Sola Scriptura in the Public Square, Pt. 1

Last week, I presented a paper at a conference in Winchester entitled “Sola Scriptura in the Public Square: Insights of Richard Hooker” which was a sort of miniature, highly-condensed form of my thesis as currently envisioned, or at any rate of several key chapters of it.  I thought I would post it here for the benefit of anyone who’s been interested in my posts on Hooker, Reformed two kingdoms theory, natural law, and the role of Scripture in politics, although be warned that this relatively short essay can do little more than scratch the surface of the key issues, many of which have been developed at more length in previous posts here.

**Edit: As this paper will be published in an extended form by T&T Clark in a volume entitled The Bible: Culture, Community, and Society, they would obviously prefer if I did not have the full-text available here.  I have thus removed most of this post, and the next one, leaving only some tantalizing excerpts.**

The key problem with fundamentalism, then, is not that it claims that Scripture has something to say to politics, or even that it claims that Scripture has a great deal to say about politics.  The problem is that Scripture becomes a blunt instrument, a self-interpreting standard that demands a particular political result, and that will be repeatedly used to club the relevant authorities until they come into line.  In many cases, this is simply a result of ignorance–ignorance of the interpretive complexities of Scripture itself, and of the complex riddles of particular political circumstances.  But often, I suggest, and more seriously, it stems from a more fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God, man, and revelation, and unfortunately, the Reformed two kingdoms theorists offer no real answer because they share this basic flaw.  

The flaw in question is what I will label the “Puritan impulse,” recognizing that this may do injustice to many fine Puritans over the centuries, but defensible because it appears most starkly in many assumptions of the Elizabethan Puritans and their theological heirs.  To paint with an extremely broad brush, so that I do not spend the whole of my twenty minutes dwelling on the problem, the Puritans felt that for God to be exalted, man had to be abased.  The extreme form of this appeared in the hyper-Calvinist doctrine that in order for God to reap the full glory of his sole sovereignty, sinners could not claim “credit” for their own damnation, which was to be ascribed exclusively to the divine will.  Divine action and human action were completely incommensurable, and the former must be emphasized at the expense of the latter.  This meant that any account of authority tended to be rather one-dimensional.  In rejecting the authority of the Pope and reasserting the authority of God exercised through Scripture, the Puritans liked to think that they were doing away with, as much as possible, any kind of human authority.  Human authority, to the extent it must exist, must be merely a passive channel for divine action.  A church minister could not teach or publicly do anything without the express warrant of Scripture.

Revelation must be conceived as extrinsic and arbitrary, depending as little as possible on prior human understandings.  Any subject about which Scripture might speak, it must speak, and it must speak exclusively and with such detail as to leave little or no latitude for prudential application.  To say anything else is to raise up human authority in competition with God, to raise up reason in competition with Scripture.  The Reformed two kingdoms theorists tend to share this legalistic conception of Scriptural authority; they merely tend to artificially limit this authority to the institutional Church, cutting Scripture off from the concerns of daily life and social ethics with which it is clearly so deeply concerned.

Sacramentalizing and Secularizing

As this blog has been in something of a slump lately (not from lack of things to write, mind you, but merely from lack of time to write them), I thought I would resort to a tried and true blogger’s trick and refer you instead to a blog where the action is happening–Wedgewords.  

Steven Wedgeworth is back at his old game of identifying both sides of the political-theological spectrum–the secularizing Reformed two-kingdoms types and the sacramentalizing RO/neo-Calvinist types–as two sides of the same coin: antagonism between nature and grace.  This is a much more casual, in-a-nutshell version of some of the big posts he and Peter Escalante had going on last summer, but it has summoned forth the inevitable combative interaction from Darryl Hart, leading to some interesting discussion in the comments section.

After my Hookerian transformation, I am much more sympathetic to and persuaded by the general point Steven is making here than I would’ve been a year or even six months ago, though I still have some questions as to whether the relation between nature and grace cannot be conceived in more dynamic terms, if we cannot have a full affirmation of nature while still maintaining that “grace perfects nature.”  Steven says in the comments that he is sympathetic to the idea of “maturation,” as long as it’s “one of an heir growing up into inheritance rather than a larva becoming a butterfly.”  And if we allow for maturation, I ask whether certain RO-ish or, for lack of a better word, Leithartian paradigms need be all that far off from what Wedgeworth and Co. want.  

But, that’s a conversation for another day–this summer, Peter E and I are hoping to restart last fall’s scintillating multi-blog natural law/two kingdoms debate.  Stay tuned.

