Harmonizing Reason and Scripture (Hooker’s Doctrine of Law, Pt. 5)

We have already seen how Hooker is at pains to demonstrate continuity between natural and supernatural, the law of reason and the law of Scripture.  The two are not at odds, nor are they carved off into separate spheres, but they mutually depend on one another, and are mutually interpreting.  

Hooker elaborates this harmonious vision at much more length in Bk. II of the Lawes, in the context of a devastating polemic against the Puritan vision that is so determined to play Scripture and reason, divine and human, off against one another.  The effects of this antagonism, he perceives, cannot but be disastrous to the Church.  The denigration of human reason undermines any respect for the Church or her traditions, and leads to a stubborn, individualistic anti-intellectualism–it “hath alreadie made thousandes so headstrong even in grosse and palpable errors, that a man whose capacitie will scarce serve him to utter five wordes in sensible maner, blusheth not in any doubt concerning matter of scripture to thinke his own bare Yea, as good as the Nay of all the wise, grave, and learned judgements that are in the whole world” (II.7.6).

Much of this comes from a laudable desire to exalt Scripture by attributing to it exclusive and universal authority over all knowledge, but Hooker perceives that it is no honour to Scripture to claim for it attributes that it does not claim for itself; “Whatsoever is spoken of God or thinges appertaining to God otherwise then as the truth is; though it seeme an honour, it is an injurie.  And as incredible praises geven unto men do often abate and impaire the credit of their deserved commendation; so we must likewise take great heede, lest in attributing unto scripture more then it can have, the incredibilitie of that do cause even those things which indeed it hath most abundantly to be less reverendly esteemed” (II.8.7).

Not only this, but if we play Scripture off against nature, we will undermine the foundations of human knowledge, with disastrous effect: “Marke, I beseech you, what would follow.  God in delivering scripture to his Church should cleane have abrogated amongst them the lawe of nature; which is an infallible knowledge imprinted in the mindes of all the children of men, whereby both generall principles for directing of humaine actions are comprehended, and conclusions derived from them, upon which conclusions groweth in particularitie the choise of good and evill in the daylie affaires of this life.  Admit this; and what shall the scripture be but a snare and a torment to weake consciences, filling them with infinite perplexities, scrupulosities, doubts insoluble, and extreme despaires” (II.8.6).

Clearly, for Hooker, much is at stake.  We cannot allow ourselves to become so carried away with reverence for Scripture that we fail to revere the rest of God’s revelation, for God speaks to us through all his works.  To heed God’s revelation in nature is not to reject his revelation in Scripture, for divine law does not “cleane abrogate” the law of nature, but reinforces and further expounds it, as we have already seen.  Therefore, in a great many of our actions, “it sufficeth if such actions be framed according to the lawe of reason; the generall axiomes, rules, and principles of which law being so frequent in holy scripture, there is no let but in that regard, even out of scripture such duties may be deduced by some kinde of consequence” (II.1.2)–but such deduction need not be explicit or self-conscious, he goes on to say.  In other words, we may comfort ourselves that we do not need to have a Scriptural command in mind for every action we take, because we may be confident that, in many ordinary matters, if we conform our actions in godly humility to the law of reason, we are thereby acting in conformity to Scripture also.

The Puritans will argue, he says, that whatever we do not do according to God’s will and command must be sinful.  Very well, but why restrain the revelation of God’s will to Scripture alone?  We have already seen Hooker’s expansive vision of the eternal law of God unfolding itself through all his works, from the actions of the smallest creatures to the laws of human societies.  They alleage “that wisedome doth teach men every good way,” but 

“The boundes of wisedome are large, and within them much is contayned.”  Indeed, before the Scriptures were written down, did not Adam and the patriarchs direct their steps by wisdom, a wisdom available outside of Scripture?  God’s wisdom teaches us in many ways: “Some things she openeth by the sacred bookes of Scripture; some things by the glorious works of nature; with some things she inspireth them from above by spirituall influence, in some thinges she leadeth and trayneth them onely by worldly experience and practise.  We may not so in any one speciall kind admire her that we disgrace her in any other, but let all her wayes be according unto their place and degree adored” (II.I.4) 

Likewise, although it be true that all things must be done to the glory of God, it does not follow from this, as the Puritans would have it, that all things must be done in express obedience to Scripture, or even with “an expresse intent and purpose to obey God therein.”  With his eminent sensibility, Hooker pleads, “Shall it hereupon be thought that S. Paule did not move eyther hand or foot, but with expresse intent even therby to further the common salvation of men?  We move, we sleepe, we take the cuppe at the hand of our freind, a number of thinges we oftenimes doe, only to satisfie some naturall desire, without present expresse, and actuall reference unto any commaundement of God” (II.2.1)  Again, the Puritan’s error here is a failure to understand how God can be glorified in all his works.  Even when we obey the involuntary law of our nature–breathing, closing our eyes when we sneeze–we glorify God therein as his well-designed creatures.  Likewise, when we consciously act in accord with the law he has set for our natures, when we take food or even when we share food with our neighbor, we glorify God therein as his rational creatures.  “For scripture is not the onely lawe whereby God hath opened his will touching all thinges that may be done, but there are other kindes of lawes which notifie the will of God, as in the former booke hath beene proved at large” (II.2.2).  He even has a Scripture proof for this–Peter exhorts the saints in 1 Pet. 2:12 to do good works that, when the Gentiles see them, they may “glorifie God in the day of visitation” (II.2.3).  How could heathens discern the godliness and goodness of these works without themselves having faith unless the law of reason revealed it to them?


