Author Archives: Robbie



Hooker opens Book V with a challenge to those harboring “weak capacities” and those who would “rather seek quietly their own, and wish that the world may go well, so it be not long of them, than with pain and hazard make themselves advisers for the common good” (.1). Much easier, Hooker seems to say, to create safe and pure enclaves rather than engage the difficult questions of our nature as politic animals. It is because we are political animals that we cannot so easily dispense with the questions of right ordered polity and the common good.

Hooker is well aware that arriving at the common good, or orienting a polity in its direction, is always a matter of debate. It might even be said that one of Hooker’s main points in chapter one, however implicitly presented, is to show the difficulty of navigating the common good. Rather than the luxury of “private ease,” we are given the difficult work of referring “events to the gracious providence of Almighty God” (.1).

Concretely, the root of the common good is religion, such that politics requires good religion. “For if the course of politic affairs cannot in any good sort go forward without fit instruments, and that which fitteth them be their virtues, let Polity acknowledge itself indebted to Religion; godliness being the chiefest top and wellspring of all true virtues, even as God is of all good things” (.2), writes Hooker. This notion ‘works’ for Hooker because religion is an analog of virtue. In fact, “so natural is the union of Religion with Justice, that we may boldly deem there is neither, where both are not” (.2). Like Augustine’s The City of God, Hooker holds that true politics is true doxology, the right ordered worship of the final cause. Once the object of our love is in order, all other goods will fall into place, and in the absence of the common good “is common misery” (.2).

Of course this puts Hooker in an interesting position in that he has to contend with the reality of virtuous non-Christian polities, especially those that did administer justice and created peaceful existence. That they were able to do so at all, however, points to the reality of God’s natural law for Hooker. Seeing this common thread running throughout history then, Hooker concludes, “we have reason to think that all true virtues are to honor true religion as their parent, and all well-ordered commonweals to love her as their chiefest stay” (.5).

Hooker’s vision can’t help but appear as drastically outdated. We know, for instance, that the mixing of religion and politics delivers anything but justice. But this is to misread what he means by religion. Hooker is rather pushing for a rational religion, one that rejects outright a fidesitic account of faith. Religion must work, tirelessly at times, to discern how historical events align with God’s providence (.1). This is not to say that the task is simply to read off from nature signs of God’s presence given here and there, but how the whole of nature tells us something about God’s being or Trinitarian economy. In other words, I wonder if we might see Hooker as engaging in a bit of speculative thinking, albeit tinged with a healthy dose of Neo-Platonism. How can the absolute serve to order our politics – and not as simply standing over and against us, but as mediated through history in the form of tradition – especially when we are ever tempted to retreat into a private citadel?

Finally, Hooker helpfully reminds us that some form of religion or another guides and orders all polities. Today our religion is capitalism; our common good is that there is no common good beyond individual striving. As Walter Benjamin writes, “A religion may be discerned in capitalism — that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers” (“Capitalism as Religion”).


Sarah Coakley on Hooker

The subtlety of Richard Hooker’s account of the relation of Scripture, tradition and reason in Book V of the Ecclesiastical Polity is one of the most distinctive and remarkable features of historic Anglican theology and, I believe, of considerable importance for our current dilemmas about women bishops. But I am not sure that sufficient account has yet been taken of this strand of our heritage…

Hooker’s perspective does indeed allow for novelties in the rational reception of Bible and tradition: the plastic nature of Hooker’s conception of reason, and its deep understanding of historical embeddedness, does allow for creative development in response to the primacy of Scriptural authority and the deposit of tradition, without the danger of a merely historical or moral relativism. There is nothing in Hooker, then, that would give credence to the slogan that “nothing new is ever true.” But there is everything to suggest the possibility of hopes for future creativity and renewal.

Sarah Coakley, “Has the Church of England finally lost its reason? Women bishops and the collapse of Anglican theology

Coakley’s piece reminds me that our task of reading through the Laws is extremely important, if I may be so bold to say so.



In chapters XIII and XIV, Hooker addresses the question of scripture and tradition, and the relation between the two. It is in these chapters that Hooker establishes the distinct Anglican perspective on scripture and tradition, at odds with both a Reformed and Roman Catholic understanding.

Hooker begins by noting that before the advent of books humankind relied on oral tradition. The problem with oral tradition, according to Hooker, is that it is too easily corrupted. Like the game of telephone, traditions become distorted over time. Therefore God, in his mercy, has provided the surety of scripture – solid, immutable texts, which remain constant over time. As an aside, I’m currently reading Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars. According to Duffy, folk religion and oral tradition were widely regarded with skepticism by many reformers.

