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of the first three or four centuries of the Christian church. The following are some of the inost important : 18
The Regula fidei (that is, the confessions of faith of the early church) is not drawn from the writings of the New Testament.
This Regula fidei existed before a single book of the New Testament.
With this Regula fidei not only the first Christians, in the lifetime of the apostles, contented themselves, but also the succeeding Christians of the first four centuries held it fully sufficient to Christianity.
This Regula fidei is thus the rock on which the church was built, and the Scriptures are not that rock.
The writings of the New Testament, as contained in our present canon, were unknown to the first Christians, and the single portions of them which they chanced to know were never held by them in the repute in which they have stood among us since the time of Luther.
The laity of the early church were not permitted even to read these singe portions, at least not without the consent of the presbyter who had them in keeping.
It was counted no light offense in the laity of the primitive church to belicve the written word of an Apostle rather than the living word of their bishop.
The writings of the Apostles themselves were judged according to this Regula fidei — some being selected for agreement with it, and others being rejected for disagreement with it, even though written or claiming to be written by Apostles.
The Christian religion was never proved from the writings of the New Testament in the first four centuries, but at the most only incidentally explained or confirmed by them.
It cannot be proved that the Apostles and evangelists wrote their works with the design that the Christian religion should be wholly derived and proved from them.
The entire true value of the Apostolic writings in a doc 18 These were drawn from the "most careful and repeated reading of the fathers of the first four centuries."
trinal point of view is no other than that they stand at the head of the writings of Christian teachers, and that so far as they agree with the Refula fidei they are the oldest documents confirmatory of it, but not its source.
Whatever these writings contain over and above the Regula fidei, is, according to the spirit of the first four centuries, not necessary to salvation ; may be true or false ; may be thus or so understood.
The famous Parable of the Palace in the first communication to Goetze is a characteristic illustration of the Axioms, and a good example of Lessing's style.
There was once in the capital of a powerful king, a vast and splendid palace. It was of very peculiar architecture, with few windows and doors on its outer sides, but provided with many gates and doors of different forms and sizes. There were hot disputes, especially on the part of those who knew little of the interior, as to the scheme of the architect. A number of old plans were in existence, marked by words and cyphers belonging to a language of a past time. From these the critics constructed for themselves ideal palaces, each maintaining that he had penetrated with absolute certainty to the secret. Suddenly, at midnight, the watchman raised the cry, “ Fire! fire in the palace !” Out rushed the inhabitants of the city; and the disputants carried with them their various plans, each pointing to the place where, judging from his plan, the fire must be. “See, neighbor, here it burns! Here we may best get at the fire.” “Or rather, here neighbor! Here !" “ What are you both thinking of ? It is here it burns!” “If it burnt there who would care? It certainly burns here!” “Put it out here who will, I won't!” “Nor I here!” Through these busy squabbles, the palace might really have been burned down, had it been on fire; but the terrified watchman had mistaken for fire an aurora borealis.
The application is obvious. The palace represents Christianity. The old plans are its records and its creeds; the disputants, the theologians.
We have seen that Roimarus in one of the Fragments
denied to the Old Testament the character of a revelation because certain important doctrines were lacking in it, and that Lessing took exceptions to this position in his observations on the Fragments. The working out and completion of what he then wrote constitutes the short treatise entitled “ The Education of the Human Race," which has well been called Lessing's religious testament. Reimarus maintained that the Old Testament was not a revelation, on the ground of the common notion of a revelation as something complete, finished, perfect and intended for all time. Lessing maintains that it is something relative, ever becoming, adapted to various stages of human development, in a word, the divine method of educating mankind. The propositions which stand at the head of the treatise and of which its hundred short, condensed paragraphs are the unfolding and illustration, are that “ What education is to the individual, revelation is to the whole human race. Education is revelation which happens to the individual; revelation is education which has happened and still happens to the race.” “ Education gives to man nothing which he might not educe out of himseli, it gives him that which he might educe out of himself, only quicker and more easily. In the same way too, revelation gives nothing to the human species, which the human reason left to itself might not attain ; only it has given and still gives to it the most important of these things earlier.” And accordingly just as in education a natural order is observed in the development of the powers, so in revelation, that larger education, we find first in the Jewish people a rude and imperfect idea of God and the elementary lesson of temporal rewards and punishments. The Old Testament is thus a book for the education of the race in its childhood - a primer of education. This book was cast aside at the coming of the better Teacher, Christ. The most important doctrine of this second revelation was that of Immortality. Christ was ihe first practical teacher of Immortality,“ because he directed the inner and outer acts by it.” “ And this, at least, Christ was the first to teach. For although already before him the belief
had been introduced among other nations, that bad actions have to be punished in that lise ; yet they were only such actions as were injurious to civil society, and consequently, too, had already had their punishment in civil society. To enforce an inward purity of heart in reference to another life, was reserved for him alone."
