Richard Hooker and the “Wall of Separation”

Richard Hooker was a learned Anglican churchman and apologist writing in theRichard Hooker sixteenth century. His monumental work, “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,” is a wonderfully interesting but grossly neglected treatment of the relationship of church and state in England. Its subtle defense of both the distinctiveness and the non-separateness of church and state represents an early and elegant version of many of the arguments about the nature and scope of disestablishment that continue to circulate today.

In the following passage (from Book VIII), he defends the idea of the distinctiveness, but non-separateness, of the civil and religious spheres against the complaints of English dissenters. He resists what he calls the idea of “personal” separation. Note the particular phrase he uses!

We hold, that seeing there is not any man of the Church of England but the same man is also a member of the commonwealth; nor any man a member of the commonwealth, which is not also of the Church of England; therefore as in a figure triangular the base doth differ from the sides thereof, and yet one and the selfsame line is both a base and also a side; a side simply, a base if it chance to be the bottom and underlie the rest: so, albeit properties and actions of one kind do cause the name of a commonwealth, qualities and functions of another sort the name of a Church to be given unto a multitude, yet one and the selfsame multitude may in such sort be both, and is so with us, that no person appertaining to the one can be denied to be also of the other. Contrariwise, unless they against us should hold, that the Church and the commonwealth are two, both distinct and separate societies, of which two, the one comprehendeth always persons not belonging to the other; that which they do they could not conclude out of the difference between the Church and the commonwealth; namely, that bishops may not meddle with the affairs of the commonwealth, because they are governors of another corporation, which is the Church; nor kings with making laws for the Church, because they have government not of this corporation, but of another divided from it, the commonwealth; and the walls of separation between these two must for ever be upheld. They hold the necessity of personal separation, which clean excludeth the power of one man’s dealing in both; we of natural, which doth not hinder but that one and the same person may in both bear a principal sway.

Those with an interest in Hooker should check out this new review at the University Bookman by W. Bradford Littlejohn of a new edition of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (in 3 volumes!), edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade. From Littlejohn’s review:

Here Hooker undertakes a systematic defense of the established polity of the English church against its puritan-presbyterian critics, laying broad and deep foundations in philosophy, theology, and political theory before meeting head-on the leading principles of the puritan platform and then refuting, point-by-point, their objections against each aspect of the English church’s worship and organization.

The Preface, in addition to expressing the purpose for the work, provides a keen analysis of the social circumstances that called it forth. Book I provides a theological and philosophical account of the different forms of law that govern human affairs. Book II critically examines the biblicist foundation of puritan epistemology, Book III the puritan assumption of a divine-law constitution for the church, and Book IV their first principle of liturgics: to depart as far as possible from Roman Catholicism. With these foundations laid, Hooker uses Book V to defend the disputed parts of the Book of Common Prayer, Book VI (unfinished) to critique the presbyterian doctrine of lay-elders, Book VII to defend episcopal jurisdiction, and the unfinished Book VIII to defend (and just as importantly, to define and delimit) the royal supremacy in the English church.

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One response to “Richard Hooker and the “Wall of Separation”

  1. Reblogged this on dunjav.

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