- A Companion to Richard Hooker
In Book II of Paradise Lost, John Milton writes of the fallen angels cast into Hell who, seeking 'Truce to [their] restless thoughts,'
reason'd highOf Providence, Foreknowledge, Will and Fate,Fixt Fate, free will, foreknowledg absolute,And found no end, in wandring mazes lost . . .Vain wisdom all, and false Philosophie.
Several decades earlier, before the English church had descended into a war caused in large part by intractable differences of opinion over such issues as those that would torment Milton's devils, George Herbert, in 'The Glance,' recalled his salvation as both a moment of conversion and a continuous process: [End Page 342]
I felt a sugared strange delight,Passing all cordials made by any art,Bedew, embalm, and overrun my heart,And take it in.Since that time many a bitter stormMy soul hath felt . . .But still thy sweet original joy,Sprung from thine eye, did work within my soul,And surging griefs, when they grew bold, control,And got the day.
The latter poem is cited by Debora Shuger, in her essay 'Faith and Assurance,' as analogous to Richard Hooker's handling of the contentious issue of predestination, the heart of which, she observes, is an Aristotelian/Thomistic dichotomy distinguishing 'thinges in them selves most certain' from 'thinges more evident although in them selves they be lesse certain.' This subtle distinction, between the certainty of faith and the uncertainty of human reason (Herbert's 'bitter storm' and Milton's 'restless thoughts') from which the former nonetheless can be extricated only conceptually, is typical of the man who paved the way for the English via media, the celebrated (if always contested) middle way between Catholic Rome and Protestant Geneva.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is perhaps a little too diffident in his foreword to this fine collection of essays: 'You have to admit that Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie is not a title calculated to attract a mass readership.' Hooker's work is central to our understanding of early Stuart thinking about the relationship between authorities sacred and temporal (i.e., church and state), as well as the competing and always complex theological, doctrinal, and ecclesiastical ideas that informed it. Predestination, for example, was very much a political issue for the church of the 1590s (when Hooker was writing and publishing his great work on church government), one whose establishment was largely Calvinist in doctrinal orientation and therefore whose visible membership (officially everyone) might not square with the reality of an elect few in number. How does a monolithic institution enforce membership and tithing among a constituency whose goats very likely outnumber its sheep?
In this respect, Hooker understood the importance of sacrament (that other and closely related cause of theological rift in the Reformation) for the church's cohesion. And yet he could write, 'For all receive not the grace of God which receive the sacraments of his grace,' agreeing thus with the 29th of the Elizabethan Articles, which held that those 'void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their [End Page 343] teeth . . . the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ.' The article clearly derives from a passage in Calvin's Institutes wherein the 'wicked' (i.e., the reprobates) are said to be those who 'press with the[ir] teeth' rather than 'eat with the[ir] heart[s]' - and who, like Angelo in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, are perhaps dreadfully aware of their predicament: 'God in my mouth / As if I did but only chew his name.' But Hooker, as David Neelands observes in one of two contributions to the volume, stopped far short of encouraging such speculative despair (or haughty presumption, depending on one's disposition): he could hold, according to Neeland's summation, regarding baptism, that 'all who receive baptism receive grace, that all the elect receive baptism, and that not all that receive baptism are elect.' Thus 'we are to presume that all the baptized are of the...