Monthly Archives: September 2012

Book I. Chapter XI


In chapter XI, Hooker displays some of his strongest Thomistic and Augustinian influences. This is seen in his elucidation of humanity’s infinite desire for the good and final end in God. Yet Hooker also relates this Patristic notion of desire to a Reformed debate tending toward an account of Sole fide, which makes for an interesting take on the question of faith.

Hooker begins by carrying forward the medieval insights of formal and final causality. Humankind is fundamentally propelled by a final end and driven by the lure of the goal. We are born with an insatiable first for the infinite Good, so much so that “for as to take away the first efficient of our being were to annihilate utterly our persons, so we cannot remove the last final cause of our working” (xi.1-2). In other words, our final end is not some additional add on to a pre-established “pure nature,” nor is this desire for our final end completely frustrated by original sin. Hooker quotes Aquinas, stating, “it is an axiom of nature that natural desire cannot utterly be frustrate” (xi.4). For Hooker, this is an indication of humanity’s fundamental ecstatic character, its natural drive toward transcendence. We desire “that which exceedeth the reach of sense; yea somewhat above capacity of reason, somewhat divine and heavenly” (xi.4). Barring this natural desire for God, we would cease to exist.

Interestingly, Hooker defines this infinite desire for the ultimate Good or God as a desire for union. In a wonderful passage Hooker writes,

desire tendeth unto union with that it desireth. If then in Him we be blessed, it is by force of participation and conjunction with Him. Again, it is not the possession of any good thing can make them happy which have it, unless they enjoy the thing wherewith they are possessed. Then are we happy therefore when fully we enjoy God, as an object wherein the powers of our souls are satisfied with everlasting delight; so that although we be men, yet by being unto God united we live as it were the life of God (xi.2).

This natural desire for union is so ingrained in us that each creaturely faculty tends toward intimations of the final Good. We exist by having to navigate a world of lesser goods or what Hooker refers to as “sundry imperfections” on our way to our final Good. “For while we are in the world, subject we are unto sundry imperfections, griefs of body, defects of mind; yea the best things we do are painful, and the exercise of them grevious, being continued without intermission” (xi.3.) Despite this frustration, Hooker also claims that union with God works with or according to “every power an faculty of our minds apt to receive so glorious an object” (xi.3). I think it is safe to say that for Hooker, salvation is not only about union with God; it is also a union that leads to a more perfect union with other ‘horizontal’ goods. That is, we don’t simply ascend to God through some vertical leap, but God’s saving grace works through all types of lesser goods. This is evidenced by Hooker’s reliance on St. Augustine’s De Trinitate in section three.

Hooker then shifts the discussion to the question of faith. Hooker writes, “This is the work of God, ‘that ye believe in him whom he hath sent.’ Not that God doth require nothing unto happiness at the hands of mean saving only naked belief (for hope and charity we may not exclude); but that without belief all other things are as nothing, and it the ground of those other divine virtues.” (xi.6).

It’s unclear to me how in the face of scripture Hooker can claim that “belief” is the ground of the divine virtues. Didn’t Paul explicitly say that the greatest of the theological virtues is charity? What prompted Hooker to invert Paul’s ordering of the divine virtues? I’m also a little weary by the way Hooker pushes charity elsewhere: “concerning Charity, the final object whereof is that incomprehensible Beauty which shineth in the countenance of Christ the Son of the living God.” I’m still not quite sure what to do with this, but it sounds like Hooker is referring to charity as “the good beyond the good.” But isn’t charity the one sure thing we have in this world according to the Jonannie epistles; don’t we know Christ’s love here and now?

Finally, Hooker adds this interesting manuscript note, which I’m not really sure what to do with. “Is faith then the formal cause of justification? And faith alone a cause in this kind? Who taught you this doctrine? Have you been tampering so long with Pastors, Doctors, Elders, Deacons; that the first principles of your religion are now to learn?”

When finishing this chapter, I found that I needed some help with Hooker. I was with him all through his conversion of the infinite desire for the Good, but felt more a little more hesitant when the conversation turned to questions of faith. I looked to Debora. K. Shuger’s article, “Faith and Assurance” in A Companion to Richard Hooker for help. She had this to say about Hooker’s take on faith: “Hooker rejects too large a swathe of Calvinist doctrine to be meaningfully considered a Reformed thinkers, yet he writes about faith and assurance from within the Reformed tradition” (235).

Perhaps this explains [what I see as] Hooker’s attempt to blend modern questions of faith with the Patristic and neo-platonic legacy of St. Augustine and St. Thomas.


Rowan Williams on Hooker

Drawing attention to this recent lecture by Rowan Williams, “An Appreciation of the Ecclesiastical Law Society on the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of its Foundation.” In the light of Hooker, Williams highlights the importance and need for theological reflection on the law.

As our national society evolves, it seems to me more and more important that we have, in addition to whatever we say about the sovereignty of our society, a thoroughly robust doctrine of what the law is in our society: as the protection of liberties; as that which guarantees access for all to justice and redress; as that which is beyond any particular settlement of power, influence or privilege in any social setting. In that sense, the law is not at all inimical to the Gospel. Quite the contrary. If the Gospel is about the freedoms that belong to human beings by virtue simply of their humanity before God, the law is one of the most effective ways in which we witness to that and work with the grain of it…

I hope that the principle that Richard Hooker worked from – that law as the basis of Church and society is, at its fullest and richest, a reflection of the lawfulness, the harmonic regularity of the whole universe under God – is something that remains not only in our thinking and our action as people involved with the law, but in our prayer and our contemplation as well. What is wonderful about Hooker… is of course his ability to link the practice of the law in all its pragmatic complexity with the vision of God. And although it may seem a long way from the Uxbridge Magistrates Court to the courts of heaven, nonetheless the sense that we do live in a universe where we can trust the environment we inhabit is part of what the law seeks to secure in pragmatic terms, both in society and in the Church…

Woe betide us then, if as a Church we play down what the law can and should mean. Woe betide us, if we forget that order is the servant of freedom, not its enemy.