1. Immanuel Kant, Kants Werke, Akademie Textausgabe, vol. 8, Abhandlungen nach 1781 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1968), 35. The English is borrowed from Lewis White Beck's translation of Kant's Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, and What is Enlightenment? (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959), 85.
2. Wilhelm Dilthey, Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung: Eessing-Goethe-Novalis-Hölderlin, 16th ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985), 107.
3. Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 8.
4. Cf. Benno von Wiese, "Dichtung und Geistesgeschichte des 18. Jahrhunderts," Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 12 (1934): 471.
5. Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Werke, vol. 3, Schriften zur Literatur und Politik 1 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1992), 469.
7. Johann Peter Eckermann, Gespräche mit Goethe: In den letzten Jahren seines Lebens, edited by Fritz Bergemann (Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1992), 626. Goethe's remark that "Lessing sought to refuse the noble title of genius" apparently derives from Lessing's self-appraisal in his Hamburg Dramaturgy:
People do indeed sometimes pay their respects to me by way of recognizing me as a poet. But [they do so] only because they misunderstand me. . . . I do not feel within me the living spring that works its way up by its own strength, a spring that in its own strength shoots forth a rich, fresh, pure jet of water. I must squeeze everything out of myself by means of a force pump and pipes. I would be so poor, so cold, and so nearsighted if I had not learned, to some extent, to borrow from other people's treasure, to warm myself by other people's fire, and to strengthen my eyes with artificially contrived glasses. I have always, therefore, become ashamed or annoyed whenever I read or heard something deleterious to criticism. Criticism ought to suffocate genius. Yet I flatter myself that I was able to obtain from criticism something that came very close to genius. I am a cripple who cannot take delight in a defamatory pamphlet that reviles crutches. (LM 10, 209—210; G 4, 694—95 [Hamburgische Dramaturgie, Stück 101-104]).
8. Of the various editions of Lessing's complete works, the 23-volume Sämtliche Schriften edited by Karl Lachmann and Franz Muncker and the 20-volume Lessings Werke edited by Julius Petersen and Waldemar von Olshausen have been held in high repute as standard critical editions. Some scholars, especially in what was formerly East Germany, prefer the 10-volume Gesammelte Werke edited by Paul Rilla because of its compactness and the novelty of its appended editorial comments. In recent times, however, an increasing number of scholars use the 8-volume Werke edited by Herbert G. Göpfert as their source for standard texts. But because this edition does not contain Lessing's letters, which are indispensable to research, those who use it as their text source have had to use Lachmann-Muncker's edition as well when referring to the letters. To overcome this inconvenience, the publication of a new 12-volume edition has been planned and is now being published under the title Werke und Briefe in zwölf Bänden (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1985ff.).
9. The American Lessing Society, founded at Cincinnati University on 18 September 1966, developed, as its membership became worldwide, into an international academic organization called The Lessing Society (Die internationale Lessing-Gesellschaft). Its Lessing Yearbook, here abbreviated LYB and published by the society since 1969, is now one of the most important sources not only for the serious student of Lessing but also for every researcher engaging in study of the literary and intellectual history of eighteenth-century Germany.
10. With regard to the history of Lessing studies up to the 1970s, Karl S. Guthke's Der Stand der Lessing-Forschung: Ein Bericht über die Literatur von 1932—1962 (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1965), and its sequel in his Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 3d ed. (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1979), supply a superb overview. Lessing: Epoche-Werke-Wirkung, edited by Wilfried Barner et al. (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1975), and the Internationale Bibliographie zur Geschichte der deutschen Literatur von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, part 1, Von den Anfängen bis 1789 (Munich-Pullach and Berlin: Verlag Dokumentation, 1969), 963-86 are also useful.
As for the "Neuere Lessing-Studie" in the 1970s, see Arno Schilson, "Lessing und die Aufklärung: Notizen zur Forschung," Theologie und Philosophie 54 (1979): 379-405. Each issue of the LYB contains a number of valuable "review focus" articles and book reviews. For a general review of more recent Lessing studies during and since the 1980s, however, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no concise survey available as yet.
11. Dilthey, Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung, 19.
12. Guthke, Der Stand der Lessing-Forschung, 88.
13. Guthke, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 87.
15. Only a few books have paid serious attention to Lessing. One can name, for example, Emanuel Hirsch, Geschichte der neuern evangelischen Theologie, 5 vols. (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1949-54), Karl Barth, Die protestantische Theologie im 19. Jahrhundert: Ihre Vorgeschichte und ihre Geschichte, 5th ed. (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1985), and Helmut Thielicke, Glauben und Denken in der Neuzeit (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1983). Cf. W. Trillhaas, "Zur Wirkungsgeschichte Lessings in der evangelischen Theologie," in Das Bild Lessings in der Geschichte (WSA, vol. 9), edited by Herbert G. Göpfert (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1981), 57-67.
