Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart

By Terrence Erdt | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Concluding Remarks on Edwards and the Puritan Tradition

Edwards' contribution to American literature may lie less in the artistic quality of his writings, though they occasionally exhibit estimable craftsmanship, than in the implications of his aesthetics. A few sermons, foremostly "A Divine and Supernatural Light," "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and some lyrical passages, as the prose poem about Sarah Pierrepont, and the polished treatise on The Nature of True Virtue, occupy an honorable place in early American literature. But the majority of Edwards' compositions more likely interest students of the history of religion and of philosophy than of belles-lettres. To a degree his aesthetics may have created a particular need within New England culture for art, but the extent of Edwards' influence, of whatever sort, remains uncertain. There are, however, indications that it differs from what previously was supposed. Alan Heimert recently has attempted to show that "in truth, the partisans of evangelical and emotional religion [of the eighteenth century] were all in some degree under the intellectual dominion of Jonathan Edwards. . . . Just as close to Edwards [as Samuel Hopkins] in idea and spirit (and perhaps closer) were the multitude of New Light and New Side preachers, Separatists and Baptists, who, despite their minor differences with Edwards, acknowledged him to be 'the greatest pillar in this part of ZION'S BUILDING.'" Edwards' aesthetics, Heimert maintains, contained a radical import, a social vision that led to a demand for a reorganization of society.1 Heimert's thesis remains an intriguing possibility but has not as yet received wide acceptance by historians. He presents a large quantity of evidence but analyzes little of it in sufficient detail. Roland A. Delattre recently

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