The Revelation of Divine Law (Hooker’s Doctrine of Law, Pt. 4)

So now we come to what has traditionally been one of the thorniest problems of theology–what is divine law, and how does it relate to natural law (or what Hooker calls “the law of reason”)?  Put in other terms, this is the question of the relationship between special revelation and natural revelation, or, even more broadly put, between grace and nature.  Any proper Christian doctrine of these two has to orient itself between two sets of two poles.  First, supernatural truth must be neither a separable tack-on to the natural, but nor must it be such an integral part of the natural, that it is merely subsumed into it as a natural component; nature must not be so complete in itself that it doesn’t need grace, nor so incomplete without grace that grace is simply a part of it.  Second, supernatural truth must not be a complete replacement for natural truth, but neither can it be a mere republication; special revelation must not render natural revelation superfluous, nor must natural revelation render special revelation superfluous.  Therefore, the supernatural must be intrinsically related to, yet independent of; continuous with, and yet transcendent of the natural.  Hooker’s challenge in chapters 11-14 of Book I is to successfully navigate this minefield in his doctrine of divine law.  

First then, he must show that man has a natural desire for a supernatural end (the language here is that of nouvelle theologie Catholicism, which has made debates on these issues the daily fare of theologians and ethicists in all traditions for the past few decades), that nature was not so whole in itself that grace is merely tacked on like icing on a pound cake.  For natural law and divine law particularly–the realm of ethics–this will have the effect of showing that natural law does not rule some autonomous sphere of creation, in which divine law, confined to the sphere of redemption plays no necessary part.  So Hooker begins at the very foundation.

The desire for an infinite good–for the divine–is necessary and primordial.  Lest there be an infinite regress of goods that we do for the sake of other goods, there must be something which is desired merely for its own sake; for this, we have an infinite desire, and it must therefore be an infinite good.  God is the only infinite good, and thus the final end of our desire.  “Then are we happie therfore when fully we injoy God, as an object wherein the powers of our soules are satisfied even with everlasting delight: so that although we be men, yet by being unto God united we live as it were the life of God” (I.11.2)  Since this desire is shared by all men, and is thus natural, it must not therefore be impossible to obtain, since “It is an axiome of nature that naturall desire cannot utterly be frustrate.”  Thus “man doth seeke a triple perfection, first, a sensuall, consisting in those things which very life it selfe requireth as necessary supplementes, or as beauties and ornaments therof; then an intellectuall, consisting in those things which none underneth man is either capable of or acquaineted with; lastly a spiritual and divine, consisting in those things wherunto we tend by supernatural meanes here, but cannot here attain unto them” (I.11.4).  The supernatural end, while naturally desired, cannot be naturally attained on our own, but must be given as a divine reward–this reward, though, appears to follow of necessity from justice.  “In the natural path of everlasting life the first beginning is that hability of doing good, which God in the day of man’s creation indued him with; from hence obedience unto the wil of his creator, absolute righteousness and integrity in all his actions; and last of al the justice of God rewarding the worthines of his deserts with the crowne of eternall glory.  Had Adam continued in his first estate, this had beene the way of life unto him and all his posteritie” (I.11.5)  We’ve thus established the “naturalness” of the supernatural, but is it still supernatural–how does it remain free, independent, surprising, gratuitous, rather than being merely part of the nature of things?  Hooker draws several distinctions along the way to do justice to this pole.

First, although we naturally desire to cleave unto God, the power to do so in perfect perpetuity is not ours by nature (even in the state of innocence), but a free gift of God.  It “doth neither depend upon the nature of the thing it selfe, nor proceede from any natural necessitie, that our souls should so exercise them selves for ever in beholding and loving God, but from the will of God, which doth both freely perfect our nature in so high a degree and continue it so perfected” (I.11.3).  

Second, he makes an important distinction about the “justice” with which God would have rewarded Adam under the original covenant: this would not have been owed as a matter of strict justice, inasmuch as the infinite good of communion with God could not be reached by any natural effort.  Instead, it was given “by the rule of that justice which best beseemeth him, namelie the justice of one that requiteth no thing mincingly, but all with pressed and heaped and even over-inlarged measure; yet coulde it never hereupon necessarily be gathered that such justice shoulde adde to the nature of that reward the propertie of everlasting continuance; sith possession of blisse, though it should be but for a moment, were an aboundant retribution” (I.11.5).

