Dismissing Jesus: A Critical Assessment, Pt. 4—The Way of Renunciation

Print In chapter three, “The Way of Renunciation,” Jones introduces us to the heart of the opposition he aims to unpack in Dismissing Jesus: God vs. Mammon.  “Renunciation” here is about renouncing the “whole social system” that is Mammon: “the spirit of unsacrificial wealth, self-interest, and greed, a longing for greatness and prestige, a grasping for power, the power of domination and violence” (36). 

Renunciation is a complete act of repentance, a turning away from the ways of the flesh and the world and a turning toward the way of the cross.  In many ways, then, this chapter offers something of a meta-statement of many of the chapters that follow.  It remains fairly general, but, as far as it goes, is mostly quite helpful.  Readers may particularly profit from Jones’s extended exposition of the meaning of the three temptations of Christ,  in which he shows how Christ’s rejection of Satan’s three temptations encapsulates his rejection of all that the world holds dear: material possessions, public spectacle and prestige, and power.

Jones clearly thinks that he shines new light on these vices of greed and pride by treating all their manifestations as part of a larger overarching whole, which he names Mammon. But I’m not so sure that this new nomenclature really helps us, on the whole.  To be sure, it sheds light on how many vices that we often imagine to be separate are in fact deeply interconnected, and grow out of one another.  On the other hand, it substitutes vagueness for precision.  Moral theology has made a considerable investment over the millennia in classifying vices, and by collapsing them all into one indiscriminate heap, I worry, Jones makes it more difficult to offer concrete diagnoses of particularly evils or concrete prescriptions for resisting them.  Of course, as I have said, later chapters fill in some of the details of the big picture given here, so this worry may be exaggerated.  Still, I think it’s important to resist, at the level of terminology, a flattening out of the moral life that causes us to forget the radical pluriformity of the sins and
temptations we face. Read More

Resident Aliens?

Having failed to find time to finish my expanded Late Great Natural Law Debate roundup (short version here), I offer in the interval some food for thought from the Epistle to Diognetus (mid-2nd century), which I went through with my Christian Ethics students yesterday.  It offers a very important take on the concept of Christians as “resident aliens”, a rather different understanding than that of Hauerwas and Co.:


For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.


To sum up all in one word: what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.

Always Social, Always Public: Herman Bavinck on Religion

I will shortly be posting my own thoughts again, rather than big quotes of other people’s thoughts, but here’s a gem from Bavinck’s discussion of the church in Reformed Dogmatics IV:

We are by nature social beings, ‘political animals’; we are born out of, in, and for community and cannot for a moment exist apart from it.  The family, society, the state, associations of various kinds, and for various purposes, bind people together and cause us to live and act in concert with one another.  Even stronger than all these institutions and corporations, however, is the bond that unites people in religion.  There exists in religion a powerful social element.  The reason for this is not hard to find: religion is more deeply rooted in the human heart than anything else.  It is the immediate result of our being created in God’s image and therefore radically integral to our nature.  In religion, we regulate our relationship to God, the relationship that is central and foundational.  Our relationship to our fellow humans and to all other creatures is the outflow of our relationship to God.  Foundational to all issues is that of religion.  Those who agree with us in religion agree with us in our most basic, most sacred, and all-controlling convictions and sooner or later arrive at the same insights also in secondary matters.  But differences in religious convictions, upon serious reflection, produce ever greater divergence between people also in all subordinate matters.  That which unites people in religion is stronger than material interests, natural love, or enthusiasm for science and art.  People are prepared to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for religion.  For if they lose it, they lose their own selves, their own identities.  In religion, as everyone believes, a person’s very soul and salvation is at stake.  For that reason, too, every religion seeks to propagate itself and engates in mission.  Religion is never merely a private matter, a subjective opinion, a matter of taste; it always implies the claim to being the true and saving religions and therefore seeks acceptance by others and expansion, if possible, throughout the human race.  It is never a matter of the individual alone but always also a matter for the immediate and extended family, the people, and the state as a whole.  Accordingly, it always produces a common dogma and a common form of worship, sustained as it were by the consciousness that not the individual but humanity as a whole is the completed image of God, his temple and body.

