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Richard Hooker: The architecture of participation, by Paul Anthony Dominiak

by
02 October 2020

Paul Avis welcomes a new study of Richard Hooker’s theology

THROUGH his extraordinary writings, Richard Hooker (1554-1600) became the pre-eminent founder of the Anglican theological tradition. His statue is on the Cathedral Green at Exeter, near which he grew up.

This study, by the Vice-Principal of Westcott House, Cambridge, illuminates the theology of the obscure priest who wrote Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie. The book strongly brings out a key aspect of Hooker’s thought which has often been overlooked or denied, and defends him against charges of incoherence, which were always absurd. It should serve to alter the future direction of Hooker studies in a very helpful way.

For centuries, Hooker’s authority has been claimed by various parties in the Church (notably by the Tractarians in the mid-19th century), to validate their particular stance and programme. In recent years, however, high-powered scholarly attempts have been made to assimilate Hooker to Swiss Reformed Protestantism and thus to place him in the distinguished company of John Calvin.

There is some truth in this association. Hooker had been raised on the Reformed orthodoxy that prevailed in the Church of England and its two universities during the reign of Elizabeth I. He knew his Calvin, especially Institutes of the Christian Religion, but he overtly distanced himself from the French Reformer and his successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza. That does not mean, however, that Hooker was not a reformed theologian: the present study shows significant correspondences between Hooker’s and Calvin’s thought. But Hooker was deeply versed not only in Reformation theology, but also in classical literature, Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, patristic and medieval theology, canon law and legal theory.

His thinking had also been significantly shaped by the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas, and this is the vein of Hooker’s thought which the present volume explores. Hooker was not captive to any tendency, partial orthodoxy, or fashionable school of thought, but he absorbed and transcended them all. It is the fact that he was his own man which makes him impossible to pigeon-hole.

As Dr Dominiak shows, the idea that binds the Platonic philosophical-mystical tradition and Christian, biblical, theology together is participation in God. Though, until recently, the idea of participation in God through grace has been largely neglected in Anglican theology, it is found, not only in Hooker, but in his near-contemporary Lancelot Andrewes and in the subsequent High Church tradition. We also see it in the Cambridge Platonists, John Keble, E. B. Pusey, F. D. Maurice, B. F. Westcott, Charles Gore, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, and Rowan Williams, to name but a few.

To hold this doctrine and to live by it, we need to believe that God has poured God’s power, goodness, and beauty into the creation; that the incarnation has elevated and transfigured human nature; that the sacraments are effective means of union with the Triune God; and that the Holy Spirit never ceases to energise and purify the Church.

The antithesis of participatory theology is known as “extrinsicism”. Well represented in contemporary Christianity, extrinsicism is the dualistic doctrine that God’s activity operates “externally” and instrumentally with regard to the world, the Church, the sacraments, and salvation generally.

Participation in God connects with the mysterious text in 2 Peter 1.4: “that you may become partakers of the divine nature”. The concept of “divinisation” or theosis, found particularly in the Orthodox tradition, is viewed with suspicion by those who believe that it transgresses the boundary between Creator and creation, divinity and humanity.

But Dominiak shows that deification has many shades of meaning and that such fears are misplaced. He brings together “participation” and the key biblical concept of ecumenical theology, koinonia (fellowship, communion). He suggests that Hooker’s doctrine of participation can be a bridge to closer agreement with the Orthodox Churches.

So, this is a salutary and strategic book, but it is not for “the common (theological) reader”. The argument is dense and assumes considerable background knowledge, as becomes a former doctoral thesis. But theological libraries should acquire this book; research students in Anglican theology could cut their teeth on it; and anyone who holds an opinion about Hooker and the roots of the Anglican tradition should come to terms with it.

The volume is nicely produced by Bloomsbury, but with one important defect: you need young eyes to read it comfortably because the fount is smaller than the norm and the footnotes are painfully tiny. In a scholarly work, the notes are as important as the main text. Publishers please note that such penny-pinching economies are counter-productive with the potential readership.

 

The Revd Dr Paul Avis is Hon. Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, and Hon. Research Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter, and the Editor-in-Chief of Ecclesiology.

 

Richard Hooker: The architecture of participation
Paul Anthony Dominiak
T & T Clark £85
(978-0-567-68507-0)
Church Times Bookshop £76.50

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