Puritan Hypocrisies

Where I grew up, the Puritans were always the good guys in the story.  New England Puritans, English Civil War Puritans, Elizabethan Puritans, you name it.  They were always good guys.  Unlike the wicked corrupt Anglicans who would put them in prison and used their wealth and power to try to trample on them.  The Puritans wanted to purge the Church of its papist abuses, and that must be a good thing.  They wanted toleration for religious minorities, and that must be a good thing.  They opposed the idea of a state church, and wanted the Church to be free to rule itself, and that must be a good thing. 

I first sensed that something was amiss with this narrative when I realized (I wouldn’t say “learned” because in all probability I already knew it, it had just never hit home) that the Puritans (loosely defined) had beheaded their Archbishop in 1645.  That couldn’t be a good thing.  And then when I encountered someone in our circles who wanted to lionize Martin Marprelate, and I started looking at the kind of filthy slander Marprelate had written against his pastors, I knew that something was amiss.  And more recently, the truth has been laid bare in all its ugliness–the Elizabethan Puritans, at any rate, were characteristically petty, self-righteous, slanderous, vindictive, theologically naive, and unprincipled, to an extent that almost justifies the authoritarian response of Elizabeth, Whitgift, and Bancroft (which was, in any case, not all that authoritarian by the standards of the day).   

But, they were at least in favor of the freedom of the Church from the State, right?  For religious freedom, rather than authoritarian conformity?  And that’s gotta be a good thing, right?


So I’ve been inclined to think.  In reality, though, it’s not at all clear that we can cast the Puritans as the noble fighters for the freedom of the Christian conscience and the freedom of the Church from the State.  Both claims are somewhat anachronistic impositions from a later era.  In reality, the Puritans were not fighting so much for permission of a righteous minority to pursue its own church polity within the commonwealth, but were fighting for the complete makeover of the commonwealth along the lines demanded by the righteous minority.  Neither Puritan or Anglican envisioned religious diversity; they envisioned either a Church of England ruled according to Anglican principles, and nothing else, or a Church of England ruled according to Puritan principles, and nothing else.  All minorities want tolerance as long as they’re minorities, but if they can become the majority (or at least the most powerful), few show much interest in tolerance anymore.

The second claim is more interesting.  Is it true that the Puritans were fighting for the freedom of the Church from political control?  Well, again we might cynically say that this was just a pragmatic stance, and one that they were happy to reverse if they seized political power.  However, at the theological level, there was an important sense in which the Puritans were fighting for ecclesial autonomy (though whether they were theologically right is questionable).  What’s interesting here is how, for pragmatic purposes, they set aside that principle from the get-go, and were actually, throughout the Elizabethan controversies, the ones trying to manipulate the Church.   

See, what’s interesting about the Elizabethan settlement is that it’s not simply the subjection of the Church to the State that we moderns might imagine.  On the contrary, political and ecclesial power are set up as separate parallel governments in the Elizabethan constitution, united only in the person of the sovereign.  Queen Elizabeth was head of the Church and of the State, but she governed the one through the bishops, and the other through Parliament.  For Parliament to seek to govern the Church was, in Elizabeth’s mind, an unacceptable political intervention in the affairs of the Church.  Yet it was precisely this that the Puritans sought to effect.  Having marked out the bishops as their irreconcilable foes (on the whole, quite unfairly, since most of the Elizabethan bishops were actually quite moderate and reasonable), the Puritans radicalized their position and called for the abolition of the episcopacy.  Clearly this was a “reform” that they could not try to pursue through the existing structures of the Church, so they turned to political machinery to accomplish their goal, using Parliament to propose legislation that would remove power from the bishops.  And it was this, more than anything, that Queen Elizabeth would not tolerate–the idea that Parliament should be permitted to set ecclesiastical policy, which was the responsibility of the bishops.  Hence, she vetoed every bill that came forward, not always on account of their content, but chiefly on account of what she saw as their unconstitutionality.   

Throughout the Elizabethan period, the story is the same–the Puritans working for a politically, rather than ecclesiastically, determined government of the Church.  So which side was it that stood for the freedom of the Church from political manipulation, from subjection to the State, if this is our ideal?  Well, neither really, since our ideals were simply not the ideals of the sixteenth-century, but if one had to pick, one might well say the Anglicans, not the Puritans, and that’s what you call ironic.  

The Communicatio Idiomatum (Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 2)

I’m afraid I’ve been sadly delayed from getting to this second installment, but here at last it is.  Having looked at Hooker’s rather Alexandrian treatment of the unity of Christ’s person in the first post, I will now look at his treatment of the distinction of natures, in which he articulates a clearly Reformed understanding of the communicatio idiomatum over against the Lutherans.  This appears in V.53, “That by the union of the one with the other nature in Chirst there groweth neither gaine nor losse of essentiall properties to either.”  

He begins with a resolutely Chalcedonian summary statement: the conjunction of natures involves “no abolishment of naturall properties apperteininge to either substance, no transition or transmigration thereof out of one substance into an other, finallie no such mutuall infusion as reallie causeth the same naturall operations or properties to be made common unto both substances, but whatsoever is naturall to deitie the same remayneth in Christ uncommunicated unto his manhood” (V.53.1).

We may merge the two in speech, while recognizing that they remain thoroughly distinct in reality: “To Christ we ascribe both workinge of wonders and suffringe of paines, wee use concerninge him speeches as well of humilitie as of divine glorie.  But the one wee applie unto that nature which he tooke of the Virgine Marie, the other to that which was in the beginning” (V.53.1)  Otherwise we risk eclipsing the humanity of Christ, which being the weaker nature, would be “swallowed up as in a gulfe” if it were merged with the divine nature–this was the error of Eutyches.  Against this, Hooker cites testimony from Sts. Hilary, Cyril, and Leo.  

