Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology Review, Pt. 5: Hooker and the Moral Life

In considering the sixth chapter of A.J. Joyce’s Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology, we encounter much the same strengths and weaknesses as ch. 4 offered: a clear and sound summary of key building blocks of Hooker’s thought, vitiated at times by a running undercurrent of polemic against the idea of Hooker as a Reformed Protestant, which surfaces in explicit form from time to time.  The subject of this chapter is “Hooker and the Moral Life”—more precisely (since this might seem to be what the whole book is about), Joyce here offers an examination of Hooker’s crucially-important discussion of the “law of reason” (what is usually called natural law), followed by a consideration of the relationship of morality and soteriology, and of morality and change.  I will follow the order of Joyce’s exposition here, pausing to give particular attention to the more contentious points of her exposition.

She begins by noting, as she has several times before, Hooker’s quite close dependence on Aquinas and the Aristotelian tradition he mediates: “Although Hooker is by no means uncritical of Aquinas, and seldom quotes him explicitly within this context, both the framework and content of his exposition of the law of reason would appear to be substantially dependent upon the Thomist tradition of natural law, which derives ultimately from Aristotle” (150-51).  In this, she of course echoes the opinion of most, if not all, Hooker interpreters, although it is worth noting that this repeated observation betrays a bit of laziness on their part.  Many of the features of Hooker’s thought that scholars reflexively label “Thomist” could simply be called “scholastic” generally, commonplaces of the philosophical theology that sixteenth-century Christianity was heir to, and there is no need to posit a direct dependence on Aquinas at many of these points.  Moreover, the equation of Thomism and Aristotelianism, and of Hooker with both, is similarly lazy; there is, as Torrance Kirby in particular has argued of late, perhaps as much neo-Platonic influence upon Hooker’s thought as there is Aristotelian (and the same, indeed, could probably be said for Aquinas himself).

In any case, Joyce notes just two key departures from Aquinas in Hooker’s broad classification of law.  The first is his distinction of “nature’s law” which governs irrational creatures from “the law of reason” which governs humans; for Thomas, both are subsumed under the heading “natural law,” although he draws basically the same distinctions between them.  Most scholars seem agreed that this is a mere semantic difference, without significant consequence for the structure of Hooker’s thought, and I am inclined to agree, although I would be curious to see a closer examination of the issue.  If anything, Hooker’s renaming seems to be a matter of making more explicit what scholars like Jean Porter have argued was already the case in Thomism—that our rational grasp of and reflection upon the natural law is not something which follows upon the promulgation of that law, but is God’s promulgation of it.

The second distinction is Hooker’s division of the eternal law into the “first eternal law” and the “second eternal law,” which does seem to be more consequential.  Joyce characterizes it as corresponding to the scholastic distinction between the potentia absoluta and the potentia ordinata—between what God could have done and what God in fact determined to do—but this does not seem right, given Hooker’s treatment of the first eternal law as “that order which God hath eternally purposed himself in all his works to observe,” as contrasted with the second, which is “that which with himself he hath set down as expedient to be kept by all his creatures” (LEP I.3.1).  In other words, it seems to more closely correspond to the common Reformed distinction between God’s “secret will” which governs the decrees of providence and his “revealed will” which governs how he calls upon his creatures to respond to him.  It is perhaps remarkable, given the seeming importance of this point of difference from Aquinas, how rarely it has received significant attention; the exception, again, is Torrance Kirby, who has explored in multiple articles how this distinction might constitute the crucial point at which Hooker departs from Aquinas’s mediated hierarchy of being in favor of a Protestant disjunction between creature and Creator.  Joyce betrays her bias when she mentions this reading only in a footnote, and then only to dismiss it, without further comment or analysis, as “unconvincing.”

The polemic against advocates of the Reformed Hooker becomes explicit a page later, when Joyce snipes at Nigel Atkinson for his failure to take note of Hooker’s Thomistic and scholastic influences:

Atkinson’s eagerness to reclaim Hooker for the Reformation is such that, in effect, he sidesteps the issue of Hooker’s debt to the Thomist tradition altogether, despite conceding that it exists. . . . Given that Atkinson proceeds to use this discussion as a basis upon which to suggest that Hooker’s understanding of reason was entirely consonant with that of the Continental reformers, the complete omission of any reference to Aquinas or the scholastic tradition during his discussion of Lawes Book I is questionable, to say the least (153).