If in this treatise Lessing entirely ignored the orthodox theory of revelation, he also transcended it in giving the first formal statement of the Law of Progress, of moral development through the whole course of history. All positive religions come under this law, and by it are redeemed from shallow ridicule and censure, because they all contribute something, in the various stages of human evolution to which they are adapted, to the education of the human race. If these religions are 'adapted to education and hence must contain much that is calculated only for temporary conditions and wants of the pupils, the question is not for to seek whether the great doctrine of Christianity, that of immortality, is to be regarded as a finality. There are intimations in the “Education of the Human Race” which, interpreted in the light of some fragments left by him, leave little doubt that Lessing would have answered this question in the negative. Not, however, that he denied the fact of immortality ; 19 but he believed that this doctrine as a means of education, as a motive, must, in the future progress of the race, give way to a higher. In a fragment entitled “ That on which Revealed Religion most prides itself makes me most suspicious of it," he says that a perfect assurance of immortality is a contrdiction. In another fragment he declares that “ in their solicitude about the future life, fools lose the present one," and
19 He did not, however, hold the fact in the oruinary acceptation, if we may take the expressions at the close of the “ Education of the Human Race" for his deliberate convictions. “ The very same way by which the Race reached its perfection must every individual man, one sooner, another later - have traveled over. Have trav. elled over in one and the same life? ... Surely not that. But why should not every individual man have existed more than once upon this world? Is this hypoth. esis so laughable because it is the oldest ? ... Why should I not come back as often as I am capable of acquiring fresh knowledge and expertness? Do I bring away so much from once, that there is nothing to pay the trouble of coming back ?"
concludes with the words, “ If there were a religion which instructed us with posivive certainty about the future life, we ought not to listen to that religion.” 20 In accordance with this is the prophetic exclamation in the “ Education of the Human Race” to be interpreted: “It will come! it will assuredly come! the time of the perfecting, when man the more convinced his understanding feels of an ever-better Future, will nevertheless not be necessitated to borrow motives of action from this Future ; for he will do the right because it is right, not because arbitrary rewards are attached thereto, which formerly were intended simply to fix and strengthen his unsteady gaze in recognizing the inner, better, rewards of well doing. It will assuredly come! the time of a new eternal Gospel, which is promised us in the Primer of the New Testament itself! “No revelation is, then, a finality, as no education can be, to the ever-growing soul of man; but the coming ages shall greet “the new eternal Gospel,” when they shall be prepared to receive it, that is, when the human race, under the guidance, and by the illumination of Divine Providence, shall evolve it out of itself.
With this idea of the endless moral progress of the race as a whole, Lessing's views on Endless Punishment are in complete accord, in spite of his defence of Leibnitz's advocacy of the orthodox doctrine. He transformed whatever he touched ; and his doctrine of the eternity of punishment no more resembled the doctrine of the Church than his view of revelation was like the common orthodox view. “A moral being can not only stop in his progress towards perfection, not only take some steps backward ; but I do not see why he can not forever persist in this retrogression.” So much for the possibility of endless punishment, on the ground of liberty and of endless persistency in a state that brings punishment. As to the penalty itself, it is not arbitrary, but the natural consequence of sin. The endlessness of the punishment is defended on the ground that a delay in the course of moral perfection can never be made up. Leibnitz is defended for
20 Sämmtl. Schr., XI., (2th. Abth.) p. 262.