In itself though, this argument is rather weak, and thankfully Hooker doesn’t place too much emphasis on it. But for now, Hooker is intent to stress the sufficiently of scripture alone when the question concerns ultimate salvation. Presumably, this is drastically at odds with the Roman tradition, which in Hooker’s time appears to have stressed tradition as also being necessary for Salvation.

However, Hooker is careful when it comes to stating that that scripture contains all things necessary unto salvation. For instance, in chapter XIV qualifies his understanding: “Scripture do profess to contain in it all things that are necessary unto salvation; yet the meaning cannot be simply of all things which are necessary, but all things that are necessary in come certain kind or form” (14.1, italics mine).He then goes on to state,

when we extol the complete sufficiency of the whole entire body of the Scripture, must in like be understood with this caution, that the benefit of nature’s light be not though excluded as unnecessary, because the necessity of a diviner light is magnified (14.4).

Hooker seems to be arguing that scripture contains all things that are necessary unto salvation, but this does not necessarily exclude other things; namely, reason, tradition, and I would hope to some degree, folk practice. That this is self-evident for Hooker is displayed in the simple fact that nowhere in the Bible is there an explicit mention of the Trinity and infant baptism (14.2). His point is not only to show that tradition – understood as the light of natural reason in accordance with the scriptures – is valid, but to also show that interpretation is a continuous process. “For let us not think that as long as the world doth endure the wit of man shall be able to sound the bottom of that which may be concluded out of the Scripture,” writes Hooker (14.2).

Concerning the Roman understanding of tradition, Hooker’s problem is that it excludes natural reason. As such, Hooker does not offer a simple ‘Protestant’ rejection of tradition, but an argument against regarding tradition in a fideistic matter or as a “vertical drop” from above. “For we do not reject them only because they are not in Scripture, but because they are neither in Scripture, nor can otherwise sufficiently by any reason be proved to be of God,” states Hooker (14.5). Hooker is clear that an apostolic understanding of tradition, rites and custom are of God, “which doth give them their force and credit” (14.5). It’s an interesting argument against the Roman Catholic understanding of tradition. Thankfully, the nouvelle theologians in the 20th century also pushed against an abstract and sub-human understanding of reason and tradition.

Overall, I found these to be some of the more interesting chapters in the Laws given Hooker’s ability to sail between Reformed and Roman understandings of tradition and scripture. Often times it’s easy to simplify Hooker’s thought as advocating the three-legged stool of Anglicanism: scripture, tradition and reason, as if that’s the end of the matter. Yet in reading through Hooker, it’s clear that this Anglican balance of interpretation and tradition is no easy task, and certainly isn’t one that can easily be summarized as a mere stool.

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.

Richard Hooker and John Milbank

One of the great joys of reading Hooker’s Laws is the experience of absorbing, ever so slowly, his fine English prose. In fact, his language is so finely tuned that at times it seems as if the complexity of his thought is obscured by the clarity and flow of his wit. Take for example the following:

“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” (1.vii.3).

Another great pleasure is the experience of Hooker’s wrestling with the Christian Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian synthesis found in Aquinas.

Today John Milbank chimed in on a fascinating exchange at the Theology Studio over the question of Aquinas and the desiderium natural visionis dei. Although Milbank only mentioned Hooker in passing, I think it’s worth repeating here:

Aquinas can be seen as central for a kind of patristic longue duree — indeed as Anglicans like Hooker saw before anyone else. That is, he is a point of convergence of Augustine, Dionysius and the Byzantine legacy which he deploys conservatively to integrate Aristolte and yet to head off over Aristotelian renderings of philosophy and sacred doctrine.

Milbank seems entirely correct in his assessment of Hooker’s approach to Aquinas. Unlike certain strands of Thomism, Aquinas does not function for Hooker as some quasi-biblical authority. Rather, he wrestles with the historical deposit of faith – the longue duree of Aquinas’s thought as it developed through the Patristics and the Medieval Mystics.

Book I. Chapter 10: 1-7


The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists: they have more interests than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht.

G.K. Chesterton

In chapter 10 Hooker turns his attention to reason’s role within the founding of positive law in matters of government. He begins with what I think is his main concern: to those who consider that “religion and virtue are only as men will account of them” (x.1), he establishes the universality of law governed by reason. Crucially, however, he leaves room for particular instantiations of the law. This is important not only for the order of government, but also for the Anglican tradition vis-à-vis the general councils.