So Hooker has argued in the first place that we understand natural revelation as conformable to special revelation, that reason may offer insight even in ethical matters that  Scripture does not directly speak to.  But surely there are matters over which Scripture exercises absolute supremacy, not natural law, reason, etc.?  Certainly there are, and Hooker ends Bk. II by carefully delineating this realm–this shall be the subject of the next post in this series.  However, Hooker goes on in Bk. III to argue that even here, the Puritan construal of sola Scriptura and the antagonism they set up between Scripture and reason is incoherent.  For even where Scripture rightly exercises sole primacy, reason plays an indispensable role.  The crucial passage comes in ch. 8.  He has just finished an apologia for reason, against Scriptural and patristic testimony that the Puritans have alleged against it.  “There is in the world,” he concludes, “no kinde of knowledge, whereby any part of truth is seene, but we justlie accompt it pretious, yea that principall truth, in comparison whereof all other knowledge is vile, may receive from it some kinde of light….To detract from the dignitie thereof [the various kinds of natural wisdom] were to injurie even God himselfe, who being that light which none can approch unto, hath sent out these lights wherof we are capable, even as so many sparkls resembling the bright fountain from which they rise” (III.8.9).  The central claim here is that “that principall truth”–the salvific truth of Scripture “may received from it”–that is, from the light of natural reason–“some kind of light.”  

The argument here is not that reason adds necessary substance to Scripture–not in salvific matters, though as we have already seen, it does to an extent in mundane matters–but that it serves as a necessary instrument.  Hooker is quite careful and lucid on this point: “Unto the word of God being in respect of that end, for which God ordeined in, perfect, exact, and absolute in it selfe, we do not add reason as a supplement of any maime or defect therin, but as a necessary instrument, without whihch we could not reape by the scriptures perfection, that fruite and benefit which it yeeldeth.  The word of God is a twoedged sword, but in the hands of reasonable men” (III.8.10) 

To be sure, God made use of unlearned men as his Apostles to proclaim the Gospel, but not by bypassing reason and wisdom altogether; rather, by endowing them miraculously with persuasive powers and knowledge from on high.  All of the Apostles, and especially Paul, use reason to make arguments and proofs for their doctrinal and ethical claims.   The Church has always used reason in argument to refute heretics.  Reason is an indispensable tool in determining and expounding the meaning of Scripture, as we see Jesus and his Apostles using it all the time. “Our Lord and Saviour him selfe did hope by disputation to doe some good,” Hooker points out, as we see in his argument about the meaning of Psalm 110.  And with some exasperation he adds, “There is as yet no way knowne how to dispute or to determine of things disputed without the use of natural reason” (III.8.17).  In short, “Exclude the use of naturall reasoning about the sense of holy scripture concerning the articles of our faith, and then that scripture doth concerne the articles of our faith who can assure us?” (III.8.16)  


Indeed, our confidence in Scripture itself must rest to some extent in an extra-Scriptural foundation. “Scripture indeed teacheth things above nature, things which our reason by it selfe could not reach unto.  Yet those things also we believe, knowing by reason that the scripture is the word of God” (III.8.12).  If we accept the testimony of Scripture on account of its authority as the word of God, on what account do we accept it as the word of God in the first place?  Scripture cannot contain its own first principles, for “No science doth make knowne the first principles whereon it buildeth, but they are alwaies taken as plaine and manifest in them selves, or as proved and graunted already, some former knowledge having made them evident….There must be therefore some former knowledge presupposed which doth herein assure the hartes of all believers” (III.8.13).  In the case of the authority of Scripture, this knowledge is supplied by tradition. Hooker holds “that the first outward motive leading men so to esteeme of the scripture is the authority of God’s Church.  For when we know the whole Church of God hath that opinion of the scripture, we judge it even at the first an impudent thinge for any man bredde and brought up in the Church to bee of a contrarye minde without cause” (III.8.14).  After coming to Scripture with this conviction already in place, our experience of its truth confirms us in our belief in its infallible authority.  

Furthermore, although faith comes to us supernaturally, and not by the aid of human will and understanding, it nonetheless presupposes and rests upon a foundation of reason and natural understanding.  If it were not so, “why should none be found capable thereof but only men, nor men til such time as they come unto ripe and full habilitie to worke by reasonable understanding? [Note that Hooker is far from denying that God imparts a kind of saving faith to infants and the mentally disabled, but he speaks here of the ordinary sort of faith which actively and intelligibly lays hold of God.]  In vaine it were to speake any thing of God, but that by reason men are able some what to judge of that they heare, and by discourse to discerne how consonant it is to truth” (III.8.11).  

In short, reason serves both as instrument to make Scripture more effectual for those who believe, and also, although of course in itself useless without the grace of the Holy Spirit, as an instrument to mediate the gospel to those who do not:  “Wherefore if I beleeve the gospel, yet is reason of singular use, for that it confirmeth me in this my beleefe the more: If I do not as yet beleeve, nevertheles to bring me to the number of beleevers except reason did somwhat help, and were an instrument which God doth use unto such purposes, what should it boote to dispute with Infidels or godless persons for their conversion and perwasion in that point?” (III.8.14)


In all of this, Hooker is careful to qualify the limits of reason–only it is not so limited as to be useless in devising church polity, which is the question at hand: “In all which hitherto hath beene spoken touching the force and use of mans reason in thinges divine, I must crave that I be not so understood or construed, as if any such thing by vertue thereof could be done without the aide and assistance of Gods most blessed spirite.  The thing we have handled according to the question mooved about it; which question is, whether the light of reason be so pernitious that in devising lawes for the church men ought not by it to search what may be fit and convenient” (III.8.18).

Both of these lines of argument that we have just surveyed–the reality and utility of God’s revelation in the law of reason outside of Scripture, and the indispensability of reason and its laws in grasping and rightly applying Scripture–will play a key role in Hooker’s argument for the latitude that ought rightly to characterize the domain of ecclesiastical affairs.  

