Presented in this book are the results of my endeavors over the past fifteen years to elucidate some important facets of the German Enlightenment, with particular attention to its eminent thinker Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729—81). My concern with him goes back to research on Ernst Troeltsch undertaken for my first doctorate, for which research was initiated at Kyoto University and completed at Vanderbilt University. My Ph.D. dissertation at Vanderbilt University was published in the American Academy of Religion Academy Series as Ernst Troeltsch: Systematic Theologian of Radical Historicality (1986). As is well known, Troeltsch considered the eighteenth-century Enlightenment the beginning of modern history. It marked, he maintained, a significant turning point from the religiously oriented culture of the Middle Ages to the eminently secular culture of modern times. After the Enlightenment "century of reason," everything changed. Religion was no exception. Christianity too underwent serious and drastic changes, hence Troeltsch's famous thesis as to the difference between early Protestantism (Altprotestantismus) and modern Protestantism (Neuprotestantismus).
It was this thesis that originally directed me to the study of Lessing. In order to reexamine Troeltsch's thesis, I intended to carry out a thorough study of Lessing's religious thought. The reason for taking up Lessing is that he seemed to be a key figure in bridging over the two Protestantisms. My initial study of Lessing thus began as a kind of case study. The more deeply I studied him, however, the more I became fascinated by his enigmatic thought in and of itself. As a result, quite apart from my original concern, clarification of his basic religious thought became an urgent task in its own right.
This study of Lessing has been far more difficult than my previous study of Troeltsch. The reason is not simply that Lessing's German is more difficult than Troeltsch's. The main cause of the difficulty is that Lessing was a "writer who revealed, while hiding, the reasons compelling wise men to hide the truth" (Leo Strauss). Accordingly, it took much perseverance and training before I could grasp his thought with any degree of accuracy. Because there was no specialist on Lessing the theologian or Lessing the philosopher of religion in Japan, and because there were for the most part no reliable books on him in Japanese, I had no choice but to read the bulk of his writings in the original
German, not to mention working my way through the immense secondary writings on Lessing one after another. For the first ten years, I groped vainly in the dark and felt as if I had missed my way and wandered deep into a forest. But one day, after years of assiduous effort at reading Lessing's original texts and after learning much from the untold secondary literature, a clear image of Lessing suddenly emerged from his writings. At that moment it seemed as if the dense fog veiling the deep forest had suddenly lifted, and a mysterious mountain had made its appearance high over the forest. The intuition that flashed over me at that moment guided my study thereafter.
Four years ago I finally completed my study of Lessing, put it into another doctoral dissertation, and submitted it to Kyoto University. The book Lessing to Doitsu Keimo: Lessing Shukyo Tetsugaku no Kenkyu [Lessing and the German Enlightenment: A study of Lessing's philosophy of religion] (Tokyo: Sobunsha, 1998), is a revised and enlarged version of my Litt. D. dissertation. The English version presented here is based on this Japanese work, but is not a literal translation from the Japanese. I have made every effort to make my work easy for the English reader to understand. For this purpose, I have often changed the wording and inserted new sentences as necessary. But there is no significant difference between the Japanese and English versions as regards the main points in my interpretation of Lessing's religious thought.
As was the case with my previous study of Troeltsch, I am deeply indebted to my former teacher, Dr. Wataru Mizugaki, now professor emeritus of Kyoto University. He constantly encouraged my study of Lessing and, at a crucial stage in the evolution of my Lessing work, kindly took the time to read and comment on parts of the original manuscript.
After my Litt.D. dissertation was completed in Japanese, it happened to come to the attention of Dr. Peter C. Hodgson, my American Doktorvater at Vanderbilt University. He stressed the need for an updated study on Lessing in English and warmheartedly urged me to translate my Lessing work and have it published in America. Without his stimulation and encouragement, this English version would never have come into being. I am very grateful to him for his encouragement and support.
I would also like to express my appreciation to Professor Mary McClintock Fulkerson of the Divinity School of Duke University for her assistance as Editor of the Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series of the American Academy of Religion; Theodore Calderara, Editorial Assistant of Oxford University Press; and Nancy Hoagland, Editorial, Design, and Production Director for Academic Books of Oxford University Press.
Finally, Dr. David Reid, my former colleague and friend, deserves my special thanks. He read both the Japanese original and the English draft, corrected grammatical and bibliographical errors, made innumerable stylistic suggestions, and even retyped the entire manuscript in camera-ready form. If this book is at all readable as an English work, it is largely because of his refinements. No words are adequate to express my heartfelt gratitude for his extraordinary labor and friendship.
This book is dedicated to Peter C. Hodgson in commemoration of happy school days at Vanderbilt University (1980—85) when I absorbed his lectures and participated in his seminars with great enthusiasm and great benefit.
Was this article helpful?