Thursday, December 2, 2010

Journeys in Hooker

While in seminary I read through bits and pieces of Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, as I was told (or discovered myself) at some point that this work addressed many of the Puritan party's complaints against the established Church of England, particularly in the areas of liturgy and ecclesiology. This in contrast to earlier Anglican apologists, such as John Jewel, who wrote mainly against Rome. Growing up Presbyterian, and having imbibed the works of J.I. Packer - an Anglican of English Calvinist persuasion - I figured that Hooker would of especial interest to me... and he was, but I never got beyond those bits and pieces that I read piecemeal.

Lamentably, while in seminary there was no time to give Hooker a more thorough read, as I was weighed down reading and studying interesting but no doubt non-Anglican works and writers (mainly documents from Vatican II, books by Avery Dulles and David Tracy, etc.). Never having read through Hooker's Laws completely, however, was troubling to me, and something that I have always wanted to do. (NB: I am astonished how many people do not finish reading books - not only sets, but even a single book. Indeed I was shocked when I was told a number of years back by someone whom I thought to be an aspiring academic that "she never finishes books.")

So now that I have some time on my hands I have been working through Hooker, beginning at the beginning, and outlining each section of each chapter or each book. I have found it necessary to summarize each part for my own study as the whole work is written in a ponderous Elizabethan style. (It is interesting by the way, the predicament that those wishing to read the Anglican reformers face. Because the works are in "English" they do not have to be translated. But in fact they do require translation as they are written in a very archaic and usually difficult to comprehend English.

It has been quite worthwhile and interesting so far, especially as the first part of his Laws is essentially a restatement of basic Thomistic thought in the areas of law: eternal law, natural law, divine law, etc. What I think reading the Laws piecemeal leaves out is that Hooker will build his entire argument in those later contentious areas of polity, liturgy, and sacraments, on this Thomistic foundation. This is noteworthy to me because many seem to think that Thomism came into Anglican thought only after the Catholic revival, but here one of the greatest Anglican thinkers of Elizabethan times structured his seminal work on the natural philosophy of St. Thomas! I think therefore it is fair to assume that in continuing to read the work as a whole it should be understood in light of its Thomistic foundations, not set in opposition to it as some would have.