Book I. Ch. i


I started and read through several books of the Laws a year or so back, so I am already somewhat familiar with some basics that Hooker is about to get to in this book. Yet how much difference a couple years makes! My ability to understand and to weigh a work seems to grow by the year such that I almost always get more out of a piece that I’ve read before than I did when I first read it. This applies no less to the opening chapter of the Laws.

Lest I be accused of some tiresome trope, I do not come to this work impartially. On the one hand, I am committed to becoming a confessional Anglican theologian; While by no means do I think with that school that used to imagine Anglicanism some divinely ordained group meant to unite all Christians through her blessed Via Media and her leading role in ecumenism, I am thoroughly committed to dwelling in the Anglican church, to serving her and breathing her air, learning her language. Hooker is a fundamental person to work with in order to accomplish this goal.

In addition, I have been schooled by that group of antifoundationalist theologians that eschew Natural Law in favor of a hermeneutics of faith. Even Reason is done through a context by which it is in large part, indeed in invisible parts, constituted. Reasoning cannot be separated from the form of reasoning and the traditions to which one is committed or to which one reacts. Nevertheless, I have persisting questions about this precisely because it seems that something akin to “natural law” can and even must come precisely from that position of faith in Jesus as the Word of God by and through whom all things were made and from whom we receive our very being. I can’t hold to a voluntarist ethics. Hooker, I am told, is not naïve about the fact that Reason very often is fallen and clouded. I look forward to learning how he coordinates sin and reason and faith and feel it’s important to how we conceive justice and law.

Which brings me to a final note: This antifoundationalism also tends to breed a healthy pseudo-anarchist political bent in me. By pseudo-anarchism I mean that while I have faith in institutions and regulations, these must be able to be disrupted by gestures toward justice even where said justice cannot be properly reasoned at the time. Which is only, I suppose, a politics of semper reformanda. This has also lead to an ecclesial critique of the state. This is, it must be noted, not merely some new thing “Radical Orthodoxy” thought up, but it goes at the least back to the Oxford Movement and its resistance to a church controlled by the state. This led soon to a lively tradition of anglo-catholic socialism that is meet to be revived in my opinion lest anglo-catholicism continue to hemorage as a pathetic movement interested mostly in liturgical fancies rather than a robust doctrine of the Church, which is what I take catholicism to be most about.

Then, without further ado, let us examine the first chapter and a give money quote:

“He that goeth about to persuade a multitude, that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers.”

Hooker is not at all oblivious to the charges against the Church of England nor to the government. (btw, whenever I say “government” or “state” I am not trying necessarily to talk about “Government” or “State” as an abstract universal. I shall try to be clear when I want to wax meta). This instantly sets him apart, imo, from those who are un-self-aware in supporting a status quo. He understands that he will be seen as one who either “hold[s] or seek[s] preferment.”[1] He is setting out, then, not to simply have a go at demolishing the arguments of people much dumber than he is, since most people are dumb compared to someone of his learning, but to show how certain policies in fact help to make for justice. “We are accused as men that will not have Christ Jesus to rule over them, but have wilfully cast his statues behind their backs, hating to be reformed and made subject unto the sceptre of his discipline.”[3]  This obviously doesn’t mean that everything he says will then simply be right, but it means that he takes the risk of understanding the critiques of his puritan opponents and opening up the laws and himself to be examined, lest they fail the test. “for better examination of [the laws’] quality it behoveth the very foundation and root, the highest well-spring and fountain of them to be discovered.” [2]

The Laws model what +Rowan Williams is rather well known for, then: Any kind of political engagement that would seek genuinely to aim at the well being of all a nation’s neighbors must be one that is open to dialogue and challenge. This is manifestly not simply a liberal toleration and public contestation of competing will and claims; Hooker’s very stark non-liberalism comes out at many key junctures (like, for instance, Bk. V); it is, rather, an engagement that takes ones sparring partners seriously and the good of all seriously. At the same time, easy answers and cheap shots will not yield genuinely fruitful results. “there will come a time when three words uttered with charity shall receive a far more blessed reward than three thousand volumes written with disdainful sharpness of wit.” For Hooker, in order to accomplish this discussion it will take the hard work of patient and exacting thinking.

