Always Social, Always Public: Herman Bavinck on Religion

I will shortly be posting my own thoughts again, rather than big quotes of other people’s thoughts, but here’s a gem from Bavinck’s discussion of the church in Reformed Dogmatics IV:

We are by nature social beings, ‘political animals’; we are born out of, in, and for community and cannot for a moment exist apart from it.  The family, society, the state, associations of various kinds, and for various purposes, bind people together and cause us to live and act in concert with one another.  Even stronger than all these institutions and corporations, however, is the bond that unites people in religion.  There exists in religion a powerful social element.  The reason for this is not hard to find: religion is more deeply rooted in the human heart than anything else.  It is the immediate result of our being created in God’s image and therefore radically integral to our nature.  In religion, we regulate our relationship to God, the relationship that is central and foundational.  Our relationship to our fellow humans and to all other creatures is the outflow of our relationship to God.  Foundational to all issues is that of religion.  Those who agree with us in religion agree with us in our most basic, most sacred, and all-controlling convictions and sooner or later arrive at the same insights also in secondary matters.  But differences in religious convictions, upon serious reflection, produce ever greater divergence between people also in all subordinate matters.  That which unites people in religion is stronger than material interests, natural love, or enthusiasm for science and art.  People are prepared to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for religion.  For if they lose it, they lose their own selves, their own identities.  In religion, as everyone believes, a person’s very soul and salvation is at stake.  For that reason, too, every religion seeks to propagate itself and engates in mission.  Religion is never merely a private matter, a subjective opinion, a matter of taste; it always implies the claim to being the true and saving religions and therefore seeks acceptance by others and expansion, if possible, throughout the human race.  It is never a matter of the individual alone but always also a matter for the immediate and extended family, the people, and the state as a whole.  Accordingly, it always produces a common dogma and a common form of worship, sustained as it were by the consciousness that not the individual but humanity as a whole is the completed image of God, his temple and body.

Vermigli on the Natural Duty of Magistrates to Promote Religion

From his Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

It is also shown here that the magistrate’s main duty (for when Aristotle mentions the political faculty, he is speaking of him) is to produce good citizens.  It is doubtless important for him to enrich his subjects, to extend the limits of empire, and to fortify the city with defenses and ramparts; but the magistrate’s main job is to produce good citizens.  Those who hold the reins of government should think nothing that contributes to this irrelevant to their duty.  They will not, as some do, regard the pure and chaste observation of religion as beyond their purview.  This being so, the best view is that a very close connection between the magistrate and the ministers of the church is beneficial for states. (Peter Martyr Library Edition, p. 227)

We should now add to this that it ought to be a magistrate’s concern that his people behave virtuously and that their prime virtue be piety.  So it will be a good magistrate’s responsibility to do everything possible to see that pure and sincere religion prevails in his territory.  Those who do not do this do not keep the true way of governing a state.  It is easy to understand how the application of virtue follows from a design to make the citizens good, since the virtues are the causes of goodness. . . .

We see here very clearly which virtues are excluded from this consideration, namely, those of the body.  These are commonly said to be four in number—health, shape, clarity of the senses, and strength. . . . Only those located in the soul are to be treated. . . .

Since the soul is the subject of the virtues, he must find out some things about it before discussing its accidents.  Aristotle confirms this procedure with a comparison: a doctor acts in exactly the same way, for he studies the nature of the body and the ey before turning his hand to cure them. . . . For medical science is considered far inferior to political science; if therefore the doctor is not ignorant of the limbs he is about to treat and heal, it will be much more important for the politician to learn about the soul in which the virtues are located.  This comparison between doctor and politician is quite apposite and appropriate.  For just as the former heals the body, the latter seeks to care for the soul with good customs.  It is almost as if we were saying that the two principal parts of man are to be governed and restored by a twofold faculty: the soul is entrusted to the statesman and the body to the doctor.  Before everything, the doctor wants to know what is proper to each part of the body in its own particular nature, then he observes what thing contrary to its nature is brought on by disease; once he has understood this, he looks for remedies that will bring those parts of the body back to the proper state of their nature. (pp. 266-67)

It is striking in particular how in this latter passage, by appearing to say that the politician’s task is chiefly concerned with the good of the soul, rather than with the body, Vermigli almost perfectly inverts the consensus of modern liberal politics (in both its right-wing and left-wing forms).

