Calvin Against the Anabaptists

In several recent posts, I have hinted at the tendency of Reformed disciplinarian thinking to fall into the same errors as Anabaptism, attempting to collapse the gap between the pure Church, hidden in Christ and only glimpsed in the world, and the mixed Church of wheat and tares in which we must live and worship—or, to put it more succinctly, attempting to immanentize the eschaton, anticipating the judgment which only Christ can make by claiming to identify in the here and now all those who are his and those who are not.  

In his Brief Instruction for Arming All the Good Faithful Against the Errors of the Common Sect of the Anabaptists (a critique of the Schleitheim Confession), however, John Calvin offers an extraordinarily fine summary of what is at stake, and why rightly Reformed discipline must never seek to overstep its all too human limits.  (Of course, it may justly be argued that Calvin himself perhaps did not always sufficiently maintain these caveats in practice, and later disciplinarians would certainly cite him as precedent for some of their excesses.)  Here is the nub of the matter:

“The debate is over this: they think that wherever this order [excommunication] is not properly constituted, or not duly exercised, no church exists, and it is unlawful for a Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper there.  Thus they separate themselves from the churches in which the doctrine of God is purely preached, taking this pretext: that they do not care to participate in the pollution committed therein, because those who ought to be excommunicated have not been banished.

“We, on the contrary, confess that it certainly is an imperfection and an unfortunate stain in a church where this order is absent.  Nevertheless, we do not hold it to be the church, nor persist in its necessity for communion, nor do we hold that it is lawful for people to separate themselves from the church.”

He subdivides this matter into two questions: (1) is a church that does not discipline still a church? (2) is it legitimate to separate oneself from a church on the account that it does not practice discipline?

On the first, he appeals to the example of the Corinthians and Galatians, who were still designated “churches” despite their severe corruptions.

“Therefore, let us not deceive ourselves by imagining that a perfect church exists in this world, since our Lord Jesus Christ has declared that the kingdom will be like a field in which the good grain is so mixed with weeds that it is often not visible (Matt. 13:24).  Again, the kingdom will be like a net in which different kinds of fish are caught (Matt. 13:47).  These parables teach us that although we might want an infallible purity in the church and take great pains to achieve it, nevertheless, we will never see the church so pure as not to contain many pollutions.”

This ongoing pollution is of two kinds: first, the persistent sin in the lives of believers, who are simul justus et peccator, so that “even if we had the best-disciplined church in the world, nevertheless, we could not evade the fact that we would daily need our Lord’s cleansing of us in delivering us from our sins by His grace”; second, in that the church always contains hypocrites, who do not fear God or honor him in their lives.  

Now, it is the role of excommunication to remove the latter from the Church, but we must be realistic about its limits:

“This pollution ought to be eliminated by the discipline of the ban, and the church ought to diligently work, to the best of its ability, to do so . . . but [even the most diligent] never arrive at a point where there still aren’t a large number of unpunished evildoers present.  For the malice of hypocrites is often hidden or, at least, is not so well discovered as to permit one to pronounce sentence against it.

“Therefore, in sum, let us hold to what our Lord says, that until the end of the world, it is necessary to tolerate many bad weeds, for fear that if we should pull them all up we might lose the good grain in the process (Matt. 13:25, 29).  What more do we want?  Our Lord, in order to test his own, has willed to subject His church to this poverty, so that it has always contained a mixture of good and bad.”

It is for this reason that Calvin refuses to elevate discipline to a mark of the Church, as some other reformers, influenced by the Anabaptists, were doing:

“For we owe this honor to the Lord’s holy Word and to His holy sacraments: that wherever we see this Word preached, and, following the rule that it gives us, God therein purely worshiped without superstition, and the sacraments administered, we conclude without difficulty that there the church exists.  Otherwise, what would you have?  That the wickedness of hypocrites, or the contemptuous of God, should be able to destroy the dignity and virtue of the Word of our Lord and His sacraments?

“Now I readily acknowledge that discipline also belongs to the substance of the church—if you want to establish it in good order—and when good order is absent, as when the ban is not practiced at all, then the true form of the church is to that extent disfigured.  But this is not to say that the church is wholly destroyed and the edifice no longer stands, for it retains the teaching on which the church must be founded.”

Discipline cannot be a mark, because discipline is something that we do, and the Church is the work of God:

“it would be incorrect to base consideration solely on men.  For the majesty of the Word of God and His sacraments ought to be so highly esteemed by us that wherever we see that majesty we may know with certainty that the church exists, notwithstanding the vices and errors that characterize the common life of men.

“In summary, whenever we have to decide what constitutes the church, the judgment of God deserves to be preferred over ours.  But the Anabaptists cannot acquiesce in the judgment of God.”

 

The second question to be addressed follows logically from this discussion—ought we to separate ourselves from churches that do not discipline properly?  (Note that Calvin has in mind a context where there is essentially one established Christian community—or one Protestant community at least—not a modern denominational setting where many different instantiations of the church exist alongside one another.  To separate from the church at Geneva, in Calvin’s context, would have been a declaration that it was not a legitimate church.)  The Anabaptists said that “wherever the undisciplined are not excluded from the communion of the sacrament, the Christian corrupts himself by communing there.”  Unholiness, on this understanding, is intrinsically contagious.  Note that this is not the concern (which Calvin elsewhere will express) that sinners left undisciplined will corrupt other Christians by their bad example, but that their mere presence at the Table is sufficient to bring judgment on all present, to turn the Supper of the Lord into a table of demons.  Such attitudes remain remarkably common among many Reformed today (I knew a Reformed seminary professor once who considered that at a church that practiced paedocommunion, one could not receive a valid sacrament!).  Calvin has firm words for this kind of thinking:

“a Christian ought certainly to be sad whenever he sees the Lord’s Supper being corrupted by the reception of the malicious and unworthy.  To the best of his ability, he ought to work to see that such does not happen.  Nevertheless, if it does happen, it is not lawful for him to withdraw from communion and deprive himself of the Supper.  Rather he ought always continue to worship God with the others, listen to the Word, and receive the Lord’s Supper as long as he lives in that place.”

