John Smith (1618-1652), long known for the elegance of his prose and the breadth of his erudition, has been underappreciated as a philosophical theologian. This book redresses this by showing how the spiritual senses became an essential tool for responding to early modern developments in philosophy, science, and religion for Smith. Through a close reading of the Select Discourses (1660) it is shown how Smith’s theories of theological knowledge, method, and prophecy as well as his prescriptive account of Christian piety (...) rely on his spiritual aesthetics. Smith offers a coherent system with intellectual intuition informing natural theology and revelation supplemented by spiritual perception via the imagination too. The central uniting feature of Smith’s philosophical theology is thus ‘spiritual sensation’ broadly construed. The book closes with proposals for research on Smith’s influence on the accounts of the spiritual senses developed by significant later figures including Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and John Wesley (1703-1791). (shrink)
The literature on the Cambridge Platonists abounds with references to Neoplatonism and the Alexandrian Fathers on general themes of philosophical and theological methodology. The specific theme of the spiritual senses of the soul has received scant attention however, to the detriment of our understanding of their place in this important tradition of Christian speculation. Thus, while much attention has been paid to the clear influence of Plotinus and the Florentine Academy, far less has been given to important theological figures that (...) also form a vital part of the tradition the Cambridge Platonists find irresistible. Similarly, scholarship on the spiritual senses has tended to ignore early modern Protestant developments in this tradition focusing instead on patristic, medieval, and later modern figures. In response to these oversights, the present chapter provides a close reading and analysis of the reception and modification of Origen of Alexandria’s (185-252) doctrine of the spiritual senses in the “Discourse on the True Way or Method of Attaining to Divine Knowledge” by the Cambridge Platonist, John Smith (1618-1652). Although Smith accepted much of the doctrine as he found it in Origen his allegiance to modern notions of methodology, derived especially from Descartes, as well as his Protestantism, made taking the doctrine on authority or antiquity alone unacceptable. Smith therefore offered his own case for the spiritual senses, at once intentionally mimicking the Alexandrian’s interpretive synthesis of Platonism and Scripture (“Origen as model”) and echoing Origen’s own words (“Origen as source”). Whereas Origen made spiritual sensibility intelligible by means of Middle Platonic thought, Smith’s Neoplatonism provided the conceptual tools needed to make sense of biblical passages without suggesting a merely metaphorical meaning for sensory language concerning the awareness of spiritual realities. In this way, both tradition and innovation guide Smith’s reformulation of the doctrine of the spiritual senses. In addition to demonstrating Smith’s debt to patristic thought, this chapter also discusses his influence on such leading figures in modern theology as John Wesley (1703-1791) and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). The chapter thus presents an important moment in the development of Christian speculation about the spiritual senses that begins to bridge scholarship on the Patristic and Enlightenment periods. (shrink)
A *very* rough draft of a paper on Anselm's "ontological argument" in which I argue that the argument in the Proslogion rests on a robust notion of having "that then which nothing greater can be thought" in one's mind.
This paper is an exercise in the Christian (meta)theology of religions. As such, it rests on the idea that systematic theology must take account of the fact of religious pluralism within its articulation of the Christian faith. It might be asked however, despite clear motivations such as the traditional imperative of mission, why we need a theology of religions at all. Why not simply dialogue or engage in a kind of comparative study of the texts and practices of the religions? (...) On the contrary, the fact of religious pluralism requires at least a basic or schematic response in the present, and not only in the alwayspostponed-future that makes true dialogue and comparative theology possible and fruitful. While remaining open to new developments that may arise out of the necessary work of dialogue and comparative theology, the theology of religions can, and should, provide an intellectual resting place, albeit a temporary one, as we shall see. (shrink)
John Smith (1618-1652), the 17th century Cambridge Platonist, employed the traditional language of the spiritual senses of the soul to develop an early modern theological aesthetic central to his religious epistemology and thus to his philosophy of religion and systematic theology. As a Christian Platonist, Smith advocated intellectual intuition of Divine Goodness as the key to theological knowledge and spiritual practice. Additionally, Smith’s theory of prophecy rests on the reception of sensible images in the imagination. Chapter one lays out how (...) Smith’s place in this tradition has been under-appreciated by scholars working on the Cambridge Platonists and the spiritual senses. Chapter two presents an interpretive summary of the spiritual senses tradition and proposes a functional typology that registers three uses of non-corporeal perception throughout the history of Christian theology: (1) accounts of the origin and methods of theological knowledge, (2) descriptions of spirituality, and (3) attempts to systematically present or defend Christian theology. Chapter three places Smith in his historical and intellectual context in early seventeenth century England noting especially how his education prepared him to contribute to the mystical tradition of the spiritual senses of the soul. Chapter four argues that Smith’s theories of theological knowledge, method, and prophecy rest on his development of the spiritual senses tradition, combining intellectual intuition and imaginative perception. Chapter five addresses the role of spiritual aesthetics in Smith’s prescriptive account of Christian piety. Here the spiritual senses are both means and reward in the spiritual life in the process of deification (theosis). Chapter six demonstrates how Smith’s theology forms a coherent system with intellectual intuition informing natural theology and revelation being supplemented by spiritual perception via the imagination. The central uniting feature therefore is the spiritual perception of theological truth. Chapter seven closes with a summary of Smith’s various uses of the spiritual senses and proposes future research on his influence upon later figures including Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and prospective constructive work inspired by Smith’s combination of reason and experience in religion. (shrink)