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The Public and the Religious in Hooker's Polity

  • Arthur S. McGrade (a1)


Richard Hooker's work seems relevant to two of the major human projects of our time, the search for unity within the Church and the attempt by modern states to establish their rival ideologies in the world. Hooker's fraternal patience with his Puritan opponents has frequently been noted, as well as his courage in daring to suggest publicly in Elizabethan England that even Roman Catholics might be saved. It would seem likely on the face of it that so irenic a figure could contribute much to ecumenical discussion. With regard to the war for the minds and souls of men in which some statesmen regard their countries as now engaged, one would also expect to find material for reflection in Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, a work in which ultimate convictions and values are treated in intimate relation to their possible social embodiment and political enforcement.



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1. Troeltsch, Ernst, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, Wyon, Olive, trans., 2 vols. ( London, 1931), II, 637. Munz, Peter, Hooker's Piace in the History of Thought ( London, 1952), pp. 61 f. Kearney, H. F., “Richard Hooker: A Reconstruction,” Cambridge Journal, V (1952), 300311. Hilerdal, Gunnar, Reason and Renelation in Richard Hooker ( Lunds Universitets Arsskrift, N. F. Avd. 1, Bd. 54, 1959–1961, Nr. 7), pp. 148 f.

2. For Book VIII there is a1so the modern edition of Houk, R. A., Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, Book VIII. ( New York, 1931).

3. See Marshall's, J. S.Hooker and the Anglican Tradition ( London, 1963) and the essays on Hooker in Allen's, J. W.A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century ( London, 1928), D'Entreves', A. P.The Medieval Contribution to Political Thought (Oxford, 1939) and Morris', ChristopherPolitical Thought in England, Tyndale to Hooker (Oxford,1953) for generally favorable estimates. On the consistency of Books VI-VIII with the position of the earlier books, see my essay, “The Coherence of Hooker's Polity: The Books on Power,” Journal of the History of Ideas, XXIV (1963), 163182.

4. In his preface, Hooker tells the Puritans that the intent of “these several books of discourse” is nothing else than to make it evident to them that, “for the ecclesiastical laws of this land, we are led by great reason to observe them, and ye by no necessity bound to impugn them.” Hooker, Richard, Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Eight Books; Preface, vii, I. The text used is in Keble's, John edition of Hooker's Works, 3 vols. ( Oxford, 1874).

5. Even the favorable assessments referred to above in Note 3 convey little impression of a sustained line of argument running through the Polity and giving significance to all its parts. It may indeed be a “masterpiece of systematic philosophy,” as Morris says in introducing the Everyman edition. But how? Why? Professor Marshall (op. cit., p. 66) finds it necessary to set aside a good deal of the Polity in order better to approach the rest. Although his division of the Polity into polemical passages and important ones enables him to present the latter as making up a continuous and coherent whole, and one which includes the last books as well as Book I, we may perhaps still wish for an interpretation of Hooker's argument that takes account of his entire work, even though a more broadly based interpretation might make it harder to say simply that “Hooker's significance is to be found in his appropriation of the values of the philosophia perennis” (p. 171). I regret that I have not had opportunity to make fuller use of Professor Marshall's book in preparing the present study.

6. “For the churchman the most significant book of the Ecclesiastical Polity is the fifth, for it is in this book that Hooker defends the Prayer Book, its polity, sacraments and general worship. Yet this same fifth book is disappointing because it is incoherent and disorganized, and is like a series of sermons in which the preacher defends the Prayer Book against the many attacks of the Puritans. It is difficult to discover a general pattern of positive argument in it and to lay bare Hooker's fundamental conception of public worship.” Marshall, J. S., Hooker's Theology of Common Prayer, The Fifth Book of the Polity Paraphrased and Expanded into a Commentary on the Prayer Book ( Sewanee,Tennessee, 1956), p. iii. Although Professor Marshall's rendering of Book V as a commentary on the Prayer Book captures a great deal of what Hooker meant to say, there is no simple correspondence between parts of the Prayer Book and the line of Hooker's argument. Sometimes Hooker treats together (Chapters 18–22, 32–34) topics from widely separated parts of the Prayer Book, sometimes (Chapters 11–17, 29–31, most of 76–81) what he says does not bear really sharply on any particular part of the Prayer Book itself, though, to be sure, it is the corporate worship provided for in the Prayer Book that Hooker wishes to defend. Even in stretches where he appears in general to be following the Prayer Book order, there are sometimes significant deviations. Thus, the Prayer Book (The Prayer Book of Queen Elizabeth, 1559 ( London, 1890) places the churching of women after the burial of the dead, an order which Hooker judiciously reverses. Chapters 69–72, although they may enhance the coherence of Hooker's own argument (see below, note 12), disturb the order of Prayer Book exposition.

7. Craig, Hardin, “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity—First Form,” Journal of the History of Ideas, V (1944), 91104.

8. It fits neither of Troeltseh's divisions. In his introduction to the Everyman Hooker, Christopher Morris cites the book several times, but only to give examples of unattractive points which Hooker's role as an establishment man compelled him to defend. Professor Marshall (Hooker and the Anglican Tradition) finds things of value in Book V, but sets the first forty-nine chapters aside as irrelevant to the argument of the whole Polity.

9. “Of their fourth assertion, that touching the several public duties of Christian religion, there is amongst us much superstition retained in them; and concerning persons which for performance of those duties are endued with the power of ecclesiastical order, our laws and proceedings thereunto are many ways herein also corrupt.” Future references to the Polity will be by book (large Roman numerals; Book V is to be understood when this indication is missing), chapter (small Roman numerals) and section (Arabic numerals; the section divisions are Keble's.)

10. Walter Travers'“table or shortview of all ecclesiastical disciplines ordained by the word of God” is typical of the Puritan sequence of argument. Discipline, an order for the good government of the church, has two parts, one concerned with eclesiastical “functions,” the other with the duties of the rest of the faithful Travers' consideration of the first of these is elaborately divided and sub-divided; the second part is handled quickly, for “the duty of the residue of the faithful in every well ordered state and the only praise is obedience … so that whosoever be of the church are bound by the word of God to submit themselves to their authority and the obedience of this Discipline.” The table is at the beginning of Travers' A full and plain declaration out of the word of God and of the declining of the church of England from the same, trans. Thomas Cartwright (Zurich, 1574). The authors of the first Admonition to Parliament (1572), as cited in Whitgift's, Works, Vol. I, 140 f., express a similar order of priorities: “But in a few words to say what we mean. Either must we have a right ministry of God, and a right government of his church, according to the scripture set up (both which we lack) or else there can be no right religion, nor yet for contempt thereof can God's plagues be from us any while deferred.” Cartwright himself, in a list including the chief issues in his controversy with Whitgift, sets down several points on the ministry and government of the church before concluding with two points on ritual. A Reply to an answer made of M. Doctor Whitgift against the Admonition to the Parliament, 1573. His final treatments of Whitgift, , The Second Reply … 1575, and The rest of second Reply …, 1577, show the same emphasis. It is only in the eleventh tractate of the latter work that he comes to alleged corruptions in doctrine about the sacraments; not until the thirteenth and last tractate does he reach the “indifferent ceremonies” which Hooker takes up first in Book V. In his dedication of the book, Hooker notes that current Anglican writings are especially concerned with “the matter of jurisdiction” (works by Bancroft, Bilson, Saravia, Sutdiffe and Cosins are cited in Keble's note). His own decision to “wade through the whole cause” is justified less by any earlier example than by his own conception of due order and method.

11. II, i, 1. In this sequence, too, the last chapters of Book V, on the power of order, serve as a transition to the later books, on the powers of jurisdiction and dominion. It may be noted that this sequence is not dictated by the Book of Common Prayer, for although the ordinal came at the end of the 1552 Prayer Book, it was not included in the 1559 version, nor in any subsequent issue before 1662, but was published independently. Brightman, F. E., The English Rite, 2 vols. ( London, 1915), I, p. clxx.

12. Chapters xi-xvii clearly form a unit of argument about “places for the public service of God” (the title of Chapter xi). It is not so clear that Hooker intended Chapters lxix-lxxv as a distinct section about time. At the beginning of the fiftieth chapter, he refers to sacraments as the chief of the religious duties still to be treated, as if they differed only in importance from the subjects coming after them. On the other hand, the last sentence of Chapter lxviii seems to mark the close of a major division of the argument, one in which both prayer and sacraments are included, while Chapter lxix, on the nature of time, has the sound of a major beginning. The chapters themselves can certainly be understood as a treatment of religious time. Hooker's main points are that man should observe holy days and that the Church is right in observin? the chief times ia the life of man: marriage, childbirth and death.