Calvin, Christian Liberty, and the Regulative Principle

Let’s recap briefly the previous post in this new series: David VanDrunen argues that the doctrine of Christian liberty undergirds Calvin’s (and the Reformed tradition’s) two-kingdoms doctrine–the doctrine ensures that in the spiritual kingdom (which he takes to mean the visible Church) the Christian cannot be bound by any human laws, by anything besides Scripture alone; whereas in the civil kingdom (which he takes to mean the realm of society and politics) the Christian can be bound by laws other than Scripture.  Free in the Church, not in the State.  However, for VanDrunen, this actually comes to mean the opposite: bound in the Church, free in the State.  For the reason we cannot be bound by human laws in the Church is the regulative principle–that Scripture has already given us full and perfect guidance for worship and church order, so that we are bound to follow its rules, and no others.  Scripture, however, leaves plenty of flexibility in the civil kingdom, and so we are free here to make other laws and follow different standards, so long as we do not contradict Scripture.  

 But does Calvin teach such a regulative principle?  And if not, does he mean by Christian liberty, and by the “two kingdoms” the same thing that VanDrunen does?  A careful read of the very chapters that VanDrunen points us to yields a clear answer: “No.”  However, VanDrunen is not an idiot.  There is plenty here in the Institutes, and elsewhere in Calvin, that sounds a lot like the Puritan regulative principle.  Let’s consider this evidence first–Book IV, chapter 10 is the place to look.


In section 6, Calvin says of bishops and church leaders,

“Yet I deny that they have been appointed lawgivers over believers as to be able by themselves to prescribe a rule of life, or to force their ordinances upon the people committed to them.  When I say this, I mean that they have no right to command the church to observe as obligatory what they have themselves conceived apart from God’s Word.”

In section 7, he says,

“In his law the Lord has included everything applicable to the perfect rule of the good life, so that nothing is left to men to add to that summary….We hear that God claims this one prerogative as his very own–to rule us by the authority and laws of his word….No man can take this to himself.  We ought, therefore, to acknowledge God as sole ruler of souls, with whom alone is the power to save and to destroy….If we duly weight this, that it is unlawful to transfer to man what God reserves for himself, we shall understand that the whole power of those who wish to advance themselves to command anything in the church apart from God’s Word is thus cut off.” (IV.10.7) 

There you have it–human authority cannot institute or command in the church anything that is not laid down already in God’s Word, because we have a “perfect rule” there, to which nothing must be added.  This is particularly the case for worship, as Paul argues 

“in the letter to the Colossians that we are not to seek from men the doctrine of the true worship of God, for the Lord has faithfully and fully instructed us how he is to be worshiped…at the end of the [2nd] chapter he condemns with greater confidence all self-made religion, that is, all feigned worship, which men have devised for themselves or received from others, and all precepts they of themselves dare promulgate concerning the worship of God.  We therefore consider impious all constitutions in whose observance the worship of God is feigned to consist.” (IV.10.8)

He cites proof of this principle from the Old Testament, and asks, 

“Why, then, should we not consider ourselves much more strictly forbidden to add anything to the law, prophets, psalms, and gospel?  The Lord, who long ago declared that nothing so much offended him as being worshipped by humanly devised rites, has not become untrue to himself.” (IV.10.17)

Finally, by section 23, the rhetoric has become quite sweeping indeed:

“[The Lord’s kingdom] is taken away whenever he is worshiped by laws of human devising, inasmuch as he wills to be accounted the sole lawgiver of his own worship….From this we gather that a part of the reverence that is paid to him consists simply in worshiping him as he commands, mingling no inventions of our own….I say further: although in some contrived worship impiety does not openly appear, it is still severely condemned by the Spirit, since it is a departure from God’s precept….We see how the Spirit loathes this insolence because the inventions of men in the worship of God are impure corruptions.  And the more clearly God’s will is revealed to us, the less excusable is our wantonness in attempting anything.” 

Well, there you have it, that’s the regulative principle.  No inventions of our own, worship God simply as he himself commands; to do anything else is sinful insolence; even if there is nothing sinful about the particular action of worship, it is sinful because it has not been commanded.  To be sure, it would be difficult to deny that the latter statements in particular (those in sections 17 and 23) amount almost to a full-blown statement of the regulative principle (though even here, Calvin is far from going to the Thornwellian extreme, which makes the principle to apply not merely in worship but in matters of order and procedure like denominational mission boards).  In the wider context of Calvin’s doctrine in IV.10, however, these statements appear as rhetorical exaggerations, which indeed is unsurprising, as Calvin is in this part of the chapter engaging in a polemic against the Roman Catholic innovations in worship, a context in which he is often prone to forget himself and get a bit carried away.  Indeed, rightly understood, even these stronger statements might harmonize with his overall teaching.  


And what is that teaching?  Well, Calvin is well aware that there will need to be rules laid down in the church for ceremonies (that is, forms of worship) and order, on human rather than Scriptural authority.  Like Hooker, Calvin recognizes that Scripture simply doesn’t speak comprehensively to many questions of worship and polity that might arise, and even when it does speak to them, its guidance may be relative to time and place.  This is spelled out most clearly in sections 27-32 of chapter 10, which I hope to get to in due course (though I have already touched on this in a recent post).  So Calvin does not believe, with VanDrunen, that Scripture can be the only guide in the visible Church.  But how does this fit with the quotes we’ve just seen?  A closer look at some of them, and at others from their context, will help illuminate what Calvin’s up to.


When we look at the first quote above, we must ask what is meant by “obligatory,” by saying that nothing can be made “obligatory” in the Church contrary to God’s word.  In fact, in section 8, Calvin tells us precisely how “to distinguish what human constittutions are contrary to the Lord’s Word.  All of these are of the sort that pretend to relate to the true worship of God, and that consciences are bound to keep, as if their observance were compulsory.”  

He says something similar in section 16:  

“But suppose, apart from present circumstances, you simply want to understand what are those human traditions of all times that shold be repudiated by the church and by all godly men.  What we have set forth above will be a sure and clear definition: that they are all laws apart from God’s Word, laws made by men, either to prescribe the manner of worshiping God or to bind consciences by scruples, as if they were making rules about things necessary for salvation.”

Ok, so we have the element of conscience-binding.  This is absolutely crucial for Calvin, was we shall see.  Presumably, then, constitutions which do not claim to bind the conscience (e.g., we kneel while praying) are permitted.  (We will look shortly at what precisely “conscience” means for Calvin.)  But he also gives another criterion–constitutions cannot be made that “pretend to relate to the true worship of God.”  Now what does this mean?  Kneeling while praying is part of worshipping God, right?  So can we not make rules about it

Another passsage quoted above may shed some light: “We therefore consider impious all constitutions in whose observance the worship of God is feigned to consist.”  This last clause gives us a clue as to what’s going on here.  The problem is not rules about anything whatsoever relating to outward worship, but rules that purport to specify wherein consists the essence of worship–understood not in its horizontal dimension (the corporate actions of the congregation) but in its vertical dimension (that which is pleasing to God, that which establishes and maintains our salvific relationship to him).  It’s not that you can’t make rules saying, “we will all kneel to pray” but you can’t make rules saying, “unless you kneel, it’s not prayer,” you can’t make rules defining, from a God’s-eye perspective, what worship is and isn’t.  Understood this way, the criterion about worship serves simply as a specification and elaboration of the overriding criterion about not “binding the conscience” and not making things “necessary to salvation”–only God’s word can bind the conscience and only God’s word can tell us what’s necessary for salvation, so only God’s word can tell us wherein consists the essence of true worship.  The terminology is misleading at times, to be sure, but this reading fits the structure of Calvin’s discussion in the Institutes, in which the overriding concern is “binding the conscience”; read otherwise, the insistence that worship must follow Scripture alone, in some regulative principle fashion, would sit quite awkwardly with Calvin’s insistence on flexibility in all matters not necessary to salvation–unless, of course, you made every aspect of worship necessary to salvation.  

Finally, this way of reading Calvin’s remarks on worship is confirmed by its context in an attack on papal traditions, traditions of which “the authors themselves define, in clear terms, that the veriest worship of God is, so to speak, contained in these very constitutions” (IV.10.9).  The problem is that they lead “one man to despise, judge, and cast out another because of what are trivial and (in God’s sight) indifferent matters” (IV.10.10).  Note the difference here from the likes of VanDrunen and Thornwell.  For them, the traditions of Catholic worship that Calvin here discusses are not indifferent–because they are not commanded in Scripture, they are wrong.  But for Calvin, in principle, they are indifferent (well, many of them at any rate; others, idolatrous ones, are flat forbidden by Scripture), and the problem is that the Catholics have made them essential, have feigned that in them the true worship of God consists.  Again, it cannot be doubted that in parts of chapter 10, Calvin’s rhetoric against these veers toward the sort of regulativism we see in later Puritanism, but it seems clear that this rhetoric does not square with his overall doctrine of Christian liberty.


To get a clearer idea of what this overall doctrine is, let’s look more carefully at his definition of conscience, since Christian liberty consists above all in the inability of conscience to be bound by human constitutions.  Calvin recognizes that confusions at this point are certain to crop up (as they certainly did for those who claimed to follow him) if we “do not sharply enough distinguish the outer forum, as it is called, and the forum of the conscience.”  So he defines conscience for us: “it is a certain mean between God and man…[an] awareness which hales man before God’s judgment” (III.19.15).  

