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.


8 thoughts on “On Not Quite Agreeing With Hooker’s 8th

  1. Chris Green says:

    ADH, perhaps the whole “revelation”/”reason” discussion is nonsense, really? I can’t see how we could ever know where God’s gracious intervention (“revelation”) ends and our human efforts (“revelation”) begin to work on their own steam, and if we don’t know that, then what is there to talk about along these lines?

    • Tony Hunt says:

      I would wholeheartedly agree with you there. Yet, our agreement takes for granted that God reveals. I’m not so sure that this is simply self-evident. I’m not suggesting that’s what you’re saying, what I’m trying to get at is what I was trying to get at above: It is impossible to separate our reasoning from our being traditioned in reasoning, in speaking, in thinking, etc…

  2. Chris Green says:

    Obviously, that second “revelation” should read “reason.” I guess Freud would have a laugh at my expense.

  3. Robbie says:

    I think you have an interesting point, in that ‘belief’ in such and such a god is not “abstractible from the cultic knowledge of Zeus.”

    With that said, doesn’t Hooker address your (very much valid) concern? I’m thinking of 8.3:

    “That by force of the light of Reason, wherewith God illuminath everyone which cometh into the world, men being enabled to know the truth from falsehood, and good from evil, do thereby learn in many things what the will of God is; which will himself not revealing by an extraordinary means unto them, but they by natural discourse attaining the knowledge thereof, seem the makers of those Laws which indeed are his, and they but only the finders of them out.”

    And this:

    “For that which all mean have at all times learned, Nature herself must needs have taught; 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.”

    I get the sense that Hooker is saying, like Augustine, that human cognition itself is always already divinely illuminated, and reason itself, by way of sensory experience, can have limited but no less true intimations of God. Of course this is only provisional outside the light of Christ. Hooker sort of set this up in Chapter 8, by showing that sin is a result of faulty reason vs. will. If reason is illumined by Christ, we can begin to move toward the divine life *through* nature, which is the only we can move toward Christ and Christ can move toward us.

    As I read Hooker, I see him as sort of beating us to the punch or leaving traces in his writings of a cultural-linguistic corrective, as you rightly call for. Of course, this is within reason; Hooker was very much a man of his time.

    Does this make sense or did I totally miss your point?

    • Tony Hunt says:

      No doubt he would say “human cognition itself is always already divinely illuminated,” but is this not itself a play from within the Christian “language game?” I would say probably yes.

  4. I thought the pagans learned all of their good ideas from Moses? =P

    Seriously: isn’t Hooker drawing upon a fairly standard set of Christian interpretations of pagan theology and practice that go back at least as far as Eusebius, possibly even earlier? Even as Hooker offers an argument for natural law and universal knowledge of God, he is making an argument from within the Christian tradition. Yet, his opponents were – presumably! – heirs of the same tradition. As an apologetic aim at other sixteenth-century Christians, didn’t Hooker’s argument at least had a shot at being accepted as valid?

    • Tony Hunt says:

      Absolutely, he’s in the mainstream seeing in pagan work an anticipation of the Gospel and I’m completely behind that.

      And you’re saying almost exactly what I’m trying to say. Hooker’s is a work from the Christian tradition for other Christians whom he is attempting to persuade. And I’m totally fine with that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: