Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church

By Patterson, W. B. | Anglican and Episcopal History, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church


Patterson, W. B., Anglican and Episcopal History


Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church. By Luke Savin Herrick Wright. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010, Pp. viii, 295. $35.00, paper.)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic poet and critic, who with his friend William Wordsworth helped to start a new era in English literature with their Lyrical Ballads in 1798, was also a journalist, lecturer, philosopher, political theorist, and theologian. Luke Savin Herrick Wright argues, in this scholarly treatment of Coleridge's career, that one of the poet's major undertakings was a political theology aimed at challenging the long dominant Whig view of William Warburton. Drawing on Richard Hooker's The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1593, 1648, 1662), Coleridge produced a theology that anticipated the Tractarians and influenced the young Tory politician William E. Gladstone. Wright's book is a fresh treatment of the intellectual culture of early nineteenth-century Britain. The book shows convincingly that Coleridge was a considerably more important religious thinker than has been generally recognized.

The young Coleridge was a very different thinker from the Anglican theologian he became in his middle and later years. A political radical at the beginning of the French Revolution, he became a Unitarian preacher, and he helped to draw up plans for a Pantisocratic community on the banks of the Susquehannah River. Coleridge's father was an Anglican clergyman of high church principles. Jesus College, Cambridge, where Coleridge was educated, was conventionally Christian in its curriculum and orientation. Despite his engagement with Unitarianism, College can be seen as searching for a solid scriptural foundation for religious belief in his Lectures on Revealed Religion (1795). Wright argues that Coleridge had begun to accept the orthodox theology of the established church as early as 1806. His first discussion of Hooker, whose Laws he had begun reading at Cambridge, appeared in his newspaper, The Friend, in 1809.

Coleridge's "mature project" took shape over many years and was never fully carried out. He sought to refute and replace William Warburton's The Alliance between Church and State (1736) , which described a partnership in which each entity contributed to a national order and stability, while maintaining its distinctive functions. Coleridge's view, as it developed over several decades, stressed the divine origin and nature of the church and the importance of law, reason, and virtue in a way that was close to Hooker's treatments of these subjects. Coleridge called for renewed attention to both Hooker and his early modern contemporaries and immediate successors such as Philip Sidney and Jeremy Taylor. …

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