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.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home