Supreme Harmony of All: Jonathan Edwards' Trinitarian Theology

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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Pauw, Amy Plantinga. Supreme Harmony of All: Jonathan Edwards' Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Amy Plantinga Pauw entered dangerous waters with this book, but she navigated them fairly skillfully. Writing on Edwards can be difficult. Writing about the Trinity can be dangerous. Pauw does both at the same time. While dated in some respects, she marshals the relevant data concerning Edwards’ writings on the Trinity. She hints at the social Trinity debate but never weighs in on it. That might be a good thing, though it opens up Edwards for misunderstanding. Edwards employed two different models for the Trinity: psychological (ala Augustine) and social.

The problem is that Edwards doesn’t use either model in the standard sense. With Augustine, he sees the mind as an analogue for the Trinity, but unlike Augustine he interprets “mind” and “idea” in a Lockean sense. On the other hand, he does see the Trinity as some form of community, but even here it breaks down. Against social Trinitarians, he doesn’t see the three members as three distinct centers of consciousness. Further, while the Trinity might be a society, it has the bizarre nature of being an all-masculine society (and this is why it is dangerous, even stupid, to introduce subordination into the Trinity in a way that parallels the male-female relationship).

Edwards' presentation of the Trinity is justly famous: “An absolutely perfect idea of a thing is the very thing, for it wants nothing that is in the thing, substance nor nothing else” (quoted in Pauw, loc.528). In other words, a perfect thought proceeding from the Father must also be divine, which is the Son, the Logos. There are some difficulties here. Wouldn’t a perfect thought from the Son also generate a new member? Well, yes. That’s the Filioque and perhaps how the Holy Spirit proceeds from both. So far Edwards remains within the Western tradition, but there is now a new question: wouldn’t a perfect thought from the Holy Spirit generate yet another divine person, and so on?

JE also adjusts the traditional framework of divine simplicity. Did JE advance a new ontology that replaced substance ontology? Pauw thinks so, seeing that reality is now seen as objects in relation to each other rather than individual substances. I’m not so sure.

When applied to the Trinity, the traditional doctrine held that the persons are only modally distinct by their personal properties. They are modes of the divine essence. Pauw notes JE’s problem with this: how could such a view “accommodate” the “vivid images of love, society, and communion within the Godhead” (loc. 672)?

Pauw then interacts with Sang Lee’s argument that JE has a “dispositional ontology.” Reality is composed of “habit and form,” rather than substance. This means that God’s being is “inclined to increases and repetitions of the divine actuality.” This allows JE to depict “the Son as the intellectual self-repetition of the Father” (892).

On the covenantal front, Edwards anticipated a new rebuttal to the eternal subordination debate. Given the pactum salutis as true, “it would not be fitting for the Father to find supreme happiness in loving a person of inferior metaphysical status” (1037).

God and creation: “there is in God an eternal desire to radiate outwards in emanations of understanding” (1291). Creation, or “non-perceiving beings” are created by God to be “images or shadows of divine things” (1374). We are very close to George Berkeley’s “to be is to perceive.”

Conclusion

Pauw does a fine job shoring up JE’s remarks on the Trinity. I think greater attention could have been paid to JE’s Neoplatonism regarding creation. All in all, a fine work.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you for this review. I have been giving a bit of thought to how old Princeton moved from being a school that embraced Jonathan Edwards [though he was only briefly the President of that school] to the school that embraced the philosophy of common sense realism. Dr. John H. Gerstner had his roots both in Edwards Religious Affections and in the common sense realism of Charles Hodge. The Amy Plantinga Pauw book showing how Edwards used the language of Locke and Augustine and gave it new meanings as he wrestled with the doctrine of the Trinity, may give a clue as to how Edwards was part of the philosophical change that swept across the English speaking world at about the time of his death. Did Edwards serve as a transitional figure between Locke and Reid?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thank you for this review. I have been giving a bit of thought to how old Princeton moved from being a school that embraced Jonathan Edwards [though he was only briefly the President of that school] to the school that embraced the philosophy of common sense realism. Dr. John H. Gerstner had his roots both in Edwards Religious Affections and in the common sense realism of Charles Hodge. The Amy Plantinga Pauw book showing how Edwards used the language of Locke and Augustine and gave it new meanings as he wrestled with the doctrine of the Trinity, may give a clue as to how Edwards was part of the philosophical change that swept across the English speaking world at about the time of his death. Did Edwards serve as a transitional figure between Locke and Reid?

I think Edwards was a more or less pure Lockean. Reid held to substance and personal identity through time. That's hard to square with Edwards' comments in Original Sin Part IV.

I think Gerstner read Edwards through Turretin and never really wrestled with Edwards' comments on occasionalism and the like. When it comes to Free Will, Gerstner might be the best popular presentation of Edwards, though.
 
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