Dennis Maust | Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing:
The Education of the Human Race
Let it not be objected that speculations of this description upon the mysteries of religion are forbidden. The word mystery signified, in the first ages of Christianity, something quite different from what it means now: and the cultivation of revealed truths into truths of reason, is absolutely necessary, if the human race is to be assisted by them. When they were revealed they were certainly no truths of reason, but they were revealed in order to become such. They were like the "that makes—" of the ciphering master, which he says to the boys, beforehand, in order to direct them thereby in their reckoning. If the scholars were to be satisfied with the "that makes," they would never learn to calculate, and would frustrate the intention with which their good master gave them a guiding clue in their work.
And why should not we too, by the means of a religion whose historical truth, if you will, looks dubious, be conducted in a familiar way to closer and better conceptions of the Divine Being, our own nature, our relation to God, truths at which the human reason would never have arrived of itself?
It is not true that speculations upon these things have ever done harm or become injurious to the body politic. You must reproach, not the speculations, but the folly and the tyranny of checking them. You must lay the blame on those who would not permit men having their own speculations to exercise them.
On the contrary, speculations of this sort, whatever the result, are unquestionably the most fitting exercises of the human heart, generally, so long as the human heart, generally, is at best only capable of loving virtue for the sake of its eternal blessed consequences.
And it was just this which made them enthusiasts. The enthusiast often casts true glances into the future, but for this future he cannot wait. He wishes this future accelerated, and accelerated through him. That for which nature takes thousands of years is to mature itself in the moment of his existence. For what possession has he in it if that which he recognises as the Best does not become the best in his lifetime? Does he come back? Does he expect to come back? Marvellous only that this enthusiastic expectation does not become more the fashion among enthusiasts.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: The Education of the Human Race,
trans. F.W. Robertson