Lessings Basic Thought in the Education of the Human Race

1. Johann Gottfried Herder, "Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Geb. 1729, gest. 1781," in Horst Steinmetz, ed., Lessing——Ein unpoetischer Dichter (Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum Verlag, 1969), 133.

2. Helmut Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz: Studien zur Religions-philosophie Lessings., 4th ed. (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1957), 57.

3. Paul Tillich, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 12, Begegnungen (Stuttgart: Evangelisches Verlagswerk, 1971), 99.

4. This does not mean, however, that all of Lessing's final convictions pertaining to theology and philosophy of religion are expressly manifested in this work. For in Ernst and Falk (1778-80) he says through the mouth of Falk that there are "truths which are better left unsaid" and that "the wise man cannot say what is better left unsaid" (LM 13, 353; G 8, 459 [Ernst und Falk, 2]).

5. Carl Schwarz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing als Theologe (Halle: C. E. M. Pfeffer, 1854), 79.

6. Wilhelm Lütgert, Die Religion des deutschen Idealismus und ihre Ende, vol. 1, Die religiöse Krise des deutschen Idealismus (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1923; reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1967), 154. Mandelbaum, by defining Lessing's position in the history of philosophy as "an intermediate position" between the Enlightenment and romanticism, suggests that Lessing was overstepping the horizon of the Enlightenment and coming close to the spirit of romanticism. But it is difficult to say that Mandelbaum has recognized Lessing's significance as a pioneer of German idealism as well as of romanticism. See Maurice Mandelbaum, History, Man, and Reason: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971), 384.

7. See introduction.

8. Martin Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung bei Lessing (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1928), 32.

11. LM 12, 446; G 7, 476 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

12. LM 12, 368; G 7, 398 (Aus den Papieren des Ungenannten, 4); cf. Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehrer Gottes., edited by Gerhard Alexander, 2 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1972), vol. 1, 770-71.

13. Cf. LM 12, 443-46; G 7, 472-76 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

14. LM 12, 447; G 7, 489 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

15. Cf. Martha Waller, Lessings Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts: Interpretation und Darstellung ihres rationalen und irrationalen Gehaltes (Berlin: Verlag Dr. Emil Ebering, 1935), 4-5.

16. Other forms of division are possible, to be sure. For example, Erwin Quapp, from a very different point of view, divides the book into four parts:

B. Education of the Human Race at the First, Old Testament Stage (§ §4-53)

C. Education of the Human Race at the Second, New Testament Stage (§ §54-81)

D. The Final Stage of the Education of the Human Race (§ §82-100)

See Erwin Quapp, Lessings Theologie statt Jacobis Spinozismus (Bern: Peter Lang, 1992), 33. Quapp's main concern, however, is not with the division as such but with demonstrating that what he calls the Gartenhausformel, namely, "ev ¿Y« icol *bv5" is "the systematic clue to Lessing's theology." He seeks to prove that this "ev ey« >cai nav," not the allegedly Spinozistic "ev *aUav," is the formula most essential to understanding Lessing's theology or philosophy of religion. For this purpose, he attempts to provide a systematic, unified interpretation of The Education of the Human Race from this point of view. Though his assertion is fresh and exciting, it strikes me as a bit too bold and too forced. Furthermore, it involves a fatal mistake. For more detail on this point, see our discussion in the next chapter.

17. With respect to their connection with Lessing's discussions in the main body of The Education of the Human Race, there is controversy as to how this Latin statement should be translated. Paul Rilla, for example, translates it as "All dies ist aus denselben

