The Enlightenment | Free Online Biblical Library

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The Enlightenment

aufklärung. A movement seen in particularly clear-cut form in eighteenth-century Germany. Karl Barth characterized it as “a system founded upon the presupposition of faith in the omnipotence of human ability.” Immanuel Kant defined it in his Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Only (1793): “The Enlightenment represents man's emergence from a self-inflicted state of minority. A minor is one who is incapable of making use of his understanding without guidance from someone else . . . Sapere aude! Have the courage to make use of your own understanding, is therefore the watchword of the Enlightenment.” According to F.A.G. Tholuck, the theological and philosophical pacemaker of the Aufklärung was Christian Wolff (1679-1754), who sought the path to absolute truth through “pure reason.” A more radical form is seen in H.S. Reimarus.* Influenced by English Deists, he rejected supernatural revelation and expressed this in his Wolfenbüttel Fragments, published after the author's death by G.E. Lessing.* The latter held that man had developed beyond the need for Christianity (Education of the Human Race, 1780). In Lessing's best-known work, Nathan the Wise (1779), he argued that truth was found in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, therefore toleration was imperative.

Predicated upon the reliability of reason, the Aufklärung rejected both supernatural revelation and man's sinfulness. God, the all-wise creator, had implanted in man a natural religion which taught both morality and immortality.