“Eat and Live”–A Tribute to Richard Hooker

Just yesterday I finally concluded a glorious two-month journey through the 1400 pages of Richard Hooker’s incomparable Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, as much a life-changing experience as any [human] book can provide.  Although I have been scattering testimonies to Hooker’s brilliance through this blog all along the way, thought it appropriate to mark the occasion by posting a beautiful testimony to Hooker’s eloquence and irenicism, an excerpt from his stunning section on the Eucharist, where he pleads for us to glory in the mystery of the Real Presence, rather than disputing endlessly of its mechanism:

“Hee which hath said of the one sacrament Wash and be cleane, hath said concerninge the other likewise Eat and live.  If therefore without any such particular and solemne warrant as this is, that poor distressed woman comminge unto Christ for health could so constantlie resolve hir selfe, May I but touch the skirt of his garment I shalbe whole, what moveth us to argue of the maner how life should come by bread, our dutie being here but to take what is offered, and most assuredly to rest perswaded of this, that can wee but eate wee are safe?  When I behold with mine eyes some smale and scarce discerneable graine or seed whereof nature maketh promise that a tree shall come; and when afterwards of that tree any skillfull artificer undertaketh to frame some exquisite and curious worke, I looke for the event, I move no question about performance either of the one or of the other.  Shall I simplie credit nature in thinges naturall, shall I in thinges artificiall relie my selfe on art, never offeringe to make doubt, and in that which is above both arte and nature refuse to believe the author of both, except he acquaint me with his waies, and lay the secret of his skill before me?

….Let it therefore be sufficient for me presentinge my selfe at the Lordes table to knowe what there I receive from him, without searchinge or inquiring of the maner how Christ performeth his promise; let disputes and questions, enimies to pietie, abatementes of true devotion and hitherto in this cause but over patientlie heard, let them take their rest; let curious and sharp witted men beat theire heades about what questions them selves will, the verie letter of the worde of Christ giveth plaine securitie that these mysteries doe as nailes fasten us to his verie crosse, that by them wee draw out, as touchinge efficacie force and vertue, even the blood of his goared side, in the woundes of our redeemer wee there dip our tongues, wee are died redd both within and without, our hunger is satisfied and our thirst for ever quenched…this bread hath in it more then the substance of our eyes behold, this cup hallowed with sollemne benediction availeth to the endles life and wellfare both of soule and bodie…what these elementes are in them selves it skilleth [matters] not, it is enough to me which take them they are the bodie and blood of Christ, his promise in witnes hereof sufficeth, his word he knoweth which way to accomplish, why should any cogitation possesse the mind of a faithfull communicant but this, O my God thou art true, O my soule thou art happie?”

Blessed are the Poor? Poverty in the 16th Cent.

In chapter 2 (“The Rise of the Disciplinary Society”) of his magisterial A Secular Age, Charles Taylor offers a fascinating discussion of the contrast between medieval and early modern attitudes toward the poor.  The gist of his claim is that whereas in the Middle Ages, “there was an aura of sanctity around poverty,” in the early modern period, they came to be viewed as a nuisance and as basically depraved and in need of strict reform.  And this got me to thinking, as I am wont to do.

For the medievals, voluntary poverty was a path to holiness, a state of sanctity, while involuntary poverty, while not itself meritorious, at the very least “offered an occasion of sanctification” for the wealthy: “One of the things which the powerful of the world did to offset their pride and their trespasses was to offer distributions to the poor….Well-off people left a provision in their wills that alms should be given to a certain number of paupers at their funeral, and these in turn should pray for their soul.”

By the years just preceding and following the Reformation, however, “there is a radical change in attitude.  A new series of poor laws is adopted, whose principle is sharply to distinguish those who are capable of work from those who genuinely have no recourse but charity.  The former are expelled or put to work, for very low pay, and often in stringent conditions.  The incapable poor are to be given relief, but again in highly controlled conditions, which often ended up involving confinement in institutions which in some ways resembled prisons.” 

If this weren’t troubling enough, “The extreme Puritan view was even harsher than this….Beggars, for Perkins, ‘are as rotten legs and arms, that drop from the body.’  There was no place for them in a well-ordered commonwealth.” (Quotes are from pp. 108-9.)


All this seems likely enough as a description of many modern American Protestant attitudes toward poverty, but haven’t we been told that the Reformers were different?  That they put concern for the poor front and center, as Martin Bucer certainly seems to in his De Regno Christi, for instance?  That even Reformation iconoclasm was a result of concern for the poor, over against the greedy medieval church that hoarded its wealth?  

These narratives are not perhaps as incongruous as they seem, and the medieval approach is not perhaps quite as godly as it seems.  After all, the Reformers did care about the plight of the poor, and that’s why they wanted to abolish poverty.  Poverty was an undesirable state–for society as a whole, to be sure, but also for the poor themselves.  Hence it had to be remedied in the most effective, permanent way possible, and that was, they were convinced, creating workers, reducing dependency.  The more responsible thinkers of the modern right care about the poor too, and they too want to abolish property, but they agree with the sixteenth century that the way to do so is to put people to work.  They would criticize the modern left as encouraging dependency and permanent poverty, as the medieval period could perhaps be criticized: “the [medieval] stance to the poor had the sense it did partly because it was taken for granted that ‘the poor ye have always with you’.  More, this made sense, because the poor, while being succoured by the fortunate, were also an occasion of salvation of these latter.  There was a complementarity here….Within this way of understanding, it was unthinkable that one try actually to abolish poverty.’”  

Surely there is something unhealthy in this attitude, which seems rather like the attitude of the benefactor culture that Jesus devastatingly critiques, a culture that laid considerable stress on “alms for the poor” to keep them just above subsistence level, comfort the consciences of the powerful, and cement the relationships of power and dependence, but had no interest in redistribution.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the hungry” but he follows it with, “for they will be satisfied”–not “so let them continue in hunger.”