Calvin goes on to fortify this opinion with Biblical examples, and particularly with the example of Christ himself, who did not scorn to participate in the rites of a deeply corrupt temple system.  Indeed, we should remember that Paul is quite clear in 1 Cor. 11:28 where chief responsibility for fencing the Table lies:

“he does not command everyone to examine the faults of his neighbors, but says accordingly, ‘Let every man search himself, and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For whoever comes in an unworthy manner will receive his condemnation.

“In these words there are two matters to note.  The first is, to eat the bread of the Lord in an unworthy manner does not mean having communion with those who are unworthy of it, but not preparing oneself properly by examining if one has faith and repentance.  The second is, that when we come to the Lord’s Supper, we ought not begin by examining others, but each should examine himself.”

 

In summary, Calvin says, while churches should seek to discipline the openly ungodly in their midst, such discipline should not think of itself as maintaining more than a poor approximation of the holiness that properly belongs to the Church:

“let us take thought of what we can do.  And when we have done what was in our power and duty, if we cannot achieve what we had hoped to and what would have been desirable, let us commend the rest to God that He might put His own hand to it, as it is His work.”

(all quotes taken from pp. 57-66 of Calvin’s Treatises Against the Anabaptists and the Libertines, edited and translated by Benjamin Wirt Farley)


When a Mark Isn’t a Mark: Discipline and Disciplinarianism

Anyone who’s had a good Reformed Theology 101 class has likely heard of the old debate in the Reformed tradition between the “two-markers” and the “three-markers,” usually with the narrative being that the three-markers rightly prevailed.  The dispute concerns the classic Protestant doctrine of the notae ecclesiae, the “marks of the Church,” by which Protestants sought to define what constituted a Church (against the Catholic doctrine that it could be straightforwardly recognized by institutional union with and obedience to Rome).  The original answer was that there were just two marks, the Word and sacraments; or, as often more fully expressed, “the Word faithfully preached and the sacraments rightly administered.”  In these qualifications, however, lay the germ for a third mark, “discipline”—for how, some asked, can we ensure that the Word is faithfully preached and the sacraments rightly administered unless such things be policed in some way?  The Church also needs discipline, it was concluded by some, and this third mark found its way into a number of Reformed confessions from the latter part of the sixteenth century on, with varying degrees of emphasis.   

To some, it may seem like an arcane semantic dispute, and yet the question has gained new prominence for recent debates about two-kingdoms theology.  For modern Reformed-two-kingdoms advocates, the inclusion of the third mark was the particular, crucial contribution of Reformed theology, since it sets apart the visible church as a distinct polity over against the state.  In recent posts, Matthew Tuininga, continuing his campaign for Calvin, (though without actually engaging with the recent essay on the Calvinist International), has drawn repeated focus to the importance of discipline as a mediation of the spiritual kingdom, as he takes it, in Calvin’s theology.  In this emphasis, he is treading (although in reverse, as it were), a path blazed by noted Reformation scholar Torrance Kirby (and before him, by Paul Avis).  Torrance Kirby, in his works on Hooker, has argued that the introduction of the third mark was a decisive move, creating a new understanding of the two kingdoms; of course Kirby argues that this engendered a “radical” ecclesiology (similar to Anabaptism), that moved away from the magisterial Reformation, undoing Protestantism’s gains vis-a-vis Rome.  For Kirby, it is absolutely wrong to identify this new view with Calvin, though he does have a culprit: Bucer.  

Having at various times and various places made use of Kirby’s narrative, I would like now to suggest an important revision (though without altering the substantive point).

 

The problem with Kirby’s narrative was suggested to me by an article by renowned Vermigli scholar Emidio Campi, which Jordan Ballor was kind enough to bring to my attention.  Campi argues that Vermigli, unlike Calvin, was staunch in his insistence that discipline was a third mark of the Church.  Of course, this is noteworthy as testimony (over against VanDrunen, Tuininga, et. al.) that Calvin was a two-marker after all, but problematic since Kirby, also a major Vermigli scholar, has placed Vermigli front and centre as a representative of the “magisterial” tradition which Hooker harks back to (though I do not recall Kirby ever making particular claims about Vermigli and the notae ecclesiae).  Let’s look at Kirby’s claims a bit before turning to Campi and then proposing a solution.

Kirby’s fullest discussion comes in his early book Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy: He begins by emphasizing that this question is a hinge on which all else depends, that the marks “are the means whereby the true visible Church is discerned.  They constitute the substance or esse of the Church, that part of the visible Church through knowledge of which membership in Christ’s mystical body is attained.  The notae ecclesiae are of crucial significance in the overall doctrine of the Church in so far as they are the meeting point of the mystical and external aspects of the Church.” 