“Therefore, as works have regard to men, so conscience refers to God.  A good conscience, then, is nothing but inward integrity of heart….properly speaking, as I have already said, it has respect to God alone….Hence it comes about that a law is said to bind the conscience when it simply binds a man without regard to other men, or without taking them into account”–that is, laws that would be morally binding even if no other man lived on earth (III.19.16).  

Conscience then refers strictly to the relationship between the individual soul and God; not to the relationship between the individual and other human beings.  Not, of course, that the two aren’t connected in important ways (which brings up all sorts of fascinating new layers to this doctrine), but they are distinct.  Christian liberty means in indifferent things–things not necessary to salvation–that human laws must only bind in the “outward forum,” in terms of the relationships between man and God.  They cannot presume to intrude on the relationship between man and God, and give or take away our standing in the sight of God.  

What this means is that we can, in fact, be outwardly bound in indifferent things, without our inward freedom being thereby compromised.  For instance, by the need not to offend a brother: “For we ought to abstain from anything that might cause offense, but with a free conscience….But however necessary it may be with respect to his brother for him to abstain from it, as God enjoins, he still does not cease to keep freedom of conscience.  We see how this law, while binding outward actions, leaves the conscience free” (III.19.16).  Later he says, “human laws, whether made by magistrate or by church, even though they have to be observed (I speak of good and just laws), still do not of themselves bind the conscience” (IV.10.5).  

Christian liberty does not, therefore, mean that individuals are set completely free vis-a-vis the visible Church, or vis-a-vis civil authority.  Inasmuch as rules made by these bodies pertain to the outward forum, Christians will be bound to obey; and when we are talking about indifferent things, there will be no reason why these bodies cannot make rules one way or another.  What Christian liberty means is that individuals are set free in the realm of conscience, from fearing that their actions in things indifferent necessarily affect their relationship to God.  


This, then, is the proper two-kingdoms distinction that Calvin derives from his doctrine of Christian liberty, a distinction that bears almost no resemblance to that which VanDrunen attributes to him.  He has just said, in III.19.14, that in indifferent things, “we are not bound before God by any religious obligation preventing us from sometimes using them and other times not using them”; otherwise, conscience is threatened by superstition.  Therefore “we conclude that they [believers’ consciences] are to be released from the power of all men.”  But he immediately recognizes that some will understand this to mean that “all human obedience were at the same time removed and cast down.”  Far from it.  For, in Calvin’s famous statement, “There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority….Through this distinction it comes about that we are not to misapply to the political order the gospel teaching on spiritual freedom, as if Christians were less subject, as concerns outward government, to human laws, because their consciences have been set free in God’s sight; as if they were released from all bodily servitude because they are free according to the spirit” (III.19.15).  By “political order” it is clear that we are not to understand merely “civil government,” “the State” or anything of that sort, but a synonym of “outward government” and “human laws”–in short, what Calvin then goes on to call the “external forum” as contrasted to the “internal forum” of conscience–the domain of the spiritual kingdom.  

The nature of this distinction thus means that what we have are not two different spatial spheres of action, so that some actions belong to the civil kingdom (e.g., paying your taxes, executing murderers) and some to the spiritual kingdom (going to church, caring for the poor), but two different modes of action, or we might say two different planes or dimensions, so that an action is simultaneously in the spiritual kingdom, inasmuch as we do it before God, and in the civil kingdom, inasmuch as we do it before man.  This is why our Christian freedom can express itself even in a complete outward bondage–we are no less free, Calvin says, if we abstain from meat for our entire lives because of the weakness of our brother–”Indeed, because they are free, they abstain with a free conscience” (III.19.10)  In this, Calvin is following some of Luther’s finest passages in On the Freedom of a Christian Man.  


Because, however, these two kingdoms exist side-by-side, simultaneously, the freedom of the conscience and the bondage of inward action unavoidably “interpenetrate,” we might say, at key points.  My conscience (the internal forum) does demand that I treat my brother in a certain way in the external forum; my response to laws made in the external forum, inasmuch as God has given me commands to be subject to such laws, do affect the internal forum.  I hope in a further post to explore the rich complexities of this relationship which leave Calvin’s paradigm in a state of creative tension–a tension which unfortunately proved quite difficult to sustain for his followers.  (I say, “I hope,” however, because the demands of putting out a roughly-finished product of this chapter for my supervisor might have to take precedence over the leisurely business of piecing it together bit-by-bit here, as I did for “Hooker’s Doctrine of Law.”) 

The Church’s Gag Order (Christian Liberty in the Reformation, Pt. 1)

At several points in his Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunen states that the Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty was foundational to the Reformed understanding of natural law and the two kingdoms, and hence to his own two-kingdoms project.  But has he rightly characterized that foundational doctrine?  Whose liberty, after all, are we talking about? 

