu bringen)} But the positive attitude toward this world that Lessing fostered turned, in later generations when the religious dimension was lost, into pure secularism. To this extent, his contribution to the history of Protestantism is actually Janus-faced.
Something similar is true of Lessing's relationship with the Enlightenment. His attitude toward this pan-European movement is indeed dialectical. He is correctly regarded as an Enlightenment thinker and indeed one of the most prominent promoters of the German Enlightenment. His friendship with Mendelssohn and Nicolai, two representatives of the Berlin Enlightenment, best illustrates this fact. But at the same time he far exceeded the Enlightenment. As our observations have shown, he attained a sublime position that transcended all the main trends of his age, trends that embraced not only orthodoxy and neology, but the overly rationalistic worldview of the Enlightenment as well. His last writings, including his Spinoza conversations with Jacobi, bear witness to this fact. The worldview contained in these writings foretells an emergent romanticism.
Our analysis of Lessingian reason confirms that Lessing went far beyond Enlightenment rationalism. The ideal of Lessingian reason expressed in Nathan the Wise and The Education of the Human Race is not the same as the ideal held by the rationalists of his time. We have shown that Nathan, contrary to the generally held view, is not an autonomous person of the modern type. For Nathan, the beginning of wisdom consists in what we, borrowing the concept from Troeltsch, call the "autotheonomous" structure of volition, a structure implied in his words, "I will! / If Thou wilt, then I will!" This is a structure of autonomy supported by theonomy, a duplex or multiplex structure of volition in which the human volition conforms to the divine volition that precedes and underlies it. Thus Nathan's reason is, first and foremost, "hearkening reason." It is not a self-centered reason that shuts itself up within itself. It signifies the ability to listen to what God commands. Accordingly, it can be designated as "believing reason" that opens itself to the transcendent. From a different angle, it is "boundary reason" that is fully aware of its own limitations. This is precisely what Strohschneider-Kohrs calls "reason as wisdom" (Vernunft als Weisheit). In any event, Nathan's reason is not mere autonomous reason in the modern sense. But if Nathan's reason is at the same time Lessing's, and if this "reason as wisdom" constitutes the essential core of Lessingian reason, it must be asserted that Lessing's ideal of human reason is not autonomous reason in the ordinary sense of the word but "autotheonomous" reason in the Troeltschian sense. This finding from our analysis of the essential core of Lessingian reason leads to a suggestion as to how to understand Lessing's dialectical conception of the relationship between revelation and reason. A careful reading of the original German text of The Education of the Human Race made it clear that Lessing's thought by no means rules out the concept of transcendent revelation. On the contrary, the concept of revelation, in our view, continues to be valid for him throughout his life. Lessing conceives of the human race as finding fulfillment in a developmental process induced and propelled by divine revelation, and in this context he introduces the novel concept, or principle, of the development of human reason as a gradual appropriation of divine revelation. The notion of completely free self-development on the part of human reason is not to be found in Lessing. This holds true even if it is an easy step to move from this Lessingian principle to the conception of human history as the self-development and self-revelation of the human spirit.
But if this is the case, then we are compelled to reconsider Lessing's view of the goal of enlightenment. Lessing's contemporary Kant saw the goal of enlightenment in the attaining of moral autonomy. For Lessing, however, the goal is to attain the highest stage of "perfect illumination" and "purity of heart," the stage at which a person is "capable of loving virtue for its own sake alone" and "will do the right because it is right." This is, to be sure, a state in which moral autonomy will have been attained. But it would be insufficient to identify Lessing's goal as nothing but the attainment of autonomy. For the ideal of autonomy that Lessing envisioned is an autonomy backed by awareness of its own limitations, an autonomy buttressed by theonomy. That is to say, his ideal is a mature autonomy capable of confessing that absolute truth is for God alone. His famous dictum, "If God held all truth in his right hand and in his left everlasting striving after truth, so that I should always and everlastingly be mistaken, and said to me, 'Choose,' with humility I would pick the left hand and say, 'Father, grant me that. Absolute truth is for thee alone' " (or its concise version, "Let everyone tell what seems to him to be truth; and let the truth itselfbe entrusted to God!") attests the cogency of this view. If our interpretation is correct, it would be better to apply the term "autotheonomy" to this sort of autonomy. The ideal of Lessingian enlightenment can therefore be designated as the attainment of an "autotheonomy" in which "autonomy is at the same time theonomy." In order to attain such a goal, however, revealed truths must not remain unintelligible truths that are only to be believed. Instead, they must become truths of reason that are intrinsic to human reason. In this sense, "the development of revealed truths into truths of reason is absolutely necessary." And only when revealed truths thus become truths of reason can human reason find certitude and repose in God. So far we have summarized the main points of our findings. Now that the contours of Lessing's thought are before us, we are in a position to comment on their implications for contemporary thinking. Our consideration of this matter must, however, be brief and merely suggestive because the task of developing a constructive, or systematic, work is a project that must be left to the future. Accordingly, we propose to limit ourselves here to suggesting certain elements in Lessing's thought that have the potential for becoming fundamental constituents in a postmodern theology. To be viable for our time, a Christian theology must address the overwhelmingly difficult questions of the postmodern world. The fundamental challenge of postmodernity is said to be how the theologian can speak meaningfully of God's presence and action in the world. Despite the apparent loss of any meaningful discourse about God, theology, if it is to be a vital force in the contemporary world, must seek and discern a new revelation of the divine in the cultural crises of our time. According to Peter C. Hodgson, the cultural questions the theologian needs to attend to are three: the emancipatory., the ecological,, and the dialogical? The ongoing quests in the areas of emancipation, ecology, and dialogue must be incorporated into the reconstruction of theology for our time. It is no exaggeration to say that religious thought that does not refer to any of these human quests is disqualified as a candidate for supplying the constitutive elements of a viable postmodern theology. The question is whether Lessing's thought can pass this test.
