THE LAW ON OUR HEARTS: RICHARD HOOKER AND THOMAS AQUINAS

I. INTRODUCTION

“The greatest amongst the School-divines.”[1]

These are the words by which Richard Hooker, a sixteenth-century Anglican priest and theologian, expressed his admiration for S. Thomas Aquinas. Regarding Hooker’s admiration for S. Thomas, the Rev. Dr. David Neelands writes that while “Thomas is explicitly cited by Hooker … probably only about eight times in all,”[2] “[t]he best form of admiration is, however, not citation, but imitation.”[3] Dr. Neelands appeals to two other scholars for examples of this imitation in Hooker’s seminal work, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity:

Peter Munz has collected well over a hundred passages in the Lawes that are paraphrases, or at least verbal echoes, of passages in Thomas. And John S. Marshall has compared the Lawes to a “Summa,” pointing out that, if one attends to the theological and doctrinal parts of the Lawes … we find that Hooker deals with the principal doctrinal topics in the order, and in the spirit, of Thomas’ Summa Theologiae.[4]

It seems, therefore, that the relationship of Hooker’s thought to S. Thomas’ can be characterized as a relationship of dependence – indeed, “Hooker’s treatments so clearly follow Thomas on certain topics that dependence must be assumed.”[5]

However, this dependence is not an uncritical one. Dr. Neelands reminds his readers that “more than half of [the eight] explicit citations are critical.”[6] And so, the characterization offered above must be qualified in this way: the relationship of Hooker’s thought to S. Thomas’ is a relationship of critical dependence.

It is the purpose of this essay, by means of an examination of the critical dependence of Hooker’s treatment of Law in Book I of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity upon S. Thomas’ Treatise on Law in the Summa Theologica, to set forth an accurate account of how Law is revelatory – that is to say, how Law mediates God’s self-disclosure – in their respective work.

II. LAW ITSELF

The Laws was Richard Hooker’s defence of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement against the criticisms of the Puritans – those who desired further reformation of the Church of England, especially of its government along Presbyterian rather than Episcopal lines. Addressing these opponents, Hooker writes: “And because the point about which we strive is the quality of our laws, our first entrance hereinto cannot better be made, than with consideration of law in general.”[7] He begins this “consideration of law in general” with a definition of Law that is worth citing in full:

That which doth assign unto each thing the kind, that which doth moderate the force and power, that which doth appoint the form and measure, of working, the same we term a Law. So that no certain end could ever be attained, unless the actions whereby it is attained were regular; that is to say, made suitable, fit and correspondent unto their end, by some canon, rule, or law.[8]

In other words, Law is the rule by which actions are made fit to attain the end for which they are performed. Hooker is neither critical nor creative in his dependence upon S. Thomas at this point; rather, his definition of Law is Thomistic in an unqualified sense. According to S. Thomas, “Law is a rule and measure of acts,” “something pertaining to reason” – that to which “it belongs … to direct to the end.”[9] To this basic definition, S. Thomas adds that the end to which Law directs actions is the common good, and that it belongs to “him who has care of the community” to make and to promulgate Law.[10] Hooker does not explicitly enumerate these characteristics; nevertheless, what is his defence but a demonstration that the Religious Settlement promulgated by Queen Elizabeth I is in fact ordered to the common good?

Having established a definition of Law common to both theologians – namely, that Law is the rule by which actions are made fit to attain the end for which they are performed – it is now possible to begin to answer the question: how is Law revelatory in their respective work? For both Hooker and S. Thomas, God is not only the Source from which all beings proceed and the End to which all beings tend, God is also the very Rule by which all beings are directed to their End. In other words, God is Law. Hooker writes, “God therefore is a law both to himself and to all other things besides”;[11] and S. Thomas: “But the end of the Divine government is God Himself, and His Law is not distinct from Himself.”[12] Furthermore, both call this Law that God is to all creatures by one Name: Eternal Law. “[B]y ‘law eternal’ the learned for the most part do understand the order … which with himself [God] hath set down as expedient to be kept by all his creatures.”[13] Hooker clearly has S. Thomas in mind, who writes that “all things subject to Divine providence are ruled and measured by the eternal law.”[14] In the most general sense then, Law is revelatory because God is the Eternal Law by which all creatures are directed to their End.

III. TWO ETERNAL LAWS

“God therefore is a law both to himself and to all other things besides.” In this short sentence, Hooker reveals himself to be, yes, a disciple of S. Thomas, but a critical and creative one, by naming not one but two Eternal Laws: the First Eternal Law – that is to say, the Law that “God is to himself,” and the Second Eternal Law – that is to say, the Law that “God is to all other things besides.” While S. Thomas seems to deny the existence of the former, asserting that “properly speaking, none imposes a law on his own actions,”[15] Hooker boldly affirms: “Only the works and operations of God have both him for their worker, and for the law whereby they are wrought. The being of God is a kind of law to his working; for that perfection which God is, giveth perfection to that he doth.”[16] Hooker not only posits the existence of a First Eternal Law, he also ascribes to the Second a complete dependence upon it, calling this First “that law which giveth life unto all the rest, which are commendable, just and good; namely the law whereby the Eternal himself doth work.”[17] And so, for Hooker, there would not be a Second Eternal Law – once again, the Law that “God is to all other things besides” (which S. Thomas calls the Eternal Law in an unqualified sense) – without the First – the Law that “God is to himself” (the existence of which S. Thomas seems to deny). This seems to be the most significant instance of Book I’s critical dependence upon the Treatise on Law, and from this departure arises two different understandings of how Law is revelatory; it will not be possible to discuss these two different understandings without treating of a crucial detail, as yet left untouched: both Hooker and S. Thomas identify the Eternal Law specifically with God the Son.

S. Thomas identifies the Eternal Law with God the Son in an extremely dense article in which he answers the question: “Whether the Eternal Law Is a Supreme Type Existing in God?” As works of art exist in the artificer as a type or exemplar, laws exist in the governor as a type or exemplar (not much later, ratio, here translated “type” or “exemplar,” is alternatively translated “principle” and “plan”).[18] But God, who as “the Creator of all things … stands [in relation to all things] as the artificer to the products of his art,” also stands in relation to all things as the Governor to the governed, for “He governs all the acts and movements that are to be found in each single creature.” Therefore, the Eternal Law exists in God as a type or exemplar – namely, “the type of Divine Wisdom.”[19] But “it is of the very character of a law that it be promulgated by word,”[20] objects S. Thomas’ imagined interlocutor. He replies that “all things that are in the Father’s knowledge … [are] expressed by this Word” – namely, “the Word conceived by the intellect of the Father [which] is the Name of a Person.”[21] In short, “the type of Divine Wisdom,” the Eternal Law that God is to all creatures, is promulgated in the Father’s eternal utterance of His Word. And because the Father’s Word is His self-disclosure, the promulgation of the Eternal Law is a revelatory act.

On the other hand, Hooker’s identification of the Eternal Law with God the Son pertains to his distinction between the First Eternal Law and the Second; he identifies Him primarily with the First – the Law that “God is to himself.” The identification is not explicit, but it can be gathered from a close reading of the following passage, in which the First Eternal Law is extolled as Divine Wisdom and with language which echoes S. John’s evangelical prologue:

That law eternal which God himself hath made to himself, and thereby worketh all things whereof he is the cause and author; that law in the admirable frame whereof shineth with most perfect beauty the countenance of that wisdom which hath testified concerning herself, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, even before his works of old was I set up;” that law which hath been of God and with God everlastingly; that law, the author and observer whereof is one only God to be blessed forever: how should either men or angels be able perfectly to behold?[22]

Hooker’s identification of the First Eternal Law with the Divine Wisdom and Word of God seems to be crucial for understanding it as the Law that “God is to himself.” This Word is “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.”[23] He, who receives what-it-is-to-be-God from the Father, returns to the Father and rests in His bosom in loving contemplation.

In sum, while for S. Thomas the Eternal Law that God is to all creatures is promulgated in the Father’s utterance of His Word, for Hooker the First Eternal Law that “God is to himself” is promulgated by the Father and imposed upon Himself in the utterance of the Word, which according to the prophet returns to God.[24] Because this First Eternal Law is “that law which giveth life unto” the Second, the Second Eternal Law by which creatures are directed to the End who is their Beginning is revelatory. Through it, as “through a glass, darkly,”[25] created intellects may gaze into the interior life of the Triune God.

It now remains to examine how this (Second) Eternal Law directs humanity, in particular, to its End.