One person’s liberty is always asserted over against another person or entity, conditioning their liberty in some way.  That I have a liberty not to be assaulted means that you do not have the liberty to assault me.  So whose liberty are we talking about when we talk about Christian liberty?  Is this liberty corporate or is it individual?  It makes rather a difference, you see, since if it’s the former, then it is the liberty of the Church body over against its individual members, but if it’s the latter, then its the liberty of the individuals over against the Church body, which has quite the opposite effect.  Which is the true Protestant doctrine? 

The dilemma is neatly illustrated by an example that VanDrunen himself examines–a rather bizarre debate in 1860 that could only have happened between two Presbyterians, and two particularly prickly ones at that: Charles Hodge and James H. Thornwell.  The question was: “Is it legitimate for the denomination to create a mission board?”  (Not, mind you, “Is it a good idea?” but “Is it even allowed?”)  Charles Hodge argued a resounding “Yes,” appealing to the doctrine of Christian liberty.  As VanDrunen tells it, “He claimed that Thornwell’s idea ‘ties down’ the government and action of the church to what is prescribed in the New Testament and, toward the end of his article, he writes: ‘There is as much difference between this extreme doctrine of divine right, this idea that everything is forbidden which is not commanded, as there is between this free, exultant Church of ours, and the mummified forms of mediaeval Christianity’” (NLTK 258).  In other words, if the Church is not free to do things neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, then we are back to a new legalism as bad as that of the Papacy.

VanDrunen immediately lets us know what he thinks about this:

“The Reformed doctrine of Christian liberty was never about the church being freed to to things (such as create boards to which it could delegate the work of missions) about which Scripture was silent.  Instead, with direct reference to the two kingdoms doctrine, Reformed theologians and confessions spoke of Christian liberty in regard to the justified individual, who was freed in the civil kingdom from any obligation to do things contrary to the teaching of Scripture and in the spiritual kingdom from any obligation to do things beside the teaching of Scripture….Thus, when Hodge taught, as the Presbyterian’s doctrine of Christian liberty, that the church is permitted to do what is not forbidden in Scripture, he was in fact transferring the traditional Reformed standard for the civil kingdom to the spiritual kingdom and thus giving the church precisely the power (speaking and acting beyond the teaching of Scripture) that the Reformed tradition had tried to take from it” (NLTK 258-59).

This, he said, was Thornwell’s contention, who responded with, we are told “an incisive, biting, and at times humorous response” which “lamented on the one hand the lack of candor and honor in his [Hodge’s] article and, on the other hand, his ineptness in regard to ecclesiology.”  Hodge, he said, had it backward–his “principle that the church is permitted to do all that Scripture does not forbid it to do was not the Reformed principle of Christian liberty over against Rome but the principle of Rome which the Reformed doctrine of Christian liberty sought to overthrow” (NLTK 259).  In short, “Thornwell sought to limit the government and action of the church to the prescriptions of the Bible only, and did so with reference to historic Reformed convictions about the church’s ministerial authority and about Christian liberty” (260).

VanDrunen is in no doubt what the proper Protestant doctrine is–Christian liberty means the individual believer is freed from having to do anything not directly commanded in Scripture, and therefore the Church is bound not to authorize anything that is not directly commanded in Scripture.  (There is already a tension, mind you–one could understand how this construal of Christian liberty would mean that the Church could not require individual believers to serve on church boards, etc.; but it is a bit harder to see why it would mean that the Church could not authorize them in any way as an option for its members.  But more on this anon.)  Believer free, Church bound.  This dialectic is even further intensified in Thornwell’s doctrine of the spirituality of the Church, which is much more relevant to VanDrunen’s own project: the liberty of the individual Christian means that he is free from having to receive any guidance from the Church on anything not directly contained in Scripture (e.g., political issues like, say, slavery)–the Church is bound not to speak on any such matters.  

Now, Hodge’s concern seems justified here–surely this is not freedom but legalism!  Surely this cannot be the traditional Protestant doctrine.  But earlier in the book, VanDrunen has already shown that it is, hasn’t he?  Let’s follow the trail backwards.  He sprinkles the appeal to Christian liberty throughout his narrative, but a significant focus of the discussion comes near the end of chapter 5.  


Thornwell’s legalism may be understood as an application of the “regulative principle of worship” (or RPW), which, says VanDrunen, “states that the public worship of the church may consist only of those elements that the New Testament itself teaches are proper elements of worship” (191).  This comes from the doctrine of Christian liberty: “Because the church has no power to impose anything beyond the teaching of Scripture upon the consciences of believers, it has no power to demand that believers worship God in any other way than what Scripture ordains” (191-2).  This is again all wrapped up in the two kingdoms doctrine:

“In the spiritual kingdom of the church, ecclesiastical authorities, dealing only with spiritual things, have no power to bind consciences beyond the declaration of what Scripture itself teaches (a ‘ministerial’ authority) and believers have no conscientious obligation to believe or do anything that the church says otherwise.  Believers are free from anything ‘beside’ the word of God.  In the civil kingdom and with respect to civil matters, however, believers are free only from commands ‘contrary’ to Scripture, meaning that they are conscientiously bound to do all things that the magistrate commands (however disagreeable) so long as they do not contradict some biblical teaching” (191). 

