Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Affections and Emotions (again)

Hogarth - Enthusiasm Delineated

I see that reflection on affections and emotions is bubbling up again  The people that I’ve noticed discussing the matter are both well-known Edwards scholars, and this suggests that what they have in mind in attempting to persuade us that affections are to be preferred to the emotions (not only in religion, but generally, it seems) is the promotion of the Edwardsean idea of religious affections as in some sense better than religious emotions.  For example, affections are said to be stronger or deeper than emotions. They are said to be long lasting, deep, consistent with beliefs, always result in action, and the always involve the mind, will, feelings.

Let’s test this. I have an affectionate attachment to a wrist-watch that I sometimes wear. It was my father’s, one of the few things of his that I now have. The reasons I have this attachment is obvious. Among other things  I am mildly affectionate towards this time-piece, less so than to family and friends, to characteristics of the English character, to locations in the countryside, and so on. But whether or not it will be long-lasting depends crucially upon what happens to the watch. If I lose it, or it finds its way under the wheel of a bus, then my affection for it will also get flattened. And also what could in theory happen to my memory of my father would affect it. Each of these possibilities is not under my control.

I suppose to say that affections are stronger or deeper than emotions means that any affection is deeper than any emotion. But the fear that my house will flood again, which is an emotion, I take it,  must surely be deeper than the affection I have for my battered Seiko. And so on. Is it not also obvious that both affections and emotions are capable of having degrees of intensity? And we must not forget Hume's 'calm passions', such as sympathy.

A lost cause

In my view it’s a lost cause to try to lay out distinctives in this way. In any case, some have been missed. It is possible to have strong emotions for impersonal states and events, but affections are usually personal or have a personal reference, as with the watch. But people may also have affectionate relations to cats and dogs and budgerigars. In view of such difficulties, the best plan is trying to regiment this area is to propose a definition and commend it by working it out in the case of particular examples. But it is pretty tricky even then, for the definition may have a particular kind of example in view. So with the idea that affects are invariably intense. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary does not help much, defining an affection as a favourable disposition or inclination and (Edwardseans note) giving examples from the 18th century as  ‘An emotion of the mind, passion, lust as opposed to reason’, ‘a good disposition towards’. Most important is the fact that both affections and emotions have intentional objects which affect their character and duration. An affection for a person is different from an affection for a place, and the fear of flooding is different than the fear of inflation.

Edwards himself 

As for Edwards himself, his procedure in the opening pages of his Religious Affections is to define good religious affections on the basis of one text, I Peter 1.8, ‘Whom having not seen, ye love: in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory’ and to take from it the doctrine that ‘True Religion, in great part, consists in holy affections’.

Suppose that this is a reasonable inference. It is clear, nonetheless, from what he tells his readers about the state of the souls of those to whom Peter was writing what Edwards has in mind. Take what he has to say about the nature of Peter’s first readers’ joy: ‘Unspeakable in the kind of it, very different from worldly joys, and carnal delights; of a vastly more pure, sublime and heavenly nature, being something supernatural, and truly divine, and so ineffably excellent; the sublimity, and exquisite sweetness, of which there were no words to set forth’. ‘In rejoicing in this joy their minds were filled, as it were, with a glorious brightness, and their natures exalted and perfected….it filled their minds with the light of God’s glory, and made ‘em themselves to shine with some communication of that glory’. (95)

This approach to Scripture seems rather partial. As I have mentioned on Helm’s Deep before Edwards draws no evidence about what true religion consists from the lists of virtues found in the New Testament, for example, called the fruit of the Spirit. And the verse from 1Peter as glossed by Edwards is a perfect fit for the thesis that follows in the body of the book. Indeed Edwards’ comments on the verse summarise that thesis.
We know from reading the Religious Affections that the work is structured around the claim that a series of human states are neither signs that a person is gracious nor a sign that a person is gracious. The signs of graciousness in Edwards’ views are that the person exhibits 1 Peter 1.8 affections as he understands these, whatever other state he may be in. It is possible to have a series of states, any of those which are neither here nor there, and still to have 1 Peter 1.8 affection.

