Shedd on Coleridge: part 3 (Trinity)

Coleridge attempted to show that the doctrine of the trinity was rational, that it could be defended without relying solely on divine revelation, and that it was actually a necessary doctrine for any understanding of God as an infinite, self-conscious and personal being.

Shedd illustrated Coleridge's doctrinal contribution by reference to early debates on the subject:

'How could a man like Athanasius, for example, contend so earnestly, and with such truth of counter-statement, against a false idea, unless he had the true idea somewhat clear in his own mind to contend for. And if it be said that this was derived from the bare letter of the Scriptures, and that the whole controversy between the contending parties hinged upon the citation of proof texts, the question arises: How came Athanasius to see such a different truth in these texts from that which his opponents saw in them?'

The answer to this question was found in the antecedent ideas that each side brought to their intepretation of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not contain a systematic and scientific account of the trinity. The orthodox idea of the trinity developed slowly in the doctrine of the church but it was present from the beginning of Christian church history. It was 'the joint product of scriptural teaching and rational reflection...'

Whether or not Coleridge's philosophical doctrine of the trinity was successful, the assertation that it was a rational and necessary doctrine 'cuts the root of the doctrine of a merely modal Trinity'. But Shedd criticised Coleridge for assuming a tetrad model of the trinity. There was a foundational monad that became a triad in Colderidge's account of the divine nature. This required the idea of development within the Godhead, something which contradicted the classic definition that God is actus purissimus sine ulla potentialitate.

Despite this apparent modalism, Shedd believed that Coleridge's 'practical faith' was basically trinitarian, and that his 'speculative construction of the doctrine' was inconsistent with his own statement that the doctrine was rational and necessary:

'Few minds in the whole history of the Christian church, as we believe, have had more awful and adoring views of the Triune God, or have bowed down in more absolute and lowly worship before the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.'

W.G.T. Shedd, Literary Essays (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1878), pp316-21.

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Shedd on the atonement, part 2

The atonement is vicarious and this implies substitution. Shedd argued that New Testament texts need to be interpreted in their context, but that some texts do suggest that Christ died in the place of, and for the benefit of, sinners. Sin demanded penalty because of the justice of God. This justice could be satisfied by the eternal punishment of sinners, and if God was merely just that would have been the necessary course of action.

God’s compassionate provision of a substitute was an act of mercy: ‘the vicarious atonement of Christ is the sovereign and the judge putting himself in the place of the criminal.’ (Shedd 2003: 693) Personal atonement could only end in the loss of the sinner. Vicarious atonement meant that the believer could receive atonement rather than make it for herself. (Rom.5:11) The Socinian objection that vicarious atonement is unmerciful because it involves strict satisfaction of justice could only be answered from a trinitarian point of view, that is, by reference to the deity of Christ.

Shedd’s language stressed that the atonement was a work of God, so that the penalty for sin was not inflicted on a ‘mere’ creature. Though it was the Son and not the Father that became incarnate and suffered and died, the Father had to suffer the self-sacrifice of giving up the Son. Moreover the unity of being and nature between the Father and the Son meant that the experience was common to both. Shedd quotes Augustine, ‘the mediator was both the offerer and the offering; and he was also one with him to whom the offering was made.’ (Shedd 2003: 695)

Here Shedd claims that none of this contradicts divine impassibility. The divine suffering in the atonement was self-inflicted suffering. Nothing as such, not even anger against sin, could cause God pain or misery. But God could and did experience ‘inward suffering’ in the work of atonement. Shedd held to this while asserting the standard Reformed orthodox view that Christ suffered the pains of death in his human nature only. (Shedd 2003: 737) Shedd’s stinging review of Horace Bushnell’s moral influence theory of the atonement included criticism of Bushnell’s apparently ‘vicious annihilation of the difference between the Infinite and the Finite.’ (Dorrien 2001: 172)

In beginning to discuss the nature of Christ’s atonement Shedd refers to the atonement offerings in Leviticus. The bullock or ram had to suffer bleeding and death, and the person that offered the animal suffered the loss of something valuable. The loss was total because the whole sin offering had to be consumed by fire. (Lev.16:27) Christ described suffering as a part of his own atoning work, and he refused to ease his pain on the cross. (Matt.16:21; 27:34) Suffering is essential to atonement. The sinner’s forgiveness is founded on the suffering of the substitute. This suffering covers the guilt of the sinner so that it becomes ‘invisible to the eye of God the holy.’ (Shedd 2003: 697) Forgiveness becomes inseparably connected with atonement in the biblical representation. (Heb.9:22) This atoning work provided the opportunity for peace within the conscience of the sinner. It also ‘propitiated’ the Holy One, with a consequent release of the penalty of sin.

