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Confessions Of An Inquiring Spirit Etc by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

ESSAY ON FAITH.

Faith may be defined as fidelity to our own being, so far as such being is not and cannot become an object of the senses; and hence, by clear inference or implication to being generally, as far as the same is not the object of the senses; and again to whatever is affirmed or understood as the condition, or concomitant, or consequence of the same. This will be best explained by an instance or example. That I am conscious of something within me peremptorily commanding me to do unto others as I would they should do unto me; in other words a categorical (that is, primary and unconditional) imperative; that the maxim (regula maxima, or supreme rule) of my actions, both inward and outward, should be such as I could, without any contradiction arising therefrom, will to be the law of all moral and rational beings. This, I say, is a fact of which I am no less conscious (though in a different way), nor less assured, than I am of any appearance presented by my outward senses. Nor is this all; but in the very act of being conscious of this in my own nature, I know that it is a fact of which all men either are or ought to be conscious; a fact, the ignorance of which constitutes either the non-personality of the ignorant, or the guilt; in which latter case the ignorance is equivalent to knowledge wilfully darkened. I know that I possess this knowledge as a man, and not as Samuel Taylor Coleridge; hence, knowing that consciousness of this fact is the root of all other consciousness, and the only practical contradistinction of man from the brutes, we name it the conscience, by the natural absence or presumed presence of which the law, both Divine and human, determines whether X Y Z be a thing or a person; the conscience being that which never to have had places the objects in the same order of things as the brutes, for example, idiots, and to have lost which implies either insanity or apostasy. Well, this we have affirmed is a fact of which every honest man is as fully assured as of his seeing, hearing, or smelling. But though the former assurance does not differ from the latter in the degree, it is altogether diverse in the kind; the senses being morally passive, while the conscience is essentially connected with the will, though not always, nor indeed in any case, except after frequent attempts and aversions of will dependent on the choice. Thence we call the presentations of the senses impressions, those of the conscience commands or dictates. In the senses we find our receptivity, and as far as our personal being is concerned, we are passive, but in the fact of the conscience we are not only agents, but it is by this alone that we know ourselves to be such -- nay, that our very passiveness in this latter is an act of passiveness, and that we are patient (patientes), not, as in the other case, SIMPLY passive.

The result is the consciousness of responsibility, and the proof is afforded by the inward experience of the diversity between regret and remorse.

If I have sound ears, and my companion speaks to me with a due proportion of voice, I may persuade him that I did not hear, but cannot deceive myself. But when my conscience speaks to me, I can by repeated efforts render myself finally insensible; to which add this other difference, namely, that to make myself deaf is one and the same thing with making my conscience dumb, till at length I became unconscious of my conscience. Frequent are the instances in which it is suspended, and, as it were, drowned in the inundation of the appetites, passions, and imaginations to which I have resigned myself, making use of my will in order to abandon my free-will; and there are not, I fear, examples wanting of the conscience being utterly destroyed, or of the passage of wickedness into madness; that species of madness, namely, in which the reason is lost. For so long as the reason continues, so long must the conscience exist, either as a good conscience or as a bad conscience.

It appears, then, that even the very first step -- that the initiation of the process, the becoming conscious of a conscience -- partakes of the nature of an act. It is an act in and by which we take upon ourselves an allegiance, and consequently the obligation of fealty; and this fealty or fidelity implying the power of being unfaithful, it is the first and fundamental sense of faith. It is likewise the commencement of experience, and the result of all other experience. In other words, conscience in this its simplest form, must be supposed in order to consciousness, that is, to human consciousness. Brutes may be and are scions, but those beings only who have an I, scire possunt hoc vel illud una cum seipsis; that is, conscire vel scire aliquid mecum, or to know a thing in relation to myself, and in the act of knowing myself as acted upon by that something.

Now the third person could never have been distinguished from the first but by means of the second. There can be no He without a previous Thou. Much less could an I exist for us except as it exists during the suspension of the will, as in dreams; and the nature of brutes may be best understood by considering them as somnambulists. This is a deep meditation, though the position is capable of the strictest proof, namely, that there can be no I without a Thou, and that a Thou is only possible by an equation in which I is taken as equal to Thou, and yet not the same. And this, again, is only possible by putting them in opposition as correspondent opposites, or correlatives. In order to this, a something must be affirmed in the one which is rejected in the other, and this something is the will. I do not will to consider myself as equal to myself, for in the very act of constructing myself I, I take it as the same, and therefore as incapable of comparison, that is, of any application of the will. If, then, I MINUS the will be the THESIS, Thou, PLUS will, must be the ANTITHESIS, but the equation of Thou with I, by means of a free act, negativing the sameness in order to establish the equality, is the true definition of conscience. But as without a Thou there can be no You, so without a You no They, These, or Those; and as all these conjointly form the materials and subjects of consciousness and the conditions of experience, it is evident that conscience is the root of all consciousness -- a fortiori, the precondition of all experience -- and that the conscience cannot have been in its first revelation deduced from experience.

