Tag Archives: history

Richard Hooker versus the Puritans and the Separatists: Anglicanism versus Puritanism

A new piece of the backdrop to disagreements between The Episcopal Church and the Anglicans Who Left.

The following is from the book Richard Hooker’s Use of History in His Defense of Public Worship : His Anglican Critique of Calvin, Barrow, and the Puritans (2011) by Scott N. Kindred-Barnes, adjunct Faculty in the Historical Department of Toronto School of Theology, and a Lecturer at Trinity College, University of Toronto:

“In 1593 and 1597, Richard Hooker published the first five books of his magnum opus, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Polity ….

“Richard Hooker’s view of history, in turn, under-girded his criticism of puritans and separatists on many issues concerning public worship. This is particularly evident in Books IV and V of the Lawes, where Hooker engaged puritan and separatist critiques of the Church of England. In Book IV, for instance, Hooker defended the ceremonies of the Church of England from the charge that her public worship lacked ‘ancient Apostolicall simplicitie.’ Such charges were supported by the puritan and separatist interpretations of the past, which Hooker regarded as being founded on erroneous assumptions.

“While Hooker held a deep admiration for the ‘zeale and godliness’ of Biblical times, he nonetheless maintained throughout  the Lawes that the context of Elizabethan ecclesiological debates involved issues that the Scriptures did not directly address. While he held the central Reformation doctrines such as Justification by faith, Hooker was not an apocalyptic thinker in the tradition of John Bale and his subsequent followers. Rather, he rejected the primitivism and the apocalyptic thought running throughout the writings of Thomas Cartwright and Henry Barrow and formulated instead a view of the past more reliant upon reason and extra-Biblical historical circumstances. Hooker’s belief that  reason is a God-given gift that has the potential to aid the best minds of society to determine what is most politically and theologically convenient for a given age, had a profound effect upon his view of public worship.”

Everyone should feel free to critique the Church of England and Anglicanism from any angle he/she chooses. However, to claim Anglicanism for John Calvin or for the Puritans is not historically accurate. I’ve added other pieces (from scholars) to this same backdrop here and here and here.

Following Frank Viola’s ‘Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin’

This is a more or less affirmative response to Frank Viola’s Patheos post, “Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin.”

William F. Buckley once asked, “What scruples about human beings did Stalin have that Hitler didn’t? Anything?” Now I’m wondering, “What scruples about human beings did John Calvin have that the popes didn’t? Anything?”

With Calvin and other religious leaders, followers believe something like this:

The man was a product of his time and culture, so we must see him in context, yet he was chosen by God to communicate counter-cultural wisdom and godly insight. The unfavorable elements of the man are assigned to culture and the favorable elements are assigned to God. (Why isn’t the “godly insight” more readily assigned to culture?)

This is not a new observation or argument. I just don’t understand why so many are at peace with a guy who allegedly was chosen by God to communicate an allegedly godly intellectual system while God didn’t care also to offer counter-cultural, godly insights into the problems of an ISIS-style regime. Morality doesn’t change, unless we’re being moral relativists, right?

To be sure, Frank Viola includes important context from a seminary prof, Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.

Strachan notes in part:

“Geneva was a place ruled by law, even theological law, but so were most every other European cities. This was not a nice era. It was rough. Life, as Hobbes said, was nasty, brutish, and short. Calvin’s Geneva provided all kinds of pastoral help to the city, and the city thrived under Calvin. It was also a place of refuge for Protestants from all over Europe. Geneva was not the exception in having tough communal strictures. It was the rule.”

But if John Calvin is so important to the cause of Christianity today, why did not God enlighten him with counter-cultural leadership rather than just counter-cultural ideas?

Like one nasty Internet meme essentially says, “God could have outlawed shellfish or slavery. He chose shellfish.”

It’s easy to see why someone would conclude we’re alone.

Colonial-era artifacts from the World Trade Center site


I saw this display last week at the 9-11 Museum, which is part of the World Trade Center site in NYC. These artifacts were found by forensic anthropologists who were searching “near the World Trade Center site” for remains of 9-11 victims, according to museum signage. The colonial-era artifacts are reminers that “much of lower Manhattan was built atop a landfill,” the museum sign says. Imagine what the world looked like to the eyes of those who last saw these items before they were unearthed in 2006.


Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, October 2014

Updated to correct the photo and add another.

Photo taken inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com.

Photo of the side of the altar area, inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com. Travel. Italy. Vatican City. Rome.


Inside the Roman Coliseum, October 2014


Richard Hooker versus the Puritan position — more about the Anglican view of Scripture, Reason & Tradition

I think Anglicanism looks most distinctive, at least to Americans, when it is contrasted with Puritanism, in part because America was influenced much more by the Puritans than by the Roman Catholics.

