Lessing and Christianity

1. Christopher Schrempf, Lessing als Philosoph, 2d ed. (Stuttgart: Fr. Frommanns Verlag, 1921), 18.

2. Karl S. Guthke, Gotthold Ephraim Lessingg, 3d ed. (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1979), 19.

5. Wilhelm Dilthey, Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung: Lessing-Goethe-Novalis-Hölderlin, 16th ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985), 64.

6. In his Faust (Part 1, the scene of Auerbach's Keller in Leipzig), Goethe, who like Lessing spent his student life in that city, depicted the Leipzig of that day. He had a man called Frosch speak as follows: "No doubt about it. Leipzig is a flower. It is a little Paris and educates its people" (2171-72). Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe's Faust, translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Doubleday, 1961), 216-17.

Judging from W. H. Bruford's dependable study of the social history of Germany in the eighteenth century, the Leipzig of Lessing's student days seems to have been not too far removed from that of Goethe's student days. See W H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth Century: The Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935; reprint, 1952), 182-84.

7. LM 17, 7-8 (Letter to Justina Salome Lessing of 20 January 1749); B 11/1, 15-16 (no. 11).

8. LM 17, 16 (Letter to Johann Gottfried Lessing of 28 April 1749); B 11/1, 24 (no. 7).

9. LM 17, 17-18 (Letter to Johann Gottfried Lessing of 30 May 1749); B 11/1, 26 (no. 21).

10. 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), 108.

11. LM 13, 415; G 8, 489 (Vorbericht des Herausgebers).

13. Lessing's M.A. study was on the Spanish physician and philosopher Juan Huarte (c. 1530—1592). He translated Huarte's Spanish work into German under the title Prüfung der Köpfe zu den Wissenschaften (cf. LM 5, 4-8; G 8, 417-20) and was awarded a Master's degree in liberal arts (der Magistertitel der freien Künste).

14. Edwald von Kleist, a major in the Prussian army, was a talented poet. He and Lessing became close friends during Lessing's second period in Leipzig (1755-58). Unfortunately, shortly after they became acquainted, Kleist was killed in a battle during the Seven Years' War (1756-63). When Lessing wrote his famous comedy Minna von Barnhelm in 1767 (though according to Lachmann it had already been completed in 1763), he still had a vivid memory of his deceased friend and wanted to preserve it in his dramatic work. It is said, therefore, that Kleist was the real model for Major von Tellheim in Minna von Barnhelm.

16. This does not mean, however, that Lessing utterly neglected these minor thinkers. A couple of short refutations may be found among his literary remains. See LM 16, 405-407; G 7, 660-63 (Gegen Friedrich Wilhelm Mascho).

17. Erich Schmidt, ed., Goezes Streitschriften gegen Lessing (Stuttgart: G. J. Göschen'sche Verlagshandlung, 1893), 10.

19. LM 18, 287 (Letter to Elise Reimarus of 6 September 1778); B 12, 193 (no. 1398).

20. LM 18, 285 (Letter to Karl Lessing of 11 August 1778); B 12, 186 (no. 1389).

21. LM 18, 319 (Letter to Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi of 18 May 1779); B 12, 156 (no. 1474).

22. LM 16, 444; G 2, 748 (Vorrede und Abhandlungen zu Nathan dem Weisen). Italics in original.

23. LM 16, 406; G 7, 661 (Gegen Friedrich Wilhelm Mascho). Cf. LM 13, 208; G 8, 304 (Anti-Goeze, 11).

25. LM 12, 430; G 7, 459 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

26. LM 12, 430; G 7, 460 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

27. LM 18, 83 (Letter to Karl Lessing of 8 April 1773); B 11/2, 540 (no. 906).

28. LM 18, 101-102 (Letter to Karl Lessing of 2 February 1774); B 11/2, 614-15 (no. 957).

29. In a letter of 20 March 1777 to his brother Karl, in which he declared the theologians of orthodoxy "my obvious enemies," Lessing says: "I only prefer the old orthodox theology (at bottom, tolerant) to the new (at bottom, intolerant) because the former is in manifest conflict with human reason, whereas the latter might easily take one in. I conclude an agreement with my obvious enemies in order to be able to be the better on my guard against my secret adversaries." LM 18, 226-27 (Letter to Karl Lessing of 20 March 1777); B 12, 51-52 (no. 1257).

30. LM 11, 3; G 6, 407 (Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet).

31. LM 17, 17-18 (Letter to Johann Gottfried Lessing of 30 May 1749); B 11/2, 26 (no. 21).

34. LM 17, 364-65 (Letter to Moses Mendelssohn of 9 January 1771); B 11/2, 144-45 (no. 645).

35. Some scholars object to this interpretation. To begin with, no clarity at all has been attained with regard to what book of Ferguson's is referred to in this letter. Danzel, Guhrauer, Dilthey, and Aner conjecture that Lessing here refers to Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), whereas Olshausen and Rilla claim that the book in question is Ferguson's Institutes of Moral Philosophy (1769). To date, nobody has offered a decisive answer to this question. As far as I can judge, however, Flajole's discussion seems to me the most instructive on this issue. See Edward S. Flajole, "Lessing's Retrieval of Lost Truths," Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 74 (1959): 52-66.

37. LM 12, 428-29; G 8, 489. Dilthey has it that the "eminence" on which Lessing sets himself is "a lonely height, from which only general outlines of the world could be seen below." Dilthey, Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung, 92.

38. LM 12, 428-29; G 7, 457-59 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers). In the German original, the words here translated as "feels" (fühlen) and "experiences" (erfahren) appear in italics. Chadwick translates both German words as "feels." I have modified his translation at this point so as to come closer to Lessing's actual words. See Lessing's Theological Writings, translated by Henry Chadwick (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).

39. Cf. LM 14, 157; G 3, 685 (Gedanken über die Herrnhuter); LM 5, 17; G 5, 44-45 (Literaturbrief 1, 8. Brief).

40. LM 14, 159; G 3, 687 (Gedanken über die Herrnhuter).

41. LM 14, 156; G 3, 683 (Gedanken über die Herrnhuter).

42. LM 14, 160; G 3, 688 (Gedanken über die Herrnhuter). Likewise, Lessing makes the following noteworthy statements through the mouth of Nathan: "[To] you alone I'll tell it./ To simple piety alone I'll tell it./ Since that alone can understand the deeds/ God-fearing man can force himself to do." (LM 3, 138; G 2, 316 [Nathan der Weise, 4/ 7]). It is important to notice that special importance attaches here to "simple piety" (die fromme Einfalt).

45. Erich Schmidt, ed., Goezes Streitschriften gegen Lessing (Stuttgart: G. J. Göschen'sche Verlagshandlung, 1893), 21.

47. LM 12, 433; G 7, 463 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers). Here Lessing asserts that reason, if safeguarded by "the reality of revelation," is willing to surrender itself to faith. "Reason's surrender, to a certain extent, to the obedience of faith" (eine gewisse Gefangennehmung der Vernunft under den Gehorsam des Glaubens), according to Lessing, is simply based on "the essential concept of revelation" (dem wesentlichen Begriffe einer Offenbarung). This is also at the same time, says Lessing, reason's "confession of its limitations" (das Bekenntnis ihrer Grenzen).

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