Everyman’s Hooker #1: “To Pass Away as in a Dream…”

This week, I am beginning a new project here at this blog, which I hope to keep up with on a weekly basis for the foreseeable future.  I’m calling it “Everyman’s Hooker,” and it’s an attempt to make the thought of Richard Hooker, specifically his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, accessible to general audiences. Hooker had a beautiful, but notoriously difficult, writing style even for his own time, and with the passage of 400 years, even highly educated readers of modern English often find it difficult to get a handle on just what he’s saying. We have reached the odd and unfortunate point that authors like Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin, who wrote even longer ago and not in English, should be much easier for contemporary English readers to engage with than one of the great masters of their own language, Hooker. Why? Because we have modern translations of the former, but not the latter. The best we have is a mere modernization of spelling, by A.S. McGrade, which is priced way too highly for most readers to even dream of buying.

It might be a bit impertinent to try to publish a fully paraphrased version of Hooker’s great work, not to mention being an enormous amount of work, but for now I have a more modest goal: to introduce readers to a few key ideas and passages, beginning with the first page of the Laws, and moving along from high point to high point, posting a paraphrase and commentary once a week. I recognize that to paraphrase Hooker at all is something of an abomination, given the exquisitely-crafted nature of his prose, but I’ve finally come to realize that this is a necessary evil if Hooker is ever really to be introduced to the wide readership he deserves. I will do my best to maintain as much as possible the eloquence of the original.

Each post will begin with the original text, in the mostly-modernized spelling and punctuation of the 19th-century edition of Hooker available at the Online Library of Liberty. Then I will provide a paraphrased version, paragraph by paragraph, along the lines of what you might find in Shakespeare Made Easy, followed by a bit of commentary on what we can learn today from this passage.  Once I figure out how, I’ll format the two versions of the passage in a double-column style, side-by-side, but for now, it’ll just be one underneath the other.  Some passages will be more difficult, and thus in much more obvious need of paraphrase, than others, but I will not try to prioritize on this basis, instead just following the order of the text.

So, without further ado, here is the first, taken from the first chapter of the Preface to the Laws. Read More