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. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

The Revelation of Divine Law (Hooker’s Doctrine of Law, Pt. 4)

So now we come to what has traditionally been one of the thorniest problems of theology–what is divine law, and how does it relate to natural law (or what Hooker calls “the law of reason”)?  Put in other terms, this is the question of the relationship between special revelation and natural revelation, or, even more broadly put, between grace and nature.  Any proper Christian doctrine of these two has to orient itself between two sets of two poles.  First, supernatural truth must be neither a separable tack-on to the natural, but nor must it be such an integral part of the natural, that it is merely subsumed into it as a natural component; nature must not be so complete in itself that it doesn’t need grace, nor so incomplete without grace that grace is simply a part of it.  Second, supernatural truth must not be a complete replacement for natural truth, but neither can it be a mere republication; special revelation must not render natural revelation superfluous, nor must natural revelation render special revelation superfluous.  Therefore, the supernatural must be intrinsically related to, yet independent of; continuous with, and yet transcendent of the natural.  Hooker’s challenge in chapters 11-14 of Book I is to successfully navigate this minefield in his doctrine of divine law.  

First then, he must show that man has a natural desire for a supernatural end (the language here is that of nouvelle theologie Catholicism, which has made debates on these issues the daily fare of theologians and ethicists in all traditions for the past few decades), that nature was not so whole in itself that grace is merely tacked on like icing on a pound cake.  For natural law and divine law particularly–the realm of ethics–this will have the effect of showing that natural law does not rule some autonomous sphere of creation, in which divine law, confined to the sphere of redemption plays no necessary part.  So Hooker begins at the very foundation.

The desire for an infinite good–for the divine–is necessary and primordial.  Lest there be an infinite regress of goods that we do for the sake of other goods, there must be something which is desired merely for its own sake; for this, we have an infinite desire, and it must therefore be an infinite good.  God is the only infinite good, and thus the final end of our desire.  “Then are we happie therfore when fully we injoy God, as an object wherein the powers of our soules are satisfied even with everlasting delight: so that although we be men, yet by being unto God united we live as it were the life of God” (I.11.2)  Since this desire is shared by all men, and is thus natural, it must not therefore be impossible to obtain, since “It is an axiome of nature that naturall desire cannot utterly be frustrate.”  Thus “man doth seeke a triple perfection, first, a sensuall, consisting in those things which very life it selfe requireth as necessary supplementes, or as beauties and ornaments therof; then an intellectuall, consisting in those things which none underneth man is either capable of or acquaineted with; lastly a spiritual and divine, consisting in those things wherunto we tend by supernatural meanes here, but cannot here attain unto them” (I.11.4).  The supernatural end, while naturally desired, cannot be naturally attained on our own, but must be given as a divine reward–this reward, though, appears to follow of necessity from justice.  “In the natural path of everlasting life the first beginning is that hability of doing good, which God in the day of man’s creation indued him with; from hence obedience unto the wil of his creator, absolute righteousness and integrity in all his actions; and last of al the justice of God rewarding the worthines of his deserts with the crowne of eternall glory.  Had Adam continued in his first estate, this had beene the way of life unto him and all his posteritie” (I.11.5)  We’ve thus established the “naturalness” of the supernatural, but is it still supernatural–how does it remain free, independent, surprising, gratuitous, rather than being merely part of the nature of things?  Hooker draws several distinctions along the way to do justice to this pole.

First, although we naturally desire to cleave unto God, the power to do so in perfect perpetuity is not ours by nature (even in the state of innocence), but a free gift of God.  It “doth neither depend upon the nature of the thing it selfe, nor proceede from any natural necessitie, that our souls should so exercise them selves for ever in beholding and loving God, but from the will of God, which doth both freely perfect our nature in so high a degree and continue it so perfected” (I.11.3).  

Second, he makes an important distinction about the “justice” with which God would have rewarded Adam under the original covenant: this would not have been owed as a matter of strict justice, inasmuch as the infinite good of communion with God could not be reached by any natural effort.  Instead, it was given “by the rule of that justice which best beseemeth him, namelie the justice of one that requiteth no thing mincingly, but all with pressed and heaped and even over-inlarged measure; yet coulde it never hereupon necessarily be gathered that such justice shoulde adde to the nature of that reward the propertie of everlasting continuance; sith possession of blisse, though it should be but for a moment, were an aboundant retribution” (I.11.5).

