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Lessing's Philosophy of Religion and the German Enlightenment$
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Toshimasa Yasukata

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195144949

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195144945.001.0001

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Lessing's “Ugly Broad Ditch”

Lessing's “Ugly Broad Ditch”

(p.56) 4 Lessing's “Ugly Broad Ditch”
Lessing's Philosophy of Religion and the German Enlightenment

Toshimasa Yasukata

Oxford University Press

Explicates the meaning of Lessing's famous metaphor or image of the “ugly broad ditch” (der garstige breite Graben). This image is a metaphorical expression of his proposition that “accidental truths of history can never become the proof for necessary truths of reason.” Lessing asserts that since the “proof of the spirit and of power” has lost its erstwhile validity, the Christian religion, the quintessence of which Lessing regards as genuine Christian love, must authenticate itself solely by its “inner truth.” But Karl Barth, calling the authenticity of Lessing's “ugly ditch” into question, weighs Lessing's problem (“historical distance”) unfavorably against Peter's problem (“the real distance” between God and human beings). Faced with Barth's sharp criticism, we argue that Lessing's “ugly ditch” involves not just a problem of “historical distance” but a theological problem of existential appropriation, a problem of great importance for the modern person.

Keywords:   existential appropriation, historical distance, inner truth, proof of the spirit and of power, truths of history, truths of reason, ugly broad ditch

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