16. Wilhelm Windelband, Die Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1878; reprint, Karben: Verlag Petra Wald, 1996), 525.
17. In his Die Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, Windelband assigns one chapter to a discussion of Lessing's philosophy (vol. 1, 524—34), but this is exceptional. Lewis White Beck's Early German Philosophy: Kant and His Predecessors (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1969; reprint, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996) also contains a chapter on Lessing. This seems to be partly because his delineation of the scope of the material to be considered is broad enough to include intellectual history. By contrast, it is seldom that ordinary books on the history of philosophy give more than a passing glance to Lessing. Maurice Dupuy, for example, assigns only a page or so to Lessing, despite his noteworthy comment that "Lessing seems to be the harbinger of both Kant's moral theory and Hegel's view of history" (Maurice Dupuy, Doitsu Tetsugakushi [History of German philosophy], translated by Yoshihiko Harada [Tokyo: Hakusuisha, 1995], 38-39).
18. With regard to the relationship between Lessing and Schleiermacher, see Carl Schwarz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing als Theologe (Halle: C. E. M. Pfeffer, 1854), 4-5, 15, 22, 66-68. For the intellectual-historical connection between Lessing and Hegel, see Walter Kaufmann, Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts, and Commentary (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1965), 67-70; Eckhard Heftrich, Lessings Aufklärung (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1978), 34-35; Johannes von Lüpke, Wege der Weisheit: Studien zu Lessings Theologiekritik (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989), 28-30. For the relationship between Lessing and Kierkegaard, see Richard Campbell, "Lessing's Problem and Kierkegaard's Answer," Scottish Journal of Theology 19 (1966): 35-54; Gordon E. Michalson, Jr., Lessing's "Ugly Ditch": A Study of Theology and History (University Park and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985), especially chapters 3 and 4. In passing, it may be noted that Helmut Thielicke regards Lessing as "a precursor of Kierkegaard" (Helmut Thielicke, Glauben und Denken in derNeu%eit, 133. But a one-sided emphasis on this viewpoint will, as Thielicke's interpretation of Lessing shows, end up by distorting the actual Lessing. With regard to the relationship between Lessing and Troeltsch, further clarification is needed. Martin Haug, however, to take one example, suggests a significant relationship by regarding Troeltsch as "a reembodiment of further developed Lessingian reason" (Martin Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing [Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1928], 113). Hermann Diem discerns a continuation of the Lessingian problem in modern theological development culminating in Troeltsch (Hermann Diem, Theologie als kirchliche Wissenschaft, vol. 2, Dogmatik: Ihr Weg zwischen Historismus und Existentialismus [Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1955], 13-14). Apart from these scholars, and from a completely different point of view, the present study will indicate the close connection between Lessing and Troeltsch with reference to the idea of "God's self-replication" (die Selbstverdoppelung Gottes). On this matter, see chapters 2 and 7.
19. Walter Nigg, Das Ewige Reich: Geschichte einer Hoffnung, 2d ed. (Zurich: Artemis Verlag, 1954), 215.
20. Regarding the analysis of Lessing's "ugly ditch," I have learned much from Gordon E. Michalson in his Lessing's 'Ugly Ditch." To the best of my knowledge, Michalson's book is the finest theological work on this topic to date.
21. Frederick C. Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1987), 44.
22. Gottfried Fittbogen, Die Religion Lessings (Leipzig: Mayer & Müller, 1923; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1967), 310. On this point at least,
Ernst Cassirer is of a similar opinion. He says: "As in Lessing's dramas, such as Minna von Barnhelm, Emilia Galotti, and Nathan the Wise, not only are attempts made to attain a critical understanding, but also a new form of German literature ripens and grows to maturity; so Lessing has also become the founder and creator of a new form of Protestantism" (Ernst Cassirer, "Die Idee der Religion bei Lessing und Mendelssohn," in Lessings » Nathan der Weise « [Wege der Forschung, vol. 587], edited by Klaus Bohnen [Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1984], 113).
23. Ernst Troeltsch, Protestantisches Christentum und Kirche in der Neuzeit, in Die Kultur der Gegenwart., edited by Paul Hinneberg, part 1/4, vol. 1, Geschichte der christlichen Religion, Mit Einleitung: Die israelitisch-jüdischen Religion, 2d ed. (Berlin and Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1909), 516.
24. Ernst Troeltsch, Die Bedeutung des Protestantismus für die Entstehung der modernen Welt (Munich and Berlin: R. Oldenbourg, 1911; reprint, Aalen: Otto Zeller, 1963), 98-99; Protestantism and Progress: The Significance of Protestantism for the Rise of the Modern World (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 98.
25. Ernst Troeltsch, "Religionswissenschaft und Theologie des 18. Jahrhunderts," Preussische Jahrbücher 114 (1903): 30-36.