IV. NATURAL LAW

“Law rational therefore, which men commonly use to call the Law of Nature, meaning thereby the Law which human nature knoweth itself in reason universally bound unto…may be termed most fitly the Law of Reason.”[26] Hooker prefers to call the Eternal Law, in respect of its being the natural rule of human actions, the Law of Reason rather than the Natural Law, but what both theologians say about this Law is identical. For both Hooker and S. Thomas, the self-evident first principles of the Natural Law or the Law of Reason are those two great commandments on which, our Lord says, “hang all the law and the prophets.”[27] S. Thomas writes: “Those two principles” – namely, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thou shalt love thy neighbour” – “are the first general principles of the natural law, and are self-evident to human reason,”[28] and Hooker follows him: “Axioms … so manifest that they need no further proof are such as these, ‘God to be worshipped;’ … ‘others to be used by us as we ourselves would be by them.’”[29] “[O]n these two general heads … all other specialties are dependent.”[30] In other words, the two great commandments are the self-evident foundation upon which all other and more specific commandments are built. Now, the End to which human beings are directed by these indemonstrable first principles and the moral precepts derived from them is Happiness.

In a beautiful passage Hooker describes humanity’s last End, which S. Thomas calls “eternal Happiness,”[31] as union with God, the infinite Good who alone can satisfy the human soul’s infinite longing: “Then are we happy therefore when fully we enjoy God, as an object wherein the powers of our souls are satisfied even with everlasting delight: so that although we be man, yet by being unto God united we live as it were the life of God.”[32] But, for both Hooker and S. Thomas, there is a problem: the fact of sin means that the Natural Law is insufficient for the attainment of this Beatific End. Hooker asks, “Our natural means therefore unto blessedness are our works; nor is it possible that Nature should ever find any other way to salvation than only this. But examine the works which we do, and since the first foundation of the world what one can say, My ways are pure?”[33] S. Thomas treats the insufficiency of the Natural Law within a treatment of the insufficiency of the Old Law, supernaturally revealed to Israel through Moses. He affirms: “All the Moral Precepts of the Old Law Belong to the Law of Nature,”[34] therefore, what he says about the insufficiency of the Old Law applies to the Natural Law. He writes, the “end [of everlasting happiness] is hindered by any sin, and not only of external, but also of internal actions.” Because the Old Law (and the Natural Law within it) can only constrain the sin of external actions, the sin of internal actions remains.[35] For both theologians sin stands at the gate, as it were, barring the soul’s entrance into Beatitude. And the Natural Law cannot defeat this foe.

V. DIVINE LAW

Because the Natural Law is insufficient for the attainment of Happiness, another Law is necessary: a Divine Law, supernaturally revealed. But this sufficiency did not come with the Old Law – that is to say, the Divine Law given to Israel through Moses. And how could it, if, as S. Thomas writes, the Old Law was nothing other than a supernatural confirmation of the Natural Law, to which was added certain ceremonial and judicial precepts?[36] Therefore, another Divine Law was necessary. This is the New Law, promulgated by Christ, to whom “the Old Law ordered men … in two ways. First, by bearing witness to Christ … Secondly, as a kind of disposition, since by withdrawing men from idolatrous worship” through its ceremonial precepts, “it enclosed them in the worship of one God, by Whom the human race was to be saved through Christ.”[37]

For S. Thomas, this New Law, promulgated by Christ, consists chiefly in its being an internal principle of human actions, a Law written “not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”[38] He writes that it “is instilled into man by being, as it were, added on to his nature by a gift of grace. In this way the New Law is instilled into man, not only by indicating to him what he should do, but also by helping him to accomplish it.”[39] This gift of grace in which Law is written on the human heart is efficacious – that is to say, it gives power to accomplish what it commands – because it is nothing other than the gift of the Holy Ghost: “the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ.”[40] In short, the New Law is an efficacious internal principle which gives power to accomplish what it commands, written on the human heart in the gift of the Holy Ghost, sufficient for the direction of both external and internal acts,[41] and therefore “the immediate cause of our being brought to the last end”[42] which is Happiness. It is now possible to demonstrate that herein God’s people themselves become revelatory – that is to say, mediations of God’s self-disclosure.

Because this New Law is nothing other than that specification of the Eternal Law – once again, the Law that God is to all creatures – by which humanity is brought to its End; because it is an efficacious principle in the believer; that which is in the Christian and shown forth in her actions is God: her Beginning, her End, and the very Content of that efficacious Law by which she is brought there.