Inasmuch as the two natures remain distinct and unimpaired in themselves, they serve as the causes of distinct operations–some things Christ works by power of his divinity, others by power of his humanity, others by both concurrently: “Wherefore some thinges he doth as God, because his deitie alone is the wellspringe from which they flowe; some thinges as man, because they issue from his meere humane nature; some thinges jointlie as both God and man, because both natures concurre as principles thereunto” (V.53.3).  Hooker thus proposes as a rule for deciding all doubts “that of both natures there is a cooperation often, an association alwayes, but never any mutuall participation whereby the properties of the one are infused into the other” (V.53.3).

This, he says, is the proper foundation for the Damascene doctrine of the communication of attributes.  The constant association of the natures in one subject justifies our attribution of the works of God to man and the works of man to God.

“A kinde of mutuall commutation there is whereby those concrete names God and Man when wee speake of Christ doe take interchangablie one another’s roome, so that for truth of speech it skilleth [matters] not whether wee saie that the Sonne of God hath created the world and the Sonne of man by his death hath saved it, or els that the Sonne of man did create and the Sonne of God die to save the world.  Howbeit as oft as we attribute to God what the manhood of Christ claymeth, or to man what his deitie hath right unto, we understand by the name of God and the name of man neither the one nor the other nature, but the whole person of Christ in whome both natures are” (V.53.4).

The legitimacy of such forms of speech, he says, is what justifies statements such as the Apostle saying that the Jews “crucified the Lord of glorie” in which “there is attributed to God or the Lord of glorie death whereof divine nature is not capable”; or statements that the Son of Man is in heaven at the same time he is on earth.  “Therefore by the Lord of glorie wee must needes understand the whole person of Christ, who beinge Lord of Glorie was indeed crucified, but not in that nature for which he is termed the Lord of glorie.  In like manner by the Sonne of man the whole person of Christ must necessarelie be meant, who beinge man upon earth filled heaven with his glorious presence, but not accordinge to that nature for which the title of man is given him” (V.53.4). 

I am not sure that at this point Hooker is being altogether consistent with his approach in the previous chapter.  For here, it has sounded as if the relationship of the two natures to the “whole person of Christ” is symmetrical–the person in itself is something of a logical abstraction, neither divine or human in itself, but both by its possession of each nature.  But in the previous chapter, the relationship between the divine and human in the one person was clearly asymmetric–it was a divine person, possessing a divine nature, who took to himself another nature, a human nature, so that it too might become proper to him:    “Christ is a person both divine and humaine, howbeit not therefore two persons in one, neither both these in one sense, but a person divine because he is personallie the Sonne of God, humane because he hath reallie the nature of the children of men.”   Christ is not both divine and human in the same senseone he is personally, and the other, we might say, appropriately–that is, by appropriation.  

To make a statement about “the Lord of glorie,” it would seem, is to make a statement about the person of the Son, not about the divine nature in abstraction.  And therefore there is no need to resort to the notion of the communicatio idiomatum in order to explain how we could attribute death to the Son of God.  Natures don’t die, persons do, and so there is no need to make some kind of conceptual stretch in order to say “they crucified the Lord of glorie”–this, it would seem, is true without equivocation.  At least, that’s what Hooker seemed to think in the previous chapter, when he said: “Whereupon it followeth against Nestorius that no person was born of the virgin but the Sonne of God, no person but the Sonne of God baptised, the sonne of God condemned, the sonne of God and no other person crucified.”  It does make sense, on the other hand, to invoke the notion of the communicatio idiomatum to explain a statement about the ubiquity of the Son of man–because there is no human hypostasis corresponding to the human nature that possesses divine attributes (as such a statement would seem to imply); there is a divine hypostasis that possesses human attributes.  So here, the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum is necessary to explain why such statements are justified, and in what sense they are rightly understood.  

There is thus somewhat of a tension between this characteristically Reformed way of using the communicatio idiomatum as applying symmetrically to both natures which associate or concur in a person, understood somewhat abstractly, and the Alexandrian approach of the previous chapter, where the divine person was understood asymmetrically to act through and be acted upon in the human nature which he assumed.  


However, Hooker does not linger at this point of tension for long.  Immediately in the next chapter, he goes on to articulate an asymmetry in the relationship between the two natures, in which the human does not remain untouched by the divine the way the divine remains untouched by the human, and seems to heavily qualify his statement in this chapter that there is “never any mutuall participation whereby the properties of the one are infused into the other.”  This discussion, which occupies ch. 54, paves the way for him to build something of a bridge toward the Lutheran understanding of ubiquity, but without leaving authentically Reformed ground or conceding to the Lutherans on the crucial points.   

I had said before that this series would consist of three posts, but it will take two more to cover the remainder of Hooker’s argument, so consider this Part 2 of 4.

The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (Hooker’s Doctrine of Law, Pt. 7)

Now I’m finally wrapping up this series, which has helped give me the first chapter of my dissertation–or more likely, the third chapter, but the first one written.  Congratulations to anyone who actually had the perseverance to read it.  Now I’ll try to get back to Christology and to some less meaty matters, including hopefully some more concise attempts to apply some of this Hooker material to concrete questions of our own context.

