Monthly Archives: June 2012

On Not Quite Agreeing With Hooker’s 8th


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.


Book I. CH. 8


Chapter VIII turned out to be rather long. Rather than risk a botched summary, I opted to focus on a few key areas.

Knowledge of the Good

One of these areas is Hooker’s exploration of the mode whereby humanity comes to perceive the good in light of fallen reason. (To say that Hooker is concerned with “epistemology” here would be to miss the mark I think. The strong platonic element in this chapter seems to preclude the idea of any pure or objective operations of reason.) He also offers a strong defense of natural theology or the natural knowledge of God.

Hooker begins by again following Aquinas. Both argue that the cause of sin is faulty reason rather than will. “If Reason err, we fall into evil, and are so far forth deprived of the general perfection we seek” (5.1). Closely linked to this is Hooker’s conception of the transcendental properties of the good and the beautiful. Good actions naturally “delight.” Hooker refers to the Grecian term, καλοκαγαθία, a term that links, καλός (beautiful) and ἀγαθός (good) (VIII.1).

Hooker goes on to write that despite all the sure “signs” and “tokens” of the good, the surest way to know the good is by consensus. “If the general persuasion of all men do so account it,” one can be confident that good is present. And so Hooker refers to the vox populi, vox Dei, “the general and perpetual voice of mean is the sentence of God himself” (VIII.8).

A couple of things stand out here. First, Hooker repeatedly distinguishes between goods and the Good. His use of “signs” and “tokens” almost implies a gradation or hierarchy of goods leading to an ultimate Good. Second, Hooker certainly isn’t advocating something like democracy. My guess is that Hooker stresses the concept of conciliarity in regards to both the ecumenical councils and the ecclesial politics of the Church.

The Good and Natural Theology

Still, how can we know the good given the effects of sin? Hooker answers by turning to the role of something like natural theology or the “natural knowledge of God.” Hooker’s Aristotelian-Thomisitc synthesis shines forth here, as he stresses that all knowledge comes from nature, “and God being the author of Nature, her voice is but his instrument. By her from Him we receive whatsoever in such sort we learn” (VIII.3). This is a striking claim and wonderful claim, and one that is extremely unfashionable in certain theological circles.

It would seem that Hooker is guilty of privileging reason over the priority of revelation over and against nature; or confusing the sharp boundaries between revelation and nature. Herbert McCabe, however, is helpful in explaining Hooker’s Thomism. As McCabe writes, “In St. Thomas’s view, we do not know anything about the world through knowing something about God. God is never, for him, an explanation of the world. The movement is always in the other direction: what we know about the world sometimes helps us to know something about God,” and more pointedly, “our way of talking about God derives from our way of talking about creatures” (God and Evil, 72, 73).

The Natural Law of Reason

In turning to questions of natural law, Hooker quotes Theophrastus: “they that seek a reason of all things do utterly overthrow reason.” Reason is therefore inexorable and is tied into the fabric and logic of the cosmos. After noting a number of classical and biblical examples of this truth, Hooker writes, “notwithstanding whatever such principles there is, it [the law] was at first found out by discourse, and drawn from out of the very bowels of heaven and earth” (VIII.5). Again, this is another idea substantiated and anticipated in classical thought. Hooker points to a sense of preparatio evangelica, noting that the Greeks called Jus or Right “the very daughter of heaven and earth.”

At one time I would have utterly disagreed with Hooker’s take on reason. Given that reason is always contextually and culturally situated, how could we ever posit something like universal reason? But Hooker doesn’t seem to be saying this. Rather, he seems to be saying that reason takes work, that it was “found out by discourse, and drawn from our of the very bowels of heaven and earth.” There is no sense of “clear and distinct ideas” or self-evident truths of reason. Rather, there is the hard work of discovering the good or what is reasonable, and seeking out the mediations of divine illumination through the councils (“consensus”) of the church, the sacraments and the book of nature.

Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus: A Translation in Meter (Sort of)

– Tony

In Greek this last semester we read through an old proto-stoic hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes. It’s a lovely little poem and is quite unique. It goes against stoicism by the very fact that it’s a hymn, thus personalizing the divine in a way foreign to stoicism. It’s interesting to contrast this with proper Christian theology, which lines up in certain parts yet most definitely not in all parts. Either way I thought it fitting for this blog.

I tried my darndest to put this thing in meter but I found it incredibly difficult. I need to spend some more time at the feet of Allen Mandelbaum clearly. Ostensibly in Blank Verse, that is, unrhymed iambic pentameter, I allowed myself significant “freedom” to diverge. Thus you’ll find plenty of anapest, amphibrach, and trochaic feet, as well as feminine endings. My scantron is a mess so it’s a good thing I’m not trying to publish this sucker.


