Love, Law, and Christian Liberty

A couple of weeks ago, I tracked down a remarkable document which has been almost entirely overlooked by scholars, a set of “Propositions or articles framed for the use of the Dutch Church in London” on the subject of Christian liberty and related doctrines.  These articles were occasioned by a dispute over the use of godparents in baptism in the Dutch Strangers’ Churches in London, which raised fundamental questions about Christian liberty, adiaphora, and ecclesiastical authority and led ultimately to a schism.  The Dutch ministers therefore drew up a set of articles, attempting to express the magisterial Reformed understanding of these doctrines, and submitted it to the review of the leaders of Reformed churches in Heidelberg, Bern, Lausanne, Zurich, and Geneva.  After incorporating many of the suggested revisions, which were primarily of a stylistic, not a substantive nature, the resulting document was published under the auspices of Edmund Grindal, the Bishop of London with jurisdiction over the Strangers’ Churches.  It thus can lay claim to comprising a kind of pan-Protestant, or at least pan-Reformed, consensus statement on these issues, and encapsulates teachings that we find in Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Vermigli, Bullinger, and others.  

The key points of the Dutch articles may be summarized as follows:

 1. That Christian liberty is spiritual, which means, among other things, that it consists in a free submission to  constraint, not a freedom from all constraint.  This constraint may be that of divine law, which the Christian must follow, though as a result of rather than a means to justification, or, may be imposed by men, in things left indifferent by divine law.

(Art. I: “CHRISTIAN liberty is not a wandering and unruly licence, by which we may do or leave undone whatsoever we list at our pleasure; but it is a free gift bestowed upon us by Christ our Lord; by the which, the children of God (that is, all the faithful), being delivered from the curse of the law, or eternal death, and from the heavy yoke of the ceremonial law, and being endowed with the Holy Ghost, begin willingly of their own accord to serve God in holiness and righteousness.”

Art. IV: “Conscience is the feeling of God’s judgment, whether that a man be assured out of the word of God of that judgment, or that he make it to himself rashly or superstitiously. But whereas it is the duty of Christians to observe the commandments of their Lord, that indeed is properly called a right and good conscience, which is governed by the word of God. Whereby it cometh to pass, that every faithful man by that revealed word doth examine and weigh with himself, both what he doth, and also what he letteth undone, that he may judge of them both, which is just, and which is unjust.”)

2. Things indifferent are not void of moral content, therefore, but take that content from variable circumstances, and by virtue of those circumstances, exert a moral claim on us.

(Art. V: “Indifferent things are called those, which by themselves, being simply considered in their own nature, are neither good nor bad, as meat and drink, and such like; in the which therefore, it is said, that the kingdom of God consisteth not; and that therefore a man may use them well or evil: wherefore it followeth, that they are marvellously deceived, which suppose they are called indifferent, as though without any exception we may omit them, or use them as often as we list, without any sin.”)

3. There are two main ways in which this claim comes about—(a) the law of charity, by which we are bound to use adiaphora to the edification of our neighbor, and (b) human law, by which we are bound to use adiaphora in accord with the commands of civil or ecclesiastical authority.

(Art. II: “Therefore, sith that he which is the Son of God is ruled by the Spirit of God, and that the same Spirit commandeth us, we should obey all ordinances of man (that is, all politic order, whereof the magistrate is the guardian), and all superiors, which watch for the health of our souls; yea, and that according to our vocation we should diligently procure the safeguard of our neighbour; it followeth, that that man abuseth the benefit of Christian liberty, or rather, is yet sold under sin, who doth not willingly obey either his magistrate or superior in the Lord, or doth not endeavour to edify the conscience of his brother.”

Art. VIII: “Generally, the use of these indifferent things is restrained by the law of charity, which is universal.”

Art. IX: “Specially, the use of these things is forbidden by ecclesiastical or civil decree.”)

