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Richard Hooker's Via Media Doctrine of Justification

  • Lee W. Gibbs (a1)

The “judicious” Richard Hooker (1554–1600) gave classic expression to the via media position of Elizabethan Anglicanism. He attempted to steer a middle course, appropriating what he considered to be the truths and avoiding what he considered to be the errors and excesses, between Roman Catholicism and the Magisterial Reformation (Lutheranism and especially Calvinism). It has often been pointed out by scholars that Hooker sometimes inclines more in one direction than the other on certain key doctrines. For example, it has been said many times that his view of the relation of God and the world, of grace and nature, of faith and reason, is characterized by continuity rather than discontinuity, and that in this he was true to the medieval Catholic thought of Thomas Aquinas. But his view of justification has been said to be nearer to that of the Magisterial Reformation than to that of Rome.

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1 John E. Booty has persuasively argued that the aim of the Elizabethan Settlement, and consequently of Hooker's thought, was not compromise or the mere balancing of opinions between two opposing parties but rather comprehension, that is, the rejection of error whatever its source and the affirmation of truth wherever it might be found, the condemnation of the falsities of the extremists while accepting and affirming the truths that the extremists held. See “Hooker and Anglicanism,” in Hill, W. Speed, ed., Studies in Richard Hooker: Essays Preliminary lo an Edition of His Works (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 1972) 207–11.

2 See D'Entrèves, A. P., The Medieval Contribution to Political Thought: Thomas Aquinas, Marsilius of Padua, Richard Hooker (Oxford: Oxford University, 1939) chaps. 5–6.

3 See, e.g., Booty: “Thus Hooker decried the Puritan view of Scripture while embracing the Protestant doctrine of justification” (“Hooker and Anglicanism,” 211). See also Paul Surlis: “The whole question of the relationship between human acts, merit, and salvation would belong more properly to an investigation of his doctrine of justification where his theological position appears to owe much to Reformation inspiration and to be directed against Catholic positions” (“Natural Law in Richard Hooker (ca. 1551–1600),” ITR 35 [1968] 185 n. 52).

4 Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1976.

5 The following scholars have argued that the thought of Hooker is flawed and inconsistent because of his inability to reconcile various sources of his thought (such as Thomas Aquinas and Marsilius of Padua) or his thought with the realities of the Tudor political situation: Kearney, H. F., “Richard Hooker: A Reconstruction,” Cambridge Journal 5 (1952) 300311; Munz, Peter, The Place of Hooker in the History of Thought (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952); and Hillerdal, Gunnar, Reason and Revelation in Richard Hooker (Lund: Gleerup, 1962). See a summary of this literature and an effective refutation of it in W. D. J. Cargill Thompson, “The Philosopher of the ‘Politic Society’: Richard Hooker as Political Thinker,” in Hill, Studies, 3–76.

6 “Richard Hooker's Doctrine of Justification and Sanctification,” 299; see also 3, 86, and 251.

7 Keble, John, ed., The Works of Richard Hooker (7th ed.; rev. R. W. Church and F. Paget; Oxford: Clarendon, 1888) 3. 471–72. This sermon and “A Learned Discourse of Justification, Works, and How the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown,” although not published until 1612, were among the eariest treatises Hooker wrote. The two treatises were portions of a series of sermons on the prophet Habakkuk preached in the Temple Church in 1586. Both of these sermons provoked challenges by the Puritan leader, Walter Travers, who was lecturer during Hooker's first year at the Temple. See Travers, “A Supplication Made to the Council,” in Hooker's Works, 3. 559–67; and Hooker's response, “Mr. Hooker's Answer to the Supplication that Mr. Travers Made to the Council,” in Works, 3. 577–86.

