Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Richard Hooker on the Eucharist: A Commentary on the Laws V.67

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Richard Hooker on the Eucharist: A Commentary on the Laws V.67

Article excerpt

The argument of Richard Hooker's discussion of the Eucharist in the Laws V.67 has too often been obscured by a misunderstanding of the celebrated irenic tone of the presentation. Rather than simply a conciliatory ploy. Hooker's irenicism is a rhetorical device designed to underscore the soundness of his own doctrine and the irrelevance of alternative doctrines. Hooker's eucharistic doctrine is a form of instrumental receptionism whereby Christ is present dynamically in the liturgical action rather than statically in the consecrated elements. Human understanding of the Eucharist is necessarily experiential not reasonable and, while the cause of the communicant's experience can be inferred, it cannot be demonstrated in terms of formal logic. Hooker's argument is based on the reasonable interpretation of a variety of accumulated evidence characteristic of rhetorical not dialectic logic.

On the face of it, Richard Hooker devoted surprisingly little space in Of the Latex of Ecclesiastical Polity to a formal discussion of the Eucharist, Not only does Hooker oiler a disconcerting brief treatment, but he seems equally intent on avoiding unseemly and unproductive doctrinal wrangling. The Eucharist was instituted for the sake of our souls, he comments, "and not for the exercising of our curious and subtle wits" (V.67.4).1 He draws attention instead to those areas of common agreement, "which we may safeliest cleave unto" (V.67.12), and is ostensibly content to remain mute on those matters of which "we may remain ignorant without danger" (V.67.12).

Hooker's irenic tone can be at least partially explained by the changed circumstances of the Church of England since Cranmer's time. Hooker's discussion of the Eucharist reflects the moderate policies of Elizabeth's reign. He shared with earlier reformers a receptionist theory of the Eucharist, but rejected Calvinistie "virtualism" in favor of an undefined form of sacramental presence. The English Church, according to Hooker's mentor John Jewel, distinguished between the sign and the thing signified, sought Christ in heaven rather than bodily on earth, and held that Christ's body was eaten by faith only.2 These differences from Roman Catholic doctrine in effect negate any notion of a "real Presence" in the elements of bread and wine, together with any concomitant theories of consubstantiation or transubstantiation. Precisely how Christ was present in heaven and in the soul of the faithful communicant was not made clear.3

Hooker's own contribution to a developing eucharistic theology in the Church of England has been a matter of some debate, but what is of particular interest is that the locus of the discussion has often been on Hooker's rhetorical style. The authors of A Christian Letter of certaine English Protestants (published in 1599 in response to Book V of The Lairs of Ecclesiastical Polity recognized-albeit-ironically-"the sweete sound of your [Hooker's] melodious style," but protested that it seemed designed to "cast [readers] into a dreaming sleep in order to beguile then): "[I]t seemed to us that covertile and underhand you did bend all your skill and force against the present state of our English church, and by colour of defending the discipline and government thereof, to make questionable and bring in contempt the doctrine and faithe itselfe." Hooker, they charged, was "under the shewe of inveighing against Puritans" espousing "popish blasphemie."4 L. S. Thornton, writing early in the last century, perhaps disappointed that Hooker did not address Ins particular concerns, interpreted Hooker's irenic rhetoric us pietv substituting for theological clarity.5 Francis Paget, on the other hand, found virtue in this same piety and observes that chapter 67 "is uniting the deepest and noblest parts of Hookers work," finding in it "an eager, humble plea for peace on the high ground and in the realm of undisputed truth."6 Danvell Stone is also convinced that it was in the interest of peace and harmony within the English church that Hooker introduced a tolerant policy with regard to differing views of the Eucharist, and "of set and deliberate purpose" avoided introducing his own ideas into his presentation. …

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