27. Leopold Zscharnack, "Einleitung des Herausgebers," in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Werke, vol. 17 [of 25] (Hildesheim and New York: Georg Olms, 1970).
28. Leopold Zscharnack, "Einleitung des Herausgebers," 10-11.
29. LM 16, 475; G 7, 671 (Bibliolatrie). Besides comparing himself to a servant in the temple of Apollo, Lessing also considered himself the "beloved bastard of a noble, gracious lord" (lieber Bastard eines großen, gnädigen Herrn). This expression betrays something of his self-awareness. Cf. LM 18, 356 (Letter to Elise Reimarus of 28 November 1780); B 12, 361 (no. 1602).
30. Martin Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing, 7.
31. Guthke, Der Stand der Lessing-Forschung, 89.
32. Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing, 19.
33. To the best of my knowledge, the most exemplary study ever made (at least in English) on the intellectual and social situation of eighteenth-century Germany is W. H. Bruford's Germany in the Eighteenth Century: The Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935; reprint, 1952).
34. The case of Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768), who was a professor of Oriental languages at a Gymnasium in Hamburg and whose posthumous unpublished manuscripts Lessing brought to light under the title Fragments from an Unnamed Author (in German), best illustrates the religious situation in the Germany of Lessing's age. Reimarus never intended to publish the voluminous manuscripts into which he had poured his energy throughout his academic life. He showed his unpublished lifework to nobody but a few close friends and his two children. Otherwise he kept the work secret and never showed it to anybody, not even to his wife. It was only in 1972 that the two volumes of nearly 1600 pages appeared under the title Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehrer Gottes (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag).
Why did Reimarus keep his lifework secret? Why did he never wish to publish it during his lifetime? The reason seems to have been that he was afraid of the inquisition that might be instigated by "a clerical tyranny" (eine geistliche Tyranney). For in the Germany of his age, especially in Hamburg where Lutheran orthodoxy held sway over the entire town, the rumor that one was an "unbeliever" (Unglaubige), "free thinker" (Freydenker), "naturalist" (Naturalisten), or "mocker of religion" (Religions-Spötter), once disseminated, could be fatal to a person's citizenship and honor. Accusation by means of such a label sometimes led to arrest, imprisonment, or condemnation by the authorities. Thus mid-eighteenth-century Germany still retained some traces of medieval society where inquisition was a common practice. As far as Germany is concerned, it was only through and after Lessing's desperate battle against Goeze, nicknamed "the Inquisitor," that religious tolerance gained a firm footing.
35. Rationalistic theology in vogue in mid-eighteenth-century Germany is usually called neology, which Lessing pejoratively referred to as "our newfangled theology" (unsere neumodische Theologie). In his judgment, "our newfangled clergymen" (unsere neumodischen Geistlichen) were "far too little theologians and not nearly enough philosophers" (LM 18, 33 [Letter to Karl Lessing of 8 April 1773]; B 11/2, 540 [no. 906]).
According to Karl Aner's famous formulation, the transition from orthodoxy to rationalistic theology in the eighteenth century passed through three stages. The first phase was "rational orthodoxy" (vernünftige oder rationale Orthodoxie), or Wolffianism, which Aner characterized as V (Vernunft) + O (Offenbarung), or reason plus revelation. The second phase was "neology," which he characterized as V + Obegriff - Oinhalt, or reason plus the concept of revelation but minus revelatory content. The third phase was a full-fledged "rationalism," a rationalism that overcame the halfway character of neology by clearing away all supernatural elements. Aner characterized this phase as V = Oinhalt — Obegtlff, or reason equals revelatory content minus the concept of revelation. See Karl Aner, Die Theologie der Lessingzeit (Halle: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1929; reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1964), 4.
36. Cf. Otto Mann, Lessing: Sein und Leistung (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1965), 307.
37. Guthke, Der Stand der Lessing-Forschung, 89.
38. Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing, 21.
39. In his letter to Elise Reimarus, Lessing referred to Semler as "an impertinent goose of a professor" (eine impertinente Professorengans) (LM 18, 317 [Letter to Elise Reimarus of 14 May 1779]; B 12, 255 [no. 1472]). Semler was for him "a personal representative of the academic arrogance of the predominant theology" (Hermann Timm, Gott und die Freiheit: Studien zur Religionsphilosophie der Goethezeit, vol. 1, Die Spinozarenaissance [Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1974], 24).
40. In his preface to The Education of the Human Race, Lessing confessed that he stood on a higher plane that enabled him to see beyond the limits of the knowledge available to his contemporaries. Cf. LM 13, 415; G 8, 489 (Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts).
