Category Archives: Book I

Bulgakov and Hooker’s First Divine Law

In I.ii-iii, Hooker, somewhat against general theological wisdom, posited two divine laws rather than one. The second is the law that orders all natural laws – what is generally thought of as the only divine law – but the first is the law that God established for himself to work by.

God is infinite and totally free, but in order to create, inasmuch as a creation necessitates a work fitting to or appropriate for finite existence, God must first determine the way he will work with respect to what is not him. So, since a law is a limit, and since God is limitless, his actions are “naturally” infinite but must be (or are meet to be) “finite” with respect to his working in creation.

Hooker says that some consider a law that which has a superior force at work over it, but he differs in saying that it is rather a boundary. Since God has no superior force over him that causes him to create, yet since he must act finitely in order to create, he imposes freely a limit on his acting, which is a properly called a law by Hooker. (I continue to wonder to myself the ways this differs from the contemporary post-barthian strain that wishes at all times to stress the will of God to be what he wills to be. Sometimes it seems to me that God’s will becomes it’s own primordial “thing” that establishes a law even over God’s being. But I would need to read the sources more closely to confirm this)

Since this law is a boundary for himself and is prior to creation, then there is left still the law that will directly govern creation, yet since this must be dependent on what is superior (since creation does not create itself), namely God, then this law too must be an eternal rather than a natural law. The one for himself the other for all else. From the second issue all the various laws specific to each form.

Now to Bulgakov. Bulgakov doesn’t use the same kind of vocabulary as Hooker and the method of the two are quite far apart, but I was reading The Lamb of God recently and came across this passage:

“A distinction thus enters into our idea of Divinity: the distinction between the life of God according to Himself, as He is in His unchangeable essence, and His life for Himself, as He lives out His essence for Himself in the living act. Here He has the power to change for Himself the mode of the living out of his essence. … For God, self-limitation or, in general, distinction in the mode of the living out of the divine fullness is determined only by God Himself; it is the realization of His aseity and freedom.” 221-223

He goes on to argue against there being any necessity in God’s being and work, which is also a theme in this passage in Hooker. Here we see, I think, two ways of parsing a common insight; the one fairly old and the other quite contemporary and even controversial (I mean Bulgakov’s christology more broadly). It is fascinating to me to see the two come up next to each other. An odd couple indeed.

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Chapters XV & XVI & Closing Reflections on Book I & Theological Blogging

Tony Hunt

Chapter XV is really the final chapter of positive instruction in Book I; XVI being a summary and conclusion. The main point of XV is that there are Laws which differ in degree and in authority. There are laws that are positive but are also ‘divine;’ yet not all positive laws are binding, only such as give political force to more universal laws. There are laws that individuals impose on themselves, and which might even engender good, which do not have the force of public law. When such (legitimate) individual conscience is used either to exempt oneself from public laws or to attempt to impose such laws on the public, unrest follows.

Chapter XVI, aside from offering a concise and helpful summation of the main points considered in Book I, also explains that while some might consider Book I superfluous, it is meant to provide a larger schema as to the toloi of laws in their kind. If such considerations were not examined, it would be all the more difficult to judge the matters to which Hooker is going to attend. And in Book II he jumps right in with considerations of Ecclesiastical laws; and having done this legwork, he is able to show – or at least argue – how laws in England, both civil and religious, fail or do not to work toward their proper ends.

I don’t know about other people but I found Book I to be an entirely worthwhile read, even in those sections where Hooker was addressing topics that bore me, or where the spirit of his age was most obvious. Overall I found the very manner of discourse – his measured and rigorous arguments, and his delightful Early Modern English prose – not only enjoyable but worthy of emulating. He clearly cares about the people involved, perhaps especially those against whom he is polemicizing, whom he takes seriously enough to compose so large a work as the Laws. Before I reread this book, I was confused about ‘Natural Law;’ I didn’t know what to think about it, how to accuse it, defend it, or describe it. I found that Hooker does not fit well with modern Natural Law theology, even with the doctrines of those who are supposedly dependent on him. Much of what I thought I had against Natural Law I found was against a particular kind of Natural Law, and problems I imagined I would have with Hooker were often dissolved on close reading. None of which is to say that I think Hooker can simply be bought; hook, line, and sinker. Nevertheless I was surprised by how relevant he is to contemporary disputes in theology. I think that Stanley Hauerwas’ With The Grain of The Universe is a necessary conversation partner, as is Ephraim Radner’s The World In The Shadow of God – among others. Work in aesthetics, for instance, can helpfully supplement Hooker, which tends to be able to talk about fundamental realities while avoiding rationalism. I look forward to seeing how all of this relates to Book V, which Robb and I will begin work on next.