The key issue, then, “centres upon the inclusion of Discipline as a third essential sign of the existence of the true visible Church.”  Kirby insists, following Francois Wendel, that Bucer is the source of all the mischief here, deviating the magisterial Reformation in a “radical,” Anabaptistic direction.  Calvin, says Kirby, forcefully rejected this, together with Luther, Melanchthon, and “the Zurich divines”—it is this group he labels “the magisterial reformers [who] hold in common the view that the Word and Sacraments constitute the essential marks of the Church.”

In singling out Bucer, Kirby is following not just Wendel, but Avis, who identifies “a tradition of ecclesiology, extending from Bucer both to the Puritans and to the Anabaptists and the Separatists, which attempted to avoid the anomalies manifested when the reformers tried to come to terms with the position of Rome, not by broadening but by narrowing the definition of the Church” (Avis, Church in the Theology of the Reformers, 45).  Beza, says Kirby, followed Bucer rather than Calvin in this, as did Knox and the Scottish Presbyterians, and Cartwright and the English Presbyterians; Whitgift and Hooker followed Calvin and the magisterial Reformers.  Kirby goes on to expound how Hooker shows that Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty, ultimately, is at stake in this dispute, since the elevation of discipline to a third mark makes something external binding on the conscience and part of the esse of the Church. 

A tidy narrative (although it seems to lay an awful lot of blame on the shoulders of Bucer), but problems arise.

For one, it’s notable that in his recapitulation of this argument in Richard Hooker: Reformer and Platonist 15 years later, Kirby concedes that “others profoundly influenced by the more radical ecclesiology [as he calls it] were the Heidelberg Calvinists (Zacharias Ursinus, Kaspar Olevianus and Girolamo Zanchi).  Now this isn’t starting to look very good.  Bucer, Beza, Knox, Cartwright, Ursinus, Olevianus, Zanchi?  That’s virtually an honor roll of fathers of the Reformed tradition.  You’re telling me that all these guys represent some “radical,” sub-Protestant innovation, and that the true Reformed tradition lies elsewhere?  This seems dubious.  Moreover, if Kirby is right that Calvin and the Zurich theologians did not take this tack, then this casts more doubt on his narrative.  For if so much (fidelity to the magisterial Reformation!) hinged upon the retention of just two marks, then how did the two-markers and the three-markers seem to get along so well?   Do we have evidence of a major rift between Calvin and Beza on the issue?  Or Bullinger and Bucer?  or between Whitgift and Ursinus?  Kirby says in RHRP: “Thus Whitgift’s exchange with Cartwright in the Admonition Controversy and Hooker’s own further contribution to the debate can quite plausibly be viewed as a continuation in England of the continental debate between the proponents of magisterial and radical reformation”—but what exactly is this continental debate he is referring to?  If “radical reformation” means what it normally does, then it’s clear enough, but Kirby has enlarged the term immensely.

 

So what about Vermigli?  Again, while I’m not sure that Kirby explicitly mentions Vermigli in relation to this issue, he has repeatedly argued for understanding Vermigli as a representative of a “Zurich theology” along with Bullinger, and in RHDRS he classes “the Zurich divines” with Calvin, Luther, and Melanchthon on this issue (although in his footnote there, he only mentions Zwingli and Bullinger).

In his essay “John Calvin and Peter Martyr Vermigli: A Reassessment of Their Relationship” (in the book Calvin Und Calvinismus) Campi argues, however (I will quote at length):

In effect, the Anabaptists insisted on considering discipline to be an indispensable mark of the church, while Calvin judged that belief to be dangerously confused and established a much clearer differentiation between distinctive marks (notae ecclesiae) of the church, on the one hand, and discipline or church government, on the other.  The distinctive marks, which should serve to distinguish true from false church, are the pure preaching of and listening to the Word of God and the lawful administration of the sacraments, while discipline belongs within the ambit of the organization of the true church.  Discipline, Calvin averred, is nothing but ‘a kind of curb to restrain and tame those who war against the doctrine of Christ.’ (Inst. 4.12.1)  Its end is not in the exclusion of imperfect members of the communion of believers so as to be able to follow a perfect purity and holiness, but rather to incite sinners to repent and to restore communion within the body of Chirst, although everyday experience shows what and how many difficulties get in the way of realizing that end.  In summary, in the context of resurgent Catholicism, which vaunted itself as the true church on the basis of its institutional unity, and of radical sectarianism, which suggested a model of separatist churches composed only of visible saints, Calvin took a middle path between the extreme ecclesiology of Rome and that of the Anabaptists.  Calvin saw in the two notae ecclesiae the distinctive character of a church and in discipline an organizational instrument to use following a ‘judgment of charity’, according to which one presumes that members of the church are those who profess the Christian faith, behave appropriately, and take part in the sacraments (Inst. 4.1.8)

What according to Vermigli might the true church be? . . . Vermigli declares, ‘among the churches the one we should embrace is the one that most greatly flourishes for its spirit, doctrine, and holiness.’  He sets forth, moreover, that ‘we say that the Church is the assembly of believers, the reborn, whom God gathers in Christ by means of the Gospel of the Holy Spirit, and who by means of the ministers directs them in the pureness of doctrine, in the lawful use of the sacraments, and in discipline.

