Bulgakov and Hooker’s First Divine Law

In I.ii-iii, Hooker, somewhat against general theological wisdom, posited two divine laws rather than one. The second is the law that orders all natural laws – what is generally thought of as the only divine law – but the first is the law that God established for himself to work by.

God is infinite and totally free, but in order to create, inasmuch as a creation necessitates a work fitting to or appropriate for finite existence, God must first determine the way he will work with respect to what is not him. So, since a law is a limit, and since God is limitless, his actions are “naturally” infinite but must be (or are meet to be) “finite” with respect to his working in creation.

Hooker says that some consider a law that which has a superior force at work over it, but he differs in saying that it is rather a boundary. Since God has no superior force over him that causes him to create, yet since he must act finitely in order to create, he imposes freely a limit on his acting, which is a properly called a law by Hooker. (I continue to wonder to myself the ways this differs from the contemporary post-barthian strain that wishes at all times to stress the will of God to be what he wills to be. Sometimes it seems to me that God’s will becomes it’s own primordial “thing” that establishes a law even over God’s being. But I would need to read the sources more closely to confirm this)

Since this law is a boundary for himself and is prior to creation, then there is left still the law that will directly govern creation, yet since this must be dependent on what is superior (since creation does not create itself), namely God, then this law too must be an eternal rather than a natural law. The one for himself the other for all else. From the second issue all the various laws specific to each form.

Now to Bulgakov. Bulgakov doesn’t use the same kind of vocabulary as Hooker and the method of the two are quite far apart, but I was reading The Lamb of God recently and came across this passage:

“A distinction thus enters into our idea of Divinity: the distinction between the life of God according to Himself, as He is in His unchangeable essence, and His life for Himself, as He lives out His essence for Himself in the living act. Here He has the power to change for Himself the mode of the living out of his essence. … For God, self-limitation or, in general, distinction in the mode of the living out of the divine fullness is determined only by God Himself; it is the realization of His aseity and freedom.” 221-223

He goes on to argue against there being any necessity in God’s being and work, which is also a theme in this passage in Hooker. Here we see, I think, two ways of parsing a common insight; the one fairly old and the other quite contemporary and even controversial (I mean Bulgakov’s christology more broadly). It is fascinating to me to see the two come up next to each other. An odd couple indeed.

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Book V, Chapters II-IV : Hooker’s Triumphal Return To The Blogosphere

Tony Hunt

Life happens, and it has happened. Having needed some time to tend to matters domestic, I am now in a place to return to the regular upkeep of this blog, the neglect of which falls to me and not my esteemed coauthor Robb.

Chapter IV brings us to the edge of Hooker’s main engagement with critics of the Church of England’s public worship and so it seemed like a fitting place to stop. Our pace will have to be a bit brisker for Bk V, given its length.

I think if there was any doubt, a cursory read of these first chapters of V lay to rest any attempt to claim that Hooker is a political liberal – in the full modern and historical sense of that word. In point of fact, he would be deeply opposed to the kind of anthropology that lies at the base of political schemes that would come after him.

Proper religion, he tells us in chapter I, is the foundation of all good politics. There are two main forms that religion takes: An “inward reasonable” and a “solemn outward serviceable worship. Of the former kind are all manner of virutuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to Godward oweth. Solemn and serviceable…[are] whatsoever belongeth to the Church or public society of God by way of external adoration.” V.iv.3

If all people were properly religious, he says, then there would in fact be no need for laws in the first place, because the person governed by the Spirit has no need of other restraints from evil. Justice and right do not depend on positive laws, and what is truly just is something that is discerned, not simply applied.

There are several distortions of religion which do not lead to justice. Zeal is problematic when it is not properly ordered; without a “sober guide” zeal leads to conflict as well as destructive judgement: “through hatred of tares the corn in the field of God is plucked up.” Fear is another. Fear squeezes out wisdom and reflection. The person ruled by it distorts who God is, and so is led to “superstitions,” to frenzied attempts to appease an angry God. Undistorted religion leads to governors and people who do not do good for fear of punishment, or for personal gain and glory, but for a genuine love of justice.