Hooker claims that there are two foundations to any public. The first is the natural desire toward sociality and the second is the common good. Regarding the former, Hooker takes it as axiomatic that “nature itself teacheth laws and statutes to live by” (x.1). Ever the good Aristotelian, Hooker agrees that humans are by nature political. States Hooker,

“But forasmuch as we are not by ourselves sufficient to furnish ourselves with competent store of things needful for such a life as our nature doth desire, a life fit for the dignity of man; therefore to supply those defects and imperfections which are in us living single and solely by ourselves, we are naturally induced to seek communion and fellowship with others. This was the cause of men’s uniting themselves at the first in politic Societies.” (x.1).

Hooker is adamant about the priority of our commonality, it being a part of our “dignity” as humans. Moreover, our lack or our inability to procure all goods for ourselves is not only a sign of our weakness, it is also a sign of our hope – the possibility of a common life. And whether this is admitted or not, we are bound by “the law of a Commonweal,” which is “the very soul of a politic body” (x.1). Since virtue is not a private affair for Hooker, the function of law is to protect what is common and restrain what is private (x.6), nearly the exact opposite of what we have today.

In order to substantiate the universal applicability of natural law, he turns to what he regards as some natural principles; namely, the idea of the paterfamilias. As it stands for Hooker, the notion of fatherhood is wholly natural: “we can see throughout the world even from the foundation thereof, all mean have every been taken as lords and lawful kinds in their own houses.” (x.4).

Hooker then moves to discussing the difference between natural law and the positive laws of governments. Although he recognizes the necessity of positive law in light of our fallen nature, “the corruption of our nature being presupposed, we may not deny but that the Law of Nature doth now require of necessity some kind of regiment” (243), he does not grant positive law universal status.  “In laws, that which is natural bindeth universally, that which is positive not so.” (x.7). Positive law needs to reflect the particularity of specific domains, while natural law is determined through the right exercise of reason and virtue.

A couple of comments:

As we saw in previous chapters, the dispensation of law stems directly from God’s Trinitarian self. Law is therefore not simply a restraint upon a prior order of violence (though this is part of its function), as if the law were given secondarily in response to an “ontology of violence.” Rather, created nature mirrors the Trinitarian processions, and has a natural desire for the supernatural (chapter V). Since the Divine law stems directly from God’s being, there can be nothing insidious about the law; the law in fact directs toward a “right end” (x.1). As such, the law does not simply restrain violence, but can work to indoctrinate virtue and the good. “Laws do not only teach what is good, but they enjoin it” (x.7). Interesting that it is Hooker’s Trinitarian theology that does not allow him the luxury of antinomianism!

Hooker’s defense of natural law by way of the paterfamilias is troublesome and carries little weight today. The issue then is how to think questions of natural theology without ‘locking down’ the natural, but at the same time to avoid privileging indeterminate flux or becoming as an ultimate horizon. I still think Hooker offers some helpful resources in terms of learning how to sail between these two extremes.

And like any other modern person, I’m often uncomfortable with questions of natural law. But I’m beginning to wonder if there is indeed some advantage to having a well-developed theory, such as Hooker attempts, of thinking the difference between divine and positive law and the relation between the two. We have all but lost this nuance today, such that only the positive law exists and, ironically, ends up becoming a divine law at the end of the day. And to the extent that we reject positive law on the basis of a principle higher than the state, we can often only do so in an ad hoc manner or as a “beautiful soul,” effectively leaving the plebs behind (see Chesterton above).

I also think it’s clear that we often lack the legal vocabulary needed to deal with the difficult questions of the [positive] law’s seemingly inexorable sway over our lives (in that to be born is to be subjected to some law). Yet theology knows that the positive law is only provisional, and in the case of Hooker, eudemonic: “All men desire to lead in this world a happy life. That life is led most happily, wherein all virtue is exercised without impediment or let” (x.2).

In light of important questions surrounding war, violence, the state, when rebellion is appropriate, etc., would a theory of eudemonic divine and positive law help? I’m thinking here of a illuminating story that Howard Zinn once recalled about Daniel Berrigan’s mother. As Zinn writes,

They asked Daniel Berrigan’s mother what she thought of her son’s breaking the law. He burned draft records-one of the most violent acts of this century- to protest the war, for which he was sentenced to prison, as criminals should be. They asked his mother who is in her eighties, what she thought of her son’s breaking the law. And she looked straight into the interviewer’s face, and she said, “It’s not God’s law.”

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.

Book I. CH. 6


In chapter VI, Hooker turns to the formative role education plays in the perfection of knowledge. To my mind, one of the more interesting aspects of this chapter is Hooker’s linking of education to perfection or salvation. This raises a whole host of interesting questions.