41. Cf. LM 13, 430; G 8, 504 (Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts §68): "And that is also of the greatest importance now. You who are cleverer than the rest, who wait fretting and impatient for the last page of the primer, take care! Take care that you do not let your weaker classmates notice what you are beginning to scent, or even see!"
42. LM 11, 69-70; G 7, 79-80 (Berengarius Turonensis).
43. LM 13, 353; G 8, 459 (Ernst und Falk, 2). The English translation is borrowed from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan the Wise, Minna von Barnhelm, and Other Plays and Writings, The German Library, vol. 12, edited by Peter Demetz (New York: Continuum, 1995), 285.
44. According to Lessing, "the man who, threatened by dangers, becomes unfaithful to truth can nevertheless love truth very much, and truth forgives his unfaithfulness for the sake of his love. But he who thinks only of disposing of truth under sundry masks and cosmetics, such a man may well wish to be its matchmaker, but has never been its lover" (LM 11, 70; G 7, 80 [Berengarius Turonensis]).
Considering some of the tactics Lessing employed as unjustified, Fittbogen criticizes him severely. Nevertheless, a glance at the ecclesiastical-political situation in which Lessing found himself teaches us that Fittbogen's criticism is not necessarily justifiable. See Fittbogen, Die Religion Lessings, 79-83.
45. LM 18, 266 (Letter to Karl Lessing of 16 March 1778); B 12, 131 (no. 1351).
50. Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing, 20.
51. Walter Jens and Hans Küng, Dichtung und Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Hölderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostojewski, Kafka (Munich and Zurich: Piper, 1988), 90; cf. Carl Schwarz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing als Theologe, 15.
52. Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing, 21.
53. Wolfgang Gericke, "Lessings theologische Gesamtauffassung," in Sechs theologische Schriften Gotthold Ephraim Lessings, edited by Wolfgang Gericke (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1985), 11.
54. Johann Melchior Goeze, the Hauptpastor, or Pastor Primarius, of Hamburg pastors, insisted that the logic used in theological argument and the logic employed in the theater were completely different. To him, the logic Lessing employed in theological argument was nothing but theatrical. Such logic, he insisted, could better be called "theater logic" (Theaterlogik).
Lessing's refutation of this accusation is worth citing at length:
It does not matter how much we write, but how we think matters a lot. And yet you want to assert that a shaky, false meaning must necessarily lie in oblique words rich in imagery? that no one can think correctly and exactly except those who use the most proper, most common, and flattest expressions? that to seek to give cold, symbolic ideas some warmth and vividness from natural signs somehow does absolute harm to the truth? How ridiculous to ascribe the depth of a wound not to the sharp but to the shiny sword! How ridiculous it also is, therefore, to ascribe the superiority that the truth gives an adversary over us to the splendid style of the adversary! I know no splendid style that does not borrow its splendor more or less from the truth. Truth alone gives genuine splendor; even in mockery and farce it must lie underneath, at least by way of a foil.
Let us speak of this, therefore, of the truth, not of the style. . . . Thought requires a steady, measured step, while dialogue demands leaps. Seldom is a high jumper a good, smooth dancer.
But, Mr. Hauptpastor, this is my style, and my style is not my logic. . . . But, of course, my logic should also be what my style is: a theater logic (eine Theaterlogik). That is what you say. But say what you want! Good logic is always the same, whatever one may apply it to. Even the way of applying it is everywhere the same. . . . But who really doubts that Molière and Shakespeare would have written and delivered superb sermons if they had wanted to climb into a pulpit instead of into the theater? (LM 13, 149-51; G 8, 194-95 [Anti-Goe%e, 2]).
55. Heinrich Scholz, "Einleitung," in Hauptschriften, lxix.
56. Hermann Timm, "Eine theologische Tragikomödie: Lessings Neuinszenierung der Geistesgeschichte," Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 34 (1982): 5.
58. Friedrich Loofs, Lessings Stellung zum Christentum (Halle: Waisenhauser, 1910), 24.
59. Schwarz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing als Theologe, 12, 42.
60. Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing, 25; cf. ibid., 24.
61. Helmut Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz: Studien zur Religions-philosophie Lessings., 4th ed. (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1957), 37, 40, 41, 54-55.
62. Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing, 17.
63. Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz, 54.
64. Henry E. Allison, Lessing and the Enlightenment: His Philosophy of Religion and Its Relation to Eighteenth-Century Thought (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966), 86.
65. LM 11, 479; G 7, 180-81 (Leibniz von den ewigen Strafen).
66. LM 11, 473; G 7, 183-84 (Leibniz von den ewigen Strafen).
67. Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz, 54-57.
Was this article helpful?
Free Your Mind And Achieve Peace. Discover How To Live In Peace And Harmony In A World Full Of Uncertainty And Dramatically Improve Your Quality Of Life Today. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Tools For Achieving Peace And Calmness And Live A Life Of Comfort That You Deserve.