Benjamin Hoadly: Heir to Richard Hooker

Benjamin Hoadly, most infamous as bishop of Bangor, is punished. Touted as the symbol of the spiritual dearth that was the Augustan church, High Churchmen and Evangelicals excoriated the supposedly “Latitudinarian” (read: rationalist or modernist) captivity of the Church. Ministers worried about hobbies and tithes, reduced to employees of the Parliamentary Leviathan, the Hanoverian episcopal bench reflected the stupor of the age. Infatuated with the empirical materialism born of becoming a commercial society, the Church of England had ceased to offer any robust and full-throated advocacy for the gospel or the Church. In defiance of oligarchy, Tory cries about the “Church in Danger” went unheard. The Whigs purged the ministry of Tories, throttled parliamentary elections, and bridled the Church, with the silencing of Convocation in 1717. Hoadly was the symbol par excellence of this decay of the Church. It was this torpor that the Methodists (originally a high sacramental movement formed in royalist and High Church Oxford affiliated with Non-Juror William Law) lamented. Similarly, Tory-affiliated Evangelicals (Newton and Wilberforce) and the High Church movement that eventually coalesced into the Tractarians equally damned the failure of the Whig-affiliated episcopal bench. Hoadly, a crippled striver of dubious theological views (accusations that he was quasi-Arian or Deistic floated about), promoted the Hobbist parliamentary apparatus which robbed England of its spirit in return for filthy lucre. As one polemicist put in lyric:

Then thus Great Salters-Hall shall ring,

Thus, Thus, the Calves Head Club shall sing,

Leviathan our God and King (Leviathan, or a Hymn to Poor Brother Ben, 1710)

This assessment has generally dominated Anglican historiography, whether internal or external to the communion. And Hoadly defenders have more often failed to fully recover his legacy. The first full length biography in recent years – Enlightenment Prelate – from priest-scholar William Gibson has only added to the confusion. Posed as a Lockean empiricist, in defense of tolerance and Broad Church liberalism, Hoadly is represented as a celebrated advocate for the “English Enlightenment.” Despite the use of the “Lockean” label, there are effectively zero references to Locke in Hoadly’s work. Hoadly was believed to imbibe these values from his education in post-puritan Cambridge. However, unlike some of his peers, Hoadly fully rejected the creeping Cartesian rationalism, sneering at it as “no more than the inventions of a very ingenious and luxuriant fancy having no foundation in the reality of things nor any correspondency to the certainty of facts” (quoted from Gibson, 51). For Gibson, the only alternative was the equal rejection of this Cartesian rationalism found in Newton and Locke. Thus, Hoadly is identified with this movement, despite the earlier underpinnings of so-called “Latitude men” originating from the rationalism of the “Cambridge Platonists” (another overly reified label). Hoadly’s doctrine of sincerity, his willingness to treat with Dissenters, his friendly correspondence with Newtonian Samuel Clark (a subordinationist), all testify to Hoadly’s allegiance to the Lockean tradition of humble, and fallible, epistemology. Gibson’s work helped correct the image of Hoadly as a derelict time-server (his permanent crippling, demonstrated in the bishop’s use of a scooter to walk, prevented frequent visitation). Nevertheless, Hoadly is simply given a positive valuation of an otherwise novel (and proto-modernist) clergyman. The vociferous preaching of High Churchmen to be a martyr for the faith gave way to ecumenical relativity. Such is no more than what Hoadly’s critics accused him of teaching behind the veil of preferment.

The rest of the essay will not treat much on Hoadly’s personal foibles. He may very well indeed have been somewhat grasping for preferment (though Hoadly’s endearment to Queen Caroline was in the good company of Joseph Butler and George Berkeley). However, the rest of this essay will focus on Hoadly’s political and ecclesiastical theory.