On the other hand, Hooker limits his discussion of the Divine Law – the Law that God supernaturally reveals – to that Law insofar as it is promulgated in Scripture; consequently, he does not treat of the distinction between the Old Law and the New as the distinction between a Law written “in tables of stone” and a Law written “in fleshy tables of the heart,” so important to S. Thomas. Instead, Hooker identifies the Divine Law with those things recorded in Scripture which, to be believed or done, are necessary unto salvation;[43] the only distinction he makes pertains to how this Law was revealed in the Old and New Testaments, respectively: “the general end both of Old and New is one; the difference between them consisting in this, that the Old did make wise by teaching salvation through Christ to come, the New by teaching that Christ the Saviour is come.”[44] This, however, should not be construed as an instance of critical departure, for the understanding of how God’s people become revelatory which arises from Hooker’s treatment of the Divine Law does not contradict but complements the one demonstrated above.

For Hooker, this Divine Law – this “way of supernatural duty”[45] promulgated in Scripture – is Jesus Christ, to whom Scripture bears witness. The identification is clearly made in the following passage: “[Our] mighty Saviour … hath witnessed of himself saying, ‘I am the way,’ the way that leadeth us from misery into bliss. This supernatural way had God in himself prepared before all worlds.”[46] And so, walking in that Way is nothing other than being in Christ – that is to say, finding in His Sacred Humanity the source of one’s own recreated nature – and being in Christ, finding that one’s “life is hid with Christ in God.”[47] “What greater assurance of love towards [Christ’s] Church, than the knowledge of that mystical union, whereby the Church is become as near unto Christ as any one part of his flesh is unto another?”[48] Hooker asks. Through this participation in Christ, God’s people become revelatory; when walking in the Way of the Divine Law, the Christian lives out the incarnate life of God.

It is worth noting a correlation between this participatory understanding of the sufficiency of the Divine Law and the liturgical context in which Hooker lived. In the Holy Communion rite of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, the Kyrie from the old Mass is recast as a response to the Decalogue. After each of the first nine commandments are recited by the priest, the people respond: “Lorde have mercy upon us, and encline our hartes to kepe this lawe;” after the tenth: “Lord have mercy upon us, and write al these thy lawes in our hartes we beseche thee.”[49] Holy Communion, therefore, takes on the character of the answer to this petition. The priest later prays on behalf of the people: “Graunt us therefore gracious Lorde, so to eate the fleshe of thy deare sonne Jesus Christ, and to drinke his bloude … that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”[50] In Prayer-Book Holy Communion, the effect of the Sacrament – Jesus Christ in the believer – is the answer to the petition. He is the Law written in the believer’s heart.

V. CONCLUSION

In closing, the relationship of Book I of Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to the Treatise on Law in S. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica is one of critical and creative dependence. The conclusions of this essay’s examination of that critical and creative dependence shall be restated here in brief.

1) The two Divines share a common definition of Law – namely, that Law is the rule by which actions are made fit to attain the end for which they are performed; furthermore, they share a common understanding of how Law is revelatory in the most general sense – Law is revelatory because God is the Eternal Law by which all creatures are directed to their End.

2) Hooker critically departs from his dependence upon S. Thomas when he distinguishes between two Eternal Laws – the First Eternal Law that “God is to himself”, and the Second Eternal Law that “God is to all other things besides” – and from this departure arises two different and more specific understandings of how Law is revelatory. For S. Thomas, the Eternal Law that God is to all creatures is promulgated in the Father’s utterance of His Word, and because the Father’s Word is his self-disclosure, the promulgation of this Law is a revelatory act. For Hooker, on the other hand, the First Eternal Law that “God is to himself” is promulgated by the Father and imposed upon Himself in the utterance of His Word which returns to Him, and because the Second Eternal Law that “God is to all other things besides” receives its life from this First, through it created intellects may glimpse, as it were, into the interior life of the Triune God.

3) The two theologians come together again in their treatments of the Natural Law (that is, the Eternal Law in respect of its being the natural rule of human actions), which consists chiefly in two self-evident first principles – namely, the two great commandments on which “hang all the law and the prophets,” and which on account of sin is insufficient for the attainment of humanity’s End: Happiness in God. Both therefore affirm the necessity of another Law: a Divine Law, supernaturally revealed, and sufficient for the attainment of humanity’s Beatific End.

