Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community

Article excerpt

Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community. Edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, vol. 165. Tempe, AZ: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1997. xxii + 418 pp. $32.00 (cloth).

A new study of Richard Hooker is always a welcome sight for an Anglican: given the centrality Hooker's theology is generally accorded in the Anglican tradition, there is a surprising dearth of studies of it, and this volume therefore holds out the tantalizing hope of fresh perspectives and deeper insights. In this hope, it largely disappoints the reader interested in Hooker as a theologian, for its essays are chiefly concerned with Hooker's place in social history and, even more, in the history of political theory.

The essays contained in it began as papers delivered at a conference celebrating the completion of the Folger edition of Hooker's work. As Arthur McGrade explains in the foreword, a sea-change occurred in Hooker scholarship as the edition was being prepared and the essays in this volume are much concerned with documenting that change and commenting on it. While it is certainly valuable to trace and evaluate the move from "the hagiographical view" (p. xxii) to a more critical appraisal of Hooker as a "partisan thinker intent on window-dressing the command structure of English society'(W D. J. Cargill Thompson, cited by Debora Shuger, p. 307), this Rezeptionsgeschichte is recounted again and again by different commentators. The volume would seem less repetitious if one contributor had been charged with documenting this history and the others told to assume the task had been done. McGrade's allusion to hagiography is echoed elsewhere in the volume (pp. 307, 331 and 353), and this usage, too, becomes tiresome, as it gradually becomes clear that not one commentator intends to distinguish between a flattering biography and the life of a saint, which no one has ever claimed Hooker was. This slip is a small one, perhaps, but it is symptomatic of a larger problem with this volume: its contributors appear to be largely unencumbered by knowledge of theology, a fact deducible not from a list of contributors (there is none) but from a collective disinclination to acknowledge that Hooker is a theologian and the generally unrigorous quality of theological analysis when it is attempted.

The tendency shared by those essays that attempt some theological analysis is to rescue Hooker for the continental Reformation. W J. Torrance Kirby, for example, claims that "Hooker and Calvin both repudiate the vilification of reason and philosophy on the part of the radical, biblicizing reformers" (p. 225), but neglects to acknowledge the crucial difference between them: Hooker explicitly accords reason a large role in constructive theology, while Calvin, though certainly making use of cogent argumentation, does not in the Institutes grant reason the status of a theological warrant. Even more astonishing is Kirby's assertion that Hooker espouses total depravity, a claim based on a quotation from Hooker's treatise on justification in which he claims no more than that we are not justified by any quality inherent in us (p. 226). Likewise, Patrick Collinson's claim, on the basis of the Dublin Fragments, that Hooker reworks grace from a Reformed position (p. 176) is called into question by the fact that Collinson himself acknowledges: Hooker has little to say of grace. …

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