Finally, I wanted to say that I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here. There has been enough junk going on in our lives – perhaps especially mine – so as to prevent us from always blogging as regularly as we had planned, but precisely because we were conservatively realistic in scheduling were we able to let a couple weeks pass between posts without the blog dissolving entirely. While it may be true that the initial wave of internet theology blogging has passed – and I’m trying not to sound hyperbolic here – I think that this little blog, read by like three people, is one of the more serious theology blogs that I know of. Blogs that are going to plow through the Dogmatics spring up like flowers but their output dies out just as quickly; we were able to keep things going. Thanks to Chris Green and Benjamin Guyer for commenting and thanks to Robb for being so patient with me and for all his great work.

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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 XII


To our three readers, I do apologize for having taken such a long break in what already is a generous posting schedule. I’ll not bore you with all the details but instead shall endeavor to continue commentary on Book I, which is not too far from coming to a close, after which we shall begin the monumental and amazing Book V.

Having just stated that there are no natural means of salvation, and assuming the framework he has already been working with, Hooker examines “The cause why so many natural or rational Laws are set down in Holy Scripture.” The question must be raised given the focus Hooker has placed on the knowability by Reason of natural laws. Both this and the previous chapter help to address questions I have been consistently asking and ones that are unavoidable for those who have made the post-critical turn: If there are all these Laws that are supposedly able to be known by all people endowed with Reason, why is it that so many are not known and even outright rejected in entire societies? I presciently knew a bit about this because of the essays on Hooker which I have read by Rowan Williams — for whom, following a rather recent tradition of Hooker interpretation, Hooker is not so much a classical “Natural Law” theologian of the 18th and 19th C. school but one who, in a patristic and scholastic synthesis, chastened any naive notion of simple Natural Law with an ascetical theology that knows the tendency of humans to pervert reason through sin. Hooker states that the reason there are so many natural laws in Scripture is because not everybody is actually skilled with reason enough to know natural laws. Moreover, we don’t know many natural laws because of “imbecility.”

Again, being so prone as we are to fawn upon ourselves, and to be ignorant as much as may be of our own deformities, without the feeling sense whereof we are most wretched; even so much the more, because not knowing them we cannot so much as desire to have them taken away; how should our festered sores be cured, but that God hath delivered a law as sharp as the two-edged sword, piercing the very closest and most unsearchable corners of the heart, which the Law of Nature can hardly, human laws by no means possible, reach unto?

All in all, we’re messed up, and often don’t even know when we’re messed up, so we’re helped along by Scripture containing Natural Laws, seeing as without such help, who knows when we’d stumble upon even some basic natural laws? For Hooker, it’s not enough simply to say that it is difficult to discern even natural laws because of the Fall. He goes further: It is practically impossible for fallen humanity to know such things as they ought to know for salvation, and so “that which is desired naturally must now be supernaturally attained.”

Here, I believe, is the “post-liberal” avenue into Natural Law in Hooker. The reason we will need to check Reason against Revelation is because we are prone to fawn upon ourselves, prone to be convinced of convenient untruths even in the name of tradition.

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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.

Book I Chapter 10: 8-15

– Tony

In the previous subsections Hooker has differentiated Natural laws and Positive laws; he here moves on to consider other kinds of differentiations within laws. In positive he hits on these three:

Mixedly human laws – These are laws that are required to be followed by Reason but which for one cause or another are not. In order to correct this, the force of positive law is needed, though I imagine Hooker would say that this is unfortunate. Hooker hits an interesting note here, helpful for those of us curious about the relationship between the reformation of laws and the discernment of Reason. Here, as he already has done, Hooker draws attention to customs, such as polygamy, which appear to be founded on Reason and have the force of tradition, yet which must be corrected for their unreasonableness. Unfortunately he is silent on just how it is that there is a persistent disconnect between what is, in his mind, manifestly true and understandable by Reason, and what is not. There are ways of discerning the strength of a law or belief that aid us in judging the reasonableness of this or that, but it is never quite so clear as one might desire. While I appreciate this unwillingness to say too much — Hooker’s natural apophaticism shines through — I’m yet looking for the, to use a convenient word, “apocalyptic” freedom or impulse that might open the critical space to test Reason.

