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.


6 thoughts on “Book I. Chapter XI

  1. Chris Green says:

    Thanks, Robb. You raise excellent questions, per usual. A couple of thoughts:

    First, couldn’t we think of faith, hope, and love as perichoretically, reciprocally grounding, with now this, now that virtue making possible the others? So, in one sense, faith is the Urgrund of love and hope, while, in another sense, hope is the Urgrand of faith and love, etc. Or why wouldn’t this work?

    Second, I don’t know that Hooker’s insistence that describing Charity as the “final object” is necessarily a denial or putting off of our experience of the divine love here and now. Couldn’t charity be both the final object of our desire and the object of our present (through-a-glass-darkly) experience as well, in such a way that our here-and-now experience intensifies and focuses our desire to the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ to be seen and known in the beatific vision?

    • Robbie says:

      Appreciate the comments, Chris.

      Yes, I like where you’re going with the idea of perichoretically aligning the virtues. I think there could be something to that. Except Hooker does say that faith is the “ground,” whereas Paul seems to say something else.

      I hope this doesn’t sound too much like I’m proof texting or quibbling over words. But at the time of writing this I kept returning to Brad Gregory’s The Unintendend Reformation where he discusses the Reformers’s explicit move to subordinate caritas and promote faith. This was allowed to happen in part because charity, previously defined as substantial bond, was redefined as something else. It seems to me that when the bond of charity or Paul’s use of ἀλλήλοις is ‘downgraded,’ faith has to step in to pick up the slack and play a role that it isn’t equipped for; namely, naked belief. I wonder if Hooker is wrestling with this, trying as he is to bring Augustine/Aquinas into conversation with the modern question of faith.

      As to your second point, yes. I think you’re right, especially along the lines of Hooker, about our ultimate desire and our limited experiences here and now of that same desire. I’ll have to think that through a bit more.

  2. Tony Hunt says:

    Ya know, you might find a bit more on this in one of Hooker’s most famous sermons, “A Learned Discourse on Justification.” You can find it here –

    • Robbie says:

      Thanks Tony. It’s been on my list and I was thinking about reading it after we made it through the Laws, but I’ll think I’ll go ahead and go for it now.

      Another helpful point from Shuger had to do with the definition of faith in Hooker’s era. She claims that faith was all about “assurance,” and it’s this to which Hooker is reacting. She states, “The ground of our assurance thus lies not in the nature of our own belief, but in the nature of God” (235).

  3. Chris Green says:


    You know, I’ve not read Gregory’s book — I’ve heard him lecture a couple of times on it — but I wonder if the Reformation really did replace love with faith, or if they simply redefined faith so that it was less ecclesially participatory. In other words, faith was necessarily explicit i.e. able-to-be-brought-to-words, and could no longer be construed as implicit in churchly participation? Is this distinction making sense? Anyway, I do think there’s something to what you’re saying (with Gregory). Not sure that that is exactly what’s going on with Hooker, and of course it isn’t a necessary move, but still you raise an excellent point and one that demands reflection.  

  4. Robbie says:


    I think that’s completely fair, especially given the Catholicism of Hooker’s day. Even Gregory admits that the Protestants were simply reacting against a less-than-faithful form of Catholicism.

    Of course, the critique about faith replacing love has also been made by Charles Taylor, Ivan Illich and even Milbank.

    I don’t want to make it sound like I think Hooker has *totally* replaced love with faith, especially since the language is so broad. And I think because of prior philosophical/theological commitments, Hooker can’t help but align himself with faith as habit/virtue. It was just this subsection in chapter XI that stood out to me. What does he mean by “ground?”

    I just read this from Williams’s Anglican Identities: “Part of what sets Hooker rather at an angle to much of the debate of his day is the fact that he is less interested in how God is to be ‘pleased’ or ‘satisfied’ than in how human creatures are to be healed of what impedes their vision and their joy” (43-44).

    Anyway, Williams helped me to see what’s going on, I think – the debate is “at an angle” to so much of to what I’m used to.

    I appreciate the conversation as I’m attempting to sort this all out.

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