Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Hooker’s argument against placing tradition (or what has come to be known as the magisterium or teaching authority of the church in Roman Catholic circles) centers on the question of the status of Scripture as the primary vehicle of God’s revelation. He argues that traditions alone are not certain and that without the ultimate guide of Scripture, any tradition of the church that might in itself be good eventually would become distorted. “How miserable had the state of the Church of God bene long ere this, if wanting the sacred scripture we had no record of his lawes, but only the memorie of man receyving the same by report and relation from his predecssor?” [I.13.2, 20-23]. In other words, Hooker argues against the Council of Trent, asserting that in the end the traditions of the church must be normed by Scripture.
This stance reveals his affirmation of the notion of sola scriptura but he is careful to distinguish his position regarding Scripture from his Puritan opponents. He begins chapter 14 by asserting that “Although the scripture of God therefore be stored with infinite varietie of matter in all kinds, although it is bound with all sorts of lawes, yet the principal intent of scripture is to deliver the lawes of duties supernaturall” [I.14.1, 29-32]. While Puritans want to make all matters of life subject only to scriptural revelation, Hooker is careful to focus on the norms of those things specifically enjoined in divine revelation.
Hooker specifically takes up the reformed idea of Scripture containing all things necessary for salvation articulated in article six of the Thirty-Nine Articles. “In like sort, albeit scripture do profess to conteyne in it all things which are necesarye unto salvation; yet the meaning cannot be simplye of all things that are necessarye, but all things that are necessarye in some certaine kinde or forme; as all things that necessarye, and eyther could not at all, or could not easily be knowne by the light of naturall discourse; all things which are necessarye to be knowne that we may be saved, but knowne with presupposall of knowledge concerning certaine principals whereof it receaveth us already perswaded, and then instructeth us in all the residue that are necesarie” [I.14.1; 125.32-126.9]. Hooker challenges the Calvinist idea that Scripture is “self-authenticating” and implicitly contains all necessary truths. For Hooker, the necessary truths of Scripture are focused in the realm of salvation. Not all things read in Scripture are necessary for salvation, but all that is needed for salvation can be read in Scripture.
Hooker’s adoption of an Anglican mediating point between the sixteenth-century position of Calvinism and Roman Catholicism that still maintains sola scriptura as a Protestant standard can be seen in how he discusses the development of early Christian doctrines. He avows that doctrines of the Trinity are not explicitly established in Scripture and so some sort of reasoned inference is necessary to establish them as teachings of the church [I.14.2]. Yet he also argues that even long standing traditions of the church, even those established in the apostolic era, may be rejected if they do not accord with the written laws of God revealed in Scripture [I.14.5]. For Hooker, there certainly is a cooperation of Scripture, reason, and tradition but it is clear that Scripture is the standard against which the other two are used and evaluated.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Despite being made to participate in God, humans cannot perfectly do so in this life. “For while we are in the world, subject we are unto sundry imperfections” (I.11.3, 24-26) so that humans are unable to keep themselves focused on God alone. That the fullness of participation cannot yet be attained does not diminish human desire for it. Hooker maintains that even now humans are “capable . . . of God both by understanding and will.” Humans can understand God as the ultimate truth at the foundation of all wisdom and they can attain God by the will since God is “that sea of goodness, whereof who so tasteth shall thirst no more” [I.11.2, 9-12].
This desire for perfection is not limited to Christians but is found in all people, meaning that this is a natural desire. Because God accomplishes all that God intends, this desire for participation in God can be fulfilled because it was placed in humans by God. Humans seek a triple perfection: a sensual perfection relating to acquiring that which humans need to physically sustain them, an intellectual perfection relating to the pursuit of knowledge that lower orders of creation cannot attain, and a spiritual and divine perfection “consisting in those things whereunto we tend by supernatural meanes here, but cannot here attaine unto them” [I.11.4, 23-25). While humans can be satisfied in regard to matters of the body or the intellect, when humans encounter the depths of the spiritual they are impelled to seek this perfection further and deeper so that “all other knowne deightes and pleasures are layde aside, they geve place to the search of this but onelye suspected desire”[I.11.4, 13-14).