4. By virtue of both of these, what is in itself free for the conscience becomes per accidens conscience-binding as an indirect command of God, since he commands us to love our neighbor and to obey the magistrate.

(Art. VI: “Things otherwise indifferent of themselves, after a sort change their nature, when by some commandment they are either commanded or forbidden. Because, neither they can be omitted contrary to the commandment, if they are once commanded, neither omitted contrary to prohibition, if they be prohibited; as appeareth in the ceremonial law.”

Art. IX: “For although that only God doth properly bind the conscience of man, yet in respect, that either the magistrate, who is God’s Minister, doth think it profitable for the commonwealth, that something, otherwise of itself lawful, be not done, or that the Church, having regard to order, comeliness, and also edifying, do make some laws concerning indifferent things, those laws are altogether to be observed of the godly, and do so far forth bind the conscience, that no man wittingly and willingly, with a stubborn mind, may, without sin, either do those things which are forbidden, or omit those things which are commanded.”)

5. However, to prevent tyranny, human authorities may not make laws in adiaphora arbitrarily, but only for purposes of edification, civil order, or ecclesiastical order.

(Art. XI: “They, which for any other cause either command or forbid at their pleasure the free use of indifferent things, than for one of these three, that is, neither for edifying, nor for policy, nor ecclesiastical order; and especially those which do rashly judge other men’s consciences in these matters; offend heinously against God and against their neighbor.“)

6. Conversely, because the conscience is bound only insofar as these purposes are at stake, the Christian remains at liberty if the circumstances giving rise to a law no longer pertain, and it can be disregarded without causing offence.

(Art. X: “And sith these things are not ordained simply for themselves, but in respect of certain circumstances, not as though the things themselves were of their own nature unlawful things (for it belongeth only to God to determine this) in case those circumstances do cease, and so be that offence be avoided as near as we can, and that there be no stubborn will of resisting; no man is to be reproved of sin, which shall do otherwise than those ordinances: as it is plain, by the example of David, in a case otherwise flatly forbidden, when he ate the shewbread.”)


This, however, is to make things rather neater than they appeared in fact.  For in point of fact, a great deal of tension attached to the connection between the two laws mentioned above in point (3)—the law of charity and the law of authority.  Is the latter merely valid so long as it remains a subset of the former, as points (5) and (6) imply?  Moreover, although the Dutch articles could speak of “either ecclesiastical or civil decree” in adiaphora as essentially parallel, it was far from clear just how these two were to be correlated.  Both   In fact, these two problems are closely related, as shall readily appear.

Luther and Melanchthon, as Bernard Verkamp has noted, were keen to deny to ecclesiastical ceremonies not only a necessity of means (intrinsically necessary to good standing with God) but also a necessity of precept (necessary to good standing with God merely by virtue of being commanded by church authorities).  Accordingly, Melanchthon will not use the rather clericalist language of the Dutch articles, by which we have an direct obligation before God to obey the commands of ministers, just as we do of magistrates.  To be sure, we can be bound outwardly in ecclesiastical adiaphora, but this obligation proceeds only from the principle of charity, from the demands of peace, order, and edification—while the concrete nature of these demands may happen to be determined by the command of authority, the connection is contingent, rather than necessary.  Therefore, in ecclesiastical matters, Melanchthon will endorse the reasoning of point (6) above—that should the demands of authority and the demands of charity cease to overlap, the latter may be dispensed with, so long as peace can be maintained.  Interestingly, however, he will not take this tack when it comes to civil affairs, for it would seem to disrupt the fabric of human society far too much if individuals were allowed to judge for themselves when laws were no longer binding.  Accordingly, to the principle of charity, he adds what we might call the principle of wrath, which he finds in Rom. 13:5—that to disobey civil authority is to disobey God and risk His wrath: “These are clear words, showing that obedience is necessary, that disobedience hurts the conscience, and that God condemns it.”  Indeed, he sees no need to qualify the conscience-binding character of these laws as indirect, but attacks “many dreamers [who] have written that worldly commandments do not bind us to eternal punishment, for man can punish no one eternally!”  At other points, however, he suggests that there are certain civil laws which are only contingently or circumstantially binding, or else that if civil laws can never be safely disobeyed, it is because to do so will always disrupt peace and cause offense. If so, this suggests that in fact, even in civil laws, it is only the principle of charity that necessarily binds us to their observance. 

Nonetheless, Melanchthon did not satisfactorily resolve this ambiguity, and because of his heavy stress on the intrinsically conscience-binding nature of civil laws, maintained a discontinuity of sorts between ecclesiastical and civil laws, which he otherwise treated as essentially the same, as adiaphorous ordinances of the “civil kingdom.”  In this scheme, it remained ambiguous what was to be done with civil authorities made laws regarding ecclesiastical ceremonies, as in the Adiaphora Controvery and the Vestiarian controversies.  The republication of Melanchthon’s scholia on “Whether it be a mortal sin to transgress civil laws” as part of conformist propaganda in the Second Vestiarian Controversy, then, hardly resolved the fundamental question.

 

In his Institutes, John Calvin had tackled the problem more directly and clearly, denying that there was any fundamental difference in the way that ecclesiastical and civil ordinances related to the conscience, but some ambiguity remains.  Both, as Calvin makes clear in Book III, chap. 19, “On Christian Liberty,” are to be understood as matters of the civil kingdom or “external forum,” wholly different from spiritual matters that occupy the “forum of conscience.”  Calvin’s discussion of ecclesiastical laws in IV.10 shows him to be far from VanDrunen and other advocates of the “regulative principle,” who make the “forum of conscience” co-extensive with the institutional church and rule out man-made laws and ceremonies within it.  On the contrary, such ordinances are absolutely necessary, since any human society requires a “form of organization . . . to foster the common peace and maintain concord.”  The particular form, however, is widely variable depending on circumstances, and accordingly our obligation to obey such laws is not necessary, but contingent.  Calvin’s treatment of this issue is close to that given in the Dutch articles, which are almost certainly drawing on the Institutes here.  In their decree regarding meat sacrificed to idols in Acts 15:20, says Calvin, the Apostles do not lay down a new law binding on the conscience before God, but rather “the divine and eternal command of God not to violate love.”  This command is being specified into a particular requirement in present circumstances, and in those circumstances, the Christian is bound to obey; but the circumstances being changed, so that charity no longer concretely demanded these actions, the law could be disobeyed without sin.  

Unlike Melanchthon, Calvin makes the same distinction of contingency and necessity with regard to civil laws, recognizing that Romans 13:5, if read the way Melanchthon and others appeared to, would threaten the principle of Christian liberty in ecclesiastical laws as well, seeing as both shared the nature of human law: “Moreover, the difficulty [of defining conscience] is increased by the fact that Paul enjoins obedience toward the magistrate, not only for fear of punishment, but for conscience’ sake.  From this it follows that consciences are bound by civil laws.  But if this were so, all that we said a little while ago and are now going to say about spiritual government would fall.”  Therefore, the same restrictions must reply to both: “human laws, whether made by magistrate or by church, even though they have to be observed (I speak of good and just laws), still do not of themselves bind the conscience.  For all obligation to observe laws looks to the general purpose, but does not consist in the things enjoined.”  This “general purpose,” however, is not spelled out by reference to the law of love, but by reference to “God’s general command, which commends to us the authority of magistrate,” although like Melanchthon, Calvin would probably equate the two, arguing that love of neighbor requires subjection to the magistrate, who advances the common good.

 

While all parties acknowledged the value of a certain division of labor between ecclesiastical and civil authorities, given that ministers would be best placed to identify what edification and order demanded in matters pertaining to worship and church government, and magistrates better suited to judge in matters pertaining to more strictly civil affairs, the asymmetry we have just seen posed a problem.  For if the demands of charity, edification, and order in these two spheres clashed, the civil magistrate held the trump card: the divine testimony that to disobey the ruler (within his legitimate sphere) was ipso facto to violate the demands of charity.  Accordingly, we find an increasing tendency to suggest that even in adiaphorous matters, ecclesiastical authorities have an autonomous, divinely-given jurisdiction over church ceremonies and polity.  We see this in the second of the Dutch articles, where God’s command to obey “all superiors which watch for the health of our souls” is put on the same par as His command to obey “all politic order, whereof the magistrate is the guardian.”  Later on, in article 23, they state explicitly that “It belongeth only to the Consistory, to be occupied in making new laws of discipline.”  Indeed, in article 20, the Dutch ministers imply a juridical authority for the clergy in their sphere that is equal to and separate from that of magistrates in their sphere: “In the Church of Christ, that is to say, in the house or city of the living God, the Consistory, or fellowship of governors, consisting of the Ministers of the word, and of Seniors lawfully called, sustaineth the person of the universal Church in ecclesiastical government, even as every magistrate in his commonwealth.”   

Such authority for ministers in making church laws, would seem to run flat contrary to the original anti-clerical impetus of the doctrine of Christian liberty, and could only be reconciled to it by emphasizing that this authority was not arbitrary, but closely bounded by Scripture.  Accordingly, we find the articles repeatedly emphasising that in making such constitutions, “judgment [must] be taken out of the word of God, what may or ought to be done, or not done” (Art. 8).  Of course, to emphasise this, as we have already seen, was to call into question their status as adiaphora in the first place.  Moreover, since all adiaphorists had admitted that divine positive law could in principle render a matter that otherwise would be indifferent (for instance, some aspect of church polity) to be in fact necessary, and therefore out of the discretion of the magistrate, it was possible to argue that divine law in fact required such an autonomous, Scripturally-regulated clerical jurisdiction.  In the wake of their failures in the Vestiarian controversy, it was just this that some of the English dissenters would begin to contend.

 

(This post is in lieu of a thorough analysis of and commentary on the articles which I have been planning to post on The Calvinist International, but which I have been prevented from finding time to write.  The above exposition will likely be part of chapter 2 of my thesis.)


O’Donovan, Law, and Scripture Lecture, Pt. 2

(see Part I for context)

Now, let’s turn to consider in detail O’Donovan’s article, “Towards an Interpretation of Biblical Ethics.”  In this essay, O’Donovan seeks to address the question, “Do the commands of the Bible apply to us?”  He does so in two stages.  First, he asks the question of the Old Testament, and looks at the way that the Church has traditionally wrestled with the question of the applicability of Old Testament law.  Then, he turns to consider whether a similar strategy could bear fruit when it comes to the moral content of the New Testament.

As soon as he raises the question, though, O’Donovan calls out attention to a distinction: between “claim” and “authority.”  If I am walking down the street and someone calls out, “Stop where you are and don’t move a muscle,” I have first to decide whether the voice is addressing me, or someone else—this is the question of “claim”—and second, whether the voice is one of someone whom I am obliged to listen to (e.g., a police officer), which is the question of authority.  Of course, even a voice without authority may be one worth listening to if it knows something that I do not—perhaps a passerby has noticed that I am about to step into a sinkhole and is trying to warn me of my peril.  In any case, though, O’Donovan says that when it comes to Scripture, including the Old Testament, the Church has from earliest times insisted that it does speak with authority.  The question, then, is one of claim.  To address whether or not Old Testament law laid claim to us—spoke to us, or merely to ancient Israelites—the Church developed a threefold distinction. 

There were three categories: the moral, which do continue to claim us, for they are in fact universal, claiming all people at all times; the ceremonial, which do not, but served only for Israel until the coming of Christ, to whom they pointed—once Christ came, we must still learn from them theologically, but need not heed them as rules for action; finally, the judicial, which were intended only for the political entity of Israel, so they do not continue to claim us directly, although, inasmuch as our own political circumstances may have some parallels, we should continue to learn from them and occasionally apply them.   

O’Donovan raises two chief objections to this categorization: (1) It is anachronistic, because Israel did not see its commands this way; (2) all the commands were contextually time-bound, including the moral ones.  The first objection, he says, misunderstands the purpose of the distinction, which is to say how we can subsequently analyse the commands, not how they were originally understood.  The second will be addressed in what follows.

Now, O’Donovan does not propose to use this distinction in its classical form, although what he ends up with, after drawing his own distinctions, is something quite similar.   

 

O’Donovan proceeds to show us three different sorts of Old Testament commands that would not continue to claim us: 

  1. Individual commands
  2. Socially-regulative commands
  3. Theologically obsolete commands

Let us look briefly at each of these.

First, he says, some commands are addressed to individuals (e.g., God’s command to Abraham to leave his home); others are addressed universally.   Although it is quite obvious that God’s command to Abraham is addressed only to Abraham (though we may still learn by example), this distinction does run into some objections.

First, some might like to say that all Biblical commands, because all divine commands, because all morality, should be understood to be particular, not universal.  This is the contention of Karl Barth: God addresses each one of us in a unique, immediate summons, and we cannot tell in advance what form this summons will take.  To this, O’Donovan offers the rather commonsensical response that even Barth himself cannot resist talking of summaries that can capture what God summons every individual to (e.g., the Ten Commandments, with universal commands such as the prohibition of murder).  Second, we might ask whether some of God’s commands to Israel were intended, not in as particular a sense as Barth has in mind, but for Israel as a people, a political unit.  This leads us to O’Donovan’s second category—socially-regulative commands.

We have a basis within Scripture itself for the relativization of this category, says O’Donovan: Jesus’s response to the Deuteronomic divorce-law.  

Why can Jesus take this cavalier stance toward Moses?  We might say, “Because the original command was context-dependent.”  But of course, all past commands are context-dependent in some sense, and that does not make them irrelevant.  Context can either tell us that the command did not in fact mean what we might take it to mean, or it might tell us the purpose for which the command or permission was given.  For instance, my son might protest, “But Mommy told me last week that I could watch movies in the afternoon for up to two hours,”to which I could respond, “That was only because you were sick, and she knew you didn’t feel up to anything else.  Now you need to go play outside.”

Jesus approaches the Deuteronomic divorce-law like this.  A complete prohibition of divorce, while ideal, would not have been practically achievable for Israelite society as a whole, so Moses compromised.  This sort of compromise is intrinsic to politics.  

Clearly, then, there are many Old Testament laws of this sort—laws by which God’s people are directed toward the good, but which get only partway there, and do not fully describe the good.  This does not mean they are useless for us; indeed, the Christian legislator, confronted with the same imperfection in society, may want to imitate some of these compromises, as for instance Britain did eventually do on the subject of divorce.

Finally, there are Old Testament commands such as the duty of circumcision, which the Apostle Paul makes clear are no longer binding on the Christian.  How can this be?  He does not see it as a merely particular command addressed to Abraham.  Nor does he argue that it was dependent on Israel’s identity as a political society, and not applicable after the exile.  He argues on theological grounds that the purpose of this command, and many others like it, has been fulfilled in Christ and thus they are superseded.  The early Church, however, only felt at liberty to make this sort of argument for commands of an essentially ritual nature, concerned with the liturgical and purity codes of the Old Testament.

 

So, what about the New Testament?