Gründen in gewisser Hinsicht wahr, aus denen es in gewisser Hinsicht falsch ist" (R 8, 590). Helmut Göbel's translation is almost the same: "Dieses alles ist aus denselben Gründen in gewisser Hinsicht wahr, aus denen es in gewisser Hinsicht falsch ist" (G 8, 709; G 7, 854). By contrast, Eckhard Heftrich, dealing with this issue under the heading "Augustinus contra Augustinum," maintains that the statement should be translated thus: "Dies alles ist von einem bestimmten Gesichtspunkt aus je nachdem ebenso wahr wie falsch" (Eckhard Heftrich, Lessings Aufklärung [Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1978], 43). Erwin Quapp is critical even of this rendering and proposes yet another way to translate it, insisting that the translation should be in the form of indirect narration so as to show clearly where truth lies: "Dies alles seien von dorther in gewissem wahr, von woher sie in gewissem unwahr sind" (Quapp, Lessings Theologie statt Jacobis Spinozismus, 43). The English translator of Augustine's Soliloquies, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers., vol. 7 (edited by Philip Schaff [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986]), renders the sentence as follows: "that all these things are in certain aspects true, by this very thing that they are in certain aspects false."

18. Heftrich, Lessings Aufklärung, 42.

20. Augustine, Soliloquies, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, 553.

21. Heftrich, Lessings Aufklärung, 45.

22. Willi Oelmüller, Die unbefriedigte Aufklärung: Beiträge zu einer Theorie der Moderne von Lessing, Kant und Hegel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979), 78.

24. Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz, 58. According to Thielicke, such a "point of view" is implied by the term "quibusdam" (see p. 58 n. 12).

25. Thielicke pays special attention to the problem of Standort. He repeatedly emphasizes that Lessing stood in the midst of an ongoing process that was still open to the future (Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz, 26 n. 60, 45, 46, 77, 78, 113). As the title of Wilm Pelters's book shows, he too attaches special importance to this point. See Wilm Pelters, Lessings Standort: Sinndeutung der Geschichte als Kern seines Denkens (Heidelberg: Lothar Stiehm Verlag, 1972).

26. LM 13, 415; G 8, 489 (Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts). All English translations from The Education of the Human Race are from Lessing's Theological Writings, translated by Henry Chadwick (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).

27. This posturing has given rise to the conjecture that the real author of The Education of the Human Race was someone other than Lessing. In fact, there was a time when Albrecht Thaer was plausibly alleged to have been the real author. But Heinrich Schneider's solid study has dispelled all doubts about Lessing's authorship. See Heinrich Schneider, "Lessings letzte Prosaschrift," in his Lessing: Zwölf biographische Studien (Munich: Leo Lehnen Verlag, 1951), 222-30.

28. We consider it most likely that when Lessing made public The Education of the Human Race, he deliberately chose to publish it anonymously. Consequently, we agree with Timm when he asserts that "the anonymity is intended" (die Anonymität ist gewollt). Hermann Timm, Gott und die Freiheit: Studien zur Religionphilosophie der Goethezeit, vol. 1, Die Spinozarenaissance (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1974), 134.

29. LM 18, 269 (Letter to Johann Albert Reimarus of 6 April 1778); B 12, 143 (no. 1358).

30. Quapp, Lessings Theologie statt Jacobis Spinozismus, 61.

31. Thielicke points out that "waiting" (Warten) is a term of special importance to Lessing. See his Vernunft und Existenz^ 23, 24, 55.

32. That special importance attaches to this metaphor of "a soft evening glow" may be inferred from Ernst and Falk,: Conversations for the Freemasons (in German), a work closely related to the subject taken up in The Education of the Human Race. The conversations between Ernst, the pursuer of truth, and Falk, the spiritually awakened, center on the essence of freemasonry. The conversations begin with a scene in which Falk is "enjoying the refreshing morning" (G 8, 452) and end with a scene in which "the sun is going down" (G 8, 488). It is significant that the evening scene, when the natural sun is sinking, is also a time when Ernst's eyes are opened to the truth and "another sun" is rising in his heart (G 8, 452).

33. In an earlier fragment called On the Origin of Revealed Religion (in German), which presumably dates from his Breslau period (1763—64), Lessing asserts that "all positive and revealed religions are equally true and equally false" (LM 14, 313; G 7, 283). It is evident that the words of Augustine cited in the epigraph already lie behind this assertion. Given this early date, we may safely suppose that the consciousness of "historical ambivalence" came to Lessing much earlier than the time of the writing of The Education of the Human Race.

