Friday, November 05, 2010

Richard Hooker and Laws (pt. III)

I was asked by Father Tim to be a contributor to his blog's Facebook discussion page concerning things of value in Anglicanism, or as he puts it, Anglican Treasure. As such, I wrote a series on Bishop Whipple a few weeks ago and have been working this week on Richard Hooker, whose Feast day on our calendar is November 3rd. In my first two entries on the subject, I talked a little about the time period in which Hooker lived and how that affected his political ideology.

Most Church history buffs jump right to Hooker's theology, or perceived theology, and seldom if ever touch on his political views, which I am sure Hooker would have found baffling because he spoke over and over again about how the two cannot be separated.  John Locke often gets all the credit in political science circles as being the father of Western modern political thought. Most civics teachers and professors are usually lax in giving the Anglican priest, Richard Hooker, any credit, even though his ideas largely informed John Locke's political teachings and theory. I decided to start from the political side of Hooker because I believe that informed his Anglican identity and theology.

As such, I will not attempt to modulate into the meat of Hooker's theology, but I have to do so by discussing what Richard Hooker meant by "laws," being as his several volume seminal work is entitled The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. I use this as a segway between the political and theological writings of Hooker because what he views as Laws are really an interwoven set of definitions that modern Americans probably no longer would define the term "laws" as.

"The Law" has modern connotations in our ears that would have perplexed Hooker. Whether we mean "the law" in the secular sense of sheriffs, statutes, and congressional laws or we think of "the Law" in terms of the Old Testament Torah,  we think of "the law" as something inherently negative, or at best a necessary evil.

In the secular realm, we have to have laws to prevent anarchy, but the basis for much of American understanding of "the law" is that law is a "negative abridgment of freedom." This is to say that Man is somehow in his free and natural state a being totally free from anyone anywhere telling him what to do but gives up some of that freedom to the government which creates laws (which in turn abridge freedom) so that civil society isn't a violent anarchical state where all justice has to be administered by the free individual who is transgressed by another. In other words, I give up my right to go engage in a blood feud revenge against Cousin Bobby because he stole my cow, assuming that the State which I have given up this right to establishes Courts will enact justice upon him on my behalf and on behalf of the community at large. Hence, we get such conceptual doctrines as the "Rule of Law."

In the religious realm, "the Law" also has a negative connotation to many modern Christian ears because of this. Lutherans in particularly have a dichotomy of looking at any given Scripture and chalking it up to either "Law" vs. "Grace." Anglicans have always shied away from that dichotomy for fear of ending up in Marcionism or some other heresy that wants to view the Old Testament (and by extension the God of the Old Testament) as bad or without any salvific or theological importance, as if to say that the whole of the Old Testament is somehow a completely corrupted and evil set of documents.

We hear "the Law" and immediately think of something restrictive and negative like in secular law, lest we all end up like the Pharisees and get so fixated on legalisms and the letter of the law and that we fail to see the overarching and life giving revelation of the Law. This is a very modern and very Western view of "the Law." (There's a reason that Jews will kiss the Torah scroll in the certain part of the synagogue/temple worship, as to them its life giving, not life taking as we, Christians, want to believe.)

Hooker does not view "the Law" as something inherently negative. He has a deep appreciation for the Rule of Law, to which he explores with a great delight without the usual sense of legalism that we might attribute to the term nowadays. Law, to Hooker, is the defining characterization of all things, as it does not tell us so much what to do as what we are. Laws govern the internal workings of God and ourselves as well as all things in the universe. (For someone who lived in the Pre-Enlightenment era, this is truly a good century or more ahead of its time.) Not only is the Law of God written in our flesh, but we are makers of laws to govern how we live together as human beings.

This is the point where a lot of modern readers of Hooker get bogged down in his rhetoric because Hooker uses Classical logic and philosophy, something that most moderns don't have a grasp of anymore. Hooker believed that to know how things are supposed to behave, you first have to know what the things are. Hooker uses the very Medieval scholastic rhetoric (much like writers like Aquinas) in quite a bit of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to show how his theological opponents misconstrue what things and laws are. To know how something is governed, you must know its nature or what kind of a thing it is. Only when we discern what kind of thing something is, we have to discern its proper end or purpose. (For a classic Patristic example of this genre, read St. Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana.) Hooker goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate how not properly demonstrating ends and purposes leads one to confusion and conflict. (I will speak more on application of this to the present troubles in Anglicanism in a subsequent post.)

Now that that is as clear as porridge, Hooker also talks about meta-laws. Meta-laws are laws that direct how laws themselves are changed or are perceived to change. In essence, he asks what kinds of things particular laws are and to investigate their ends and the means to achieve them. In terms of Scriptural interpretation, Hooker discusses the mutability of precepts found in Scripture, and the meta-laws that govern the interpretation of the content of Scripture. (Again, the shadow of Augustine is all over his thought patterns in terms of how to interpret Scripture.)

To Hooker, the Scripture is the Law for Christians (Law in the positive, life-giving sense). He acknowledges Scripture's supreme authority for teaching us those things necessary for salvation and our duties as Christians. This is where the Puritans went ape with Hooker because Hooker acknowledges that Scripture has some problems in that Scripture is neither self-authenticating nor is it self-explanatory. We can't use anything within the text to prove its authority without still needing something external to prove it. To Hooker, Scriptural authority is different in matters indifferent to salvation. Likewise Scripture has to be interpreted because its messages are given in many different forms and with greater and lesser degrees of clarity.

If I had to guess, I would surmise that this is where some people initially got the misguided notion of the 3-legged stool that they erroneously attribute to Richard Hooker's writings. While Scripture is the Law for Christians, things like Reason and Tradition (and nature, tolerance, and a host of other things that Anglican clerical proponents of the 3-legged stool somehow always miss) are the Meta-laws. Things like Tradition teach people that Scripture has something important to tell us and gives us some tools to interpret it. Reason is the authority that authenticates Scripture and to see where the boundary of Scriptural authority lies. Reason and Nature can inform us in the good things to do to love our neighbors about things the Scripture is silent about. Combined as a whole, the lens or pathways like Tradition, Nature, and Reason allow us to discern which parts of Scripture are mutable as times as circumstances change and which are perpetually immutable.

In my next blog post, I will attempt to wrap this up and get into some of Hooker's actual theology on particular issues. His cumulative writing canon is so dense that I feel I may have to do more than one post, but I will endeavor to make it not more than two.

We shall see.

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