Joyce is right to chide Atkinson for the incompleteness and sloppiness of his work; however, her motives in so doing are highly questionable.  Here as several times elsewhere in her book, she appears to use Atkinson as a proxy for Kirby and the whole “Reformed Hooker” school of interpretation, and to use the comparatively easy task of pointing out Atkinson’s flaws as a way of avoiding the much more difficult task of actually engaging that school of interpretation.  Atkinson wrote one slender volume (just 164 pages) on Hooker back in 1997, written for a popular audience (though still a fairly small one, given the nature of the subject).  His book made few pretensions to be a scholarly treatment, and thus one has to wonder why subsequent scholarly articles and monographs on Hooker have concentrated their fire so frequently on this slim tome (e.g., Gibbs, Voak, and Joyce repeatedly, among others).  The rebuke, “Pick on someone your own size” would appear to be in order.  As it is, the broadsides aimed at Atkinson appear to be intended as a way of discrediting the whole “Reformed Hooker” school of interpretation without engaging its most compelling arguments and careful exponents.  So it is here.  Kirby, in his many books and articles on Hooker, has given frequent acknowledgment to the scholastic background of Hooker’s thought, and as just mentioned above, careful attention to the points of continuity and discontinuity.  But Joyce seeks to imply here that those interested in “reclaiming Hooker for the Reformation” have to deny all connection with Aquinas, because to acknowledge such a connection would be fatal to their case.  But as I asked back in my review of chapter four, why should it be?

Joyce indeed goes on to admit on p. 154 that the Reformers were not, after all, anti-scholastic, and even that Cargill Thompson himself, among the greatest of Hooker scholars, “argued that Hooker’s theory of the law of reason was not significantly different from that of the Protestant reformers.”  In response, she seeks to distinguish the latter by their “more pessimistic view of human nature” (a common claim that, as we have already seen in previous installments, remains hopelessly vague) and “the clear distinction that they drew between issues of faith and reason” (a distinction that, as she has already granted in the previous chapter, Hooker drew quite clearly as well).  The kicker, however, is “Hooker’s express rejection of voluntarism,” in contrast to the voluntarism and nominalism that she claims characterized all Reformed natural law thinking.  Never mind that she admits in a footnote that Hooker’s Thomism is one mediated through somewhat voluntarist sources; never mind that the binary opposition between realism-rationalism and nominalism-voluntarism that she draws here is perhaps fifty years outdated, and that most scholars of scholasticism now recognize that these two ideal positions existed in many cases as points along a spectrum, capable of a number of different hybrid versions; and never mind that the Reformers display considerable diversity amongst themselves in the extent to which they drew on more rationalist or voluntarist strands of scholastic natural law thinking.  Here again, then, Joyce attempts to use Hooker’s Thomistic sympathies to drive a fundamental wedge between him and the Protestant Reformers, but without any attempt to ascertain and delineate the actual position of the latter (indeed, she quotes only Lee Gibbs, another Hooker scholar who regularly makes wild generalizations about the Reformers, in defense of her claim about their unanimous voluntarism).

I will, however, note that Joyce appears to score a fairly good point against Atkinson and Kirby on p. 156 when she notes, “That Hooker’s polemical strategy is based primarily upon this twofold appeal to reason and scripture seems rather more convincing than the argument presented by both Kirby and Atkinson that the common ground that Hooker seeks to establish with his opponents is fundamentally doctrinal in nature” (156).  Now, this is a bit confused, because part of Kirby and Atkinson’s point is that the nature of Hooker’s appeal to reason and Scripture is one which he took to be based on a properly Reformed understanding of these, so that it presupposed a doctrinal common ground.  Inasmuch, however, as they can sometimes be read as saying that Hooker’s apologetic consisted chiefly in the explicit appeal to shared doctrines, Joyce is right to demur.  That is to say, Hooker fairly rarely says something like, “on this point, all the Reformed have taught X (see for instance Bullinger, Calvin, Vermigli, etc.)”—more often, he prefers to couch his appeal in terms of a shared capacity to reason together about the points in question (within a broad presupposed framework of Protestant theology).  This is a point that I accordingly highlight in my own reading of Hooker in my thesis.

We will move on, more quickly now, through Joyce’s section on the role of “Intellect, Will, and Emotion” in Hooker’s understanding of the law of reason and the moral life.  She notes that “According to Hooker (and Aquinas before him), we can only properly say that our actions are prompted by good if we both perceive the good and exercise choice in pursuing it.  In other words, for this to be the case we also have to be at liberty to choose not to do so” (158-59).  This is a key point, and indeed I would suggest that Hooker’s accent on the will and the need for willing obedience is a central part of his apologetic, concerned as it is (on my account) with preserving the Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty, the second principle of which was the principle of voluntariety—free and willing obedience to law.