Capturing the middle ground
This line of argument favours the intense and the public, and the link with the permissibility of physical manifestations of various kinds lead us to Edwards' wife, Sarah. This reinforces the conviction that the Religious Affections is above all a political manifesto in the midst of the confusions and controversies of the revivals, not condemning the excesses, but allowing them to be linked with Edwards' analysis of true religion in the opening pages of the book and elaborated in Part II  Shewing What Are No Certain Signs That Religious Affections Are Truly Gracious, or That They Are Not.

This centre ground, between the extremes of the likes of James Davenport on the one hand, and of Charles Chauncey on the other, was part of an endeavour on the part of Edwards to retain influence in the revivals while not abandoning his Puritanism. This mid-way became the heart of the evangelicalism of the 18th century ad subsequently. True religion was transformed from being the public profession of the faith in terms of adherence to the word and sacraments and a concern for  the interior life of the soul, to a particular public style of expressing one's religion.  

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ridgley - II

It is sometimes said that the Nicene formulations have the merit of protecting the Son against Arianism. For the Nicene position distinguishes (as Ridgeley makes clear) the Son’s being begotten from being created. He only is begotten and not by the will of his Father but by his essence. But in fact Ridgeley’s anti-Nicene or Nicene-free outlook is more clearly anti-Arian, since to suppose that the Son is begotten of the Father has been understood as involving the giving of the divine essence to the Son, and the Arians suppose the Son receives his divine perfections from the Father and hence cannot be equal to the Father.   Ridgeley's view is that ‘this expression had better be laid aside, lest it should be thought that we conclude the Son not equally necessary, and, from all eternity, co–existent with the Father....’(I. 260)
Ridgley's concerns with Nicaea have to do with unease that any meaning we attach to 'begotten' must imply some kind of dependence, even if we qualify the term by saying, for instance, 'begotten not made' or 'begotten, not created'  or even 'begotten by the essence of the Father'. To beget a son is to bring about the being of the son; it is an asymmetrical term, if X begets Y then necessarily Y does not beget X, or does Y exist under the same circumstances as X.  The Son is begotten but cannot beget. He thus lacks powers in relation to the godhead that the Father has, even though he his said to be divine as the Father is divine. These powers imply some kind of subordination of the one begotten. But is he not said to be 'eternally begotten'? Yes, if words mean anything eternally begetting is nevertheless a form of begetting, and even though it may be qualified by '…..but not made' a positive meaning to begottenness still remains. And similarly with the spiration or procession of the Spirit.
Spiration presents another set of difficulties. The Father and the Son are said together to spirate or process the Spirit (at least in Western formulations of the doctrine). But is it possible to say, beyond it being the work of Father and Son together, how being begotten differs from being spirated? It does not seem that we can. One speculation (begottenness) leads inevitably to others: is the Son begotten all at once, or by an eternal continuous begetting? And which of either is true of spiration? What sense can be made of all this?

