Category Archives: Misc.

Leithart on “The Perils of Natural Law”

However much it pains me to link to First Things, I do appreciate me some Leithart. This piece is right on, in my opinion. Granted I don’t care about being a faithful Reformed theologian, but…

“For Herdt, the cautionary tale of this history (I have only touched on her richly detailed discussion) is not simply that natural law is ill-suited to being “a source of substantive action-guiding moral norms” or “providing concrete ethical knowledge.” The peril is that when Reformed thinkers have looked to natural law for such norms and such knowledge, they have inadvertently “created pressures that tend to empty out the substance of key Reformed commitments that animated Calvin’s thought, leaving behind intuitionist appeals to conscience, empiricist appeals to human nature, or unstable conflations of the two.” Not only did the weakening of theological commitments encourage shifts in the understanding of natural law. The deeper peril was that certain uses of natural law corrode Reformed theological commitments. Herdt goes so far as to suggest that “the secularization of modern natural law discourse is directly linked to pressures exerted by the hope and expectation that the natural law could provide such norms.”


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.

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.

Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus: A Translation in Meter (Sort of)

– Tony

In Greek this last semester we read through an old proto-stoic hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes. It’s a lovely little poem and is quite unique. It goes against stoicism by the very fact that it’s a hymn, thus personalizing the divine in a way foreign to stoicism. It’s interesting to contrast this with proper Christian theology, which lines up in certain parts yet most definitely not in all parts. Either way I thought it fitting for this blog.

I tried my darndest to put this thing in meter but I found it incredibly difficult. I need to spend some more time at the feet of Allen Mandelbaum clearly. Ostensibly in Blank Verse, that is, unrhymed iambic pentameter, I allowed myself significant “freedom” to diverge. Thus you’ll find plenty of anapest, amphibrach, and trochaic feet, as well as feminine endings. My scantron is a mess so it’s a good thing I’m not trying to publish this sucker.


Most Glorious Zeus, the Many-Named, eternally
All-Μighty, First Mover of nature; all things do you
direct with law; We hail you, since it is right
for all us mortals to speak of you. From you
we have our birth, and we alone by lot
have obtained the image of your voice;
alone of all the mortals who crawl and live
upon the ground. In this will I hymn you
and sing of your eternal strength. In truth
for you the cosmos turn around the earth,
obeying you to where you lead – Willingly
is it ruled by you. A fiery, two-edged, sword
you hold in your unconquerable hands –
All works of nature move beneath the blow
of your eternal servant; with it you direct
the universal reason; which moves about
through all things, mixing with the Great and small Light.
Thus you have become so great, the most high king
in everything. No work occurs upon
the ground apart from you, O god, neither
on the axis of the divine heavens, nor the deep,
save when evil men act in their foolishness.
But you know how to make the vain things perfect,
and how to order the disorderly –
Even the unloved is loved to you.
For in this way have you so joined all things
in one, the good in the bad, so that one thing
has come to be, which is for all: Thy Word
eternal; which those who flee avoid, Ill-fated
evil mortals; for these do always yearn
to sieze the good, yet they do not behold
god’s universal law, neither do they
hear it. If by this they would be pursuaded
with understanding they might have a good life,
But they in fact do hasten on without
the good – Each to another thing. While some
above their glory hasten on for strife;
Others, no one with order, are turned against
what’s right; still others turned toward liscensciousness,
even the sweet works of the body; the good
they yet desire but bear along now here
now there. They hasten to become the very
opposite of these good things. But Zeus, All-Giver,
Cloaked in black clouds, Ruler of the Thunderbolt,
Deliver thou all human kind from their
so baleful ignorance, which you, O Father,
disperse from the soul, and give to light upon
the mark by which you trust to steer all things
with justice; that we, being honored, may in turn
honor you, hymning your unbroken works,
as is right for mortals so to do,
For there is no gift greater than for men
and gods in common eternally to hymn your law in justice.

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A “New Edition” of Keble

By chance I stumbled across this blog post and found that the author has, for all our convenience, done the work to release a new printing of the classic Keble text. Something to think about if you can’t afford the Folger Library ed. like me.