John Smith (1616-1652), the Christian Platonist and Anglican theologian who scholars today recognize as one of the members of the Cambridge Platonists, beautifully answers the perennial question of why an infinite and perfect God would create a finite universe. Smith affirms that the traditional answer, “for his own Glory,” requires some explanation.
When God seeks his own Glory, he does not so much endeavour anything without himself. He did not bring this stately fabrick of the Universe into Being, that he might for such a Monument of his mighty Power and Beneficence gain some Panegyricks or Applause from a little of that fading breath which he had made. Neither was that gracious contrivance of restoring lapsed men to himself a Plot to get himself some Eternal Hallelujahs, as if he had so ardently thirsted after the layes of glorified spirits, or desired a quire of Souls to sing forth his praises. Neither was it to let the World see how Magnificent he was. No, it is his own Internal Glory that he most loves, and the commuinication thereof which he seeks: as Plato sometimes speaks of the Divine love, it arises not out of Indigency, as created love does, but out of Fulness and Redundancy; it is an overflowing fountain, and that love which descends upon created Being is a free Efflux from the Almighty Source of love: and it is well pleasing to him that those Creatures which he hath made should partake of it. Though God cannot seek his own Glory so as if he might acquire any addition to himself, yet he may seek it so as to communicate it out of himself. It was a good Maxime of Plato, τῷ Θεῷ οὐδεὶς φθόνος [there is no jealousy in God] 1, which is better stated by S. James, “God giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.” And by that Glory of his which he loves to impart to his Creatures, I understand those stamps and impressions of Wisdom, Justice, Patience, Mercy, Love, Peace, Joy, and other Divine gifts which he bestowed freely upon the Minds of men. And thus God triumphs in his own glory, and takes pleasure in the Communication of it. 2
Eric Parker is a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Religious Studies at McGill University in Montréal, where he is writing his dissertation on the Cambridge Platonist, Peter Sterry. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children.
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