Finally, once man has lost original righteousness, nature is of course wholly inadequate, and it is only by an unforeseen and unforeseeable invasion of grace from outside nature that man can be saved.  That which pertains to this redemption is such that natural man not only could not have accomplished (which goes without saying), but such that he could not have conceived.  Under this heading are the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which are not merely the restoration of natural faculties but something altogether new.  “Lawes therefore concerning these things are supernaturall, both in respect of the maner of delivering them which is divine, and also in regard of the thinges delivered which are such as have not in nature any cause from which they flow, but were by the voluntarie appointment of God ordeined besides the course of nature to rectifie natures obliquitie withall” (I.11.5)


So much for the first pair of poles.  What about the second set of poles?  We are first assured that “When supernaturall duties are necessarily exacted, naturall are not rejected as needlesse.  The lawe of God therefore is though principally delievered for instruction in the one, yet fraught with precepts of the other also.  The scripture is fraught even with lawes of nature” (I.12.1).  Scripture is not thus a replacement of natural law, nor do the two function in totally separate spheres–natural law is embedded in Scripture, which takes it up, expands it, clarifies it, and refines it.  There clarification answers to thrre main deficiencies in our grasp of the law of reason.  First, principles of the law of reason may be such that we could not easily find out–Hooker has earlier explained that although the principles of the law of reason may be theoretically knowable, many secondary and tertiary principles may be quite difficult to ascertain with precision, even for a properly functioning intellect, and we may readily go awry when we seek to apply the principles to particulars.  Therefore, the divine law’s “applying of them unto cases particular is not without most singular use and profite manye waies for mens instruction” (I.12.1) And when we are vexed with doubt as to whether we have determined correctly, the clear divine authority of these specific pronouncements is a great help to us.  “The first principles of the law of nature are easie, hard it were to finde men ignorrant of them: but concerning the duty which natures lawe doth require at the handes of men in a number of thinges particular, so far hath the naturall understanding even of sundry whole nations bene darkned, that they have not discerned no not grosse iniquitie to bee sinne” (I.12.2)  This first would apply in part even in the absence of sin, but as a result of sin, a second need for illumination comes in.  

We are so prone, says Hooker, “to fawne upon our selves, and to be ignorant as much as may be of our owne deformities” that we need to be told where our faults are and how they are to be fixed.  Our nature has been distorted by sin, but that very sin keeps us from so much as recognizing the deformitie; hence divine law comes to our aid and points it out to us.  An example of this is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reveals even secret concupiscence to be sin, where we might have deceived ourselves into imagining that the natural law required only outward purity.  Finally (and here he gives another reason that would have applied even in the absence of sin), there are some truths which while “not impossible to be discerned by the light of nature it selfe” are still such as “no man’s [natural capacity] hath beene able to finde out” (I.12.2) and he includes here as an example the resurrection of the dead.  This is a particularly odd argument, both in that it seems strange to assert that the resurrection of the dead could in theory belong to natural knowledge, and that it seems problematic to claim that something so important could belong to natural knowledge even if it were such that no natural man ever succeed in finding it out.  In any case, these important truths that remain unknown, though not unknowable, by nature, grace has made clear to us.

Hooker later summarizes:

“The lawe of reason doth somewhat direct men how to honour God as their Creator, but how to glorifie God in such sort as is required, to the end he may be an everlasting Saviour, this we are taught by divine law, which law both ascertayneth the truth and supplyeth unto us the want of that other law.  So that in morall actions, divine law helpeth exceedingly the law of reason to guide man’s life, but in supernaturall it alone guideth.” (I.16.5)  

Divine law then augments and clarifies the duties of the natural law, but does not overturn or transform them–except inasmuch as they are relatively transformed by being set within a new context.  


