In chapter VI, Hooker turns to the formative role education plays in the perfection of knowledge. To my mind, one of the more interesting aspects of this chapter is Hooker’s linking of education to perfection or salvation. This raises a whole host of interesting questions.
As we move through the Laws, it is becoming clearer that Hooker does not share the Continental reformers’ disdain for salvation as the perfecting of virtue or the purifying of reason. And as Hooker continues reiterating the patristic tradition of tying salvation to perfection/deification, I wonder if thereby implicitly elevates something like “culture” or tradition, along with the soteriological role these play. More on this below.
Hooker begins by noting the key difference between humanity and angels. Angels possesses the visio Dei and have “the full and complete knowledge in the highest degree that can be imparted unto them” (vi.1), whereas humanity must, “search by what steps and degrees it riseth unto perfection of knowledge” (vi.1).
Again, the contrast to many of the Continental reformers is striking: salvation is about the “steps and degrees” leading toward the visio Dei, the reformation of the rational appetite, and less about humanity’s legal status before God.
But if salvation is about the visio dei, or something like purifying vision by degree, then doesn’t salvation have much to do with education, culture and time? Hooker writes, “till we grow to some ripeness of years, the soul of man doth only store itself with conceits of things of inferior and more open quality, which afterwards do serve as instruments unto that which is greater.” Notably, our previous ‘status’ before the gift of salvation is not necessarily something that hinders divine intervention; rather, our previous selves can serve as “instruments,” helping us to receive grace and the purification of the rational appetite. Culture, education or tradition can augment our capacity for receiving the revelation of Christ. This being the case, wouldn’t it then make sense to build an ecclesial culture? I was reminded here of the Catholic Worker’s goal of attempting to build a society where it’s easier for people to be good. But isn’t this a dangerous idea, something that history has rejected?
Further, isn’t Hooker downgrading the role of interventionist grace, making grace subservient to a principle other than Christ or claiming that humanity itself creates the necessary conditions for receiving Christ?
Not quite – Hooker’s Thomism saves him here. As he writes in the last chapter, “all things in the world are said in some sort to seek the highest, and to covet more or less the participation of God himself” (v.2). Only if we didn’t have a natural desire for the supernatural would he be guilty of something like Pelagianism. The point, I think, is that humanity cooperates with grace and that reason plays a formative role in our salvation. As Hooker states, “education and instruction are the means, the one by use, the other by precept, to make our natural faculty of reason both the better and the sooner able to judge rightly between truth and error, good and evil” (v.4).
Of course, Hooker is aware of the dangers of plaguing knowledge: “the curiosity of man’s wit doth many times with peril wade farther in the search of things than were convenient” (v.4).
Finally, I suppose some lingering questions have to do with the soteriological role of culture, education and tradition, and the question of the capax Dei.
On a personal note, I found Hooker’s emphasis on the self’s instrumental role in the drama of salvation to be very encouraging. I often find people who think that the ‘event’ of Grace must be something like a Flannery O’Connor motif (who, by the way, was an avid Thomist), an absolute interruption that changes, destroys and creates something entirely new in its wake, or it is not grace at all. But more often than not, Christ’s grace does come by slow and steady increments; we move from glory to glory. Our previous selves, the selves before the new creation, do have some significant role to play in the continuing drama of our lives.