For Hooker, salvation is the attainment of spiritual perfection, but it is something that can only be provided by God and made accessible in the form of revealed laws. “God him self is the teacher of the truth, whereby is made knowen the supernatuall way of salvation and law for them to live in that shalbe saved” [I.11.5, 117.9-12]. This law of salvation is revealed in the redemption of humanity from sin “by the pretious death and merit of a mightie Saviour” [I.11.6, 118.20-21). All that God requires from humans to arrive at spiritual perfection through Christ (and hence participation in God) is the response of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity (1 Cor. 13:13). The knowledge of both the possibility of salvation in Christ and the required human response fall within the category of supernatural or divine law for Hooker “both in respect of the manner delivering them which is divine, and also in regard of the thinges delivered which are such as have not in nature any cause from which they flow, but were by the voluntarie appointment of God ordained besides the course of nature to rectifie natures obiliquitie withal” [I.11.5, 119.18-23].
Monday, August 16, 2010
In chapter 8 of Book One, Hooker returns to the question of how humans naturally discern the laws that govern proper behavior. He reminds the reader that humans are created to desire the good, so that human “felicitie therefore being the object and accomplishment of our desire, we cannot choose but wish and covet it” (I.8.1, 3-5). Reason enables humans to discern the good, but human reason itself is imperfect so that “If reason erre, we fall into evill, and are so farre foorth deprived of the generall perfection we seeke” (I.8.1, 7-9).
Hooker explains that there are two general ways to discern goodness. One is by the “knowledge of the causes whereby it is made such” (I.8.2, 28-29). This is the method of scholastic thought and Aristotelianism but Hooker observes that this approach is so mentally taxing that people rarely engage in it, making it less than useful for the public debate with Puritanism that Hooker has engaged. The other approach is the “observation of those signes and tokesn, which being annexed alwaies unto goodness, argue that where they are found, there also goodness is, although we know not the cause by force whereof it is there” (I.8.2, 29-1). This approach to discerning goodness rationally is more appealing to Hooker, especially when objects or concepts are deemed good by a broad consensus of humanity. Hooker summarizes this inductive approach to rationally discerning by expanding on the medieval English concept that the voice of the people is the voice of God: “The generall and perpetuall voyce of men is as the sentence of God him selfe. For that which all men have at all times learned, nature her selfe must needed have taught; and God being the author of nature, her voyce is but his instrument” (I.8.4, 1-4).
Hooker continues to build his argument about the law of nature by observing that this is something that all humans can observe and so be drawn to natural goodness for which all humans were created (I.8.6). Reason helps people to determine the goodness of their actions. This “sentence of reason,” as Hooker calls it, is “either mandatory, shewing what must be done; or els permissive, declaring onely what may bee done; or thirdly admonitory, opening what is the most convenient for us to be done” (I.8.8, 2-5). Here Hooker shows that there is a diversity of things that might be called good, but all good things share the quality of having been discerned by humans via rational insight to be in them good. In turn, although all people, whether Christian or not, can rationally discern the good, nonetheless this is not possible “without the perpetuall aid and concurrence of that supreme cause of all things” (I.8.11, 27-28).
Hooker’s reasoning here is itself a distillation of Artistole’s thought and common theme in humanist scholarship in the century preceding Hooker. For Hooker, there is a common ground of reasoning to draw upon here with which he will uses as a foundation to rebuff the biblicism of his Puritan opponents.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The imitation of God in the form of knowledge distinguishes humans from angels because angels already possess a full knowledge of God but humans must work to attain it bit by bit. Nonetheless, humans can acquire the same degree of divine knowledge as angels. Speaking of boundless human potentiality as creatures of God, Hooker observes that the “soule of man being therefore at the first as a booke, wherein nothing is, and yet all thinges may be imprinted; we are to search by what steppes and degrees it ryseth unto perfection of knowledge” (I.6.1, 26-28). Human potential rests precisely in this ability to constantly improve upon knowledge and understanding to reach deeper and higher insights. Humanity develops incrementally as both individuals and societies: “No art is at the first finding out so perfect as industrie may after make it” (I.6.3, 5-6). This optimism about human potential reflects Hooker’s similar esteem for nature as containing laws worth discerning and knowing that was discussed in the previous post. Such optimism in turn informed the embrace of the natural and social sciences by later Anglican thinkers.
