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.



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.

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.