Lessings Panentheism

The first thing to observe is that Lessing introduces his ev ko» n5v as a concept that stands in antithesis to "the orthodox concepts of the divinity" (die orthodoxen Begriffe von der Gottheit). The simplest interpretation would be to take it as implying allegiance to the pantheistic worldview, which can be characterized by the motto ev köI iräv or ev itdvta or £V näVTa. According to this interpretation, Lessing could no longer believe in Christian theism but would have to be an adherent of pantheism.

Yet here too we must proceed cautiously. For Jacobi himself elsewhere admits that Lessing never denied "a personal divinity" (einepersönliche Gottheit)?4 Furthermore, the meaning of "the orthodox concepts of divinity," which Lessing says he cannot stand, is not self-evident. Does he mean Christian theism as such, or alternatively, the orthodox Lutheran concept of God that prevailed in his age? Reinhard Schwarz conjectures that what Lessing denied is "the extramundane God" (der außerweltliche Gott) taught by Sigmund Jakob Baumgarten in his three-volume Glaubenslehre (1759—60).95 We do not have sufficient information to verify the truth of his conjecture, but it is clear that Lessing found some philosophical difficulty with the idea of a "personal, extramundane divinity" that Jacobi espoused.96 When we correlate this fact with Jacobi's admission that Lessing did not deny a personal God, we can infer that what he denied is perhaps not Christian theism as such but a heteronomous deity that remains above the world and tyrannically rules over it. Actually, this inference seems to go a long way toward accounting for the fact that Lessing, on reading Goethe's "Prometheus," said, "The orthodox concepts of the divinity are no longer for me; I cannot stand them."

In the final analysis, Lessing's words, "Hen kai Pan! I know naught else," can be taken as expressing his own immanent view of God and the world, a view that differs from the traditional Christian view. This immanent view of God and the world, however, must be clearly distinguished from that of Spinozism. For Lessing's God is not a substance possessing the two attributes of "thought" and "extension," as in Spinoza. Lessing's God is conceived, rather, as "a higher energy" (eine höhere Kraft)91 in which the attributes of extension, movement, and idea are grounded. Lessing does agree with Spinoza, however, in his criticism of anthropomorphism. He finds fault with Jacobi's conception of God for the reason that it makes God conform to "our wretched way of acting in accordance with intentions" (unsere elende Art, nach Absichten %u handeln)?^ In his eyes, such a conception of God is mere anthropomorphism.

How, then, does Lessing understand God? One of the keys to answering this question is Jacobi's remark: "When Lessing wanted to imagine a personal divinity, he thought of it as the soul of the universe (die Seele des Alls), and he thought of the Whole as being analogous to an organic body."99 Jacobi takes Lessing's words in the Spinozistic sense and concludes that "Lessing does not believe in a cause of things . . . distinct from the world," which is as much as to say, "Lessing is a Spinozist."100 This interpretation, as pointed out above, is strained.

It is our contention that Lessing's ev koü «äv is to be understood not in terms of Spinozistic pantheism but in terms of a stream of thought which, though headed in "a direction that eventually leads to Spinoza,"101 is clearly distinct from Spinozism. What we have in mind is spiritualism (Spiritualismus). This is "the stream of tradition which, since the sixteenth century, runs independently alongside Protestant ecclesiasticism and which is stamped more by individual thinkers than by the organization of sectarian groups."102 Thinkers who belong to this tradition include such figures as Sebastian Franck, Paracelsus, Valentin Weigel, Jakob Boehme, and, in the eighteenth century in particular, Johann Konrad Dippel and Johann Christian Edelmann.

The relationship between Lessing's thought and the spiritualistic tradition was first proposed by Harald Schultze as a "working hypothesis."103 This hypothesis was reinforced at many points by Wolfgang Gericke and is now on the way toward becoming a new theory.104 Gericke, assuming a stream of intellectual history running from Nicholas of Cusa through the philosophers of the Italian Renaissance, the German philosophy of nature, and Leibniz to Lessing, calls this stream "the spiritualistic tradition" (die spiritualistische Tradition). His attempt to understand Lessing's thought by correlating it with this tradition is attractive and worthy of some consideration.105 This is not to say that the whole of Lessing's thought is best understood from the point of view of the spiritualistic tradition. Lessing's thought is too pluralistic and compound to permit understanding from any single point of view or single source. But with particular regard to the matter of his ev koI Mv, if it does not signify the Spinozistic pantheism of "deus sive natura," we must look for a key to its interpretation in the spiritualistic tradition. According to Gericke, "Lessing's ev sal >rav has to be construed from the point of view of spiritualism, from the point of view, for example, of Boehme's conviction that God is 'all in all.' In distinction from Spinoza, however, [what Boehme] has in mind is not the identity of God with the universe but, rather, God's omnipresence and omnipotence."106 We too think that Lessing's ev raU«v is to be understood in this context.

But to interpret Lessing's evsaUav against the background of the spiritualistic tradition is to interpret it as a "panentheism," the doctrine that God includes all things in his own being as part, not the whole, of his being. Wilhelm Dilthey, at the close of his essay on the "Conception and Analysis of Man in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries" (in German), suggests an affinity between the thought and destiny of Sebastian Franck and Lessing.107 It is conceivable, therefore, that the "religious, universalistic theism" (der religiös universalistische Theismus) or "refined panentheism" (dergeläuterte Panentheismus) which Dilthey regards as Franck's worldview is also Lessing's own worldview. In fact, in his Poetry and Lived Experience (in German), Dilthey refers to Lessing's fragment "On the Reality of Things outside God" and affirms that Lessing's basic position, because it asserts that nothing is outside God but that "all things are real in God,"108 is panentheism. Dilthey holds that "this panentheism of Lessing's is completely different from the doctrine that Jacobi ascribed to Spinoza. Lessing was not a Spinozist in Jacobi's sense.

Insofar as he was a Spinozist at all, he was so in his own—and in a more accurate and profound sense."109 It seems appropriate to conclude this section of our inquiry with a similar statement by Johannes Schneider:

He [Lessing] thinks panentheistically: things are indeed in God, but are nevertheless distinct from God. . . . For Lessing, God is an imagining personality. In God the concept of things and the reality of things are one. God includes the reality but, as opposed to the case of Spinoza, does not completely dissolve in the reality. . . . The immanence of things in God is not alien to the Christian world-view, for it is directly given with the dogma of God's omnipresence. The only question is how that immanence should be understood.110

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