Pretenses of Loyalty and Things Indifferent

John Perry’s remarkable recent book, Pretenses of Loyalty: Locke, Liberal Theory, and American Political Theology draws attention with remarkable precision and clarity to the fundamental problem of early modern political theology—what remains, in fact, the central and recurrent problem in defining the relation of religion and politics, church and state.  How are conflicting loyalties to be harmonized?  How are believers to be sure that their allegiance to God will not conflict with their responsibility to serve the common good?   

Perry’s thesis is quite simple, and repeated so frequently throughout his book that the reader cannot fail to grasp it and never loses track of it as the orientating point of the narrative and argument.  Perry argues that modern liberal theory, following (as it supposes) Locke, has been preoccupied with the idea that it is possible to delineate the just bounds of politics and religion, of public and private claims.  The hostilities between these two in principle should be readily resolvable.  And yet, no matter how hard liberal theorists try, the tensions continue to elude resolution.  Why?  Perry argues that modern liberal theorists have in fact ignored an important part of Locke’s project.  Although Locke spoke of the need to “distinguish exactly” between the business of government and religion, he did not think it was that simple.  Locke himself realized what recent communitarian theorists have come to realize; that there is in fact a clash of loyalties going on.  Loyalty to God makes claims on people that appear to contradict the claims that loyalty to the common good makes upon them.  The first thing that must be achieved, then, is a harmonization of loyalties, which, if it is to be persuasive for religious believers, must have a theological foundation.  Locke understood that if he was going to convince Protestants (of which he was one) that obeying God was not in conflict with their duty to be good citizens, he would have to provide a theological argument about what obeying God entailed, rightly understood.  


Perry goes on to do a beautiful job of ascertaining and outlining the theological shape of Locke’s political argument—in his early work and finally in his famous Letter concerning Toleration.  This book’s tightness of focus, however, is its weakness as well as its strength.  What Perry does not sufficiently realize is that the set of issues that Locke was wrestling with and seeking to resolve were nothing new; on the contrary, Locke was simply the latest dialogue partner in a discussion going back to the Reformation.  It would be false to accuse Perry of wholesale ignorance on this front, though it is common enough in literature on Locke.  Perry does indeed recognize that there is a backstory, and that Locke must be read against that backstory; it’s just that he doesn’t know that backstory well enough to realize just how important it actually is.  This becomes particularly clear when he comes to discuss the issue of adiaphora, which he sees as being central to Locke’s early work, The First Tract on Government. 

Although he has briefly treated the issue of toleration as far back as Calvin, his discussion of debates over adiaphora begins after the Restoration (1660).  After the Restoration, the Anglicans were keen to crack down on nonconformity, and their argument centered around the concept of adiaphora, “matters indifferent to salvation”; such matters fell legitimately under the oversight of the civil authorities.  Now, Perry notes that both Anglicans and Puritans believed that there were some things in themselves indifferent, and both were keen to avoid falling into superstition in thier use of adiaphorous rites. “However, they disagreed about what sort of rites crossed the line into legalism or superstition and whether practices inherently indifferent could be made conditionally essential. For example, could the bishop or ruler require kneeling for communion as a practical matter?”  Was it legitimate for things in themselves indifferent to become necessary by virtue of the command of an authority?  The nonconfomist Edward Bagshaw argued in his The Great Question Concerning Things Indifferent that it was not.  

Bagshaw argues for the principle of adiaphora on the standard Reformation bases of sola gratia and sola fide—works must not be necessary to salvation.  He goes on to distinguish, more sharply and clearly perhaps than most nonconformists, but far from uniquely, “between two types of indifferent acts: on the one hand, acts that are ‘purely’ indifferent, such as time and place, which are “so very indifferent” that he does not concern himself with them, and on the other hand, acts that would otherwise be indifferent ‘but by abuse have become occasions of superstition, such as are, bowing at the name of Jesus, the [sign of ] the cross in baptism, pictures in churches, surplices in preaching, kneeling at the sacrament.’”  

