Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Divine Law and Participation in God

Beginning with chapter eleven, in the rest of Book One Hooker moves from a consideration of law as it operates within human nature to the revelation of divine law. Hooker directs the reader to this topic by reiterating the view that highest good for humanity is participation in God: “If then in him we be blessed, it is by force of participation and conjunction with him. . . [A]lthough we be men, yet by being unto God united we live as it were the life of God” [I.11.2; 13-15, 19-20].

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

Discerning the Good

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

After reflecting upon the laws of nature and of angels, Hooker next moves to the law that directs humans to imitate God. Speaking of the imitation of God as a law might seem odd, but Hooker is attempting to speak of all that is good as ordained by God in terms of law. For Hooker there must be a law which orders humanity to the imitation of God because “all things in the worlde are saide in some sort to seeke the highest, and to covet more or lesse the participation of God himselfe” (I.5.2, 8-10). The desire to participate in God is reflected most fully in humanity. This occurs in a general form in that humans, like all other created things, is a general perfection in which humans can realize the fullness for which they were created. Humans also follow other created things in imitating specific attributes of God in so far as they are capable. Humans, being created in the image and likeness of God can do this better than other created things, so that by pursuing “the knowledge of truth and by growing in the exercise of virtue, man amongst the creatures of this inferiour world, aspireth to the greatest conformity with God” (I.5.3, 1-3).

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

The Law of Nature and the Common Good

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.