Is divine law the same as Scripture, then?  Well, not quite.  It is not of the essence of divine law that it be written, says Hooker; God has simply chosen to do so because of the great benefits of having a written law.  We are thus to particularly venerate the Scriptures as the principal repository of divine law, but not idolize them as its sole repository.  Traditions, Hooker will say, cannot be excluded by the mere fact that they are not in Scripture, but only “because they are neyther in Scripture, nor can otherwise sufficiently by any reason be proved to be of God.  That which is of God, and may be evidently proved to be so, we denie not but it hath in his kinde, although unwritten, yet the selfe same force and authoritie with the written lawes of God” (I.14.5).  However, lest we impute too much to such extra-Scriptural revelations of divine law, Hooker is careful to lay down the sufficiency of Scripture for all things necessary to salvation, and its ample value for all things accessory thereto.  In a wonderfully-put summary statement, he attests, “they [the books of Scripture] are with such absolute perfection framed, that in them there neither wanteth any thing, the lacke whereof might deprive us of life; nor any thing in such wise aboundeth, that as being superfluous, unfruitfull, and altogether needlesse, wee should thinke it no losse or daunger at all if we did want it” (I.13.3).


So how does the divine law in Scripture cash out in terms of laws for the Church?  Hooker will have much more to say about this in Books II and III, but he offers a few key definitions here before concluding his general survey of law.  

For all spheres of human activity, he says, we must distinguish between laws natural and laws positive–laws that always have and always will bind, by the nature of things, and laws that are added at some point in time, that bind only by virtue of having been “expreslie and wittinglie imposed” (I.15.1)  Those parts of divine law that merely clarify and further specify natural duties are natural–always binding in principle, even if they were only revealed at some point in time (for instance, Jesus’ exposition of several of the Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount).  However, by definition, those that lay down supernatural duties must be positive laws.  This does not mean, Hooker hastens to add, that they are necessarily mutable and dispensable, which he recognizes is how many people think of “positive law.”  All mutable laws are positive, he says, but that doesn’t mean that all positive laws are mutable.  “Positive lawes are either permanent or else changeable, according as the matter it selfe is concerning which they were first made.”  These positive laws of supernatural duties can be subdivided into those that concern men in themselves (parallel to the “law of reason”), and those that concern men in society (parallel to “human law”)–the supernatural society of the Church.  The former Hooker describes thus: “To concerne men as men supernaturallie is to concerne them as duties which belong of necessitie to all, and yet could not have bene knowne by any to belong unto them, unlesse God had opened him selfe, in as much as they do not depend upon any naturall ground at all out of which they may be deduced, but are appointed of God to supplie the defect of those naturall wayes of salvation, by which we are not now able to attaine thereunto” (I.15.2)  

The latter is absolutely foundational for the rest of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, so pay close attention.  The Church is a society, like other societies and yet unlike–“although as it is a societie it have the selfe same originall grounds which other politique societies have, namely, the naturall inclination which all men have unto sociable life, and consent to some certaine bond of association, which bond is the lawe that appointeth what kinde of order they shall be associated in: yet unto the Church as it is a societie supernaturall this is peculiar, that part of the bond of their association which belong to the Church of God, must be a lawe supernaturall, which God himselfe hath revealed concerning that kinde of worship which his people shall doe unto him” (I.15.2).  Hooker is exceedingly careful in his definition here–the Church exists in the unique position of having a composite constitution, consisting both of laws of political society (human law), which are interpenetrated by a directly revealed divine law that provides the end of the society–its worship of God–and its means to that end.  This latter law, “so far forth as it hath in it any thing more then the lawe of reason doth teach” (a qualification that plays an important role later in Hooker’s attack on the regulative principle) we are not at liberty to change or invent, “but must be received from God himselfe” (I.15.2).  

All these laws, however, and all laws of every sort that God lays down, positive or naturall, must be distinguished into two categories–immutable and mutable.  The former are those that “without any further respect had unto any such variable accident as the state of men and of societies of men and of the Church it selfe in this world is subject unto” are binding for ever on men “unless being positive God him selfe which made them alter them.”  The latter are “lawes that were made for men or societies or Churches, in regarde of theyr being such as they doe not alwayes continue, but may perhaps be cleane otherwise a while after, and so may require to be otherwise ordered then before” (I.15.3).  There are permanent laws that concern permanent things, and there are permanent laws that concern mutable things, and nevertheless admit of no change, but there are some laws that concern mutable things which are for this reason themselves quite mutable, though always in subordination to the principles of the immutable laws. 


With this framework in place, we are now in a position to explore in depth the all-important role of the positive political laws of the Church in their relation to divine law and the law of reason, and what this means for Scriptural authority.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s