Hooker has thus far established that all laws in the Church must be made in obedience to God, but this obedience does not preclude the use of reason and natural law–indeed, it requires it.  God, he has shown, is the author of all wisdom and truth, which comes to us through various vehicles, of which Scripture is the most important–in all things relevant, in many things of chief authority, and in some things of exclusive authority.  Even when we rely on Scripture alone in framing laws, reason will play an indispensable role.  

Hooker is now ready to parse out exactly how reason and Scriptural authority play out in the making of laws of ecclesiastical polity; but before summarizing this, it may be helpful to recap briefly some key points made earlier. 

Three types of law are of particular concern to us: the law of reason, divine law, and human law.  We may categorize these three in terms of an overarching twofold distinction: natural laws and positive laws–the former of which are binding always and everywhere by the nature of things, and the second of which are binding by virtue of being promulgated at some point in time–though they may thereafter be permanent.  The law of reason is natural, while divine and human laws are positive.  (Scripture, in this scheme, is not to be understood as synonymous with divine law: it includes both natural laws–laws of reason spelled out more clearly and precisely–and divine laws, either applications of the law of reason or additions to it.)  Human laws are concrete applications of either the law of reason or the divine law, and can be either mixedly human–that is, applications or specifications of duties already made clear in the law of reason or divine law; or merely human–that is, specifications of duties that are not already clear in the law of reason or divine law, but are nonetheless conformable to it and can be probably deduced from it.  


All these distinctions are in the background of III:9-11, but most important here will be Hooker’s elaboration of a notion he has repeatedly touched on earlier: mutability.  Natural laws are immutable, but will take on a great deal change and variability whenever applied to the mutable circumstances of human laws.  Divine laws, although promulgated by God himself, are not therefore necessarily immutable, though they may be.  Hooker’s task now is to show just where and how mutability enters into law.  

Hooker begins III.9 by affirming adamantly that Scripture plays an indispensable role in framing laws of church polity.  But lest we should ask why indeed such laws should need to be framed at all, if we already have Scripture, Hooker reminds us, “yet because both in that which we are commanded, it concerneth the duty of the Church by law to provide, that the loosenes and slacknes of men may not cause the commandements of God to be unexecuted; and a number of things there are for which the scripture hath not provided by any law, but left them unto the carefull discretion of the Church; we are to search how the Church in these cases may be well directed to make that provision by lawes which is most convenient and fit.”  These two needs for laws correspond to his much earlier distinction betweeen mixedly and merely human laws.   

In both cases, “partely scripture and partly reason must teach to discerne,” a claim for which he has laid all the groundwork in previous sections.  Scripture gives us three kinds of direction–examples, laws natural, and laws positive.  Examples “can but direct as precedents onely.  Naturall lawes direct in such sorte, that in all thinges we must for ever doe according unto them; positive so, that against them in no case we may doe any thing, as long as the will of God is that they should remaine in force.  Howbeit when scripture doth yeelde us precedents, how far forth they are to bee followed; when it giveth naturall lawes, what particular order is therunto most agreeable; when positive, which waye to make lawes unrepugnant unto them; yea though all these shoulde want, yet what kind of ordinances woulde be moste for that good of the Church whch is aimed at, al this must be by reason founde out.”  So in each of these three kinds of scriptural direction, and when such direction is lacking altogether, reason plays a necessary role.  The most important distinction made here is between the diverse ways that natural and positive laws bind.  Natural laws being general in their scope, we must take them as fully regulative for our conduct.  But positive laws, being promulgated for particular ends, are such that we may not, depending on the circumstance, be bound to follow them, only to make sure that we do not act contrary to them: “Lawes humane must be made according to the generall lawes of nature, and without contradiction unto any positive law in scripture.  Otherwise they are ill made.”


In chapter 10, he will turn to distinguish precisely the subcategories of scriptural positive law, and when it is mutable.  Laws of church polity, he says, can be changed in three ways: “when either altogether abrogated, or in part repealed, or augmented with farther additions.”  Some positive laws will state just how long they continue in force; many, however, will not.  In the latter case, the only way for us to determine whether they are still in force is “by considering the nature and qualitie of such lawes,” which is to be judged by “by the ende for which it was made, and by the aptnes of thinges therein prescribed to the same end.”

Of course, some laws are such that we do not know the end of them–it has simply not been disclosed to us by the lawmaker, and we are unable to divine it on our own.  As an example, Hooker gives God’s original command to Adam, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Adam simply did not know why God made the law, and Satan took advantage of this ignorance.  We know it must have had a good reason, but not knowing what that reason was, we cannot be sure whether the command had permanet force or would’ve expired when certain conditions changed.  Indeed, theologians have debated precisely this point, some concluding based on a certain construal of the purpose of the law that in time, Adam would’ve received permission to eat of it, others imagining this as a permanent condition.  When the end of the law is unknown, says Hooker, only the lawmaker has power to change the law; otherwise, we must assume it to be perpetually binding.  

