Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tobias Haller on Hooker's Triad

Tobias Haller has a wonderfully interesting post today about what Richard Hook really said about the Anglican triad of scripture, reason and tradition:

The stool or tripod of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, alleged to be Hooker’s, doesn’t stand upright. When one examines Hooker’s actual argument — which extends over many pages — with care, it is plain that his attitude towards these three elements is uneven. First comes Reason, both historically (in time) and naturally (for without Reason we could not understand anything, including the Scripture).

Unto the word of God… we do not add reason as a supplement of any maim or defect therein, but as a necessary instrument, without which we could not reap by the Scripture’s perfection that fruit and benefit which it yieldeth… If knowledge were possible without discourse of natural reason, why should none be found capable thereof but only men; nor men till such time as they come unto ripe and full ability to work by reasonable understanding? — III.viii.10

But Reason can guide people only up to a certain point. “Natural” religion has its limits (at a kind of theism), and it cannot supply the details which only Revelation can provide — the eternal Gospel of salvation in and through Christ. This is where the Church (preceded by God’s chosen people Israel) comes in, with the Revelation and eventual recording of God’s Truth in Scripture. The saving message transmitted by Scripture to us in these latter days could not be discovered by Reason alone, although Reason is essential to understanding the saving message. The two work together in harmony.

Ultimately, when it comes to authority, Tradition doesn’t figure at all in Hooker’s scheme. That’s the surprising thing one discovers in reading Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

. . .

Tradition, or custom (as he usually calls it), is to be looked to or retained only when no good reason for change can be brought forth. If good reason can be shown, then, Hooker says, away with Tradition! He eloquently states,

Neither councils nor customs, be they never so ancient and so general, can let [i.e., prevent] the Church from taking away that thing which is hurtful to be retained. Where things have been instituted, which being convenient and good at the first, do afterwards in process of time wax otherwise; we make no doubt but that they may be altered, yea, though councils or customs general have received them. —IV.14.5

. . .

So, as an alternative to the stool or the tripod, I offer the following analogy. Hooker’s so-called stool is really a ladder: the twin legs of which are Scripture and Reason; the rungs are Tradition. When a rung is worn or broken, it may be replaced, but it must always be supported at both ends. And let us not forget that ladders are for climbing; they are not an end in themselves. For at the top of this ladder (upon which sometimes we appear to climb, but more often are being carried in rescue) there awaits us a Wisdom which puts all our human argument to utter shame.

Read it all here.

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