In this section, Joyce notes that Hooker departs from Aquinas somewhat in the extent to which he appears to separate intellect and will, instead of merely distinguishing them as two aspects of the same faculty, though she grants that this was a common misinterpretation of Aquinas among his immediate followers and even today.  However, she suggests that the difference in emphasis may be due not so much to misunderstanding as to polemical context:

As we have seen, Hooker is keen to base his own case upon the claims of reason.  By contrast, he characterizes the puritans on a number of occasions as not only unreasonable but willful in the stance they have adopted.  Hence, in attributing the failure of human beings to pursue the good principally to a weakness of will in the face of difficulty, he at one and the same time strengthens the basis of his case against the puritan opposition and undermines their own position (162).

We have noted this point above in the review of ch. 3—if it is indeed the case that Hooker treats his opponents as willfully opposed to the good, rather than merely misguided, this might lessen the extent to which we could treat him as irenic in overall orientation.  Thankfully, Joyce offers a footnote citing four examples of places where Hooker thus accuses the Puritans of willfulness.  Upon inspection, however, not one of the four passages displays any such thing.  In one (near the beginning of Pref.6.3), I could not tell at all what Joyce meant to refer to; in another (toward the end of Pref.6.3), Hooker notes the importance of authority, given human nature’s general tendency toward willfulness (“So full of willfulness and self-liking is our nature, that without some definitive sentence, which being given may stand, and a necessity of silence on both sides afterward imposed, small hope there is that strifes thus far prosecuted will in short time quietly end”); in the other two, Hooker mentions willfulness, indeed, but to warn the Puritans against falling into it, rather than to accuse them of having already done so (in Pref.6.5, he says, “As for the orders which are established, with equity and reason, the law of nature, God and man, do all favor that which is in being, till orderly judgment of decision be given against it; it is but justice to exact of you, and perverseness in you it should be to deny, thereunto your willing obedience,” and in Pref.8.12, he describes the willful error with which the Anabaptists were carried away, as a warning to the Puritans against doing likewise).

Joyce goes on to suggest that Hooker’s relatively negative evaluation of emotion, contrasting with Aquinas’s, might owe something to polemical context as well, as he sometimes accuses the puritans of inappropriately stirring up the emotions of their hearers.  There may well be something to this point, although Joyce also acknowledges that Hooker can elsewhere speak quite positively of the role of emotion.  This whole subject is one that warrants further examination than it has received thus far in Hooker scholarship.

The following section, “Discerning Good and Evil,” we shall pass over for now, as it contains a solid and basically unobjectionable exposition of how Hooker describes the law of reason as both knowable in principle and yet often unknown in practice by sinful men.

In the next section, “The Sentence of Reason,” Joyce draws our attention to another difference in emphasis between Hooker and Aquinas.  Where Aquinas states the first principle of practical reason as “that the good is to be done, and the evil avoided,” Hooker states it as “that the greater good is to be preferred before the less.”  Joyce suggests that this departure too may owe to polemical context.  Among the key points on which he seeks to oppose the puritans is their tendency to suggest that we are faced at every point only with two options, that which God commands, and that which is contrary to his will.  Good and evil are treated as black and white, night and day, sharply and precisely distinguished.  “Hooker, on the other hand, is firmly committed to the notion that, in certain spheres of human activity, one deals not with judgments of absolute right and wrong, but with degrees of wrongdoing, and the need to take account of the balance of probability” (173).  Moreover, he recognizes that such are the constraints of circumstances that in politics particularly we are often faced only with the possibility of achieving the greater good or the less good, never the fully and unequivocally good.  Accordingly, he emphasizes this shaded character of morality, and the relative rarity of unambiguous good under the sun, throughout his moral theology.  This is one of Joyce’s more helpful observations.

Skipping over several pages more of helpful but largely unremarkable exposition, I would like to close by giving a bit of attention to her discussion of “morality and soteriology,” as this is a point in which Hooker’s Reformed orthodoxy is put most seriously into question by his adversary in A Christian Letter.  Joyce summarizes the concern early in the chapter before returning to it here: “if, according to Hooker, ‘natural light’ is our chief source of instruction regarding the moral life, and if, as Hooker also maintains, ‘the want of moral verities exclude from salvation’ this would suggest that the light of nature ‘teacheth some knowledge naturall which is necessary to salvation, and that the Scripture is a supplement and making perfect of that knowledge’ ” (149).  One can see the dilemma.  If, as Hooker contends, moral virtue, while not the ground of salvation, is a necessary part of salvation, and if, as he also contends, natural reason is a necessary means of knowing natural virtue, then reason, it seems, is necessary to salvation, thus undermining Hooker’s attempt to toe the Protestant line that Scripture alone suffices for salvation.  Of course, Hooker is quite careful in defining the sufficiency of Scripture, and we might make use of his distinctions there to get him out of this quandary.