 Now, Perry goes on to say that Bagshaw went on to make a unique new argument:

“Part of what makes Bagshaw unique is how he argues against uniformity not strictly on the grounds of freedom of practice but by claiming that once an act is required, it automatically becomes so tainted by superstition that it therefore moves from being indifferent to forbidden. An act is indifferent until it is required, in which case it becomes prohibited. This logic is plain where he writes, ‘So long as a thing is left Indifferent, though there be some suspicion of superstition in it, we may lawfully practice it, as Paul did circumcision. But when any shall take upon them to make it Necessary then the thing so imposed presently loses not its Liberty only, but likewise its Lawfulness; and we may not without breach of the Apostles’ Precept submit to it. So long as there is no rule as to whether I must kneel to receive communion, I may kneel or stand. However, once kneeling is required, I must stand, lest my obedience to the rule become a “work of the law.”’”

In other words, adiaphora are not merely those things which have as a matter of fact been left free to individual conscience, but are such that they must continue to be left free.  Now, this is all very fascinating; the problem is that it is not remotely new.  The same arguments can be seen in the exact same context (the imposition of the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England) a century before.  Nor are they a uniquely English problem.  They are a Protestant problem.  Wherever the doctrine of Christian liberty was preached, it engendered two rival interpretations: the one just mentioned, and the view that adiaphora have been left free to human decision, which means that they may be disposed of by human authority, so as not to leave the individual free with respect to them any longer.  One finds Bagshaw’s argument spelled out at least as early as Matthias Flacius’s 1548 On True and False Adiaphora.  

 Because Perry does not realize how far back this particular debate goes, neither does he realize the extent to which Locke’s response to it (for Locke was originally an apologist for conformity and uniformity in religion) is part of an ongoing tradition of Protestant political theology.  So Perry writes,

“What set Locke’s argument apart from others that supported uniformity in adiaphora is how thoroughly political it is. It is not an argument that uniformity of practice most pleases God but that uniformity most inclines to civil peace. He naturally offers supporting arguments to show that there is no theological obstacle to uniformity, but these are decisively secondary.” 

He then quotes Jacqueline Rose (who, from her article, appears to have a much more nuanced understanding of debates about adiaphora than Perry appears to):

“What has vanished [from the debate when we turn to] the Tracts is the concept of any distinction between ‘indifferent things of civil as well as religious concernment’…Locke was the sole writer in this Restoration period who sought to provide an explicit theory behind the analogy [of civil and religious law] rather than merely employing it.”

Now perhaps Locke really is the sole writer of the Restoration period to do so, but he is merely treading ground that Hooker and others had not merely trodden, but virtually paved before him.  In the 16th century, conformists had repeatedly understood the question of adiaphora to be a political one, and had argued for the parallel between indifferent civil actions and indifferent religious actions, and the need for order and decency in both.  It was because indifferent religious actions could in fact be understood as a kind of civil action that they could be regulated by civil authority for the sake of civil peace without any religious claim being thereby made.  In most writers, admittedly, this argument was underdeveloped, but it is developed with elaborate systematic support by Hooker.