Many theologians have not wanted to speak of moral law in connection with the New Testament at all.  Jesus, we are told, offers gospel—good news—a proclamation of God’s embrace of sinners.  He does not come to condemn us by telling us more things that we are meant to do, and which we will surely fail to do sufficiently.  Thus, theologians have wanted to try and translate these imperative statements into descriptive statements—from, “This is what you should do” to “This is the sort of behavior that characterizes my disciples.”  Now, while there is something to this, in that Jesus obviously intends us to extrapolate from some of his specific commands to a more general way of life that we are to follow, we cannot get around the fact that this is a way of life that he is calling for us to follow.  He does not merely describe it as some interesting hypothetical—“wouldn’t it be interesting if people lived like this?”—but is summoning us to make this way of life our own.  So, the New Testament does contain authoritative moral commands.  We are then back to the question of claim: to what extent can we take these commands to be addressed to us?  We cannot, certainly, claim that they are theologically obsolete, like the ceremonial law of the Old Testament; for that was brought to fulfilment by Christ, and there has been no new Christ.  We must then argue that these commands were somehow particular, not universal.  

It is here that O’Donovan turns to face the biggest criticism brought against the concept of Biblical ethics: the problem of historical distance—how can we take seriously for today commands given two thousand years ago?  

To this, O’Donovan says, “We are perfectly entitled to say, if we wish, that a New Testament norm does not claim us, but we are bound to do more than appeal to the lapse of time to prove our case: we must show how circumstances have changed to make the New Testament norm inapplicable to our own situation.”

Now, very often, there will be very significant changes in circumstance.  For instance, many will argue that Jesus’s prohibition of divorce was given in a society where divorce meant that a woman was left entirely on her own resources, liable to fall into poverty and be exploited.  Nowadays, structures are in place to ensure, usually, that this is not the case.  That being so, might we not say that the command no longer applies?  It is as if my son were to say that he can’t walk in the kitchen, because his Mommy told him not to yesterday.  I might point out to him that she only said that because she had just mopped the floor and didn’t want him to walk on it while it was wet; as it is no longer wet, he may walk.  Does this mean that many or most New Testament commands will not apply to us?   The question, O’Donovan thinks, is too simplistic.  Inasmuch as the relevant circumstances have in fact changed, the commands have changed.  However, the fundamental human condition has not changed in two thousand years.  A great many of our experiences, our temptations, our needs, remain basically the same as ever they were before, and to this extent, when the Bible says “do not become angry with your brother” or “do not lust after a woman in your heart” as we saw in last week’s readings, it speaks timelessly.  Even when conditions have changed, though, the command is not thereby devoid of moral content.  Perhaps the kitchen floor is now dry, but the bathroom has just been mopped today.  My son now knows that he is free to walk in the kitchen, but he may extrapolate from yesterday’s command to conclude that he ought now to avoid walking in the bathroom.  We must, says O’Donovan, first exegete the command—determine its original meaning and purpose—and then “re-specify” it to fit a new context.  

Finally, O’Donovan briefly considers the possibility of “socially-regulative” New Testament commands, like the Old Testament judicial law: commands given by church authorities to regulate the life of the community, but not necessarily intended to directly convey enduring moral principle.  There do appear to be some examples, and here the principle of application will be the same—a modern church leader is not bound to follow them, but he should give them serious respect and attention, and inasmuch as circumstances have not changed, he should consider making use of the original law.

 

What then have we learned?  O’Donovan has tried to pick apart the common claim: “A text thousands of years old cannot be a moral authority for us now, but only for its own particular time and place.”  He has sought to draw our attention to the careful distinctions whereby we can discern which aspects of Scriptural moral teaching are universal, and which are particular, and how even those that are particular are not without any instructive value or enduring relevance.  Commands addressed to particular individuals of course lay their claim only on those individuals.  Commands addressed to humans as a whole will often continue to lay their claim on the human race inasmuch as the fundamental human condition has not changed, although changes in society, culture, and technology may render them inapplicable (though not thereby un-instructive).  Perhaps most liable to change will be those commands intended for the people of God as a social or political unit, since the changing circumstances of time and place render many of these only distantly applicable.  Moreover, in these commands, we should be alive to the possibility that something less than a full moral ideal is being given. 

 

Having learned all this, then, what might someone committed to the moral authority of Scripture say about the examples at the beginning?   

