Richard Hooker “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity”

Richard Hooker was a theologian and master of the Temple, which would mean in contemporary terms dean of a law school. His opus magnum is the result of the polemic with Puritans about the organization of the Anglican Church: the Puritans were for ditching the whole episcopal hierarchy, Hooker was against it. So he decided to explain to his opponents why they were wrong – in five volumes. Not being the one to be satisfied with small details, he starts with the creation of the world and the natural laws that govern it. There are two eternal laws, one which God imposed on himself and the other which he imposed on all creation. From the latter follow logically all the individual laws – the law of nature, the law of reason and so on. The law of nature should be divided into two categories – the law of nature as applied to things which have no volition (moon, sun) and the law of nature as applied to things which have agency.

Hooker interprets the creation as described in Genesis in the following way: God by saying “Let there be light” and so on shows that he is a voluntary agent and he at the same time institutes the law which should rule all the creation. Because what would happen to us without these laws? Here Hooker gives a terrifying but at the same time beautiful description of the apocalyptic landscape when the world goes “out of joint”.  But if God’s laws are perfect and protect us, why is then the world imperfect? (Hooker doesn’t give examples but I guess he refers to things like natural catastrophes and the fact that it is not 23 degrees Celsius all over the world always.) Phidias cannot carve a perfect sculpture from imperfect material, he says, neither the most skilled musician can play on the instrument which is out of tune. In theological terms, it is the original sin which tainted not only the human nature but the whole world.

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