It is on the basis of this understanding of adiaphora that the early Locke opposes toleration.  Again, Perry finds it significant that toleration is opposed here not on theological grounds—because God cannot abide heretics, or whatever—but on civil grounds: if religious conformity is not insisted upon in things that are indifferent, and hence the proper province of the civil magistrate, then strife and disorder will prevail.  “He professes to be a great lover of liberty but concedes, ‘I find that a general freedom is but a general bondage.’ Without uniformity in adiaphora, the only liberty we would achieve is ‘liberty for contention, censure and persecution [turning loose] the tyranny of religious rage; were every indifferent thing left unlimited nothing would be lawful.’”  In other words, precisely by legislating conformity in adiaphora, the authorities ensure that they remain adiaphora.  If Puritans were left free to decide about them as they chose, they would become bones of contention, as different parties argued for stricter or looser practice and accused the other of being unbiblical or superstitious, etc.  This fear was clearly not without good cause, given the tendency of the Puritan left (in England, Scotland, and America) to splinter into ever-stricter sects.  Locke also argues that those with other seditious agendas will use religious scruples as the basis for their protest (as indeed we see today with the way Tea Party Christians use religious rhetoric to oppose political and economic policies they disagree with and endorse tax rebellion).  Accordingly, Locke argues, the ruler has legitimate authority to command the outward actions of his subjects in all things indifferent; he cannot command their hearts, he cannot trample on the realm of things essential to salvation.  The only question, then, is where we draw the line of what constitutes adiaphora.  Hobbes could, with reasonable Protestant precedents behind him (certain statements of Luther, incidentally), count anything beyond faith alone adiaphorous; Hooker was rather more careful and nuanced.  Locke, in any case, did not have to deal with this question in the Tract, because Bagshaw had granted the matters in dispute to be adiaphorous.


Now, Perry goes on to show how the transition from Locke’s early anti-toleration to his later pro-toleration position is thus smoother than one would expect.  Locke never argues that toleration is illegitimate in principle, but that, empirically speaking, too much discord and rebellion will ensue if the magistrate does not keep tight reins on religious practice in his realm.  Could Locke be shown that it was possible for sects differing in their practice of adiaphora to coexist peacefully with one another, and in subordination to their ruler on all other matters, he would be fine with toleration.  As it turns out, he is so convinced, by a series of circumstances, over the next twenty years; indeed, he comes to the conclusion (which we almost all share today) that so hard do people find it to treat adiaphora as genuinely indifferent, so earnestly do they cling to their convictions regarding them, that enforced conformity creates more strife than it solves.  So he reaches the new conclusion that government can, indeed ought, to tolerate diversity in religious adiaphora; and since indeed this was the only aspect of religion over which government could have ever claimed jurisdiction (since it cannot rule the realm of faith), Locke now argues that government should stay out of all matters that are objects of religious loyalty. 

To make this argument, though, as Perry shows, Locke must make another theological argument, not dissimilar in overall shape to his original argument.  For how can believers be shown that their religious loyalty, their allegiance to God, does not require them to be intolerant?  The objective of his argument now, then, is not to establish an area of adiaphora over which Christians should let the authorities make decisions, but to establish an area of adiaphora over which they should be happy to let other individuals and communities make their own decisions.  As just seen, Locke originally believed, as did many others of his time and before him, that strife was more likely to ensue from people being unable to tolerate their neighbors’ diverse religious practices than from the government simply opting not to tolerate any diversity.  Now he has reached the opposite conclusion, but still recognizes there is a potential for strife that must be defused.  He must convince believers that proper loyalty to God does not entail attempting to vindicate his honor by opposing or attacking all those deemed to be unfaithful.  God asks us, rather, to exercise charity, and reserves vengeance to himself.  From this perspective, even the core teachings of the Christian faith are adiaphora—not when it comes to myself, for my own salvation is at stake in my beliefs, but when it comes to other people.  Other people’s beliefs and practices need have no effect on my own salvation, therefore there is no reason why I should be bothered about them one way or another.  Needless to say, Locke’s argument at this point entails a massive break from the kind of corporate, communal mindset that had continued to dominate even most Protestants up through the early modern period.  Where Calvin would have feared the judgment that God would send down on the community as a whole for its toleration of godlessness in its midst, Locke offers us a hyper-Protestant “every man for himself” political theology.  