I contend that Hoadly represents an alternative to the patriarchal High Churchmanship that has dominated most accounts of Anglicanism. Rather than an emphasis on noblesse oblige, common good Toryism (whether of a traditional or Red bent), and royal absolutism, Hoadly represents what I term “Libertarian Anglicanism,” an emphasis on natural law and the rights of the individual conscience within the Christian life. And this schema does not emerge from “Latitude” rationalism, ecumenism of post-puritan Dissent, or even Lockean politics (an often misunderstood category itself), but from the paradigms of Richard Hooker. It is from Hooker’s thought that Hoadly derived his concern for the consent of the governed, the foundation of civic society from Natural Law (and thus restrained by the same), and a concern for limits of clerical authority to control the individual Christian’s conscience.

To begin, let’s dispel more falsehoods surrounding Hoadly. He was in no way relativistic about the Church of England’s polity. He recognized that the original foundation of Christ’s Church was three-tiered, constituted of bishops, priests, and deacons. When the Apostles died, the bishops succeeded the Apostles, with their subordinate priests fulfilling their prior role. However, the historic episcopacy is not necessary to salvation. Hoadly recognized the legitimacy of Continental Presbyterianism, which had to act to preserve the Gospel against hostile bishops. Nevertheless, the Church of England rightly preserved this order, by God’s grace, and was in no way defective. Thus, English Dissenters have no good reason to hold themselves apart from the Church of England. If they would follow the contours of his argument, Dissenters could not deny they had no reason for schism and should seek ordination from their local bishop (The Reasonableness of Conformity to the Church of England, 1703, 4‒23). Per most Anglicans, with exception to the most vociferous Anglo-Catholics, Hoadly’s point is to shore up the Church’s bona fides as a legitimate, and Reformed, Church without denying church status to Presbyterians abroad. Simultaneously, Hoadly hopes to persuade Dissenters that they were in error without supposing that the misled were hell-bound. Here is why sincerity is important: it allowed Hoadly, the minister, to show both charity and conviction. He did not recognize Dissenters as having their own truth, yet he would not sentence them for their ignorance. God would not punish English Presbyterians for their belief that they were, indeed, worshiping Jesus Christ rightly. While Hoadly would later be excoriated for equivocating all faiths, his purpose was to recognize the difficulty of knowledge in a fragmented world of competing confessions. A Roman Christian may be in severe error for praying to angels and saints as mediators, but was such an error damnable? Would God not answer their prayers, even if misdirected? Rather than relativizing truth, it was prefiguring the problem many Christians would face as confessions came face to face. In this way, Hoadly is distinctly useful for Americans and the history of plurality among Christian confessions.

Hoadly spent much of his writing career defending the revolutionary settlement of 1688. In a nutshell: the succession of Roman Catholic James II, his increased use of royal dispensation (excepting the law) for conformity to the Church of England, and the birth of a son (who was to be raised a Catholic, unlike his older daughters, Mary and Anne) alienated much of England’s governing class. While some recent literature has tried to revive James II’s reputation as a monarch of toleration, it was clear to many of James’ contemporaries that he was attempting to rebuild Rome within England. While not a satrap to Louis XIV’s ambitions for universal monarchy, James II copied his absolutist modernizing. The Restoration, in many ways, was not a repudiation of Cromwell’s state-building, but a continuation. James II sought to build central bureaucracy to protect an expanding mercantile empire, increasing taxes to fund an army and navy. James generally followed Tory blue-water strategy, focusing on naval expansion and leaving the Continent to the growing power of the Bourbons. The Glorious Revolution was thus not simply a palace coup, or a religiously motivated putsch, but about the fundamental nature of the English constitution. If this state-building was to continue, under whose authority would it be done? Was it under the king alone, the father who had absolute right and rule over England, subject only to God? Or must the king be in consultation with the nation, manifest through the institution of Parliament? Was the king above the law, as its source? Or was he, even as chief magistrate, still subject to it? Did subjects have rights only to the extent that the king allowed? Or could subjects do more than petition God with tears and prayers?