Merely human laws – These are laws that, though guided by what is public good (since all laws are enacted by politic societies), are local, contextual, and not universally binding.

Law of nations – Within these laws there are primary and secondary laws; Primary Laws of Nations are “sincere” and not-fallen in nature. An interesting way to put it to be sure as Hooker has previously laid out that laws are only framed correctly when humans are assumed to be fallen. Examples of this law are hospitality for strangers and laws concerning ambassadors. Secondary Laws of Nations are those that are necessary only because of the fallenness of people and their nations. Laws having to do with war and arms and the like.

The differentiation between primary and secondary is interesting, but some things about it become clearer when looked at in conjunction with other things he says here. Consider this quote:

“We covet (if it might be) to have a kind of society and fellowship even with all mankind.” 10.12

There are several other such quotes. Not only does Hooker, following Aristotle, consider humans a political animal, but he thinks that humans by nature desire universal fellowship. Why would this be the case? Surely if a local political society was well run and allowed for the good life among its citizens, it would be a matter of indifference to “have fellowship” with distant societies? But Hooker says that having fellowship with other societies brings about many goods. We need other people in order to enter most fully into our nature. See the opening lines to the chapter 11.

Might we say, then, that the unfallen nature of humanity longs for the Church? The unlimited peaceful fellowship of gift giving and receiving with and from other humans? I honestly don’t think this a stretch at all. Because this unity is not only for commerce but simply for the good of knowing and being in relation with others. In fact I think it hews quite closely to Hooker here, and it’s something I aim to explore more fully in the future. In Bulgakov’s terminology we could say that Divine-humanity longs for its sophianicity to become full in sobornost.

There are two other little things I wished to note:

– Hooker says that “The chiefest instrument of human communion therefore is speech, because thereby we impart mutually one to another the conceits of our reasonable understanding.” – 10.12 I wonder, if I might be allowed a moment of pure speculation, if certain animals could speak and “impart their conceits” to us, whether we could, indeed whether we might not be required, to enter into a fuller communion with them. I’m thinking in the back of my mind of the talking beasts in Lewis, both in the Narnia books and in Out of the Silent Planet.

– Something else that will be important to think about concerning canon law and even ecumenism is Hooker’s thought on Church councils. General councils enact the “Law of nations” between churches. I’m curious to learn how Hooker differentiates churches and what he thinks of the empirical church. Obviously the Church is not limited to the “physical Church,” including as it does the “spiritual Church,” yet he calls the Church a “spiritual society” here. I don’t really have any specific questions yet, I’m noting only my curiosity.

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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. Chapter 9.

At a mere two sections, chapter 9 is nonetheless an important transitional chapter, forming a bridge from the serious and eternal laws of God, of creation, of angels, and of humans, to positive and political laws created by humans for humans. That is, we are moving from divine and immutable laws to mutable human laws, which creating nonetheless does mimic God’s own creating enacting of laws.

There is an answer to an unasked question here: “Why should humans bother with conforming to the laws of their own nature?” The reason is, “Because it’s good for you!” Not only that we receive natural goods now, but that we receive them at God’s judgment. Moreover, not conforming to God’s will for us not only throws us in disarray, but creation itself. I can’t resist quoting Hooker here. (Am I the only one learning to truly love his prose?)

“Let any principal thing, as the sun, the moon, any one of the heavens or elements, but once cease or fail, or swerve, and who doth not easily conceive that the sequel thereof would be ruin both to itself and whatsoever dependeth on it? And is it possible, that Man being not only the noblest creature in the world, but even a very world in himself, his transgressing the Law of his Nature should draw no manner of harm after it?”

The rest of the chapter is fairly self-explanatory. I think it would be possible to fill in his picture of various ways of breaking the will by an examination of Romans 7 and how St. Paul finds “another will” at work inside him.

Of things that I am anxious to see develop in Hooker, an important one is whether the salvation we receive in Christ supersedes our “nature” or whether it merely restores it. In Christ are we only given again that nature we were first given, or does the Incarnation in fact elevate us further up? Is the second Adam greater than the first? I am hoping it is the case that he sees salvation, as in St. Gregory of Nyssa, as an infinite progress. It’s my conviction that “natural law” must always be relativized, or perhaps qualified, by a faith in transfiguration, and in transubstantiation.

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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.

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.