Divine mercy is more visible in the vicarious infliction of suffering on the sin offering than it is in the personal non-infliction of that suffering with respect to the sinner. Release of the penalty is easy when there is sufficient (just) reason. A vicarious atonement for human sin provides justification for that release. In this discussion, Shedd distinguishes and separates the act of Christ’s atoning work from the securing of the consequences of that work: ‘If God so loves the world as to atone vicariously for its sin, he certainly so loves it as to remit its sin.’ (Shedd 2003: 698) Here is another illustration of the Reformed orthodox tension between the work of atonement and the application of that work. Shedd stresses that the compassion of God is seen in the atonement rather than the subsequent transactions ‘in the depths of a believer’s soul in which God says, “Son, be of good cheer, your sin is forgiven you.”’ (Shedd 2003: 699)

Despite the close relation between atonement and application Shedd’s conclusion is that the atonement is essentially objective. The ‘primary impression’ is upon the party to whom atonement is made. Shedd suggests that the idea of subjective atonement is a contradiction. In a footnote he counters the objection that vicarious atonement involves such a contradiction. If God atones God how can the atonement be objective? Shedd’s answer is not surprising. Jesus Christ does not make satisfaction to himself but to the Trinity. His death has reference to the divine nature. (Shedd 2003: 699) Again, Shedd’s account of the Reformed orthodox doctrine of the atonement illustrates that christological questions form the foundation of soteriology.

The classic biblical figures for the work of atonement are all described as objective. The biblical ideas of ‘propitiation’, ‘reconciliation’ and ‘ransom’ are discussed by Shedd with predictable conclusions in each case. Christ’s atonement ‘covers sin’ from God’s sight. It propitiates God’s wrath against sin. It reconciles God’s justice toward the sinner. It ‘pays a ransom’ to God, certainly not to Satan, for the sinner. None of these figures focus on the sinner. The effect of the death of Christ is upon the divine nature. Only ‘forced and violent’ exegesis can interpret Scripture as teaching a subjective atonement that places all the meaning and effect within the soul of humanity. (Shedd 2003: 702)

At the same time, Scripture teaches that God acts upon God in the work of atonement. In the vicarious atonement theory God is both subject and object, he is both passive and active. This implies that within God wrath and compassion exist simultaneously. Although both wrath and compassion are felt by God towards the sinner, only God’s anger against sin has to be made manifest: ‘Justice is necessary in its exercise, but mercy is optional.’ (Shedd 2003: 704) Whether or not God’s wrath is propitiated depends, ultimately, on the ‘sovereign pleasure’ of God. But the propitiation itself is wholly within God. It is ‘a self-oblation upon the part of the deity himself’ to satisfy ‘constitutional imperatives of the divine nature’. (Shedd 2003: 704) The only alternative to this self-oblation is the personal atonement or punishment of the sinner.

Shedd finds support for this simultaneous compassion and wrath of God in Augustine, Calvin, and Turretin. Shedd refers to Turretin’s distinction between ‘compassion’ and ‘reconciliation’ to explain how God’s compassion for all does not imply universal application of the atonement. God was already compassionate to sinners before the death of Christ. It was this compassion that moved God to provide atonement for sin. Reconciliation was a subsequent act of God based on the atonement. This act is optional and based upon God’s sovereign decision to save particular sinners.

While concentrating on the objective nature of the atonement Shedd did not ignore its relationship to human existence: ‘the objective atonement is intended to be subjectively appropriated by the act of faith in it.’ (Shedd 2003: 708) In an essay published early in his career, Shedd discussed in detail the atonement as a satisfaction for the ethical nature of both God and humans. Human moral sense was pacified in Christ’s atonement. The New Testament represents peace as one particular effect of faith in Christ’s blood. (e.g. Eph.2:13-14) There is a correlation between God’s justice and human conscience.