Of course, allowing toleration of religious adiaphora requires Locke to come up with some principle for determining the realm of strictly civil concern over which the monarch still has the right to command, and differentiating clearly from legitimate religious obligation. (E.g., religious obligation cannot be claimed as a basis for tax evasion.)  It was his earlier conviction that such a criterion was impossible that led him to argue for civil control over all adiaphora.  He accomplishes this by another theological argument and by a philosophical argument.  The theological argument involves radicalizing early Protestant emphases on the invisibility, inwardness, and otherworldliness of the order of salvation, so that he will deny that the Church has any this-worldly ends or requires this-worldly means.  The philosophical argument is his rejection of the natural law tradition, which Hooker would have used to determine the proper scope of civil jurisdiction, and replacement of it with his massively influential doctrine of natural rights.  The task of civil government, then, can now be understood as oriented solely toward the securing and protecting of “natural rights,” rather than the promotion of the common good more generally, which would naturally include religious matters.


The last couple paragraphs have been an extremely cursory overview of what Locke is up to in his Letter concerning Toleration, which is analyzed with great care and clarity by Perry in chapter five of his book.  Perry does an excellent job of flagging the tensions and weaknesses in Locke’s argument, and the extent to which it depends upon sharing his theological premises.  It is this fact, Perry argues, that accounts for the ongoing struggles of Lockean liberalism to achieve a harmony of religion and politics.  Locke’s solution required a theological argument, specifically a very Protestant kind of theological argument, in order to render it coherent.  That worked fine, as it turned out, because his original audience by and large shared the theological premises.  But clearly, the solution, although intended for a situation of pluralism, finds itself subject to diminishing returns the more pluralist a setting it finds itself in.  This problem has been compounded by the fact that modern theorists have forgotten that there was a theological argument in back of Locke’s political philosophy to begin with.  Perry traces all this in Part III of his book, “John Locke’s America.”

But for now, I will just fast-forward to the conclusion, where Perry offers some tentative (and rather Hookerian, I would say) proposals—not solutions, mind you—as to how to address these problems.  

Perry suggests that liberalism has developed too great a skepticism of rhetoric, of persuasive speech ordered toward the particular situation and presuppositions of one’s audience.  Liberal public discourse must neutralize difference in advance, and thus argue from what claims to be a mere abstract rationality that anyone should share.  If they do not in fact share it, then we’re suddenly at an impasse—our opponent must just be being irrational, and the calm reasoned discussion degenerates into a shouting match.  What we need is a recognition that we do not in fact all share the same presuppositions of what is to count as rational, what ends are appropriate for human beings and for society.  We must regain faith in the possibility of public debates in which such conflicting visions of the good are made explicit, faith that the disagreements need not remain wholly incommensurable.  This requires, in the end, faith in the natural virtues—confidence that, outside of Christian belief, we will find fellow citizens imbued with a certain sense of virtue and a shared desire for truth.  And it requires a willingness to accept the penultimacy of political life; the renunciation of the quest for a final solution like Locke’s that would establish the “just bounds” of rival loyalties for all time.

The Soul of a Christian Commonwealth

(An excerpt from a recent thesis chapter draft; citations removed)

Nowhere is Hooker’s dependence on the dictum “grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it more true than his treatment of the role of religion in the commonwealth. While Hooker understood public religion as a natural and civil phenomenon, not as exclusively Christian or spiritual, this did not mean it was a mere simulacrum of the spiritual; rather, although achieving its effect through natural and outward instruments, Christian worship can serve as a real pathway toward our growth in grace.  The key point, however, was that the civil kingdom, in addition to being concerned with all the mundane concerns of public order, economic prosperity, and outward protection that characterize our modern conception of the domain of politics, was also properly a religious order; it existed under God, toward God, and animated and structured by worship. 