Most Glorious Zeus, the Many-Named, eternally
All-Μighty, First Mover of nature; all things do you
direct with law; We hail you, since it is right
for all us mortals to speak of you. From you
we have our birth, and we alone by lot
have obtained the image of your voice;
alone of all the mortals who crawl and live
upon the ground. In this will I hymn you
and sing of your eternal strength. In truth
for you the cosmos turn around the earth,
obeying you to where you lead – Willingly
is it ruled by you. A fiery, two-edged, sword
you hold in your unconquerable hands –
All works of nature move beneath the blow
of your eternal servant; with it you direct
the universal reason; which moves about
through all things, mixing with the Great and small Light.
Thus you have become so great, the most high king
in everything. No work occurs upon
the ground apart from you, O god, neither
on the axis of the divine heavens, nor the deep,
save when evil men act in their foolishness.
But you know how to make the vain things perfect,
and how to order the disorderly –
Even the unloved is loved to you.
For in this way have you so joined all things
in one, the good in the bad, so that one thing
has come to be, which is for all: Thy Word
eternal; which those who flee avoid, Ill-fated
evil mortals; for these do always yearn
to sieze the good, yet they do not behold
god’s universal law, neither do they
hear it. If by this they would be pursuaded
with understanding they might have a good life,
But they in fact do hasten on without
the good – Each to another thing. While some
above their glory hasten on for strife;
Others, no one with order, are turned against
what’s right; still others turned toward liscensciousness,
even the sweet works of the body; the good
they yet desire but bear along now here
now there. They hasten to become the very
opposite of these good things. But Zeus, All-Giver,
Cloaked in black clouds, Ruler of the Thunderbolt,
Deliver thou all human kind from their
so baleful ignorance, which you, O Father,
disperse from the soul, and give to light upon
the mark by which you trust to steer all things
with justice; that we, being honored, may in turn
honor you, hymning your unbroken works,
as is right for mortals so to do,
For there is no gift greater than for men
and gods in common eternally to hymn your law in justice.

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Book I. Ch. 7

– Tony

Taken in itself the statement that “By reason man attaineth unto the knowledge of things that are and are not sensible” could be said to mean that reason is simply the exercise of logic, or of tracing the “chain of being;” but that is to miss the conclusion to the previous chapter which Robb so expertly exposited: The right use of reason requires “education and instruction;” furthermore, Hooker claims that reason is dependent on teloi and desire. No thing is able even to “move” without there being an end toward which it moves, and the provocation of the desire of that end. (I’m not entirely sure if it is important to note that Hooker says nothing can move without an end/desire rather than that nothing does move. It’s probably nothing) “End” need not imply a static and fixed point of orientation but can mean simply that movement or action is itself the desired end.

Whatever else it means that we are made in the image of God, it means that we “resemble him also in the manner of working.” We work “wittingly” and “freely,” such that we can choose even not to do things which may or ought to be done. From here Hooker moves into a tightly packed set of sentences:

“To choose is to will one thing before another. And to will is to bend our souls to the having or doing of that which they see to be good. Goodness is seen with the eye of the understanding. And the light of that eye, is reason. So that two principal fountains there are of human action, Knowledge and Will; which Will, in things tending towards any end, is termed Choice.”

Let us attempt to summarize Hooker to this point.

There are teloi, but these do not move anything to action. The desire of the end is what provokes to action/motion. We know that an end is desirable and/or good by apprehension, by Knowledge. But, again, it is not knowledge but desire that provokes motion. Yet sometimes we might not desire unless we first knew to desire, or if knowledge awoke desire. We come to know by reason. Having known, by will we choose, but it is only choice if we might have been able not to do.


Yet to will is different in fundamental ways than to have appetite, an “inferior natural desire.” “The object of Appetite is whatsoever sensible good may be wished for; the object of Will is that good which Reason doth lead us to seek.” (emphasis added). It lies not entirely within our power to choose to have joy, grief, or fear. It is the non-reasonableness and lack of will to choose which marks appetite. Appetite can in some ways be controlled, though, by Will. “Appetite is the Will’s solicitor, and the Will is Appetite’s controller.”

Hooker calls the objects of appetite a “sensible” and a “natural” good. I am curious, then, if we might choose by will not to do something for which we have an appetite, will the objects of appetite therefore also sometimes be not-good? I’m guessing that here Hooker is being quite subtle: for he says that we cannot desire a non-good because non-goods do not exist according to the normative notion of evil as privation. Yet surely if by reason we comprehend that the end or doing of an appetite is better to be left undone, then isn’t it the case that appetite sometimes does “desire” a not-good end? Since if it were better and reasonable, should it not necessarily be better to do it than not to do it? As he goes on to say, we can only will to do such things as reason teaches are possible. All true goods are possible goods. Yet appetite is not so constrained. Therefore appetite does not always wish for that which is good insofar as it does sometimes wish for that which is not possible. Perhaps then, with section 6, it is the case that there is a “goodness which is or seemeth to be joined with it. Goodness doth not move by being, but by being apparent;” (emphasis added)

I’m left, therefore, with more questions about what appetite is.

The reason that we sometimes will the less-good or even evil is not because such knowledge lies entirely outside the possible knowing of reason, but because our reason and will are weakened by the Fall, by “divine malediction.”

I’m not gonna lie, this little chapter was tough for me to wrap my head around. Please to help if you see weaknesses in my reading.

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