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). Read More

Notes Towards a Doctrine of Christian Liberty: Liberty and Human Law

Richard Hooker, Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, Book V, ch. 71, sect. 3:

It is not they [the Puritans] saie in the power of the Church to commande rest because God hath left it to all men at libertie that if they thinke good to bestow six whole daies in labor they may, neither is it more lawfull for the Church to abridg anie man of that libertie which God hath graunted, then to take awaie the yoke which God hath laid upon them and to countermande what he doth expreslie injoigne.  But without some expresse commaundement from God there is no power they saie under heaven which may presume by any decree to restraine the libertie that God hath given.  Which opinion, albeit applied here no farther then to this present cause, shaketh universallie the fabrick of government, tendeth to anarchie and meere confusion, dissolveth families, dissipateth colleges, corporations, armies, overthroweth kingdomes Churches and whatsoever is now through the providence of God by authoritie and power upheld.  For whereas God hath foreprised thinges of the greatest waight, and hath therein precisely defined as well that which every man must perform, as that which no man maie attempt, leaving all sortes of men in the rest either to be guided by their owne good discretion if they be free from subjection to others, or els to be ordered by such commaundementes and lawes as proceed from those superiors under whome they live, the patrons of libertie have heere made sollemne proclamation that all such lawes and commandementes are voide, in as much as everie man is left to the freedom of his owne minde in such thinges as are not either exacted or prohibited by the law of God, and because onlie in these thinges the positive preceptes of men have place, which preceptes cannot possiblie be given without some abridgment of theire libertie to whome they are given, therefore if the father commaund the sonne, or the husband the wife, or the Lord the servant, or the Leader the souldier, or the Prince the subject to goe or stand, sleepe or wake at such times as God him selfe in particular commaundeth neither, they are to stande in defense of the freedom which God hath graunted and to doe as them selves list, knowing that men maie as lawfullie comaunde them thinges utterly forbidden by the law of God, as tye them to any thinge which the law of God leaveth free.  The plaine contradictorie whereunto is unfalliblie certaine.  Those thinges which the Law of God leaveth arbitrarie and at libertie are all subject unto positive lawes of men, which lawes for the common benefit abridg particular mens libertie in such thinges as farre as the rules of equitie will suffer.  This wee must either maineteine or els overturne the world and make everie man his own commander.



Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology Review, Pt. 4: The Authority of Scripture

The fifth chapter of A.J. Joyce’s book, “Hooker on the Nature and Authority of Scripture,” covers some of the most important ground when it comes to the theology of Richard Hooker.  Indeed, perhaps it covers the most important ground, given that the role of Scripture in moral and political life was at the heart of his debate with the Puritans.  It is here, then, that we especially feel the lack of a thorough introduction to Hooker’s Puritan interlocutors; despite the stress she laid in ch. 3 on the importance of understanding Hooker’s polemical context, we have been given only the most cursory overview of how his opponents argued, and are thus in a poor position to judge if and when he polemically exaggerates their position, and what motivates his own statements on Scripture.  (See here for my exposition of Cartwright and Travers’s biblicism which Hooker was opposing.)

As in the previous review, the focus here shall unfortunately be primarily on the weak points and ambiguities within this chapter, rather than on its many strengths.  Joyce’s approach in this chapter is a bit more scattered than the fairly systematic presentation she offered in ch. 4, but she does offer helpful summaries of Hooker’s defense of the concept of “things indifferent,” his teaching on the sufficiency of Scripture unto salvation, and the importance of reason as a supplement unto Scripture (or Scripture as a supplement unto reason) when it comes to things accessory to salvation (all points on which I have blogged here before). Read More