The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics

By Stephen H. Daniel | Go to book overview
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Beginning with Perry Miller's 1948 edition of Edwards' Images or Shadows of Divine Things, much of the critical scholarship devoted to Edwards' typology refers only in passing to his concurrent references to the language of nature in which types are expressed. Commentators agree that, for Edwards, natural things exhibit a spiritual meaning in terms of what God intends them to communicate, but the fact that nature appears in Edwards' presentation as a language is often assumed to be merely a metaphorical convention. It is argued that, because Edwards speaks of the world as a divine communication throughout his writings, his invocation of the vocabulary of the Book of Nature can hardly be said to have any particular significance for the study of types. Indeed, if his talk of the linguistic or communicative nature of reality reveals more than a rhetorical maneuver, it signals the underlying conditions for the possibility of communal reasoning in general.

No doubt the pervasive presence of relations of signification in Edwards' philosophy includes much more than his typology. I suggest, however, that Edwards bases the justification for his claims of typological relations on a broader theory of communicative exchange. Accordingly, his association of typological relations with "The Language and Lessons of Nature" points to a theory of meaning in which typology unites the significatory and revelatory characters of nature as functions of God's scripted and scriptural activity.

Typology, therefore, is not as central to Edwards' philosophy as it is key to determining the underlying system of relations that legitimate the strategies of rationality employed in his other discussions. Without access to those strategies of communicative signification, we cannot understand why typology is connected to his doctrines of the Trinity, original sin, freedom, virtue, or beauty, even if we can understand how such topics are related.

This chapter begins with an examination of the syntax of signification that regulates Edwards' theory of meaningful exchange. The second part of the chapter indicates how typology, as the point of convergence of natural and revelational instruction, functions in the system of relations that makes meaning possible. The third section focuses on how Edwards develops a general system of signification in the context of typology, with special attention given to the Scriptural extension of discourse.


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