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.


  1. Great blog. A new edition of Hookers Works is freshly published which includes my "Cliff Notes" of the Laws. It is in four volumes which includes all the Keble edition and my "Hooker's Blueprint" I am always glad to see Episcopalians actually reading the foundational spirit of Anglicanism.

    Michael Russell+

  2. Thanks for the link. What edition of the Laws do you follow? Have any libraries picked up your edition.

  3. This is mostly a facsimile of the 1836 Keble edition in its seventh rendition by Church and Paget. I have rearranged it by adding my distillation and moving much of the introductory and supplementary material to a fourth volume. So the basic texts of the Laws are in the first three volumes and the rest is in the fourth. This is the least expensive edition out there, especially considering it includes my "Cliff Notes." Thanks for adding Mr. Hooker to the bogosphere!

  4. Very interesting. I'll have to take a look at that for when I might teach a seminar on Hooker. I appreciate your support of the blog.