Richard Hooker and Mysticism

By Grislis, Egil | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Richard Hooker and Mysticism


Grislis, Egil, Anglican Theological Review


As the judicious Richard Hooker celebrated divine revelation as well as law and reason, so too his emphasis on a mystical union with Christ, personally experienced and ecclesially oriented, serves to enrich the spiritual life of the church. Hooker concentrates on gradual growth in holiness rather than individual ecstatic experiences. Union with Christ is experienced relationally in an ecclesial context, and unitive individual prayers are perfected within the experience of the church's solemn common prayer. Thoughtful composition, rather than "effusions of undigested prayers," should be the norm. Equally significant is Hooker's attention to the sacramental dimension of the union with Christ. Characteristically, Hooker defines the sacraments as effective "moral instruments, " Baptism incorporates the baptized into Christ, and the eucharist is instrumental in the "transmutation" of the souls of the participating believers. Throughout his mystical concerns, Hooker reflects an intense awareness of both being in the presence of God and sharing God's very life.

The Role and Limits of Theology

The title of Richard Hooker's magnum opus, Of the Laives of Ecclesiastical Politie, announced his fundamental orientation. With "law" as the key paradigm, Hooker proposed to offer a clear, biblically oriented, and rational outline of the structure of the church, based on his understanding of God, creation, and human existence. As a Reformation theologian, Hooker acknowledged the Bible as the source of all revealed truth. At the same time, as a learned scholar, Hooker made very extensive use of ecclesial and secular learning. Essential for this task of interpretation was the consensus of the wisest interpreters who drew upon Scripture, tradition, and the exercise of reason. Hookers steadfast appeal to reason earned him the occasional critique of being a rationalist.1 At the same time there was also another side to Hooker. C. S. Lewis has put it this way: "Few model universes are more filled-one might say, drenched-with Deity than his. 'All things that are of God,' and only sin is not, 'have God in them and they in himself likewise, and yet their substances and his are wholly different.' God is unspeakably transcendent; but also unspeakably immanent."2 As A. M. Allchin develops this insight, it becomes clear that the presence of God has to be understood both universally and personally: "to speak of man's participation in God, still more to speak of his deification, otherwise than in the context of a whole world which participates in God is to speak a non-sense."3 Yet characteristically, as Hooker elaborated this mystical perception of all reality, he consistently sought recourse to clear and rational concepts of thought.4

In his historical situation near the end of the sixteenth century, the appeal to learned and wise reasoning appeared particularly necessary in confronting the two major critics of the Elizabethan Settlement. Against Roman Catholicism it was insufficient merely to quote Scripture. After all, Rome knew the Bible and could appeal to texts in its favor. To counter such appeals, Hooker needed to offer a reasoned account that his own hermeneutics and exegeses were in basic accord with traditional sacred and secular wisdom. Similarly, against the Puritans who appealed to Scriptures, experience, and even intuition, mere quotation of Scriptures would not be sufficient. Their spiritual father, the reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) from Geneva, had been a brilliant and immensely learned man. While theoretically all of his teachings were based on Scripture alone, in practice his spirituality drew on all of his learning. In other words, when Calvin claimed that "the Scripture says," his interpretation was often not novel, but stood in a long line of the best exegesis in patristic and medieval traditions. Calvin's English followers, the early Puritans, did not always display such erudition. Particularly their appeal to the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit appeared unduly subjective and hence did not persuade Hooker. …

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