The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics

By Stephen H. Daniel | Go to book overview

CONCLUDING REMARKS

THE PROPRIETY OF CHRIST

The mere prospect of Christ, the God-man, is an embarrassment to the substantialist metaphysics that Edwards' philosophy throws into doubt. For if God and human beings are substances, and substances cannot be predicated of one another, then something cannot be two substances at the same time. It comes as no surprise, then, that from the standpoint of the classical-modern mentality, the incarnation is a mystery. By not disrupting that mystery, Edwards acknowledges the fact that, for a fallen, unregenerate mind, the Christ event is unintelligible. However, Edwards' use of the ontology of supposition indicates how, for the elect, the incarnation presents no more of a theoretical difficulty than the appreciation of the significance of anything else in the world.

The key to this insight lies in revising the sense in which existence is properly understood. Once Edwards examines the presuppositions for intelligibility or significance in which the inquiry about existence is couched, he discovers that the same requirements for the intelligibility of the inquiry hold for the significance of existence. This recognition opens up the issue of propriety itself; and it is there that Edwards' doctrine of Christ reveals the patterns of thought that inform the regenerate mind.

In spite of the modernist inclination to identify him as such, the Christ that Edwards describes is not properly an individual—at least not in the way that modernity defines an individual as the subject of predication. In Edwards' thought, Christ is a challenge to the notion of an individual proper; or rather, Christ is a challenge to the propriety of individuality. Both divine and human, Christ subverts ontologies (including emanationist theories) in which substantialistic individuality becomes the mark of existential legitimacy. Christ's existence emphasizes his deference to others, instead of his own individuality. That act of self-displacement is at the heart of the ontology of supposition that permeates all of Edwards' philosophy.

By concluding this book with a note on Edwards' doctrine of Christ, I do not intend simply to acknowledge at the last minute the overwhelmingly religious character or theological cast of Edwards' thought. Edwards' Christianity is so central to his thinking that to ignore the figure of Christ, in order to avoid mixing his theology with his philosophy, is to accept the very bifurcation of mentalities that his work attempts to overcome. Instead, my retrieval

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