Coleridge, the Bible, and Religion/Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church

Article excerpt

Coleridge, the Rible, and Religion. By Jeffrey W. Barbeau. Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. xii + 234 pp. $90.00 (cloth).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church. By Luke Savin Herrick Wright. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010. ? + 295 pp. $35.00 (paper).

If Jeffrey W. Barbeau and Luke Savin Herrick Wright are correct, then there is no reason why Samuel Taylor Coleridge should not be seen as one of the most creative theological minds of the early mid-nineteenth century.

Wright offers a general survey of Coleridge's Anglicanism while Barbeau focuses on Coleridge's seminal and posthumously published Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, but along the way each offers much insight into the broad terrain of British Anglicanism, both in its political and ecclesiastical manifestations. The authors do an especially fine job noting Coleridge's various sources, ranging from Richard Hooker to Robert Leighton, a seventeenth-century Scottish Episcopalian who achieved and maintained posthumous fame in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Barbeau s thesis is that "Coleridge's Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit (1840) presents a system of 'revealed' religion and provides a framework for recovering his late writings on Christian doctrine" (p. 2). Barbeau is especially interested in Coleridge's conception of biblical inspiration, and because of this his work is organized according to Coleridge's "Pentad of Operative Christianity," which places the Preacher as the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, harmonizing both Scripture and the church beneath the Lordship of Christ. Scripture is given three chapters while the other four elements of the Pentad receive one chapter each. As Coleridge's engagement with Scripture was "literary" rather than evangelical (p. 32), this focus is most welcome.

Coleridge brought numerous tools and contexts to bear upon his study of Scripture, which he considered the primary site of divine revelation. He learned Hebrew and befriended Rabbi Hyman Hurwitz; he sought to interpret the Psalms through the lens of the Prayer Book; and, late in life, he began devoting a minimum of two hours a day to the study of the Bible. But such intense biblical study did not exist for or by itself. Coleridge had a high view of tradition, the authority of the church, and especially the liturgy, describing the Prayer Book as "a grand composition of devotional music, gradually attuning, preparing, animating, and working up, the feelings of men to public and common prayer" (pp. 124-125). When set within this broad context, the devout priest, grounded in Scripture, is inspired and called to be inspiring. Coleridge emerges as an author with a rich pneumatology and a compelling vision of ministry, in which fixed elements, such as church and liturgy, allow for and strengthen that which is highly subjective - the experience of the Holy Spirit in and through the study of Scripture.

Wright's book began as a more focused project concerning the influence of Hooker upon Coleridge but grew to look at Coleridge's relationship to the Church of England more broadly. …