34. Karlmann Beyschlag, Grundriß der Dogmengeschichte, vol. 1, Gott und Welt (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988), 201 n. 19. Beyschlag is the editor of the third volume of Lessings Werke (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1972), for which Kurt Wölfel is the general editor. Beyschlag's editorial essay, appended to volume 3, is very instructive (W 3, 593-617).

35. See, e.g., Gal. 4:1-9; Col. 2:17; Heb. 1:1, 8:4 passim.

36. For example, The Epistle to Diognetus, chapters 8-9; Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, book 4; Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem, book 4; Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogos, book 1, chapter 6ff.; Stromateis., book 1, chapter 5 and book 2, chapter 18. As for Origen, some scholars maintain that in his works there is no discussion of the idea of the education of the human race. His main work nepiApxüv, however, translated into Latin as De Principiis, does contain some expressions that suggest familiarity with this idea. As the respected Origen scholar Jean Danielou puts it, "It might be said that being a didaskalos himself, Origen regarded his God as a Didaskalos too, as a Master in charge of the education of children, and looked on God's universe as a vast didaskaleion in which every single thing contributed to the education of the free human beings at school there" (Jean Danielou, Origen, translated by Walter Mitchell [New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955], 276).

37. Hans W. Liepmann, Lessing und die mittelalterliche Philosophie (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1931), 128; cf. Erich Schmidt, Lessing: Geschichte seines Lebens und seiner Schriften, 4th ed., vol. 2 (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1923; reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1983), 433-34.

38. R. Piepmeier, "Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts," in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 2, edited by Joachim Ritter (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1972), 735-36.

39. See G. Hornig, "Akkommodation," in Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, edited by Joachim Ritter (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971), vol. 1, 125-26.

40. Lessing's concept of progressive revelation throws its shadow over Troeltsch. See Ernst Troeltsch, Glaubenslehre, edited by Gertrud von le Fort (Munich and Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker & Humblot, 1925), §3. Benjamin A. Reist's Processive Revelation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992) may be regarded as an attempt to develop the Troeltschian concept of revelation in the direction of process theology. In this case, however, there is no longer any contact with, or relation to, Lessing.

41. LM 12, 432; G 7, 462 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

42. Karl Aner, Die Theologie der Eessingzeit (Halle: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1929; reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1964), 356.

43. To name a few among many, Th. C. van Stockum, Spinoza-Jacobi-Eessing (Groningen: P. Noordhoff, 1916), 80; Carl Stange, "Lessings Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts," Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie 1 (1923): 153—67; Martin Haug, Entwicklung und Offenbarung beiEessing 64-65, 79-80, 106, 107-8 passim; Israel S. Stamm, "Lessing and Religion," Germanic Review 43 (1968): 239-57; Pelters, Eessings Standort., 47. For a concise overview of this issue, see Karl S. Guthke, Gotthold Ephraim Eessing 3d ed. (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1979), 87-89.

44. Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz 59, 60, 66, 71, etc.; Otto Mann, Eessing: Sein und Leistung (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1965), 305-6.

45. The clue to answering this question seems implied in the word "mystery" (Geheimnis) that appears immediately before this sentence. There Lessing says, "the word mystery signified, in the first age of Christianity, something quite different from what it means now." As Göbel points out, Lessing apparently relies for this assertion on John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious (London, 1696; reprint, Christianity Not Mysterious [New York: Garland, 1978]; German translation, Christentum ohne Geheimnis,, translated by W. Lunde, edited by Leopold Zscharnack [Giessen: Töpelmann, 1908]). For, according to Toland, the mystery of the gospel was originally manifest. It is called a mystery only because it was once covered with a veil. But since, in the gospel, the veil has been removed, mystery is no longer mysterious. Thus revelation, once revealed, is never mysterious or incomprehensible.