In fact, this is all in Calvin, VanDrunen tells us on the previous page: “in Institutes 3.19, alongside 4.11 and 4.20, Calvin lays down the principle that while ecclesiastical authorities cannot bind the conscience of believers in anything beyond what Scripture teaches, civil authorities do in fact bind consciences when they command anything that is not contrary to biblical teaching” (190). 

Well, by Jove, there you have it.  Calvin said it, in the Institutes no less, so it must be the proper Christian doctrine.  Following the narrative back further, we come to chapter 3, where Calvin is dealt with in great detail.  So let’s look at this closely.

For Calvin, christian liberty consists in 1) “having one’s conscience assured of justification and no longer seeking justification by the law,” 2) “being obedient to the law voluntarily rather than under legal compulsion,” and 3) “being freed from obligation to do or not to do external things that are in themselves morally indifferent” (NLTK 73).

However, this last point is immediately qualified by the two kingdoms doctrine–since “Christian liberty is in all its parts a spiritual matter,” this freedom from obligation to things indifferent does not apply in the civil sphere: “By attending to this distinction, we will not erroneously transfer the doctrine of the gospel concerning spiritual liberty to civil order, as if in regard to external government Christians were less subject to human laws, because their consciences are unbound before God…” (Inst. 3.19.15).

The redemptive doctrine of Christian liberty, VanDrunen explains,“applies to life in the spiritual kingdom but not to life in the civil kingdom.  No human authority can bind the believer’s conscience in regard to participation in the spiritual kingdom of Christ.  Over against Roman Catholic claims, Calvin teaches that Scripture is the only authority in this realm.  Hence, as he explains in Institutes 4.10-11, the church can minister the word of God alone and never its own opinions, and it can prescribe for worship only those things that Scripture provides….In other words, the officers of the church have authority to do and command only those things prescribed in Scripture, and Christians in the spiritual kingdom are thus free in conscience from anything beyond this”; on the other hand, “civil magistrates have a broader discretion to promote justice and order in the civil kingdom, and Christians are bound to obey them except if their commands contradict their biblical obligations” (NLTK 74).

Was this, then, the Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty–the believer’s freedom from any command outside Scripture in the visible Church, and the Church’s corresponding gag order not to say, do, or command anything besides what is specifically laid down in Scripture?  I have already argued in a recent post that such a notion of sola Scriptura is simply impossible and incoherent–no church could function if it took VanDrunen’s rhetoric seriously.  So was Protestantism really so incoherent at such a key point?


I would suggest that the answer is a resolute “No,” and that VanDrunen has in fact distorted the teaching of the magisterial Reformers almost beyond recognition at this point.  He has done so by equivocating at the exact point where Calvin is so careful to be absolutely precise–the notion of “conscience.”  VanDrunen slides carelessly from saying “the Church cannot bind the conscience beyond Scripture” to “the Church cannot command anything beyond Scripture” to “the Church cannot do anything beyond Scripture.”  Not only are the last two quite different statements (as I already pointed out parenthetically above with regard to church boards), but for Calvin, the first two are quite different statements.  Indeed, because of this, VanDrunen has in fact gotten Calvin wrong on the other side of the duality as well–magistrates cannot bind the conscience in the civil kingdom, for Calvin, because in fact there is no one but God himself who can bind the conscience. 

In a series of posts over the coming weeks, preparatory to a chapter draft for my Ph.D., I will be exploring this question in Calvin, but also in several of his contemporaries, in the Puritans who claimed to follow him, and of course in Hooker.  VanDrunen’s construal is not, I will argue, completely alien to the Reformation–it was certainly there, and popped up from time to time in incendiary outbursts, but it was always resisted by the magisterial Reformers–Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Bucer, Vermigli, Calvin.  Hooker, I hope to argue, helped resolve some of the tensions thus raised that his predecessors had not quite been able to deal with satisfactorily.  


(For some of my initial critiques of VanDrunen on some the chapters quoted above when I read them last year, see here and here–take all with a grain of salt, however.)

(For an initial sketch of my Ph.D thesis, or what I aspire to be my thesis, covering a lot of the ground discussed above, see here.)

(For an excellent review of VanDrunen that exposes the category confusion that lies at the heart of this problem, see this article by Steven Wedgworth.)