Specific Old Testament laws against homosexuality do not bind, to be sure.  Even in the New Testament, though, homosexual conduct appears to be condemned.  Perhaps we could argue, however, that this was due to particular forms in which homosexuality appeared in the ancient world.  If so, then inasmuch as circumstances have changed, perhaps the prohibition no longer applies.  We would have to look carefully at the Scriptural texts to discover how particular, and how universal, the rationale was.  Finally, mindful that public legislation does not necessarily aim at perfect morality, but at what is reasonably achievable, we might say that even given a Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, no Christian legislator should try to apply this at a societal level.

Likewise, specific Old Testament laws about debt release do not continue to bind.  Perhaps we would view them as specifically cultic in purpose, and hence entirely obsolete after Christ.  Or else, we would view them as specimens of judicial law, intended to help provide justice in the Israelite polity, but not binding on other polities.  However, inasmuch as the command is predicated on the universal concern that the poor not be exploited because God demands mercy, we might well ask how this command continued to lay its claim on us today.  We must “re-specify” in our own circumstances and look for creative opportunities to end the cycle of debt-slavery and landlessness that afflicts so many in developing countries today. 


“Even Your Own Deed Also”: Law and Corporate Moral Agency

How can we be free even in the midst of obedience to laws with which we do not agree?  In a recent post, I expored the conundrum of law and liberty in the Reformation, and how we might be free even in submission to law when we recognize that obeying the law is a means of loving the neighbor.  Hooker, in seeking to persuade Puritan consciences that the laws of the English church were edifying, rational, and had in their favor the approval of centuries of church practice, and of the wisest among the Church of his own day, seems to be smoothing the way for such a free and voluntary law-obedience:

“Surely if we have unto those laws that dutifull regard which their dignitie doth require: it will not greatly need, that we should be exhorted to live in obedience unto them . . . . The safest and unto God the most acceptable way of framing our lives therefore is, with all humilitie lowlines and singlens of hart to studie, which way our willing obedience both unto God and man may be yeelded even to the utmost of that which is due” (III.9.3). 

Nonetheless, what about when we don’t think the laws in question are edifying and rational?  What about when we, and others, heartily disagree with the decisions taken by those in authority?  Given the breadth and depth of the Puritan protest, it seems a bit audacious for Hooker to declare, “To them which aske why we thus hange our judgmentes on the Churches sleeve, I answer with Salomon, because two are better then one. . . . The bare consent of the whole Church should it selfe in these thinges stop theire mouthes who livinge under it dare presume to barke against it.”  After all, the “consent of the whole church” was precisely what was lacking, and had been for decades, as Puritans in the churches, among the gentry, and even in Parliament continued to oppose the judgments enshrined in law.  Indeed, not just some few, but “thousands, yea and even of those amongst which divers are in publique chuarge and authoritie,” as Hooker would quote Cartwright in his Preface.

To this Hooker responds, in a crucially revealing sentence, “As though when publique consent of the whole hath established any thing, every mans judgement being thereunto compared, were not private, howsoever his calling be to some kind of public charge.”  The distinction drawn here is one key to Hooker’s political thought, as well as that of many of his contemporaries, between singulis and universis, citizens considered individually and considered as “the whole.”  Neither the number nor the status of dissenting voices counts against the “consent of the whole” inasmuch as this has been enshrined in law.  


More, then, than merely an appeal to corporate rationality, to the wisdom found in tradition, underlies Hooker’s argument for submission.  Indeed, immediately after his remark in I.10 that laws must be made by wise men, he cautions, “Howbeit laws do not take their constraining force from the qualitie of such as devise them, but from that power which doth geve them the strength of lawes” (I.10.8).  This power is sovereignty, the moral agency exercised by a collective through its authorized representatives, as he discusses at length in Book VIII.  To be sure, laws thus made can be overturned, but only by the same exercise of corporate agency that created them, not by the dissent of individual members, no matter how numerous.  “Lawes that have bene approved may be (no man doubteth) again repealed, and to that end also disputed against, by the athors therof themselves.  But this is when the whole doth deliberate whtat lawes each part shal observe, and not when a part refuseth the lawes which the whole hath orderly agreed upon.”  For Hooker, to speak of our “consent” to these laws is no mere metaphor, but an expression of the fact that we really do act not merely through our private wills, but through others: 

