Lessings Ugly Broad Ditch

1. Gordon E. Michalson, Jr., Lessing's 'Ugly Ditch": A Study of Theology and History (University Park and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985), 2.

2. Ernst Troeltsch, "Glaube: 4. Glaube und Geschichte," in RGG, vol. 2 [1910], cols. 1447-56.

3. LM 13, 7; G 8, 13 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

4. LM 13, 5; G 8, 11-12 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

5. Lessing's Theological Writings, translated by Henry Chadwick (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).

6. Henry Chadwick, "Introduction," in Lessing's Theological Writings, 31.

7. Ibid., 32. On the relationship between Lessing and Coleridge, see Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit., edited by H. StJ. Hart (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957), 17-33.

8. Michalson, Lessing's 'Ugly Ditch," 27.

9. Johann Daniel Schumann, Über die Evidenz der Beweise für die Wahrheit der christlichen Religion (Hanover: Verlag der Schmidtschen Buchhandlung, 1778).

10. Origene, Contre Celse, Tome 1, 1, 2, Sources Chretiennes 132 (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1967). The English translation below is cited from Origen, Contra Celsum, translated by Henry Chadwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 8:

Moreover, we have to say this, that the gospel has a proof which is peculiar to itself, and which is more divine than a Greek proof based on dialectical argument. This more divine demonstration the apostle calls a

"demonstration of the Spirit and of power"—of spirit because of the prophecies and especially those which refer to Christ, which are capable of convincing anyone who reads them; of power because of the prodigious miracles which may be proved to have happened by this argument among many others, that traces of them still remain among those who live according to the will of the Logos.

11. LM 13, 3; G 8, 9 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

12. LM 13, 3-4; G 8, 9-10 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

13. LM 13, 4; G 8, 10 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

14. LM 13, 4; G 8, 10 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

15. LM 13, 5; G 8, 11 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

16. LM 13, 6; G 8, 12 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

18. LM 13, 6; G 8, 12-13 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

19. LM 13, 7; G 8, 13 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

20. LM 13, 7; G 8, 13 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

21. Michalson, Lessing's "Ugly Ditch," 27.

22. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophische Schriften, vol. 1, Kleine Schriften zur Metaphysik, edited and translated by Hans Heinz Holz (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1985), 452-53.

23. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophische Schriften, vol. 3/1, Neu Abhandlungen über den menschlichen Verstand, edited and translated by Wolf von Engelhardt and Hans Heinz Holz (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1985), 16-17.

24. Spinoza, Opera, edited by Carl Gebhardt, vol. 3 [of 5], Tractatus Theologico-Politicus / Adnotationes ad Tractatum Theologico-Politicum / Tractatus Politicus (Heidelberg: Carl Wintersuniversitätsbuchhandlung, 1972), 61-62.

25. Michalson, Lessing's "Ugly Ditch," 14.

26. Rudolf Bultmann's advocacy of "demythologization" (Entmythologisierung) is understandable in this context. It is essentially a hermeneutical attempt to bridge the gap between the gospel message and present-day believers.

27. Sören Kierkegaard, Gesammelte Werke, edited by Emanuel Hirsch, Hayo Gerdes, and Hand Martin Junghaus, vol. 16 [of 31], Abschließende unwissenschaftliche Nachschrift zu den Philosophischen Brocken, part 1 (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1982), 70-71.

28. Ibid., 57. The English translation is borrowed from Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, translated by David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), 61.

29. Hermann Diem, Theologie als kirchliche Wissenschaft, vol. 2, Dogmatik: Ihr Weg zwischen Historismus und Existentialismus (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1955), 13-23; Richard Campbell, "Lessing's Problem and Kierkegaard's Answer," Scottish Journal of Theology 19 (1966): 35-54; Michalson, Lessing's "Ugly Ditch," especially chapter 4.

