Hooker, Ecumenism, and Authority

The Lambeth Quadrilateral has been called a mirror of a typical Anglican ecclesiology, with interconnected liturgy, polity and doctrine based on the ultimate test of scripture. This statement itself may be a mirror of how Richard Hooker does his theology, a theology which grew out of his conflict with Walter Travers when they both served the Temple Church in London. There Hooker, the Master, preached on a Sunday Morning, and the Assistant, Travers, in the afternoon. Travers, who had been passed over as Master when Hooker was appointed, took the opportunity to defend the Puritan teaching that caused him to be passed over for Hooker. Hooker himself then undertook to defend his own opinion which was more catholic, in the sense of inclusive, and less fundamentally scriptural.

Hooker took a position that was more inclusive, in the sense of tolerating more variety of opinion and accepting of more variety of practice in religious and state affairs. Travers was concerned to exclude those things which were not strictly scriptural. Thus he, rather than Hooker, took scripture "as the ultimate rule and test of" liturgy, polity and doctrine. Hooker's attitude to scripture was deeply nuanced by reason. He really made reason, in the sense of thought and acceptation, the criterion of reading scripture. I do not say the criterion of scripture. Hooker really did hold scripture in first place. He held the application of reason necessary for the understanding and application of scripture. This applied to all areas in which scripture might be applied, doctrine, polity, and worship, and to devotion and ethics as well.

What were the points of this controversy? The first main difference arose over the question of predestination. Some years previous to this controversy, Hooker, preaching before major figures of court and Church, had maintained in God two wills, the one antecedent, the other consequent, so the first will of God is that all should be saved, the second that "only those who did live answerable to that degree of grace which he had offered, or afforded him."(cited from Walton's Life of Hooker in Wolf, p 4.) This contradicted the Calvinist view held by Travers, that the will of God is single and unitary, and thus that God directly damns some prior to any behavior of their own. Thus Hooker asserts the possibility, if not the fact, of the inclusion of all.

Hooker further compromised himself in Travers' Calvinist eyes by asserting that Romans Catholics could be saved as Roman Catholics, because that Church, though not perfect and erring in various ways, still held to Christ and the greater part of the foundations of Christianity, and so its faithful were excused by honest ignorance of the truth. (Traver's Supplication, in Keble, vol iii, p 560) Travers replies that none who believe in justification, in part, by works can be saved because they are in ignorance of the truth of scriptural teaching, namely that all are saved by faith alone.(ibid.) Thus for Travers any drop of falsity tends to exclude, while for Hooker truth, even partial and mistaken but well-meant, tends to include. Knox says, "Hooker's aim was to emphasize the unity of Christendom before its divisions by pointing out first the things in which all Christians agreed: "I took it for the best and most perspicuous way of teaching, to declare first, how far we do agree, and then to show our disagreements.'"(Knox, page 76.) This inclusive approach Hooker was to follow in his greater work and final defense, The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity.

Finally Travers attacked Hooker on his manner of accepting Scripture. Here the crux of the matter lies. Here is where Hooker might wish to ask what is meant by scripture as the "ultimate rule and test." Travers took exception to Hooker's saying that the assurance of what we believe by word is not so great as that we believe by sense. Hooker replies by asking why it is then, that if assurance by word is greater, God so frequently shows God's promises to us in our sensible experience.(Knox, p 75.) Here is a foreshadowing of the lovely Hooker we find in the Lawes. Hooker's ultimate principle he calls reason, but he does not mean by it dry and academic logic, but thought. And by thought he does not mean propositional thinking, though it includes that. He means the process of experience, and reflection on experience, that issues in knowledge and wisdom, and supremely, the knowledge of God. Further, for Hooker, the realm of experience is ordinary life, all of it. Of this ordinary experience, scripture is a part. As all comes from God, so scripture does. As we learn from all our experience, and learn that the world is so ordered that it works in this way and not that in its phenomena, an ordering which Hooker calls "law," and states that it comes from the Creator and reveals its Creator in it, so we learn of God from Scripture, and scripture is a form of law, supernatural law. This supernatural law supplies the knowledge of God which we cannot gain from the natural law we discern in the world around us. But for Hooker the process of understanding is not different whatever the form of law it is that is being discerned. "So our own words also when wee extoll the complete sufficiencie of the whole entire bodie of the scripture, must in like sorte be understoode with this caution, that the benefite of natures light be not thought excluded as unnecessarie, because the necessitie of a diviner light is magnifyed.(Lawes I.14.4)"

