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.