13. Chs. xviii-xxii.

14. Chs. xxiii-xlix.

15. That Hooker intended his division of topics to reflect a basic philosophic distinction is indicated in xxiii, 1: “Between the throne of God in heaven and his Church upon earth here militant, if it be so that Angels have their continual intercourse, where should we find the same more verified than in these two ghostly exercises, the one Doctrine and the other Prayer¶ For what is the assembling of the Church to learn, but the receiving of Angels upward? His heavenly inspirations and our holy desires are as so many Angels of intercourse and commerce between God and us. As teaching bringeth us to know that God is our suprme truth; so prayer testifieth that we acknowledge him our sovereign good.” The distinction is made on psychological grounds in xxxiv, 1: “Again, forasmuch as effectual prayer is joined with a vehement intention of the inferior powers of the soul, which cannot therein long continue without pain, it hath been therefore thought good so by turns to interpose still somewhat for the higher part of the mind, the understanding, to work upon, that both being kept in continual exercise with variety, neither might feel any great weariness, and yet each be a spur to other. For prayer kindleth our desire to behold God by speculation; and the mind delighted with that contemplative sight of God, taketh every where new inflammations to pray, the riches of the mysteries of heavenly wisdom continualiy stirring up in us correspondent desires towards them. So that he which prayeth in due sort is thereby made the more attentive to hear, and he which heareth the more earnest to pray, for the time which we bestow as well in the one as the other.”

16. “Instruction and Prayer, whereof we have hitherto spoken, are duties which serve as elements, parts, or principles, to the rest that follow, in which number the Sacraof the Church are chief.” 1, i. The Incarnation is discussed in Chapters l-lvi, the sacraments (chiefly baptism) in Chapters lvii-lxviii.

17. The extent of Hooker's restructuring of his polemical situation can be gauged from a comparison of his table of contents wth the lists of topics given by other authors of the time. See, for example, in addition to the items referred to in note 7, the table of principal titles and matters handled in Whitgift's, The Defense of the Answer to the Admonition, Against the Reply of Thomas Cartwright (in Whitgift's Works, ed. for the Parker Society in 3 vols. by the Rev. Ayre, John, Cambridge, 1851–1853, Vol. III, pp. 561564). Successive tractates are concerned with (VI) ministers that cannot preach, and licences to preach, (VII) the apparel of ministers, (VIII) Archbishops, metropolitans, bishops, archdeans, etc., (IX) the communion-book, (X) holy days, (XI) the question, what kind of preaching is most effectual, (XII) preaching before the administration of the sacraments, (XIII) reading of the scriptures, (XIV) ministering and preaching by deacons, (XV) matters touching the communion, matters touching baptism, (XVII) the seignory or government by seniors, and so on. Whichever side, Puritan or Anglican, was ahead on particular points, it cannot be said that there was a very coherent general conception of religion anywhere in England in 1593. The structure of Hooker's fifth book is crystal in comparison with what had gone before.

18. The most extreme opposite to true religion, Hooker argues in an early chapter (ii) is “affected atheism,” while the chief danger of the disputes between Anglican and Puritan is neither the importance nor the difficulty of the issues in contention, but contentiousness itself. “With our contentions their [the atheists'] irreligious humor is much strengthened. Nothing pleaseth them better than these manifold oppositions upon the matter of religion, as well for that they have hereby the more opportunity to learn on one side how another may be oppugned, and so to weaken the credit of all unto themselves; as also by this hot pursuit of lower controversies among men professing religion, and agreeing in the principal foundations thereof, they conceive hope that about the higher principles themselves time will cause altercation to grow.” ii, 2.

19. This is not to suggest that Puritanism was monastic, but that its emphasis on the private aspects of religion (the promptings of the spirit, conversion experiences, an exclusive church of the elect) produced indifference or contempt for outward trappings.