But what if we do know the end for which a law was instituted?  Well, if that end is known to be permanent, then so is law, though not absolutely:  “But if the reason why thinges were instituted may be knowne, and being knowne do appeare manyfestly to be of perpetuall necessitie, then are those thinges also perpetuall, unless they cease to be effectuall unto that purpose for which they were at the first instituted.”  The qualification here is a crucial one, so it’s worth paying attention to Hooker’s elaboration: “we cannot be ignorant, howe sometimes that hath done great good, which afterwardes, when time hath chaunged the auncient course of thinges, doth growe to be either very hurtfull, or not so greatly profitable and necessary” (III.10.1).  Hooker will return to this distinction later, but for now he turns to the other main classification, positive laws with temporary ends: “Whether God bee the author of lawes by authorizing that power of men whereby they are made, or by delivering them made immediatly from him selfe, by word onely, or in writing also, or howsoever; notwithstanding the authoritie of their maker, the mutabilitie of that end for which they are made doth also make them chaungeable” (III.10.2).  Examples here include the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, and even New Testament laws such as the decree of the Council of Jerusalem.  These are laws made to serve temporary purposes, which expire when these purposes expire.  Hooker is particularly insistent on this category because his Puritan opponents are arguing that the divine authority of the lawmaker should be sufficient proof that we have no right to change his laws–to do so would be to assert our authority above his.  This argument rests on a fundamental confusion, and an inability to distinguish the different kinds and purposes of laws, says Hooker.  

Those who concede this point, however, insist that any law with a permanent end must be unchangeable: “for us to change that which he hath established, they hold it execrable pride and presumption, if so be the end and purpose for which God by that meane provideth be permanent.  And upon this they ground those ample disputes concerning orders and offices, which being by him appointed for the government of his Church, if it be necessary alwaies that the Church of Christ be governed, then doth the end for which God provided remaine still, and therfore in those meanes which he by lawe did establish as being fittest unto that end, for us to alter any thing is to lift up our selves against God and as it were to countermaund him.”  

This too, however, manifests a crucial misunderstanding:

“they marke not that lawes are instruments to rule by, and that instruments are not only to bee framed according unto the generall ende for which they are provided, but even according unto that very particular, which riseth out of the matter wheron they have to work.  The end wherefore lawes were made may bee permanent, and those lawes neverthelesse require some alteration, if there bee anye unfitnes in the meanes which they prescribe as tending unto that end and purpose” (III.10.3)  

Here is his elaboration of his earlier remark about laws becoming in time no longer “apt” to their purpose.  The end of the law (e.g., “good order in the Church” is completely good, and remains as long as the world lasts), but the matter may change, so that a law formerly good ceases to be so, and must be altered so as to realize the original end in new circumstances.  There is plenty of evidence for this happening in the Old Testament itself, and it is clear that many of the apostolic injunctions to the New Testament church, while their general aim remains constant, may require alteration when the Church finds itself in new settings.  To be sure, it will be hard to reach agreement about precisely which injunctions fall under this heading, but all will ultimately have to grant that some laws do.   “And therefore lawes though both ordeyned of God himselfe, and the end for which they were ordeined continuing, may notwithstanding cease, if by alteration of persons or times they be found unsufficient to attain unto that end.  In which respect why may we not presume that God doth even call for such change or alteration, as the very condition of things them selves doth make necessary?” (III.10.4)

Hooker has thus arrived at three categories–laws in which both the end and the matter remain constant, and thus can never be changed; laws in which the end is temporary, and which thus expire once the end has been accomplished; and laws in which the end is permanent, but the matter changes.  These correspond, he argues, to the conventional threefold division in the Old Testament law: moral, ceremonial, and judicial.  The first of these concerns matters necessary to salvation; the latter two things accessory thereunto.


It then remains merely for Hooker to answer a few objections.  He has already dealt with the argument that the authority of the lawmaker in itself proves Scriptural laws unchangeable; indeed, he has developed this whole schema in response to this objection.  But at the end of chapter 10, he turns to a variation on it: they argue that it is sacrilege to innovate upon the Gopsel, “And the Gospell as they say containeth not onely doctrine instructing men howe they should beleeve, but also preceptes concerning the regiment of the Church.  Discipline therefore is a part of the Gospell: and God being the author of the whole Gospell, as well of discipline as of doctrine, it cannot be but that both of them have a common cause.  So that as we are to beleive for ever the articles of evangelicall doctrine, so the preceptes of discipline we are in like sorte bounde for ever to observe” (III.10.6).  In other words, since matters of faith and of outward discipline were delivered together in the New Testament, they must be equally permanent.  However, the distinctions already drawn dissolve this objection: “There is no reason in the world wherefore we should esteem it as necessarie alwaies to doe, as alwaies to believe the same things; seing every man knoweth that the matter of fiath is constant, the matter contrariwise of action daily changeable, especially the matter of action belonging unto Church politie” (III.10.7).

The last objection occupies Hooker throughout the lengthy chapter 11, and runs as follows: very well, in principle, it may well be that the laws of polity given in Scripture are mutable; however, if the divine lawmaker made a point of making them immutable, then we lose that freedom to modify them.  And since God laid down rules of strict perpetuity in the Mosaic law, how could we imagine that he would leave his Church less well-provided in the New Covenant?  Hooker’s response to this objection, apparently a popular one among the Presbyterians, proceeds by several stages.  He argues first that there is no reason why just because Christ was a more perfect mediator, he had to give an equally permanent polity–it was not in this that his perfection consisted.  Moreover, it is false that the laws of Mosaic polity were so unchangeable as they allege–many fell into what we designated above IIIB2.  Moreover, a look at the New Testament witness makes it quite clear that Christ, as a matter of fact, simply didn’t lay down a system of law like Moses did.  So that Hooker can conclude with the stinging retort: “As for those mervelous discourses wherby they adventure to argue that God must needs have done the thing which they imagine was to be done, I must confesse I have often wondered at their exceeding boldnes herein.  When the question is whether God have delivered in scripture (as they affirme he hath) a complet particular immutable forme of Church-politie, why take they that other both presumptusous and superfluous labour to prove he should have done it, there being no way in this case to prove the deede of God saving only by producing the evidence wherein he hath done it?  But if there be no such thing apparent upon record, they do as if one should demaund a legacie by force and vertue of some written tesatment, wherein there being no such thing specifyed, he pleadeth that ther it must needs be, and bringeth arguments from the love or goodwill which alwayes the testatour bore him, imagining that these or the like profes will convict a testament to have that in which other men can no where by reading find.”