As we move through the Laws, it is becoming clearer that Hooker does not share the Continental reformers’ disdain for salvation as the perfecting of virtue or the purifying of reason. And as Hooker continues reiterating the patristic tradition of tying salvation to perfection/deification, I wonder if thereby implicitly elevates something like “culture” or tradition, along with the soteriological role these play. More on this below.

Hooker begins by noting the key difference between humanity and angels. Angels possesses the visio Dei and have “the full and complete knowledge in the highest degree that can be imparted unto them” (vi.1), whereas humanity must, “search by what steps and degrees it riseth unto perfection of knowledge” (vi.1).

Again, the contrast to many of the Continental reformers is striking: salvation is about the “steps and degrees” leading toward the visio Dei, the reformation of the rational appetite, and less about humanity’s legal status before God.

But if salvation is about the visio dei, or something like purifying vision by degree, then doesn’t salvation have much to do with education, culture and time? Hooker writes, “till we grow to some ripeness of years, the soul of man doth only store itself with conceits of things of inferior and more open quality, which afterwards do serve as instruments unto that which is greater.” Notably, our previous ‘status’ before the gift of salvation is not necessarily something that hinders divine intervention; rather, our previous selves can serve as “instruments,” helping us to receive grace and the purification of the rational appetite. Culture, education or tradition can augment our capacity for receiving the revelation of Christ. This being the case, wouldn’t it then make sense to build an ecclesial culture? I was reminded here of the Catholic Worker’s goal of attempting to build a society where it’s easier for people to be good. But isn’t this a dangerous idea, something that history has rejected?

Further, isn’t Hooker downgrading the role of interventionist grace, making grace subservient to a principle other than Christ or claiming that humanity itself creates the necessary conditions for receiving Christ?

Not quite – Hooker’s Thomism saves him here. As he writes in the last chapter, “all things in the world are said in some sort to seek the highest, and to covet more or less the participation of God himself” (v.2). Only if we didn’t have a natural desire for the supernatural would he be guilty of something like Pelagianism. The point, I think, is that humanity cooperates with grace and that reason plays a formative role in our salvation. As Hooker states, “education and instruction are the means, the one by use, the other by precept, to make our natural faculty of reason both the better and the sooner able to judge rightly between truth and error, good and evil” (v.4).

Of course, Hooker is aware of the dangers of plaguing knowledge: “the curiosity of man’s wit doth many times with peril wade farther in the search of things than were convenient” (v.4).

Finally, I suppose some lingering questions have to do with the soteriological role of culture, education and tradition, and the question of the capax Dei.

On a personal note, I found Hooker’s emphasis on the self’s instrumental role in the drama of salvation to be very encouraging. I often find people who think that the ‘event’ of Grace must be something like a Flannery O’Connor motif (who, by the way, was an avid Thomist), an absolute interruption that changes, destroys and creates something entirely new in its wake, or it is not grace at all. But more often than not, Christ’s grace does come by slow and steady increments; we move from glory to glory. Our previous selves, the selves before the new creation, do have some significant role to play in the continuing drama of our lives.

Book 1. CH. 4


Martin Luther once remarked that the church should “shun like the plague that ‘Mystical Theology’ of Dionysius.”[1] Hooker seems to have a different take on the matter, favorably quoting Pseudo-Dionysius throughout the Laws. Building upon the previous chapter, Hooker outlines the correspondence between angelic and ecclesial orders, which in turn anticipates liturgical mediation (more to come in book 5). Although subtle, the celestial hierarchy outlined here ends up defending ecclesial and political hierarchy.

According to Hooker, angelic speculation is a warranted endeavor – this on the basis of prayer whereby heaven and earth are united (iv.1). Likewise, angles are characterized by “a kind of corporation amongst themselves” which extends to a “society of fellowship with men” (iv.2).

Hooker’s recalling of the hierarchical orders seems almost perfunctory at times. His retelling of the celestial hierarchy is brief, though pointed. After noting the fall of the “dii inferi,” the “gods infernal,” Hooker closes by stating, “thus much therefore may suffice for angels” (iv.3). As if to say, “with that out of the way, we can now move along.”

Does Hooker really need an account of angelology? How does this fit into the overall theme of the Laws? And why was Hooker not as put off with Pseudo-Dionysius as Luther  was?

With that said, I’m looking forward to chapter XVL where Hooker lays out again the “correspondence” between heaven and earth.

[1] See Karlfried Frochlich, “Pseudo-Dionysius and the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century,” 44.