Cudworth, Coleridge and Schelling
(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series No 16, Winter 2000, pp.63-70)
There is no writer of our times whose literary rank appears so ill-defined as that of Mr. Coleridge. Perhaps there is no one whose true standing in the literary world it is so difficult to determine.
Frederic Henry Hedge 
Coleridge is one of the greatest
English poets, albeit the achievement is fragmentary. William Carlyle, Madame
de Staël, and Victor Cousin contributed to the early reception of German
The assessment of
Coleridge as a thinker in relation to Idealism is often obscured by prejudices
and misapprehensions about the ‘Philosophy of Religion’, not least those
perpetuated by twentieth century theologians of a Barthian or Thomist stamp. I
wish to offer some reflections about the parameters of Coleridge’s thought via
considerations about the influence of 17th century
In my paper I wish to explore the influence of the founder of the technical term ‘Philosophy of Religion’, the great early Enlightenment Cambridge Divine, Ralph Cudworth, upon the formation of the natural
theology of the young Schelling on the basis of a manuscript from the Berlin Library Archive entitled ‘Geschichte des Gnosticismus’. In this document we can see the powerful influence of Cudworth and Leibniz upon Schelling, and gain some insight into the common tradition of Platonic Idealism which bound Coleridge and Schelling. 
I wish to present some further evidence in support of the general thesis of my book Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion. I argue that Coleridge’s claim that he found a ‘genial coincidence’ between his own mind and the Idealism which he discovered in Schelling’s thought can be supported by reflections concerning the cultural links between England and Germany engendered institutionally by the House of Hanover, and even more importantly a common Liberal Protestant Humanism which served as a fertile ground for the Christian Neoplatonic speculations of Cudworth, Coleridge and Schelling.
I want to spell out the
genial coincidence in rather terms of the theological backdrop and the many
common areas between Tübingen and
‘early study of Plato and Plotinus, with the commentaries and the THEOLOGIA PLATONICA, of the illustrious Florentine, of Proclus, and Gemistus Pletho; and at a later period of the De la causa, principio et unio, of the philosopher of Nola, who could boast of a Sir Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville amongst his patrons, and whom the idolaters of Rome burnt as an atheist in the year 1660; had all contributed to prepare my mind for the reception and welcoming of the Cogito quia sum, et sum quia Cogito; a philosophy of seeming hardihood, but certainly the most ancient, and therefore presumptively the most natural.
The appeal to the ‘most ancient’
philosophy is in the tradition of the appeal to the Attic Moses in the
is the condemnation of the ruthless oppression of the ‘idolators of
Let me explain the term ‘Protestantism’. It is popularly associated with
Luther’s invective against Aristotle and the whore of Philosophy. But Luther’s prophetic outbursts were unsustainable Bildungspolitik in those regions where the princes were Protestant and Lutheranism was more profoundly influenced by the great Humanist Melanchton than by Luther. Tübingen in particular was deeply affected by the Renaissance Humanism of Ficino and Reuchlin. The extent of the Platonic mystical legacy can be seen with particular clarity in a figure such as Kepler. The existence of a Swabian mystical pietist tradition as the Geistesahnen of Hegel and Schelling has been well documented, but the strong Platonic-Neoplatonic component at Tübingen has only recently been uncovered. 
Neoplatonic tradition has generally been much more at home in a Protestant than
in a Catholic context. Even the successors of Victor Cousin (Coleridge’s gallic
equivalent) were Protestant.
One may say that the
Coleridge was the founder of 19th Anglican Theological Liberalism or Broad Church party, or what was known as ther Broad Church Movement, which include figures such as Maurice, Hort, Wescott, which became the Modern Cjhurchman’s Union represent ed by such figures as Inge, Temple, Rashdall, Raven. Even such a distinguished Anglo-Catholic such as Charles Gore was taught by Wescott and integrated liberal theology into the tractarian heritage.
I want to make another
point about the ‘liberalism’ of the Cambridge Platonists; or to be more
accurate—their ‘latitudinarianism’. There is a common history of ideas which
unites both the Radical and Tory in seeing the Enlightenment as the victory of
the secular over the religious mind. Yet the Cambridge Platonists show us how
false this picture is. Many of the central ideas and images of the
Enlightenment were Christian, and the latitudinarian Theology of the Cambridge
Since Cassirer’s work on
the English Renaissance, it has been widely thought that the Cambridge
Platonists were relics of an antiquated humanism.In
fact it is now clear that they were an influence upon
The extent to which the
philosophical and political discussions of the age were dominated by
theological issues was in part the legacy of the Cambridge Platonists.
Cudworth’s attempt to defend monotheism and Trinitarianism in relation to the
history of religions and the history of the
This may be quite confusing because Liberal Protestantism is often associated with Ritschl, Harnack and the idea of the Hellenisation of Christian theology. But we can see the liberal tradition in Western theology as having a root in the Platonising currents which developed after the Renaissance, and which had strong affinities to the mystical legacy of the Radical Reformation.
This brings me to the third point: ‘Humanism’. This is a tradition which has its roots in the Renaissance. The emphasis of such humanistic theological tradition is on the continuity between God and man, not the discontinuity. The key is Communion with, or participation in, the Divine rather than the Kierkegaardian infinite qualitative distinction between God and man. This
emphasis can be confused with or indeed merge into Pantheism, but it really is different. The charioteer of the Phaedrus is a good image of the capacity of the soul to know God.