Alongside the Gospel and the sacrament, Vermigli numbers discipline among the distinctive signs of the church. One is not dealing here with an isolated text, as with Calvin’s Reply to Sadoleto. Vermigli is utterly resolute on the question of discipline. One does not see an evolution in his thought on this; his conviction when he arrived in Strasbourg remained unchanged until his death. In fact, in 1561 a year before his death, in reply to a question posed to him by Polish Reformers on ways of building the Church, Vermigli was explicit in indicating three distinct signs: the pure preaching of the Gospel, the lawful administration of the sacraments, and the immediate introduction of discipline, which he calls Evangelii regula de correctione fraterna.

….

And yet it should be made plain that it is Vermigli (together with Oecolampadius and Bucer), rather than Calvin, who offers the arguments for the inclusion of discipline among the notae ecclesiae, an ecclesiological stance which was to have considerable relevance to Reformed confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries, e.g the Catechism of Emden, the Scottish Confession (1560), the Belgian Confession (1561), and the Westminster Confession (1648).

Campi, then, has added Vermigli (and Oecolampadius) to the already-long list of those who espouse what Kirby calls a “radical ecclesiology” at odds with the magisterial Reformation.  This just doesn’t sound right.  And yet, on the other hand, you will see from the first paragraph that I quoted, that Campi is clearly with Kirby (and indeed, appears to be influenced by Kirby) in seeing Calvin as a forthright defender of just two marks, and indeed on the significance of this affirmation as a bulwark against Rome and Anabaptism.  Moreover, Campi goes on to make an intriguing further observation, although he doesn’t develop it much—that “there is a substantial theological commonality between what Calvin and Vermigli mean by discipline” for Vermigli too insists that the “end of excommunication is only salvation through penitence and the certain forgiveness of God.”  

 

The key to making sense of all this, I suggest, in is realizing that not all “marks” are created equal, so to speak.  Something may, after all, be said to be a “mark of the Church” in more than one sense.  For instance, in a certain context we might very well say that “love is the chief mark of the Church” (in fact, John Locke said just this now that I think about it, interestingly enough; but we can save that for another day).   By this we would not mean that love is constitutive of the Church (not our love, at any rate, thank heaven), but that love is something that Christians will display, by which the Church will be recognized.  Indeed, it can be said to be necessary for the Church in a sense, inasmuch as love is something that Christians must show if they are to live as faithful disciples.  But we would not want to say (or at any rate, we should not want to say) that without Christians showing love, the Church would not exist; love is not necessary in that sense, for the Church depends upon Christ, not us.  We could thus speak of love as a descriptive mark of the Church, not as a constitutive mark.  

And just the same could be said for discipline.  Indeed, I would suggest that just the same is being said for discipline for Vermigli, and the analogy with love is not a coincidence.  From Campi’s description, both Calvin and Vermigli understand discipline to be functioning as an exercise of love; the purpose is to win back the erring brother, even if it takes hard words to do so (the analogy with parental discipline, to this extent, is close).  This being the case, discipline is something that something that churches must do if they are to live as faithful disciples, and hence a church should be marked out by discipline.  But seen this way, discipline is a descriptive mark, not a constitutive mark.  Which explains why it is that in many contexts, theologians like Vermigli, Bucer, Oecolampadius, Ursinus, etc., could list a third mark without thereby overturning the whole edifice of Protestant ecclesiology that depended on Word and sacrament as the essence of the Church, and why they could more or less get along with theologians who tended to speak in terms of two marks.  It explains moreover why Calvin could have such a high view of the importance of discipline (as folks like Tuininga are keen to emphasize) without abandoning the fundamentally Lutheran ground that Kirby insists he stands on.  Moreover, it is worth emphasizing that on this understanding of discipline, since love was the important thing, the particular form was fairly flexible.  Different structures for church discipline, some involving the magistrate more, some less, were arranged; indeed, some three-markers were Erastian, and some two-markers were anti-Erastian.  There was, in short, a spectrum of opinion on the importance of discipline, sometimes expressed in the language of two marks, sometimes of three, and on the form, all of which could function together fairly well on common ecclesiological premises.

Where was the problem, then?  Whence the “radical ecclesiology” that Kirby is concerned about, and that Whitgift and Hooker were combatting?  Does it not exist?  Well no, it does.  Disciplinarianism did arise, and it was a problem.  But the problem wasn’t that it thought discipline was important, per se.  The problem was that it understood this discipline differently.  For folks like Cartwright, the concept of discipline was not so much as a fraternal exercise of love toward erring brothers, but a judicial act of exclusion to maintain the purity of the church (which is the Anabaptist concept).  There are many churches today that still think in such terms, and many that operate with a weird hybrid.  But it’s important to understand the difference.  On the one hand, discipline is understood as an exercise in tough love, and the object is regaining of the lost brother.  On the other hand, discipline is an exercise in moral and social purification, and the object is the preservation of the integrity of the organized body.  This latter concept has a politicised flavor, and becomes a coercive ordinance transgressing on the domain of the civil magistrate, confusing the two kingdoms and setting them in rivalry.  This way of thinking, of course, makes discipline “necessary” in a different sense from the necessity of the Church love.  If the Church is a polis, it must be policed, and if it is not so policed, it will cease to be.  So the Disciplinarian thinks.  On this understanding, discipline is in fact a constitutive mark and not merely a descriptive mark.  Moreover, on this understanding, since the need to preserve the integrity of the visible body looms so large, the particular form that discipline takes will tend to be much less flexible.  Hence the emergence of the concept of “the discipline”—the right way to do things, so that not merely the exercise of discipline generically, but a particular form of discipline becomes part of the esse of the Church.  