“Albeit therefore much of that we are to speak in this present cause may seem to a number perhaps tedious, perhaps obscure, dark, and intricate; (for many talk of the truth which never sounded the depth from whence it springeth; and therefore when they are led thereunto they are soon weary, as men drawn from those beaten paths wherewith they have been inured;) yet this may not so far prevail as to cut off that which the matter itself requireth, howsoever the nice humour of some be therewith pleased or no.”[2]

I think Hooker would be sympathetic to Milbank here:

“If, like an enthusiastic undergraduate, I had trotted out phrases such as “we need a new theology on the side of victims,” I would no doubt have been commended for making a “contribution” to the fate of the poor, the environment, etc.. But eschewing such rhetorical regurgitation, I was seeking indirectly to tackle our seeming inability to discover any theoretical or practical grounds for opposing the new global sway of neocapitalism, which is the source of the hunger of the poor, the poisoning of nature, obliteration of sexual difference and equality, the lapse of beauty, the loss of historical memory, and so forth.- “On Theological Transgression,” p171 in The Future of Love

Likewise Hooker doesn’t use Puritan rhetoric about “the Bible” or about “obedience,” nor does he trot out pious language simply to add strength to an otherwise weak argument, because such rhetoric is empty if it doesn’t actually point to concrete ways of enacting laws that make for the good of a citizenship.

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18 thoughts on “Book I. Ch. i

  1. If one rejects natural law, there is no reason for bothering with Hooker. I can understand trying to bring Hooker into the present – but might it not make a bit more sense to try and understand him in his past? I know that theologians today are rather allergic to history, but context matters – quite a lot, really. Is Hooker concerned with justice (let alone justice as claimed or argued for after 1968)? I don’t recall him ever addressing the matter, so I surmise that he is not – and I surmise that, more than this, his opponents were not concerned with the matter, either. I think what you mean is that Hooker was concerned with society – and he uses the term many, many times. But I don’t see how his conception of society would be structural analogous to our ideas of justice. Of course, I welcome correction on this matter.

    As for Hooker and dialogue, I propose that he is like his opponents, for each fought a zero-sum game. Whether or not this entails a high road to the civil wars of the 1640s can be debated. Puritan charges against the Church of England in the late-sixteenth century were not that it was in bed with the state, but that it was popish and that the monarch had no right to govern the church. Cartwright and company didn’t want royal headship (and royal headship should not be confused with Parliamentary ‘Erastianism’), but a Presbyterian theocracy in which the kingdom was subsumed to the church. Their opposition to monarchical headship was theological. So they were not arguing about the status quo, and certainly not about the status quo as envisioned in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglo-Catholic polemics (recognizing, of course, that polemics are the last place one ought to go for accurate descriptions about anything). They were arguing about authority and whether or not society – both ecclesial and civil – is in fact hierarchical. Hooker offers a resounding “YES!!!” to this question. An anarchist or antifoundationalist reading of Hooker cannot comprehend this.

    There is no such thing as an inarticulate justice – unless one posits the metaphysical heresy that the Logos might not be manifested in space and time. An anarchist ‘gesture’ towards justice which can neither be named nor described is also an anarchist ‘gesture’ that cannot be reasoned (and remember: for Hooker, working out of common law, reason is not just cosmological but a process of formal argumentation and discourse). It seems that you’re really just arguing for speaking in tongues – and this brings you down on the Puritan side of things, yes? But, borrowing from Wittgenstein, is there really such a thing as a private language? Since when did the Logos merely resound as babble?

    • Tony Hunt says:

      Wow, that’s a lot of random accusations.

      “If one rejects natural law, there is no reason for bothering with Hooker”

      – Apart from learning from him, seeking to understand him, seeking to understand how the natural law tradition has been foundationally articulated in Anglicanism, incorporating myself into the Anglican tradition, and other such reasons, you’re right, I can’t think of a reason to bother with him.

      “might it not make a bit more sense to try and understand him in his past?”

