Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Hooker's Apprentice: God, Entelechy, Beauty, and Desire in Book One of Richard Hooker's Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Hooker's Apprentice: God, Entelechy, Beauty, and Desire in Book One of Richard Hooker's Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie

Article excerpt

We don't really look at the past for antiquarian reasons, we look at the past to see if in looking at its thought and its art, we can see things that have been lost and that we need for this very present moment of our existing.

George Grant

This paper is an exposition of the opening chapters of Book One of Richard Hooker's Lawes of Ecclesiastical) Politic. There Hooker sets forth the foundational theological commitments that will inform his subsequent reflections on church polity. The logical priority of reason to will in God, the account of created reality in terms of intrinsic purposes, desire as definitive of human being, and a commitment to the medieval transcendentals, in particular to beauty, all show Hooker to be at odds with the emerging "modernity" of his immediate predecessors and contemporaries, and in tune with the spirit of classical and medieval philosophy and theology. While this may appear to be grounds for neglecting him as irrelevantly anachronistic, I suggest instead that his work profoundly subverts the modern project, not a la postmodernity avant le temps, but along the lines of certain twentieth-- century figures such as Simone Weil, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and George Grant.

In Book One of the treatise Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie Hooker shows himself to be firmly set against what we may call the spirit of his age. Emerging in the later Middle Ages and characteristic of the Renaissance and Reformation, that spirit may be described by the three "-isms" of nominalism, voluntarism, and contractualism. 1 Underlying them is a corresponding threefold vision of an abstract and radically transcendent God, autonomous human nature, and the rest of nature as little more than raw material and a means to human ends. Over against this emerging modernity Hooker sets his own vision of God as one who acts according to the inner logic of his being for the good of all creation, and of reality, from dust to angels even to God himself, teleologically ordered to the transcendentals-the good, the true, and the beautiful.2

It is this comprehensive and magnificent vision, elegantly unfolded with precision and subtlety, that provides the context for his treatment of human legislation, and in particular, ecclesiastical polity.3 It is to a few of the outstanding features of that vision, specifically the inner logic of God, entelechy, beauty, and desire, that I shall give my attention in this paper.4 In two main sections I shall consider Hooker's doctrines of God and of human nature. I shall treat the former with respect to his definition of law, and the latter in relation to the desire for transcendental beauty. Hooker's treatment of angelic law will serve as the transition between the two sections. In a brief, adventurous conclusion I shall suggest possible connections with certain more recent thinkers.

Touching briefly on Hooker's introductory chapter, it is striking that whereas the particular occasion for his writing is the calling into question of the laws of the Church of England in the closing decades of the sixteenth century, or in other words little more than a parochial skirmish when viewed within the grand scheme of things, his intended audience is anything but parochial. Nothing less than "the whole world" is invited to attend to his argument and "make general trial and judgement" of his defense of English ecclesiastical law (I.1.3).5

Hooker perceives in this particular attack on the laws of his church matters of more than parochial significance. Nothing less than a way of thinking about God, the world, and human existence is at issue. The radical sweeping away of social structures and traditions in the name of biblical purity threatens the very foundations of a way of thought and life, of faith and worship, that is continuous with classical, patristic, and medieval culture and philosophy,6 and at the same time consistent with Holy Scripture read within that grand tradition. …

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