Interestingly, although the modern left is accused of creating a culture of dependency, it too uses the rhetoric–indeed, far more aggressively than the right–of “abolishing poverty.”  And while this certainly seems more wholesome on the surface, there is a danger here as well.  For if the sixteenth-century drive to abolish poverty arose at least partly out of the rich’s disgust with the poor, and desire not to have them continue sullying society (as Taylor suggests it did), then could there be something similar in the liberal crusades to rid the world of poverty, crusades carried out from the comfort of our living rooms with a phone call and a credit card?  

At their best, some of the medievals understood that there could be a blessedness in poverty, that we had something to learn from the poor, that they could be agents of grace for us, and we shouldn’t simply try to pack them away and put them to work.  Jesus was not, after all, chiefly concerned with the economic advancement of the poor, but with their incorporation into the community–he wanted the rich to learn to live face-to-face with the poor.  The medieval understanding was perhaps, for all its faults, closer to that.  The modern attitude, whether in its right-wing “put them to work” or its left-wing “give them whatever they need” variants, seems dangerously removed from this.   

Justifying Private Property (The Problem of Private Property, Pt. 6)

I will warn you–this post is a doozy.  Even by the preposterously lengthy standards of my posts for the past three weeks or so.  But as thoroughness is intrinsic to what I’m trying to do here, I’m not sure of any way around it.  The long and arduous trek, however, does yield some real fruit at the end (or at least I think it does…it’s quite possible I’ve taken a wrong turn on the way there, in which case the fruit will probably end up being rotten, and I rely on any readers to tell me if this is so).  If you’re the impatient sort, you could just scroll to the bottom for the interesting bits, and see if they make any sense out of context.

Having explored in the last segment a range of possible accounts of the origin of private property, I will here attempt to categorize the different kinds of justification arguments for private property.  Or perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say that I will survey different answers to the question, “What is the ethical status of private property?”  I will look at nine answers, each of which, I expect, has actually been espoused by a range of thinkers in history; although my grasp of the history is too poor to spell out examples properly, I will try to provide some indications where possible.  Also, there are several points at which the following taxonomy overlaps with or is susceptible of further sub-categorization in terms of the taxonomy I gave in the previous segment; I will try to take note of these connections at important points.

The classification here will be simpler than that of the previous post, with five main answers, two of which admit of three important subdivisions.  So, what is the intrinsic ethical status of private property?


The first and simplest answer is to refuse the question, to insist (1) that private property is an amoral institution, that the decision about what kind of property regime to enact must be based, if anything, on purely utilitarian or pragmatic considerations.  Private property can on this account never be more than a social construction, which human beings may introduce if they expect to gain more benefit from it, or abandon it if they see fit; and whatever they decide, no one can object on ethical grounds.  Historically, this would have been a very unusual answer indeed, and one that no serious political theorist (except perhaps the likes of Machiavelli and Hobbes).  However, in modern times, with the breakdown of Christian and natural law ethics, utilitarianism and pragmatism have gained the ascendancy in most of ethical discourse, including property rights.  I’m inclined to say that the influence of Locke and our greedy desire to claim as high a status for “sacred” property rights as possible has prevented such amoralism from gaining as much influence in the issue of property as in most other questions, even among professional ethicists.  A majority still want to claim some intrinsic ethical status for private property, but not a large majority.


If we want, then, to attach an intrinsic ethical status to private property, the two most obvious are (2) to say that private property is simply wicked, or (3) to say that it is directly ordained and positively commanded by God, so that its absence is simply wicked.  These opposite extremes are fairly unusual, both historically and on the contemporary scene.  Regarding the former, Proudhon is probably its most notorious exponent, with his famous declaration that “property is theft,” a conviction shared by a number of modern communistic utopians (though not, I would venture, a large number; more have been historical materialists, like Marx himself, who considered private property to be a stage that must be transcended, and thus more obsolete than evil per se).   There have always been occasional communistic movements that have preached the absolute evil of private property, particularly in Christian history, but they have rarely gotten very far.  The latter extreme, of directly ordained private property, while rhetorically fairly common in our day and age among what I call “divine right capitalists” is, I think rarely seriously advocated.  To make this claim (at least in the sense I intend here), requires that one understand private property as having begun at creation, which as I explored in my previous post on property, is actually a rather difficult claim to coherently maintain.  This is quite distinct, I think, from arguing that private property was a natural, even a necessary, development within history.  We can make this claim and understand it to include some kind of divine authorization, but if we do, we are granting that private property had to come into being; it was not, as it were, part of what God looked down upon on the sixth day and said “it is very good.”


If we deny these two extremes, and that private property is simply amoral, we are left with a whole range of potentially viable options, in which private property is (or may be) legitimate, but is not self-authenticatingly so.  These can be grouped under two main headings: (4) “natural” (meaning here prelapsarian), and (5) “unnatural” (meaning here postlapsarian).  The term “unnatural” will require some brief elucidation before I continue.  I do not mean thereby “wrong”–in fact, some options I will explore under “unnatural” would hold PP to be positively right for us.  However, whereas “natural” understandings of PP regard it as a development that could or should lawfully have happened in man’s created state of innocence, “unnatural” understandings portray it as a development necessitated or caused by man’s fall into sinfulness.  This distinction runs very deep in the Christian ethical tradition, and parallels a similar (and in many ways, intimately related) disagreement over whether political authority would have existed in a state of innocence or only after the fall.  Clearly, a great deal hinges on the decision between these two main options; just as much, however, hinges on the decision between the various sub-options of each, to which we shall now turn.


So, if we take route (4) and say that private property is “natural,” what are we saying?  We are saying that it is part of what has traditionally been called “the natural law”–it is part of how humans are supposed, or at any rate allowed, to live; it is the proper, or at any rate a legitimate realization of man’s nature.  This category can make sense either in Christian or non-Christian conceptions, though clearly a Christian conception can make greater sense out of the category.  For a Christian, to say that private property is “natural” is to say that it was part of God’s preceptive will for mankind, or at any rate within the range of that will.  