Given Hooker’s argument in Book I, it is not hard to see why this should be the case.  Human nature is not satisfied with mere finite, earthly ends, but constantly seeks a happiness beyond the bounds of temporal existence, a happiness to be found in God.  This restless longing for God, which subordinates and orders all other desires, will always, thinks Hooker, be reflected in the life of human society, which will always establish some kind of religious devotion at the heart of its public life.  Because of the centrality and ultimacy of this religious devotion, worship is not merely of value for its own sake, but serves as an anchor for the public life of the community, guaranteeing unity around a common object of love, and reverent esteem for the magistrates who are the guardians of this common life.  Hooker describes the importance of religion for the commonwealth at the outset of Book V: 

We agree that pure and unstained religion ought to be the highest of all cares appertaining to public regiment: as well in regard of that aid and protection which they who faithfully serve God confess they receive at his merciful hands, as also for the force which religion hath to qualify all sorts of men, and to make them in public affairs the more serviceable, governors the apter to rule with conscience, inferiors for conscience’ sake the willinger to obey.  It is no peculiar conceit, but a matter of sound consequence, that all duties are by so much the better performed, by how much the men are more religious from whose abilities the same proceed.  For if the course of politic affairs cannot in any good sort go forward without fit instruments, and that which fitteth them be their virtues, let Polity acknowledge itself indebted to Religion; godliness being the chiefest top and wellspring of all true virtues, even as God is of all good things.

Hooker then goes on to outline how religion helps preserve and perfect each of the four cardinal virtues, to the great benefit of the commonwealth, going so far as to say, regarding the greatest of the cardinal virtues, “So naturall is the union of Religion with Justice, that wee may boldly deny there is either, where both are not.” 

Hooker will return to this argument early in Book VIII, where he constructs his defence of the Royal Supremacy on two chief pillars.  The first is the personal identity of the visible Church (being an outward society of those who profess the faith) and the Commonwealth in Elizabethan England.  The second is the natural responsibility of commonwealths for religious concerns, for which Hooker is not afraid to cite Aristotle: 

“That the scope thereof is not simplie to live, nor the duetie so much to provide for life as for meanes of living well,” and that even as the soule is the worthier part of man, so humane societies are much more to care for that which tendeth properly unto the soules estate then for such temporall thinges as this life doth stand in need of.  Other proof there needes none to shewe that as by all men the kingdome of God is first to be sought for: So in all commonwealths things spirituall ought above temporall to be provided for.  And of things spirituall the chiefest is Religion.  

From all this, however, it might appear that Hooker has been so eager to demonstrate nature’s receptivity to the supernatural, religion’s integral place in the commonwealth, that he has perhaps naturalized religion altogether, reducing Christianity to a mere prop of political order.  He anticipates this objection in V.1 and V.2, attacking both skeptics and atheists.  The latter conclude from the “politique use of religion . . . that religion it selfe is a mere politique devise, forged purposelie to serve for that use.”  The former imagine “that it greatly skilleth not of what sort our religion be, inasmuch as heathens, Turks, and infidels, impute to religion a great part of the same effects which ourselves ascribe thereunto.” Against these objections, he takes care to argue that on the contrary, it is not merely religion, but true religion, after which all men instinctively seek, and that finding the true religion, Christianity, makes a great difference, both in this life, and in that which is to come.  He has no hesitation in recognizing the many virtues and benefits which flowed from heathen religion, as “certain sparks of the light of truth intermingled with the darkness of error,” but he maintains nonetheless that “the purer and perfecter our religion is, the worthier effects it hath in them who stedfastly and sincerely embrace it.”

Hooker thus develops his account of public religion under his overarching logic of nature and grace.  The desire for and worship of God is natural to man, and indeed, so central to human nature that it serves to ground and orient the other virtues, and is a mainstay of civil polity.  Fallen as man is, however, this religious devotion is tainted with “heaps of manifold repugnant errors,” on account of which we desperately need the gracious revelation of true religion.  This true religion, then, serves not only to set us on the path to everlasting life, which the false religions cannot even begin to do, but also reorients our temporal existence, crowning the natural virtues with a perfection beyond the capacity of false religion, and enabling a more harmonious life together in civil society.  For all these reasons, Hooker can argue for the Christian magistrate’s overarching concern for the spiritual well-being of his subjects, which is found only in their redemption by Christ; for in this rests their ultimate good, to which they are naturally oriented, and from it flows all subsidiary goods which will ensure a peaceful and virtuous life for the commonwealth.  On Hooker’s definition, then, the Church, considered as an external, visible society, is a commonwealth ordered toward the true religion: 

the care of religion being common unto all societies politic, such Societies as doe embrace the true religion, have the name of the Church given them for distinction from the rest; so that every body politic hath some religion, but the Church that religion which is only true.  Truth of religion is that proper difference whereby a church is distinguished from other politic societies of men.

