Arthur Middleton on Richard Hooker

November 3rd commemorates Richard Hooker, that great Anglican theologian, who presents a constructive synthesis in which the mystical, the intellectual and the institutional are mutually related and balanced. The mystical dimension is rooted in the ‘sui generis’ experience of the Church which constitutes the source and context of his theology, expounded not only in terms of ‘intellectual clarity, but of a union of human lives with God in the way of holiness’. It is a dynamic presentation of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as the basis of ecclesiology and anthropology, while assuming into his theological vision the totality of creation, the world and human culture by referring it to its ultimate fulfilment in its restoration and transfiguration.

The mystery of redemption
Here in Hooker’s vision of the ‘divine order’ redemption extends to the whole universe, expressing that comprehensiveness of the Fathers that was a characteristic of their account of the central doctrine of the Christian faith. Set within this wider context of creation and redemption is the mystery of the complementarity of all things, with their distinctive contribution within the overall context of God’s law that holds within it the ‘laws of an ecclesiastical polity’. In this vision ‘continuity’ and ‘wholeness’ are of the ‘esse’ because of their sacramental character within the ‘divine order’. His vision is of a Christian mysticism that is rooted in the incarnate life of God. As such, it is grounded in history and within it is the world as sacrament.

The influence exerted by Hooker on the Church of England cannot be confined to the contents of this great work of literature and theology. After three hundred years Hooker’s way of interpreting the continuing life of what became Anglicanism still speaks to issues facing the contemporary Anglicans in an age of ecumenism. In a century dominated by empiricism in debates about our knowledge of God, Hooker’s Polity can still contribute, while his ecclesiology can address the dominant individualism of our times in its conflict with the corporate nature of Christianity. Finally, in the face of a rising biblical fundamentalism and politically correct theologies, Hooker’s hermeneutical principles are a positive antidote.

Tradition established
Anglicans today who are drawn to the texts of the Anglican and patristic tradition, written in relation to Christian truth, some of which may already have nourished one’s soul, will find themselves in an encounter with the central Anglican tradition. Classical Anglicanism found in such people as Hooker and his successors, a tradition that was established outside the parameters of their own particular time and thought, the solitary confinement of the ‘present’. It offered to him alternatives that were not available to the historically-limited world of his time and enabled him to escape from the imprisoning effects of the contemporary religious controversies by bringing a productive past that still lived in the Church. It brought a critical stance to those controversies of his time and enabled him to render the more recent answers of their time questionable and not to be accepted simply as given.

The world to come
Hooker was too devout a Christian to use the Church as a political convenience to secure the social and political objectives of a secular culture. This foundation in positive principle enables him to have a broad view of the Church and to take the charitable view he does. He sees the Church as rooted in the life of the world to come, where dwelt the creator of heaven and earth and thereby it is participant in this supernatural realm in the only victory that overcomes the world. For Hooker God is the source of all law in all time and in eternity, so that his universe is described by C.S. Lewis as: ‘drenched in deity’. That which begins in the very being of God himself and extends from the angelic order, through the laws of nature to the laws which govern morality and salvation, such law is reason.

The life of the Church of England
He would be critical of the life of the Church of England for thinking that theology and history and living in a tradition were unnecessary or that Christian faith could be sustained with an attenuated doctrine, politically correct ideologies and an anti-metaphysical age. There is no suggestion in Hooker that theology has to take a back seat behind moralism and social concern or a vague spirituality, because he believed that the destiny of man is to become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). This could only be realised by a high and supernatural doctrine of the Person of Christ and the full Trinitarian view of the deity. These are built into life of the Church of England and expressed in her sacraments and worship. Hooker’s work is ‘drenched in God’, whereas politically correct ideologies leave God out. ND