The Education of
the Human Race
TRANSLATED BY F. W. ROBERTSON
Lessing's life has been sketched in the introduction to his "Minna
von Barnhelm" in the volume of Continental Dramas in The Harvard
"The Education of the Human Race" is the culmination of a bitter
theological controversy which began with the publication by Lessing,
in 1774-1778, of a series of fragments of a work on natural religion
by the German deist, Reimarus. This action brought upon Lessing the
wrath of the orthodox German Protestants, led by J. M. Goeze, and in
the battle that followed Lessing did his great work for the
liberalising of religious thought in Germany. The present treatise is
an extraordinarily condensed statement of the author's attitude
towards the fundamental questions of religion, and gives his view of
the signification of the previous religious history of mankind, along
with his faith And hope for the future.
As originally issued, the essay purported to be merely edited by
Lessing; but there is no longer any doubt as to his having been its
author. It is an admirable and characteristic expression of the
serious and elevated spirit in which he dealt with matters that had
then, as often, been degraded by the virulence of controversy.
THE EDUCATION OF THE HUMAN RACE
That which Education is to the Individual, Revelation is to the
Education is Revelation coming to the Individual Man; and
Revelation is Education which has come, and is yet coming, to the
Whether it can be of any advantage to the science of instruction to
contemplate Education in this point of view, I will not here inquire;
but in Theology it may unquestionably be of great advantage, and may
remove many difficulties, if Revelation be conceived of as the
Educator of Humanity.
Education gives to Man nothing which he might not educe out of
himself; 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 just as in Education, it is not a matter of indifference in
what order the powers of a man are developed, as it cannot impart to a
man all at once; so was God also necessitated to maintain a certain
order, and a certain measure in His Revelation.
Even if the first man were furnished at once with a conception of
the One God; yet it was not possible that this conception, imparted,
and not gained by thought, should subsist long in its clearness. As
soon as the Human Reason, left to itself, began to elaborate it, it
broke up the one Immeasurable into many Measurables, and gave a note
or sign of mark to every one of these parts.
Hence naturally arose polytheism and idolatry. And who can say how
many millions of years human reason would have been bewildered in
these errors, even though in all places and times there were
individual men who recognized them as errors, had it not pleased God
to afford it a better direction by means of a new Impulse?
But when He neither could nor would reveal Himself any more to each
individual man, He selected an individual People for His special
education; and that exactly the most rude and the most unruly, in
order to begin with it from the very commencement.
This was the Hebrew People, respecting whom we do not in the least
know what kind of Divine Worship they had in Egypt. For so despised a
race of slaves was not permitted to take part in the worship of the
Egyptians; and the God of their fathers was entirely unknown to them.
It is possible that the Egyptians had expressly prohibited the
Hebrews from having a God or Gods, perhaps they had forced upon them
the belief that their despised race had no God, no Gods, that to have
a God or Gods was the prerogative of the superior Egyptians only, and
this may have been so held in order to have the power of tyrannising
over them with a greater show of fairness. Do Christians even now do
much better with their slaves?
To this rude people God caused Himself to be announced first,
simply as "the God of their fathers," in order to make them acquainted
and familiar with the idea of a God belonging to them also, and to
begin with confidence in Him.
Through the miracles with which He led them out of Egypt, and
planted them in Canaan, He testified of Himself to them as a God
mightier than any other God.
And as He proceeded, demonstrating Himself to be the Mightiest of
all, which only One can be, He gradually accustomed them thus to the
idea of THE ONE.
But how far was this conception of The One, below the true
transcendental conception of the One which Reason learnt to derive,
so late with certainty, from the conception of the Infinite One?
Although the best of the people were already more or less
approaching the true conception of the One only, the people as a
whole could not for a long time elevate themselves to it. And this
was the sole true reason why they so often abandoned their one God,
and expected to find the One, i. e., as they meant, the Mightiest, in
some God or other, belonging to another people.
