Reading Richard Hooker, Book V.2-5

For this week, we read Book V, chapters 2 through 5. The most interesting dimension of this section is the issue of superstition. Here Hooker addresses the Puritan critique that superstitious practices in the worship of the Church of England reveal that it is not a truly reformed church. In addressing this critique, Hooker echoes arguments contained in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as found in its Preface and Of Ceremonies.

Hooker seeks to establish that the worship of the Church of England is not superstitious. He does this first by arguing that its worship is distorted neither by zeal (given over too much to argumentation) or fear (lacking true understanding in regard to worship of God) (V.3). For Hooker, “Superstition is, when thinges are either abhorde or observd, with a zealous or fearfull, but erroneous relation to God” (V.3.2).

Building upon this definition, Hooker goes on to distinguish what he means by proper worship. Two things can be meant. The first is an inward, reasonable form of worship belonging to God. The second is “all manner vertuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to Godward oweth” (V.4.3). As fitting the controversy with the Puritans, Hooker is intent on addressing only the second aspect of worship in order to show that the worship of the Church of England is not superstitious. Notable in this distinction is that Hooker assumes that his Puritan opponents agree with him that the Church of England is reformed in theology. His goal in this book is to persuade them tht it is also properly reformed in practice.

Here we see that in the late 16th century, the operating assumption was that the Church of England was a national church that participated in a broader reformed consensus as opposed to seeing itself as a middle way between Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions.

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Filed under Church of England, Ecclesiology, Richard Hooker

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