Finally, once man has lost original righteousness, nature is of course wholly inadequate, and it is only by an unforeseen and unforeseeable invasion of grace from outside nature that man can be saved.  That which pertains to this redemption is such that natural man not only could not have accomplished (which goes without saying), but such that he could not have conceived.  Under this heading are the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which are not merely the restoration of natural faculties but something altogether new.  “Lawes therefore concerning these things are supernaturall, both in respect of the maner of delivering them which is divine, and also in regard of the thinges delivered which are such as have not in nature any cause from which they flow, but were by the voluntarie appointment of God ordeined besides the course of nature to rectifie natures obliquitie withall” (I.11.5)


So much for the first pair of poles.  What about the second set of poles?  We are first assured that “When supernaturall duties are necessarily exacted, naturall are not rejected as needlesse.  The lawe of God therefore is though principally delievered for instruction in the one, yet fraught with precepts of the other also.  The scripture is fraught even with lawes of nature” (I.12.1).  Scripture is not thus a replacement of natural law, nor do the two function in totally separate spheres–natural law is embedded in Scripture, which takes it up, expands it, clarifies it, and refines it.  There clarification answers to thrre main deficiencies in our grasp of the law of reason.  First, principles of the law of reason may be such that we could not easily find out–Hooker has earlier explained that although the principles of the law of reason may be theoretically knowable, many secondary and tertiary principles may be quite difficult to ascertain with precision, even for a properly functioning intellect, and we may readily go awry when we seek to apply the principles to particulars.  Therefore, the divine law’s “applying of them unto cases particular is not without most singular use and profite manye waies for mens instruction” (I.12.1) And when we are vexed with doubt as to whether we have determined correctly, the clear divine authority of these specific pronouncements is a great help to us.  “The first principles of the law of nature are easie, hard it were to finde men ignorrant of them: but concerning the duty which natures lawe doth require at the handes of men in a number of thinges particular, so far hath the naturall understanding even of sundry whole nations bene darkned, that they have not discerned no not grosse iniquitie to bee sinne” (I.12.2)  This first would apply in part even in the absence of sin, but as a result of sin, a second need for illumination comes in.  

We are so prone, says Hooker, “to fawne upon our selves, and to be ignorant as much as may be of our owne deformities” that we need to be told where our faults are and how they are to be fixed.  Our nature has been distorted by sin, but that very sin keeps us from so much as recognizing the deformitie; hence divine law comes to our aid and points it out to us.  An example of this is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reveals even secret concupiscence to be sin, where we might have deceived ourselves into imagining that the natural law required only outward purity.  Finally (and here he gives another reason that would have applied even in the absence of sin), there are some truths which while “not impossible to be discerned by the light of nature it selfe” are still such as “no man’s [natural capacity] hath beene able to finde out” (I.12.2) and he includes here as an example the resurrection of the dead.  This is a particularly odd argument, both in that it seems strange to assert that the resurrection of the dead could in theory belong to natural knowledge, and that it seems problematic to claim that something so important could belong to natural knowledge even if it were such that no natural man ever succeed in finding it out.  In any case, these important truths that remain unknown, though not unknowable, by nature, grace has made clear to us.

Hooker later summarizes:

“The lawe of reason doth somewhat direct men how to honour God as their Creator, but how to glorifie God in such sort as is required, to the end he may be an everlasting Saviour, this we are taught by divine law, which law both ascertayneth the truth and supplyeth unto us the want of that other law.  So that in morall actions, divine law helpeth exceedingly the law of reason to guide man’s life, but in supernaturall it alone guideth.” (I.16.5)  

Divine law then augments and clarifies the duties of the natural law, but does not overturn or transform them–except inasmuch as they are relatively transformed by being set within a new context.  


Is divine law the same as Scripture, then?  Well, not quite.  It is not of the essence of divine law that it be written, says Hooker; God has simply chosen to do so because of the great benefits of having a written law.  We are thus to particularly venerate the Scriptures as the principal repository of divine law, but not idolize them as its sole repository.  Traditions, Hooker will say, cannot be excluded by the mere fact that they are not in Scripture, but only “because they are neyther in Scripture, nor can otherwise sufficiently by any reason be proved to be of God.  That which is of God, and may be evidently proved to be so, we denie not but it hath in his kinde, although unwritten, yet the selfe same force and authoritie with the written lawes of God” (I.14.5).  However, lest we impute too much to such extra-Scriptural revelations of divine law, Hooker is careful to lay down the sufficiency of Scripture for all things necessary to salvation, and its ample value for all things accessory thereto.  In a wonderfully-put summary statement, he attests, “they [the books of Scripture] are with such absolute perfection framed, that in them there neither wanteth any thing, the lacke whereof might deprive us of life; nor any thing in such wise aboundeth, that as being superfluous, unfruitfull, and altogether needlesse, wee should thinke it no losse or daunger at all if we did want it” (I.13.3).