If we understand the word "mystery" in the sense Toland understood it, revealed truths cannot be incomprehensible but must be manifest to human understanding. This makes it understandable that Lessing, immediately after expounding the meaning of the word "mystery," speaks of "the development of revealed truths into truths of reason."

46. Marjorie Reeves and Warwick Gould, Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), chapter 3.

47. Some scholars point to Johann Mosheim's 4-volume Institutionum Historiae Christianae Compendium (Helmsted: Weygand, 1752) as one of the primary sources for Lessing's knowledge of Joachim of Fiore (cf. Reeves and Gould, Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel, 60), while others allude to older sources (cf. Heinz Bluhm, "Ist Lessings Auffassung des 'Ewigen Evangeliums' neu?" in Aquila: Chestnut Hill Studies in Modern Languages and Literatures 1 [1969]: 9-11). Bluhm's essay, incidentally, because it contains an interesting analysis of Lessing's "new, eternal gospel," is highly instructive and very worth reading for everyone interested in this topic.

48. Bluhm, "Ist Lessings Auffassung des 'Ewigen Evangeliums' neu?" 25. According to Bluhm, a high assessment should attach to Lessing's giving an ethical definition to the eternal gospel, for there is no such definition in Joachim of Fiore. One can therefore speak of something new in Lessing's concept to this extent. But, Bluhm contends, what Lessing set forth as a higher morality had actually been taught by Tauler, Johann Geiler (1445-1510), and especially Luther. Bluhm asserts, therefore, that any idea of absolute novelty in Lessing's concept is out of the question. He may be right. But latent in this relativizing of Lessing's novelty is his overestimation of Luther's ideas. He seems to me to lay undue stress on Luther's importance for any discussion of the new, eternal gospel, so much so that he fails to do justice to Lessing.

49. Christoph Schrempf, Lessing als Philosoph, 2d ed. (Stuttgart: Fr. Frommanns Verlag, 1921), 172. According to Schrempf, "the day of this [new] covenant has not only been proclaimed but also has already begun in the New Testament" (172). His discussion, incidentally, whether intentionally or not, replaces "a new, eternal gospel" (ein neues ewiges Evangelium) with "a new, eternal covenant" (ein neuer ewiger Bund).

50. As indicated above, Thielicke pays special attention to Lessing's attitude of "waiting." According to him, Lessing's waiting attitude is to be ascribed not only to his thoughtfulness as a pedagogue but also, and more essentially, to his awareness of the interim in history. "This 'waiting' of the advanced interpreter of history would be incomparably comprehensible if what reason waited for here was not itself but the complete development of something that confronts us, something the administration of which would not (or as yet would not) be entrusted to the autonomy of reason" (Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz, 23).

51. Falk's words reflect Lessing's attitude very well: "A Freemason calmly awaits the rising of the sun and lets the candles burn as long as they want or can. Putting candles out and, when they are out, finally recognizing that the stumps have got to be lit again and that new ones may even have to be set up, that's nothing for a Freemason" (LM 13, 400-401; G 8, 480 [Ernst und Falk, 5]).

52. Lessing's "faith in providence" (Vorsehungs-Glaube^) should clearly be distinguished from the ordinary "belief in providence" (Vorsehungsglaube^) that prevailed in eighteenth-century Germany. For details on this distinction, the book to see is Arno Schilson, Lessings Christentum (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980).

53. When referring to God's providence, Lessing prefers to use the term Vorsicht rather than the term Vorsehung. His faith in providence, moreover, finds simple expression in his personal letters. For example: "What is yet to come, I leave to providence. I can hardly believe that a man could be more indifferent to the future than I am" (LM 17, 41 [Letter to Johann David Michaelis of 16 October 1754]); "Reason orders me to submit myself to providence in everything" (LM 17, 247 [Letter to Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg of 25 February 1768]); "And leave all the rest calmly to providence" (LM 17, 409 [Letter to Eva König of 20 November 1771]).

