Study Guide

Aids to Reflection

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Aids to Reflection Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Aids to Reflection is considered one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s most influential theological writings. His purpose is not only to revise Anglican orthodoxy and revive the writings of seventeenth century divines such as Archbishop Robert Leighton, whose writing on spiritual truth and religion Coleridge thought invaluable, but also to reveal the shortcomings of many religious and spiritual tenets and beliefs of contemporaries, especially those associated with evidence writing (particularly the work of Archdeacon William Paley), Socinianism (or Unitarianism), and rational theology, three religious trends that Coleridge alleged to be undermining Anglican orthodoxy.

Coleridge begins his treatise by explaining that his intention is didactic in nature; he hopes that his readers will be largely young intellectuals aspiring to greater reflective spiritual discipline, particularly those entering a clerical life. He sets forth various objectives in his preface: to acknowledge the value of words; to establish and distinguish the meanings of prudence, morality, and (spiritual) religion; to authoritatively differentiate between reason and understanding; and to do all of this within the context of a specifically Christian framework. Aids to Reflection is the result of the amalgamation of the author’s personal transcendental philosophy with more traditional Protestant doctrine. Above all, he stresses the importance of thinking, particularly reflective thinking, considering its end, self-knowledge, to be the individual Christian’s duty and purpose. Religion, Coleridge asserts, is the ultimate reality of life.

Aids to Reflection is written primarily in an aphoristic style, with the aphorisms categorized according to prudence, morality, or spirituality. Many of the aphorisms are derived from the work of Anglican divines such as Robert Leighton, Jeremy Taylor, Richard Hooker, and Henry More; however, some of Coleridge’s own aphorisms are interspersed throughout the text. Coleridge’s lengthy commentary on the work of the divines dominates the latter half of the book, particularly the section entitled “Aphorisms on That Which Is Indeed Spiritual Religion,” and it is this work that highlights Coleridge’s significance as a religious thinker.

Coleridge’s aphorisms are loosely organized into the tripartite...

(The entire section is 968 words.)

Aids to Reflection Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Boulger, James D. Coleridge as Religious Thinker. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961. A thorough examination and analysis of the growth and scope of Coleridge’s theology, in both poetry and prose, published and unpublished. Extensive coverage of Aids to Reflection. Contrasts ideas in Aids to Reflection to those in Coleridge’s theological Notebooks (1957-1986) and his Opus Maximum. Places Coleridge’s theology within the context of his contemporaries.

Hipolito, Jeffrey. “’Conscience the Ground of Consciousness’: The Moral Epistemology of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection.Journal of the History of Ideas 65, no. 3 (2004): 455-474. Situates Coleridge’s theology within the greater Kantian philosophy of morals.

Perkins, Mary Ann. “Religious Thinker.” In The Cambridge Companion to Coleridge, edited by Lucy Newlyn. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Provides a brief overview of Coleridge’s religious development within his writing, with particular emphasis on his influence on later philosophers and theologians.