We have seen both in this and in previous chapters, that Hooker uses examples from pagan antiquity to substantiate claims that there are some things both about God and about the world that are universally available to be known by the exercise of reason. Humans should be able to know and indeed have known that God creates all things by law; and here in the eighth chapter he adds that by reason there are some particular goods that can be known universally.
Now to be fair, these are fairly limited claims. That God is creator, that all things are ordered by law, and there are some things that are good to do; these aren’t some confident claim that people may know that God is Trinity, or predict the Mystery of Faith, based on the traces of desire and being. For instance he approvingly cites those who knew that all is created by law, yet they still thought God was of nature fire! He also quotes a passage about Zeus from the Illiad. Thus it can hardly be said that these pagans, however they anticipated the Gospel, had anything more than a fleeting and ecstatic glance at who God is. (I pointed these out previously in the comments)
Nevertheless, Hooker will say
“It is not agreed upon by one, or two, or few, but by all. Which we may not so understand, as if every particular man in the whole world did know and confess whatsoever the Law of Reason doth contain; but this Law is such that being proposed no man can reject it as unreasonable and unjust. Again, there is nothing in it but any man (having natural perfection of wit and ripeness of judgement) may by labour and travail find out.”
Allow me to offer a couple points before moving to possible ways of making Hooker more appealing to me here.
Given the range of pagan sources he uses, I find it questionable to surmise that the ancients knew what they knew about God (or their gods) and about goods by the sole exercise of reason. Given that Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and these others were in fact pagan idolators, offering gifts at the temples, writing their plays and poems for public festivals in honor of their gods; however sharp they are in reason, I would assert that Hooker is underestimating the extent to which their assertions about God are conditioned and dependent on their own pagan culture. Clearly when Homer says that “Zeus spoke and his counsel was accomplished,” he is not making a claim abstractible from the cultic knowledge of Zeus from which he is working. Likewise for Sophocles in the Antigone.
None of this is to say that pagans do not anticipate in philosophy and art the later revelation of God in Christ — far be it from me! But it’s more oblique and coincidental than Hooker is willing to grant.
So, while I can agree with Hooker in pretty much all of his theology of Law, I think even he misjudges the extent to which this is founded on the Church’s teaching rather than sheer natural reason. I would want to move more toward “reason by faith alone.”
This being said, there are a few concessions Hooker makes that, I think, can be used to move him in a more cultural-linguistic direction.
While saying it is the lesser of the ways that people may come to know goodness, Hooker says that the wide assent of human societies is one way. Which is as much as to say that we learn the good by a traditioned culture. Certainly, as he later says of the failures of idolatry, such cultural assent can often mask something completely against reason and must be disrupted, but it is at least one way.
Similarly, he says that in order to use reason correctly one must be educated in its use. Moreover, it is the special task of those who have “natural perfection of wit and ripeness of judgement.” So even in order to use reason rightly, one must first be formed in its proper methods and limits by an authority.
There remain more of the Laws to explore and perhaps he will provide his own explorations. I remain open. Yet I imagine that Hooker will yet need in the end, at least for me, a cultural-linguistic corrective.