Monday, March 20, 2006

Coleridge on Tillotson Against Transubstantiation

In Baxter's Life Coleridge had read the following passage:

I tried, when I was last with you, to revive your reason by proposing to you the infallibility of the common senses of all the world; and I could not prevail though you had nothing to answer that was not against common sense. And it is impossible any thing controverted can be brought nearer you, or made plainer than to be brought to your eyes and taste and feeling; and not yours only, but all men's else. Sense goes before faith. Faith is no faith but upon supposition of sense and understanding: if therefore common sense be fallible, faith must needs be so.

To which the following response is found in Coleridge's Literary Remains:

This is one of those two-edged arguments, which not indeed began, but began to be fashionable, just before and after the Restoration. I was half converted to Transubstantiation by Tillotson's common senses against it; seeing clearly that the same grounds totidem verbis et syllabis would serve the Socinian against all the mysteries of Christianity. If the Roman Catholics had pretended that the phenomenal bread and wine were changed into the phenomenal flesh and blood, this objection would have been legitimate and irresistible; but as it is, it is mere sensual babble. The whole of Popery lies in the assumption of a Church, as a numerical unit, infallible in the highest degree, inasmuch as both which is Scripture, and what Scripture teaches, is infallible by derivation only from an infallible decision of the Church. Fairly undermine or blow up this: and all the remaining peculiar tenets of Romanism fall with it, or stand by their own right as opinions of individual Doctors.

An antagonist of a complex bad system,—a system, however, notwithstanding—and such is Popery,—should take heed above all things not to disperse himself. Let him keep to the sticking place. But the majority of our Protestant polemics seem to have taken for granted that they could not attack Romanism in too many places, or on too many points;—forgetting that in some they will be less strong than in others, and that if in any one or two they are repelled from the assault, the feeling of this will extend itself over the whole. Besides, what is the use of alleging thirteen reasons for a witness's not appearing in Court, when the first is that the man had died since his subpoena? It is as if a party employed to root up a tree were to set one or two at that work, while others were hacking the branches, and others sawing the trunk at different heights from the ground.

N. B. The point of attack suggested above in disputes with the Romanists is of special expediency in the present day: because a number of pious and reasonable Roman Catholics are not aware of the dependency of their other tenets on this of the infallibility of their Church decisions, as they call them, but are themselves shaken and disposed to explain it away. This once fixed, the Scriptures rise uppermost, and the man is already a Protestant, rather a genuine Catholic, though his opinions should remain nearer to the Roman than the Reformed Church.

Elswwhere, in comment on a work by Taylor, he says,

I honestly confess that I should confine my grounds of opposition to the article thus stated to its unnecessariness, to the want of sufficient proofs from Scripture that I am bound to believe or trouble my head with it. I am sure that Bishop Bull, who really did believe the Trinity, without either Tritheism or Sabellianism, could not consistently have used the argument of Taylor or of Tillotson in proof of the absurdity of Transubstantiation.

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