But of what kind of moral education was a people so raw, so
incapable of abstract thoughts, and so entirely in their childhood
capable? Of none other but such as is adapted to the age of children,
an education by rewards and punishments addressed to the senses.
Here too Education and Revelation meet together. As yet God could
give to His people no other religion, no other law than one through
obedience to which they might hope to be happy, or through
disobedience to which they must fear to be unhappy. For as yet their
regards went no further than this earth. They knew of no immortality
of the soul; they yearned after no life to come. But now to reveal
these things to one whose reason had as yet so little growth, what
would it have been but the same fault in the Divine Rule as is
committed by the schoolmaster, who chooses to hurry his pupil too
rapidly, and boast of his progress, rather than thoroughly to ground
But, it will be asked, to what purpose was this education of so
rude a people, a people with whom God had to begin so entirely from
the beginning? I reply, in order that in the process of time He might
employ particular members of this nation as the Teachers of other
people. He was bringing up in them the future Teachers of the human
race. It was the Jews who became their teachers, none but Jews; only
men out of a people so brought up, could be their teachers.
For to proceed. When the Child by dint of blows and caresses had
grown and was now come to years of understanding, the Father sent it
at once into foreign countries: and here it recognised at once the
Good which in its Father's house it had possessed, and had not been
While God guided His chosen people through all the degrees of a
child-like education, the other nations of the earth had gone on by
the light of reason. The most part had remained far behind the chosen
people. Only a few had got before them. And this too, takes place with
children, who are allowed to grow up left to themselves: many remain
quite raw, some educate themselves even to an astonishing degree.
But as these more fortunate few prove nothing against the use and
necessity of Education, so the few heathen nations, who even appear
to have made a start in the knowledge of God before the chosen
people, prove nothing against a Revelation. The Child of Education
begins with slow yet sure footsteps; it is late in overtaking many a
more happily organised child of nature; but it does overtake it; and
thenceforth can never be distanced by it again.
Similarly—Putting aside the doctrine of the Unity of God, which in
a way is found, and in a way is not found, in the books of the Old
Testament—that the doctrine of immortality at least is not
discoverable in it, is wholly foreign to it, that all doctrine
connected therewith of reward and punishment in a future life, proves
just as little against the Divine origin of these books.
Notwithstanding the absence of these doctrines, the account of
miracles and prophecies may be perfectly true. For let us suppose
that these doctrines were not only wanting therein, but even that
they were not at all true; let us suppose that for mankind all was
over in this life; would the Being of God be for this reason less
demonstrated? Would God be for this less at liberty, would it less
become Him to take immediate charge of the temporal fortunes of any
people out of this perishable race? The miracles which He performed
for the Jews, the prophecies which He caused to be recorded through
them, were surely not for the few mortal Jews, in whose time they had
happened and been recorded: He had His intentions therein in reference
to the whole Jewish people, to the entire Human Race, which, perhaps,
is destined to remain on earth forever, though every individual Jew
and every individual man die forever.
Once more, The absence of those doctrines in the writings of the
Old Testament proves nothing against their Divinity. Moses was sent
from God even though the sanction of his law only extended to this
life. For why should it extend further? He was surely sent only to the
Israelitish people of that time, and his commission was perfectly
adapted to the knowledge, capacities, yearnings of the then existing
Israelitish people, as well as to the destination of that which
belonged to the future. And this is sufficient.
So far ought Warburton to have gone, and no further. But that
learned man overdrew his bow. Not content that the absence of these
doctrines was no discredit to the Divine mission of Moses, it must
even be a proof to him of the Divinity of the mission. And if he had
only sought this proof in the adaptation of such a law to such a
But he betook himself to the hypothesis of a miraculous system
continued in an unbroken line from Moses to Christ, according to
which, God had made every individual Jew exactly happy or unhappy, in
the proportion to his obedience or disobedience to the law deserved.