 

At any rate, there’s my theory so far.  Further reflections on this front will no doubt emerge at intervals in the coming months.


“Stirred Up Unto Reverence”: Worship as the Key to Hooker’s Theology

The two most compelling portraits of Richard Hooker’s theology have been offered by the great scholars Peter Lake, in Anglicans and Puritans? (1988), and Torrance Kirby, in a series of publications over the last twenty years.  Both are brilliant and insightful.  The only problem is that they appear, at least at first glance, to contradict.  Lake identifies Hooker as the “founder of Anglicanism,” whereas Kirby eschews that term entirely as anachronistic and misleading.  Kirby sees Hooker as articulating a strict Protestant distinct between the two kingdoms, between visible and invisible Church, treating the former as part of the civil kingdom, whereas Lake emphasizes the continuity between the two and argues that for Hooker, outward forms of worship serve as the means of inward grace.  Can these two be convincingly bridged?  I had despaired of it, but as of today, I think they can be.  

The key idea on which Lake builds his case is Hooker’s concept of edification, a concept central to the debate between Puritans and conformists, and integral to his defence of the Elizabethan church establishment.  Whereas the Puritans demanded that church orders and ceremonies dynamically enrich and build up the body of Christ, rooting out sin and training in godliness, most conformist apologists were content to rest their case on the “edification” that uniformity, decorum, and civil peace engendered.  Hooker was willing to meet the Puritans on their own turf, as Lake argues, and yet, as Kirby argues, he had to do so without confusing the two kingdoms distinction as the Puritans had.  How?

At the outset of Book IV, Hooker states his general theory of edification:

“The end which is aimed at in setting down the outward form of all religious actions is the edification of the church.  Now men are edified, when either their understanding is taught somewhat whereof in such actions it behoveth all men to consider, or when their harts are moved with any affection suteable therunto, when their minds are in any sorte stirred up unto that reverence, devotion, attention and due regard, which in those cases semeth requisite. Because therefore unto this purpose not only speech but sundry sensible meanes besides have alwaies bene thought necessary, and especially those meanes which being object to the eye, the liveliest and the most apprehensive sense of all other, have in that respect seemed the fittest to make a deepe and a strong impression.” 

Peter Lake thinks we can scarcely overstate the significance of this claim, a move which marks Hooker out, Lake thinks, as the founder of Anglicanism: “This was little short of the reclamation of the whole realm of symbolic action and ritual practice from the status of popish superstition to that of a necessary, indeed essential, means of communication and edification; a means, moreover, in many ways more effective than the unvarnished word.  The ceremonies, Hooker claimed, must have religious meanings.  That was what they were for.”  Lake goes on to explain how, for Hooker “the observances of the church, if suitably well chosen and decorous, could, through a series of correspondences, use the external realm of outward performance and ritual practice to affect the internal realm of men’s minds and characters.”  But if all this is so, how does it not represent a repudiation of that very two-kingdoms distinction upon which the conformist case, and indeed all of Protestantism, so depended?  Perhaps we should not in fact expect to find perfect consistency in Hooker, any more indeed than in any other Protestant thinker who tried to articulate the dialectical relationship between the visible and invisible Church.  However, by carefully attending to Hooker’s argument here, we may discover the nuances of how he understands these two kingdoms.

Of course, one cannot overemphasize that these two are not distinguished in terms of things “sacred” and “secular” in our modern sense.  For Hooker especially, God is revealed and encountered in all the arenas of mundane civil existence; and conversely, sacred business cannot take place without using the trappings of external social and political forms.  So it is that after having made the above declaration, Hooker appeals to nature and to the common practice of all ages in “publique actions which are of waight whether they be civil and temporall or els spiritual and sacred.”  In other words, the outward means of moving of our hearts to awe and devotion in worship and of moving our hearts to awe and devotion in other settings, such as art or politics, are not fundamentally different.  Puritans old and new will no doubt balk at this, but Hooker is a realist.  We are creatures of sense, and for any great occasion or purpose, our senses need to be impressed if our hearts and minds are to be.  Nor is this merely incidental; it is part and parcel of Hooker’s neo-Platonist cosmology.  Having provided examples of the necessary use of sensible ceremonies in affairs both civil and religious, he quotes Pseudo-Dionysius, “The sensible things which Religion hath hallowed, are resemblances framed according to things spiritually understood, whereunto they serve as a hand to lead and a guide to direct.”  But again, we must ask, as Cartwright objected to Whitgift with far less provocation—is this not “to institute newe sacraments?”  

Hooker thinks that this objection has misunderstood the key function of a sacrament.  This is not to serve as a visible sign of invisible things—for such signs are everywhere in human affairs—or even as a visible sign of specifically spiritual things—for Hooker believes that every creature serves as such a sign of God’s presence, manifesting the law of his being through its own law-like operations.  Instead, “sacraments are those which are signes and tokens of some generall promised grace, which allwaies really descendeth from God unto the soul that duly receiveth them.”  With sacraments, in short, there is a necessary link between the outward and inward, and one that establishes a direct relationship between the soul and God; not so with signifying ceremonies.  


We find this theology of sign and edification elaborated in the introductory chapters of Book V.  Here Hooker is considerably more careful to maintain the two kingdoms distinction, rightly understood, than is Lake. 