This is an implicit critique of Travers' and the Puritans use of scripture as the ultimate rule and guide. They used scripture as a set of propositional laws, unrelated to the ordinary life of humans of their time, as eternal laws. They were absolute, in the sense that they were unconnected to person and circumstance, and were used to form person and circumstance to their mold rather than both conforming to and at the same time transforming person and circumstance. Hooker's complaint, though the words would be profoundly anachronistic, is that the Puritan's construction of scripture is unhistorical. So in discussing the Puritan's construction of ecclesial institutions on scriptural models, Hooker points out that the words of scripture were written to address certain occasions and situations in the life of the church, and not as absolute rules. "The severall bookes of scripture having had each some severall occasion and particular purpose which caused them to be written, the contents thereof are according to the exigence of that speciall ende whereunto they are intended.(Lawes I.14.3)" His whole critique of the Puritan use of scripture is summed up in Lawes IV.11.7: "Words must be taken according to the matter whereof they are uttered."

Finally, in the Travers-Hooker controversy, one must take notice of the irenic tone that underlies the polemic. The two men remained on good terms personally, and both made it clear that there was no personal animosity. Among other things, Travers' brother John was married to Hooker's sister. Hooker in fact seems to have found all controversy hateful; this may have made him so kind a pleader as he was. This fundamental personal amity may be as great a contribution to ecumenism as any theological contribution.

So Hooker challenges the word of the bishop on scripture. But his basic mode of all inclusive reason fulfills the bishop's basic image of an inclusive field of doctrine, polity and liturgy; Hooker would simply add scripture as a fourth element at play. And his inclusivity lies at the heart of the ecumenical intention of the Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral is fundamentally Anglican.

The quarrel between Hooker and Travers, between the Anglican and Puritan positions, was fundamentally about authority in the human and political sense. Travers was eventually deprived of his position at the Temple, and other Puritans removed from their positions because they were perceived as disloyal and as subverting the order established by law. They were, for instance, converting the Church into a Calvinist institution inside a shell of Episcopacy and this was seen as political subversion and dangerous to public order.

The issues under consideration by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation likewise seem to have come down to issues of authority. In most of the dialogue, a Hookerlike irenicism of balanced inclusion has prevailed. On scripture, the report says that the Church's expression of God's revelation must be tested by "its consonance with scripture." The report adds, however, "This does not mean simply repeating the words of Scripture, but also both delving into their deeper significance and unraveling their implications for Christian belief and practice. It is impossible to do this without resorting to current language and thought."(Final Report p 70. Likewise, in the discussion of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Consultation moves toward inclusion. The report states that some emphasize the presence of Christ in the food eaten, other in the presence of Christ in the eater. "In the opinion of the Commission neither emphasis is incompatible with the eucharistic faith, provided that the complementary movement emphasized by the other position is not denied."(Final Report, p 22.)

This amity has not succeeded when it comes to a common sense of ecclesial authority. Here the statement of the Quadrilateral is really irrelevant to the situation. What it calls for as a common principle, the historical episcopate, is agreed on by both Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Unfortunately the historic episcopate in Roman Catholicism has come to include a great deal that Anglicans cannot accept. The ground of nonacceptance is exclusivity in the Roman Catholic institution of authority. The problem is the authority of the Bishop or Rome to teach and rule in absolute ways. The position of the Roman Catholic Church has been that those not in communion with Rome are a defective church, separate from God and salvation. They are not in the Church, properly defined, and outside that Church there is no salvation. And the Roman communion has unfortunately locked itself into this position by defining the infallible teaching authority of the Papacy, and further using that infallible authority to define doctrine as binding.