30. LM 13, 7-8; G 8, 13-14 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

31. It may be helpful to add a word of clarification about what Lessing intended by the word "autonomy." Only insofar as he wished to rule out "false heteronomy" did he advocate the "autonomy of reason." In this, he differed greatly from ordinary Enlightenment thinkers who held to the sheer autonomy of reason. As will be shown in chapters 5 and 6, Lessing's position is ultimately that of "autotheonomy" (Autotheonomie^), in which "autonomy" and "theonomy" are inseparably united.

33. LM 12, 429; G 7, 458-59 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

35. Harald Schultze mentions Thomas Münzer's "inner word" (das innere Wort) and Gottfried Arnold's "inward Christianity" (das inwendige Christentum) as forerunners of Lessing's concept of "inner truth." He thus suggests a definite relationship between Lessing and "the spiritualistic tradition." See Harald Schultze, "Lessings Auseinandersetzung mit Theologen und Deisten um die 'innere Wahrheit'," in Lessing in heutiger Sicht., edited by Edward P. Harris and Richard E. Schade (Bremen and Wolfenbüttel: Jacobi Verlag, 1977), 181. He also points out that Sigmund Jakob Baumgarten, who had studied under Christian Wolff and taught theology to both Semler and Goeze, had already used the concept of inner truth in his dogmatics and defined it as "dispositio rei ad finem suum" (182).

On the other hand, Wolfgang Gericke, though following Schultze in his emphasis on the spiritualistic background of Lessing's philosophy of religion, opposes the attempt to derive Lessing's concept of inner truth from the spiritualistic tradition. In his view, Lessing's concept of inner truth does not originate in spiritualism but is worked out by Lessing himself in connection with John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious (1696). See Wolfgang Gericke, "Lessings theologische Gesamtauffassung," in his Sechs theologische Schriften Gotthold Ephraim Lessings (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1985), 51.

36. Erich Schmidt, ed., Goezes Streitschriften gegen Lessing (Stuttgart: G. J. Göschen'sche Verlagshandlung, 1893), 21-22.

39. LM 12, 428; G 7, 458 (Gegensätze des Herausgebers).

40. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1941; paperback ed., 1960), 44.

41. For Niebuhr's distinction between inner and outer history, see Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), 234-42.

42. From the above consideration it will be clear that Lessing's assertion of the inner truth of religion has some analogy to the Tillichean "knowledge of participation."

43. LM 13, 8; G 8, 14 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

45. This anecdote is taken from Jerome's Commentaria in Epistolam ad Galatas, 3, 6, which has to do with Gal. 6:10. See Eusebius Hieronymus, Opera Omnia, in the Patrologia cursus completus. Series Latina, edited by J.-P. Migne (Paris: Vrayet, 1845-46), vol. 26, 433. In order to support his own assertion, Lessing appended to his tract an excerpt from the Latin text. Cf. LM 13, 17; G 8, 20 (Das Testament Johannis).

46. Jerome's original Latin is "Filioli diligite alterutrum."

47. Lessing's knowledge of patristics is remarkable. In citing the opening words of the Fourth Gospel, he is referring to an episode recorded in Augustine's De Civitate Dei, 10, 29, 2. According to this episode, a certain Platonist once said that the opening words of John's gospel deserve to be inscribed in letters of gold in the most prominent places in all churches. Cf. LM 13, 15; G 8, 18 (Das Testament Johannis).

48. LM 16, 390; G 7, 635 (Hypothese über die Evangelisten, §63).

50. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Ethik und Ekklesiologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977), 71.

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

52. LM 3, 94-95; G 2, 280 (Nathan der Weise, 3/7). The English translation is borrowed from Lessing's Nathan the Wise: A Dramatic Poem in Five Acts, translated by Bayard Quincy Morgan (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1955).

53. This is a translation of the Latin epigraph of The Testament of John, cited from the prologue to Jerome's Commentaria in Epistolam ad Ephesios.