20. Ch. lxxix, 17.

21. Chs. xxi, 3; xxii, 3; lxiii, 1; xviii, 1; xxii, 8–11; xix, 1.

22. Chs. xxi, 3; lix, 2 (but he was not an extreme literalist; see xix, 2); x, 1; lii, 1; lxvii, 4; xxxiv, 1; lxiii, 2. Hooker's emphasis on Scripture in the instructional part of church services involves no repudiation of systematic thought. It is in the earlier books of the Polity, however, that he appropriately engages in and defends philosophical theology. What is needed in divine service is not so much thought as the presentation of something to think about. One might also criticize Hooker's conception of preaching for its lack of social concern. A misleading response to this criticism is suggested by the professed aim of V, i, which is to show that “religion is the stay of all well ordered commonwealths.” One might mistakenly jump to the conclusion that Hooker means for the pulpit to preach pure docility (see Troeltsch's criticism in note 1 above, but also see the first part of note 7, which suggests that the criticism may be applied in other quarters). In reality, the beneficial social effects Hooker ascribes to religion come as much from its influence on rulers as from any opiate effect on subjects. Officials must either be persuaded that “justice is God's own work, and themselves his agents in this business,” or else follow their profession “only as a trade, with unquenchable and unconscionable thirst of gain.” Religion “qualifies” all sorts of men and makes them serviceable in public affairs, “governors the apter to rule with conscience,” as well as “inferiors for conscience' sake the willinger to obey” (i, 2). Furthermore there is a sharp critique in V, iii, 4 of the Machiavellian use of religious institutions to maintain political stability. But— and here there indeed is an issue with preachers of the social gospel— it would seem to be Hooker's view that religion will normally influence social action by its general effect on character, rather than by preachments on particular problems of the day. Normally, other organs of society are responsible for particular decisions. Only in extreme cases, as in that in which Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius, is it a function of the Christian ministry to challenge duly constituted secular authority (see VIII, ix, on the king's exemption from ecclesiastical censure). The point is not that Christianity is without social implications, but that a moral disposition to accept those implications must be cultivated if a society, either its rulers or its subjects, is to profit from an account of them.

23. Ch. xxxv, 2. The relations between spiritual and temporal things and persons in the Polity are complex. In the present case, the Church employs a two-fold “heavenly fraud.” When prayers for things whose value is evident to common people are included in the church service, “by this means there stealeth upon them a double benefit first because that good affection, which things of smaller account have once set; on work, is by so much the more easily raised higher, and secondly, in that the very custom of seeking so particular aid and relief at the hands of God, doth by a secret contradiction withdraw them from endeavoring to help themselves by those wicked shifts which they know can never have his allowance, whose assistance their prayer seeketh. These multiplied petitions of worldly things in prayer have therefore, besides their direct use, a service whereby the Church underhand, through a kind of heavenly fraud, taketh therewith the souls of men as with certain baits.”

24. Ch. xlviii, 3, 11.

25. Ch. xlix; xlviii; xli. It is ironic that Hooker was in turn accused of presuming to look into the “book of God's law by which he guideth the world” because of the very distinction he intended as an antidote to that presumption. Cf. the “Christian Letter,” in criticism of Books I-V, p. 17. “Have we not cause to fear that the wittie schoolmen have seduced you, and by conceited distinctions made you forget 'that you are neither able nor worthy to open and look into the book of God's law… [Polity, I, ii, 5].' And yet you will say, that there is in God an occasional will.” This passage and Hooker's comments on it axe given by Keble in a note to V, xlix, 3. The “conceited distinction” is to be found in Aquinas, St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I, Q. 19, a. 6, ad 1.

26. Fr. Maurice Bevenot rejects Hooker's treatment of the sacraments as a basis for reunion essentially on the ground that the Puritans did not reject it (“The Catholicism of Richard Hooker—Does it Point to a Reunion¶” Hibbert Journal, XLI (1942), 73–80). It is difficult to leave matters at this. The incompatibility of Rome and Geneva need not entail the incompatibility of Canterbury with either, since one doctrine on a subject may leave as undetermined certain propositions which are determined in opposite ways by different theories of the same subject. Further, it is not due simply to Anglican muddle that many propositions are left undetermined in Hooker's exposition of the sacraments in Book V. A layman may hope still, perhaps, that the sense of religious experience conveyed in these chapters will in fact help towards the unity of the Church, but, without doubt, the theological questions here are difficult.

27. See the preceding note. Also see Hardin Craig, op. cit., p. 103.

28. “Without all controversy, the purer and perfecter our religion is, the worthier effects it hath in them who steadfastly and sincerely embrace it, in others not. They that love the religion which they profess, may have failed in choice, but yet they are sure to reap what benefit the same is able to afford; whereas the best and soundest professed by them that bear it not the like affection, yieldeth them, retaining it in that sort, no benefit.” i, 4. The present essay does not mean to deny what Hooker certainiy recognized—that inwardness is essential to being truly religious. Publicity is not intended as an alternative to inwardness, but as an appropriate expression of it. An adequate account of Hooker's conception of religious inwardness would depend on a close study of Books I-IV.

