"Songs for my joy...pleadings for my shame": Coleridge, divine revelation and "Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit"

Jeffrey Wayne Barbeau, Marquette University


This dissertation argues that Samuel Taylor Coleridge's (1772-1834) Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit (1840) presents a trinitarian expression of his understanding of the doctrine of revelation. Scholars have largely failed to subject Coleridge's Confessions to the detailed theological analysis that must be undertaken to accurately reflect its significance in the history of English theology. This dissertation sets itself apart from previous attempts to analyze Coleridge's Confessions by taking the argument and content of the work as the primary subject of its attention. In turn, Coleridge's Confessions emerges as a trinitarian formulation of the Christian doctrine of revelation. When one sets Coleridge's work in the social and theological history of the early nineteenth-century church in England, it quickly becomes apparent that he accomplishes far more than what most critics have claimed. The ultimate source of revelation is the Word. Scripture, church traditions, and the Holy Spirit in Reason are coordinate vehicles of divine disclosure. The Bible is divinely inspired, but the letters of the text require the continual enlivening influence of the Holy Spirit in order to be recognized in their true character by each reader in the ecclesial community. The traditions of the church, too, are a living and ongoing record of the work of the Spirit in Christian lives since the time of Christ; they function as an interpretive key to the Bible that guards against the error of subjectivism. Both of these vehicles of revelation--Scripture and church traditions--have an objective content, but require the ongoing, actuating work of the Holy Spirit in the mind of the believer to be grasped and fully realized in the church. Coleridge's Confessions asserts that both the objective (Scripture and traditions) and subjective (Reason) vehicles of revelation are equally significant aspects of the whole revelatory scheme of Christianity. Objective vehicles of revelation require the participation of actively receptive, Spirit-led individuals. Likewise, a wholly individualistic faith, one that fails to interact with the testimony of Scripture and church traditions, leads to the error of subjectivism. Together, these coordinate vehicles are the means by which God reveals truth to finite humans.

Recommended Citation

Barbeau, Jeffrey Wayne, ""Songs for my joy...pleadings for my shame": Coleridge, divine revelation and "Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit"" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059366.