Tag Archives: natural law

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 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 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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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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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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