8 Works, 3. 490.

9 “A Christian Letter from certaine English Protestants, unfained favourers of the present state of Religion, authorised and professed in England: unto that Reverend and learned man, Mr R. Hoo. requiring resolution in certaine matters of doctrine (which seeme to overthrow the foundation of Christian Religion, and of the church among us) expreslie contained in his five books of Ecclesiasticall Polticie” (1599). A Christian Letter is not a true letter but a tract disguised as a letter. Hooker was preparing an answer to it at the time of his death in 1600. There is a copy of A Christian Letter with marginal notes in Hooker's hand in the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and a series of three longer notes in the manuscript collection of Trinity College, Dublin, which John Keble, who first published them, entitled “Fragments of an Answer to A Christian Letter”; see Works, 2. 537–97.

10 In “Introduction” to “A Christian Letter with Hooker's Notes” in the forthcoming vol. 4 of The Folger Library Edition of The Works of Richard Hooker, ed. W. Speed Hill. Vols. 1 and 2 of the new Hill edition were published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University in 1977. Booty suggests that the most likely candidate for authorship, if indeed A Christian Letter was written by one person, is Andrew Willet (1562–1621), graduate of Christ College, Cambridge, a Calvinist in theology, strongly anti-Roman Catholic, a loyal member of the Church of England, and author of Ecclesia Triumphans (1603).

11 A Christian Letter, App. 2, in Hooker, Richard, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the Fifthe Book (ed. Bayne, Ronald; London: Macmillan, 1902) 600.

12 Laws, 1, 11, §6; Hill ed., Works, 1. 118; Keble ed., 1. 261.

13 Laws, 1, 16, §7; Hill ed., Works, 1. 141; Keble ed., 1. 283.

14 Laws, 5, 76, §1; Hill ed., Works, 2. 414; Keble ed., 2. 444.

15 Laws, 5, 72, §9; Hill ed., Works, 2. 391–92; Keble ed., 2. 416–17.

16 Hooker has vigorously responded at this point in the margin of his copy of A Christian Letter with these words: “Is faith then the formal cause of justification? And faith alone a cause in this kind? Who hath taught you this doctrine? Have you been tampering so long with Pastors, Doctors, Elders, Deacons, that the first principles of your religion are now to learn?” (Bayne, 601 n. 62). Calvin had taught that faith is the formal cause of justification; cf. his commentary on Rom 3:24: “There is, perhaps, no passage in the whole of Scripture which more strikingly illustrates the efficacy of this righteousness, for it shows that the mercy of God is the efficient cause, Christ with his blood the material cause, faith conceived by the Word the formal or instrumental cause, and the glory of both the divine justice and goodness the final cause.” Calvin, John, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians (trans. Mackenzie, Ross; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960) 7475.

17 Hooker wrote the following caustic note in response to this question: “Your godfathers and godmothers have much to answer unto God for not seeing you better catechised. A thing necessary as you grant that by good works we should seek God's glory, show ourselves thankful for His mercies in Christ, answer His loving kindness towards us and give other men good examples. If then these things be necessary unto eternal life, and works necessarily to be done for these ends, how should works be but necessary unto the last end, seeing the next and nearest cannot be attained without them?” (Bayne ed., 601 n. 65).

18 Bayne ed., 601. See also the author of A Christian Letter on “the virtue of works” and “Works of supererogation,” Bayne ed., 602–3.

19 See n. 6 above.

20 A careful reading of Travers' Supplication makes it clear that Hooker's A Learned Discourse of Justification is not one sermon preached by Hooker at one particular time but rather a religious tractate which developed out of several weekly sermons preached by Hooker in his running debate with his critic, Travers. See Supplication, in Hooker's Works, 3. 560–62, 565–66.