“There is an inward reasonable, and there is a solemn outward serviceable worship belonging unto God.  Of the former kind are all manner virtuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to God-ward oweth.  Solemn and serviceable worship we name for distinction’s sake, whatsoever belongeth to the Church or public society of God by way of external adoration.  Of the former kinde are all manner vertuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to Godward oweth.  Sollemne and serviceable worship we name, for distinction sake, whatsoever belongeth to the Church or publique societie of God by way of externall adoration.  It is the later of these two whereupon our present question groweth.” 

Here Hooker shows himself a faithful follower of Calvin, simultaneously maintaining the importance of outward worship while distinguishing it clearly from the inward forum of the conscience.  Between these two, there should be close correspondence and congruity, but never confusion.  Hooker explains this relationship of correspondence with great care two chapters later, in a crucial passage: 

“if we affect him not farre above and before all thinges, our religion hath not that inward perfection which it should have, neither doe we indeed worship him as our God.  That which inwardlie each man should be, the Church outwardlie ought to testifie.  And therefore the duties of our religion which are seene must be such as that affection which is unseen ought to be.  Signes must resemble the thinges they signifie.  If religion beare the greatest swaie in our hartes, our outward religious duties must show it, as farre as the Church hath outward habilitie.  Duties of religion performed by whole societies of men, ought to have in them accordinge to our power a sensible excellencie, correspondent to the majestie of him whom we worship.  Yea then are the publique duties of religion best ordered, when the militant Church doth resemble by sensible meanes, as it maie in such cases, the hidden dignitie and glorie wherewith the Church triumphant in heaven is bewtified. . . . Let our first demand be therefore, that in the external form of religion such things as are apparently, or can be sufficiently proved, effectual and generally fit to set forward godliness, either as betokening the greatness of God, or as beseeming the dignity of religion, or as concurring with celestial impressions in the minds of men, may be reverently thought of.”

It is easy to see here why Torrance Kirby considers Hooker’s Christology to serve as the template for his understanding of the Church in its two realms of existence, with a “communication of attributes” establishing correspondence between the inward and outward realms, conjoined as they are, but without confusion, in the act of worship.  The worship and order of the visible Church is a public religious duty, which is not to be confused with the true religion of the heart, but which must never be separated from it.  Through this worship, the inward reality, the “hidden dignitie and glory” of the Church in the presence of God, is imperfectly imaged by sensible means.  These sensible ceremonies “testify” to the truth, “signify” spiritual realities, “betoken” the greatness of God, and hence serve to “set forward godliness.”  In short, we might say, they serve toward sanctification, enlightening our hearts with better understanding of the truth and forming our affections in the virtues of holiness.  For Hooker, it appears, what may not be said about ceremonies is that they serve to convey any justifying grace, improving our standing in the eyes of God or giving special pleasure to him.  Indeed, it is significant that Hooker always speaks of the beneficial effects of the ceremonies towards us, and never as rites in themselves pleasing to God.  If this distinction is correct then Hooker would seem, in the midst of this reclamation of ritual, to have maintained the essential Protestant protest against Rome, which revolved around the relationship of justifying and sanctifying grace, and condemned the proliferation of outward rites that were necessary to endear us to God.        

Thus, Lake is largely correct but insufficiently nuanced in asserting,

“This reappropriation of symbolic action from the papists was in turn based upon those graded hierarchies of desire, experience and law (outlined in book I) which led man Godwards and held the realms of reason and grace, nature and upernature firmly together.  By exploiting and mirroring the correspondences and links between these two realms, symbol and ritual were able to play a central role in that process whereby the church led the believer toward union with God.” 

This neo-Platonic logic of mediated ascent to God does represent a significant thread in Hooker’s theology, but as Torrance Kirby has repeatedly and persuasively argued, it is also cut across by an Augustinian sense of hypostatic disjunction between the two realms.  Thus Hooker, while enthusiastic about the rich possibilities of the liturgy, never loses sight of its fundamentally adiaphorous, changeable character; only its legal imposition, not its intrinsic merits, gives it any character of necessity.

 

Hooker’s concept of liturgy and ceremony, then, despite being charged with spiritual significance, remains fundamentally within the domain of nature, a domain that remains fundamentally shot through with God’s presence, or “drenched with deity,” in the words of C.S. Lewis.  Hence Hooker’s comfortability with arguing from natural law, historical consensus, and civil analogues for the value of many of the disputed ceremonies.  So, when it comes to vestments, Hooker will both take the traditional line, emphasizing their essentially civil function (“To solemne actions of roialtie and justice theire suteable ornamentes are a bewtie.  Are they onlie in religion a staine?”) and yet also pointing to a spiritual correspondence (“it suteth so fitlie with that lightsome affection of joye, wherein God delighteth when his Sainctes praise him; and so livelie resembleth the glorie of the Sainctes in heaven, together with the bewtie wherin Angels have appeared unto men . . . [fitting for] they which are to appear fore men in the presence of God as Angels.”).  

The train of thought which ties together Hooker’s understanding of natural utility and spiritual edification appears perhaps most clearly in his treatment of music.  He first eulogizes music as “A thinge which delighteth all ages and beseemeth all states; a thinge as seasonable in griefe as in joy; as decent beinge added unto actions of greatest waight and solemnitie, as beinge used when men most sequester them selves from action.”  It is useful for all human affairs, but not merely as ornament; so deeply does music affect us that it can contribute to our moral formation: “In harmonie the verie image and character even of vertue and vice is perceieved, the minde delighted with theire resemblances and brought by havinge them often iterated into a love of the thinges them selves.”  This being the case, what could be more suitable to aid our worship?  “The verie harmonie of sounds beinge framed in due sorte and carryed from the eare to the spirituall faculties of our soules is by a native puissance and efficacie greatlie availeable to bringe to a perfect temper whatsoever is there troubled. . . . In which considerations the Church of Christ doth likewise at this present daie reteine it as an ornament to Gods service, and an helpe to our own devotion.” 

