Richard Hooker lived in a period of history when the church was struggling to find its way forward in England. The Protestants and Catholics had been brought together to worship by law, what was called The Elizabethan Settlement. Richard Hooker wrote an 8 volume work called ‘Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity’ in which he explored the way the Church should be governed. It was he who gave the Church the theological method of finding its way which used Scripture, Reason and Tradition. He brought together Catholic and Reformed thought.
The Anglican Church is struggling now to move forward as a whole with a huge diversity of opinion being held. Also, within the Anglican group in Second Life we have members from all traditions in the Anglican Church and those who belong to other denominations and none. Richard Hooker might not understand Second Life, but he would probably understand the challenges of being church in these circumstances.
On Tuesday at the 2pm SLT service, I talked about Richard Hooker and what he gave the Church, which resulted in his being called the ‘founder of Anglicanism’.
The readings were Sirach 44:10-15, Psalm 119:97-104 and John 16:12-15.
Today we remember Richard Hooker, who is listed in the Lectionary as a Priest, Apologist and Teacher of the Faith. He was born in Exeter, in the south of England, in March 1554. As the result of the influence of John Jewel, the Bishop of Salisbury, he went to Corpus Christi College in Oxford. He gained his MA in 1577 and became a fellow of the college. He taught Hebrew at Oxford University as an assistant professor. He was ordained in 1581 and married, and went on to be a parish priest. From 1585-1591 he was Master of the Temple, which means he was the Dean of the Law School there. He later became a parish priest again in Bishopsbourne in Kent, which is near Canterbury, and died there on this day in 1600.
The story of Richard Hooker’s life sounds fairly unremarkable but it’s possible that without him, we would not have a ministry in Second Life which carries the title of Anglican. Richard experienced a church in England which was trying to work forward from the Elizabethan Settlement which came into effect in summer 1559. This comprised two Acts of Parliament. The Act of Supremacy declared that Elizabeth I was “Supreme Governor of the Church in England”. The Act of Uniformity imposed a uniform way of worship to be used in every church. Everyone had to attend church on Sundays and holy days or pay a fine of twelve pence which was given to the poor. In order to allow both Catholics and Protestants to take part, the wording around the Eucharist was kept a little vague. The ornaments and vestments of the church were returned to how they were at the beginning of Edward VI’s reign. This second act was controversial and passed by a majority of only 3 votes.
Until that time, there were Protestants and Catholics following their separate ways. Depending who was the monarch, sometimes it was safe to be one and sometimes it was safe to be the other. Many people lost their lives because they found themselves on the wrong side when a new monarch came to the throne. By an Act of Parliament, both Protestants and Catholics had to worship together whether they liked it or not. Together they had to walk the middle way, the Via Media, which was the way of the Anglican Church, a way between Puritanism and Papalism.
Richard Hooker wrote the 8 volume ‘Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity’, the first four being published in 1593, the fifth in 1597 and the rest after his death. In these books he looked at how the Anglican Church was to be ordered. In so doing he wove together both Catholic and Reformed ideas. His work gained him the title of the ‘founder of Anglicanism’. It is Hooker who gave us the theological method of Scripture, Reason (which also includes experience) and Tradition working together as the way to be Anglican. The trouble with this memorable idea, as with other such ideas before, is that it is possible to get a wrong handle on it and misquote it.
Hooker lived at a time of turmoil in the church and great differences of opinion but his method helped to forge what we now know as the Anglican Church. We too live in a time of great stress in Anglicanism. His method probably offers us a way forward but only if we apply it as he intended. Too often Reason is elevated above Scripture and Tradition, but it was surely never possible to use reason alone to reach the right conclusions in matters of theology. That does not mean that Anglicanism doesn’t recognise the importance of the ability to reason which God has given us.
Hooker teaches that Scripture, Reason and Tradition must be in dialogue if we are to find the our way to the truth. Scripture comes first; Anglicans believe in the primacy of Scripture. It is our starting point and must be read in such a way that it takes account of the kind of writing that it is, as not all of Scripture is of the same genre. Scripture frames and informs Reason, while Reason interprets Scripture. Scripture oversees Church tradition, while the Church recognises and interprets Scripture. Reason interprets and evaluates Tradition while Church Tradition provides a context for this interpretation. Everything is woven together like a cord made of three strands, with the strand of Scripture being the thickest.
As in Hooker’s time and place, we here in the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life are seeking to be a church which holds together people of many different views. Unlike in Elizabethan England we don’t have a law which says we must meet and worship together, nor are we fined a few Linden dollars if we fail to do so, although that might be a good way to collect money for the poor! Instead we choose to meet together here. Our vision statement lists what gives us our Anglican identity, which is explained in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral:
“The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.”
After that Richard Hooker is quoted:
“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due. The next whereunto is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason. After these the voice of the church succeeds.”
And this explanation follows:
“This means that we look first to the Bible for answers, taking the plain meaning of what is written. If the meaning is not absolutely clear we use reasoning, i.e. common sense. If there is still some doubt, the traditional interpretation established over the years is accepted. Scripture, tradition and reason should work with one another, with Scripture having precedence. To this mix, personal experience is often added as an additional source of understanding. All should be grounded in prayer.
This method of finding our way is particularly important for members of Anglican of Second Life as we live out at least part of our faith in the uncharted territory of Second Life where new questions can be thrown up almost daily.”
More than 400 years after his death, Richard Hooker is helping we who occupy a world he would have had difficulty understanding, to find common ground in our Christian faith, as we meet and worship together from all parts of the world. We owe him a debt of gratitude as we continue to walk the Via Media together.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor