Lessings View of God and the World

Our discussion has shown that Lessing's ev k«i nav signifies not a Spinozistic pantheism but a panentheism of spiritualistic stamp. But the question remains as to the substance of his panentheism. More specifically, the question at issue is that of how Lessing conceives "the immanence of the world in God" (die Immanenz der Welt in Got.t).111

As indicated in the quotation from Schneider that closed the preceding section, the idea of panentheism, namely, that all things are in God, is not alien to Christianity. For example, Paul's words in Acts 17:28, "In him we live and move and have our being," have often been cited as one of the scriptural grounds for panentheism. If we ask, however, whether Lessing's evK<n nav remains within the bounds of traditional Christian doctrine, we may find it impossible to deny that it oversteps these bounds. We propose, therefore, in concluding this inquiry, to take a close look at this issue.

Erich Schmidt, in his voluminous Lessing: History of His Life and Writings (in German), describes the second meeting between Lessing and Jacobi, this time at Gleim's summerhouse in Halberstadt. Toward the end of his description, he says, "On a concealed door of the cottage, which served as the guest book, Lessing wrote not only dies in lite (days in contention) but also his ewal *dv."112 Herder, who visited shortly after them, confirmed that Lessing had indeed written those epigrams on the door of the bower. To commemorate his visit, Herder wrote his own words between Jacobi's and Lessing's.113 In a letter to Jacobi of 6 February 1784, he wrote:

I finally snatch an hour to write you nothing other than £V Kai nav, which I myself found written by Lessing's hand in Gleim's summerhouse, but do not yet know how to explain. To explain, that is, in Lessing's spirit. For I could hardly think that you had such terrible metaphysical arguments with the latter-day Anacreon. ...I would have [liked to] write my £V K[ai] nav thereunder seven times, after I so unexpectedly found in Lessing a fellow-believer in my credo.114

Herder's letter is ample testimony to the authenticity of Lessing's ev Kai nav.

In any event, Lessing's ev Kai nav, disclosed by Jacobi to Mendelssohn in Berlin, soon spread to Herder and Goethe in Weimar, and to Hamann and

Kant in Königsberg, thus engaging all of them in the maelstrom of the pantheism controversy. But an important point that we should not overlook here, though usually unheeded, is that Lessing's ev kai tcöv has a variant form, namely, £V ¿YW Kai näVTa. It was again Erich Schmidt who first brought to light the existence of this second motto that originated with Lessing. In 1892, in the endnotes to the above-mentioned book, he said, "My friend Köster is in possession of a page from a family album, and has sent it to me by facsimile, on which is written [without accents] 'Ev £YW [unclear £XW] Kai navTa! Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Hamburg 14 Oct. 1780'."115 Later Franz Muncker, the editor of Lessing's Complete Works (in German), at last obtained the original. On a "coarse, yellow-white sheet of paper in crosswise octavo" were written "in a clear hand" the words "Ev £YW Kai navTa! Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Hamburg 14 Oct. 1780."116

From this motto, as mentioned in the preceding chapter, Erwin Quapp draws the conclusion that the variant formula using £YW is the more authentic one, and he uses this formula as the exegetical principle for his interpretation of The Education of the Human Race. But his reliance on this formula involves a serious confusion. Quapp sets forth as Lessing's authentic formula, which he calls the "summerhouse formula" (Gartenhaiisformel), the words £v eyrö Kai raiv rather than the form verified as authentic by Schmidt and Muncker, namely, ev ¿yw Kai navia. The cause of the confusion, in our view, is to be found in Alexander Altmann's essay "Lessing and Jacobi: The Conversations on Spinozism" (in German).117 For in his description of the conversations between Lessing and Jacobi at Gleim's summerhouse, Altmann maintains that on the concealed door, Lessing wrote ""eveywKai nav."."118 Because Altmann is the author of a biography of Lessing's intimate friend Moses Mendelssohn, a biography so detailed and accurate that no one could compete with him, it is hardly conceivable that he would make a careless mistake in reporting on Lessing's epigram, which is so important, even decisive, for a proper interpretation of the Spinoza conversations between Lessing and Jacobi. But if the epigram that Lessing wrote is, as Altmann reports, the formula with ¿YW in it, namely, eve-tci Kai näv, then a new question arises, namely, why is it that Herder, as an eyewitness, made no objection to the inaccuracy in Jacobi's report?

This confused situation is something like the one in Lessing's famous parable of the three rings. Which of the three Greek phrases is Lessing's authentic formula: £v Kai nav as Jacobi reports, £v £YW Kai navTa as Lessing's own handwritten epigram suggests, or £v £YW Kai nav as Altmann has newly proposed?

