The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Richard Hooker's Day

Today the Episcopal Church celebrates Richard Hooker, who did so much to theologize the Elizabethan Settlement--proving that good policy can make good (canon) law. I think it safe to say that much Anglican theology is explicating the themes of Hooker's writing--the defense of variety in political and ecclesiastical structures as "things indifferent" to the Faith, but rather dependent on local need and culture, is the dawn of the local episcopate central to world-wide Anglicanism to this day. His classic Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity were directed at refuting the Puritans who would disrupt the Elizabethan Settlement, and tried to point out to them the fact that the reason holds its place in assenting to the structure of the church, but that the issues that cause division are seldom those upon which the Faith depends:
The first mean whereby nature teacheth men to judge good from evil, as well in laws as in other things, is the force of their own discretion. Hereunto therefore St. Paul referreth oftentimes his own speech, to be considered of by them that heard him.By what means so many of the people are trained unto the liking of that discipline. “I speak as to them which have understanding, judge ye what I say1.” Again afterward, “Judge in yourselves, is it comely that a woman pray uncovered2?” The exercise of this kind of judgment our Saviour requireth in the Jews3. In them of Berea the Scripture commendeth it4. Finally, whatsoever we do, if our own secret judgment consent not unto it as fit and good to be done, the doing of it to us is sin, although the thing itself be allowable. St. Paul’s rule therefore generally is, “Let every man in his own mind be fully persuaded of that thing which he either alloweth or doth5.”
[2.]Some things are so familiar and plain, that truth from falsehood, and good from evil, is most easily discerned in them, even by men of no deep capacity. And of that nature, for the most part, are things absolutely unto all men’s salvation recessary, either to be held or denied, either to be done or avoided. For which cause St. Augustine6 acknowledgeth, that they are not only set down, but also plainly set down in Scripture; so that he which heareth or readeth may without any great difficulty understand. Other things also there are belonging (though in a lower degree of importance) unto the offices of Christian men: which, because they are more obscure, more intricate and hard to be judged of, therefore God hath appointed some to spend their whole time principally in the study of things divine, to the end that in these more doubtful cases their understanding might be a light to direct others. “If the understanding power or faculty of the soul be” (saith the [144] grand physician1) “like unto bodily sight, not of equal sharpness in all, what can be more convenient than that, even as the dark-sighted man is directed by the clear about things visible;Preface, Ch. iii. 3. so likewise in matters of deeper discourse the wise in heart do shew the simple where his way lieth?” In our doubtful cases of law, what man is there who seeth not how requisite it is that professors of skill in that faculty be our directors? So it is in all other kinds of knowledge. And even in this kind likewise the Lord hath himself appointed, that “the priest’s lips should preserve knowledge, and that other men should seek the truth at his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts2.” Gregory Nazianzen, offended at the people’s too great presumption in controlling the judgment of them to whom in such cases they should have rather submitted their own, seeketh by earnest entreaty to stay them within their bounds: “Presume not ye that are sheep to make yourselves guides of them that should guide you; neither seek ye to overskip the fold which they about you have pitched. It sufficeth for your part, if ye can well frame yourselves to be ordered. Take not upon you to judge your judges, nor to make them subject to your laws who should be a law to you; for God is not a God of sedition and confusion, but of order and of peace3.”
Now, note that this is not, taken in context, a counsel of blind obedience, but rather of humility--do we know enough to be the judge in a recondite or difficult matter? Or are we, with only fitful attention, setting up ourselves as higher authority than our knowledge can bear, and thereby rending the fabric of the Church on "things indifferent" to salvation?

Hooker's tone is gentle, for the most part but he has shafts of insight that are not just illuminating; they can be a trifle barbed. Here he is describing the certitude of the puritan that Scripture must bear the meaning for which they contend:
These are the paths wherein ye have walked that are of the ordinary sort of men; these are the very steps ye have trodden, and the manifest degrees whereby ye are of your guides and directors trained up in that school: a custom of inuring your ears with reproof of faults especially in your governors; an use to attribute those faults to the kind of spiritual regiment under which ye live; boldness in warranting the force of their discipline for the cure of all such evils; a slight of framing your conceits to imagine that Scripture every where favoureth that discipline; persuasion that the cause why ye find it in Scripture is the illumination of the Spirit, that the same Spirit is a seal unto you of your nearness unto God, that ye are by all means to nourish and witness it in yourselves, and to strengthen on every side your minds against whatsoever might be of force to withdraw you from it.
Hooker's work is important for both theology and jurisprudence, and, although a definitive modern edition has been been published, I still use my old 1875 copy of John Keble's edition--with a smattering of clippings about Hooker and other works pasted into the volume by a prior owner. I love the connection of Hooker and Keble, and honor them both. The Folger Books are expensive, but I have got a copy of the commentary volumes.

I hope to study Hooker in greater depth in 2016 (was 2015--I'd like to write something about his presence in the DNA of Anglicanism that won't be a cliche, if I can.

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