Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Polemic and Reconciliation

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?

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