At this point in Shedd’s thinking there appears another illustration of the tension between the accomplishment and application of atonement. Shedd states that God’s justice is ‘completely satisfied for the sin of man by the death of Christ.’ (Shedd 2003: 709) This is a fact supported by such biblical texts as 1 John 2:2. Unbelief, or lack of appropriation through faith, do not change the fact that Christ’s death is ‘an ample oblation for the sin of the world.’ (Shedd 2003: 709) So, the priestly work of Christ has a similar effect on the believing human conscience as it has upon God’s just nature. This, perhaps perversely, becomes a test of true repentance and faith. One sign of a subjective appropriation of Christ’s atonement is the desire to make a personal atonement. In other words, God’s justice in demanding atonement is recognized and embraced by the believer.

Dorrien, G. 2001
The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900.
Louisville,Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

ed A.W.Gomes. Phillipsburg,NJ:P&RPublishing



Shedd on Coleridge: part 2

Shedd compared Coleridge to Calvin in his estimate of Coleridge as theological voice: ‘No divine, not even Calvin himself, ever expressed himself more decidedly than this author, in respect to such points as the divinity of Christ, the depth and totality of man’s apostasy, and the utter bondage and helplessness of the fallen will…’ Coleridge’s Confession of Faith, which Shedd traces back to 1816, expressed the personality and tri-unity of God, the free and guilty fall of man, the redemption of man by the incarnation and death of the Son, and the regeneration of the human soul by the Holy Spirit.

Although Coleridge appeared to misunderstand the doctrine of justification, Shedd believed that Coleridge’s other doctrinal expressions were thorough. Yet, Shedd noted that Coleridge was not the author of a system of theology or philosophy. Coleridge was a guide to method in theological inquiry. His was an aphoristic style of theological reflection. It encouraged depth, breadth, and certainty of opinion. Christianity could not be discovered by human reason, but it was in accordance with human reason. Divine revelation was divine reason.

Shedd went on to discuss Coleridge on the Trinity, sin, redemption, and inspiration. The defects of Coleridge on these last two subjects 'originated not so much from a moral as from a speculative source.'

Subsequent posts will survey Shedd's account of Coleridge on each of these four doctrines.

W.G.T. Shedd, Literary Essays (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1878), pp310-314, 342.



Shedd on the atonement, part 1

This series of posts presents a survey of W.G.T. Shedd’s doctrine of atonement, principally as found in his Dogmatic Theology, which was first published in 1888. It will describe Shedd’s doctrine of atonement within its distinct tradition, noting common criticisms that Shedd recognised, and others that he was unaware of given his context. The conclusion will suggest that aspects of Shedd’s theology provide possible areas for theological reflection that could renew and revive a Reformed orthodox doctrine of the atonement.

Shedd’s theology can be described as 19th century Reformed orthodoxy in the tradition of the post Reformation dogmatic project of the late 16th and 17th century Reformed church. Shedd ended his career as a Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1890/1. In the 1860s Shedd had joined the Presbyterian church from his Congregational church background because of his concern about the latitudinarian shift within Congregationalism.

Although Shedd had some peculiar views compared to the dominant Princeton tradition, as a churchman and theologian he fitted into the Old School Presbyterian group as opposed to the mediating New School tradition. Given the leading role of Union in the development of New School theology, Shedd’s place in that institution’s history seems curious. By internal appointment, Shedd had succeeded Henry Boynton Smith, a leading New School theologian, as Union’s professor of systematic theology in 1874. Shedd’s successor, William Adams Brown, was perhaps the leading liberal theologian in America between 1890 and 1920. Brown taught a theology which undermined Shedd’s work on many themes, not least the atonement.

Shedd’s dogmatic account of soteriology begins by discussing the mediatorial offices of Christ. Christ is represented in Scripture as a mediator, and Shedd claims that 1 Tim.2:15 designates the ‘entire theanthropic person Jesus Christ’ as the one mediator between God and humans. Throughout Shedd’s doctrine of atonement the requirement of a God-man to accomplish atonement is stressed. Referring to Gal.3:20, Shedd wrote that the eternal Word had to ‘take man’s nature into union with himself, if he would be a mediator between God and man.’ (Shedd 2003: 675)

His christology may have contained interesting and subtle aspects but it retained the classic two natures distinction, and it applied this distinction in attributing Christ’s suffering to his human nature. Yet, at the same time, Shedd emphasized the active role of God in the work of atonement. The mediator had to be God-man, and the work of atonement was therefore a divine work. Every aspect of the atonement, including the mediator’s obedience to the moral law, was not merely human it was theanthropic. As such the mediator’s work was divine and infinite. (Shedd 2003: 739)