So how does the divine law in Scripture cash out in terms of laws for the Church?  Hooker will have much more to say about this in Books II and III, but he offers a few key definitions here before concluding his general survey of law.  

For all spheres of human activity, he says, we must distinguish between laws natural and laws positive–laws that always have and always will bind, by the nature of things, and laws that are added at some point in time, that bind only by virtue of having been “expreslie and wittinglie imposed” (I.15.1)  Those parts of divine law that merely clarify and further specify natural duties are natural–always binding in principle, even if they were only revealed at some point in time (for instance, Jesus’ exposition of several of the Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount).  However, by definition, those that lay down supernatural duties must be positive laws.  This does not mean, Hooker hastens to add, that they are necessarily mutable and dispensable, which he recognizes is how many people think of “positive law.”  All mutable laws are positive, he says, but that doesn’t mean that all positive laws are mutable.  “Positive lawes are either permanent or else changeable, according as the matter it selfe is concerning which they were first made.”  These positive laws of supernatural duties can be subdivided into those that concern men in themselves (parallel to the “law of reason”), and those that concern men in society (parallel to “human law”)–the supernatural society of the Church.  The former Hooker describes thus: “To concerne men as men supernaturallie is to concerne them as duties which belong of necessitie to all, and yet could not have bene knowne by any to belong unto them, unlesse God had opened him selfe, in as much as they do not depend upon any naturall ground at all out of which they may be deduced, but are appointed of God to supplie the defect of those naturall wayes of salvation, by which we are not now able to attaine thereunto” (I.15.2)  

The latter is absolutely foundational for the rest of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, so pay close attention.  The Church is a society, like other societies and yet unlike–“although as it is a societie it have the selfe same originall grounds which other politique societies have, namely, the naturall inclination which all men have unto sociable life, and consent to some certaine bond of association, which bond is the lawe that appointeth what kinde of order they shall be associated in: yet unto the Church as it is a societie supernaturall this is peculiar, that part of the bond of their association which belong to the Church of God, must be a lawe supernaturall, which God himselfe hath revealed concerning that kinde of worship which his people shall doe unto him” (I.15.2).  Hooker is exceedingly careful in his definition here–the Church exists in the unique position of having a composite constitution, consisting both of laws of political society (human law), which are interpenetrated by a directly revealed divine law that provides the end of the society–its worship of God–and its means to that end.  This latter law, “so far forth as it hath in it any thing more then the lawe of reason doth teach” (a qualification that plays an important role later in Hooker’s attack on the regulative principle) we are not at liberty to change or invent, “but must be received from God himselfe” (I.15.2).  

All these laws, however, and all laws of every sort that God lays down, positive or naturall, must be distinguished into two categories–immutable and mutable.  The former are those that “without any further respect had unto any such variable accident as the state of men and of societies of men and of the Church it selfe in this world is subject unto” are binding for ever on men “unless being positive God him selfe which made them alter them.”  The latter are “lawes that were made for men or societies or Churches, in regarde of theyr being such as they doe not alwayes continue, but may perhaps be cleane otherwise a while after, and so may require to be otherwise ordered then before” (I.15.3).  There are permanent laws that concern permanent things, and there are permanent laws that concern mutable things, and nevertheless admit of no change, but there are some laws that concern mutable things which are for this reason themselves quite mutable, though always in subordination to the principles of the immutable laws. 


With this framework in place, we are now in a position to explore in depth the all-important role of the positive political laws of the Church in their relation to divine law and the law of reason, and what this means for Scriptural authority.

The Realm of Mutabilitie (Hooker’s Doctrine of Law, Pt. 3)

Thus far, I have explained Hooker’s general scheme of law and given particular attention to his treatment of the law of reason. Already from what we have seen above, it should be apparent that in Hooker’s scheme, there can be no neat division of the field between civil affairs governed by the law of reason alone, common ground for believers and unbelievers, and ecclesiastical affairs governed by Scripture, since the law of reason is sufficiently obscured by sin so as to render further revelation all but indispensable. It is in Hooker’s treatment of “human law,” however, that the untenability of such a schema is most clearly revealed. For, Hooker will argue, human affairs are rarely governed directly by the law of reason or the divine law, but are necessarily governed by human positive law, which mediates these immutable laws into the realm of mutability, a realm that embraces all human affairs, civil as well as ecclesiastical.