He would have it that this miraculous system had compensated for the
want of those doctrines (of eternal rewards and punishments, without
which no state can subsist; and that such a compensation even proved
what that want at first sight appeared to negative.
How well it was that Warburton could by no argument prove or even
make likely this continuous miracle, in which he placed the existence
of Israelitish Theocracy! For could he have done so, in truth, he
could then, and not till then, have made the difficulty really
insuperable, to me at least. For that which was meant to prove the
Divine character of the Mission of Moses, would have rendered the
matter itself doubtful, which God, it is true, did not intend then to
reveal; but which on the other hand, He certainly would not render
I explain myself by that which is a picture of Revelation. A Primer
for children may fairly pass over in silence this or that important
piece of knowledge or art which it expounds, respecting which the
Teacher judged, that it is not yet fitted for the capacities of the
children for whom he was writing. But it must contain absolutely
nothing which blocks up the way towards the knowledge which is held
back, or misleads the children from it. Rather far, all the
approaches towards it must be carefully left open; and to lead them
away from even one of these approaches, or to cause them to enter it
later than they need, would alone be enough to change the mere
imperfection of such a Primer into an actual fault.
In the same way, in the writings of the Old Testament those primers
for the rude Israelitish people, unpractised in thought, the
doctrines of the immortality of the soul, and future recompenses,
might be fairly left out: but they were bound to contain nothing
which could have even procrastinated the progress of the people, for
whom they were written, in their way to this grand truth. And to say
but a small thing, what could have more procrastinated it than the
promise of such a miraculous recompense in this life? A promise made
by Him who promises nothing that He does not perform.
For although unequal distribution of the goods of this life, Virtue
and Vice seem to be taken too little into consideration, although
this unequal distribution docs not exactly afford a strong proof of
the immortality of the soul and of a life to come, in which this
difficulty will be reserved hereafter, it is certain that without
this difficulty the human understanding would not for a long time,
perhaps never, have arrived at better or firmer proofs. For what was
to impel it to seek for these better proofs? Mere curiosity?
An Israelite here and there, no doubt, might have extended to every
individual member of the entire commonwealth, those promises and
threatenings which belong to it as a whole, and be firmly persuaded
that whosoever should be pious must also be happy, and that whoever
was unhappy must be bearing the penalty of his wrong-doing, which
penalty would forthwith change itself into blessing, as soon as he
abandoned his sin. Such a one appears to have written Job, for the
plan of it is entirely in this spirit.
But daily experience could not possibly be permitted to confirm
this belief, or else it would have been all over, for ever, with
people who had this experience, so far as all recognition and
reception was concerned of the truth as yet unfamiliar to them. For if
the pious were absolutely happy, and it also of course was a necessary
part of his happiness that his satisfaction should be broken by no
uneasy thoughts of death, and that he should die old, and satisfied
with life to the full: how could he yearn after another life? and how
could he reflect upon a thing after which he did not yearn? But if
the pious did not reflect thereupon, who then should reflect? The
transgressor? he who felt the punishments of his misdeeds, and if he
cursed this life, must have so gladly renounced that other existence?
Much less would it signify if an Israelite here and there directly
and expressly denied the immortality of the soul and future
recompense, on account of the law having no reference thereto. The
denial of an individual, had it even been a Solomon, did not arrest
the progress of the general reason, and was even in itself a proof
that the nation had now come a great step nearer the truth For
individuals only deny what the many are bringing into consideration;
and to bring into consideration that, concerning which no one
troubled himself at all before, is half way to knowledge.
Let us also acknowledge that it is a heroic obedience to obey the
laws of God simply because they are God's laws, and not because He
has promised to reward the obedience to them here and there; to obey
them even though there be an entire despair of future recompense, and
uncertainty respecting a temporal one.
Must not a people educated in this heroic obedience towards God
have been destined, must they not have been capable beyond all others
of executing Divine purpose? of quite a special character? Let the
soldier, who pays blind obedience to his leader, become also
convinced of his leader's wisdom, and then say what that leader may
not undertake to achieve with him.