In one of his literary criticisms set forth in epistolary form, Lessing speaks of "that wise providence which knows how to use even the error of its tools" (LM 5, 54; G 3, 280 [Briefe]). Moreover, Minna von Barnhelm and Emilia Galotti,, not to mention Nathan der Weise, can be classified under the heading "providence drama" because providence plays an important role in the unfolding of these stories.

54. LM 3, 140; G 2, 317 (Nathan der Weise, 4/7). These words, composed immediately after the tragic death of his wife Eva and of his newborn baby Traugott, should be taken as expressing Lessing's own personal feeling.

55. It may be of some use to remember the last sentence of the "Editor's Preface": "Is God to have part in everything except our mistakes?"

56. Tillich, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 12, 107ff. The discussion that follows owes much to Tillich's penetrating interpretation.

In his study of metempsychosis in East and West, Moore asserts that Lessing's idea of reincarnation is a corollary of the idea of the education of the human race. According to Moore, the latter idea demands that every individual person should travel along the same path by which the human race reaches perfection. See George Foot Moore, Metempsychosis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914), 57-58.

57. According to Paul Althaus, the idea of transmigration of souls

"does not express an experience, but is speculation from certain motives, essentially from moralistic thinking." It is true that "a truly moral world order seems to demand the transmigration of souls," but this kind of moralistic thinking "does not accord with Christian thinking." Consequently, the doctrine of transmigration of souls has no place in Christian theology. See Paul Althaus, "Seelenwanderung. 2. Dogmatisch," in RGG, 3d ed. (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1961).

58. Ernst Benz admits that "the theme of reincarnation does not belong to that of Christian theology." Nevertheless, pointing out the fact that the idea of reincarnation has appeared again and again in the history of Western Christian thought, he emphasizes the importance of reconsidering this idea. See Ernst Benz, "Die Reinkarnationslehre in Dichtung und Philosophie der deutschen Klassik und Romantik," Zeitschrift für Religionsund Geistesgeschichte 9 (1957): 150-75.

59. Tillich, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 12, 108-109.

62. Benz, "Die Reinkarnationslehre," 153.

63. Alexander Altmann indicates that there are roughly two different kinds of thought in Lessing's idea of reincarnation. One is the idea of "transmigration of souls" (metempsychosis, Seelenwanderung) in the literal sense, according to which "souls transmigrate through various human bodies." The other can be called Metaschematismus, or "metamorphosis," because it stresses the developmental "transformation" (Umgestaltung) of human souls. According to this latter idea, humans develop into higher beings both physically and psychically. It is hard to determine, says Altmann, which is more authentic in Lessing. Moreover, neither goes beyond the confines of hypothesis. Consequently Altmann names the former "hypothesis a" and the latter "hypothesis b." For the details of his instructive analysis, see Alexander Altmann, Die trostvolle Aufklärung: Studien zur Metaphysik und politischen Theorie Moses Mendelssohns (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1982), 109-34.

64. LM 18, 269 (Letter to Johann Albert Reimarus of 6 April 1778); B 12, 144 (no. 1358).

65. Cf. Johannes Hoffmeister, ed., Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 2d ed. (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1955), s.v. "Dialektik," 163-64.

66. LM 18, 269 (Letter to Johann Albert Reimarus of 6 April 1778); B 12, 144 (no. 1358).

68. Lütgert, Die Religion des deutschen Idealismus und ihre Ende, vol. 1, 155.

69. Wilhelm Windelband, Die Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, vol. 1 [of 2], Von der Renaissance bis Kant (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1878; reprint, Karben: Verlag Petra Wald, 1996), 532.

70. Johannes von Lüpke, Wege der Weisheit: Studien zu Lessings Theologiekritik (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989), 171.

71. Hermann Timm, Gott und die Freiheit,, 77.

72. Arno Schilson, Geschichte im Horizont der Vorsehung: G. E. Lessings Beitrag zu einer Theologie der Geschichte (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1974), 124.

73. On the concept of "autotheonomy," see our discussion in chapter 5, including note 62.

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