Marilynne Robinson, author of the recently released novel Lila, writes that she was a “gloomy captive” to deterministic modern philosophies in her youth, Positivism, Behaviorism, Marxism, until she was liberated by reading Jonathan Edwards.
What did it was a footnote in The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended. The footnote was about moonlight.
“Jonathan Edwards provided me with a metaphysics that made the phenomenal world come alive for me again and that seemed to me to undercut every version of determinism, including even predestination, without obliging me to accept an alternative.
“Never departing from strict reason, Edwards sanctified the unknowable. I experienced a quiet, cerebral awakening of my own, as much secular as religious, as much scientific as theological, though these categories are not so clear-cut as they are often made to seem . . . Edwards’s metaphysics is first of all an esthetics. His statements about fundamental reality are based on the nature of light, not as metaphor but as model for all aspects of being, from time to consciousness and selfhood, to love, to the experience of the sacred, to ontology, to God Himself. In Edwards’s understanding, these things participate in one another so deeply that their radical likeness is a kind of identity. Light for him is a virtual synonym for beauty, and the given world is saturated with it. Natural light is an analog or a metaphor for ‘supernatural light,’ an important phrase that makes an important distinction, though his exploitation of the character of ordinary light is essential to his argument.”
The entire essay, “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light,” can be read at Humanities, a magazine produced by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an organization that has provided funding for the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale.
Edwards’ work on original sin, including footnotes about moonlight, can be read online here.
— Daniel Silliman