      – That’s definitely a goal. But since not all of us are doing a Phd in this period of English history I would surely benefit from your insights. If you mean I am simply collapsing his interests into my own then while that might be true, it’s certainly nothing I’m purposely doing. In fact I’ve learned that we do injustice to our progenitors when we fail to account for their historical otherness. If you’re hung up on the word “justice” you are rather missing the point, imo. I know you have a thing for hating on “hippie dippies” but I can assure you I am not a liberal, politically or theologically, except in the best and historical sense of that word as it has been related to, for instance, bishop Gore and the liberal catholics. I don’t use “justice” in the same vacuous way that they do on blogs like “Thinking Anglicans” or “The Episcopal Cafe.” I understand Hooker to be a teleological thinker, therefore I was simply using “justice” as a stand in for “the good” or the “telos” or whatever; that toward which laws ought by nature aim for the good of society. I didn’t mean ius in a scholastic sense.

      As to whether Hooker was playing a zero sum game, it’s not really my point that he wasn’t trying to win. Of course he is trying to win! Nevertheless, because of the manner by which he undertakes to do this, by understanding the puritans’ arguments, by fairly articulating them, and by thoroughly responding to them, he is taking part in something that is not simply a command from on high. He doesn’t play by polemical rules that bypass serious engagement.

      Neither am I trying to give an “anarchist” or “antifoundationalist” reading of him. That I am antifoundationalist, and that I have anarchist sympathies of a sort, I put out there for clarity’s sake. I certainly am still trying to understand Hooker on his own terms. Perhaps I might undertake such a reading at some point, though I would most likely take a Wittgensteinian approach. I’m all about scholasticism as part of the Christian language game; not so much as a neutral or positivist exercise of dialectical reasoning but as an explication of Scripture and Christian practices. I should also note that I purposely used “pseudo” in front of anarchist because I am not a “strong” anarchist. I only use it to indicate that I believe there is a legitimate critique of the developed modern nation state and its liberal secular foundation. So I would fit rather squarely within the thought of, for instance, William Cavanaugh or John Milbank. Most of all, though, I am influenced by Rowan Williams. So maybe “radical,” but not purely “leftist” nor “liberal.” Neither am I anti-hierarchical. I think hierarchy can — Of course!! — be corrupt and evil, but so can democracy.

      As far as that odd doctrine of the Word, I have no idea what you’re even talking about. It seems to come out of left field. I wasn’t saying that it “can’t be named” in a iconoclastic sense, only that it might not make sense at the time. Just like when St. Basil a millenia ahead of his time argued against slavery. It would be something like an apocalyptic catholicism, clearly utilized by David Bentley Hart here.

      Anyway, I do hope your comments will be more helpful in the future because I quite strongly value your experience, passion, and insight.

      • I appreciate the admonition. A very good (and inexpensive!) ‘companion’ to Hooker is A. S. McGrade, Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community (MRTS, 1997). It has historical essays on everything from international context to humanism and rhetoric, to a few essays by theologians. Also, do you have access to JSTOR? There are all sorts of articles on Hooker by McGrade, Kirby, and others that would be worth reading.

        As for ‘justice’ and other such words, maybe it would just be helpful if you explain what you mean as the term is much abused today. Consequently, its meaning isn’t immediately obvious (at least, not to me!).

        I understand better now that you are not trying to given a (pseudo-)anarchist, etc., reading of Hooker – thanks for the clarification. I would ask whether or not anarchist presuppositions, as critiques of the modern secular nation-state, are helpful when reading Hooker? Elizabethan England was neither modern nor secular nor a nation-state. Here is where hierarchy is important to Hooker – not just as something to be defended but as part of the order of creation itself. So it’s not a question about the uses of hierarchy and its potential for good – rather, hierarchy was non-negotiable. E. M. W. Tillyard’s old book The Elizabethan World Picture (Vintage, 1959) is dated, but is helpful in this regard.

        Finally, as for the issue of the Logos, my point is as follows. You write:

        ‘By pseudo-anarchism I mean that while I have faith in institutions and regulations, these must be able to be disrupted by gestures toward justice even where said justice cannot be properly reasoned at the time.’

