Church History

By Friesen, Paul H. | Church History, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Church History


Friesen, Paul H., Church History


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Book Reviews and Notes

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church would not seem a likely title to anyone who knew Coleridge (1772-1834) only as a poet. Luke Wright is not too concerned about this, making a clean break between Coleridge the poet and Coleridge the decidedly un-poetic theological writer. Wright's intended audience consists of those intellectually (and perhaps indiscriminatingly) fascinated by everything Coleridge wrote, and those intrigued by Coleridge chiefly in relation to certain literary-theological-political controversies of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church is not the most descriptive title; "Coleridge and Anglican Theories of Church and State" might serve a little better. Wright's overarching topic is the way in Richard Hooker's late sixteenth-century Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was later used in formative British debates about the respective responsibilities of the state church and the state's legislature. What animates this discussion for Wright is the changing fortunes of Whigs and Tories in light of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Obviously the justification of the new regime was intellectually problematic for Whigs and Tories alike.

What focuses this discussion for Wright is the contract theory of church and state (borrowed from the "conservative elements" of John Locke's theories, he says) employed by William Warburton in defense of the Court Whigs, in combination with appeals to Hooker, while he wrote The Alliance of Church and State in the 1730s. When it came to "church" and "state" in this prolonged controversy, it is Wright's contention that Warburton (in spite of his protests) did violence to Hooker's political theology and that Coleridge finally called his bluff. "Hooker's and Coleridge's model may be better described as one of tacit acceptance or acclamation of the state church on the part of the populace--giving the royal governorship of the church an almost democratic legitimacy from the grassroots" (185-86). It was an approach that made a deep impression on a young (and later, an aging) William Ewart Gladstone.

On the other hand Hooker, and Coleridge after him, put to the center the idea that the monarch was the head of "the two societies" of church and state (205). To give voice to Coleridge himself, in words from his late-career On the Constitution of the Church and State (1830): "The right idea of a STATE, or Body Politic [is] . . . a constituted Realm, Kingdom, commonwealth, or Nation, i.e. where the integral parts, classes, or orders are so balanced, or interdependent, as to constitute, more or less, a moral unit, an organic whole . …

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