29. Religious ideas may be of interest to us as objects of sentiment or scholarly research without being alive as ideas, that is, as ways of rationally dealing with things, as concepts used in ordering our own experience. One can think about religion without thinking religiously.

30. We can no longer doubt the authenticity of the later books, thanks to R. A. Houk (op. cit.) and Professor Sisson (The Judicious Marriage of Mr. Hooker and the Birth of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity; Cambridge, 1940). Perhaps it is worth considering whether the breaks in publication of the eight books mark a significant sectioning of their argument.

31. See, for example, Whitehead's, A. N.Science and the Modern World ( New York, 1948), pp. 9 f., for an appreciation of the contrast between Hooker's rationalism and his Puritan opponents' disparagement of reason. In the Polity, in addition to Book I, see III, viii. The rationalism of Books I-IV can, however, be exagerated. A full account of the Polity would need to show, not only that Hooker did not end at Padua, but also that he did not start exactly from Aquino.

32. See pp. 167–70 and 180 ff. of the article of mine referred to in note 2.

33. To be precise, we must recognize that “the ordinary world” will vary a good deal in specifics from one time and place to another. Accordingly, Chureh practices must “fit” not only the generic characteristics of ordinary life, but also the special features of different human situations. Hooker's firm grasp of this point (as shown, for example, in I, xv; III, x-xi; IV, xiii; V, viii-ix, and VII, iv-xiii) has implications for the proper approach to his work now. First, in reading the Polity, if we wish to grasp Hooker's approach to the problems of religion and the world, we must be ready to attend to specifics which do not concern us. This is not just a matter of literary savoring. It is of the intellectual essence of Hooker's approach that it presents the universal in the concrete. It is no easier to appreciate the Polity without debating the Puritans than to appreciate Othello, with all references to the color of the hero's skin deleted. Secondly, any appeal to Hooker in current discussion about the up-dating of the Church must recognize that he is not a traditionalist pure and simple. It makes perfectly good sense to ask what Hooker would advise us to do today, so long as we see that quotations from the Polity will not be much of the answer.

34. “I have endeavoured throughout the body of this whole discourse, that every former part might give strength unto all that follow, and every later bring some light unto all before. So that if the judgments of men do but hold themselves in suspense as touching these first more general meditations, till in order they have perused the rest that ensue; what may seem dark at first will afterwards be found more plain, even as the later particular decisions will appear I doubt not more strong, when the other have been read before.” I. i, 2. R. A. Houk, op. cit., pp. 87–90 has noted Hooker's repeated use of the general-particular distinction in organizing his argument. The importance of the distinction is missed, however, unless we see that, for Hooker, it involves a shift of relative emphasis from theoretical insight to practical deeieion. In Books I-IV he is concerned with universal principles whose soundness or unsoundness can be shown demonstratively. Since, however, it is demonstrably unsound to say, with the Puritans, that Scripture provides a rule for everything to be done in this life, the defense of Anglican ceremony in Book V is based, not on demonstrations, but on good reasons. “The first thing therefore which is of force to cause approbation with good conscience towards such customs or rites as publicly are established, is when there ariseth from the due consideration of those customs and rites in themselves apparent reason, although not always to prove them better than any other that might possibly be devised, (for who did ever require this in man's ordinances¶) yet competent to shew their conveniency and fitness, in regard of the use for which they should serve.” vi, 1. The powers of jurisdiction of presbyters, bishops and civil rulers, which are the topics of Books VI-Vill, are treated yet more “decisively,” since the distinctive principle of legitimacy here is a person's consent to be part of a particular decision-mairing body, the historic English church.

35. The analysis of Hooker's argument presented here may be compared with that suggested by SirStephen, J. P. (Horace Sabbaticae, London, 1892; Vol. I, pp. 146 ff.), who also found the Polity to have a triple aspect which could be represented in a three-fold division of the work: Book I is philosophical, as is Book II, possibly (the connection of these with the later books is said to be unclear); Books III-VI, and possibly Book VII, are theological; Book VIII is political. This division is perhaps dubious. In a general but not at all vague way, the entire Polity is theological while in defensible narrower senses of the terms, Books II and III, at least, and possibly IV, are philosophical, and VII is surely political; VI would have been political if Hooker had finished it. Book V is more religious than (systematically) theological.

36. See note 4, above.

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