Thursday, November 04, 2010

Richard Hooker and Political Theory (pt.II)

Queen Elizabeth I
Most Anglicans, if they know much about what Richard Hooker actually wrote (and not what is erroneously attributed to him), generally tend to focus on his theology and ecclesiology. And I believe from an Anglican religious heritage, that is rightly so. His theology on a number of levels is truly beautiful and inspiring and foundational to Anglicanism. I will talk more about that in a subsequent entry.

Some of you reading this blog entry series on Richard Hooker may be surprised that I am going to begin my series not with his theology precisely but with Hooker's massive impact on Western political theory. Many of the ideals we take for granted in modern American that are founded in the American Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have roots in Richard Hooker's writings. Most people are unaware of how he massively influenced Western political thought for centuries to this very day.

I was a history and political science major in college. I have studied this in some detail also in some of the research I did for my Master's thesis. I am by no means an expert in the field of Richard Hooker or political science, but I feel like I can speak as an amateur historian and Anglican heritage enthusiast to this issue to some degree at least. It is in the realm of political thought that I feel is the best segway into discussing Richard Hooker's legacy as both a theologian.

In my first segment, I briefly summarized some of the tumultuous events that occurred in the time period Richard Hooker lived. The mid to late 1500's was a truly epochal time in English history. Recall that Hooker was born in 1554. Anglican history buffs will recall that the first two Books of Common Prayer by Archbishop Cranmer came out in 1549 and 1552, and Cranmer himself was executed by Queen Mary I in 1556. Thus, Hooker was born two years after the second Cranmerian Prayerbook and was only two years old during the Catholic reprisals of "Bloody Mary" after the death of Henry VIII. Hooker was firmly established as an Anglican priest and cleric during the reign of Elizabeth I, thus making him a second wave (perhaps even a third wave depending on how you calculate it) reformer in the English church.

Elizabeth I was, of course, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife. Since Rome had not recognized Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth was considered an illegitimate child by Roman canon law. Illegitimate children could not hold the throne of a Christmas nation according to the same Roman canon law for a plethora of theological and political reasons I will not go into here. Thus, Elizabeth I really had no choice but to become a Protestant ruler if she was to remain Queen.

In an attempt to prevent another religious war in England and various other political reasons, what Elizabeth I ultimately decreed and got through Parliament became known as the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. This involved the Act of Supremacy of 1559 and the Act of Uniformity of 1559. These two laws set in motion the permanent independence of the Church of England from Rome and that the Church would take the Book of Common Prayer as its form of worship.

This settlement largely established permanently that England was a Protestant nation and laid the foundation for the establishment of what would become Anglicanism and the concept of the via media in that the Church of England was an anchor between extremes of Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism. One can argue whether this was inadvisable or heretical or whatever, but for purposes of Richard Hooker, Hooker became the defender of this Elizabethan settlement.

Hooker, because of all this, had a profound appreciation for how politics can affect Church polity. In our day and age with the doctrine of separation of Church and State, it is tempting to want to believe that the dirtiness of politics will not affect or pollute the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. Hooker was political realist, and he realized that those who trouble the Church can be every bit as interested in overthrowing the state and they can be interested in the polity of the Church. Hooker recoiled from the excesses of Calvin in Geneva because he understood that some of the more Radical Reformers wanted to level not just kingdoms but society completely and rebuild it into some form of theocracy based on their own (often twisted) theological image. (See the preface to Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.)

Hooker spends a good deal of ink writing about the idea of the formation of a Social Contract wherein the people delegate authority to the leadership. In Book VIII of Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker argues in favor of the monarchy as a civil power because he believes the monarchy is the choice that the people have made on how to govern the realm.

John Locke is usually given the title of the Founder of Western Political thought. However, Locke, who lived 80 years after Hooker, studied Hooker extensively and largely expanded Hooker's political thoughts, sometimes word for word, from the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

Fast forwarding to the US Declaration of Independence some two centuries later, if you read the preamble, you will notice that same train of thought that originated in Hooker's works:

"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. "

The same logic that Hooker set in motion is evident. Though he himself argues in favor of the monarchy, the goal of the Declaration of Independence was largely using his same logic to justify severing ties with the monarchy as the people, so the US Founding Fathers believed, no longer had the consent of the governed and therefore the social contract was in abeyance.

(As a side note, if you really want to blow your mind, you can follow this stream of thought all the way to the American War between the States. I researched this in some detail in seminary. As most of the power players in the American Confederacy were Episcopalian (Lee, Davis, most of the slave owners, etc.), I maintain that Richard Hooker's ideals were still in the back of their minds as they were informed by their Anglican religious and political heritage. If you read much of the rhetoric being used to justify Secession from the Union, you find massive amounts of direct quotations from Hooker and the various Acts of Supremacy from Elizabeth I and Henry VIII.)

What is interesting about Hooker's political thought is that he is in no way giving the monarch a free pass as some sort of Divine Right of Kings, which was really quite revolutionary in his day. He sets up a very interesting contract wherein people can't simply revolt against a monarch because they don't like him or her, but likewise, Hooker is adamant that the monarch never forget that his or her power flows from a decision made by the people and not God alone. He is also strong to point out that there are two ultimate authorities: the Law and God. (Remember, this is some 80 years before John Locke comes on the scene with these ideas.)

To Hooker, we are embedded in a world ruled by polity and politics from which we cannot easily disentangle ourselves. The community, thus, is interdependent. Richard Hooker's brilliance as a political theorist is to always remind us that we should always be conscious of and cognizant about how the various realms of Church and State interrelate.

Now that I have established Hooker's political outlook and background, I will attempt in a future entry to delve into his theological views which are informed by his political ones.

As always, stay tuned...

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