Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart

Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart

Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart

Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart

Excerpt

Jonathan Edwards has long been accorded a place in the front rank of colonial American writers; his aesthetics are now recognized as the primary characteristic of his theology; and his writings are judged worthy of extended literary analysis.SUPSUP SUPSUP Oddly perhaps, no attempt has been made to discover if in his aesthetics Edwards attributes a particular significance to art. The discussion to follow contends that art as an instance of what he termed secondary beauty can perform a vital religious function by enabling the saint to conceive, and subsequently receive or revive, the particular emotional sensation that constitutes the religious experience--which Edwards referred to as the sense of the heart. My purpose in what is to follow is not to survey and to analyze Edwards' writings as works of art but to probe his aesthetic theory in order to discern the import he assigns to art.

A word about methodology is in order since it may seem to some readers slightly unorthodox. No one point of view--be it intellectual historical, literary, philosophical, or theological--assays adequately the ingredients of Edwards' system. He defended a Calvinist heritage that rapidly was losing primacy in his own country had been long beset by sophisticated assailants abroad; he admired the new learning, and he was a man of letters. Not surprisingly, no one approach to his writings measures all their dimensions. While my orientation remains broadly literary in its objectives, necessarily I have had to borrow tools from several disciplines. The forays into intellectual history and Calvinist theology are intended to establish the foundation necessary for determining the implication of his . . .

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