Equally fascinating is Hooker’s treatment of festival days.  Whereas Whitgift had confined himself to insisting “The magistrate hath power and authority over his subjects in all external matters, and bodily affairs; wherefore he may call them from bodily labour or compel them unto it, as shall be thought to him most convenient,” Hooker justifies them via an elaborate disquisition on the nature of time, and the rhythms of rest and action appropriate to all created beings.  All nature, and even heathen peoples, therefore testifies “that festivall solemnities are a parte of the publique exercise of religion,” and besides, he adds, working his way through the Church year holiday by holiday, they are of great importance to “keepe us in perpetuall remembrance” of God’s redeeming work.  Therefore, “the verie law of nature it selfe which all men confess to be Godes law requireth in generall no lesse the sanctification of times then of places persons and thinges unto Godes honor.”

For Hooker, then, the ceremonies of the Church are simultaneously civil, natural, and spiritual—there is no need to categorize them as simply one or the other.  As civil institutions concerned with outward order, they take their force from the command of the magistrate, who has lawful authority over such matters.  As institutions fitting according to the order of nature, they can be determined by reason, which serves to identify their value and to make them useful in their particular times and places.  And as institutions tending toward the cultivation of spiritual virtue and reverence, they serve not merely to preserve public order, but for the dynamic upbuilding of the people of God that the Puritans had demanded.  Hooker, it seems, has succeeded in cutting the Gordian knot that bedevilled his predecessors.


The Appearance of the Ecclesial Body

Graham Ward’s name has long been inextricably associated with Radical Orthodoxy, and Radical Orthodoxy has generally been associated with fairly politicized concepts of the Church, having an affinity in this regard with Hauerwas and his school.  The church-as-polis concept, critics will point out, can have the tendency to cast too much weight on the institutional form of the Church, implying that as institution, the Church takes a political form to rival that of the State.  Certainly, given the fact that so many of the Radical Orthodox were Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, or crypto-Catholic, it is not surprising to find this tendency in their ecclesiology, and critics have found reason to suspect that all the fancy new post-Vatican II language is only a thin veneer concealing what is at root an arrogant, legalist, and rigid neo-papalist political theology.  Or else, if this is not what is behind the veneer, the critic suzpects that in fact nothing is behind the veneer except an idealistic reification of some perfect community, transcending space and time, and yet somehow concrete enough to constitute a political presence.

The Church, the Protestant will want to contend, can only be a polis by a vague analogy, for whereas a fixed institutional form is of the essence of a political body, it is not for the Church.  The Church is the communio fidelium, a congregation of believers which has a political presence only in the dynamic action of Christian people through whom Christ takes form in the world and challenges the injustice of the powers that be.  The Protestant critic, then, will be excited to find a rich, dynamic, congregation-centered ecclesiology articulated at the heart of Graham Ward’s recent The Politics of Discipleship, simultaneously effusive about the potentiality of the Church and yet honest about its fragile actuality.  I can’t help but quote in full this striking passage from the key chapter, “The City and the Struggle for Its Soul” (italics are mine):

“The church, then, as a body of Christians, is constantly active; it is a network of actors reaching into many different parts of city and rural life.  It is not only this collection of hymn-singing people, listening to the exposition of the Word and receiving that Word in the sacrament, but also a multidimensional, multigendered activity living continually beyond its means, transcending by grace all its physical, cultural, and historical limitations, bieng in relation, productive of relation, being in communion, productive of communion across both space and time.  The church is this body of action, this body in action that is both temporal and eternal, material and spiritual.  There is no body without this activity, for it is the body of Christ only in and through this continuous operation.  This great extensive Catholic body is not in the world or entirely of the world, but it is engaged in creating the world anew, reassembling the social.  A case could be made that the study of the church should not be called ecclesiology because this word suggests that there is an objective entity out there.  When we think about ecclesiology in this way, we reiterate the child’s mistake of thinking that the cathedral, the basilica, the minster is the church.  The object of studying the church is, rather, ecclesiality, in the same way the study of society is always the study of sociality.   Indeed, ecclesiality is only another form of sociality.  Neither the church nor society is there as such, as some uniform and foundational stuff.  The church is only what this body of Christians do.  Even the church as an institution is not there as such, as an object to be observed.  The institution is ‘made to appear’ through a series of social acts by various institutional agents: architects, stonemasons, carpenters, glassmakers, weavers of cloth, bankers, and bishops.  No one encounters the church as an institution.  We encounter this space, this use of land, this person or that, this artifact or that, this order of service or that, all caught up in a circulation of social activity, a circulation that is perpetually in motion and therefore perpetually subject to change.  The church—like the social, as the social—is achieved in the interactions of various agents (including objects such as a Communion wafer, a prayer book, and a parish newsletter).”  