As yet the Jewish people had reverenced in their Jehovah rather the
mightiest than the wisest of all Gods; as yet they had rather feared
Him as a Jealous God than loved Him: a proof this too, that the
conception which they had of their eternal One God was not exactly
the right conception which we should have of God. However, now the
time was come that these conceptions of theirs were to be expanded,
ennobled, rectified, to accomplish which God availed Himself of a
quite natural means, a better and more correct measure, by which it
got the opportunity of appreciating Him.
Instead of, as hitherto, appreciating Him in contrast with the
miserable idols of the small neighboring peoples, with whom they
lived in constant rivalry, they began, in captivity under the wise
Persians, to measure Him against the "Being of all Beings" such as a
more disciplined reason recognized and reverenced.
Revelation had guided their reason, and now, all at once, reason
gave clearness to their Revelation.
This was the first reciprocal influence which these two (Reason and
Revelation) exercised on one another; and so far is the mutual
influence from being unbecoming to the Author of them both, that
without it either of them would have been useless.
The child, sent abroad, saw other children who knew more, who lived
more becomingly, and asked itself, in confusion, "Why do I not know
that too? Why do I not live so too? Ought I not to have been taught
and admonished of all this in my father's house?" Thereupon it again
sought out its Primer, which had long been thrown into a corner, in
order to throw off a blame upon the Primer. But behold, it discovers
that the blame does not rest upon the books, that the shame is solely
its own, for not having long ago, known this very thing, and lived in
this very way.
Since the Jews, by this time, through the medium of the pure
Persian doctrine, recognized in their Jehovah, not simply the greatest
of all national deities, but GOD; and since they could, the more
readily find Him and indicate Him to others in their sacred writings,
inasmuch as He was really in them; and since they manifested as great
an aversion for sensuous representations, or at all events, were
instructed in these Scriptures, to have an aversion to them as great
as the Persians had always felt; what wonder that they found favor in
the eyes of Cyrus, with a Divine Worship which he recognized as being,
no doubt, far below pure Sabeism, but yet far above the rude
idolatries which in its stead had taken possession of the forsaken
land of the Jews.
Thus enlightened respecting the treasures which they had possessed,
without knowing it, they returned, and became quite another people,
whose first care it was to give permanency to this illumination
amongst themselves. Soon an apostacy and idolatry among them was out
of the question. For it is possible to be faithless to a national
deity, but never to God, after He has once been recognised.
The theologians have tried to explain this complete change in the
Jewish people in a different way; and one, who has well demonstrated
the insufficiency of these explanations, at last was for giving us,
as a true account—"the visible fulfilment of the prophecies which
had been spoken and written respecting the Babylonish captivity and
the restoration from it." But even this reason can be only so far the
true one, as it presupposes the, by this time, exalted ideas of God.
The Jews must by this time have recognised that to do miracles, and to
predict the future, belonged only to God, both of which they had
ascribed formerly to false idols, by which it came to pass that even
miracles and prophecies had hitherto made so weak an impression upon
Doubtless, the Jews were made more acquainted with the doctrine of
immortality among the Chaldeans and Persians. They became more
familiar with it too in the schools of the Greek Philosophers in
However, as this doctrine was not in the same condition in
reference to their Scriptures that the doctrines of God's Unity and
Attributes were—since the former were entirely overlooked by that
sensual people, while the latter would be sought for:—and since too,
for the former, previous exercising was necessary, and as yet there
had been only hints and allusions, the faith in the immortality of the
soul could naturally never be the faith of the entire people. It was
and continued to be only the creed of a certain section of them.
An example of what I mean by "previous exercising" for the doctrine
of immortality, is the Divine threatenings of punishing the misdeeds
of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth
generation. This accustomed the fathers to live in thought with their
remotest posterity, and to feel, as it were, beforehand, the
misfortune which they had brought upon these guiltless ones.