Christ’s role as mediator was marked by condescension and humiliation. ‘Incarnate deity was a step down from unincarnate deity.’ (Shedd 2003: 676) Here Shedd cannot help but communicate in terms that presuppose a distinction between the pre-incarnate Logos and the incarnate Logos. Becoming a mediator between God and humans implies an element of dependence on the part of the mediator. Christ’s active obedience to the law was part of this humiliation, so that in Shedd’s definition the sum total of Christ’s atoning work included his active and passive obedience, even if the principal reference of the active obedience was to law as precept rather than law as penalty. (Shedd 2003: 721)

Although Jesus spoke in history as the mediator he sometimes referred to his preexistent identity. Shedd interprets seemingly contradictory Johannine texts in this way, notably John 10:30, ‘I and my Father are one’, and 14:28, ‘My Father is greater than I.’ However Shedd was clear that the office of mediator was temporary. It began in time, and it would come to an end. Shedd does not discuss the relation between time and eternity at this point. But he does state that the mediatorial work will cease to continue even though there will always be a God-man. (Shedd 2003: 676)

Shedd’s point is that the mediatorial work implied condescension and humility simply because it was temporal. In contrast to his role as creator the mediatorial role is taken on by the Son apart from, or beside, his essential God-ness. The second person of the Trinity ‘might be God the Son without being the mediator; but he could not be God the Son without being God the Creator.’ (Shedd 2003: 677) The reward given to the mediator also implied humility and condescension. It was the Son as God-man who received reward for completion of his work. This reward was the fulfillment of the covenant of mercy between the Father and the Son. Shedd recognised the idea of two covenants of salvation, a covenant between Father and Son, and a covenant of grace between the Father and those that would be saved (the elect). But he described the distinction as secondary, preferring the notion of ‘one evangelical covenant of mercy.’ (Shedd 2003: 679)

When Shedd begins to describe the three offices of Christ as mediator some inconsistencies become apparent. Making reference to the Westminster Confession (7:5; 8:6), Shedd writes that the offices were executed by Christ before, as well as after, his first advent. In particular, Christ executed the office of prophet through the Holy Spirit prior to his incarnation. Shedd admits this himself when he writes that the Logos was not actually the mediator until he assumed human nature, and then immediately discusses the work of the mediator in the Old Testament church. If ‘there was once a time when there was no mediatorial work of salvation going on,’ this period can only exist in Shedd’s construction before the fall of Adam and Eve, if at all. (Shedd 2003: 677)

It could be that the inconsistency was not Shedd’s alone, but one weakness of orthodox christology in general. Nevertheless, perhaps Shedd himself was too conscious of the language of the Westminster Confession to explore the relationship between time, eternity, and Christ’s office as mediator. Throughout his discussion he alludes or refers to confessional language. The first two editions of Dogmatic Theology were published around the same time that revision of the confession was a serious possibility in the Northern Presbyterian church in America.

The priestly office of Christ primarily rests in his atoning death, and in his intercession. These two are connected because intercession is essentially the application of the benefits of Christ’s death. Unlike his prophetic office this role is administered directly by Christ himself. Previous earthly priests were types not delegates of Christ. On his formal assumption of the priestly office, presumably at some point in his earthly ministry, Christ effectively abolished earthly priests and their sacrifices. (Shedd 2003: 687)

Shedd’s discussion of the offices of Christ ends at this point, with no discussion at all of Christ’s kingly role. Originally, Dogmatic Theology was published in three volumes. The third volume was supplemental, listing extended references to other dogmatic works, with occasional comments by Shedd. In the relevant supplemental section, Shedd quotes from Witsius’s work on the Apostles’ Creed. This quote illustrates the common Reformed idea that the mediatorial kingdom exists in history as Christ’s formation of the church. It will end when Christ delivers the kingdom, that is, the church, in its perfect state, to God the Father. (Shedd 2003: 689)

Presbyterian confessional standards described Christ’s kingship with peculiar reference to the church:

"The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." (Westminster Confession of Faith, 25:2)

While it can be assumed that Shedd understood Christ’s role as king in line with this, the lack of an account of this kingship is a surprising omission in his dogmatic theology. There is no discussion dedicated to ecclesiology in Dogmatic Theology, and the development of ecclesiology does not appear in his History of Christian Doctrine. As such, Shedd’s chapter on the offices of the mediator is merely a prelude to his extensive discussion of the atonement itself.

