Tuesday, September 7, 2010

All Things Necessary For Salvation

cirIn chapters 13 and 14 of Book One, Hooker use the idea of divinely revealed law to critique Roman Catholic views of revelation and to offer a defense of the Protestant idea of sola scriptura. Specifically, Hooker writes against the notion articulated at the Council of Trent in 1546 of tradition supplementing Scripture as an equal source of divine revelation. Hooker writes, “When the question therefore is, whether we be now to seeke for any revealed law of God otherwhere then only in the sacred scripture, whether we doe now stand bound in the sight of God to yeeld to traditions urged by the Church of Rome the same obedience we doe to his written lawe, honoring equallie and adoring both as Divine: our answer is, no” [I.13.2, 3-8].

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.


  1. I am an Anglican priest in England also studying Hooker -- I am very glad to find a community doing likewise!

  2. Very happy that you have found us, Fr. Paul. A new post should be up in the next few days.