54. Cf. Phillip Vielhauer, Geschichte der urchristlichen Literatur., 4th ed. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1975), 501-502; Leonhard Goppelt, Theologie des Neuen Testaments, 3d ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978), 510.

55. Closely related to the issue of the connection between Lessing's emphasis on The Testament of John and his appeal to the "new, eternal Gospel" in the book of Revelation is the question, of major importance to intellectual history, of what influence Lessing's rediscovery of The Testament of John exerted on the resurgence of "Johannine Christianity" in Franz von Baader, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, and others in the nineteenth century. We are not yet ready to discuss this question, but it is certainly an important theme that is bound to call for discussion in future. See Ernst Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope: Man's Concept of the Future, from the Early Fathers to Teilhard de Chardin (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968), 46; cf. Marjorie Reeves and Warwick Gould, Joachim ofFiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 2, 53, 57, 60, 62-65 passim.

In this context it is important to take note of Hermann Timm's suggestion of a close relationship between Lessing's emphasis on "Johannine Christianity" and the idealist philosophy of the post-Lessing generations. He says, "Lessing's 'eternal gospel' has made the fundamental connection between an ontological and economic Trinity, between a metaphysical concept of God and an eschatological concept of history into a theme that inspired the next generation." Hermann Timm, Gott und die Freiheit Studien zur Religionsphilosophie der Goethezeit,, vol. 1, Die Spinozarenaissance (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1974), 16; cf. 8-10, 97, 101-102.

56. LM 13, 8; G 8, 14 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

57. In Lessing's proposition, the exact words are these: "If no historical truth can be demonstrated, then nothing can be demonstrated by means of historical truths (historische Wahrheiten). That is, accidental truths of history (Geschichtswahrheiten) can never become the proof for necessary truths of reason" LM 13, 5; G 8, 11-12 (Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft).

58. In addition to these two expressions, Lessing also speaks of "historically proven truths" (historisch erwiesene Wahrheiten) (LM 13, 5; G 8, 11). This term may be interchangeable with "historical truths" (historische Wahrheiten), but is it also interchangeable with "truths of history" (Geschichtswahrheiten)? Hardly! True, there was no clear-cut distinction between Historie and Geschichte until the beginning of the twentieth century, but we cannot fail to observe that Lessing's argument, when seen in the light of twentieth-century thought, involves a lack of conceptual clarity at this point.

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

60. Helmut Thielicke, Offenbarung, Vernunft und Existenz: Studien zur Religionsphilosophie Eessings, 4th ed. (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1957), 70.

61. LM 13, 432; G 8, 506 (Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts, §76). For my interpretation of this proposition, see chapter 6.

62. Karl Barth, Die protestantische Theologie im 19. Jahrhundert: Ihre Vorgeschichte und ihre Geschichte, 5th ed. (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1985), 224.

66. Karl Barth, "Das Problem Lessings und das Problem des Petrus," Evangelische Theologie, Sonderheft: Ernst Wolf zum 50. Geburtstag (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1952), 4-17. This treatise is now incorporated into his magnum opus, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, vol. 4/1 (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1953), 312-23.

67. Barth, "Das Problem Lessings und das Problem der Petrus," 10.

71. Wolfgang Trillhaas is of the same opinion. Though he praises Barth for selecting Lessing as a topic for discussion in Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century., he nevertheless criticizes Barth in these words: "But this 'vindication' of Lessing will please nobody. For in the end Barth dresses him up as a witness, if a secret witness, to what he himself thinks." See Wolfgang Trillhaas, "Zur Wirkungsgeschichte Lessings in der evangelischen Theologie," in WSA, vol. 9, Das Bild Lessings in der Geschichte, edited by Herbert G. Göpfert (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1981), 61.

72. See Michalson, Lessing's "Ugly Ditch," Introduction and chapter 1.

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  • zewdi
    What did g. lessing mean when he said "broad and ugly ditch"?
    1 year ago

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