Shedd, W.G.T. 1877
Theological Essays. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Company

Shedd, W.G.T. 1887
A History of Christian Doctrine. Vol. 2. 9th ed. New York: Scribner’s

DogmaticTheology.edA.W.Gomes. Phillipsburg,NJ:P&RPublishing



Fantastic Shedd!

I'm in the process of completing some papers on Shedd, hence the resurgence of Shed on Shedd posts. I may yet post (in chunks) these papers, although, they are not so hot. However I continue to read Shedd articles, and stuff, and I continue to be amazed.

Check out the quote below, taken from a discourse/sermon that Shedd gave at the Brick Church, New York, November 1862 (I think he was the pastor). The subject, of course, is the civil war. Shedd at this point argued that the war was justified in terms of defending the Union - abolition and emancipation of slaves should be gradual, and was not the purpose of the war. Later (1865/6 I think), the Presbyterian church in the North claimed the war had been about slavery after all.

Never mind that. Here is an illustration of Shedd's fantastic grasp of history:

'...we should render profound thanks to Almighty God, on this day, because the American Government is not waging an unjust war for foreign conquest, but a righteous war against domestic treason and rebellion. ... This is not a war for foreign conquest. It is a war against treason within the realm; as clearly so as those wars by which Great Britain has prevented Scotland and Ireland from becoming independent sovereignties, whenever factions and rebellions have been organized to accomplish this end.'

Taken from, The Union and the War -
W.G.T. Shedd, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: A Miscellany. (New York : Charles Scribner, 1893), 278.

Yikes! Oh dear! What is he on about?

Surely this is yet another historical illustration of the maxim that theologians and preachers should stick to theology and preaching, if, indeed, that is possible. I suspect that is the lesson of history. Theology and preaching can never be kept isolated from (national) politics, and bizarre readings of history.

But, oh dear, Shedd was a professor of history! I've got no idea what wars he is referring to at all, certainly not in the case of Scotland.

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Shedd on Coleridge: part 1

In 1853, Shedd's edition of the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge was published. Shedd claimed that it was perhaps the first complete edition, as it included fragments of Coleridge's writings, as well as Table Talk and Literary Remains. In an extensive introductory essay, Shedd chose to write about Coleridge as philosopher and theologian.

The 'mental development of Coleridge was eminently an historic process. He did not, as do the majority of thinking men, begin with the same general system and method of thought with which he ended, but, like the age in which he lived and upon which he impressed himself, he passed by a slow and most thorough process from a sensuous to a spiritual system of speculation.'

Given Shedd's later reputation for conservativism, one wonders whether the statement above illustrates how he had to strain out some justification for spending so much time on Coleridge. The other possibility is that Shedd's theological convictions hardened with age. Was the Congregational Shedd of the 1840s and 1850s a different intellectual spirit to the tough dogmatic Presbyterian theologian of the 1870s, and 1880s? How could the same Shedd that sang the praises of Coleridge take such a low view of Charles Briggs and his conservative appropriation of critical bible study?

In his introduction, Shedd claimed that Coleridge's appropriation of Kant's philosophical musings was basically sound and useful. Kant himself, while denying the possibility of absolute knowledge in the natural realm, did not deny the possibility of (absolute) human knowledge of spiritual things. (I just don't have the background to critique Shedd's reading of Kant here, but I'm slightly suspicious!)

Interestingly, Shedd then turns to Coleridge the theologian. While noting the debate and discussion over Coleridge's theological legacy, Shedd made the following comment. Again, it is perplexing to think just where Shedd was coming from or going to with all this:

'We are inclined to the belief, however, that there is a growing confidence in the substantial orthodoxy of his theological opinions, and that it is coming to be the belief even of those who do not sympathise with his philosophical opinions, and of course not, therefore, with his method of unfolding and defending the truths of Christianity, that the name of Coleridge deserves to be associated with those of the great English divines of the seventeenth century, and that his views do not differ fundamentally from that body of Christian doctrine which had its first systematic origin in the head and heart of Augustine.' p311

More on Shedd on Coleridge the theologian will follow.

W.G.T. Shedd, Literary Essays (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1878), pp271-344.