No Christ, No God

Notebook
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

12 February 1805

…it burst upon me at once as an awful Truth what 7 or 8 years ago I thought of proving with a hollow Faith and for an ambiguous purpose, my mind then wavering in its necessary passage from Unitarianism (which I have often said is the religion of a man whose Understanding Reason could make him an Atheist but whose Heart and Common sense will not permit him to be so) thro’ Spinosism into Plato and St. John / No Christ, No God!—This I now feel with all its needful evidence of the Understanding, would to God my spirit were made to conform thereto—that No Trinity, No God . . . O that this Conviction may work upon me and in me / and that my mind may be made up as to the character of Jesus and of historical Christianity as clearly as it is of Christ the Logos and intellectual or spiritual Christianity, that I may be made to know either their special and peculiar Union, or their absolute dis- union in any peculiar sense.


As we saw yesterday, Coleridge, like the mariner was on a journey of discovery. Though he was bemused and entranced by poetry and philosophy, the Creator was speaking into Coleridge’s listening heart; softened by suffering and quickened by love. As the writer of The Cloud of Unknowing said of God “For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought.”

As Malcolm Guite writes:

What does this mean? It means first and foremost that Coleridge has come to see that Christ reveals the nature of God more fully than any rational system of philosophy ever could—though he also wants to acknowledge that Reason and Philosophy helped him on his journey to Christ. And Coleridge even tells us the path along which philosophy has guided him toward a fuller revelation in Christ: from the pantheism of Spinoza in which everything already is god and no one thing reveals any more of him than any other, through Platonism in which all the shadows of this world glimmer with and point toward a union of the true, the good, and the beautiful which the intellect is drawn toward and delights to contemplate, and then to the Gospel of John in which the Logos, the Word behind all things, about whom the Greeks already knew, is absolutely identified with Christ, the eternally begotten Son of the Father.

Now, in John’s Gospel, Coleridge confronts the Christian claim that this same eternal Word was “made flesh” and dwelt among us, became the historical Jesus, and that therefore all that Jesus does and says, especially his proclamation of love, his death on the cross, and his resurrection, also proclaim who God is and how we come to him. Knowing God through his Word is not only a matter of intellectual or spiritual ideas, but is also about historical fact, about encountering Jesus in the flesh, his flesh and ours. Christianity is not only about contemplation; it is about crucifixion, death, and resurrection. This represented a big challenge for Coleridge, who tended to retreat from life, retreat from “the flesh,” into philosophical speculation, but here he is confronted with the claim that something he would like to regard as only “intellectual” and “spiritual” actually became real and historical.

How does Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection relate to our knowledge of God?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief