Tag Archives: laws of ecclesiastical polity

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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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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Some Translations: I.iii

I am finding that snippets of Latin in footnotes without context can be surprisingly difficult to translate. Some I’ve done alright on, but when Hooker is writing in Latin, and when he’s quoting scholastics, he is definitely using Latin in a style to which I am unaccustomed. Luckily my Latin teachers have affirmed that this frustration is normal. One translation is entirely the work of Matthew Briel, a Phd at Fordham and my first Latin teacher. Props go to him for the translation and the helpful text-blocking. I was falling apart trying to put this one together.

I should also note that I’ve found there are extra footnotes in the online text that are not in my Clarendon book that I use for study. I’ll try and get to all these as well but usually the additional notes are more for conferring and are added by the editor rather than by Hooker himself. It seems these are the ones in brackets.

Finally, I am going for woodenly literal here inasmuch as scholastic Latin is trying to be precise. But pay attention to how lovely Hooker’s translations are.

These top four are from footnote 3, iii.3. (Online text pg.205)

“Every thing which in the things of creation are becoming (or occuring), is the subject of eternal law.”


“In no way is anything withdrawn from the established laws of the Most High Creator, by whom the peace of the universe is administered.”


“Now sin, though rightly is it allowed by God, falls from eternal law. Yet laws eternal are subjected to sin, so that the by the voluntary transgression of the law, a certain inconvenient penalty of the soul might be introduced, according to Augustine: “You have ordered, O Lord, and thus it is, that the punishment for every disordered mind is its own disorder.” Not as the foul scholastics say…”


By: Matthew Briel

Quemadmodum videmus res naturales [esse] contingentes,
          hoc ipso quod a fine particulari suo atque adeo a lege aeterna exorbitant,
     in eandem legem aeternam incidere,

     quatenus consequuntur alium finem a lege etiam aeterna ipsis in casu particulari constitutum;

sic verisimile est homines,
          etiam cum peccant et desciscunt a lege aeterna ut praecipiente,
     reincidere in ordinem aeternae legis ut punientis.

There are two main clauses, introduced by “quemadmodum” (with a main verb of videmus) and “sic” (main verb is est).

Now, just as we see that natural things are contingent inasmuch as they turn aside from (exorbito) their particular end and to that extent from the eternal law as well, so that (quatenus) there must follow as a consequence that another end must also have been established by the eternal law for them in a particular case, all of this is similar for human beings, even though they sin and suddenly fall away from the natural law, nevertheless they come back into the order of natural law when they are punished.

For the online footnote of Arnobius see here.

“All which is moved by another is a certain kind of instrument of the first mover. Ridiculous it is, then, as even the ignorant [would say], to propose that an instrument is not moved by another mover than the first mover.”

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Book I. Ch. 3


Hooker begins this chapter by distinguishing himself from many previous theologians who think there is only one Eternal Law. Hooker believes there are two. The first is the one with which he closed the previous chapter, namely, the law that God established for himself to work by. This is not a limit which God puts on himself as such since “the imposition of this law upon himself is his own free and voluntary act.” (II.6) This is why law as an analogue of God’s being cannot go all the way because law is fundamentally about limit (“we somewhat more enlarging the sense thereof term any kind of rule or canon, whereby actions are framed, a law”), while God is infinite. So the being of God is not an eternal law.

The second Eternal Law is what is discussed in this third part. This law is perhaps more like the entire group of laws which limit all created agents, yet these he considers a “part” of the second Eternal Law. It seems that the distinction ought to be maintained if we’re to be clear. So whether the law of Nature, the Angels, Reason, Divine (revelation), or human, these all “are conformed unto this second law eternal.” And these in turn are governed by the first eternal law.

Miscellaneous Notes:

  • I found it interesting that Hooker believes that the law of a thing is dependent on its form. For instance, a single carbon atom or a molecule with carbon, though fundamentally composed of the same stuff, operates under a different law than carbon in a living organism or, more simply, in a gas. Hooker seems to reject a sub-christian platonic version of forms as a realm of pure, abstract, ideas (4); nevertheless, he does see the second eternal law as in some way a “guide”  or “draught written in the bosom of God himself.”
  • Most things are called agents even if they are distinguished from voluntary agents. I’m not entirely sure how to tease this out but it’s fascinating since agency is a rich and suggestive word. What might it mean for a rock to be an agent, even if not a free and voluntary one?
  • Hooker remains here persistently doxological. Consider the rising rhetorical questioning at the end of section two. “Now if nature should intermit her course…if…if…etc…”  The true workings of nature are not knowable in their entirety — “[the nature of things] hath in it more than men have as yet attained to know, or perhaps ever shall attain…that perceiving how much the least thing in the world hath in it more than the wisest are able to reach unto, they may by this means learn humility.”  The perception of the depth of things has a “moral” dimension, it’s pedagogically oriented to teach the proper response to God’s working.
  • If we affirm that natural science is able to perceive truth, even if sometimes in a limited or skewed way, then I don’t see that even apocalypticists could deny this level of law.
  • I was quickly struck by Hooker’s phrase “divine malediction.” Surely God is not malicious, yes?! But I did some looking into the word’s English usage in the Oxford English Dictionary and malediction here, it seems, means “curse,” therefore this is a reference to the Fall. The reason that nature does not always operate as it ought is due to the Fall, which Hooker must see in a “cosmic” light if its effects are that far reaching.
  • That it is due to the Fall is something only revelation can uncover.
  • He uses the Eternal Law to demythologize the pagan notion of fate. Natural destiny is nothing other than the providence of God, which is as far from the ancient view of destiny as you can get. Fate was blind and arbitrary, binding even on the gods, God’s providence is the result of his freedom.
  • So too, he says that the pagans assigned gods to natural forces when they ought to have been seeking the one God who orders everything.
  • The laws are teleologically “social,” they ought to “prefer the good of the whole before whatsoever their own particular.”

I’m working on a few translations. Just a random note without context can be pretty hard to translate, actually.

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Book I. Ch. i


I started and read through several books of the Laws a year or so back, so I am already somewhat familiar with some basics that Hooker is about to get to in this book. Yet how much difference a couple years makes! My ability to understand and to weigh a work seems to grow by the year such that I almost always get more out of a piece that I’ve read before than I did when I first read it. This applies no less to the opening chapter of the Laws.

Lest I be accused of some tiresome trope, I do not come to this work impartially. On the one hand, I am committed to becoming a confessional Anglican theologian; While by no means do I think with that school that used to imagine Anglicanism some divinely ordained group meant to unite all Christians through her blessed Via Media and her leading role in ecumenism, I am thoroughly committed to dwelling in the Anglican church, to serving her and breathing her air, learning her language. Hooker is a fundamental person to work with in order to accomplish this goal.

In addition, I have been schooled by that group of antifoundationalist theologians that eschew Natural Law in favor of a hermeneutics of faith. Even Reason is done through a context by which it is in large part, indeed in invisible parts, constituted. Reasoning cannot be separated from the form of reasoning and the traditions to which one is committed or to which one reacts. Nevertheless, I have persisting questions about this precisely because it seems that something akin to “natural law” can and even must come precisely from that position of faith in Jesus as the Word of God by and through whom all things were made and from whom we receive our very being. I can’t hold to a voluntarist ethics. Hooker, I am told, is not naïve about the fact that Reason very often is fallen and clouded. I look forward to learning how he coordinates sin and reason and faith and feel it’s important to how we conceive justice and law.

Which brings me to a final note: This antifoundationalism also tends to breed a healthy pseudo-anarchist political bent in me. By pseudo-anarchism I mean that while I have faith in institutions and regulations, these must be able to be disrupted by gestures toward justice even where said justice cannot be properly reasoned at the time. Which is only, I suppose, a politics of semper reformanda. This has also lead to an ecclesial critique of the state. This is, it must be noted, not merely some new thing “Radical Orthodoxy” thought up, but it goes at the least back to the Oxford Movement and its resistance to a church controlled by the state. This led soon to a lively tradition of anglo-catholic socialism that is meet to be revived in my opinion lest anglo-catholicism continue to hemorage as a pathetic movement interested mostly in liturgical fancies rather than a robust doctrine of the Church, which is what I take catholicism to be most about.

Then, without further ado, let us examine the first chapter and a give money quote:

“He that goeth about to persuade a multitude, that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers.”

Hooker is not at all oblivious to the charges against the Church of England nor to the government. (btw, whenever I say “government” or “state” I am not trying necessarily to talk about “Government” or “State” as an abstract universal. I shall try to be clear when I want to wax meta). This instantly sets him apart, imo, from those who are un-self-aware in supporting a status quo. He understands that he will be seen as one who either “hold[s] or seek[s] preferment.”[1] He is setting out, then, not to simply have a go at demolishing the arguments of people much dumber than he is, since most people are dumb compared to someone of his learning, but to show how certain policies in fact help to make for justice. “We are accused as men that will not have Christ Jesus to rule over them, but have wilfully cast his statues behind their backs, hating to be reformed and made subject unto the sceptre of his discipline.”[3]  This obviously doesn’t mean that everything he says will then simply be right, but it means that he takes the risk of understanding the critiques of his puritan opponents and opening up the laws and himself to be examined, lest they fail the test. “for better examination of [the laws’] quality it behoveth the very foundation and root, the highest well-spring and fountain of them to be discovered.” [2]

The Laws model what +Rowan Williams is rather well known for, then: Any kind of political engagement that would seek genuinely to aim at the well being of all a nation’s neighbors must be one that is open to dialogue and challenge. This is manifestly not simply a liberal toleration and public contestation of competing will and claims; Hooker’s very stark non-liberalism comes out at many key junctures (like, for instance, Bk. V); it is, rather, an engagement that takes ones sparring partners seriously and the good of all seriously. At the same time, easy answers and cheap shots will not yield genuinely fruitful results. “there will come a time when three words uttered with charity shall receive a far more blessed reward than three thousand volumes written with disdainful sharpness of wit.” For Hooker, in order to accomplish this discussion it will take the hard work of patient and exacting thinking.

“Albeit therefore much of that we are to speak in this present cause may seem to a number perhaps tedious, perhaps obscure, dark, and intricate; (for many talk of the truth which never sounded the depth from whence it springeth; and therefore when they are led thereunto they are soon weary, as men drawn from those beaten paths wherewith they have been inured;) yet this may not so far prevail as to cut off that which the matter itself requireth, howsoever the nice humour of some be therewith pleased or no.”[2]

I think Hooker would be sympathetic to Milbank here:

“If, like an enthusiastic undergraduate, I had trotted out phrases such as “we need a new theology on the side of victims,” I would no doubt have been commended for making a “contribution” to the fate of the poor, the environment, etc.. But eschewing such rhetorical regurgitation, I was seeking indirectly to tackle our seeming inability to discover any theoretical or practical grounds for opposing the new global sway of neocapitalism, which is the source of the hunger of the poor, the poisoning of nature, obliteration of sexual difference and equality, the lapse of beauty, the loss of historical memory, and so forth.- “On Theological Transgression,” p171 in The Future of Love

Likewise Hooker doesn’t use Puritan rhetoric about “the Bible” or about “obedience,” nor does he trot out pious language simply to add strength to an otherwise weak argument, because such rhetoric is empty if it doesn’t actually point to concrete ways of enacting laws that make for the good of a citizenship.

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