Monday, March 05, 2007

Images of Divine Things (2)

Cindy Mercer Photography

Last week, I began posting quotations from Jonathan Edwards’ typological writings. I mentioned that the coming of spring is a good time to see the world through Edwards' eyes. Notice in number 203, from “Images of Divine Things,” Edwards’ intriguing comments on the use of language, the nature of poetry, and the enjoyment of the arts.

The following quotations are from Typological Writings, Vol. 11 of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, edited by Wallace E. Anderson, Mason I. Lowance, Jr., and David Watters (New Haven: Yale, 1993).

203. EXTERNAL THINGS are intended to be IMAGES of things spiritual, moral and divine. Now it has been often observed that such is the analogy between sensible and moral objects, that there is none of the latter sort that may not be clothed with a sensible form or image, and represented to us as it were in the material shape and hue. So true is [this], that not only are wit and poetry owned to take place only in consequence of this analogy or resemblance of moral and natural ideas; but even all language is confessed to be originally taken from sensible objects, or their properties and effects.

Words cannot express any moral objects, but by exciting pictures of them in our minds. But all words being originally expressive of sensible qualities, no words can express moral ideas, but so far as there is such an analogy betwixt the natural and moral world, that objects in the latter may be shadowed forth, pictured or imaged to us by some resemblances to them in the former…And so far as language can go in communicating sentiments, so far we have an indisputable proof of analogy between the sensible and the moral world; and consequently of wonderful wisdom and goodness, in adjusting sensible and moral relations and connections one to another; the sensible world to our minds, and reciprocally the connections of things relative to our moral powers to the connection of things that constitute the sensible world. It is this analogy that makes the beauty, propriety, and force of words, expressive of moral ideas, by conveying pictures of them into the mind.

All the phrases among the ancients, used to signify the beauty, harmony and consistency of virtuous manners, are taken from the beauty of sensible forms in nature, or in the arts which imitate nature, music, painting, etc…So that here we have a clear proof of that analogy between the moral world or moral effects, and the natural world or sensible effects, without which language could not be a moral paintress, or pain moral sentiments, and affections and their effects (ibid., pp. 145-46).

And the same author, in his second volume entitled Christian Philosophy, pp. 178-179, says: “There is a much more exact correspondence and analogy between the natural and moral world than superficial observers are apt to imagine or take notice of.” Again, ibid, pp. 180-81,

No one can be acquainted with nature, or indeed with the imitative arts, with poetry in particular, without perceiving and admiring the correspondence between the sensible and moral world, from which arises such a beautiful rich source of imagery in poetry, and without which there could be no such thing.

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