As regards the emancipatory dimension of his thought, there is no room for question. Up to the present day Lessing has been admired as "a resolute enemy of anti-Semitism."6 Quite apart from his dramatic masterpiece Nathan the Wise, the one-act play The Jews, written by the young Lessing, likewise attests the existence of the emancipatory dimension. Even if the vindication and emancipation of the Jewish people as such is not the author's real point in this comedy, the motif of emancipation is nevertheless present in his impeachment of the prejudice, hypocrisy, and intolerance against Jews prevalent in allegedly Christian society. Furthermore, the tragedy Emilia Galotti, written in 1772 on the occasion of the birthday celebration of the Duchess of Brunswick, has often been read as "an indictment of the feudal princes."7 In any event, there is no doubt of the fact that Lessing was the foremost emancipator of "humanity in dark times."8 And his thought will continue to inspire the emancipation of humanity.
The dialogical aspect of Lessing's thought needs no explanation. The modern quest for interreligious dialogue arises out of the awareness of a plurality of religious traditions. No matter what its goal may be, interreligious dialogue serves to expose idolatries and draw out convergent truths and practices. Through encounter with other religious traditions, one can attain a deeper understanding of one's own religious tradition and possibly improve and refine it. The eighteenth century is a period in which the problem of a plurality of religious traditions first came to the awareness of European intellectuals. Lessing was among the first European thinkers who paid serious attention to the problem of religious pluralism. The early work Vindication of Hieronymus Cardanus (1754) testifies to his keen awareness of this problem. Among his works, however, his best-known drama Nathan the Wise, not least its "parable of the three rings," has great potential for the furthering of dialogue. The parable of the three rings, when interpreted in the way we have suggested, supplies many insights for ongoing interreligious dialogue. From this parable one can learn an important lesson about the truth claim of a historical religion in the interim.
It is with regard to its ecological implication that Lessing's thought is most cryptic. The modern ecological quest arises out of sensitivity to the interrelatedness of life throughout the universe. This ecological sensitivity is closely related to a new scientific cosmology, which is not mechanical, atomistic, and substance-based but organic, interconnected, relational, and processual. From the perspective of this cosmology, everything in the entire cosmos, both living and nonliving, is viewed as intrinsically bound together in a very delicate web of interconnected systems. Our time requires, therefore, a theology that articulates God's presence in the dynamics of the cosmos. The question we need to pose in this connection is whether Lessing's thought contains any such ecological implication. Lessing, unlike Goethe, seems to have had little interest in nature. It is not easy to find any allusion to ecology in his entire corpus, or a work dedicated entirely to the topic of ecology. Nonetheless, an implicitly ecological concern is not completely lacking in his thought. Such a concern is to be found, we believe, in his idea of panentheism. Leaving aside the difficult question of how we should interpret his motto "Hen kai Pan" we consider it undeniable that Lessing held a panentheistic worldview akin to that of spiritualism. Jacobi reports that Lessing conceived the universe as "being analogous to an organic body" and the divinity as "the soul of the universe." If Jacobi's report is trustworthy, Lessing's God is "a higher energy" or a dynamic, cosmic power that draws all things together and into itself. Such a conception of God clearly has strong ecological implications. To sum up, Lessing's thought passes the general test for postmodernity. It contains the potential needed for the constitutive elements of a viable theology in the postmodern age. But to acknowledge potentials is one thing, and to develop a viable theology or philosophy of religion quite another. To shape and organize Lessing's fragmentary, often contradictory thought into a systematic whole will be a task calling for fine distinctions and subtle reasoning. But this inquiry presents, we believe, a solid foundation for the systematic, or constructive, task that lies ahead.
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