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Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, The Education of the Human Race (1777)

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§ 86: It will surely come, the time of a new eternal Gospel, which is promised us in the primer of the New Covenant itself!

§ 87: Perhaps even certain enthusiasts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries caught a glimpse of a beam of this new eternal Gospel, and erred only in proclaiming that its dawning was so near.

§ 88: Perhaps their three ages of the world were not just empty speculation after all, and they surely had no evil intentions when they taught that the New Covenant must become just as antiquated as the Old. For them, too, it was always the same economy of the same God. It was always – to use my own words – the same plan for the universal education of the human race.

§ 89: Except, they were too hasty and believed that, without enlightenment, without preparation, they could make their contemporaries, who had scarcely outgrown their childhood, into men worthy of their third age.

§ 90: And that was the very thing that made them enthusiasts. The enthusiast often casts very accurate glances into the future, but he cannot wait for this future to come. He wishes this future accelerated, and accelerated through him. That for which nature takes millennia is to mature in the moment of his existence. For what good does it do him if what he recognizes as better does not become better in his lifetime? Will he come back? Does he believe he will come back? It is odd that this enthusiasm does not become more fashionable again among enthusiasts alone.

§ 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 backward. It is not true that the shortest line is always the straight one.

§ 92: Thou hast so much to carry with you on thine eternal way, so much to do! And what if it were as good as proven that the great, slow wheel that brings mankind nearer to this perfection is only put in motion by smaller, swifter wheels, each of which contributes its own individual share?

§ 93: It is so! The very same path by which the race reaches its perfection, must have been travelled – sooner or later – by every individual man. But can he have travelled it in one and the same life? Can he have been, in one and the same life, a sensual Jew and a spiritual Christian? Can he have moved beyond both in the same life?

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