Lessing's “Ugly Broad Ditch”

Toshimasa Yasukata

in Lessing's Philosophy of Religion and the German Enlightenment

Published in print April 2003 | ISBN: 9780195144949
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834891 | DOI:

Series: AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series

 Lessing's “Ugly Broad Ditch”

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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

Chapter.  8330 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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