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.

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