Soon, however, experience comes into play. We learn that there are other impulses beside the dictates of conscience, that there are powers within us and without us ready to usurp the throne of conscience, and busy in tempting us to transfer our allegiance. We learn that there are many things contrary to conscience, and therefore to be rejected and utterly excluded, and many that can coexist with its supremacy only by being subjugated as beasts of burthen; and others again, as for instance the social tendernesses and affections, and the faculties and excitations of the intellect, which must be at least subordinated. The preservation of our loyalty and fealty under these trials, and against these rivals, constitutes the second sense of faith; and we shall need but one more point of view to complete its full import. This is the consideration of what is presupposed in the human conscience. The answer is ready. As in the equation of the correlative I and Thou, one of the twin constituents is to be taken as PLUS will, the other as MINUS will, so is it here; and it is obvious that the reason or SUPER-individual of each man, whereby he is a man, is the factor we are to take as MINUS will, and that the individual will or personalising principle of free agency (|arbitrement| is Milton's word) is the factor marked PLUS will; and again, that as the identity or co-inherence of the absolute will and the reason, is the peculiar character of God, so is the SYNTHESIS of the individual will and the common reason, by the subordination of the former to the latter, the only possible likeness or image of the PROTHESIS or identity, and therefore the required proper character of man. Conscience, then, is a witness respecting the identity of the will and the reason, effected by the self- subordination of the will or self to the reason, as equal to or representing the will of God. But the personal will is a factor in other moral SYNTHESIS, for example, appetite PLUS personal will = sensuality; lust of power, PLUS personal will = ambition, and so on, equally as in the SYNTHESIS on which the conscience is grounded. Not this, therefore, but the other SYNTHESIS, must supply the specific character of the conscience, and we must enter into an analysis of reason. Such as the nature and objects of the reason are, such must be the functions and objects of the conscience. And the former we shall best learn by recapitulating those constituents of the total man which are either contrary to or disparate from the reason.

I. Reason, and the proper objects of reason, are wholly alien from sensation. Reason is supersensual, and its antagonist is appetite, and the objects of appetite the lust of the flesh.

II. Reason and its objects do not appertain to the world of the senses, inward or outward; that is, they partake not of sense or fancy. Reason is supersensuous, and here its antagonist is the lust of the eye.

III. Reason and its objects are not things of reflection, association, discursion, discourse in the old sense of the word as opposed to intuition; |discursive or intuitive,| as Milton has it. Reason does not indeed necessarily exclude the finite, either in time or in space, but it includes them eminenter. Thus the prime mover of the material universe is affirmed to contain all motion as its cause, but not to be, or to suffer, motion in itself.

Reason is not the faculty of the finite. But here I must premise the following. The faculty of the finite is that which reduces the confused impressions of sense to their essential forms -- quantity, quality, relation, and in these action and reaction, cause and effect, and the like; thus raises the materials furnished by the senses and sensations into objects of reflection, and so makes experience possible. Without it, man's representative powers would be a delirium, a chaos, a scudding cloudage of shapes; and it is therefore most appropriately called the understanding, or substantiative faculty. Our elder metaphysicians, down to Hobbes inclusively, called this likewise discourse, discuvsus discursio, from its mode of action as not staying at any one object, but running, as it were, to and fro to abstract, generalise, and classify. Now when this faculty is employed in the service of the pure reason, it brings out the necessary and universal truths contained in the infinite into distinct contemplation by the pure act of the sensuous imagination -- that is, in the production of the forms of space and time abstracted from all corporeity, and likewise of the inherent forms of the understanding itself abstractedly from the consideration of particulars, as in the case of geometry, numeral mathematics, universal logic, and pure metaphysics. The discursive faculty then becomes what our Shakespeare, with happy precision, calls |discourse of reason.|

We will now take up our reasoning again from the words |motion in itself.|

It is evident, then, that the reason as the irradiative power, and the representative of the infinite, judges the understanding as the faculty of the finite, and cannot without error be judged by it. When this is attempted, or when the understanding in its SYNTHESIS with the personal will, usurps the supremacy of the reason, or affects to supersede the reason, it is then what St. Paul calls the mind of the flesh ([Greek text]), or the wisdom of this world. The result is, that the reason is superfinite; and in this relation, its antagonist is the insubordinate understanding, or mind of the flesh.

IV. Reason, as one with the absolute will (IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE LOGOS, AND THE LOGOS WAS WITH GOD, AND THE LOGOS WAS GOD), and therefore for man the certain representative of the will of God, is above the will of man as an individual will. We have seen in III. that it stands in antagonism to all mere particulars; but here it stands in antagonism to all mere individual interests as so many selves, to the personal will as seeking its objects in the manifestation of itself for itself -- sit pro ratione voluntas; -- whether this be realised with adjuncts, as in the lust of the flesh, and in the lust of the eye; or without adjuncts, as in the thirst and pride of power, despotism, egoistic ambition. The fourth antagonist, then, of reason, is the lust of the will.