Now you will notice already that I keep qualifying with “at any rate”–this shows you that I shall intend to show that “natural” does not necessarily mean commanded.  In his discussion of the “law of reason” (his term for the natural law), Richard Hooker argues that all things are not necessarily good or evil simpliciter–for “in goodnes…there is a latitude or extent, whereby it commeth to passe that even of good actions some are better then other some, whereas otherwise one man could not excell another.”  Hooker distinguishes between three ways in which the law of reason can bind, and I have adopted his threefold distinction as eminently useful for the task at hand.  The law of reason “is either mandatory, shewing what must be doone; or els permissive, declaring onely what may bee done; or thirdly admonitorie, opening what is the most convenient for us to doe.”  (I shall change the order in my discussion, treating the admonitory before the permissive).  The first applies in cases of simple good and evil–there is one thing that must be done, and to not do it would be evil; or there is one thing that must not be done, and to do it would be evil–these are moral absolutes like “thou shalt not murder.”  The second (in my order)–the admonitory–applies in cases where of various possible goods, one is exhorted to choose the most good; failure to do so may be blameworthy in some respect, but not altogether so.  Examples would be many decisions in parenting–questions of how to educate or discipline your child for instance–where there might be a best way to do it without all other ways being thereby wrong.  The third–the permissive–applies in cases where of many evils, we are allowed to choose the least evil, and not to be blamed therein.  An example might be killing in self-defence.  To kill, we might say, is never good, and yet in certain circumstances, it may be permitted to prevent the worse evil of one’s own innocent death.  (Obviously, this example is highly-disputed territory; I merely provide it as an example of how the logic of a permissive law of reason might work.)


If we apply this general paradigm to the question of property, what do we have?

Option 4A: Private property is mandated–although in the beginning, all things are common, this is merely a negative commonality (see previous PP post), and humans are required to realize the proper form of their social nature by developing private property relations.  A failure to do so would be unnatural, unsound, and wrong.

Option 4B: Private property is advisable–in the beginning, all things are common (whether negatively or positively construed), and it could remain so, but on the whole, the goods of mankind and the goods of creation are probably best to be accomplished by a private administration of property, so that a failure to so arrange things would be imprudent and likely blameworthy.

Option 4C: Private property is permitted–in the beginning, all things were common (again, either negatively or positively construed), but the inconveniences attending this arrangement are such that in many cases it would make more sense to enter into private property arrangements, so that one is not blameworthy for undertaking a private property distribution.  This is not in itself good, but it may be so as an alternative to the problems that might otherwise arise–as the “least evil” option.

Now, it is worth noting right away that Option 4C is a somewhat unstable one…it is hard to differentiate between Option 4B on the one hand and varietis of Option 5 on the other.  For when we talk about various evils among which private property must be understood as the least, we are clearly using “evil” metaphorically if we are talking of a prelapsarian condition, and if we are using it metaphorically, then it’s hard to see how we’re saying more than Option 4B–that is, that the absence of private property would imply various inconveniences or just be somehow less good.  However, I include it not only for the sake of logical symmetry (which is always nice), but because I think there is a difference of emphasis that is reflected here, and that can be discerned in various thinkers.  It’s a question of whether you lean toward saying that private property could very well have been instituted, but really need not have been, or whether you say that all things considered, it really should have been instituted, but it wasn’t absolutely necessary.  Aquinas’s theory of property, which I have discussed a fair bit before on this blog, is an eminent example of an Option 4B view.

If you take Option 4A, you are basically committed (unless you posit a change in the natural law, which no traditional ethicist could do) to saying that the initial state of commonality was one of negative commonality, negative commonality that must be resolved into private ownership.  This was our Option IIIA in the previous post, which admits, you may recall, of eight different sub-divisions.  Of these, only IIIA2d would be impossible here, for the ethicist who saw private property as a necessary natural institution.  Any of the others–a Lockean unilateral appropriation, or a division into private property by the consent and under certain constraints from the community (more along the lines of Grotius or Pufendorf, for instance).

Alternatively, if you take Options 4B or 4C, you could construe the original commonality either negatively or positively.   One could imagine an original positive commonality, only one that is capable of being changed (Option IIIB1 in the previous post).  But a negative commonality would make good sense, a commonality awaiting specification into stable property relations.  One could say then that a specification into private property relations would be admonished (4B) or permitted (4C), but a specification into a positively common property arrangement (Option IIIA2d in the previous post) would be possible.  It is unlikely, however, that if one accepted a development into private property under either 4B or 4C that one would consider such a development legitimate if appropriation occurred on a strictly unilateral basis.  After all, if one considered private property as to some extent optional, and considered common ownership of some kind as the original state, this would imply that the rights of the community precede those of the individual, and thus any private property distribution would be subject to some extent to the consent or oversight of the community.


Let’s turn then to consideration of the “unnatural” concepts of private property.  Remember that, as I said above, “unnatural” does not in this context mean “wrong”–it merely denotes the view that private property would not have developed in man’s natural, created state, but only as a result of the Fall (here I use theological language, but there are secular and pagan analogues) .  The views I shall consider here do not, unlike Option 3, consider private property therefore to be in itself wicked; it is, we might say, like the death penalty.  Of course, that is another hotly-debated subject, but most of that debate (for Christian ethicists at least) would fall within the same sort of range I shall explore below, and so this will provide a helpful analogy.  The death penalty is clearly a result of the Fall, but is not therefore in itself evil; rather, it is in principle a legitimate (some would say necessary) response to the conditions introduced into society by the fall.  It is a remedial institution–remedial for wickedness, not merely inconvenience–and that is how most of the Christian tradition up until Aquinas understood private property.  Here again there are three main options, again classifiable in Hooker’s categories.

Option 5A: Private property is not appropriate in the state of nature, but once sin comes into the world, private property is required.  There is simply no other way to administer a world ruled by competing wills, and so property must be divided up this way.  Failure to do so is hopelessly utopian, doomed to failure, and in fact a wicked attempt to deny the order God has required for dealing with man’s fallen nature.

