Richard Hooker and Tradition  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Richard Hooker (1554-November 3 1600) is almost universally recognized as the single greatest Anglican theologian.  His Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, essentially a treatise on ecclesiology, is a defense of the Elizabethan settlement against the criticisms of Puritans and other radical Protestants.  But it also affirms the validity of the reformed English church in the face of critiques by Roman Catholics.  A very good assessment of Hooker and his work may be found in chapter 4 of Anglicanism and the Christian Church, by Paul Avis, a theologian and priest of the Church of England (Edinburgh, T&T Clark 1989).  I have excerpted what Avis has to say about Hooker's approach to tradition, which appears on pp 66-67.

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The term tradition will serve to designate this third component [along with Scripture and reason] of Hooker's synthesis, though practice, experienceand consent are all involved.  They constitute the third and final test or touchstone of religious truth.  "Where neither the evidence of any law divine, nor the strength of any invincible argument otherwise found out by the light of reason, nor any notable public inconvenience" are decisive, "the very authority of the church itself...may give so much credit to her own laws, as to make their sentence touching fitness and conveniency weightier than any bare and naked conceit to the contrary".

There is a fundamental conservative principle underlying Hooker's thought at this point and it belongs to the uniformitarian presupposition that he shared with all European culture before the eighteenth century.  Truth was eternal.   What was right was right for all times and places.  Universal consent was equivalent to nature itself, and the voice of nature was as the voice of God.  Let us be loath "to change, without very urgent necessity, the ancient ordinances, rites and long approved customs of our venerable predecessors...antiquity, custom and consent in the church of God, making with that which law doth establish, are themselves most sufficient reasons to uphold the same, unless some notable public inconvenience enforce the contrary".  If and when it does, Hooker immediately goes on, the church has authority to respond by altering its practice.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 at Tuesday, November 03, 2015 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

3 comments

Anonymous  

This post has inspired me to try reading Hooker again.

November 4, 2015 at 4:03 PM

Would the issue of Same Sex Marriage fall within Hookers understanding of notable public inconvenience?

January 5, 2016 at 4:33 PM

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