Coleridge on Calvinism

John Piper’s biographical sketch of the poet George Herbert was one of the highlights of the recent Desiring God Conference for Pastors. I found this quote by Samuel Coleridge on George Herbert’s Reformed spirituality well put:

If ever a book was calculated to drive men to despair, it is Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s on Repentance. It first opened my eyes to Arminianism, and that Calvinism is practically a far, more soothing and consoling system…. Calvinism (Archbishop Leighton’s for example) compared with Taylor’s Arminianism, is the lamb in wolf’s skin to the wolf in the lamb’s skin: the one is cruel in the phrases, the other in the doctrine.

Gene Edward Veith wrote in his doctoral dissertation on George Herbert’s life and poetry that Herbert is the “clearest and most consistent poetic voice” of Reformed spirituality. “The dynamics of Calvinism,” he says, “are also the dynamics of Herbert’s poetry.” Veith writes:

Herbert is a lamb clothed in the wolf skin of Calvinism…. Calvinism [as Coleridge says] ‘is cruel in the phrases,’ with its dreadful language of depravity and reprobation; Arminianism has gentle phrases (free will, universal atonement), but is cruel ‘in the doctrine.’ Coleridge, perhaps faced with the incapacity of his own will, his inability, for instance, to simply choose to stop taking opium, saw the consolation in a theology that based salvation not on the contingency of human will and efforts, but on the omnipotent will and unceasing effort of God.

From Gene Edward Veith, Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert (Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1985).


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