Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Role of Sin in the Theology of Richard Hooker

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Role of Sin in the Theology of Richard Hooker

Article excerpt

The key leitmotiv throughout Richard Hooker's writings is the concept of order. Most obviously it served in defense of the Ecclesia Anglicana against what Hooker regarded as the Roman Catholic and Puritan errors. The central category in defining order was Hooker's theory of law, which he explicated in reliance on Scripture, tradition, reason, and grace. As a Christian theologian, Hooker was keenly aware that the order he was defining and defending existed in a post-- Fall world, in which all dimensions of life were heavily tainted by sin. In Hooker scholarship, sin has been either totally ignored or discussed in rather general terms. When acknowledged, sin has been assigned a relatively minor role. Thus, according to Michael Walzer,1 Hooker did not deny original sin, but neglected to discuss its consequences. And Peter Lake has suggested that Hooker regarded sin as a "species of ignorance" which was the result of "intellectual laziness" and therefore "almost benign."2 Of course, there are also more accurate general statements, for example, the suggestion by William J. Bowsma, that Hooker "shared Calvin's belief in the total depravity of fallen humanity, which means, of course, not that there is nothing good left in human beings, but that there is no privileged area of the personality left untouched by original sin, notably including the operations of the mind."3

Just what limits sin imposed on the understanding of Scripture, tradition, reason, and grace-and hence on the grasp of the concept of order as well-is the central inquiry of this paper. At the same time, as Hooker saw it, while sin necessarily always remained present, it was not an inevitably constant factor. Sin could be checked, as grace would exercise a healing function. Then Scripture, tradition, and reason could serve as reliable resources for a realistic and profound understanding of order, and hence as the basis for the exemplary life of the Ecclesia Anglicana.

I

Hooker's view of sin was strikingly radical, rooted in his perception of the magnitude of the Fall and the continuous presence of its effects. Admittedly, the distancing from John Calvin's doctrine of double predestination softened his views of the origin of the Fall, but not of its effects. Namely, Hooker distinguished between divine "appointment" and "permission" of the Fall, preferring the latter (Dublin fragments 28: FLE 4,136.16 and 17). In other words, God had foreknown the Fall, but did not make it happen as "Prescience... extendeth unto all things, butt causeth nothing" (Dubl. fr 2; 4,102.23-24). Both angels and men had been created with the gift of freedom (Dubl. fr. 28; 4,136.24-25). Angels abused their freedom first. Their misdeed was a voluntary disobedience to God's law. Instead of adoring God and living in subjection to His rule, the disobedient among the angels reversed their priorities and in sinful pride adored themselves as well as began to instigate "an universall rebellion against the lawes" (Lawes I.4.3; 1.72.11 and 15-16). And, following tradition further, Hooker noted that these fallen angels could not ever regain their lost status and thus continued to will evil (Lawes I.4.3; 1.72.12-17). The human condition-while not excluding redemption and therefore not hopeless-was nevertheless serious, because man had become radically sinful. Here Hooker minced no words; the human mind, he claimed, is now "perverse kam and crooked.... Wee are not dust and ashes but wourse, our mindes from the highest to the lowest are not right... (Pride 1; 5.312.5 and 24-26). Hooker returned to this insight repeatedly, and with sermonic vigor; for example, "It is true, wee are full of sinne both originall and actuall; whosoever denieth it is a double sinner, for he is both a sinner, and a lyer. To denie sinne, is most plainely and cleerely to prove it..." (Jude 2.24; 5.50.22-24). And such an affliction is truly universal, as "there neither is, nor never was any mere naturall man absolutly rightuous in himself" and hence "voide of all unrightuousnes, of all synne. …

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