But for Hooker, “The most extreme opposite to true religion is affected atheism.” But before this is taken in some triumphal manner, I think it’s important not to miss what are the fruits of “affected atheism.” By this he does not mean that “not believing in God” is the opposite of “true religion;” rather it is that “impiety which is a resolved purpose of mind to reap in this world what sensual profit or pleasure soever the world yieldeth, and not to be barred from any whatsoever means available thereunto.” Perhaps I should put that in block quotes.

Atheism is that “impiety which is a resolved purpose of mind to reap in this world what sensual profit or pleasure soever the world yieldeth, and not to be barred from any whatsoever means available thereunto.”

Here, I think, is a very clear statement underlining the fundamental disagreement between Hooker and “liberal” politics, including – obviously! – the capitalist economics that come with them.  Any political scheme that imagines social engagement is one of navigating the self-interested desires of people so as to maximize negative freedom cannot be one that Hooker would sign up for. Any economics that imagines the public good is achieved not by submission of vice to virtue but by the overflow of people acting in their own supposedly rational self-interests would thus fall short as well. Indeed, Hooker might call such a political economy an atheist one!

I’m not trying to bring Hooker into modern politics in some simple anachronistic way. In fact I think it is going to be exceedingly difficult to bring book V into the present insomuch as we don’t have the same political situation anymore. Hooker’s book is a book that is only possible in a ‘christendom society’ where one is able to talk about public polity and public worship as if they belong together (Please do not take my use of ‘christendom’ to be negative; only descriptive). Nevertheless, to the extent that capitalism and secular politics are embraced by Christians in the west, Hooker may very well end up being very useful to dispel myths and recreate Christian political imaginations.

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Hooker opens Book V with a challenge to those harboring “weak capacities” and those who would “rather seek quietly their own, and wish that the world may go well, so it be not long of them, than with pain and hazard make themselves advisers for the common good” (.1). Much easier, Hooker seems to say, to create safe and pure enclaves rather than engage the difficult questions of our nature as politic animals. It is because we are political animals that we cannot so easily dispense with the questions of right ordered polity and the common good.

Hooker is well aware that arriving at the common good, or orienting a polity in its direction, is always a matter of debate. It might even be said that one of Hooker’s main points in chapter one, however implicitly presented, is to show the difficulty of navigating the common good. Rather than the luxury of “private ease,” we are given the difficult work of referring “events to the gracious providence of Almighty God” (.1).

Concretely, the root of the common good is religion, such that politics requires good religion. “For if the course of politic affairs cannot in any good sort go forward without fit instruments, and that which fitteth them be their virtues, let Polity acknowledge itself indebted to Religion; godliness being the chiefest top and wellspring of all true virtues, even as God is of all good things” (.2), writes Hooker. This notion ‘works’ for Hooker because religion is an analog of virtue. In fact, “so natural is the union of Religion with Justice, that we may boldly deem there is neither, where both are not” (.2). Like Augustine’s The City of God, Hooker holds that true politics is true doxology, the right ordered worship of the final cause. Once the object of our love is in order, all other goods will fall into place, and in the absence of the common good “is common misery” (.2).

Of course this puts Hooker in an interesting position in that he has to contend with the reality of virtuous non-Christian polities, especially those that did administer justice and created peaceful existence. That they were able to do so at all, however, points to the reality of God’s natural law for Hooker. Seeing this common thread running throughout history then, Hooker concludes, “we have reason to think that all true virtues are to honor true religion as their parent, and all well-ordered commonweals to love her as their chiefest stay” (.5).

Hooker’s vision can’t help but appear as drastically outdated. We know, for instance, that the mixing of religion and politics delivers anything but justice. But this is to misread what he means by religion. Hooker is rather pushing for a rational religion, one that rejects outright a fidesitic account of faith. Religion must work, tirelessly at times, to discern how historical events align with God’s providence (.1). This is not to say that the task is simply to read off from nature signs of God’s presence given here and there, but how the whole of nature tells us something about God’s being or Trinitarian economy. In other words, I wonder if we might see Hooker as engaging in a bit of speculative thinking, albeit tinged with a healthy dose of Neo-Platonism. How can the absolute serve to order our politics – and not as simply standing over and against us, but as mediated through history in the form of tradition – especially when we are ever tempted to retreat into a private citadel?