4) Hooker once again departs from his dependence upon S. Thomas in his discussion of the Divine Law; however, this departure should not be construed as critical. From it, two complementary understandings of how God’s people themselves become revelatory arise. For S. Thomas, the sufficiency of the Divine Law pertains to the distinction between the Old Law and the New, which latter is an efficacious internal principle which gives power to accomplish what it commands, written on the heart in the gift of the Holy Ghost. In this gift, the Christian becomes revelatory: that which is in her and shown forth by her actions is God, the very Content of that Law by which she is brought to her End. Hooker, on the other hand, does not treat of this distinction between the Old Law and the New; rather, he writes of the Divine Law as that “way of supernatural duty” promulgated in Scripture, which Way he identifies as Jesus Christ. In this identification, he locates the sufficiency of the Divine Law in a participation in Christ by which the Christian becomes revelatory, living out the incarnate life of God.

One final observation shall serve for a conclusion. This participatory understanding is not absent from S. Thomas’ treatment of the Divine Law. In the very last Question of his Treatise, he articulates this understanding in words which draw his and Hooker’s complementary accounts together: “Now men become receivers of this grace through God’s Son made man, Whose humanity grace filled first” – that is to say, the grace of the Holy Ghost by which the Law is written “in fleshy tables of the heart” – “and from there [i.e., from his humanity] flowed forth to us.”[51] Because Jesus is Law perfectly internalized by human nature, the gift of grace in which the Law becomes an efficacious internal principle derives from participation in Him.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aquinas, Thomas. “Treatise on Law.” In Summa Theologica, I-II. Q90 to Q108. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920.

Cummings, Brian, ed. The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Hooker, Richard. “Book I.” In Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. i. to I. xvi. London: Dent and Dutton, 1963.

Neelands, William David. “Richard Hooker and the Theological Tradition: The Platonism of Richard Hooker.” In The Theology of Grace of Richard Hooker, 293-379. Toronto: Trinity College and the University of Toronto, 1988.

  1. Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (London: Dent and Dutton, 1963), III. ix. 2.
  2. William David Neelands, The Theology of Grace of Richard Hooker (Toronto: Trinity College and the University of Toronto, 1988), 304.
  3. Ibid., 305.
  4. Ibid., 306-7.
  5. Ibid., 307.
  6. Ibid., 304.
  7. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. i. 3.
  8. Ibid., I. ii. 1.
  9. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, tr. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 2nd ed. (London: Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920), I-II. Q90. A1. co.
  10. Ibid., I-II. Q90. A4. co.
  11. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. ii. 3.
  12. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q91. A1. ad. 3.
  13. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. iii. 1.
  14. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q91. A2. co.
  15. Ibid., I-II. Q93. A5. co.; see also I-II. Q93. A4.
  16. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. ii. 2.
  17. Ibid., I. i. 3.
  18. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q93. A3. co.
  19. Ibid., I-II. Q93. A1. co.
  20. Ibid., I-II. Q93. A1. arg. 2.
  21. Ibid., I-II. Q93. A1. ad. 2.
  22. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. ii. 5.
  23. John 1:18 KJV
  24. Isaiah 55:11 KJV
  25. 1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV
  26. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. viii. 9.
  27. Matthew 22:40 KJV
  28. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q100. A3. arg. 1 and ad. 1.
  29. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. viii. 5.
  30. Ibid., I. viii. 7.
  31. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, e.g., I-II. Q108. A4. co.
  32. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. xi. 2.
  33. Ibid., I. xi. 5.
  34. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q100. A1.
  35. Ibid., I-II. Q98. A1. co.
  36. Ibid., I-II. Q99. A3 and A4.
  37. Ibid., I-II. Q98. A2. co.
  38. 2 Corinthians 3:3 KJV
  39. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q106. A1. ad. 2.
  40. Ibid., I-II. Q106. A1. co.
  41. Ibid., I-II. Q91. A5. co.
  42. Ibid., I-II. Q106. A4. co.
  43. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. xiv. 1.
  44. Ibid., I. xiv. 4.
  45. Ibid., I. xi. 6.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Colossians 3:3 KJV
  48. Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, I. xvi. 3.
  49. Brian Cummings, ed., The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 126.
  50. Ibid., 136.
  51. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q108. A1. co.

Jared Tomlinson

Jared lives in Toronto, is an M.T.S. Student at the University of St. Michael's College, an active parishioner at S. Bartholomew's Anglican Church, Regent Park, and an I.S.A. Certified Arborist. His primary theological interests are Protestant Thomism and the recovery of Richard Hooker's theological vision as constitutive of Anglican identity. He also holds a B.F.A., Spec. Hons. Music degree from York University; a professional member of the Canadian League of Composers, he is the composer of a number of award-winning and published choral works.


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