As to what concerns the farther explication of this mystery, we may observe, that the more nice some have been in their speculations about it, the more they have seemed  bewildered: thus, when some have enquired whether the eternal generation is one single act, or an act continued; or whether, when it is said, This day have I begotten thee, the meaning is that the divine nature was communicated at once, or whether it is perpetually communicating.  And the difficulties that attend their asserting either the one or the other of them, which they, who enquire into these matters, take notice of, I shall entirely pass over, as apprehending that this doctrine receives no advantage by such disquisitions. (I. 262)
Ridgley offers his own, more more modest sense of ‘communicate’ other than ‘begotten’ or ‘spirated’. He says
If I may be allowed to give my sense of the communication of the divine essence, though it will probably be thought that I do not say enough concerning it, yet I hope that, in other respects, none will conclude that I advance any thing subversive of the doctrine of the Trinity, when I assert that the divine essence is communicated, not by the Father to the Son and Holy Spirit, as imparting or conveying it to them; but take the word communicate in another sense, namely, that all the perfections of the divine nature are communicated, that is, equally attributed to, or predicated of the Father, Son and Spirit; this sense of the word is what some intend when they say the human nature is communicated to every individual, upon which a  account they are denominated men…. would be understood, when I say that the divine perfections are communicated to, or predicated of, the Father, Son and Spirit; and this all who maintain the doctrine of the Trinity will allow of. The other sense of communication, viz. imparting, conveying or giving the divine essence, I shall be very ready to fall in with, when the apparent difficulties which, to me, lie in the way thereof, some of which have been already considered, are removed. (I 261-2)
In this sense there is no communicator of the divine essence to any person, but  each person of the Trinity is said to hold his divine nature in common with the others simply  in virtue of being a divine person, a nature which no human person can have.
Ridgeley gives detailed attention to the exegesis of texts of Scripture that those of a Nicene frame of mind appeal to, such as Ps. 2.7,  Prov. 8,22,23,25,  Micah 5.2, Heb.1.13, Col.1.15. John 5.26, 1.17, and so on. (I.164 f.) He generalises from the exegetical conclusions he comes to from the texts he examines in the following way:
I cannot but conclude that these  [texts], and all others of the like nature, that are brought to prove the eternal generation, or Sonship of Christ, respect him as God-man, Mediator; and those other scriptures, that speak of the procession of the Holy Ghost, respect the subserviency of his acting as a divine Person to the Mediator’s glory, in applying the work of redemption. (I. 266-7)
That is, they refer to the members of the Trinity in their economic roles, and do not provide evidence for the relations of the persons of the Trinity in themselves. Ridgley does not even go so far as to suggest that the relations of the persons in themselves make them ‘apt for’ their respective freely undertaken roles in the work of redemption. John Calvin was prepared to say that there is a certain ‘order’ in the Trinity, (Inst. I.13.20) thus cutting off useless speculation as to whether the Spirit could have become incarnate, and not the Son. Ridgeway does not even go this far, but perhaps he would not deny it.

How did Nicene trinitarianism arise?
His exegesis of the texts may suggest that Ridgeway might suggest that the Nicene wording arises from reading back into the Trinity itself what Scripture teaches about their respective redemptive offices, as well as too eagerly concluding that texts that refer to the mission of the Son refer to his begottenness or also to his begottenness, or entail it.
Another suggestion comes to mind. Though nothing of an expert on neo-Platonism, my hunch is that the Fathers were either consciously or subliminally mapping out the doctrine of the Trinity onto a neo-Platonic template. Neo-Platonism was part of their background, some of the atmosphere which these men breathed in.  According to neo-Platonism the One, the Intelligence begotten by the One, and the Soul, proceeding from the Intelligence – are three divine hypostases, the second and third only divine in a weakened sense.  Maybe the Nicene theologians were saying: whatever neo-Platonism can offer, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity can make a better offer: three hypostases,  two of which are either begotten or spirated, yet  each fully divine, and bearing no traces of the emanationism of neo-Platonism.

Concluding Remarks
Ridgley strikes me as a mild-mannered, careful person, and a model controversialist. He recognised the difficulty of this topic, and yet he  was unwilling to venture into areas that turned out to be mere word-spinning. This passage is typical.
And I hope, through divine assistance, we shall advance no doctrine that is subversive of our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, which we are endeavouring to maintain, derogatory to the essential or personal glory of the Father, Son, and Spirit, or altogether contrary to the sense, in which many Christians, who are unacquainted with those modes of speaking, used by the fathers and schoolmen, understand those scriptures upon which this doctrine is founded. (I.258)
Ridgley's controversial style provides us all with a lesson – always respectful of those theologians from which he dissented without naming them, for what he has otherwise learned from them, respecting their intentions, reproducing their views accurately, not offering ridicule, and giving his own views gently and diffidently, but firmly. He is also respectful of the tradition even when he differs from it. He keeps the lid on the point at issue, not letting differences about this affect the many other points of agreement.
More than this, Ridgley’s views show that the Reformed tradition is broader, and tolerated a variety of theological views, that some would like to think. Ridgley’s thinking is clearly within the parameters of Reformed Orthodoxy even though his is the voice of a minority. He is frequently cited by Richard Muller in in Vol. IV of his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.