“The book of this law we are neither able nor worthy to open and look into.”
Tony’s introduction laid some excellent groundwork and effectively set the stage for the issues we will continue to face. What is the relation between praxis and theory as laid out in the Laws? Does not an over zealous connection between divine law and the revealed law, making up the matrix of church, state, rite and custom, preclude the possibility of rebellion? In a rationally ordered universe, what are the grounds for critique of the law, which is said to reflect a divine ordo? Finally, is the identification between natural law and God’s law a dangerous idea?
Book I, Part II of the Laws addresses these concerns. As Hooker makes clear, the law is not a meditation on static first principles, let alone a formula for blind obedience of seemingly arbitrary divine decrees. Law is more akin to trust; trust in the obscure Trinitarian operations of God’s own self that forms the basis of all reality as marked by the Incarnation.
Hooker concludes Part I by noting the breakdown in trust and what is at stake for England:
“The laws of the Church, whereby for so many ages together we have been guided in the exercise of Christian religion and the service of the true God, our rites, customs, and orders of ecclesiastical government, are called into question: we are accused as men that will not have Christ Jesus to rule over them, but have willfully cast his statues behind their backs, hating to be reformed and made subject to the scepter of his discipline” (I.i.3).
In light of these concerns, Hooker begins his defense against the Puritans with a reflection on natural law. Again, this is not an argument based upon first principles, but a reflection on law that extends to the whole of reality; nature and the supernatural; nature in light of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Hooker is therefore not operating with a sense of “pure nature” or nature as sundered from a teleological order (let alone a mechanistic or atomistic conception of nature, as found in Bacon, Hobbes, etc.). Nature itself is dynamic in the biblical sense of straining toward perfection. All nature moves toward “some fore-conceived end for which it worketh” (II.i.1). And this is the basis of law: “so that no certain end could ever be attained, unless the actions whereby it is attained were regular; that is to say, made suitable, fit and correspondent unto their end, by some canon, rule or law” (I.ii.1).
Law is therefore first and foremost fitting or appropriate rather than arbitrary or positivistic. God did not choose to create the law. Rather, the law is primarily an instance of God’s being. According to Hooker, a teleological ordered universe is a real analogue of the Trinitarian processions. The canon of nature “doth first take place in the works even of God himself” (I.ii.1-2). Here Hooker adamantly rejects the notions of God’s potentia absoluta and voluntaristic conceptions of God, going so far as to claim that “they err therefore who think that of the will of God to do this or that there is no reason besides his will” (I.ii.5). And this is crucial: Hooker’s rejection of voluntaristic theology in favor of Thomas’s rational-appetite theory hinders the possibility of seamlessly aligning his thought with Luther or Calvin.
Although it is too soon to claim that Hooker is advocating something like “participationist ontology,” the connection Hooker draws between the rational ordering of the universe as an analogue of the law operating among the persons of the Trinity is striking. Hence the title of this blog: “God therefore is a law both to himself, and to all other things besides” (props go to Tony for the title). Whatever this may all mean in the end, Hooker powerfully reminds us that the Trinity is not something that we simply gaze upon from a safe distance.
So, is the identification between the lex aeterna, the being of God, and the revealed law making up the matrix of church polity, state, custom and rite, a dangerous idea? And if so, what then are the grounds for rebellion? Although we can’t make Hooker into something he is not – a figure driven by liberal democratic concerns – his refusal to draw a direct connection between a given set of phenomena (his so-called “pragmatic” defense of the episcopacy comes to mind) and something like an appeal to “God’s will” is telling. Hooker says, “the particular drift of every act proceeding externally from God we are not able to discern” (I.ii.4) and that,
“the book of this law we are neither able nor worthy to open and look into. That little thereof which we darkly apprehend we admire, the rest with religious ignorance we humbly and meekly adore” (I.ii.5).
Perhaps a case can be made that there is an apophatic pause in Hooker’s thought; moments when he resists a strict identification between divine and revealed law. To compare Thomas Hobbes, who saw no basis for rebellion because there is only one law, Hooker’s Thomism allows him to appeal to God’s law; the very law that makes breaches of the law just in certain circumstances (cf. ST, II-II, Q 66, Art. 7). At the end of the day, is this apophaticism enough to ‘save’ Hooker’s political thought?
My hunch is that Hooker strikes the right balance: the laws of God are apophatic, but no less sure. We can trust in the ordinances of “rite, customs, and orders of ecclesiastical government” (I.i.3), in the same manner that we can trust in reason, however fallen. Hooker reminds us that despite the worst offences of the papacy, the Holy Spirit did not abandon the church from the time of the Apostles to the sixteenth century. This trust in law is a powerful reminder that the universe is not one giant throw of the dice, nor is it simply a providential ordering by decree, but a teleological universe tending toward perfection.