Anglican Superhero Richard Hooker is all about the middle way, finding that sweet spot between extremes. He preached Sunday mornings at Temple Church, just to have the afternoon preacher (Walter Travers) contradict everything he said that morning. Travers was a staunch Puritan who emphasized Calvinist predestination, challenged the authority of the Queen over the Anglican church, and insisted in Biblical literalism (apart from any spiritual or allegorical readings of Scripture as Catholics had understood the Bible for centuries). Hooker despised polemics, and set about articulating a Middle Way between Puritans and Catholics that epitomized his desire to show charity to all. One of my fave Hooker quotes: “There shall come a time when three words uttered with charity and meekness shall receive a far more blessed reward than three thousand volumes written with disdainful sharpness of wit.” – (Laws, Preface, 2.10)
Hooker strongly believed that scripture could not be understood without employing human reason, or thinking through God’s involvement in present experience to grasp how Scripture must be applied in new contexts. He contested that the original context of the scriptures actually matters. “The several books of scripture having had each some several occasion and particular purpose which caused them to be written, the contents thereof are according to the exigency of that special end whereunto they are intended.” (Laws I.14.3) This was crucial for the argument in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, where he upheld and systematized Anglican church structure against the Calvinist/Puritan insistence on literal readings of 1 Timothy. Hooker’s line of reasoning demonstrated that things like church structure were not eternally mandated in scripture, but that each context calls for discernment of what is best for the church.
His line of thought significantly influenced the future of the Anglican church, and especially this comic’s hero, John Wesley. Wesley’s Catholic Spirit is straight up Richard Hooker. It was Hooker who first emphasized the importance of focusing on the common love of Christ uniting us above the theological differences that separate. Even the famous Wesleyan Quadrilateral (coming up in a new Pragmatic Four series!) is really just Richard Hooker’s model for Scriptural interpretation. Scripture has a plain meaning in many places (as the Puritans insist), but it is also ambiguous, conflicting, or silent on different issues. We must therefore look into the Church’s Tradition to see how scripture has been understood and interpreted in the past. And we must use our sense of Reason to understand how God speaks into and through our Experience to interpret the Scripture. Scripture, Tradition and Reason (which includes Experience) should be called the Hooker’s Tripod if we Methodists want to insist on the ridiculous term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.”
Aaaaanywho. Get ready for some Pragmatic Four comin’ at ya the next few weeks. And don’t wait to order your Wesley Bros Liturgical Calendar, cuz Advent is just a few weeks away! Check it out in the Wesley Bros Store at this link!