Option 5B: Private property is not appropriate in the state of nature, but once sin comes into the world, private property is advisable.  It is certainly possible to administer property in common, even in a sinful world, but it is very difficult, prone to fall apart when confronted with human greed and laziness.  We are thus admonished that private property is now the best way to proceed, though we are not forbidden to look for ways to make other arrangements work.

Option 5C: Private property is not appropriate in the state of nature, but once sin comes into the world, private property is permitted.  It is still not ideal, to be sure, but it may often be the only way to proceed.  Individuals or societies that administer their resources in this way are not therefore blameworthy, but one may well want to try other arrangements, despite the difficulties attending of common property in a sinful world.  

How do Option 5 views relate to the various accounts of the origin of private property, given in the previous post?  Well, again there is no one-to-one correspondence.  If one believes that the Fall introduced serious tensions into a pre-existing condition of common ownership (a condition obviously somewhat hypothetical if we are talking about only Adam and Eve), then this could make sense whether that condition were construed negatively or positively.  If negatively, one might well say that in the state of innocence, each man would simply take from nature what he needed, without overly trespassing on what his neighbor needed, but sin introduced a greediness to take at the expense of others, that required (or at any rate invited) the remedy of a clear enforceable limitation of who owned what.  Or if positively, one might well say that in the state of innocence, humans would consult together about the allocation and use of resources, and would make sure that they were shared equally, but that sin introduced such quarrelsomeness, corruption, and inefficiency into this arrangment, that required (or at any rate invited) a separation of control, so that each household was responsible for administering its own goods and no one else’s.  It does not seem to me that the choice between Options 5A, 5B, or 5C would materially affect this decision. 

However, what does seem clear is that an “unnatural” understanding of private property would all but rule out unilateral appropriation (Option IIIA1 from the last post) accounts of the origin of PP.  Why is this?  Well, let’s think about it for a moment.  Clearly enough, if one imagines a natural state of positive commonality, of active community ownership, then to get from this state to one of private ownership, direct action of the community is necessary.  The community may decide on any number of ways to break up the common possessions into individual possessions, but it seems highly unlikely that it would it would choose simply to allow a free-for-all–a scramble for possessions in which each individual stakes a claim on whatever he can.  Even if it did allow unilateral appropriation, as it might in a circumstance where the world was wide open for each to claim whatever he needed (as it was after the Fall), the community would presumably still have some say over the use of the property, given its antecedent claim.  What we are imagining here is a situation like that of the 1862 Homestead Act in the US, in which the government permitted individuals to move into undeveloped, unclaimed land (well, theoretically; in reality, occupied by native Americans), and make the land theirs by mixing their labor for it and then filing for a deed.  This is unilateral appropriation of a sort, but not pre-political, as in Locke’s concept; it in fact depends on political organization to legitimate it.  

The same goes if we imagine a state of original negative commonality.  For in this situation, the very problem that private property is addressing is one arising from greedy individuals seizing whatever they can.  The solution to this is a political one–to make enforceable public distinctions between mine and thine, distinctions that cannot simply be based upon however much an individual can appropriate for himself, Lockean-style, since this is precisely the evil that needs to be redressed.  In this understanding, “mine and thine” are not pre-political realities that men enter into political covenant to protect, as Locke understood it, but are rather realities that come into being only by virtue of political covenant.  We have natural common right of possession, then a degeneration into a war of all against all, and then the political creation of a private right of possession.  Private rights having then being created by the community, they are safeguarded by the community, but clearly with restrictions on legitimate appropriation and use enforceable by the community; the absence of such restrictions, after all, was the problem created by sin in the first place.   


A final point that we must here note is the role of redemption.  After all, the Fall is not the end of the story–we have Creation, then Fall, then Redemption.  If PP is “natural,” in the sense of belonging to creation, then it would seem it ought to survive in the state of redemption.  To be sure, redemption does not merely return us to creation, but takes us beyond it; nevertheless, it is creation restored and enhanced, it is recognizably continuous with the state of creation, and not a complete overturning of it.  So private property would most likely continue to be affirmed in redemption.  However, if PP is “unnatural,” in the sense of belonging to the Fall, then redemption seems likely to enact a reversal of it.  Of course, redemption does not undo the Fall all at once–it is a gradual process–but it does call us to start living in a new manner, and to start transcending the old way of life.  So, Christians who have seen PP as a result of the Fall have generally considered the institution to be relativised, overturned, undermined, transcended or some such by redemption–they have considered that redeemed man is called to start living out the replacement of private property that man’s restoration to his true nature involves.  

Indeed, until the late Middle Ages, some form of Option 5 was most common among Christian thinkers; indeed, it seems to me that there was a gradual move from an original stark pessimism regarding private property–a 5C view occasionally bordering on Option 3 (PP is simply wicked), becoming increasingly optimistic so that first 5B became more prominent, then 5A, then 4C, and finally Aquinas’s 4B view (which was still strongly contested by Option 5 variants for a couple centuries).  Then, of course, in the seventeenth-century, optimism about PP took another great leap forward resulting in the historically quite novel Option 4A, with which many of us now live quite comfortbly today.  


Where have we then arrived?  Why does all this matter?  Well, we seen a couple paragraphs above one very important reason why it matters.  If one wants to imagine private property rights as pre-political rights, held by individuals over against society, and toward which society as a whole has only duties, but not rights of its own, there are in fact only a very few routes by which one can reach this conception.  And yet this conception is clearly, rhetorically-speaking, the dominant one in modern America, particularly in Christian America, it is the dominant rhetoric in what I call “divine right capitalism.”  Since this already came up earlier in this series, I will quote a recent blog post by Doug Wilson as a convenient example:

“This command [thou shalt not steal] presupposes the institution of private ownership — private property as a divine institution — and sets up a fundamental protection against assaults on the right to own property. It does this in just the same way that the prohibition of adultery presupposes the institution of marriage. If marriage is just a “social construct” that our laws can redefine or abolish, then the same goes for adultery.”  

