• Diverse Excellencies: Jonathan Edwards on the Attributes of God

      Rigney, Joseph, J. (University of Chester, 2019-03-03)
      This thesis explores Jonathan Edwards’s view of God’s attributes in light of his Trinitarian theology. In particular, I argue that, contrary to the claims of some Edwards scholars, Edwards clearly affirms the doctrine of divine simplicity throughout his writings as it was held among the Reformed scholastics. Through an exposition of his Discourse on the Trinity in light of its historical and polemical context, I demonstrate both Edwards’s orthodoxy and his distinct innovations in expressing the orthodox view of the Trinity. Notably, I show that Edwards distinguishes the persons of the Godhead by means of a strong psychological account of the Trinity positing that the only real distinctions in God are those of being, understanding, and will, which correspond to the three persons of the Godhead. Additionally, Edwards maintains the unity of the Godhead by appeal to divine simplicity, whereby “everything (real) in God is God.” Finally, Edwards upholds the personhood of each person through the biblical doctrine of perichoresis. This exposition enables me to respond to a variety of criticism of Edwards’s trinitarianism. The second part of my thesis unfolds Edwards’s attribute classification system as it proceeds from his trinitarianism and his account of the God-world relation. Edwards distributes attributes in two primary ways. First, he distributes attributes into real attributes, which simply are the persons of the Godhead, and modal or relative attributes, which are real attributes in relation to creation. Second, he distributes attributes into natural attributes and moral attributes, based on whether they are reducible to God’s being and understanding on the one hand, or reducible to God’s will on the other. Within relative attributes, I demonstrate further distinctions such as capacity attributes, which are sufficiencies in God to certain effects and which are relatively dormant until God wills to create, and negative attributes, which Edwards surprisingly includes within relative attributes on the basis of the fact that they deny some creaturely quality to God and thereby depend upon creation’s existence for their intelligibility. I conclude by bringing Edwards’s taxonomy of attributes to bear on the question of divine freedom and creation’s necessity, showing that while Edwards does differ in some ways from his Reformed forebears, he does not hold, as some scholars claim, that God is essentially creative and that creation is necessary. Rather, Edwards employs the category of “fitness” to describe God’s acts of communicating his glory and the employment of creation as a means to that end.