L. S. Thornton (essay date 1924)

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SOURCE: Thornton, L. S. “Hooker's System of Laws” and “Church and State.” In Richard Hooker: A Study of His Theology, pp. 25-40; 89-100. London: The MacMillan Co., 1924.

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[In the following excerpt, Thornton examines of Hooker's hierarchy of laws and explores his concept of the proper relationship between church and state.]

We have had a preliminary glimpse into Hooker's mentality and have seen something of the differences which divided him from his Puritan opponents. We are now in a position to examine more closely his system of thought as it unfolds itself in the opening books of the Ecclesiastical Polity. The argument of Books I-IV develops directly out of positions taken up in the three Sermons on the book of Habakkuk and the other documents of the Temple Controversy. Thus the third Sermon, on The Nature of Pride,1 gives, in the course of a discussion as to the nature of Justice, an incidental sketch of those distinctions of law which form the main theme of Book I. Again the question discussed in the second Sermon, Justification, Works, and How the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown,2 and the controversy with Rome on the subject, raised the whole problem as to the right attitude to be adopted towards Roman Catholics and the type of religion which they practise. This subject is taken up again in Book IV and prepares the way for Book V much in the same way as the Preface leads up to Books I-III. Hooker himself claims3 a continuous and coherent argument for the whole series of eight books. The first four lay foundations upon which the later ones build. Continuity is particularly clear all through Books I-V.

Of the whole series Books I and V are the most important. Books II-IV provide corollaries and connecting links. Books VI-VIII, as they were planned by Hooker, simply worked out a detailed justification of positions already made clear in outline.

In this Chapter we are concerned mainly with Book I. Here the real foundations of Hooker's whole theological position are set out in a broad scheme. It takes the form of a system of laws and there was reason for this in the historical situation. It has been said that the men of this period were devoted to the idea of law.4 This was natural in an age which saw the break up of mediæval society and all the confusion and unrest, both religious and political, which that involved. New ideas of polity, civil and religious, had been fermenting all through the century. Savonarola, Machiavelli, Sir Thomas More, the Anabaptists at Munster, Calvin at Geneva, even the Papacy at Trent, diverse as they were in other respects, were all exercised with the problem of an ideal polity. Hooker also had his theory of such a polity and of the laws by which it should be governed. But his method of handling the idea of law stands in marked contrast to that of the age to which he belonged. We have seen in the last chapter that for most people in the sixteenth century authority had become an arbitrary thing. This was characteristic alike of Romanists and Protestants. But for Hooker, as faith must be rational, the same must be true of obedience to law. As the Creed which we profess cannot be finally at variance with the rules of evidence, so the laws to which we submit our wills can themselves be brought to the test of reason and judged thereby. To do this means to trace the whole system of laws back to their source in God; and here Hooker definitely takes up his stand along lines occupied three centuries earlier by St. Thomas Aquinas. He is a Thomist in the first principle enunciated in Book I. St. Thomas had maintained that the Divine Will acts only in accordance with Reason and that all law is traceable to an ultimate Law which is identical with the Divine Will and therefore rational.5 Duns Scotus is credited with an opposite opinion, from which it would seem to follow that not only all law, but...

(The entire section contains 106089 words.)

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