Radicalism: When Reform Becomes Revolution

Richard Hooker

Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is one of the great landmarks of Protestant theological literature, and indeed of English literature generally. However, on account of its difficult and archaic style, it is scarcely read today. The time has come to translate it into modern English so that Hooker may teach a new generation of churchmen and Christian leaders about law, reason, Scripture, church, and politics.

In this initial offering of an ongoing translation project by the Davenant Trust, we present Hooker’s Preface to the work, which offer a short and accessible sample of his profound insight and rhetorical genius. Much more than a mere preface, this wide-ranging discourse on the psychology of religious and political radicalism, and the need to balance the demands of conscience with legal order, offers startlingly relevant insights for the church and the task of Christian citizenship today.

About the Authors

Richard Hooker (1553/4-1600) was the pre-eminent theological writer of the Elizabethan church, and many would say in the entire history of the Church of England.

Editors:

Bradford Littlejohn (Ph.D, University of Edinburgh), is the President of the Davenant Trust and a leading scholar of Richard Hooker’s thought, having authored Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work (Cascade, 2015), and The Promise and Peril of Christian Liberty: Richard Hooker, the Puritans, and Protestant Political Theology (Eerdmans, forthcoming 2017).

Brian Marr is an editor and researcher at Canon Press, an alumnus of New Saint Andrews College, and a devoted servant of the liberal arts.

Bradley Belschner is a systems analyst at EMSI, a determined generalist, and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.

Sample

Original
Wherefore to come unto you whose judgement is a lantarne of direction for all the rest, you that frame thus the peoples heartes, not altogether (as I willingly perswade my selfe) of a politique intent or purpose, but your selves being first overborne with the waight of greater mens judgementes: on your shoulders is laide the burthen of upholding the cause by argument. For which purpose sentences out of the word of God ye alleage diverse: but so, that when the same are discust, thus it alwayes in a maner falleth out, that what things by vertue thereof ye urge upon us as altogether necessarie, are found to be thence collected onlie by poore and marvelous slight conjectures. I neede not give instance in anie one sentence so alleaged, for that I thinke the instance in any alleaged otherwise a thing not easie to be given. A verie strange thing sure it were that such a discipline as ye speake of should be taught by Christ and his Apostles in the word of God, and no Church have ever found it out, nor receyved it till this present time; contrarywise, the government against which ye bend your selves be observed everywhere throughout all generations and ages of the Christian world, no Church ever perceiving the word of God to be against it. We require you to finde out but one Church upon the face of the whole earth, that hath bene ordered by your discipline, or hath not bene ordered by ours, that is to saie, by episcopall regiment, sithence the time that the blessed Apostles were heere conversant.
Our Version
As for those of you who are a lantern to the rest and mold the hearts of others (not seeking to manipulate, but because you have already been swayed by greater men), it is your burden to defend this cause by argument. For this you bring forth many verses from Scripture, but such that those things which you say logically and necessarily follow from Scripture, turn out to be cobbled together only by poor and slight conjecture. I need not bring up any particular example of you doing this, since it would in fact be hard to find any examples of you doing otherwise. It is rather peculiar that your presbyterian government, should be so clearly taught by Christ and His Apostles in Scripture, but never discovered by any church until now, while the sort of church government, which you so resolutely oppose, has been observed by Christians everywhere and none of them noticed that it was forbidden by Scripture. I challenge you to find one church upon the face of the earth that has had such a church government, or that has not been episcopally-governed since the time of the Apostles!

About

The Davenant Trust

The Davenant Trust supports the renewal of Christian wisdom for the contemporary church. It seeks to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build networks of friendship and collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness. See more at www.davenanttrust.org.

The Library of Early English Protestantism

The Library of Early English Protestantism is a project to make available in new, modernized, scholarly but accessible editions seminal writings from key but neglected 16- and 17th-century Church of England theologians. Today, as the challenges of late modernity are leading to renewed growth of Protestant irenicism, and many churches both Reformed and Anglican are seeking to deepen and broaden their understanding of their theological tradition, to provide resources for a thoughtful and irenic orthodoxy, these texts deserve to be retrieved and re-read. Our aim is to make that as easy as possible for contemporary clergy, seminaries, students, and theologically-concerned laypeople. Learn more.