The refusal to submit to James II found broad support. The “immortal seven,” bishops who refused to read James’ declaration of toleration, bore silent witness as they were held in the Tower. John Churchill, loyal to James during his illegitimate nephew’s uprising in 1685, bolted as the Dutch Stadtholder, William (both James’ nephew and son-in-law), landed at Torbay in response to an invitation. Whig and Tory both flocked to William, and James’ eldest daughter Mary, to see James checked. The problem was how such could be held together with reigning political theories. Conveniently, James Stuart fled abroad, attempting to lose the royal seal (easily found on the banks of the Thames) and thus make legitimacy difficult. Instead, this flight made William king de facto, even if Parliament’s recognition that James had abdicated was sketchy at best. There were many attempts to theorize this turn of events, as supporters of this revolutionary settlement (which recognized certain legal rights of Parliament that the crown had to respect) sought to justify their actions. The Non-Jurors, a group of churchmen and their faithful who had lost their dioceses and parishes for refusing to swear an oath to William and Mary as king and queen, haunted the discussion. For Tory partisans, such as William Sherlock, who argued that William had the throne by right of conquest, Non-Jurors had exposed the fiction. How did this not justify might-makes-right politics? Was Oliver Cromwell king, instead of Charles II? How was this theory not an invitation for the Hobbist Leviathan?

Hoadly had interceded strongly on behalf of the revolutionary settlement. But he did so in strongly Hookerian terms. From the parish of Peter Le Poer’s, Hoadly penned his Original and the Institution of Civil Government (1710). Gibson, in his biography, acknowledged (citing J. P. Kenyon) that it was likely that Hoadly structured his work like Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government (this point is the only place Hoadly could be said to draw on Locke). But it’s helpful to acknowledge the context for this work, which only became popular later in the eighteenth century. Locke was one of many Whigs who sought to rebut the patriarchal theory of Robert Filmer. Against the idea that the throne was inheritable, instituted as the right of fatherly primogeniture, Locke advanced a contractual commonwealth. Hoadly would do the same, and like Locke, would overwhelmingly cite Richard Hooker for his contentions.

To begin, Hoadly defined the Patriarchal scheme he attacked: “not only that Scheme which fixeth Absolute, Uncontrollable Authority in Adam and his Male-Line, according to Primogeniture down to the universal Deluge; and in Noah afterwards: but that Scheme likewise which is engrafted upon this; and which may more properly indeed be call’d the Scheme of Possession” (Original, 2-3) . In other words: Hoadly rejected any theory that attached royal right in the absolute rights of family, without any consultation with the people of the nation. Hoadly engaged in biblical exegesis to reject any attempt to ground England’s kingship in the genealogy of Adam or any other biblical patriarchs. Hoadly, in contrast, claimed to defend the revolution, as a legitimate overthrow of a tyrant, in Hookerian terms (Original, preface). And per Hooker, the commonwealth is under natural law, which restrained kings as much as commoners. Hoadly explicitly denied that the revolutionary settlement was done by “the People” in a democratic sense. It was not the right of the average tinker or tailor to decide, for himself, his governor. Such was mob rule, the same anarchic and chaotic voice that cried out to crucify Christ (Original, 101‒104). Instead, Hoadly hoped to defend a firmer basis of monarchy than jurists combing genealogical records to prove the Stuarts were related to the Tablet of Nations in Genesis (Original, 109‒110). Such not only ruined England, but made it unstable, opening the pathway to a Cromwellian dictatorship.

Hoadly offered, instead, Hooker’s principles of government. Hooker had defended the rights and responsibilities of all souls in the commonwealth, including the king. Yes, the subject must obey the right to rule of the king, but the king himself must be obedient to Natural Law and the nation’s constitution. Kingship was not essential to all forms of government, since human magistrates may adjust their own nation’s form of government. Nevertheless, absolutists abhorred such a system and would likely chase Hooker out of the Church as an atheistic deist (Original, 131‒137). Instead, citing Hooker, civil government was distinct from patriarchal authority. The king was not the great father, who possessed absolute natural right over his children-subjects. Rather, it was from a historical compact between subjects to determine, or change, the form of government under which they lived. Monarchs had no right to ruin the society they had been determined to defend and protect, including the lives and property of their subjects (Original, 137‒140). Civil government was temporary, formed to achieve certain aims. These were not absolute in their own right, nor were they conducive to any utopian aspirations. Instead, Hoadly defended the purpose of civil government to defend man’s natural right to exercise his “Reason, Wisdom, and Deliberation,” as he quests to closer conform to God. Despite sneers that Hoadly was a Hobbist in service of Leviathan, Hoadly denied the state could ever create or guarantee the supreme happiness of man (Original, 154). Despite the screeching of patriarchal absolutists, it was precisely in disentangling the civil from the familial which promoted both. Hierarchy was natural, found in the father’s authority over his son, and did not depend on the determinations of any particular civil government (Original, 162‒163). These arguments were not unlike similar Whig arguments from Locke or James Tyrrell against Filmer. However, the self-conscious use of Hooker revealed how radical traditional defenses of the Church had become. It was not patriarchal High Churchmen, but a so-called “Latitude” Churchman like Hoadly, which defended Hooker’s classic defense of both Church and state from puritan attacks.