Hooker concludes Book III by arguing that as a matter of fact, the Puritans make plenty of distinctions of their own between fixed forms and changeable circumstances; there are plenty of commands regarding church order even in the New Testament that they consider  temporary (Hooker gives several examples, including the provisions for widows and the practice of love feasts).  Likewise, the Anglicans recognize that there are many matters of church orders that are not flexible, in which we are not permitted to make new laws.: ultimately, the question is not about generalities, but particulars. 

“The fault which we finde with them is, that they overmuch abridge the Church of her power in these things.  Whereupon they recharge us, as if in these things we gave the Church a libertie which hath no limits or bounds, as if all things which the name of discipline conteineth, were at the Churches free choice….They graunt that in matter of circumstance they alter that which they have received, but in things of substance they keepe the lawes of Christ without chaunge….we say the same in our owne behalfe….For our constant perswasion in this point is as theirs, that we have no where altered the lawes of Christ further then in such particularitis onely as have the nature of thinges changeable according to the difference of times, places, persons, and other the like circumstances” (III.11.13).

The debate, then, is not in fact about generalities, as it has seemed all along.  This is, Hooker claims, merely a smoke-screen, a bunch of bombastic rhetoric exalting Scripture and implying that the Puritans take Scripture seriously while the Anglicans run roughshod over it.  In fact, no sane party to the dispute denies some difference between unchanging substance of biblical law and changing applications.  The rest of the debate, then, must revolve around particulars–specific questions in which the Puritans take Scripture to have laid down unchanging law which forbids the Church of England’s practice.  Hooker will spend the remaining 1150 pages of the Lawes addressing these particular compaints with enormous systematic thoroughness.

The Parable of the Minas

Jesus’ parables get a pretty wretched treatment.  So easy to rip out of context, trivilialize, turn into a banal illustration of some timeless spiritual truth.  Sometimes we even read the absolute opposite meaning out of a parable to that which Jesus intended.  One of the saddest examples of this is the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11-27.  In general, we mentally elide this parable with the Matthaean version, with which we are more familiar, the Parable of the Talents.  Even here, mind you, our readings tend to be rather shallow, but I’ll be leaving the Matthaean parable to the side for now, and focusing on the Lucan.  Too often we are prone to despise God’s gift to us of four gospels, and we hasten to amalgamate them into one, instead of attending carefully to the different accounts they give us and different lessons they teach us, often using the same basic story in very different contexts for different reasons.  The Parable of the Minas simply isn’t doing the same thing as the Parable of the Talents. 

What do we usually think of when we think of these parables?  Two messages are common.  The most bastardized reading of all treats this as a lesson in economics.  “See, Jesus teaches us the importance of good stewardship, and the importance of a capitalist economy.  You can’t just let your money sit around doing nothing–if you’re going to be a faithful steward, you need to go out there and put your money to use.  Go invest, make a profit–that’s what God wants of you.”  Thankfully, most interpreters are sensible enough to realize this is not what Jesus is trying to say, but their reading is scarcely better.  They “spiritualize” the parable, as we generally like to do with parables, and turn it into a story of the Christian life, the Second Coming, and the Last Judgment…seems like we turn a lot of parables into a variation of this.  Jesus is the nobleman going away into a far country, and when he returns to receive his kingdom, he wants to see if we, his people, have been using his spiritual gifts well in his absence–if not, we are punished.  And those who refuse to accept his kingdom are punished even worse.  So, we’d better get busy using our gifts, because Jesus is going to be pretty demanding when he comes back.


The problem is that both of these readings unequivocally identify Jesus with the protagonist of the story, something that is seriously problematic from both a textual and a historical (not to mention theological) standpoint.  When we stop and read the story carefully, we should be aware of several jarring moments in the narrative that clash with the Jesus-as-protagonist reading.  “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom.”  Is Jesus a “nobleman”?  Does he usually portray himself that way?  Is he one of the powerful, out seeking even more power?  That’s not how he’s generally appeared thus far in the gospel.  The nobleman sets his servants to work to make money by trading–though Jesus has set himself squarely in opposition to Mammon thus far in Luke.  The servants who increase his wealth and worldly power are rewarded with worldly power of their own–”authority over cities”–whereas Jesus has emphasized that his followers serve in lowliness and humility, away from the centers of worldly power.  The last servant tells the master, and the master does not dispute him, that “you are a severe man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.”  This doesn’t sound like a very nice description, and certainly not like Jesus.  This master is someone who expects money that he hasn’t earned, who doesn’t do the work himself, but expects his servants to do it for him, who demands the maximum yield from them on pain of severe punishment.  All of this sounds rather like the opposite of Jesus.  Then the nobleman tells the last servant, “Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?”  In other words, the nobleman is demanding of the servant–“Why did you not use my money for usurious lending, such as is forbidden in the Torah, so that you might profit from the misfortunes of others?”  We’ve become so comfortable with usury that we might completely miss this dimension, but why would Jesus ever cast himself in the role of someone encouraging this serious violation of the Law?  Then the nobleman, stripping the mina from the unprofitable servant, says, “For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given: and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”  But again, this doesn’t sound like Jesus at all.  Giving the rich even more, and stripping the last penny away from the poor?  The one of whom it was said at his birth, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty”?  The one who has just finished humbling a Zacchaeus, a mighty one (someone who made their money oppressively, like one of these servants perhaps), sending a rich man away empty?  No, this doesn’t seem to fit at all.  And then, in the last verse, “But bring those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.”  Ouch!  No, that doesn’t sound like Jesus at all, the Jesus who just finished telling us, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” (Lk. 19:10), the Jesus who is just about to weep and lament over the downfall of his enemies who do not want him to reign over them (Lk. 19:41-42).  

