Divine Law and Human Nature
Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is one of the great landmarks of Protestant theological literature, and indeed of English literature generally. However, on account of its difficult and archaic style, it is scarcely read today. The time has come to translate it into modern English so that Hooker may teach a new generation of churchmen and Christian leaders about law, reason, Scripture, church, and politics.
In this second volume of an ongoing translation project by the Davenant Institute, we present Book I of Hooker’s Laws, for which he is perhaps most famous. Here he offers a sweeping overview of his theology of law, law being that order and measure by which God governs the universe, and by which all creatures—and humans above all—conduct their lives and affairs. In an age when the idea of natural creation order is under wholesale attack, even within the church, Hooker’s luminous treatment of the relation of Scripture and nature, faith and reason is a priceless and urgently-needed gift to the church.
About the Authors
Richard Hooker (1553/4-1600) was the pre-eminent theological writer of the Elizabethan church, and many would say in the entire history of the Church of England.
Bradford Littlejohn (Ph.D, University of Edinburgh), is the President of the Davenant Institute and a leading scholar of Richard Hooker’s thought, having authored Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work (Cascade, 2015), and The Promise and Peril of Christian Liberty: Richard Hooker, the Puritans, and Protestant Political Theology (Eerdmans, 2017).
Brian Marr is an editor and researcher at Canon Press, an alumnus of New Saint Andrews College, and a devoted servant of the liberal arts.
Bradley Belschner is a systems analyst at EMSI, a determined generalist, and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.
Here is a passage where length of sentences, complexity of syntax, archaism of language, and indeed archaism of thought all conspire to render comprehension quite difficult for the contemporary reader:
The knowledge of that which man is in reference unto himself, and other things in relation unto man, I may justly term the mother of all those principles, which are as it were edicts, statutes, and decrees, in that Law of Nature, whereby human actions are framed. First therefore having observed that the best things, where they are not hindered, do still produce the best operations (for which cause, where many things are to concur unto one effect, the best is in all congruity of reason to guide the residue, that it prevailing most, the work principally done by it may have greatest perfection), when hereupon we come to observe in ourselves, of what excellency our souls are in comparison of our bodies, and the diviner part in relation unto the baser of our souls; seeing that all these concur in producing human actions, it cannot be well unless the chiefest do command and direct the rest (I.8.6, original, spelling modernized).
Knowledge of both what man is in himself and what he is in relation to all other things is the mother of all the edicts, statutes, and decrees in the law of nature, by which human actions are guided. When the best things rule, the best things follow. Thus, when we see how much worthier our souls are than our bodies, and the more divine part of our souls than the baser part, it is clear that all is not well unless the greater commands and directs the lesser (our version, p. 38).
Note that our translation should not be treated as a substitute for the original. Hooker’s intricate sentence structures are self-conscious and in many cases play a key role in conveying meaning and rhetorical effect. Our hope is that readers may find these editions an accessible point of entry, and then go on to engage the genuine article in due course, experiencing in the process some taste of the illumination and edification it has been our blessing to experience in the course of this project.
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How it Started
The Davenant Institute
The Davenant Institute supports the renewal of Christian wisdom for the contemporary church. It seeks to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build networks of friendship and collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness. See more at www.davenantinstitute.org.
The Library of Early English Protestantism
The Library of Early English Protestantism is a project to make available in new, modernized, scholarly but accessible editions seminal writings from key but neglected 16- and 17th-century Church of England theologians. Today, as the challenges of late modernity are leading to renewed growth of Protestant irenicism, and many churches both Reformed and Anglican are seeking to deepen and broaden their understanding of their theological tradition, to provide resources for a thoughtful and irenic orthodoxy, these texts deserve to be retrieved and re-read. Our aim is to make that as easy as possible for contemporary clergy, seminaries, students, and theologically-concerned laypeople. Learn more.