This defense of natural law, and the constitutional nature of all civil government, does not empower rebellion. In contrast, Hoadly excoriated rebellion in biblical terms: sinful and deserving of God’s wrath. Nevertheless, what took place in the Glorious Revolution was not a rebellion. Why? Because rebels are those who oppose the ends of civil government: public peace and common good. Such realization was natural, open to all peoples, part of God’s natural revelation (Original, 178‒179). Hoadly concluded this second section with an appeal that all churchmen return to Hooker’s scheme. For it was in Hooker that one clearly saw both the foundations of the Church of England as well as England’s civil government (Original, 199‒200). In short, Hoadly admonished the people against slavish submission to any absolute authority. And he did so through Hooker’s defense of the English commonwealth. It was not for kings to claim patriarchal authority or be above the law. Even if the king was a father, a father has no right to murder his child. The natural law of self-defense and self-preservation triumphed over any royal prescription, no matter how thunderous. It was part of the heritage of the Church of England to refuse tyranny, whether of state or the Church.

It’s the latter where Hoadly’s defense of sincerity enters in. Against High Churchman (not the same as Non-Juror) and future Jacobite, Francis Atterbury, Hoadly turned against the concept of Passive Obedience. This doctrine not only advanced the obligation for Christians to obey civil authority but made complete submission to the crown (as the source of all law and government) necessary for faith. High Churchmen like Atterbury would even claim that this doctrine was what set the Church of England apart as the most faithful of her sister churches. Hoadly excoriated this slavish spirit. Would not Nero and Caligula have leapt for such docile subjects, passively allowing kings to act as they wanted with no opposition? Would this not make the most degenerate and absurd interpretation of Romans 13, allowing those professing to be king (with a ministry of jurists manufacturing genealogy) to do as they willed? Such was to make a mockery of St. Paul (Response to Atterbury, 19‒44). Instead, Romans 13 should be understood not only as a moral command, but a moral command in response to a definition. Government was not whoever happened to possess authority, but one who had the office to reward good and punish evil. This applied to both superior and inferior magistrates, not just the king (Response to Atterbury, 74‒75). Christians had no injunction to actively serve, or passively suffer, a government which had ceased to act as a government (Response to Atterbury, 90‒92). In a way, such is similar to the doctrine of the lesser magistrate, empowering lesser authorities to resist the supreme magistrate if it committed injustice. However, at the very least, it meant that Christians, according to Romans 13, had no reason to obey a government seeking to destroy them, or to disobey a lesser magistrate refusing to carry out violations of the law. Atterbury himself was a hypocrite, apparent in his abandonment of the revolutionary settlement (which he had accepted) for Jacobite scheming (brought to fruition in the botched invasion of 1715). In the end, Hoadly’s schema is to strengthen civil authority in the sense that it can be known and restrained. Without such, one would be at the behest of one’s conscience, deciding which authority was legitimate. This was a problem George Berkeley, a Tory loyal to the Hanoverian succession, outlined. The conclusion is worth quoting in full:

In morality the eternal rules of action have the same immutable universal truth with propositions in geometry. Neither of them depends on circumstances or accidents, being at all times and in all places, without limitation or exception, true. ‘Thou shalt not resist the supreme civil power’ is no less constant and unalterable a rule, for modelling the behaviour of a subject toward the government, than ‘multiply the height by half the base’ is for measuring a triangle. And, as it would not be thought to detract from the universality of this mathematical rule that it did not exactly measure a field which was not an exact triangle, so ought it not to be thought an argument against the universality of the rule prescribing passive obedience that it does not reach a man’s practice in all cases where a government is unhinged, or the supreme power disputed. There must be a triangle, and you must use your senses to know this, before there is room for applying your mathematical rule. And there must be a civil government, and you must know in whose hands it is lodged, before the moral precept takes place. But, where the supreme power is ascertained, we should no more doubt of our submission to it, than we would doubt of the way to measure a figure we know to be a triangle.

In the Various Changes and Fluctuations of Government, it is impossible to prevent that Controversies should sometimes arise concerning the Seat of the Supreme Power. And in such Cases Subjects cannot be Denied the Liberty of Judging for Themselves, or of taking part with some, and opposing others, according to the best of their Judgments; all which is Consistent with an exact Observation of their Duty, so long as, when the Constitution is clear in the Point, and the Object of their Submission undoubted, no Pretext of Interest, Friends, or the Publick Good, can make them depart from it. In short, it is acknowledged, that the Precept enjoyning Non-Resistance is Limited to particular Objects, but not to particular Occasions. And in this it is like all other Moral Negative Duties, which consider’d as general Propositions, do admit of Limitations and Restrictions, in order to a distinct Definition of the Duty; but what is once known to be a Duty of that sort, can never become otherwise by any good or ill Effect, Circumstance, or Event whatsoever. And in Truth if it were not so, if there were no General Inflexible Rules, but all Negative as well as Positive Duties might be Dispensed with, and Warpt to Serve particular Interests and Occasions, there were an end of all Morality. (Berkeley, Discourse of Passive Obedience, LIII‒LIV)

But Atterbury was not interested in the chaos of an unhinged conscience. Rather, he was, as many High Churchmen were interested, in making sure laity formed their conscience in accordance with the clergy. From his pulpit at St Peter Le Poer, Hoadly attacked this attempt to usurp the conscience from sacerdotal tyrants. Hoadly rejected the power-based nature of this arrangement: “And, again, Supposing this Doctrine [passive obedience] to be as They represent it, You have the same liberty to differ from this point, which these Gentlemen themselves have in many Others, upon which equal weight is laid. They, of all Persons living must never reproach You, till They can shew You, their Scheme of Church-Authority, Sacerdotal Powers, Regular Successions, Authoritative Benedictions, and Absolutions, or their Notions of many other Points, not to have been condemn’d even with Zeal by the Church of our First Reformers” (A Preservative Against the Principles & Practices of the Nonjurors, 18). In other words, which is apparent to most contemporary Anglicans, there’s a wide divergence of what “obedience to the Church” means. Those who trumpet “tradition” tend to ignore the writings of the earliest Reformers. The point isn’t that it’s all a free-for-all, which is precisely what this sacerdotal determination of doctrine would unleash. Rather, it’s acknowledging the question of authority, which the Reformers themselves introduced through their efforts to restore the Gospel.  The authority of the priest derived from his obedience to the parameters of his office, not self-derived. A bad priest was to be resisted if he sought to tyrannize the conscience, requiring what was not in scripture to be saved. The authority of the bishop was to be a shepherd, not a lord. He was a teacher and instructor, not a master.

Such was why Hoadly prized sincerity. It was not that we all have our own truths, but that one’s benefit from believing a doctrine could not be imposed from the outside. One could persuade, censure, and instruct, but one could not compel saving belief. Instead, the result would only be hypocrisy. Such was what motivated Hoadly’s later attack on the sacramental Test Act, which made participation in the Church of England’s eucharist necessary for political office. This requirement not only politicized the sacred rite, but it was useless. It was well known Dissenters engaged in partial conformity, showing up for the necessary eucharistic participation to meet the law. This requirement did nothing to create love for the Church and its institutions (c. f. The Common Rights of Subjects, Defended: And the Nature of the Sacramental Test, Considered). Sincerity was to acknowledge the limits of human knowledge, that God would be gracious with limits of error when it came to acknowledging extra-biblical formulae.