“No Where Severed”: The Problem of Ubiquity (Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 4)

Having established the personal identity between the eternal Word and the man Christ Jesus, the complete distinction and unimpaired integrity of the two natures, and the sense in which Christ’s humanity is glorified by its union with the Word, Hooker turns in chapter 55 of Book V to expound much more carefully the hotly-disputed question of ubiquity, which had driven a rift between the Lutheran and Reformed churches, a very serious rift indeed, touching as it did the crucial mystery of the Christian faith.  

Hooker, while operating within a basically Reformed Christology, seeks to articulate the question of ubiquity in a way that does as much justice as possible to the things the Lutherans wanted to emphasize.  This is quite a delicate theological operation, and it’s worth looking closely at how Hooker conducts it. 


He begins by affirming the tremendous importance of the question, since our salvation depends on union with Christ, and union with Christ requires an account of how Christ could be personally present to us.  He then lays down a key foundational principle, that he touched on already in ch. 53–that no nature can be both finite and infinite, and all created natures are finite: “Out of which premises wee can conclude not only that nothinge created can possiblie be unlimited or can receave any such accident qualitie or propertie as may reallie make it infinite (for then should it cease to be a creature) but also that everie creaturs limitation is accordinge to his own kinde, and therefore as oft as wee note in them any thinge above theire kinde it argueth that the same is not properly theires but groweth in them from a cause more powerfull then they are” (V.55.2).

This principle tells us that when inquiring of the omnipresence of Christ, we must be dealing with a property of his divinity: “Wherefore Christ is essentiallie present with all thinges in that he is verie God, but not present with all thinges as man, because manhood and the partes thereof can neither be the cause nor the true subject of such presence” (V.55.4). So far so good–standard Reformed stuff.  

Hooker then turns to ask what the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity would require: “if Christ in that he is man be everie where present, seinge this commeth not by the nature of manhood it selfe, there is no other waie how it should grow but either by the grace of union with deitie, or by the grace of unction received from deitie” (V.55.6)  You may recall that Hooker has spelled out in the previous chapter what is involved in each of these two “graces.”  Regarding the former, the grace of union, he established that the attributes of each nature are not communicated to the other nature, but the natures continue each the same nature that they were before, in unimpaired integrity–standard Chalcedonian stuff.  What about the grace of unction?

“And concerninge the grace of unction, wherein are conteined the guifes and vertues which Christ as man hath above men, they make him reallie and habituallie a man more excellent then we are, they take not from him the nature and substance that wee have, they cause not his soul nor bodie to be of an other kinde then oures is.  Supernaturall endowments are an advancement, they are no extinguishment of that nature whereto they are given” (V.55.6). 

We have already seen in the previous post how this logic works–an advancement of the human nature within the perfections proper to it, not a transcendence of that nature to another nature entirely.  Could ubiquity then be a perfection proper to the advancement of human nature?  Hooker answers a firm no:

“If his majesticall bodiie have now anie such nue propertie by force whereof it may everie where reallie even in substance present it selfe, or may at once be in many places, then hath the majesty of his estate extinguisht the veritie of his nature….To conclude, wee hold it in regard of the forealleaged proofes a most infallible truth that Christ as man is not everie where present as man” (V.55.6, 7).


Things aren’t looking very good for the Lutherans.  But then comes a crucial word–“Yeat”:

“Yeat because this [human] substance is inseparablie joyned to that personall worde which by his verie divine essence is present with all thinges, the nature which cannot have in it selfe universall presence hath it after a sorte by beinge no where severed from that which everie where is present.  For in as much as that infinite word is not divisible into partes, it could not in parte but must needes be whollie incarnate, and consequentlie wheresoever the word is it hath with it manhood.  Els should the worde be in parte or somewhere God only and not man which is impossible.  For the person of Christ is whole, perfect God and perfect man” (V.55.7).  

Now this is interesting stuff.  

Premise 1: The Word is fully and inseparably joined to human substance.  
Premise 2: The Word is indivisible.
First conclusion: Human substance must be everywhere the Word is.
Premise 3: The Word is everywhere.
Conclusion: Human substance must be everywhere.


Now, how is this going to work?  Well, in view of the limitations previously sketched,

“wee cannot say that the whole of Christ is simplie everie where, as wee may that his deitie is and that his person is by force of deitie.  For somewhat of the person of Christ is not everie where in that sorte namelie his manhood, the only conjunction whereof with deitie is extended as farre as deitie, the actual position restrained and tied to a certaine place.  Yeat preasence by waie of conjunction is in some sorte presence” (V.55.7).