 As in parliaments, councels, and the like assemblies, although we be not personallie our selves present, notwithstanding our assent is by reason of others agents there in our behalfe.  And what we do by others, no reason but that it should stand as our deed, no lesse effectually to binde us then if our selves had done it in person.” 

As members of a body politic, our agency simply is constituted by our participation in this public action, and it is meaningless to pretend that we can exempt ourselves:

“[It is] unmeet that laws which being once solemnly established, are to exact obedience of all men, and to constraine therunto, should so far stoup as to hold themselves in suspense from taking any effect upon you, till some disputer can perswade you to be obedient.  A lawe is the deed of the whole body politike, whereof if ye judge your selves to be any part, then is the law even your deed also.” 

This statement, though it comes at the beginning of the Lawes, could be considered the capstone of Hooker’s argument.  Here we have the logic of God’s own action—a law to himself, completely free although bound to observe his eternal law, because this law is the most perfect expression of himself, and of rationality—mirrored in the logic of the human agent: we remain free even in being bound by law, because this law is our own rational action.  This is Hooker’s final argument—if all else fails, if the Puritan conscience refuses to see the edifying value of the laws, refuses to see their basis in the law of reason, refuses to defer to the judgment and wisdom of antiquity, persists in stubborn conviction that these laws are badly-made, his obedience is still, Hooker maintains, congruent with Christian liberty because he is simply obeying himself.  

 

Of course, we will have some concerns about this line of argument.  To what extremity could this go?  Perhaps the particular laws that Hooker defends really were fairly reasonable, but could the same logic be applied to underwrite meek acquiescence to true tyranny and injustice?  Hooker does not wish to leave things quite this stark.  Certainly, this trump card is not one that he wants to play lightly: “Neither wish wee that men should do any thing which in their hearts they are perswaded they ought not to do,” he says in 6.3 of the Preface, and again, in 6.6, “Not that I judge it a thing allowable for men to observe those lawes which in their hearts they are stedfastly perswaded to be against the law of God.”  But he does not think that the present case is one in which this “Here I stand, I can do no other” can be legitimately invoked: “your perswasion in this case ye are all bound for the time to suspend, and in otherwise doing, ye offend against God by troubling his Church without any just or necessary cause.  Be it that there are some reasons inducing you to think hardly of our lawes.  Are those reasons demonstrative, are they necessary, or but probabilities only?”

A demonstrative argument, Hooker grants, “dischargeth . . the conscience, and setteth it at full libertie.”  But where is this demonstrative argument?  “But if the skilfullest amongst you can shewe that all the bookes ye have hitherto written be able to afford any one argument of this nature, let the instance be given” (Pref. 6.6).  In the absence of an utterly compelling reason to disobey the laws, the Puritans must be willing to suspend the judgments of their conscience for charity’s sake, for, whatever their concerns about the harm to be done by bad laws, they must surely recognize the greater harm that will be done by contentiousness and disobedience: “of peace and quietnes there is not any way possible, unlesse the probable voice of every intier societie or bodie politique overrule all private of like nature in the same bodie.”  

Hooker’s first route of reconciling law and liberty has been to show that the particular laws in question are such as to advance the common good, so that to support them and obey them is in fact to love the neighbor.  Failing this, however, he will advise the Puritans that disobedience, founded merely on probable private opinion, cannot but harm the commonwealth, so that neighbor-love requires suspension of judgment, since there will be “no end of contention without submission of both parts unto some definitive sentence.”


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

This too, however, manifests a crucial misunderstanding:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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



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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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