Corollary. Unlike a million of tigers, a million of men is very different from a million times one man. Each man in a numerous society is not only coexistent with, but virtually organised into, the multitude of which he is an integral part. His idem is modified by the alter. And there arise impulses and objects from this SYNTHESIS of the alter et idem, myself and my neighbour. This, again, is strictly analogous to what takes place in the vital organisation of the individual man. The cerebral system of the nerves has its correspondent ANTITHESIS in the abdominal system: but hence arises a SYNTHESIS of the two in the pectoral system as the intermediate, and, like a drawbridge, at once conductor and boundary. In the latter, as objectised by the former, arise the emotions, the affections, and, in one word, the passions, as distinguished from the cognitions and appetites. Now, the reason has been shown to be superindividual, generally, and therefore not less so when the form of an individualisation subsists in the alter than when it is confined to the idem; not less when the emotions have their conscious or believed object in another, than when their subject is the individual personal self. For though these emotions, affections, attachments, and the like, are the prepared ladder by which the lower nature is taken up into, and made to partake of, the highest room -- as we are taught to give a feeling of reality to the higher per medium commune with the lower, and thus gradually to see the reality of the higher (namely, the objects of reason), and finally to know that the latter are indeed, and pre-eminently real, as if you love your earthly parents whom you see, by these means you will learn to love your Heavenly Father who is invisible; -- yet this holds good only so far as the reason is the president, and its objects the ultimate aim; and cases may arise in which the Christ as the Logos, or Redemptive Reason, declares, HE THAT LOVES FATHER OR ANOTHER MORE THAN ME, IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; nay, he that can permit his emotions to rise to an equality with the universal reason, is in enmity with that reason. Here, then, reason appears as the love of God; and its antagonist is the attachment to individuals wherever it exists in diminution of, or in competition with, the love which is reason.

In these five paragraphs I have enumerated and explained the several powers or forces belonging or incidental to human nature, which in all matters of reason the man is bound either to subjugate or subordinate to reason. The application to faith follows of its own accord. The first or most indefinite sense of faith is fidelity: then fidelity under previous contract or particular moral obligation. In this sense faith is fealty to a rightful superior: faith is the duty of a faithful subject to a rightful governor. Then it is allegiance in active service; fidelity to the liege lord under circumstances, and amid the temptations of usurpation, rebellion, and intestine discord. Next we seek for that rightful superior on our duties to whom all our duties to all other superiors, on our faithfulness to whom all our bounden relations to all other objects of fidelity, are founded. We must inquire after that duty in which all others find their several degrees and dignities, and from which they derive their obligative force. We are to find a superior, whose rights, including our duties, are presented to the mind in the very idea of that Supreme Being, whose sovereign prerogatives are predicates implied in the subjects, as the essential properties of a circle are co-assumed in the first assumption of a circle, consequently underived, unconditional, and as rationally unsusceptible, so probably prohibitive, of all further question. In this sense, then, faith is fidelity, fealty, allegiance of the moral nature to God, in opposition to all usurpation, and in resistance to all temptation to the placing any other claim above or equal with our fidelity to God.

The will of God is the last ground and final aim of all our duties, and to that the whole man is to be harmonised by subordination, subjugation, or suppression alike in commission and omission. But the will of God, which is one with the supreme intelligence, is revealed to man through the conscience. But the conscience, which consists in an inappellable bearing-witness to the truth and reality of our reason, may legitimately be construed with the term reason, so far as the conscience is prescriptive; while as approving or condemning, it is the consciousness of the subordination or insubordination, the harmony or discord, of the personal will of man to and with the representative of the will of God. This brings me to the last and fullest sense of faith, that is, the obedience of the individual will to the reason, in the lust of the flesh as opposed to the supersensual; in the lust of the eye as opposed to the supersensuous; in the pride of the understanding as opposed to the infinite; in the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] in contrariety to the spiritual truth; in the lust of the personal will as opposed to the absolute and universal; and in the love of the creature, as far as it is opposed to the love which is one with the reason, namely, the love of God.

Thus, then, to conclude. Faith subsists in the SYNTHESIS of the Reason and the individual Will. By virtue of the latter therefore, it must be an energy, and, inasmuch as it relates to the whole moral man, it must be exerted in each and all of his constituents or incidents, faculties and tendencies; -- it must be a total, not a partial -- a continuous, not a desultory or occasional -- energy. And by virtue of the former, that is Reason, Faith must be a Light, a form of knowing, a beholding of truth. In the incomparable words of the Evangelist, therefore, FAITH MUST BE A LIGHT ORIGINATING IN THE LOGOS, OR THE SUBSTANTIAL REASON, WHICH IS CO-ETERNAL AND ONE WITH THE HOLY WILL, AND WHICH LIGHT IS AT THE SAME TIME THE LIFE OF MEN. Now, as LIFE is here the sum or collective of all moral and spiritual acts, in suffering, doing, and being, so is Faith the source and the sum, the energy and the principle of the fidelity of man to God, by the subordination of his human Will, in all provinces of his nature, to his Reason, as the sum of spiritual Truth, representing and manifesting the Will Divine.

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