This is not to say that pursuing the highest good is easy. Hooker describes both appetite and will as guiding human behavior. The appetite seeks material or sensible good while the will is oriented to goods that reason guides humans towards. To live simply according to the appetite means that humans will not develop far in terms of knowledge, whereas living according to the will as guided by reason will set humans on the path of realizing their full potential. “For the lawes of well doing are the dictates of right reason” (I.7.4, 11-12). Hooker argues that while humans may either choose either good or evil, strictly speaking evil in itself is only attractive because of an apparent goodness that it actually lacks. “For evill as evill cannot be desired: if that be desired which is evill, the cause is the goodness which is, or seemeth to be joyned with it” (I.7.6, 1-3). Sin then is to chooser a lesser good over a greater good, even though the greater good can be discovered by reason that all humans innately possess. It is the ignorant soul, according to Hooker, that commits sin rather than engages in the work of rationally discerning that which is good. Significantly for Hooker, humans do not appear as fully enslaved to sin and evil, but rather because they are guided by divinely ordained law have it within themselves to choose the good that reason shows them.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Book One of the Lawes builds progressively from considering God’s own internal (and eternal) law to God’s eternal law for all created things in what Hooker describes as “natures law.” Hooker observes that to attempt to dissect the full complexity of the orderly operations of nature is a sure way to learn humility. Indeed, to read the account of creation in Genesis 1 leads one to surmise that the purpose of this account is not only to understand the power of God’s creative activity. This passage also instructs that God designed this creation in fashion to “institute a law naturall to be observed by creatures” (I.3.2, 5). Citing the early Christian theologian Arnobius of Sicca, humans need only to look around at all the created things they rely upon to understand that people depend upon the divinely ordered laws of creation and nature. To be fully cognizant of God as creator requires awareness of the dependency of humanity on nature. And in turn, humanity’s frequent struggles against nature are a sign of the disordering reality of human sin (I.3.3, 12-22).
Despite the fraught relationship between humanity and nature, on its own, nature operates so well because it is guided by God: “That lawe the performance whereof we behold in things naturall, is as it were an authenticall, or an originall draught written in the bosome of God himselfe . . . Nature therefore is nothing else but Gods instrument” (I.3.4, 13-15, 18-20). Because God intends good for all creation, and especially for humanity, Hooker calls his readers to understand nature itself as something which tends towards the common good. There is “a lawe which bindeth [created things] each to serve unto others good, and all to preferred the good of the whole before whatsoever their owne particular, as we plainely see they doe” (I.3.5, 12-14).
In Hooker’s reflection on the interdependence between humanity and creation and his respect for the complexity of the laws of nature, we see the classic Anglican esteem for science and all forms of human knowledge. Hooker was certainly not the first to posit this notion. Both Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica and John Calvin in the Institutes of Christian Religion also ground their theological reflections in God’s establishment of laws of nature. Hooker, ever the synthesizer, brings together both these scholastic and Reformed impulses to clarify humanity’s dependence on nature, and reasoned reflections upon it, in order to more deeply understand both divine and human nature.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Richard Hooker moves from the preface of the Lawes, in which he set out the rational for his work, to explicating his argument in Book One. In beginning his argument concerning the right ordering of the Church of England, Hooker turns to an examination of the concept of law. The course of Book One runs from divine law, celestial law, natural law, human law, and laws divinely revealed in Scripture. Hooker warns his readers from the outset, that this investigation into the nature of laws is not clear.
