Reading Richard Hooker

At CDSP I have led the Richard Hooker Reading Group since the fall semester of 2009. The purpose of this group is simple: to read through Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity from beginning to end. If you have ever tried reading this work, you know this is a massive task. In the critical edition, this is a three-volume work full of challenging late Elizabethan prose. To make this task manageable, I decided that reading Hooker would involve people sitting together and simply reading his words out loud for about an hour.

The process is simple. One person reads until they get to the end of the sentence. Then the next person reads. Then the next. I offer explanations as we are reading, either drawn from my own learning or by utilizing the commentary from the Folger Library critical edition.

This semester at CDSP we have finally gotten to Book V of the Laws. For Anglican this is probably the most famous part of the Laws due to his detailed defense of the worship of the Church of England and his articulation of sacramental theology and participation in Christ via the sacraments.

When this reading group first began, I kept a weekly blog summarizing the weekly discussion. Unfortunately, after the first year I fell out of practice with this. I am hoping, however, to blog through Book V as there is more general interest in this portion of Hooker’s work.

With that in mind, this past week we read the first chapter of Book V. In it, Hooker seeks to rebuff Puritan critiques of the worship of the Church of England. As he did at the beginning of the Laws, Hooker starts with first principles. Specifically, he argues that any well ordered society contains within it a form of religion that guides citizens towards the common good. Hooker allows that all religions serve this purpose, even imperfect ones, such as Roman religion in his example. His overarching point is that Puritans must be very careful in critiquing the worship of the Church of England. This worship has been designed to ensure that the entire commonwealth of England is oriented towards the highest good. In Hooker’s mind, the worship of the Church of England is ideally suited for an English context due to the royal supremacy over the church. Trying to impose a more reformed, Genevan style of worship, as is the Puritan’s desire, would ill fit the English context.

The overarching lesson rests in recognizing how for Hooker worship and good ordering of the English commonwealth is meant to go hand in hand. I would venture that this notion is far from most theological perspectives of contemporary Episcopalians.

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4 Comments

Filed under Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Ecclesiology, Richard Hooker

4 responses to “Reading Richard Hooker

  1. So, this begs the question: How is contemporary American Episcopalian liturgy composed for the common good of the people of the United States? How does it reflect the “best self” of the American people?

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