Once we get through asking these questions, we’re left to wonder how we could ever have read this straightforwardly as a parable of the way Jesus treats his servants.  And in fact, there is every reason, historically, not to read it this way.  

For, unlike most of Christ’s parables, we have here very good reason to perceive factual events behind this fictionalized narrative.  In the immediately preceding generation, a Jewish nobleman (Archelaus son of Herod) had gone into a far country (Rome) to receive a kingdom (Judea).  He had been hated by his subjects (for his abominable cruelty, massacring thousands) and they did send a delegation after him, saying “We will not have this man to reign over us.”  He was, however, given lordship over Judea, and returned to reward his cronies who had enriched themselves and him at the expense of the people, and to punish cruelly all who opposed him.  Here was a man who fits perfectly the greedy, bloodthirsty picture of the nobleman in the narrative.  No need to look further, right? 


Well, clearly there must be more to it than that, or else why would Jesus bother telling the story?  This story does tell us something about Jesus’s kingdom, but the point is that it is not the first layer of meaning.  Jesus’s kingship enters the story at a secondary level, subversive of the first level of meaning, and when we read it this way, it makes quite a lot of difference.  Rather than trying to make Jesus fit into the value-systems of the world–Jesus must want us to go out and make money; Jesus must be a hard and scary taskmaster; Jesus is going to kill everyone who stands in his way–and try to bend his Gospel to make these alien elements fit within it, we should see the point–that Jesus is subverting the value-systems of the world.  

The introduction of the story gives us a good hint: “Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.”  They are expecting an imminent, dramatic manifestation of the Messianic kingdom.  Jesus is going to Jerusalem, and he’s going to kick the Romans’ butts, punish all his enemies, and reign over Israel.  Right?  Well, not quite.  Jesus knows that they are imagining his kingdom according to worldly values–as the most powerful among the powers, the most victorious in battle–and he wants to show them how misguided this is.  So what does he do?  He tells a story of an actual King of the Jews, one in their recent experience, one who ruled according to the values of the world, who rewarded those who helped him to power by giving them power of their own, and made sure everyone who stood in his way got what was coming to them.  It’s as if Jesus is saying, “You want a king?  You want someone else to take power over you?  Really?  Don’t you remember what all your other kings have been like?”  Jesus, as the immediately preceding and following narratives show, is not like this king at all.  He befriends the hated tax collector, rather than slaying him, like a Zealot Messiah might have.  He has come to “seek and to save that which was lost.”  He is about to enter Jerusalem as the Messiah, but not like a conqueror on a war-horse, but a simple carpenter on a donkey.  And when he gets into Jerusalem, he goes not to Antonia Fortress to kick Roman butt, but to the Temple to kick Jewish butt.  

Jesus is a king, he is going to go into a far country (death itself) to receive his kingdom, and he will be challenged by his people, who will not want him to reign over them, and these will in the end suffer judgment.  But his kingdom is not like the nobleman’s–it is not one in which you have to work hard and trample over everyone else in order to earn his favor, but in which grace is extended freely; it is not one characterized by usury and pursuit of profit, but by equity and charity; it is not one in which the gifted receive more gifts, and the less capable are despised altogether, but in which the last shall be first and the first last; it is not one in which enemies are treated mercilessly, but with mercy, lamenting the judgment that they bring upon themselves.  


In short, the “spiritualized” reading of the parable is not entirely off-track, but, if it mistakes this parable as a portrait of the Kingdom, rather than a portrait of the world that is being subverted, it will distort the nature of Christ’s kingdom.


(Note: Doug Jones’s commentary Making Trinity Here provided much of the inspiration for this)

Visible v. Invisible, Necessary v. Accessory (Hooker’s Doctrine of Law, Pt. 6)

Before moving on to Hooker’s detailed account of church polity and ecclesiastical law, we must lay one more brick in place–Hooker’s doctrine of the two kingdoms.  For Hooker inherits and expounds a bundle of crucial Protestant dualities–the two kingdoms, the two realms, the visible and invisible Church–dualities which, although shared by all the Reformers, admitted of several different mutations, which could lead in rather different directions.  One such mutation, which Hooker was convinced had led the Puritans grievously astray from genuine Protestantism, was the institutionalization of the two kingdoms.  Rather than identifying the two kingdoms with the two realms–internal/spiritual and external/civil–the Disciplinarians took them as two separate institutions within the same external realm.  In so doing, they imported much of the perfection, immutability, holiness, etc., of the invisible Church into the realm of the visible.  

Hooker’s response to this was not, of course, to drive a wedge between interior and exterior grace, between Christ and the visible Church, between the individual conscience and the corporate body–at least, not in the way we might think.  Hooker is after all fervently insistent throughout Bk. 5 of the Lawes on the reality of sacramental grace, on the deep connection between exterior means of grace and the inner reality of union with Christ, and on the spiritual power and necessity of the visible Church.  However, he is no less insistent on the importance of proper conceptual distinction–“The mixture of those thinges by speech which by nature are divided, is the mother of all error.  To take away therefore that error which confusion breedeth, distinction is requisite.  Rightly to distinguish is by conceipte of minde to sever thinges different in nature, and to discerne wherein they differ” (III.3.1).  This passage functions almost as a mantra for Hooker, who is determined to rigorously distinguish where necessary, without separating.


