|Statue of Richard Hooker|
Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity"Although the scripture of God therefore be stored with infinite variety of matter in all kinds, although it abound with all sorts of laws, yet the principal intent of scripture is to deliver the laws of duties supernatural. Oftentimes it hath been in very solemn manner disputed, whether all things necessary unto salvation be necessarily set down in the holy scriptures or no. If we define that necessary unto salvation, whereby the way to salvation is in any sort made more plain, apparent, and easy to be known; then is there no part of true philosophy, no art of account, no kind of science rightly so called, but the scripture must contain it... Whereunto, we may answer with truth, that there is not in the world any Art or Science, which proposing unto itself an end... hath been therefore thought defective, if it have not delivered simply whatsoever is needful to the same end: but all kinds of knowledge have their certain bounds and limits; each of them presupposeth many necessary things learned in other sciences and known beforehand."
(Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book I, Section 14.1)
ApplicationHooker's argument has several helpful effects.
- First, it stops the abuse of Scripture. By limiting what Scripture applies to, it stops people from feeling obligated to turn to Scripture for everything which often leads Scripture's misuse.
- Second, it opens up a space for wisdom. Christians are free to respond to the particulars of a situation with care and discernment.
- Third, it creates an opportunity for community. While there are certain core doctrines related to Scripture's intended goal, Christians can differ on minor issues without incurring guilt.
Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is not an easy read, but if more Christians could learn and appreciate the interpretive effects of Hooker's work, many common interpretive mistakes could be avoided.
I am heavily indebted to Dr. Andre Gazal, a true friend and mentor, for his class on the English Reformation, and I'm also indebted to Richard Hooker's tremendous effort, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.