“Which because wee are not oftentimes accustomed to doe, when we doe it the paines wee take are more needefull a great deale, then acceptable, and the matters which we handle seeme by reason of newnesse (till the minde grow better acquainted with them) darke, intricate and unfamiliar” (I.1.2, 20-25).
Hooker defines law as that which regulates operations or defines what a thing is. Because God is the source of all things, God is the source of all law. Not only is God the source of law, but the “being of God is a kinde of lawe to his working: for that perfection which God is, geveth perfection to that he doth” (I.2.2, 5-6). Hooker thought makes clear that his goal is not to define the inner workings of God’s own being in terms of Trinitarian relations but rather only to describe how God operates according to God’s own laws in external matters. To speculate on the Trinity is not Hooker’s goal both because he views church teaching on the matter sufficient and that “our safest eloquence concerning him is our silence” (I.2.2, 16-17).
Indeed to even be able to fully discern the purpose of God’s actions are not always possible, though Hooker does not deny the rationality of God’s acts, despite their inscrutability (I.2.5, 18-27). God’s divine law orders all things, but humans can not fully apprehend it. “The booke of this law we are neither able nor worthie to open and looke into. That little thereof which we darkly apprehend, we admire, the rest with religious ignorance we humbly and meekly adore” (I.2.5, 10-14). All law, the law of the cosmos, the law of human society, the law of scripture, the law of the church, has its origin in God. Yet the divine ordering of God’s own self is only partially known to human beings.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Hooker’s continued discussion of the problems of the English Puritan position through the rest of the Preface of the Lawes can be reduced to the question of how Scripture operates as a norm for the established church. In considering the educated Puritan leadership in England, Hooker charges that their interpretation of Scripture, especially as it pertains to church orders, is idiosyncratic.
“A verie strange thing sure it were that such a discipline as ye speake of should be taught by Christ and his Apostles in the word of God, and no Church ever have found it out, nor recyved it till this present time . . .” (Preface 4.1, lines 23-25)
In developing his critique of Puritanism, he emphasizes the threat it could pose to English society by raising the specter of Anabaptism. The Anabaptists were the specters that haunted other Christians on both the Protestant and Catholic side in the sixteenth century. Anabaptism as expressed by thinkers like Menno Simons or Jakob Hutter, was ignored in favor of the extreme example of radical reform and ensuing social chaos that happened in the city of Muenster. Hooker charges that Anabaptism, by assuming that all answers can only be found in Scripture, undermines existing social structures (Preface 8.8).
In Hooker’s view, the potential chaos of a Puritan view of church and society would be “more easie for us to prevent then they would be for them to remedy” (Preface 8.14, lines 21-22). This means a reading of Scripture that is informed by both attention to tradition and reason that discerns what practices are appropriate for a given local context. “The orders therefore which were observed in the Apostles times, are not to be urged as a rule universallie either sufficient or necessarie” (Preface 4.5, lines 15-16). As one of his examples, Hooker observes that the kiss of peace attested to in New Testament communities in his time should not be reinstituted in his time because it would cause scandal. In other words, not all New Testament practices ought to be followed; reason needs to be a guide.
Despite the polemic of his Preface, Hooker holds out hope and a desire for reconciliation with the Puritan side in England. Hooker conjures a biblical model of fraternal reconciliation as he ends his Preface:
“But our trust in the almightie is, that with contentions are now at their highest floate, and that the day will come (for what cause of despaire is there) when the passions of former emnitie being allaied, we shal with ten times redoubled tokens of our unfainedlie reconciled love, shewe our selves each towards other the same which Joseph and the brethren of Joseph were at the time of their enterview in Aegypt” (Preface, 9.4, lines 5-11).
Hooker’s vision of Puritan and supporters of the established church eventually being reconciled much like Joseph and his brothers is a hopeful one. It is a vision that speaks to Christians throughout the ages, but especially one that Anglicans today certainly should yearn for. Just as England was rent asunder four hundred years ago over how Scripture ought to be interpreted within local contexts, Anglicans today across the communion are rent asunder over these same questions. What is it all can learn from Hooker’s arguments?