Here, PP is emphatically claimed as something that precedes all human laws, that belongs to each individual (or rather, each household) naturally and by divine right.  This must be an Option 4A view (if not an incoherent Option 2 view).

However, in these same circles it is often claimed that the great virtue of capitalism is that it is a system built on the assumption of human depravity–that private property in particular is an institution required by and fitted for sinful man, who simply cannot succeed in any attempt at common ownership.  Capitalism and its corollary, PP, may not be “natural,” but they natural under a post-Fall condition–they are the only option, we are told, and are therefore divinely commanded.  This sounds like an Option 5A view.

Now, one or other of these must be true, it seems.  Option 5A is more theologically plausible, but as we have just seen above, it yields the conclusion that PP is inescapably a political right–it is a product of human society and to some extent dependent on the will and constraints of the community.  And of course, this is precisely what Locke and his modern pseudo-theological followers want to avoid.  Moreover, it strongly suggests that Christians ought, to some extent, to be seeking to transcend private property and live out restored nature, something few Christians seem particularly interested in doing these days.  Option 4A, Locke’s own, seems to yield the desired practical conclusions, but at the cost of being highly suspect from a theological and ethical perspective, as I shall explore further in the next installment.  We simply cannot have our cake and eat it too.  We must recognize that it makes a difference how we account for the origin of private property, and how we account for its ethical legitimacy.  Neither are simply self-authenticating, and the decisions we make have important political and ethical ramifications.  


In the next installment, I’ll look at some problems with the Lockean view.  Then, in the eighth, I hope to finally turn to the constructive task.  That will mean leaving the realm of mere abstraction (which I have inhabited here), which talks freely about the “state of innocence” and “the postlapsarian state” without any attention to the concrete Biblical narrative of these states, and turning its attention (in large part, at least) to the insights and constraints provided by the Scriptural witness.



“No person but the Sonne of God” (Richard Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 1)

As something of a transition (albeit a bit belated) between filling much of my blogspace with reflections on McCormack’s Christology and filling much of it with reflections on Richard Hooker (as I shall be wont to do for the next couple years, most likely), I thought it might be good to write up a few posts on Richard Hooker’s Christology, which although quite rich and thoughtfully developed, is rarely if ever mentioned in surveys of Protestant Christology (at least, I have never heard it mentioned).  This is a sad oversight, for though certainly not startlingly original, Hooker articulates a Reformed Christology that is deeply rooted in, and consciously harmonized with, Patristic orthodoxy, and that goes a fair way toward bridging the deep rift that had opened up between Reformed and Lutheran Christologies by the end of the sixteenth-century.  At any rate, that is how I read it, though I invite those more expert in Christology and historical theology to correct or nuance this judgment.

Hooker’s Christology is also well-worth attending to for my own purposes, since Torrance Kirby argues in his recent monograph Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy that it is integral to his political theology, in particular his account of the relationship of the two kingdoms, and of Church and State.  Indeed, Kirby claims that Hooker constructed his doctrine this way in direct response to Cartwright’s appeal to Christology to undergird the Puritan political ecclesiology, arguing that Cartwright’s Christ was heterodox.  If so, this is very intriguing indeed, since none other than our old friend VanDrunen has summoned forth Christology as an integral foundation for his version of the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine, and to my mind has fallen into heterodoxy in the process.  My hunch is that Cartwright’s correlation of Christology and political theology will have the same structure as VanDrunen’s, and Hooker’s response will be equally telling against both, thus providing another means of tying in Hooker’s political thought with modern debates.  


Hooker’s Christology proper spans twenty-five densely-packed pages in the middle of Book V of the Lawes, comprising chapters 51-55.  Although the immediate question before Hooker at this point in Book V is the efficacy of the sacraments, he opts, as usual, to build this more particular discussion on as general and systematic a foundation as possible, and that means explaining who Christ is and how we can have communion with him in his divine and human natures.  And if Kirby is correct, Hooker penned this discussion also with an eye toward his account of church and state and the royal supremacy in Book VIII, which would draw on the Chalcedonian language of two natures in personal union.  Although spanning five chapters, Hooker’s discussion can be divided into three movements: first, a thoroughly orthodox and Alexandrian statement of the received Chalcedonian doctrine, emphasizing the personal identity of Christ with the eternal Logos; second, a typically Reformed statement of the communicatio idiomatum, emphasizing the separation between the two natures; third, a series of qualifications to the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, constituting as it were concessions to the Lutheran understanding of the divinization of the human nature and its resultant ubiquity, yet without abandoning firm Reformed ground.  I shall allot one post to each of these movements.


First, then, Hooker undertakes to establish in ch. 51 “That God is in Christ by the personall incaranation of the Sonne who is verie God.”  He begins by making a traditional Trinitarian distinction of the three persons and the one nature, and uses this distinction to show that the second person, the Word, becomes incarnate, but the other two persons do not.  However, while being careful to deny the incarnation of the other two persons, we must not deny the incarnation of the divine nature: “Notwithstandinge for as much as the worde and deitie are one subject, wee must beware wee exclude not the nature of God from incarnation and so make the Sonne of God incarnate not to be verie God.  For undoubtedly even the nature of God it selfe in the only person of the Sonne is incarnate and hath taken to itself flesh.”  We must not imagine any kind of gap between the person of the Word and his nature.  “Wherefore incarnation may neither be graunted to any person but only one, nor yeat denied to that nature which is common unto all three”–so the orthodox doctrine requires, but Hooker confesses this “an incomprehensible mysterie” (51.2)  