Of course, here as elsewhere, Hooker opts for systematic fullness rather than moving straight to the particular points of tension. Since ch. 10, on human law, contains some of Hooker’s most important and influential engagement with political theory proper, I will give brief attention to its initial discussion of the origin of government before moving on to the crucial bits of his definition of human law.

In describing the origin of political society and government, Hooker seeks to synthesize the rival paradigms bequeathed to him, arguing that it is both natural and voluntary, both creational and postlapsarian. Civil society is a natural function of man’s physical limitaitons that require him to live in society with others, as well as the natural human desire for sociability. However, to be truly political, an additional element is necessary, “an order expresly or secretly agreed upon, touching the manner of their union in living together.” This contractual union “is that which we call the law of a common weale, the very soule of a politique body, the parts whereof are by law animated, held together, and set on worke in such actions as the common good requireth” (I.10.1) Such a union would have been natural and desirable even without sin, but not strictly necessary. With the advent of sin, however, if selfish men are to still pursue the common good, society requires not merely a contractual union, but a subjection to a higher authority who can constrain obedience when necessary. Under the conditions of sin, then, public government is required by natural law. In contrast to the patriarchalist political theory that arose later in the seventeenth-century, Hooker is explicit that, all men being free by nature, this subjection of the people to the government by their rulers must always flow from an act of free consent–no man is so superiorly endowed that he has a natural right to rule over his fellows. John Locke, indeed, was to deploy Hooker’s arguments in his attack on patriarchalism a century later. Unlike Locke, however, Hooker is perfectly content to leave this act of consent firmly in the past–inasmuch as our ancestors consented to the government under which we now live, we have consented to it through them–“Wherefore as any man’s deed past is good as long as him selfe continueth: so the act of a publique societie of men done five hundreth years sithence standeth as theirs, who presently are of the same societies, because corporations are immortal” (I.10.8).

Laws arose, says Hooker, because it was quickly seen to be “inconvenient” to rest all the power of governing in the hand of one man’s will. Laws, then, are promulgated by the body politic for the body politic, applying equally to all.

Laws are thus the product of free consent, but that does not mean that the body politic has infinite scope. No, human laws must conform in some respect to natural justice. They may do this in two ways. First there are laws which are mixedly human, in which “the matter whereunto it bindeth, is the same which reason necessarily doth require at our handes, and from the law of reason it differeth in the maner of binding only. For whereas men before stood bound in conscience to doe as the law of reason teacheth, they are now by vertue of humane law become constrainable, and if they outwardly transgresse, punishable” (I.10.10). These laws are made necessary by the ignorance and sloth of our intellects, which often fail to deduce what the law of reason requires of us in particular situations, and by our stubborn unwillingness to follow it even when we do comprehend it–human law thus specifies and makes punishable that which is already required by the law of reason. Or, human law may be “meerly humane,” in which cases “the matter of them is any thing which reason doth but probablie teach to be fit and convenient, so that till such time as law hath passed amongst men about it, of it selfe it bindeth no man” (I.10.10). So, for instance, laws of inheritance–in such cases, the law of reason states nothing definitely and clearly, and so we must, while still using it as a guide, improvise laws as our circumstances demand.

In either case, however, human laws will admit of enormous variety, applied as they are to an enormous range of different societies and circumstances:

“If it here be demaunded howe it commeth to passe that…there shoulde be found even in good lawes so great varietie as there is: wee must note the reason hereof to bee, the sundry particular endes whereunto the different disposition of that subject or matter, for which lawes are provided, causeth them to have especiall respect in making laws….To this appertaine those knowne lawes of making lawes, as that lawemakers must have an eye to the place where, and to the men amongst whome; that one kinde of lawes cannot serve for all kindes of regiment” (I.10.9).

This will be true even of mixedly human laws, which are simply applications of necessary principles of the law of reason–although the principle may be the same, the best way to apply the principle and achieve its desired end will differ depending on circumstances (this is particularly true of penology, which Hooker believes is left undetermined by the law of reason, contra theonomists old and new). Hooker has here introduced a theme that will be integral to the entire remainder of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity–the provisionality and mutability of all human laws.

And of course, if “ecclesiastical polity” is to be his theme, it must follow that church laws too fall under the rubric of human law. This is precisely what Hooker says in a crucial statement in I.10.11: “Lawes whether mixtlie or meerelie humaine are made by politique socieities: some, onely as those societies are civilly united; some, as they are spiritually joyned and make such a body as we call the Church.” Hooker will return to this point later in Book I when speaking of the relationship of divine and positive law, and then will expound it at great length in Books II and III, where the nature and and limits of Scriptural law-making authority are thoroughly sifted.