If I speak of a Liberal Humanistic Protestant Tradition, it is ‘Liberal’ in the sense that it tries to reconcile Christian theology with science, with truth. It wishes to mediate with rather than confront the secular. It is ‘humanist’ in the sense of sense of having origins in the Renaissance rather than the medieval period, more Patristic than scholastic. This tradition is Protestant in the rather loose sense, of being equally averse to a strident sola scriptura as to an authoritarian ecclesiasticism.
I have been discussing
very broadly a strand of thought which I have called ‘Liberal Protestant
Humanism’ as a context which provided much intellectual common ground between the
young Coleridge and Schelling. We can find proof of the influence of
‘The MS bibliographical references in this outline show that Schelling was aware of Cudworth’s thought from the beginning of his career; and an attentive reading of this book will show immediately that it was for him a congenial speculative work from which he learnt much (for there are so many points of contact with his later thought), as well as a source and a guide into the literature.’
The text starts:
The old Gnosticism is so obscure because it is composed of so many different systems and bits of different religions and philosophies. These must be divided. One distinguishes primarily the different
intellectual systems out of which Gnosticism emerged.
I. The pure oriental that the sensual world is an image of the intellectual.
II. The philosophical deduction of the same (notion); see the works about the schematism of the translated works.
Cudworth’s Intellectual System (My translation).
The language of ‘intellectual systems’
is redolent of Cudworth’s great work The
True Intellectual System of the Universe (
The text lying behind
Schelling’s notes is the translation by Lorenz von Mosheim, Systema Intellectuale huius Universi (2
“For this” saith he, in his book De Iside et Osiride “is a most ancient opinion, that hath been delivered down from theologers and law-makers, all along to poets and philosophers; and through the first author thereof be unknown, yet hath it been so firmly believed every where, that the footsteps of it have been imprinted upon the sacrifices and mysteries or religious rites, both of barbarians and Greeks; namely, that the world is neither wholly ungoverned by any mind or reason, as if all things floated in the streams of chance and fortune, nor yet that
there is any one principle steering and guiding all, without resistance and control; because there is a confused mixture of good and evil in every thing, and nothing is produced by nature sincere. Wherefore it is not only dispenser of things, who as it were out of several vessels distributeth those several liquors of good and evil, mingling them together, and dashing them as he pleaseth; but there are two distinct and contrary powers or principles in the world, one of them always leading as it were to the right hand, but the other tugging a contrary way. Insomuch that our whole life, and the whole world is a certain mixture and confusion of these two: at least this terrestial world below the moon is such, all being every where full or irregularity and disorder. For if nothing can be made without a cause, and that which is good cannot be the cause of evil, there must needs be a distinct principle in nature, for the production of evil as well as good. And this hath been the opinion of the most and wisest men… there are two gods as it were of contrary crafts and trades, one whereof is the maker of all good, and the other of all evil; but others calling the good principle only a God, and the evil principle a demon, as Zoroaster the magician.”
This text is interesting because it deploys the idea of two competing principles. This is particularly significant within a context within which Plato’s own philosophy is interpreted in a Neoplatonic mode as a system of ultimate principles.  Furthermore, the relationship between Neoplatonism and Gnosticism remains less than clear.
Let me conclude we some
remarks about another ‘
favourable atmosphere for Neoplatonism”.
If we know that Coleridge and Schelling were -independently of
each other—both deeply influenced by Florentine and
© Contributor 2000-2005
 Quoted from P. Miller ed. The Transcendentalists, An Anthology (
 Quoted in Anton Braeckman ‘Whitehead and German Idealism’ in Process Studies V14, N 4 (Winter, 1985) pp.265-286.(cf. Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (London,1970) pp.xii-xxi.).
 For the relation between Cudworth and
Leibniz see C. Wilson, Leibniz's Metaphysics
 S.T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (
 The classic work is D.P Walker, The Ancient Theology: Studies in Christian Platonism from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century (London, 1972.)
 See my Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion, Aids to Reflection and the Mirror
of the Spirit (
 Sears Jayne, Plato in Renaissance
 The Platonic Renaissance in England, translated by James P. Pettegrove (
 A.v. Harnack, Lehrebuch der Dogmengeschichte (Tübingen, 1990).
 On the interpretation of this Platonic
myth see M. Allen, The Platonism of
Marsilio Ficino (
 I’d like to thank Father Edward Booth OP for making available the typescript of the Schelling manuscript and for much assistance.
 Der alte Gnosticismus ist deswegen so dunkel, weil er aus so vielerlei System[en] und den Bru[c]stücken so vieler religion[en] u[nd] Philosophien zusam[m]engesetzt ist. Diese müs[s]ten also geschied[en] werden.
Man unterscheide vorzüg[lich] i[n] verschied[e]ne intellektuale Systeme, aus welch[en] d[er] gnosticism[us] floß.
I das reinere, orientalische, das die sin[n]l[ich]e Welt als Nach-bild frt intellectuelen betrachtet.
Philosophische Deduktion deselb[en]
s[iehe] d[ie] Abh[andlung] über den Scematism[us] der übers[etzen] W[erke]
Cudworthi Systema intellectuale
 R. Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (
 See M. Franz, Schellings Tübinger Platon-Studien (Göttingen,1996).
 R. W. Emerson, Selected Essays ed. L Ziff (
 J. Bregman, 'The Neoplatonic Revival in
 K.W. Cameron, Young Emerson's Transcendental Vision (
 J. Bregman, 'The Neoplatonic Revival in
 Biographia II, 240.