Joyce, however, uses the opportunity to explore his teaching on the relationship between justification and sanctification, a very helpful exposition.  She notes that he often speaks in terms that quite clearly and strongly distinguish these two, and with them the realms of morality and soteriology proper, quoting passages that Kirby often uses as evidence of Hooker’s Lutheran two realms theology.  However, she also notes Hooker’s doctrine of “correspondence,” whereby he seeks to establish a close correlation between the inward and outward realms, and she argues that this includes a close correlation between justification and sanctification.  Thankfully, Hooker discusses this whole matter quite thoroughly indeed in his Learned Sermon on Justification.  Joyce summarizes:

The paradox expressed within the above passage lies at the heart of the matter: the ‘faith is perfected by good wourkes and yet no worke of ours good without faith’.  While ‘workes’ are unnecessary for justification, which is by Christ alone, they remain essential to sanctification: “Salvation…by Christe is the foundacion of christianitye.  As for works they are a thing subordynate, no otherwise necessary then becawse our sanctification cannot be accomplished without them.” (189)

She then quotes the summary of C.F. Allison,

Christians are justified by the righteousness of Christ whereby they dwell in him and are thus acceptable to God, but this is not on account of any inherent righteousness of their own.  The righteousness of sanctification is that by whereby they dwell in him and are thus acceptable to God, but this is not on account of any inherent righteousness of their own.  The righteousness of sanctification is that whereby we grow in grace by virtue of being in Christ.  It is a grateful response to a gratuitous justification. (190)

All this sounds just about right, and quite in line with other Reformed and Protestant treatments.  So does this mean that the objection of the Christian Letter is answered, and its claim to speak for Reformed orthodoxy rejected?  Well, it would seem so, but oddly, Joyce never says so.  Having raised the question of Hooker’s Protestant orthodoxy, and summarized his teaching on the matter, she then just hastily moves on to the next section without offering a verdict or conclusion.  This looks mighty suspicious when coupled with her eagerness elsewhere to seize on points of possible divergence between Hooker and his Reformed predecessors.

The next section is “The Moral Law and Change,” and I will omit any consideration of it here, because of its uncontroversiality, summarizing as it does the various ways in which Hooker shows the application of the moral law to be variable by circumstance, even as its first principles and final end remain unchanged.

The next post shall be my final one (except for possibly a summary roundup), looking at Joyce’s brief chapters 7 and 8 together.  Here, she moves from the level of principles to that of concrete practice, seeking to discern how Hooker applied his approach to moral reasoning in practical pastoral circumstances.  Chapter 8, in particular, seeks to draw together the themes of the previous chapters by looking at how they apply to the particular issue of marriage.  The resulting sketch betrays some of the flaws in Joyce’s understanding of Hooker and will warrant some close attention.

2 thoughts on “Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology Review, Pt. 5: Hooker and the Moral Life

  1. The distinction in your third paragraph between "nature’s law" and "the law of reason" is interesting; was just reading d’Entreves’ "Natural Law" and he notes a similar distinction between natural law and ius gentium in the first definition of Justinian’s Digest, from the jurist Ulpian (http://archive.org/stream/digestofjustinia025178mbp#page/n37/mode/2up): "Natural law is that which all animals have been taught by nature ; this law is not peculiar to the human species, it is common to all animals which are produced on land or sea, and to fowls of the air as well. From it comes the union of man and woman called by us matrimony, and therewith the procreation and rearing of children ; we find in fact that animals in general, the very wild beasts, are marked by acquaint- ance with tfyis law. 4 Jus gentium is the law used by the various tribes of mankind, and there is no difficulty in seeing that it falls short of natural law, as the latter is, common to all animated beings, whereas the former is only common to human beings in respect of their mutual relations."

    Other definitions in the Digest have a different breakdown, however; e.g. Gaius, who divides between civil law (ius civile) and the law of nations, which is dictated by natural reason.

    Like

    • Brad Littlejohn

      Thanks Eric. Does D’Entreves note that in the context of discussing Hooker’s terminology? If so, it’s an interesting antecedent, but certainly not a perfect match. For one, Hooker wouldn’t speak of the law of reason as "falling short" of natural law, but if anything, as higher than it, as man is higher than other creatures. For another, the law of reason encompasses is not restricted to the uniquely rational faculties, as opposed to the vegetative and appetitive—the law of reason is that by which man rationally reflects on and exercises all of his faculties, and hence governs matters like marriage and procreation as well. And third, Hooker does discuss the ius gentium, but as a subdivision of human law, toward the end of LEP I.10.

      Like

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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