Announcing “The Bible: Culture, Community, and Society”

I am pleased to be able to bring to your attention the publication of a new book by T&T Clark, entitled The Bible: Culture, Community, and Society.  Edited by Angus Paddison and Neil Messer, the volume offers perspectives from leading contemporary theologians on the how to understand Scriptural authority in modernity—in relation to community, to science, and to politics.  Contributors include such distinguished theologians as David Fergusson, Ellen Davis, Ben Quash, Gavin D’Costa, Andrew Bradstock, and last and almost certainly least, myself.

This is, I confess, a rather striking example of the problems of modern academic publishing. My paper that appears here, “Sola Scriptura and the Public Square: Richard Hooker and a Protestant Paradigm for Political Engagement,” was written nearly two years ago, and comprised a sort of condensed prospectus of what I hoped to accomplish in my Ph.D research, on which I had just set out.  As such, it seems amusingly naïve and over simplistic now, largely on-track in substance, to be sure, but lacking a good deal in precision.  Nonetheless, I’d be an idiot not to tell you that you ought to buy the book (or at least encourage your librarian to buy it)—even if not for my contribution, then certainly for the other fine thoughts on offer here (particularly Andrew Bradstock’s essay, “The Bible and Public Theology”), and for the lovely cover image.


Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology Review, Pt. 6: Moral Theology Applied

In this sixth and final installment of my review of A.J. Joyce’s Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology (I salute you faithful few who have followed me all the way through this hopefully engaging but occasionally exhausting exercise), I shall look at her last two chapters, which are both quite brief and have to do, essentially, with the concrete application of Hooker’s moral theology.  Chapter Seven considers the relationship of the “exceptional case” to moral norms, the all-important balance between unchanging general norms and the demands of particular circumstances.  Chapter Eight seeks to bring together, or rather to illustrate, the themes outlined in all the previous chapters by consideration of one particular example, the understanding of marriage in Hooker’s thought.

Both are on the whole helpful chapters, though the first suffers from a frustrating vagueness as to which moral norms are exceptionable and which are not, and the difference between particular injunctions that specify general principles and those that contradict them; the second, perhaps more seriously, suffers from Joyce’s very un-Hookerian determination to try and drive a wedge between reason and Scripture.

Chapter 7 begins with an extended consideration of the Aristotelian ethical tradition, and its understanding that it was the nature of the moral life to be concerned with particulars, and general principles cannot adequately describe moral duties without exception: “for Arristotle, whatever is promulgated by the moral philosopher, political scientist, or lawgiver will only ever take into consideration the majority of cases.  It takes a wise man, whose perception has been developed through experience, to discern what it is that constitutes right action in a concrete situation.” (197-98) Read More


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