J. Robert Barth contends, against many in Coleridgian scholarship, that Symbol - once commonly considered to be the very heart of Christian theology - is irrevocably linked to Imagination both in Coleridge's thought and poetry. This ligature not only ''proclaims an incarnation of the eternal in the finite, a personal reenactment of God's original, and endlessly continuous, moment of self-naming'' (Barth quoting Jonathan Wordsworth), but also identifies Coleridge essentially as a Christian thinker operating within an intrinsically sacramental poetics. As Barth explains, Coleridge's definition of Imagination implies ''an actual participation of the finite mind in the activity of the infinite mind...and it is in this act that we - whether poet or ordinary citizen - participate here and now.'' Theological implications naturally follow. For Coleridge, a symbol ''is characterized above all by the translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal. It always partakes of the Reality which it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that Unity, of which it is the representative.'' Not only is the Trinity manifest in that statement (from Biographia Literaria
) but also the whole of the Sacraments. In his discussion, Barth calls on Bernard Lonergan, John Henry Newman, Paul Tillich, Edouard Schillebeeckx, and even the Council of Nicaea to provide the foundational corollaries necessary for his argument. Chapters follow on Coleridge's understanding of scriptural imagination as well as the ''encountering'' aspect of both Coleridge and Wordsworth's poetry, which corresponds directly to Barth's claim that one of Coleridge's special contributions to our thinking about symbol is ''the notion of sacrament - and symbol - as encounter.''
An Eighth Day View:
The original edition of this book studied the nature of symbol in Coleridge's work, showing that it is central to Coleridge's intellectual endeavor in poetry and criticism as well as in philosophy and theology. Symbol was for Coleridge essentially a religious reality, that participates in the nature of a sacrament as an encounter between material and spiritual reality. The author shows how Wordsworth and Coleridge developed a poetry, unlike that of the eighteenth century, based on symbolic imagination. He then related this symbolic poetry to the tradition of romanticism itself Richard Harter Fogle wrote of the original edition: This is a just, graceful, and penetrating book. Considering the complexity of the material, it is lucid and often eloquent. Father Barth's interpretation of Coleridge's doctrine of symbol is essentially original, as are his illustrative readings from the poems. His substantial essay moves harmoniously from Coleridge's particular insights to their wider implications for romanticism.In this new edition, the author has enlarged the scope of his study, first reviewing in an introductory chapter the important scholarship of the past twenty years on symbol and imagination. He then goes on to give his work a deeper theological foundation, and to extend his argument to embrace what he calls Coleridge's scriptural imagination.As in the original edition, he concludes that symbol is a phenomenon profoundly linked with the experience of romanticism itself and with a fundamental change in religious sensibility that has echoes even in our own time.