By an allusion I mean that which was intended only to excite
curiosity and to occasion questions. As, for instance, the oft-
recurring mode of expression, describing death by "he was gathered to
By a "hint" I mean that which already contains any germ, out of
which the, as yet, held back truth allows itself to be developed. Of
this character was the inference of Christ from the naming of God
"the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." This hint appears to me to be
unquestionably capable of being worked out into a strong proof.
In such previous exercitations, allusions, hints, consists the
positive perfection of a Primer; just as the above-mentioned
peculiarity of not throwing difficulties or hindrances in the way to
the suppressed truth constitutes the negative perfection of such a
Add to all this the clothing and style.
1. The clothing of abstract truths, which were not entirely to be
passed over, in allegories and instructive single circumstances,
which were narrated as actual occurrences. Of this character are the
Creation under the image of growing Day; the Origin of Evil in the
story of the Forbidden Tree; the source of the variety of languages
in the history of the Tower of Babel,
49 2. The style—sometimes plain and simple, sometimes poetical,
throughout full of tautologies, but of such a kind as practised
sagacity, since they sometimes appear to be saying something else,
and yet the same thing; sometimes the same thing over again, and yet
to signify or to be capable of signifying at the bottom, something
And then you have all the properties of excellence which belong to
a Primer for a childlike people, as well as for children.
But every Primer is only for a certain age. To delay the child,
that has outgrown it, longer in it than it was intended for, is
hurtful. For to be able to do this is a way in any sort profitable,
you must insert into it more than there is really in it, and extract
from it more than it can contain. You must look for and make too much
of allusions and hints; squeeze allegories too closely; interpret
examples too circumstantially; press too much upon words. This gives
the child a petty, crooked, hair splitting understanding: it makes
him full of mysteries, superstitions; full of contempt for all that
is comprehensible and easy.
The very way in which the Rabbins handled their sacred books! The
very character which they thereby imparted to the character of their
A Better Instructor must come and tear the exhausted Primer from
the child's hands. CHRIST came!
That portion of the human race which God had willed to comprehend
in one Educational plan, was ripe for the Second step of Education. He
had, however, only willed to comprehend on such a plan, one which by
language, mode of action, government, and other natural and political
relationships, was already united in itself.
That is, this portion of the human race was come so far in the
exercise of its reason, as to need, and to be able to make use of
nobler and worthier motives of moral action than temporal rewards and
punishments, which had hitherto been its guides. The child had become
a youth. Sweetmeats and toys have given place to the budding desire to
go as free, as honored, and as happy as its elder brother.
For a long time, already, the best individuals of that portion of
the human race (called above the elder brother); had been accustomed
to let themselves be ruled by the shadow of such nobler motives. The
Greek and Roman did everything to live on after this life, even if it
were only in the remembrance of their fellow-citizens.
It was time that another true life to be expected after this should
gain an influence over the youth's actions.
And so Christ was the first certain practical Teacher of the
immortality of the soul.
The first certain Teacher. Certain, through the prophecies which
were fulfilled in Him; certain, through the miracles which He
achieved; certain, through His own revival after a death through
which He had sealed His doctrine. Whether we can still prove this
revival, these miracles, I put aside, as I leave on one side who the
Person of Christ was. All that may have been at that time of great
weight for the reception of His doctrine, but it is now no longer of
the same importance for the recognition of the truth of His doctrine.
The first practical Teacher. For it is one thing to conjecture, to
wish, and to believe the immortality of the soul, as a philosophic
speculation: quite another thing to direct the inner and outer acts
And this at least Christ was the first to teach. For although,
already before Him, the belief had been introduced among many
nations, that bad actions have yet to be punished in that life; 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.
His disciples have faithfully propagated these doctrines: and if
they had even had no other merit, than that of having effected a more
general publication, among other nations, of a Truth which Christ had
appeared to have destined only for the Jews, yet would they have even
on that account alone, to be reckoned among the Benefactors and
Fosterers of the Human Race.