So, the human nature can not be present everywhere by way of position…but it can be present by way of conjunction–it is always united to that which is present everywhere.  One has a feeling that modern quantum mechanics might be rather helpful in helping us sort out some of these metaphysical quandaries.  But although we might have difficulties articulating exactly how presence by way of conjunction works, Hooker’s next category may seem to us more fruitful, employing as it does more “actualistic” language that will please the Barthian in all of us.  


For we may also speak of the humanity’s presence by way of “cooperation with deitie”:

“that deitie of Christ which before our Lordes incarnation wrought all thinges without man doth now worke nothinge wherein the nature which it hath assumed is either absent from it or idle.  Christ as man hath all power both in heaven and earth given him.  He hath as man not as God only supreme dominion over quicke and dead.  For so much his ascension into heaven and his session at the right hand of God doe importe.  The Sonne of God which did first humble him selfe by takinge our flesh upon him, descended afterwardes much lower and became accordinge to the flesh obedient so farre as to suffer death even the death of the crosse for all men because such was his fathers will” (V.55.8).  

This humiliation of the manhood is followed by its exaltation:

“as accordinge to his manhood he had glorified God on earth, so God hath glorified in heaven that nature which yealded him obedience and hath given unto Chirst even in that he is man such fullness of power over the whole world that he which before fulfilled in the state of humilitie and patience whatsoever God did require, doth now raigne in glorie till the time that all thinges be restored” (V.55.8).  

We saw some of this already in the last section–the very exciting notion that the Incarnation means that humanity is now made a participant in all that God does, a co-worker of deity–God works nothing now that he does not work through and with a human being, Jesus Christ.  Thus, wherever the Word is at work–indwelling human souls, in the Eucharist, etc.–there is the human nature at work.  This is what we confess in the doctrine of the ascension–that the human nature has now been glorified to participate in the Son’s reigning over all things–formerly as God, now as God and man.

In short, “This government [over all creation] therefore he exerciseth both as God and as man, as God by essentiall presence with all thinges, as man by cooperation with that which essentiallie is present.”  How does this cooperation work?  “By knowledge and assent the soule of Chirst is present with all thinges which the deitie of Christ worketh” (V.55.8)

This much, though, applies only to the human soul of Christ, not his human body, which is what the Lutherans are after–after all, this is at root a dispute over his body and blood in the Eucharistic elements.  For this, Hooker returns to the earlier category of conjunction:   “For his bodie being a parte of that nature which whole nature is presentlie joyned unto deitie wheresoever deitie is, it followeth that his bodilie substance hath everie where a presence of true conjunction with deitie” (V.55.9).  

Finally, Hooker introduces, though very briefly, a third category: “And for as much as it is by vertue of that conjunction made the bodie of the Sonne of God by whome also it was made a sacrifice for the synnes of the whole world, this giveth it a presence of force and efficacie throughout all generations of men” (V.55.9).  The sacrificed body of Christ, which is a human body, is of infinite value and saving efficacy by virtue of its conjunction with deity, and therefore, it is “it selfe infinite in possibilitie of application”–the power of Christ’s body, then, even if not its actual physical substance, can be present everywhere in the Eucharist.  This last is very Calvinian language, and, one might add, closer perhaps to the original intention of “substance” language in the doctrine of transubstantiation, in which substance was to be understood as the dynamic power of something rather than its physical properties.  

Hooker thus concludes, hoping in all this to have so far extended a bridge to the Lutherans that they should have nothing more to complain about: “Which thinges indifferently everie way considered, that gratious promise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ concerninge presence with his to the verie ende of the world, I see no cause but that wee may well and safely interpret he doth performe both as God by essentiall presence of deitie, and as man in that order sense and meaninge which hath bene shown” (V.55.9).   


All of this material, I need scarcely add, is pregnant with significance not merely for Eucharistic theology, but also for ecclesiology and political theology.  I have little doubt that as I spend the next couple years with Hooker, I shall have ample occasion to reflect on these latter connections and implications.  Suffice for now to mention just one, because it is one that Hooker makes explicit in Book VIII of the Lawes, contra Cartwright, in an argument which proves devastating not only to the Puritan political theology/ecclesiology, but also to our familiar whipping-boy VanDrunen, who shares the same Christological paradigm.  The short version is this: if it is true that by virtue of the incarnation and ascension, human nature is made a sharer in all the operations proper to the eternal Word,  that in reigning at the right hand of God over all creation the Son of God rules now as Son of Man, then the whole “two mediatorship” paradigm collapses as heterodox.  Christ does not rule over creation as Son of God and over redemption as Son of Man, because Christ is Son of God and Son of Man inseparably now, and as redeeming Son of Man, he cannot but be a co-agent with God in all of the divine reign over every aspect of creation, political life included.  

(If this last bit intrigues you, don’t worry; you can bet on my posting much more along these lines over the coming months and years.)