I think it is fair to say that the Quadrilateral presents neither opportunity nor obstacle here to the furthering of Christian unity. I think it is also fair to say that Anglicans have done a great deal to further unity in their ecumenical agreements with the Roman communion. We have agreed to a sort of primacy of the Pope on historical grounds, to seeing the function of the Pope as the sign of unity for all Christians. This has been the function of that office through history. But this function has been in the context of councils and synods, and Anglicans, in their usual balancing act wish to hold together conciliarity and papacy. What is now required is for the Papacy to declare itself conciliar.

This is a problem of history expressed in theological terms. This doesn't vitiate the theology, but it does relativize it. It is well for all of us to be honest about our histories. Anglicanism is rooted in an historical situation of constitutional monarchy. Well before the Reformation, kings in England were set partially subject to the will of the people, or at least some of them. The absolute right of kings was abolished in England in intimate relationship to a state Church. Democracy and universal suffrage came early, though in stages, in England, and as the Church was established. it was a participant in the process. Religious democracy in Anglicanism went farthest in the United States. Here we elect bishops. This is in starkest contrast to Roman Catholicism. I doubt we would yield up electing our bishops. But Rome would have to come a long way indeed to allow such election. As an option for part of a reunited church, it would quickly spread to all of it. This would be an all or nothing decision.

The Roman communion, unlike its Anglican and Protestant brothers and sisters, has been the victim, not the beneficiary of democratic rule. Rome, seeing and proclaiming itself so absolute as it did in the face of the reformations of the sixteenth century, was seen and experienced by the forces of embryonic democracy as the ally of absolute monarchy and the foe of democracy, both of which it truly was. It is not for naught that after the coming of Italian unity and democracy the Pope became the "prisoner of the Vatican." Throughout the democratic and liberal revolutions, the papacy became more and more isolated. The louder the liberal voice, the louder Rome denounced them in reaction, and the stronger the exclusivity became. Rome saw the new movements as subversive much in the same way that the court of Eliazbeth and the Church saw the Puritans as subversive.

Ironically, it was this same history that produced ecumenism. The democratic and liberal revolutions were organically linked to the final end of the feudal organization of society and the growth of urban factory economy. Traditional human community was destroyed by this change, and the community of workers as "hands" rather than as persons formed. The village with its web of relations that supported and maintained human community ceased to be for modern workers.

At the same time, the Church ceased to be linked to and supported by modern states. The democrats and liberals saw the Churches as forces that hindered rather than held human progress. In the midst of this situation, movements toward community developed in the Churches. The sense of Church was rediscovered, in England in the Oxford movement, in Germany by J A Mohler, in Sweden by Grundtvig, in German Reformed America in the Mercersburg theology, and in Roman Catholicism in the revival of Benedictine monasticism. All of this happened in the same few years toward the end of the first half of the nineteenth century. This is probably not coincidence. Another consequence of these movements was a new sense of the importance and dignity of common worship. This encouraged theologians to study the history and meaning of worship. In this study, much of what we have found that we have in common was rediscovered. Furthermore, this study took place in the culture of scholars, which was universal, which is to say, ecumenical, rather than parochial as the Churches were. The community of scholars ministered community to the Churches, who then discovered ecumenism. Thus we have this Quadrilateral.

Hookerlike, we may see in this history of our common life, God teaching us the way intended at creation, the way of unity intended in the Cross and Resurrection. The call of the Quadrilateral seems to be God's will for us. But in terms of our relationship with Roman Catholicism, we may have to await further historical development. We wait in faith, seeing that God's will for us is being fulfilled and trusting in fulfillment yet to come. We wait knowing that we have done our part, more or less, and as best we could. We have agreed to a primacy of the Pope. We await his taking it up. In the meantime we continue to enjoy the Christian company and cooperation of our Roman Catholic brother and sisters which is so newfound and so unexpected a surprise, such a gift of grace, such a miracle, such a joy. And we pray.


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