Hence Hoadly’s association with Christological heterodoxy. While he adhered to the Athanasian creed, he thought its damnatory clauses were a mistake, since Nicaean orthodoxy was never explicit in the New Testament (The Reasonableness of Conformity, 134). This reality does not make it less true, only that one can not damn those who erroneously oppose or question it. One may even vigorously oppose it, but did that give a priest the right to state, infallibly, that the holder of said error was in a state of damnation? Difficulties among Anglicans over the normative status of the creeds and councils has only underlined this problem more and more. Anglo-Catholics, if they were consistent, would have to damn their peers who rejected iconodoulia per the strictures of Nicaea II. The huffing and puffing of academically inclined seminarians notwithstanding, Christians of all stripes hold a wide variety of views on important theological issues (from Christology to eschatology). Are they damned for their errors? And should the Church have the power to threaten such? Hoadly disagreed and opted for engagement that would not breed resentment. Again, the point isn’t about the existence of error, or the state of truth, but the Christian’s use of wisdom and discernment about the Final Judgment. Should one evangelize a credobaptist in the same vein as one evangelizes a Muslim or an atheist? Hoadly here offers a relevant touchstone.

The importance of Hoadly, in short, is to defend the liberties of Natural Law. It should certainly undo the pseudo-anxiety, and huffy conservatism, of Anglicans who feel the need to disavow the American Revolution. Instead, many priests in the Church of Virginia (including relatively orthodox lay Anglicans like Patrick Henry or John Randolph of Roanoke) supported opposition to tyranny. Rather than spiritual Jacobitism, appealing to a “king over the water” who has neither authority nor reality, Anglicans can advance the American tradition of liberty. There is an American Anglican tradition of romantic resistance in a figure such as Richard Dana, who rejected the spirit of the American Revolution. But it should be no surprise that a royalism without a king, an Anglicanism as a retreat from American society, gave birth to Fourierism of Richard Jr., a political ally of the socialist unitarianism of Horace Greeley. This romantic veneration of authority often breeds the fantastic support for tyrannical regimes of all stripes. The warm paternal embrace of conservative Christian Democracy has marked many Anglican converts and self-professed “Reformed Catholics,” and the very same political apparatus has turned Western Europe into a concentration camp. Crowing for authority and tradition has brought about passive submission to the grasping authority of the state. The cry of post-liberals everywhere has been “common good! common good!”, but these same have surrendered (and often become advocates) of an increasingly strained biomedical security state apparatus. This Spiritual Jacobitism leads nowhere but an empty-headed submission to (and enthusiasm for) power and authority.

Hoadly’s faithful commitment to Hooker opens up a Libertarian Anglicanism, one that recognizes natural law (including natural hierarchy) as the framework out of which civil governments arise. No authority is absolute or responsible to God alone. Instead, the commonwealth- republic—a government restrained by law and custom and aware of its derivation from the created contours of God’s world—prohibits both sacerdotal clericalism and patriarchal statism. Instead, Anglicans would be better served by returning to covenantal paradigms derived from Hooker and applied to shape the old Whig settlement of constitutional monarchy. Anglicans would be better served from Gladstonian liberalism (The Great Commoner was both High Church and Evangelical) rather than the paternalistic social democracy of Disraeli. American Anglicans don’t need to lament their separation from the Crown, but should rejoice in the libertarian tradition found throughout American history, which prized limitations of civil and central authority on behalf of the local, the ecclesial and the familial. Rather than a villain or cretin, Benjamin Hoadly should be venerated for his full-throated defense of the Elizabethan settlement, a vision of what “Reformed Catholic” should mean.

 



A man asking the questions. Interests in patristics, continental philosophy, early modern history (with a focus on Britain). Long live the Keswick Movement. Blog: http://lettherebejustice.blogspot.com/ Podcast: https://www.patreon.com/gloryofkingz


'Benjamin Hoadly: Heir to Richard Hooker' has 1 comment

  1. January 2, 2022 @ 12:52 pm Morgan

    Wonderful.

    Reply


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