Monday, October 29, 2012

This Week's Lesser Feasts

November 3: Richard Hooker [1554-1600]

There are two, perhaps three, theologians in the very earliest Anglican Church who determined through their writings and preaching what was to be Anglican Theology, a clear and reasonable "middle way" between the excesses of both the Church of Rome and the Church of Geneva, the two extremes in 16th century Christianity.

One was Thomas Cranmer, who composed the first Book of Common Prayer, thus establishing the particular nature of our liturgical presentation. It should also be remembered that The Book of Common Prayer is also a theological document.  Our way of looking at the life both temporal and eternal is revealed in its prayers and very language. 

The second, according to some, is Matthew Parker, who was Archbishop of Canterbury in the mid to late 16th century.  He was the primary organizer of the Thirty-Nine Articles, each of which takes a look at various aspects of life and how we are to regard the world in theological clarity and balance.  It's important to note that The Articles are still in the back of Book of Common Prayer; the current edition, too.  Yes, even the Kindle edition.

The third is today's honoree.  Richard Hooker was never the Archbishop of Canterbury, as were Cranmer and Parker; he spent his service to the church as a humble, if rather brilliant, priest.  He is best known for his eight-volume Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, a pointed response to the Puritan criticism of Anglicanism that surmounts a simple explanation and becomes a theological masterwork that illuminates the depths of the Prayer Book's theological perspective.  Most contemporary clergy are unfamiliar with it, however most contemporary clergy are unfamiliar with the Book of Common Prayer, too.  [We live in a curious time, when it is considered "cool" to be disdainful of that book and the magnitude of its contribution to human spiritual development.  Good thing there's still some old-timers like me around, by crackee.]

In it, Hooker noted that

The principal subject of the work was the proper governance of the churches ("polity"). Hooker considered fundamental questions about the authority and legitimacy of government (religious and secular), about the nature of law, and about various kinds of law, ranging from the laws of physics to the laws of England. The philosophical base of his work was Aristotelian, drawing from Thomas Aquinas, with a strong emphasis on natural law, eternally planted by God in creation. Hooker argued that all positive laws of Church and State are developed from Scriptural revelation, ancient tradition, reason, and experience. Hooker believed that the church should be a broad, tolerant, inclusive body, in which as many as possible could worship God. He emphasized the importance of corporate worship and reading of the Bible. He stressed the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the best way for the believer to participate with Christ in God's Incarnation. Hooker argued for a "Via Media" (middle way) between the positions of the Roman Catholics and the Puritans. Hooker argued that reason and tradition were important when interpreting the Scriptures, and argued that it was important to recognize that the Bible was written in a particular historical context, in response to specific situations: "Words must be taken according to the matter whereof they are uttered" (Lawes IV.11.7).
Yes, that portion above in boldface was marked by yours truly.  This has been, and remains, the primary intention of Anglican theology, and the one that is tested again and again generation after generation.

More of Richard Hooker may be found here.

I was always partial to this quotation, as it serves as a nice reminder to tyrants, even the wannabees in democratic government, that there is one ruler and one only:  "To live by one man's will becomes the cause of all misery."

O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.