Indeed, his paradigm in this, as Torrance Kirby argues in his Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy, is Christology, in which we must make careful distinction between the diverse attributes and operations of the two natures of Christ in order to rightly establish the unity of his person.  Something similar, Kirby argues, is going on in Hooker’s understanding of visible and invisible churches.  But more of that on another occasion.  For now, the statement of the doctrine:

This appears at the very outset of Bk. III, showing that for Hooker it was absolutely foundational to his account of ecclesiastical law.  First, then, he briefly defines the invisible church: “That Church of Christ which we properly terme his body mystical, can be but one, neither can that one bee sensiblie discerned by any man, in as much as the partes thereof are some in heaven alreadie with Christ, and the rest that are on earth (albeit their naturall persons bee visible) we doe not discerne under this propertie, whereby they are truly and infallibly of that body.  Onely our mindes by intellectual conceipt are able to apprehend, that such a reall body there is, a body collective, because it containeth an huge multitude” (III.I.2).  We know, in other words, that there is such a thing, a multitude of believers conjoined to Christ, sharers in his grace, but the nature of their union is something altogether beyond our ability to sense or fully conceive–we know that it is, but how it is and where it is we remain largely unsure.  “They who are of this societie have such markes and notes of distinction from all others, as are not object unto our sense” (III.1.2)–we have no way of knowing infallibly those who are members thereof.  

Not so with the visible church.  This too is one body, from the beginning of the world to the present.  The unity of the visible body “consisteth in that uniformitie, which all severall persons thereunto belonging have, by reason of that one Lorde whose servantes they all professe them selves, that one faith which they al acknowledge, that one baptisme wherewith they are all initiated” (III.1.3)  It is one “in outward profession of those thinges, which supernaturally appertaine to the very essence of Christianitie, and are necessarily required in every particular christian man” (III.1.4)–which is to say not only profession of faith but baptism as well: “Now although we know the Christian faith and allow of it: yet in this respect we are but entring; entered we are not into the visible Church before our admittance by the doore of baptisme” (III.1.6).  Although we might want to say that Christians are marked also by their outward behavior of a righteous life, such actions are not, Hooker says, a proper mark of membership in the Church, “because they are not proper unto Christian men, as they are Christian, but doe concerne them, as they are men.”  The lack of such virtues indeed “excludeth from salvation,” but not from the visible Church, “whose children are signed with this marke, One Lord, one faith, one baptisme” (III.1.7).

All this means that Hooker is able to provide a very generous account of the scope of the visible Church, refusing to count apostates, heretics, schismatics, or wicked men as wholly outside of it.  Inasmuch as these still bear the mark of baptism and profess Jesus Christ, they are still Christians, only unfaithful ones.  Contra his Puritan interlocutors, then, Hooker utterly refuses to unchurch Roman Catholics.  So far as possible, he says, we must maintain fellowship with them, considering that in the “main parts of Christian truth” we are still at one with them, and may hope one day for reunion.  Although some take Rome to be no Church on account of her errors, some, he points out, make the same claims of the Church of England. 

“But whatsoever either the one sort or the other teach, we must acknowledge even heretikes them selves to be though a maimed part, yet a part of the visible Church….Heretikes therefore are not utterly cut off from the visible Church of Christ….For where profest unbeleefe is, there can be no visible Church of Christ; there may be, where sound beleefe wanteth. Infidels being cleane without the Church denie directlie and utterlie reject the very principles of Christianity, which heretikes embrace and erre onely by misconstruct; whereupon their opinions although repugnant indeed to the principles of Christian faith, are notwithstanding by them held otherwise, and maintained as most consonant thereunto” (III.I.11).

This insistence on the Church a mixed multitude contrasts sharply with the Puritan tendency to purge the Church of all dross and treat only the properly reformed as the true Church. 

This visible Church, although one throughout history and throughout the world, is divided, like the sea, into diverse precincts with diverse names–it is “devided into a number of distinct societies, every of which is termed a Church within it selfe.”  Although Hooker is all in favor of as much fellowship and common counsel between the various regional churches, he argues the necessity for them to be separately governed in their various nations and regions, and to each must belong therefore “ecclesiasticall politie”– a term that “conteyneth both governement and also whatsoever besides belongeth to the ordering of the Church in publique.”  Nothing he says, is “in this degree more necessarie then Church-politie, which is a forme of ordering the publique spirituall affayres of the Church of God” (III.1.14).


Corresponding then to this distinction between visible and invisible churches is a distinction between things “necessarie to salvation” and things “accessorie thereunto,” the first of which corresponds to the realm of the invisible church, and the latter to the realm of the visible church.  Hooker develops this distinction with reference to the question of ecclesiastical law in chs. 2-3 of Book III, but it has been invoked already throughout Bk. II, and indeed is anticipated already in ch. 14 of Bk. I: “The sufficiencie of scripture unto the end for which it was instituted.”  Hooker has already given us to understand that while divine law at many points merely confirms, clarifies, or applies natural law, it also at points treats of matters purely supernatural, of duties necessary for salvation that could not be known by natural law alone.  In these matters, Scripture is completely and solely authoritative and sufficient.  If anything is necessary for salvation, we may be sure that it is included in Scripture, and we may be sure moreover that we could not have divined it on our own, without the aid of Scripture.  This being so, we may be sure that in such matters, we have only to carefully attend to and obey the testimony of Scripture; indeed, if we do otherwise, and import doctrines or duties from other authorities, we are sure to err, and in the end overthrow the gospel.  