Finally, Hooker helpfully reminds us that some form of religion or another guides and orders all polities. Today our religion is capitalism; our common good is that there is no common good beyond individual striving. As Walter Benjamin writes, “A religion may be discerned in capitalism — that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers” (“Capitalism as Religion”).

Leithart on “The Perils of Natural Law”

However much it pains me to link to First Things, I do appreciate me some Leithart. This piece is right on, in my opinion. Granted I don’t care about being a faithful Reformed theologian, but…

“For Herdt, the cautionary tale of this history (I have only touched on her richly detailed discussion) is not simply that natural law is ill-suited to being “a source of substantive action-guiding moral norms” or “providing concrete ethical knowledge.” The peril is that when Reformed thinkers have looked to natural law for such norms and such knowledge, they have inadvertently “created pressures that tend to empty out the substance of key Reformed commitments that animated Calvin’s thought, leaving behind intuitionist appeals to conscience, empiricist appeals to human nature, or unstable conflations of the two.” Not only did the weakening of theological commitments encourage shifts in the understanding of natural law. The deeper peril was that certain uses of natural law corrode Reformed theological commitments. Herdt goes so far as to suggest that “the secularization of modern natural law discourse is directly linked to pressures exerted by the hope and expectation that the natural law could provide such norms.”

Chapters XV & XVI & Closing Reflections on Book I & Theological Blogging

Tony Hunt

Chapter XV is really the final chapter of positive instruction in Book I; XVI being a summary and conclusion. The main point of XV is that there are Laws which differ in degree and in authority. There are laws that are positive but are also ‘divine;’ yet not all positive laws are binding, only such as give political force to more universal laws. There are laws that individuals impose on themselves, and which might even engender good, which do not have the force of public law. When such (legitimate) individual conscience is used either to exempt oneself from public laws or to attempt to impose such laws on the public, unrest follows.

Chapter XVI, aside from offering a concise and helpful summation of the main points considered in Book I, also explains that while some might consider Book I superfluous, it is meant to provide a larger schema as to the toloi of laws in their kind. If such considerations were not examined, it would be all the more difficult to judge the matters to which Hooker is going to attend. And in Book II he jumps right in with considerations of Ecclesiastical laws; and having done this legwork, he is able to show – or at least argue – how laws in England, both civil and religious, fail or do not to work toward their proper ends.

I don’t know about other people but I found Book I to be an entirely worthwhile read, even in those sections where Hooker was addressing topics that bore me, or where the spirit of his age was most obvious. Overall I found the very manner of discourse – his measured and rigorous arguments, and his delightful Early Modern English prose – not only enjoyable but worthy of emulating. He clearly cares about the people involved, perhaps especially those against whom he is polemicizing, whom he takes seriously enough to compose so large a work as the Laws. Before I reread this book, I was confused about ‘Natural Law;’ I didn’t know what to think about it, how to accuse it, defend it, or describe it. I found that Hooker does not fit well with modern Natural Law theology, even with the doctrines of those who are supposedly dependent on him. Much of what I thought I had against Natural Law I found was against a particular kind of Natural Law, and problems I imagined I would have with Hooker were often dissolved on close reading. None of which is to say that I think Hooker can simply be bought; hook, line, and sinker. Nevertheless I was surprised by how relevant he is to contemporary disputes in theology. I think that Stanley Hauerwas’ With The Grain of The Universe is a necessary conversation partner, as is Ephraim Radner’s The World In The Shadow of God – among others. Work in aesthetics, for instance, can helpfully supplement Hooker, which tends to be able to talk about fundamental realities while avoiding rationalism. I look forward to seeing how all of this relates to Book V, which Robb and I will begin work on next.

Finally, I wanted to say that I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here. There has been enough junk going on in our lives – perhaps especially mine – so as to prevent us from always blogging as regularly as we had planned, but precisely because we were conservatively realistic in scheduling were we able to let a couple weeks pass between posts without the blog dissolving entirely. While it may be true that the initial wave of internet theology blogging has passed – and I’m trying not to sound hyperbolic here – I think that this little blog, read by like three people, is one of the more serious theology blogs that I know of. Blogs that are going to plow through the Dogmatics spring up like flowers but their output dies out just as quickly; we were able to keep things going. Thanks to Chris Green and Benjamin Guyer for commenting and thanks to Robb for being so patient with me and for all his great work.

