Guyer’s Weblog

October 29, 2010

Law, Liturgy, Wisdom: An Introduction to Richard Hooker

Filed under: Communio Anglicana,Meta-Category,Theologoumena — guyer @ 9:17 pm

The frontispiece of Hooker’s Laws

Richard Hooker is oftentimes described as the founding figure of the Anglican tradition. This is, however well intentioned, a half-truth. It is certainly true that Hooker’s great, unfinished theological work, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie (hereafter, Laws), was a key text in Anglican arguments against Puritanism. Indeed, the Laws remains the most thoughtful and detailed refutation of Puritanism ever written. It is also true that although Thomas Cranmer gave us The Book of Common Prayer, Richard Hooker is the one who most shaped our understanding of it. But it is unfair to see Hooker as the founder of Anglicanism. He was, instead, one of several key figures in the early history of our church, neither more nor less important than Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, and William Laud — not to mention Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, and King Charles the Martyr. Without Hooker, Anglicanism would not be what it is today, but this point also holds for each of these other foundational saints.

This essay introduces the theological vision of Richard Hooker by focusing on his highly influential Laws. The impetus behind this multi-volume treatise was twofold. First was Hooker’s opposition to the claim, made by Puritans, that they were free to disobey both civil and ecclesiastical law when these infringed upon the convictions of conscience. Second was Hooker’s rejection of the ardent Puritan belief that the Church of England’s retention of liturgical ceremonies made it a handmaiden of anti-Christ. Against the first argument Hooker offered a robust theology of law that was rooted in the work of Thomas Aquinas; against the second argument Hooker lovingly and painstakingly detailed the meaning and purpose of liturgy. As we will see, Hooker was a theologian of law and liturgy who first and foremost discerned the majesty of divine wisdom as the guiding principle of all theological orthodoxy.

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