But clearly not everything falls under this heading, not even everything of a “spiritual” nature.  There are many things useful for ordering the Church and our Christian lives of which Scripture tells us nothing clearly, and there are many things within Scripture that, while important, are not indispensable or universally binding to us (e.g. “Take a little wine for your stomach”).

Hooker offers a threefold distinction here in II.8.  First, while we might want to say that all actions are in some sense either good are evil, there are some things that are almost absolutely indifferent: “Some things are good, yet in so meane a degree of goodnes, that men are only not disproved or disalowed of God for them….In actions of this sorte the very light of nature alone may discover that which is so far forth in the sight of God allowable” (II.8.2).  On the other extreme, “Some thinges in such sorte are allowed that they be also required as necessarie unto salvation, by way of direct immediate and proper necessitie finall, so that without performance of them we cannot by ordinarie course be saved….In actions of this kinde our cheifest direction is from scripture, for nature is no sufficient teacher what we shoulde doe that we may attaine unto life everlasting.  The unsufficiencie of the light of nature is by the light of scripture so fully and so perfectly herein supplied, that further light then this hath added there doth not neede unto that ende” (II.8.3).  But in between these two fall the majority of moral choices we must make: “Finally some things although not so required of necessitie that to leave them undone excludeth from salvation, are notwithstanding of so great dignitie and acceptation with God, that most ample reward in heaven is laid up for them.  Hereof wee have no commandement either in nature or scripture which doth exact them at our handes: yet those motives there are in both which drawe most effectually our mindes unto them” (II.8.3).  

It is into this category (or the first) that matters of ecclesiastical polity will fall, and so Hooker returns to reiterate this distinction in III.2-3.  At this point, he is responding directly to the complaints of Thomas Cartwright in his writings against Whitgift from the 1570s.  Hooker summarizes his position, and the objection, thus: “whereas it hath been tolde them that matters of fayth, and in generall matters necessarie unto salvation are of a different nature from Ceremonies, order, and the kinde of Church-governement; that the one are necessarie to bee expresselie conteyned in the worde of God, or else manifestly collected out of the same, the other not so; that it is necessarie not to receive the one, unlesse there bee some thing in scripture for them, the other free, if nothing against them may thence be alleaged…herein…we are reprooved…[for] misdistinguishing, because matters of discipline and Church-governement are (as they say) matters necessarie to salvation and of faith, whereas we put a difference betweene the one and the other” (III.2.2).  

Hereupon Hooker undertakes, almost with an air of exasperated longsuffering, to explain again why this distinction is valid and necessary.  First, he says, all will grant a distinction between those matters of faith and matters of action–as the Puritans themselves do, between “Doctrine and Discipline.”  In each of these, however, we must recognize some as indispensable for salvation, and others as secondary though still valuable.  Of the first sort “the articles of Christian fayth, and the sacramentes of the Church of Christ are, all such thinges if scripture did not comprehende, the Church of God should not be able to measure out the length and the breadth of that waye wherein for ever she is to walke.”  In these Scripture is alone and fully authoritative.  However, other matters there are, such as secondary questions of doctrine in the realm of faith, and forms and ceremonies in the realm of action, that are clearly not so crucial, and here Scripture exercises a looser, though still important, kind of authority.  “But as for those thinges that are accessorie hereunto, those thinges that so belong to the way of salvation, as to alter them is no otherwise to chaunge that way, then a path is chaunged by altering onely the uppermost face thereof, which be it layde with gravell, or set with grasse, or paved with stone, remayneth still the same path; in such thinges because discretion may teach the Church what is convenient, we holde not the Church further tyed herein unto scripture, then that against scripture nothing be admitted in the Church, least that path which ough alwayes to be kept even, doe thereby come to be over-growen with brambles and thornes” (III.3.3).  In the former then, our principle must be, “Nothing without Scripture”; in the latter “Nothing against Scripture”; in the former, Scripture functions as guide leading us by the hand along the right path; in the latter, as a fence on either side, keeping us from straying too far.  


The two sets of distinctions laid out here are not exactly the same thing; after all, there some matters necessary to salvation which are clearly functions of the visible Church–e.g., the sacraments.  However, they are nonetheless closely related, and speaking generally, we might characterize them thus: The invisible Church comprises all those things in which true faith and obedience in submission to Scripture alone bring us into perfect union with Christ and make us sharers in salvation.  The visible Church comprises all those things in which the guidance of Scripture, mixed with the law of reason and applied to particular circumstances, governs the professing people of God in their quest to worship and serve God effectively, minister to one another, and pursue justice.  The visible Church then, while not identical with the State or the “civil kingdom” as we might understand that term, exists on the same plane, is governed by the same standards, and administered in analogous ways, so that if we were to talk of “two kingdoms,” all these matters of church order and Christian life “accessorie to salvation” could rightly be characterized as standing in the “civil kingdom” over against the “spiritual kingdom” in which Christ works invisibly, infallibly, and directly unto salvation.  


Hooker has now paved the way to treat of laws of ecclesiastical polity as things accessory to salvation, a species of human positive law, and hence as often mutable, applied according to reason and discretion, rather than conjured whole out of holy Writ and woodenly imposed upon churches of all times and places.  This discussion occupies the absolutely crucial ninth through eleventh chapters of Book III, and it is here I shall turn in the next and final post.