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Sarah Coakley on Hooker

The subtlety of Richard Hooker’s account of the relation of Scripture, tradition and reason in Book V of the Ecclesiastical Polity is one of the most distinctive and remarkable features of historic Anglican theology and, I believe, of considerable importance for our current dilemmas about women bishops. But I am not sure that sufficient account has yet been taken of this strand of our heritage…

Hooker’s perspective does indeed allow for novelties in the rational reception of Bible and tradition: the plastic nature of Hooker’s conception of reason, and its deep understanding of historical embeddedness, does allow for creative development in response to the primacy of Scriptural authority and the deposit of tradition, without the danger of a merely historical or moral relativism. There is nothing in Hooker, then, that would give credence to the slogan that “nothing new is ever true.” But there is everything to suggest the possibility of hopes for future creativity and renewal.

Sarah Coakley, “Has the Church of England finally lost its reason? Women bishops and the collapse of Anglican theology

Coakley’s piece reminds me that our task of reading through the Laws is extremely important, if I may be so bold to say so.



In chapters XIII and XIV, Hooker addresses the question of scripture and tradition, and the relation between the two. It is in these chapters that Hooker establishes the distinct Anglican perspective on scripture and tradition, at odds with both a Reformed and Roman Catholic understanding.

Hooker begins by noting that before the advent of books humankind relied on oral tradition. The problem with oral tradition, according to Hooker, is that it is too easily corrupted. Like the game of telephone, traditions become distorted over time. Therefore God, in his mercy, has provided the surety of scripture – solid, immutable texts, which remain constant over time. As an aside, I’m currently reading Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars. According to Duffy, folk religion and oral tradition were widely regarded with skepticism by many reformers.

In itself though, this argument is rather weak, and thankfully Hooker doesn’t place too much emphasis on it. But for now, Hooker is intent to stress the sufficiently of scripture alone when the question concerns ultimate salvation. Presumably, this is drastically at odds with the Roman tradition, which in Hooker’s time appears to have stressed tradition as also being necessary for Salvation.

However, Hooker is careful when it comes to stating that that scripture contains all things necessary unto salvation. For instance, in chapter XIV qualifies his understanding: “Scripture do profess to contain in it all things that are necessary unto salvation; yet the meaning cannot be simply of all things which are necessary, but all things that are necessary in come certain kind or form” (14.1, italics mine).He then goes on to state,

when we extol the complete sufficiency of the whole entire body of the Scripture, must in like be understood with this caution, that the benefit of nature’s light be not though excluded as unnecessary, because the necessity of a diviner light is magnified (14.4).

Hooker seems to be arguing that scripture contains all things that are necessary unto salvation, but this does not necessarily exclude other things; namely, reason, tradition, and I would hope to some degree, folk practice. That this is self-evident for Hooker is displayed in the simple fact that nowhere in the Bible is there an explicit mention of the Trinity and infant baptism (14.2). His point is not only to show that tradition – understood as the light of natural reason in accordance with the scriptures – is valid, but to also show that interpretation is a continuous process. “For let us not think that as long as the world doth endure the wit of man shall be able to sound the bottom of that which may be concluded out of the Scripture,” writes Hooker (14.2).

Concerning the Roman understanding of tradition, Hooker’s problem is that it excludes natural reason. As such, Hooker does not offer a simple ‘Protestant’ rejection of tradition, but an argument against regarding tradition in a fideistic matter or as a “vertical drop” from above. “For we do not reject them only because they are not in Scripture, but because they are neither in Scripture, nor can otherwise sufficiently by any reason be proved to be of God,” states Hooker (14.5). Hooker is clear that an apostolic understanding of tradition, rites and custom are of God, “which doth give them their force and credit” (14.5). It’s an interesting argument against the Roman Catholic understanding of tradition. Thankfully, the nouvelle theologians in the 20th century also pushed against an abstract and sub-human understanding of reason and tradition.

Overall, I found these to be some of the more interesting chapters in the Laws given Hooker’s ability to sail between Reformed and Roman understandings of tradition and scripture. Often times it’s easy to simplify Hooker’s thought as advocating the three-legged stool of Anglicanism: scripture, tradition and reason, as if that’s the end of the matter. Yet in reading through Hooker, it’s clear that this Anglican balance of interpretation and tradition is no easy task, and certainly isn’t one that can easily be summarized as a mere stool.