If, however, they transplanted this one great Truth together with
other doctrines, whose truth was less enlightening, whose usefulness
was of a less exalted character, how could it be otherwise. Let us
not blame them for this, but rather seriously examine whether these
very commingled doctrines have not become a new impulse of directions
for human reason.
At least, it is already clear that the New Testament Scriptures, in
which these doctrines after some time were found preserved, have
afforded, and still afford, the second better Primer for the race of
For seven hundred years past they have exercised human reason more
than all other books, and enlightened it more, were it even only
through the light which the human reason itself threw into them.
It would have been impossible for any other book to become so
generally known among different nations: and indisputably, the fact
that modes of thought so diverse from each other have been occupied
on the same book, has helped on the human reason more than if every
nation had had its own Primer specially for itself.
It was also highly necessary that each people for a period should
hold this Book as the ne plus ultra of their knowledge. For the youth
must consider his Primer as the first of all books, that the
impatience to finish this book, may not hurry him on to things for
which he has, as yet, laid no basis.
And one thing is also of the greatest importance even now. Thou
abler spirit, who art fretting and restless over the last page of the
Primer, beware! Beware of letting thy weaker fellow scholars mark what
thou perceivest afar, or what thou art beginning to see!
Until these weaker fellow scholars are up with thee, rather return
once more into this Primer, and examine whether that which thou
takest only for duplicates of the method, for a blunder in the
teaching, is not perhaps something more.
Thou hast seen in the childhood of the human race, respecting the
doctrine of God's unity, that God makes immediate revelations of mere
truths of reason, or has permitted and caused pure truths of reason to
be taught, for some time, as truths of immediate revelation, in order
to promulgate them the more rapidly, and ground them the more firmly.
Thou experiencest in the boyhood of the Race the same thing in
reference to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. It is
preached in the better Primer as a Revelation, instead of taught as a
result of human reason.
As we by this time can dispense with the Old Testament, in
reference to the doctrine of the unity of God, and as we are by
degrees beginning also to be less dependent on the New Testament, in
reference to the immortality of the soul: might there not in this
Book also be other truths of the same sort prefigured, mirrored, as
it were, which we are to marvel at, as revelations, exactly so long
as until the time shall come when reason shall have learned to educe
them, out of its other demonstrated truths and bind them up with
For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity. How if this doctrine
should at last, after endless errors, right and left, only bring men
on the road to recognise that God cannot possibly be One in the sense
in which finite things are one, that even His unity must be a
transcendental unity, which does not exclude a sort of purality? Must
not God at least have the most perfect conception of Himself, i. e., a
conception in which is found everything which is in Him? But would
everything be found in it which is in Him, if a mere conception, a
mere possibility, were found even of his necessary Reality as well as
of His other qualities? This possibility exhausts the being of His
other qualities. Does it that of His necessary Reality? I think not.
Consequently God can either have no perfect conception of himself at
all, or this perfect conception is just as necessarily real, i. e.,
actually existent, as He Himself is. Certainly the image of myself in
the mirror is nothing but an empty representation of me, because it
only has that of me upon the surface of which beams of light fall. But
now if this image had everything, everything without exception, which
I have myself, would it then still be a mere empty representation, or
not rather a true reduplication of myself? When I believe that I
recognise in God a familiar reduplication, I perhaps do not so much
err, as that my language is insufficient for my ideas: and so much at
least for ever incontrovertible, that they who wish to make the idea
thereof popular for comprehension, could scarcely have expressed
themselves more intelligibly and suitably than by giving the name of a
Son begotten from Eternity.
And the doctrine of Original Sin. How, if at last everything were
to convince us that man standing on the first and lowest step of his
humanity, is not so entirely master of his actions as to be able to
obey moral laws?
