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" (Gegensätze des Herausgebers). Goeze focused his polemic on what Lessing had set forth as "the foundation for the Counterpropositions."15 What Lessing asserted there bears repeating:

In short, the letter is not the spirit, and the Bible is not religion. Consequently, objections to the letter and to the Bible are not by the same token objections to the spirit and to religion.

For the Bible obviously contains more than is essential to religion, and it is a mere hypothesis to assert of this superfluity that it must be infallible throughout.

Moreover, religion was there before a Bible existed. Christianity was there before the evangelists and apostles wrote. A long period elapsed before the first of them wrote, and a considerable time before the entire canon was complete. Therefore, while much may depend on these writings, it is impossible to suppose that the entire truth of the religion depends on them. If there had been a period in which it had already spread abroad and in which it had gained many souls, and if, nevertheless, not a single letter of what has come down to us had yet been written down, then it must also be possible that everything which the evangelists and apostles wrote could have been lost—and yet that the religion which they taught would have continued. The 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.16

Goeze took an utterly negative stance toward Lessing's assertions. He declared:

In the entire passage I do not find a single proposition that, in the context in which it stands, I can regard as correct.

The editor regards everything therein as genuine axioms, to be sure, but some of them still require very strong proof, while the remainder, and these constitute the majority, are demonstrably false.17

What Lessing sets forth with regard to letter and spirit, Bible and religion, is, Goeze contends, nothing but a tissue of

"ambiguous, vague, shaky, and erroneous propositions."18

After passing this judgment on Lessing's assertions in general, Goeze undertakes to refute his propositions one by one.

The main points of his refutation are the following:

1. Lessing's usage with regard to letter and spirit does not accord with the New Testament. Lessing understands the Bible under the category of letter, and religion under the category of spirit. Against Lessing's assertion that "the letter is not the spirit, and the Bible is not religion," we must therefore assert the converse: "the letter is the spirit, and the Bible is religion."19

2. Since the basic proposition that "the letter is not the spirit, and the Bible is not religion" is erroneous, the proposition that immediately follows, namely, that "objections to the letter and to the Bible are not by the same token objections to the spirit and to religion," cannot be true. Letter and spirit, the Bible and religion are one. Consequently, "objections to the letter are also objections to the spirit, and objections to the Bible are also objections to religion."20

3. With regard to the proposition that "the Bible obviously contains more than is essential to religion," this actually contains two propositions. The first is that "the Bible obviously contains what is essential to religion." The second is that "it contains more than is essential to religion." But this means that in the first of these two propositions, Lessing "admits what he has denied in the preceding proposition." Consequently, this proposition is contradictory.21

4. The proposition that "it is a mere hypothesis to assert of this superfluity that it must be infallible throughout" is false. The refutation is brief: "No, this is not a hypothesis, but incontrovertible truth."22

5. The proposition that "moreover, religion was there before a Bible existed" is also false because it contradicts the true proposition: "religion was not there before revelation existed." The distinction between revelation and the Bible "consists only in accidental, insignificant things." In any event, Lessing's proposition, which is nearly synonymous with "religion was there before revelation existed," is erroneous.23

6. The proposition that "Christianity was there before the evangelists and apostles wrote. A long period elapsed before the first of them wrote, and a considerable time before the entire canon was complete" might be conceded to some extent. Nevertheless, it must be asked anew, "Was Christianity already there before Christ and the apostles preached?"24

7. "Therefore, while much may depend on these writings, it is impossible to suppose that the entire truth of the religion depends on them." This proposition is to be refuted as follows. The truth of the Christian religion certainly depends on itself and is in accordance with God's characteristics and will. Nonetheless, "our convictions of the truth of the Christian religion" depend on the Bible alone. If the Bible had not been written and handed down to us, would there have remained any trace of what Christ did and preached?25

8. "If there had been a period in which it had already spread abroad and in which it had gained many souls, and if, nevertheless, not a single letter of what has come down to us had yet been written down, then it must also be possible that everything which the evangelists and apostles wrote could have been lost—and yet that the religion which they taught would have continued." This proposition is "a tangible sophism." The error becomes evident when, for the phrase "not a letter . . . had yet been written down," we substitute the phrase "not a word . . . had yet been preached." The Christian religion has its origin not in the writings of the evangelists and apostles, but in the sermons of Christ and the apostles. The correct proposition is, consequently, "the whole of the Christian religion rests on the teachings and deeds of Christ, as on its immediate ground. But where can we now learn about these teachings and deeds except from the writings of the evangelists and apostles? Therefore, if the latter were lost, the former must certainly be lost, too."26

9. The proposition that "the religion is not true because the evangelists and apostles taught it. They taught it, rather, because it is true" is also nonsense. The evangelists and apostles are men who taught and wrote, inspired by the Holy Spirit. One should say, then, that "the Christian religion is true because the evangelists and apostles taught it, or more properly, because God himself taught it."27

10. Therefore, the proposition that "the written traditions must be interpreted by their inner truth, and no written traditions can give a religion inner truth if it has none" must be refuted. Lessing's statements as to a sharp distinction between the inner truth of the Christian religion and the scriptural tradition are merely empty words. "Where does he wish to obtain the knowledge of the inner truth of the Christian religion if not from the scriptural traditions?"28

Goeze concludes his first attack, Something Preliminary., with the words:

I would be terrified of the hour of my death if I had to worry about the fact that on that day an account might be demanded of me as to the diffusion of these malicious essays, which are extremely dangerous to many souls and so detrimental to the honor of our great Redeemer. I wish that in future the editor would supply, out of the treasures of the library he serves, something better than poison and scandal.29

These threatening words are tantamount to an ultimatum, the final demand of a pastor to an unbeliever. With such menacing tones, Goeze may have succeeded in suppressing other people whom he regarded as enemies of Lutheran orthodoxy. But this sort of threat had the opposite effect on Lessing. Goeze's first polemic, therefore, only added fuel to the fire.

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