Book I Chapter XII


To our three readers, I do apologize for having taken such a long break in what already is a generous posting schedule. I’ll not bore you with all the details but instead shall endeavor to continue commentary on Book I, which is not too far from coming to a close, after which we shall begin the monumental and amazing Book V.

Having just stated that there are no natural means of salvation, and assuming the framework he has already been working with, Hooker examines “The cause why so many natural or rational Laws are set down in Holy Scripture.” The question must be raised given the focus Hooker has placed on the knowability by Reason of natural laws. Both this and the previous chapter help to address questions I have been consistently asking and ones that are unavoidable for those who have made the post-critical turn: If there are all these Laws that are supposedly able to be known by all people endowed with Reason, why is it that so many are not known and even outright rejected in entire societies? I presciently knew a bit about this because of the essays on Hooker which I have read by Rowan Williams — for whom, following a rather recent tradition of Hooker interpretation, Hooker is not so much a classical “Natural Law” theologian of the 18th and 19th C. school but one who, in a patristic and scholastic synthesis, chastened any naive notion of simple Natural Law with an ascetical theology that knows the tendency of humans to pervert reason through sin. Hooker states that the reason there are so many natural laws in Scripture is because not everybody is actually skilled with reason enough to know natural laws. Moreover, we don’t know many natural laws because of “imbecility.”

Again, being so prone as we are to fawn upon ourselves, and to be ignorant as much as may be of our own deformities, without the feeling sense whereof we are most wretched; even so much the more, because not knowing them we cannot so much as desire to have them taken away; how should our festered sores be cured, but that God hath delivered a law as sharp as the two-edged sword, piercing the very closest and most unsearchable corners of the heart, which the Law of Nature can hardly, human laws by no means possible, reach unto?

All in all, we’re messed up, and often don’t even know when we’re messed up, so we’re helped along by Scripture containing Natural Laws, seeing as without such help, who knows when we’d stumble upon even some basic natural laws? For Hooker, it’s not enough simply to say that it is difficult to discern even natural laws because of the Fall. He goes further: It is practically impossible for fallen humanity to know such things as they ought to know for salvation, and so “that which is desired naturally must now be supernaturally attained.”

Here, I believe, is the “post-liberal” avenue into Natural Law in Hooker. The reason we will need to check Reason against Revelation is because we are prone to fawn upon ourselves, prone to be convinced of convenient untruths even in the name of tradition.

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Book I. Chapter XI


In chapter XI, Hooker displays some of his strongest Thomistic and Augustinian influences. This is seen in his elucidation of humanity’s infinite desire for the good and final end in God. Yet Hooker also relates this Patristic notion of desire to a Reformed debate tending toward an account of Sole fide, which makes for an interesting take on the question of faith.

Hooker begins by carrying forward the medieval insights of formal and final causality. Humankind is fundamentally propelled by a final end and driven by the lure of the goal. We are born with an insatiable first for the infinite Good, so much so that “for as to take away the first efficient of our being were to annihilate utterly our persons, so we cannot remove the last final cause of our working” (xi.1-2). In other words, our final end is not some additional add on to a pre-established “pure nature,” nor is this desire for our final end completely frustrated by original sin. Hooker quotes Aquinas, stating, “it is an axiom of nature that natural desire cannot utterly be frustrate” (xi.4). For Hooker, this is an indication of humanity’s fundamental ecstatic character, its natural drive toward transcendence. We desire “that which exceedeth the reach of sense; yea somewhat above capacity of reason, somewhat divine and heavenly” (xi.4). Barring this natural desire for God, we would cease to exist.

Interestingly, Hooker defines this infinite desire for the ultimate Good or God as a desire for union. In a wonderful passage Hooker writes,

desire tendeth unto union with that it desireth. If then in Him we be blessed, it is by force of participation and conjunction with Him. Again, it is not the possession of any good thing can make them happy which have it, unless they enjoy the thing wherewith they are possessed. Then are we happy therefore when fully we enjoy God, as an object wherein the powers of our souls are satisfied with everlasting delight; so that although we be men, yet by being unto God united we live as it were the life of God (xi.2).