Why should this incarnation happen?  Because “it seemeth a thinge unconsonant that the world should honor any other as the Savior but him whome it honoreth as the creator of the world, and in the wisdom of God it hath not bene thought convenient to admitt anie way of savinge man but by man him selfe.”  Using language reminiscent of Athanasius, then, Hooker says “It became therefore him by whome all thinges are, to be the waie of salvation to all, that the institution and restitution of the world might be both wrought by one hand.”  Moreover, inasmuch as God willed that the world could only be saved by the death of his Son, “Christ tooke manhood that by it he might be capable of death whereunto hee humbled him selfe” (51.3)

He moves on then in ch. 52 to define the hypostatic union.  He begins with due humility, warning that “It is not in mans habilitie either to expresse perfectlie or conceyve the maner how this was brought to passe….Howbeit because this divine mysterie is more true than plaine, divers havinge framed the same to theire owne conceiptes and phancies are found in theire expositions thereof more plain than true” (52.1).  In other words, orthodoxy and logical clarity are likely to be inversely proportional in this matter; heresies have erred more often than not by trying to make the matter perfectly clear, thus undermining the delicately-balanced tension of the orthodox paradox.

He then runs through a quick and dizzying catalogue of the heresies that arose on this point between Nicaea and Chalcedon, culminating with Nestorius, in response to most of the rest of this chapter is arranged.  By Nestorius’s time all had come to agreement that Christ was both truly God and truly man, “But that the selfe same person which verelie is man should properlie be God also, and that, by reason not of two persons linked in amitie but of two natures humaine and divine conjoyned in one and the same person, the God of glorie may be said as well to have suffered death, as to have raised the the dead from theire graves, the Sonne of man as well to have made as to have redeemed the world, Nestorius in no case would admitt” (52.2).

His error here, says Hooker, steemed from inattention to John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt in us”; the plural number signifies that Christ became incarnate in the manhood common to us all, not in one particular man.  This distinction is absolutely essential, as Hooker expounds so well that it is worth quoting him at length:

“If the Sonne of God had taken to him selfe a man now made and already perfected, it would of necessitie follow that there are in Christ two persons, the one assuminge and the other assumed, whereas the Sonne of God did not assume a mans person unto his own, but a mans nature to his owne person, and therefore tooke semen the seed of Abraham, the verie first originall element of our nature before it was come to have anie personall humaine subsistence.”  

This means that there was never anything human preexisting the union of the Word with the human: “The flesh and the conjunction of the flesh with God began both at one instant, his makinge and takinge to him selfe our flesh was but one act.  So that in Christ there is no personall subsistence but one, and that from everlastinge.”

The person of Christ is completely identical with the eternal person of the Godhead: “By taking only the nature of man he still continueth one person, and changeth but the maner of his subsisting, which was before in the meere glorie of the Sonne of God, and is now in the habit also of our flesh.”  This personal unity must be so unqualified that we can speak comfortably of the human history of Christ as God’s history; indeed, we must do so, because it is the history of a person, not of a nature: “For as much therefore as Christ hath no personal subsistence but one whereby wee acknowledge him to have bene eternallie the Sonne of God, wee must of necessitie applie to the person of the Sonne of God even that which is spoken of Christ accordinge to his humane nature.  For example, accordinge to the flesh he was borne of the Virgin Marie, baptised of John in the river Jordan, by Pilate adjudged to die and executed by the Jewes.  Wee cannot saie properlie that the Virgin bore, or John did baptise, or Pilate condemn or the Jewes crucifie the nature of man, because these are all personall attributes, his person is the subject which receaveth them, his nature that which maketh his person capable or apt to receive.”

To say otherwise (e.g., to deny “Theotokos”) is simply Nestorianism: “If wee should saie that the person of a man in our savior Christ was the subject of these thinges, this were plainelie to intrap our selves in the verie snare of the Nestorians heresie between whome and the Church of God there was no difference savinge onlie that Nestorius imagined in Christ as well a personall humane subsistence as a divine, the Church acknowleging a substance both divine and human but no other personall subsistence then divine, because the Sonne of God tooke not to him sele a mans person but only the nature of a man.”  

In sum, then, we must affirm that “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.”

“Whereupon it followeth against Nestorius,” Hooker emphatically and unapologetically asserts, “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, which one onlie point of Christian beliefe–the infinite worth of the Sonne of God–is the verie ground of all thinges beleived concerninge life and salvation by that which Christ either did or suffered as man in our behalfe” (52.3)

Here we can see, as starkly and clearly as possible, how forcefully the orthodox tradition asserted that God really did suffer and die; I am still not convinced by McCormack’s arguments that this confession was weak, half-hearted, and hedged in with qualifications that deprived it of real force–merely a linguistic and not a real confession.  No, it is emphatic and uncompromising. 


Hooker concludes this chapter by finishing the story up through Chalcedon–Cyril’s forceful confession against Nestorius is misinterpreted by some (due to some imprecise language on Cyril’s part) as a confession of only one mixed nature in Christ (Eutychianism) which Chalcedon undertook to deny.  “For as Nestorius teaching righlie that God and man are distinct natures did thereupon misinferre that in Christ those natures can by no conjunction make one person; so Eutyches of sound beliefe as touching theire true personall copulation became unsound by denyinge the difference which still continueth between the one and the other nature.  Wee must therefore keepe warilie a middle corse shunninge both that distraction of persons wherein Nestorius went awrie, and also this later confusion of natures which deceived Eutyches” (52.4).

Finally, we must confess this union to be perpetual, so that it applied even when Christ was dead in the grave.  Even at this point, the person of the Son remained inseparably joined to his human body and soul, existing with them in a state of death.


Up to this point, we have a doctrine that is robustly Alexandrian, willing to affirm much more than most modern Reformed are regarding the fullness of the union.  In fact, we may wonder whether Hooker is going to be Reformed at all with this kind of emphasis.  In the following chapter, which I will explore next week, he undertakes to balance out this discussion with an explanation of the complete distinction of the two natures.