        But a justice that ‘cannot be properly reasoned at the time’ is a justice that cannot be thought, and consequently cannot be spoken or articulated. In this, it is like the claim of speaking in tongues – nothing is actually spoken or articulated, just gibberish (unless there is a translator, but my charismatic background tells me that usually there is not). And what is gibberish but, in Wittgensteinian terms, a private language and thus an impossibility? But the Logos is not so incommunicable. I think that speaking in tongues is problematic because it sets the Logos, as meaningful and intentional speech, against the Holy Spirit, as meaningless and unintentional speech. Consequently the Godhead is divided because the divine Persons are set against one another. So, if Logos is communicable; and if Logos is also Ratio; then a justice that ‘cannot be properly reasoned at the time’ is also a-Logos and hence *an*archic. One can claim that it is driven by the inarticulate inspiration of the Holy Spirit (so-called ‘tongues’) but I propose that, to the contrary, this is heretical as it sets one person in the Godhead (Logos) against the other (Spirit). Justice is always reasonable. Or else it is not justice – unless, of course, one is voluntarist who believes that might truly does make right.

        If this still needs clarification, let me know. I am guessing that we probably disagree on how one ought to interpret (no pun intended!) Acts.

      • Tony Hunt says:

        I appreciate the book recommendations. I’ll be hitting you up for recommendations on medieval stuff to be sure.

        By “justice” I mean nothing less than the Good of a society. In line in Aquinas I take it that Love is the fundamental Christian virtue that overrides all other kinds of claims, for instance to personal property if such property is being used against the needs of others, etc…So by justice I most certainly do not mean something like “what is due to each” or anything, which is a far more classical interpretation. If this confuses terms then I apologize, maybe someday I’ll switch to a more technical terminology. (It’s no mistake in my mind that Romans is about dikaiosune as is Plato’s Republic)

        With regards to reading Hooker as a “pseudo-anarchist” – It’s not my intent to project, again, I was merely trying to show that I am not an objective person, I have biases and tendencies. If anything I mentioned it so that I could be held accountable if I am reading too much into Hooker or misreading him. Now, while Elizabethan England is not a “modern nation state” it is part of what developed. Without the break with Rome and without the problems of schismatic christian groups, it’s questionable whether we could have gotten Leviathan. We can’t talk about the present without talking about the past.

        Finally, on your Logos bit, I must admit I still think you’re strongly overreaching. For one, it has nothing to do with a reading of Acts. Clearly you’re conflating and confusing the tongues of Acts 2 with those of 1 Corinthians 12 & 14 for starters. Any reading of Acts 2 would have to be radically complex, involving Sinai, Joel, pneumatology, missiology, political theology, and more. Clearly I don’t mean something cannot not in any way be articulated. What I mean is that while something might be articulated by someone, the truthfulness is contested. The example I gave was St. Gregory of Nyssa’s opposition to slavery on orthodox theological grounds. But slavery, it was argued, was natural, and it took a very, very, long time to come to understand that Nyssa was right.

        This is the risk that always attends natural theologies. Something might be seen to be clearly natural by reason which in time will be rejected on better scientific or dogmatic grounds. It has to be open to the disrupting power of the Christian gospel.

        Your distinction between natural theologies is helpful. Certainly anything that stinks of self-evident truths in a positivist sense is something I absolutely reject. The other kind I am mostly on board with. I would note, though, that to say that reason might be clouded and partial because of sin is itself a faith claim stemming from the Christian revelation.

        Believe me, I am in solidarity with you completely on the weakness of modern theology to stand with Christian revelation. So what I want to avoid is the problematic apologetic direction natural theology goes.

        I could point you, in turn, to the works of contemporary theologians from whom I receive my temperament. A key text would be Stanley Hauerwas’s With The Grain of the Universe, as well as David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.

  2. Chris Green says:

    Thanks, ADH (and RB), for doing this for us. Let me be one of the first to swear fealty to your new domain. As I’ve told you before, I’ve read almost nothing of Hooker, so this is an exciting new vista for me.