This natural desire for union is so ingrained in us that each creaturely faculty tends toward intimations of the final Good. We exist by having to navigate a world of lesser goods or what Hooker refers to as “sundry imperfections” on our way to our final Good. “For while we are in the world, subject we are unto sundry imperfections, griefs of body, defects of mind; yea the best things we do are painful, and the exercise of them grevious, being continued without intermission” (xi.3.) Despite this frustration, Hooker also claims that union with God works with or according to “every power an faculty of our minds apt to receive so glorious an object” (xi.3). I think it is safe to say that for Hooker, salvation is not only about union with God; it is also a union that leads to a more perfect union with other ‘horizontal’ goods. That is, we don’t simply ascend to God through some vertical leap, but God’s saving grace works through all types of lesser goods. This is evidenced by Hooker’s reliance on St. Augustine’s De Trinitate in section three.

Hooker then shifts the discussion to the question of faith. Hooker writes, “This is the work of God, ‘that ye believe in him whom he hath sent.’ Not that God doth require nothing unto happiness at the hands of mean saving only naked belief (for hope and charity we may not exclude); but that without belief all other things are as nothing, and it the ground of those other divine virtues.” (xi.6).

It’s unclear to me how in the face of scripture Hooker can claim that “belief” is the ground of the divine virtues. Didn’t Paul explicitly say that the greatest of the theological virtues is charity? What prompted Hooker to invert Paul’s ordering of the divine virtues? I’m also a little weary by the way Hooker pushes charity elsewhere: “concerning Charity, the final object whereof is that incomprehensible Beauty which shineth in the countenance of Christ the Son of the living God.” I’m still not quite sure what to do with this, but it sounds like Hooker is referring to charity as “the good beyond the good.” But isn’t charity the one sure thing we have in this world according to the Jonannie epistles; don’t we know Christ’s love here and now?

Finally, Hooker adds this interesting manuscript note, which I’m not really sure what to do with. “Is faith then the formal cause of justification? And faith alone a cause in this kind? Who taught you this doctrine? Have you been tampering so long with Pastors, Doctors, Elders, Deacons; that the first principles of your religion are now to learn?”

When finishing this chapter, I found that I needed some help with Hooker. I was with him all through his conversion of the infinite desire for the Good, but felt more a little more hesitant when the conversation turned to questions of faith. I looked to Debora. K. Shuger’s article, “Faith and Assurance” in A Companion to Richard Hooker for help. She had this to say about Hooker’s take on faith: “Hooker rejects too large a swathe of Calvinist doctrine to be meaningfully considered a Reformed thinkers, yet he writes about faith and assurance from within the Reformed tradition” (235).

Perhaps this explains [what I see as] Hooker’s attempt to blend modern questions of faith with the Patristic and neo-platonic legacy of St. Augustine and St. Thomas.

Rowan Williams on Hooker

Drawing attention to this recent lecture by Rowan Williams, “An Appreciation of the Ecclesiastical Law Society on the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of its Foundation.” In the light of Hooker, Williams highlights the importance and need for theological reflection on the law.

As our national society evolves, it seems to me more and more important that we have, in addition to whatever we say about the sovereignty of our society, a thoroughly robust doctrine of what the law is in our society: as the protection of liberties; as that which guarantees access for all to justice and redress; as that which is beyond any particular settlement of power, influence or privilege in any social setting. In that sense, the law is not at all inimical to the Gospel. Quite the contrary. If the Gospel is about the freedoms that belong to human beings by virtue simply of their humanity before God, the law is one of the most effective ways in which we witness to that and work with the grain of it…

I hope that the principle that Richard Hooker worked from – that law as the basis of Church and society is, at its fullest and richest, a reflection of the lawfulness, the harmonic regularity of the whole universe under God – is something that remains not only in our thinking and our action as people involved with the law, but in our prayer and our contemplation as well. What is wonderful about Hooker… is of course his ability to link the practice of the law in all its pragmatic complexity with the vision of God. And although it may seem a long way from the Uxbridge Magistrates Court to the courts of heaven, nonetheless the sense that we do live in a universe where we can trust the environment we inhabit is part of what the law seeks to secure in pragmatic terms, both in society and in the Church…

Woe betide us then, if as a Church we play down what the law can and should mean. Woe betide us, if we forget that order is the servant of freedom, not its enemy.