In Defense of Reformed Catholic Worship

Books IV of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization



About this book

“Our chief goal should be the edification of the church”

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 fourth volume of an ongoing translation project by the Davenant Institute, we present Book IV of Hooker’s Laws, in which Hooker defends the legitimacy of the Church of England’s reformed catholic liturgy. Arguing that Protestants must be guided by a positive vision of the purpose of worship, and not a negative reaction to Roman Catholic practice, Hooker surveys common Puritan objections to traditional liturgy and finds them wanting. Along the way, Hooker considers how Christians should understand the Jewish ceremonial law and what Christians should do when ceremonies cause a weaker brother to stumble. Still as relevant today as when it was penned more than four centuries ago, Book IV of the Laws offers an enduring vision of moderation and respect for the past that remains forthrightly Protestant.

Paperback | 128 pages | 5×8 | Published November 12, 2018 | ISBN 978-1949716979

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From the Introduction

Here in the fourth book of his Laws, Hooker finally begins to get down to business and address some of the concrete charges that Puritans had lodged against the Church of England and that he had taken up his pen to address. At the outset of his work he had promised to pursue a systematic method of exposition, beginning with general foundation-laying and gradually proceeding to the more detailed questions under debate: “throughout this work I have tried to make every premise support what follows after it and to make every conclusion shed further light on what came before. So if men suspend their judgments while we go through these first more general arguments until it is clear where they lead, what might seem to be dark at first will turn out to be quite apparent, just as the later specific determinations will seem much stronger on the basis of what came before.”

Thus, after his rousing polemical preface he began in Book I with a magisterial account of the theological foundations of law in general, and the relation between natural law, divine law, and human law in both state and church. Having laid this metaphysical and ethical foundation, he turned in Books II and III to the epistemological question of how much we are meant to rely on Scripture in matters of human law and church polity. This required him to address questions such as the purpose of Scripture, the nature and reliability of human reason, and just as importantly the nature of the Church. It was the dual identity of the Church as visible and invisible, temporal and eternal, Hooker argued, that precipitated many of the confusions over how Scripture should regulate the Church’s life; since matters of faith and matters of action were, he argued, very different, and the latter were “daily changeable,” the outward order of the Church could not be subject to detailed and timeless Scriptural regulation, but was left largely to human discretion.

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Bradford Littlejohn, The Davenant Institute

  1. The Importance of Liturgy
  2. Their Demand for Apostolic Simplicity
  3. The Charge That We Follow Rome
  4. Must All Roman Ceremonies Go?
  5. The Status of the Medieval Church
  6. Are Papists the Same as Canaanites?
  7. The Example of the Early Church
  8. The Danger of Swerving to the Opposite Extreme
  9. It Does Not Matter What Rome Thinks of Our Liturgy
  10. The Laments of “The Godly”
  11. The Charge That Our Ceremonies Are Judaizing
  12. Stumbling-Blocks for Weaker Brethren
  13. Conformity to Foreign Reformed Churches
  14. In Defense of the Church of England’s Proceedings

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.

Dr. Bradford Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is the Founder and former President of the Davenant Institute. He also works as a Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute-Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and Has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, SC with his wife, Rachel, and four children.

Brian Marr is an editor and researcher at Canon Press and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.

Bradley Belschner is a systems analyst at EMSI and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.


The Davenant Institute endeavors to restore wisdom for the contemporary church. We seek to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build friendships and facilitate collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness. Below are some of the works we’ve published towards that end.

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