And the doctrine of the Son's satisfaction. How, if at last, all
compelled us to assume that God, in spite of that original incapacity
of man, chose rather to give him moral laws, and forgive him all
transgressions in consideration of His Son, i. e., in consideration of
the self-existent total of all His own perfections, compared with
which, and in which, all imperfections of the individual disappear,
than not to give him those laws, and then to exclude him from all
moral blessedness, which cannot be conceived of without moral laws.
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
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
For in this selfishness of the human heart, to will to practice the
understanding too, only on that which concerns our corporal needs,
would be to blunt rather than to sharpen it. It absolutely will be
exercised on spiritual objects, if it is to attain its perfect
illumination, and bring out that purity of heart which makes us
capable of loving virtue for its own sake alone.
Or, is the human species never to arrive at this highest step of
illumination and purity?—Never?
Never?—Let me not think this blasphemy, All Merciful! Education
has its goal, in the Race, no less than in the Individual. That which
is educated is educated for something.
The flattering prospects which are open to the people, the Honor
and Well-being which are painted to him, what are they more than the
means of educating him to become a man, who, when these prospects of
Honor and Well-being have vanished, shall be able to do his Duty?
This is the aim of human education, and should not the Divine
education extend as far? Is that which is successful in the way of
Art with the individual, not to be successful in the way of Nature
with the whole? Blasphemy! Blasphemy!!
No! It will come! it will assuredly come! the time of the
perfecting, when man, the more convinced his understanding feels
itself 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 annexed thereto, which formerly were intended simply to fix and
strengthen his unsteady gaze in recognising 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!
Perhaps even some enthusiasts of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries had caught a glimpse of a beam of this new eternal Gospel,
and only erred in that they predicted its outburst at so near to
their own time.
Perhaps their "Three Ages of the World" were not so empty a
speculation after all, and assuredly they had no contemptible views
when they taught that the New Covenant must become as much antiquated
as the old has been. There remained by them the similarity of the
economy of the same God. Ever, to let them speak my words, ever the
self-same plan of the Education of the Race.
Only they were premature. Only they believed that they could make
their contemporaries, who had scarcely outgrown their childhood,
without enlightenment, without preparation, men worthy of their Third
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. 91
Go thine inscrutable way, Eternal Providence! Only let me not
despair in Thee, because of this inscrutableness. Let me not despair
in Thee, even if Thy steps appear to me to be going back. It is not
true that the shortest line is always straight.
Thou hast on Thine Eternal Way so much to carry on together, so
much to do! So many aside steps to take! And what if it were as good
as proved that the vast flow wheel which brings mankind nearer to this
perfection is only put in motion by smaller, swifter wheels, each of
which contributes its own individual unit thereto?
It is so! The very same Way by which the Race reaches its
perfection, must every individual man—one sooner—another later—
have travelled over. Have travelled over in one and the same life?
Can he have been, in one and the self-same life, a sensual Jew and a
spiritual Christian? Can he in the self-same life have overtaken
Surely not that! But why should not every individual man have
existed more than once upon this World?
Is this hypothesis so laughable merely because it is the oldest?
Because the human understanding, before the sophistries of the
Schools had dissipated and debilitated it, lighted upon it at once?
Why may not even I have already performed those steps of my
perfecting which bring to man only temporal punishments and rewards?
And once more, why not another time all those steps, to perform
which the views of Eternal Rewards so powerfully assist us?
Why should I not come back as often as I am capable of acquiring
fresh knowledge, fresh expertness? Do I bring away so much from once,
that there is nothing to repay the trouble of coming back?
Is this a reason against it? Or, because I forget that I have been
here already? Happy is it for me that I do forget. The recollection
of my former condition would permit me to make only a bad use of the
present. And that which even I must forget now, is that necessarily
forgotten for ever?
Or is it a reason against the hypothesis that so much time would
have been lost to me? Lost?—And how much then should I miss?—Is not
a whole Eternity mine?