He concludes, therefore, attacking what he perceives as the disastrous implications of the Presbyterian separation of church and commonwealth, 

A grosse errour it is to think that regall power ought to serve for the good of the bodie and not of the soule, for mens temporall peace and not their eternall safetie; as if God had ordained Kings for no other ende and purpose but only to fatt up men like hogges and to see that they have their mash? Indeed to leade men unto salvation by the hand of secret, invisible and ghostly regiment or by the externall administration of thinges belonging unto priestly order (such as the worde and Sacramentes are) this is denied unto Christian Kings, no cause in the world to think them uncapable of supreme authoritie in the outward goverment which disposeth the affayres of religion so farr forth as the same are disposable by humane authoritie and to think them uncapable thereof only for that, the said religion is everlastingly beneficiall to them that faythfullie continue in it.  

This passage highlights at the same time to Hooker’s haste to qualify what he envisions by the magisterial care for religion.  After all, if the prince is responsible for the good of his subjects, and their highest good is to be found in union with God, then does this not make the prince the pontifex maximus, both priest and king, arbiter of his subjects’ eternal destiny as much as their temporal?  Certainly, in some of the ambitiously caesaropapist declarations of the Henrician era, these implications would not have been far from the surface.  Hooker protects himself against these excesses by two sets of distinctions.  The first, of which we have already seen a good deal, is his two-kingdoms doctrine, which we see on display here in his qualification about “secret, invisible and ghostly regiment.”  The salvation of believers lay entirely within the hands of Christ alone, working invisibly by his Spirit in the hearts of men.  External means he may use to ready the soil and water the sapling, but only he could plant the seed of spiritual life.  No human servant could usurp his kingship here; they could only point to it.  

The second distinction, mentioned here in Hooker’s reference to “the externall administration of thinges belonging to priestly order,” designates a distinction of roles or orders, within the one civil kingdom.  While insisting that church and commonwealth are one society, he is careful to preserve a diversity of duties within this society, so that those activities in which the activity of the spiritual kingdom is outwardly manifested—the preaching of the Word, leading of worship, and administration of sacraments—are entrusted to priests, not kings.  He resists, however, the implication that “they that are of the one can neither appointe, nor execute in part the dueties which belong unto them which are of the other.”  On the contrary, throughout his argument for the royal supremacy, he maintains that the monarch, by virtue of his office as highest guardian of the common good, ought in England to have final (though not sole) authority for directing the various offices within the Church toward the good of the whole.  In other words, while the magistrate’s arena of direct concern is temporal affairs, and he can by no means lay claim to the power of order—which is the priestly authority over word and sacrament—he nonetheless exercises dominion over all matters in his realm, as the repository of sovereignty and the deputy of Christ in the civil kingdom. 

By virtue of these distinctions, Hooker tries to resolve the ambiguity inherent in the Puritans’ constant insistence that the affairs of the visible Church are “spiritual” and hence belong to Christ’s “spiritual kingdom”; he is willing to accede to this language, so long as it be qualified rightly:

To make thinges therfore so plaine that henceforth a Childes capacitie may serve rightly to conceive our meaning, we make the Spiritual regiment of Christ to be generally that wherby his Church is ruled and governed in things spirituall.  Of this generall wee make two distinct kindes, the one invisibly exercised by Christ himself in his own person, the other outwardly administred by them whom Christ doth allow to be the Rulers and guiders of his Church. 

 This outward administration of the “spiritual regiment” belongs within the orbit of what will elsewhere be called the “civil regiment,” which contains also matters of strictly temporal concern.