21 Works, 3. 560.

22 Works, 3. 567.

23 A Learned Discourse of Justification, in Works, 3. 485.

24 Ibid., 485–86.

25 Ibid., 491; see also 506–7.

26 Ibid., 491.

27 Ibid., 507.

28 “Richard Hooker's Doctrine of Justification and Sanctification,” 247. Hooker sets forth his analysis of the causes of justifying righteousness in the context of his discussion of doctrine that is shared in common by the Roman Church and the Church of England: “They teach as we do, that God doth justify the soul of man alone, without any other coefficient cause of justice; that in making man righteous, none do work efficiently with God, but God. They teach as we do, that unto justice no man ever attained, but by the merits of Jesus Christ. They teach as we do, that although Christ as God be the efficient, as man the meritorious cause of our justice; yet in us also there is something required” (A Learned Discourse of Justification, in Works, 3. 486). Hooker then points out that the Church of England differs from the Church of Rome about the nature or essence of the merits of Christ; about the manner of applying them; and the number and power of the means or sacraments which God requires for the effectual application of them (ibid.). The Council of Trent set forth the causes of justification in the seventeenth chapter of the decree on justification: “The final cause is the glory of God, and of Christ, and life everlasting. The efficient cause is the merciful God, who freely washes and sanctifies sealing and anointing with the Holy Spirit of the promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance. The meritorious cause is the beloved only-begotten Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, by reason of his very great love wherewith he has loved us, merited justification for us by his own most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us to God the Father. The instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the 'sacrament of faith' without faith no one has ever been justified. Finally, the only formal cause is ‘the justice of God, not the justice by which he is himself just, but the justice by which he makes us just,’ namely, the justice which we have as a gift from him and by which we are renewed in the spirit of our mind” (Clarkson, John F., et al. , eds., The Church Teaches; Documents of the Church in English Translation [St. Louis: Herder, 1955] 563, 233–34). Although Hooker differs from the Council of Trent in his understanding of sacraments in general and of baptism in particular, he too can speak of baptism “as an instrument or means whereby we receive grace, because baptism is a sacrament which God hath instituted in his Church, to the end that they which receive the same might thereby be incorporated into Christ, and through his most precious merit obtain as well that saving grace of imputation which taketh away all former guiltiness, as also that infused divine virtue of the Holy Ghost, which giveth to the powers of the soul their first disposition towards future newness of life” (Laws, 5, 60, §2, Hill ed.. Works, 2. 255; Keble ed., 2. 265–66).

29 A Learned Discourse of Justification, in Works, 3. 507–8; cf. 530. Hooker's distinction between “order” and “dignity” is clarified by and may well be dependent upon the discussion by Thomas Aquinas of the causes of justification: “The four elements listed in the preceding article which are required for the justification of the unrighteous are indeed simultaneous in time, since the justification of the unrighteous is not successive, as was said, but in their natural order one comes before another. In this natural order, the infusion of grace comes first; next the movement of free choice directed to God; third the movement of free choice directed at sin; fourth the forgiveness of sin. The reason for this is that in any movement, by nature the motion of the mover itself comes first; second the disposition of the matter, or the movement of what is to be moved; finally the end or term of the movement, at which the motion of the mover terminates” (Summa Theol-ogiae, la2ae, q. 113, art. 8, Blackfriars ed., 3. 190–91). Cf. Thomas' discussion of justification seen to be the greatest good in terms of final causation: “And in this sense the gift of the grace which justifies the unrighteous is greater than the gift of glory which makes the just man blessed; since the gift of grace further exceeds the worth of the unrighteous man, who by the very fact of being justified is worthy of glory” (Summa Theologiae, la2ae, q. 113, art. 9, Blackfriars ed., 30. 194–95).

30 Hooker's teaching about the gift of the Spirit of adoption is grounded in his doctrine of election or predestination; see A Learned Discourse of Justification, in Works, 3. 531; also A Learned Sermon of the Nature of Pride, in Works, 3. 601; and “Fragments of an Answer to the Letter of certain English Protestants,” in Works, 2. 537–97, esp. 595–96.

31 Hooker's doctrine of repentance is intimately related to his teaching about the righteousness of justification and that of sanctification; see, for example, Laws, 6, 3, §2 and §5, in Works, 3. 7–11.

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Harvard Theological Review
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