Richard Hooker & Tradition

Anglican theologian and parish pastor Richard Hooker (1554-1600) is credited with coming up with what is often called the three-legged stool of Anglicanism: Scripture, Reason and Tradition. While these were not actually Hooker’s words, the idea certainly sprang from his writings. (This is often the case, by the way, another case in point is that William of Occam never actually said what is now known as Occam’s Razor…that was actually articulated from Occam’s body of work by Bertrand Russell, if memory serves….)

Hooker lived in the midst of great tensions pulling the English Church between the Puritans and the more High Church aspects of the Church of England. Hooker was a man ideally suited to write of seeking a via media (middle way) for he was a man of many high church associations married to a woman from a prominent Puritan family. His 8 volume magnum opus is Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, in which (among many other things) he argues that while justification is by faith it is not necessary for that to be understood nor even accepted in order to be saved.  This flew in the face of much of the anti-Roman Catholic rhetoric coming from the Puritans.

Of Law there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world. All things in heaven and earth do her homage,—the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power. – Ecclesiastical Polity. Book i.

But, this is not what started this post…I appreciate Hooker for quite a few reasons, but it was something I read by J.I. Packer that got me to thinking about him again. The following quote explains well, why Hooker would point us toward tradition.

In the Old Testament we read how Isaac, forced to relocate his large household, “reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died” (Gen. 26:18). Isaac thus secured the water supply without which neither his family, nor his servants, nor his cattle, nor he himself, could have survived. He did not prospect for new wells in a water-divining quest that might or might not have succeeded, but he went straight to the old wells. He knew he would find water in them, once he had cleared them of the earth and debris that malevolent Philistines had piled on top of them.

Isaac’s action reflects two simple spiritual principles that apply here in a very direct way:

  1. The recovering of old truth, truth that has been a means of blessing in the past, can under God become the means of blessing again in the present, while the quest for newer alternatives may well prove barren.
  2. No one should be daunted from attempting such recovery by any prejudice, ill will, or unsympathetic attitudes that may have built up against the old truth during the time of its eclipse.

These are the principles whose guidance I follow in this book. No novelties will be found here. I shall draw, gratefully, from an older Christian wisdom.

J.I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness: Know the Fullness of Life With God (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), p13.

4 thoughts on “Richard Hooker & Tradition

  1. Agreed. I would also note that many good teachers, writers, theologians, and pastors have helped some of our forefathers become more palatable to the next generation who would struggle greatly sifting through what is, really, a different language than what we speak today.

  2. Indeed, Jack, and perhaps that ought to be a primary goal for us teachers, writers, and pastors? Starting with the “language” of Scripture and proceeding to the way in which saints who have preceded us understood and applied it.

  3. Hi Nate,

    Please sign me up for your site updates. I never cease to be amazed by how much reading you do and your astuteness.

    Signing up for your comments is really secondary to my visit.
    I thought of you when I learned of Dwight Pryor’s home going and knew you would want to know, if you had not already heard of it.

    Shalom

  4. Joy, not sure how to sign you up for updates…I think you neef yo do that yorself by using the RSS links. Thanks for thinking of me in regard to Dwight…last Sunday was a rough day for me, but God was enormously gracious

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