First Post From the Richard Hooker Blog: Book I. Ch. i

It’s not my plan to continue to cross post, but I wanted you to know that we’ve begun.

 -Tony

I started and read through several books of the Laws a year or so back, so I am already somewhat familiar with some basics that Hooker is about to get to in this book. Yet how much difference a couple years makes! My ability to understand and to weigh a work seems to grow by the year such that I almost always get more out of a piece that I’ve read before than I did when I first read it. This applies no less to the opening chapter of the Laws.

Lest I be accused of some tiresome trope, I do not come to this work impartially. On the one hand, I am committed to becoming a confessional Anglican theologian; While by no means do I think with that school that used to imagine Anglicanism some divinely ordained group meant to unite all Christians through her blessed Via Media and her leading role in ecumenism, I am thoroughly committed to dwelling in the Anglican church, to serving her and breathing her air, learning her language. Hooker is a fundamental person to work with in order to accomplish this goal.

In addition, I have been schooled by that group of antifoundationalist theologians that eschew Natural Law in favor of a hermeneutics of faith. Even Reason is done through a context by which it is in large part, indeed in invisible parts, constituted. Reasoning cannot be separated from the form of reasoning and the traditions to which one is committed or to which one reacts. Nevertheless, I have persisting questions about this precisely because it seems that something akin to “natural law” can and even must come precisely from that position of faith in Jesus as the Word of God by and through whom all things were made and from whom we receive our very being. I can’t hold to a voluntarist ethics. Hooker, I am told, is not naïve about the fact that Reason very often is fallen and clouded. I look forward to learning how he coordinates sin and reason and faith and feel it’s important to how we conceive justice and law.

Which brings me to a final note: This antifoundationalism also tends to breed a healthy pseudo-anarchist political bent in me. By pseudo-anarchism I mean that while I have faith in institutions and regulations, these must be able to be disrupted by gestures toward justice even where said justice cannot be properly reasoned at the time. Which is only, I suppose, a politics of semper reformanda. This has also lead to an ecclesial critique of the state. This is, it must be noted, not merely some new thing “Radical Orthodoxy” thought up, but it goes at the least back to the Oxford Movement and its resistance to a church controlled by the state. This led soon to a lively tradition of anglo-catholic socialism that is meet to be revived in my opinion lest anglo-catholicism continue to hemorage as a pathetic movement interested mostly in liturgical fancies rather than a robust doctrine of the Church, which is what I take catholicism to be most about.

Then, without further ado, let us examine the first chapter and a give money quote:

“He that goeth about to persuade a multitude, that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers.”

Hooker is not at all oblivious to the charges against the Church of England nor to the government. (btw, whenever I say “government” or “state” I am not trying necessarily to talk about “Government” or “State” as an abstract universal. I shall try to be clear when I want to wax meta). This instantly sets him apart, imo, from those who are un-self-aware in supporting a status quo. He understands that he will be seen as one who either “hold[s] or seek[s] preferment.”[1] He is setting out, then, not to simply have a go at demolishing the arguments of people much dumber than he is, since most people are dumb compared to someone of his learning, but to show how certain policies in fact help to make for justice. “We are accused as men that will not have Christ Jesus to rule over them, but have wilfully cast his statues behind their backs, hating to be reformed and made subject unto the sceptre of his discipline.”[3]  This obviously doesn’t mean that everything he says will then simply be right, but it means that he takes the risk of understanding the critiques of his puritan opponents and opening up the laws and himself to be examined, lest they fail the test. “for better examination of [the laws’] quality it behoveth the very foundation and root, the highest well-spring and fountain of them to be discovered.” [2]

The Laws model what +Rowan Williams is rather well known for, then: Any kind of political engagement that would seek genuinely to aim at the well being of all a nation’s neighbors must be one that is open to dialogue and challenge. This is manifestly not simply a liberal toleration and public contestation of competing will and claims; Hooker’s very stark non-liberalism comes out at many key junctures (like, for instance, Bk. V); it is, rather, an engagement that takes ones sparring partners seriously and the good of all seriously. At the same time, easy answers and cheap shots will not yield genuinely fruitful results. “there will come a time when three words uttered with charity shall receive a far more blessed reward than three thousand volumes written with disdainful sharpness of wit.” For Hooker, in order to accomplish this discussion it will take the hard work of patient and exacting thinking.

“Albeit therefore much of that we are to speak in this present cause may seem to a number perhaps tedious, perhaps obscure, dark, and intricate; (for many talk of the truth which never sounded the depth from whence it springeth; and therefore when they are led thereunto they are soon weary, as men drawn from those beaten paths wherewith they have been inured;) yet this may not so far prevail as to cut off that which the matter itself requireth, howsoever the nice humour of some be therewith pleased or no.”[2]

I think Hooker would be sympathetic to Milbank here:

“If, like an enthusiastic undergraduate, I had trotted out phrases such as “we need a new theology on the side of victims,” I would no doubt have been commended for making a “contribution” to the fate of the poor, the environment, etc.. But eschewing such rhetorical regurgitation, I was seeking indirectly to tackle our seeming inability to discover any theoretical or practical grounds for opposing the new global sway of neocapitalism, which is the source of the hunger of the poor, the poisoning of nature, obliteration of sexual difference and equality, the lapse of beauty, the loss of historical memory, and so forth.- “On Theological Transgression,” p171 in The Future of Love

Likewise Hooker doesn’t use Puritan rhetoric about “the Bible” or about “obedience,” nor does he trot out pious language simply to add strength to an otherwise weak argument, because such rhetoric is empty if it doesn’t actually point to concrete ways of enacting laws that make for the good of a citizenship.

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