This, I would submit, is already a pretty good start, but Ward goes on to sound even more like a good Protestant, emphasizing the disjunction between the church’s invisible identity and visible form, the relativization of the clergy, as ecclesiality is constituted by the actions of all believers, and the fundamental vulnerability of the visible Church: 

“This renders any notion of the church complex in several senses.  First, its boundaries are porous not simply because it is irreducible to insitutional frameworks but because there is only one panopticon position from which a judgment can be made concerning who is inside or outside this church, who is or is not acting in and as Christ in any particular situation.  And this panopticon position belongs to God alone.  Second, the church is characterized by being excessive with respect to both place and the evaluation of any act that occurs in that place. . . . Third, it is vulnerable because so much of what it does cannot be controlled by the church as an institution.  The gospel being preached in practices of piety cannot be patrolled—though it can be informed—by a catechism, by preaching, exposition, or admonition from those with spiritual authority and spiritual oversight.  The radical submission to Christ—not Protestant individualism . . . but submission to Christ in communion with other Christians living sacramentally governed lives, experiencing through suffering the disciplining of their desires by Christ—is exercised so far beyond the precincts of the parish and the priesthood that it is open wide to making mistakes, making compromises, being blemished.  This is the risk the church runs in being the church, but then, that is the risk of faith.  Even the church cannot save itself, and the operations of grace are not limited to the ecclesia.  Its vulnerability means that forever there will be need for confession, correction, repentance, and reconciliation.  This is what the kenotic life of being the church and what political discipleship entail.” 

How then does this porous, dynamic, non- or supra-institutional church become political?

“Only as the ecclesial body, so conceived, engages in civic sociality does it negotiate power relations and the flow of objects that maintain and create the circulations of the social.  It cannot prevent such an engagement, for it is itself a sociality.  It is only in this engagement that the transcendent values of the body of Christ—love, justice, beauty, reconciliation, worship, forgiveness, and so forth—are produced and promulgated.  In acting as the ecclesial body, it works to undo, forestall, and correct other activities not conducive to the transcendent values: injustices, inequalities, alienations, prostitutions, hatreds, envyings, idolatries, dominations, and so forth.”

 

Perhaps Luther and Radical Orthodoxy have found a meeting-point after all. . . .


The Third Dimension–Luther’s Two-Kingdoms Theology

An excerpt from a crucial section of my paper, “Natural Law and Which Two Kingdoms,” to be presented next weekend at the American Academy of Religion:

We must recognize that there were at least two sharply divergent conceptions of the “two kingdoms” that emerged from the sixteenth century, and, of course, a number of more or less consistent half-way houses between them.  Unsurprisingly, these different conceptions, and the way they used natural law, will undermine neat modern preconceptions about what natural law might be, and will suggest several different ways of applying it to a Christian society.  

Martin Luther offers a succinct statement of the first conception in 1521: “The kingdoms of the world are ruled by human laws which evidently have to do with things temporal; the kingdom of Christ is ruled by the pure and simple word of the Gospel.”  For the second, we have the Scottish Second Book of Discipline (1578): 

“The Kirke . . . hath a certaine power granted by God, according to the which it uses a proper jurisdiction and governement, exercised to the comfort of the whole Kirke.  The Policie of the Kirk flowing from this power, is an order or forme of spirituall government . . . different and distinct in its own nature from that power and policie, which is called civill power, and appertaineth to the civill government of the commonwealth: albeit they be both of God.”

Whereas Luther predicates two realms, one of law and jurisdiction, and another of pure grace and liberty, in Scotland we seem back to something akin to Gelasius and the medieval “two swords” doctrine: “two there are by whom this world is governed”–the civil and the ecclesiastical authorities.  Both have power, law, and jurisdiction under Christ, but they govern different functions.  For Luther, on the contrary, we find all power, law, and jurisdiction classed as part of the civil kingdom; Mosaic law, evangelical law, and natural law all fall on this side of the equation.  In short, the “spiritual kingdom” is the Church, but what we would call the “invisible Church,” though perhaps a better term would be the “evangelical Church” taking visible form only in the dynamic preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments.  The visible, institutional Church, the gathered congregation that must be organized, ritualized, and governed, is part of the realm of “polity,” part of the sphere of human authority which it occupies in common with the more mundane concerns of the civil magistrate.  Indeed, the visible Church is simply the communion of the faithful, and as such, includes the civil magistrate if he be Christian, and his government, if the society be Christian.  The continuing “Christendom” idea, the corpus Christianorum, and the civil jurisdiction over the Church that usually went with it, is thus not some inconsistent holdover that Luther’s two-kingdoms theory has failed to exorcise, as VanDrunen suggests, but is part and parcel of it.  Human life is not a two-dimensional map onto which the two-kingdoms are drawn as a dividing line between spheres of jurisdiction, but rather, a two-dimensional map with which the civil kingdom is coterminous, and of which the spiritual kingdom might be said to form the third dimension–the vertical God-ward relation which animates all the rest.

 

What does this mean for natural law?  Well, for Luther, the contrast is not so much between natural law and divine law (Scripture) as between law and grace.  Scripture contains law too, and this is taken to be harmonious with the natural law, helping to govern the civil kingdom as illumination and application of natural law principles.  As much that we would call “religious” falls within the realm of the earthly kingdom, so it falls within the orbit of natural law, which cannot thus serve as the means for a thoroughgoing separation of church and state.  Not that Luther offers us a complete fusion of church and state–mindful of the intimate relationship between the outward ministry of the visible Church, and the inward power of the Gospel which breaks through it, Luther was wary of making the institutions of the Church simply a department of State (although not very successful in preventing it), and argued for the importance of maintaining three distinct “hierarchies” within the earthly kingdom–state, church, and family.