Thursday, 13 January 2011

Hooker

My attention has been drawn to Richard Hooker, a philosophical founder of Anglicanism. How do I understand him?

The argument that his three legs of the stool, scripture, tradition and reason are uneven is I think right. Reason serves scripture, and tradition is the weakest of all, to change according to reason but serving scripture.

The context, however, is everything, and cannot be divorced from the Church as a carrier of national ideology (Holy Roman Empire in the case of the Roman Catholic Church once Rome had fallen, plus Roman Catholic allied states). Churches that competed with politics struggled: the Reformation succeeded thanks to the powers of kings, princes and, in some cases, leading aristocrats.

Without becoming gnostic, Christianity developed with Augustine of Hippo into a view that the world and humankind were predominantly fallen and sinful, and therefore reason was of no use. As Rome fell, there was a loss of Greek learning. The Muslims, meanwhile, developed their religion with reason, taking it from both Greek and Hindu (e.g. counting) and both preserved and developed learning. Ibn Sina was a powerful all round theologian who developed Aristotle.

In brief, Aristotle found truth deep in the essence of things, and thus (although not an experimenter himself) laid the potential for discovery and science, whereas Plato found truth in pure reflections of the essence of things in the heavens, and thus led to pure logic and mathematics.

For Christians, however, Aristotle and all that was based on reasoning, and thus reasoning was opposition to sinfulness and incapability. Christian revelation was the be all and end all. Seeing the danger of that position, with the opening out of Muslim knowledge, Aquinas said no, that there is natural revelation as well as special revelation, and he married the two. Thus came scholasticism. That was very much a Church based theory, even if it allowed for much scope in reasoning on its own.

Wind the clock forward and what can the Protestants make of it? Many reformed little, but some re-emphasised the sinfulness of the lump of humanity, like the Calvinists did, and placed the emphasis on scripture and a God who knew all in advance and took all intitiative. The Church was a disciplining body, putting this ideology into order, and making a Godly State.

In Eastern Europe, from Transynvania through Poland and to Lithuania, the situation was more pluralistic and there the left wing of the Reformation was pro-reason. In this case conscience and reason facilitated what was called 'ordinary comprehension' of the scriptures. Such reasoning was individual, if a Minor Church summarised it, and Arian/ Unitarian, and highly resisted by both authoritarians and by traditional Churches. They didn't want such Socinianism, and thus positive reasoning was problematic within the Reformation.

So what about the Anglicans? This was a Church reformed with few changes, then was bumped between different theologies according to changes in the State. Queen Elizabeth had vacilated over the bumping off of Puritan Henry Barrow, but of course Aquinas and all that was the ideology of a foreign set of powers. Could there be an English ideological theology and ecclesiology that took in reason and tradition that was clearly Protestant, but not so Protestant that it threatened to get all uncertain about princes, as in Scotland.

Scotland was actually a mixed economy of prince bishops and a Presbyterian system, and never quite worked out until one lot backed the Jacobite pretender and the other lot pounced, and thus the Church of Scotland became purely Presbyterian and the minority Episcopalians became suppressed and bishop led.

So the Protestant solution to reason, via Hooker's retreat to the country to write his political ecclesiology, was to make reason valuable but a slave to scripture - allowing for the fact that some scripture was not of the eternal demanding kind but just addressed ongoing situations. Tradition was allowed to be rolling, almost, to be understood from period to period even as useful, but to be subject to reason and to scripture. This included Church organisation itself, and thus would resist movement to purer Presbyterian forms even if it included little elements. The emphasis was on generosity, especially regarding all this and individual salvation: structures did not have to be clear-cut.

The problem has been since that the Church of England has not needed to, and often has not, used Richard Hooker as a rule book. At the 1662 Restoration, when even more moderate Presbyterians got it in the neck, the Church swung over to emphasise Kings and princes. Later periods have changes emphases, but the latest phase is peculiar because of the in practice detachment from the State even if formal links remain.

First denominations and then religions and heresies were tolerated, and States became more plural, but then States secularised even if people remained variously religious in degrees and kinds. Churches that provided key educational and welfare and even leisure provisions have withdrawn, and they now do not even provide ethical guidelines for States and citizens, that are decided by legal consensuses.

The result is that some Churches are retreating to tradition. Some are retreating to scriptures. But some, where tradition and scriptures are somewhat relativised by education are becoming more bureaucratic, concerned with strategies of self-survival and keeping together. Whereas traditional identities and invented traditions prevented some structural ecumenism, sheer necessity should bring that back to the agenda.

Hooker should be seen as a fixer, and someone who placed Reason within Anglicanism, not like the Socinians did, but nor as the Romans did, but as it's own uneven stool.

1 comment:

hugh said...

Another nice historical snippet Adrian .


Regards ,


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