When we compare these three formulas, we see that the conspicuous differences are (1) whether the formula contains the word ¿yob, and (2) whether the word meaning "all" is «öv or ndvTa. If ¿yd) in the second and third formulas means Lessing himself, the existence of this ¿YW would make a big difference in the meaning. The difference between the second and third formulas may seem to be trifling, since the only difference is that the word for "all" is singular in the one and plural in the other. In reality, however, there is a world of difference in meaning. For the singular form Tifiv includes £V (and therefore God) in itself; hence, a formula using itav has strong pantheistic implications. The plural form TTCIVTa, on the other hand, does not include £V (and therefore God) in itself, but means all things, or the universe, created by God; hence, a formula using naVTa carries theistic implications.

To the best of our knowledge, no Lessing scholar has perceived the existence of three different formulas for Lessing's r v K-Cii Ttij . Given this state of affairs in present-day Lessing studies, it is not easy to decide which of the three formulas is most authentic. In any event, however, it would be hasty and heedless to declare ev ¿ytb Kai ««v the proper formula and use it as the key to his theological thought, as Quapp did when he innocently placed his trust in Altmann's account. If one wishes to adopt a formula that includes ¿YW instead of the commonly used ev nai nav, then one ought to employ Lessing's handwritten formula, £V ¿YW Ka ? naVTa, as Hermann Timm did. We consider £V ¿YW Ka - naVTa [I am One and All] as the formula most appropriate to Lessing's thought for two reasons.

First, judging from Jacobi's report on Lessing's Spinoza conversations, we see that special importance attaches to the word "I." For in the scene where Lessing first mentions ev k«i nav, this remark is immediately followed by the words, "I know naught else" (italics added). The next time he speaks of evKainav, he says, "I came to talk with you about my ev Kai rcav" (italics added). Second, though omitted from our summary in the second section of this chapter, Lessing developed some very interesting cabalistic speculations in his conversations with Jacobi, speculations which suggest that special importance is to be ascribed to the Lessingian self-reference, namely, the ¿YW.

According to Jacobi, "Lessing once said with the trace of a smile that perhaps he himself was the Highest Being, present in the state of extreme contraction."119 On another occasion, when they were at Gleim's summerhouse in Halberstadt, it suddenly began to rain. To Jacobi who was sitting beside him, Lessing then said, "You know, Jacobi, maybe it is I who am doing this [that is, causing it to rain]."120 True, we do not know whether Lessing was serious or was just having fun with Jacobi when he made this statement. But when we take into consideration his idea of reincarnation in §100 of The Education of the Human Race, particularly his words, "Is not the whole of eternity mine?," we find it difficult to treat Lessing's statement as a mere joke. Be that as it may, it is our opinion that on the basis of the considerations presented above, the formula most proper and authentic for Lessing's thought is the one that originated directly from Lessing himself, namely, £V ¿YW Ka - naVTa.

So far, we have characterized Lessing's view of God and the world as panentheism. But in view of this naVTa formula, we now assert that a better term, admittedly cumbersome, would be "pantaentheism." The reasons for this assertion are three. To begin with, the term "panentheism," originally coined from the two Greek words ndv and 6£0£, is in itself problematic from the Christian point of view. (From this point of view, the counterpart to the word 0aoZ ought to be the word reuvra, not *&v.) In the second place, there are a great variety of panentheisms.121 Third and most important, in Lessing naVTa and 0£OZ, as suggested in his formula £V ¿YW Ka ? naVTa, are mediated through ¿YW. "Panentheism" is insufficient to express this mediation.122

For the reasons indicated above, our concluding proposal is to characterize Lessing's view of God and the world as "pantaentheism." This implies an interpretation of the world, in identifiably Christian and theistic terms, as God's self-replication. In any event, the formula "I am One and All" expressed by Lessing is replete with significant resonances. According to Hermann Timm, it is "one of the most difficult-to-satisfy programmatic formulas in European thought." It is a formula by which Lessing intends "to synthesize unity and plurality"—"the two greatest words we are capable of speaking"—through the medium of "I."123 If Lessing's tyW anticipates the Fichtean "ich," the Grundwort of the German Subjektivitatsphilosophie, then the formula £V ¿YW Ka - naVTa can be taken as a foretaste of the speculative philosophy of ensuing generations. It is possible, of course, to say that Timm's interpretation of Lessing's aphorism is "highly speculative" and "overly reflective,"124 that he reads too much into it. But when we take into consideration both the pantheism controversy to which Lessing's alleged confession of ev sal nav gave rise and the great German idealist philosophy that emerged by way of this event, it seems to us that Timm's interpretation includes much that is worth listening to.

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