    I’m intrigued by this line: “…while I have faith in institutions and regulations, these must be able to be disrupted by gestures toward justice even where said justice cannot be properly reasoned at the time” and it leads to wonder if (a) we might not want to make a distinction between having faith in institutions/regulations and simply agreeing to work amiably with and even for them, in other words, to live in good faith within the institution, but not to allow it some kind of status as something to command our faith? Of course, I’m not wanting to go the way of the Free Church critique of the ecclesia that attempts to separate belief in the (invisible) church from the (visible) institution of congregational polity. Anyway, you’ve got me thinking …


    • Tony Hunt says:

      I for one appreciate fealty, so thank you. I could mostly get on board with your comment. I would say that some institutions have a “stronger pneumatological pedigree” than others, and thus are to be more strongly supported even in trial; so for instance I would say this about the episcopacy. The church doesn’t depend on the episcopacy and its not constituted by it, but it has a rather unshakable ability to maintain unity in the long haul. So I would almost say I’m loyal to it, but I would not give it the kind of dogmatic place it has in Roman Catholicism or in certain veins that think “apostolic succession” in a similar way.

      But! If we were to rid ourselves of the episcopacy, the change in form would itself constitute a change in the mode of being. I too wouldn’t separate form from content. (A recent critique of Fresh Expressions puts this nicely)

      • Chris Green says:

        I can see your point theologically—to “rid ourselves of the episcopacy” is to alter the very “mode of being” of the church. But that leaves me entirely unsure of my own footing in the Pentecostal tradition, which is Free Church if ever there were such an animal, as you well know. You no longer have this problem, but I wonder what, if anything, you think Pentecostalists (to summon up a strange, old word) ought to do about this problem?

      • Tony Hunt says:

        Pentecostalism should start being more ecumenical. By this I don’t mean only hanging out with and working with other christian groups on a local level. This definitely they should do and often do do this (hehe: “do do”); They should go to Easter vigils and evensongs with older traditions and serve the poor with other local parishes. But they should also enter into official theological dialogues with more established churches; not only to learn from them and love them, but to give what they can offer to the other churches. There’s a reciprocity there. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s only Pentecostals who have something to learn or gain.

        Radical things can happen, though. For instance, in order for the Episcopal Church to agree to enter full communion with the ELCA, the ELCA had to adopt bishops and allow themselves to be consecrated by at least three other bishops in apostolic succession. But now we enjoy a unity of orders and eucharistic fellowship. Technically speaking if once I became a priest I could preside over an ELCA parish if they needed me to.

      • Chris Green says:

        I like that, very much. It’s not going to be easy to make sense of this (for Pentecostals, or for me, personally), but it’s work that needs done, I think. Thanks for your help.

  3. Ted Troxell says:

    You gotta watch those free churchers. They’re shady.

  4. Robbie says:

    Thanks, Chris!

    All good thoughts, Tony.

    I’m left wondering if Hooker would agree with Tony’s comment: “Even Reason is done through a context by which it is in large part, indeed in invisible parts, constituted.” Reason hardly seems to be a “self-evident” principle for Hooker. I’m trying to resist the urge to jump beyond Part I here, but the sense I’m getting from Hooker’s understanding of Natural Law seems somewhat different in pedigree than the Natural Law theories stemming from, say, strict baroque-scholasticism, the very kind that we’re accustomed to rejecting.

    Ben, with that said, is this what you’re getting at when you write, “reason is not just cosmological but a process of formal argumentation and discourse.” It seems to me that the pejorative understanding of Natural Law posits “self-evident” truths that need not be mediated by culture, the commonweal, eduction, etc. I get the sense that Hooker doesn’t want to be backed into such a corner, as that would leave him vulnerable to the Papists on side and the Puritans on the other.

    • I don’t see Hooker having a concept of culture, so the various (seemingly!) obvious structural mediations that we would think about today – culture, history, etc. – are not part of his worldview. But what is wrong with ‘self-evident’ truths? This very much seems to me to be how Hooker and a host of other late-medieval and early-modern divines look at things. Some things are just there: you don’t need to interpret them, only accept them and apply them. I confess that I don’t know anything about baroque scholasticism, so please explain what you mean. It is common among ‘theologians’ today to reject all sorts of things that were never rejected before – after all, is it not more important to engage Foucault than Aristotle, Derrida than Plato, etc.? I rail against the state of modern ‘theology’ and its vapid antihumanism. There is no sense of sources and no sense of authorities, and consequently no sense of law – natural, divine, or otherwise. Hooker was a pre-modern humanist. So he embraced all sorts of things that ‘theologians’ today would have a hard time with. But from my view, the problem is with contemporary so-called theology, not with natural law, divine revelation, or any of the other obvious building blocks of historic orthodoxy that are no longer fashionable to the generation of 1968.

      • Robbie says:

        Thanks, Ben.

        I agree that the term “culture” is anachronistic when it comes to Hooker. It would have been more appropriate to stress common law, the rational ordering of the universe, aristocratic-education and probably, contemplative ascesis (no?). I unhelpfully lumped these ideas into a loaded term like “culture.”

        The point I was making about self evident truths in Hooker is to embrace your point – as when you draw a contrast between Hooker and post-1968 concepts of justice. The Good is not self-evident; it takes rigorous discipline and training in order to follow – which is why the church still needs rites, customs, laws, etc (I.3). I can’t imagine many soixante-huitard Parisian philosophers getting on bored with this idea.

        You write, “Some things are just there: you don’t need to interpret them, only accept them and apply them.” I submit that I could be wrong here, but my point was to say that I think I see Hooker being a little more cautious. For one thing, isn’t this what the Puritans were advocating, along with Rome? Again, I’ll try to address this in the next go-around, but it seems to me that Hooker’s interpretation of all things rational-appetite theory a la Aristotle and Aquinas bring some shades of gray to the discussion. I look forward to your comments then!

        Also, I agree with the gist of your railing against the state of modern theology, and how a good deal of it slips into anti-humanism. And most of what modern theology rails against is modernity, not pre-modernity. Which is why Hooker is proving to be so very interesting, for me at least.

      • Ok, yes, I see what you are saying. Hooker does have some interesting things to say about how because of sin, entire societies have come to wholly misapprehend that which would otherwise be obvious. I think that the argument is basically Pauline, a la Romans: there are things inscribed in us as basically right and wrong, but we can fail to apprehend these things through sin – whether our own acts, or that of the societies into which we are born. So again, I point to the issue of society, which is something that Hooker writes quite a lot about. I don’t think ‘society’ is quite the same as our notion of culture; it seems to me that in Hooker society is something more explicitly articulated, above all through law. Something of the Good is self-evident – nature reveals something of God – but only through a glass darkly. And what is more, our own actions and experiences may prevent us from apprehending that. But grace also exceeds nature, and the content of Christian revelation is known precisely because it is revealed (it is late in Book One that he goes into this, if I recall correctly – sorry, I am writing from my office computer).

        It occurs to me that perhaps the issue about natural law is that there are two major trends in thought. The first, which is more traditionally Christian, says that natural law exists but that our apprehension of it is difficult at best and may be profoundly undermined by sin (again, either our own or that of our wider society). Another line of thought exists which claims that things are self-evident and that nothing can prevent them from self-evident. This latter view is probably most often associated with the so-called Enlightenment and its more Deistic (not necessarily secular!) view of things. Hooker is in the first group. In reacting against the second group, we should be careful not to hit out against the first group.

    • Tony Hunt says:

      You guys already worked this out but I will at least add that Hooker definitely understands that formation will direct what one thinks and how one thinks. In, for instance, his sermon on justification, he notes that “people follow the conduct of their guides, and observe as they did, exactly that which was prescribed them.”

  5. Robbie says:

    Tony, that’s exactly what I was getting at. I also look forward to discussing more of what Hooker means by society and how this relates to Anglicanism’s particular/contemporary focus on “the social.”

    Ben – with regard to Kirby’s articles on Hooker, “Richard Hooker’s Theory of Natural Law in the Context of Reformation Theology” (’99) seems like a good place to begin, correct?

  6. Robbie says:

    Whoops. Meant to say “Ben,” not “Tony.”

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