The Puritans and the Roman Catholics are relevant because Anglicanism was designed to be neither Puritan nor Roman Catholic.

Here’s a good witness for my case: Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Yale University historian of Christianity, who was acknowledged in many corners of Christendom as a scholar with a good grasp of the faith’s doctrinal and theological developments and changes.

In his book Reformation of Church and Dogma, which is Volume 4 in his five-book set The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Pelikan gives the following interpretation of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) and his book Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

Hooker acknowledged that there were many doctrines, including the Trinity, that were “in Scripture nowhere to be found by express literal mention, only deduced they are out of Scripture by collection.” Yet that did not detract from “the sufficiency of Scripture unto the end for which it was instituted,” so long as one recognized what that end was — and what it was not. It was the knowledge of salvation, but it was not a detailed “ordinance of Jesus Christ” about the specific arrangements of ecclesiastical polity. These were to be known from the laws of reason and nature; for “when supernatural duties are necessarily exacted, natural are not rejected as needless,” and the law of God included both. Therefore it was a mistake, in the name of “a desire to enlarge the necessary use of the word of God,” to hold that “only one law, the Scripture, must be the rule to direct in all things,” when in fact “God hath left sundry kinds of laws unto men, and by all those laws the actions of men are in some sort directed.” (boldface added)

This should reveal Hooker’s belief in a reasonable exercise of reason, as well as an appreciation for traditional Christian beliefs that were handed down through practice and belief — yet not found spelled-out in Scripture.

When Hooker, within Pelikan’s paraphrase, said Scripture “was not a detailed ‘ordinance of Jesus Christ’,” he took exception to a point of view represented by the Puritans.

As quoted before on this blog, Professor David L. Holmes suggests that in the time of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the Prayer Book author who died two years after Hooker was born, the Puritans were uncomfortable with any exercise of reason or acknowledgement of tradition in church beliefs, practices, and offices:

The Puritan party, which desired biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church, viewed the Prayer Book as a half-way house to true reform and objected that it retained practices that were unscriptural.

In contrast, Anglicanism and the Church of England were distinct largely because of the English liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The Puritans, according to Holmes, disliked the Book of the Common Prayer!

Furthermore, Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, as described above by Pelikan, opposes the Puritan premise as described by Holmes. Hooker’s book, according to Pelikan, was “an apologia for the unique features of the Anglican settlement.”

We ought to register a significant difference between Anglicanism and the Puritan point of view.

This significant difference was not unique to Hooker. Professor William C. Placher, as I quoted elsewhere, said of Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer:

His interests lay less in systematic theology than in church history, especially the history of liturgy, and in writing the Book of Common Prayer he produced the foundation of much English religion and one of the glories of English prose.

Keep in mind that evangelical Christianity in the United States has largely shared the Puritan suspicion of reason and tradition. As Philip J. Lee writes,

The Puritan changes often brought the New England theology perilously close to gnostic Christianity. Of particular concern is the Puritans’ concentration on the self and their tendency to regard humanity from an elitist perspective.

That’s from Lee’s book, Against the Protestant Gnostics.

Anglicanism and ‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’

One of my previous posts, “‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’,” was designed to argue against the phrase “Biblical Anglicans.”

I gave some evidence — from scholars — for Anglicanism being a type of Christianity based on Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. I asked, essentially, why just Scripture?

I also said the Puritan desire to base everything in church on Scripture had the problem of Church (and churches) existing before the Bible was completely canonized. Church life, ritual, and worship existed before Christians could refer to a Bible.

Here, I want to look at excerpts of the definition of Anglicanism in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (second edition).

This word properly applies to the system of doctrine and practice upheld by those Christians who are in religious communion with the see of Canterbury.

Pause. Note the word “properly.” But like the word “biblical,” the word “Anglican” can mean nearly anything these days.

But it is esp. used, in a somewhat more restricted sense, of that system in so far as it emphasizes its claim to possess a religious outlook distinguishable from that of other Christian communions both Catholic and Protestant.

I’ll confess: at times, I think the self-identified “Biblical Anglicans” are stealth Congregationalists, Baptists, or Presbyterians. I know that’s not accurate, having not long ago visited an Angl0-Catholic parish that is part of the Bishop Lawrence diocese of ex-Episcopalian Anglicans — or should that be Anglican ex-Episcopalians? Which should be the adjective and which the noun? I’ll stop. Let’s get back to the definition.

Skipping ahead.

The 17th cent., however, was the golden age of Anglicanism…the Church of England at once confirmed her rejection of the claims of Rome and refused to adopt the theological system of the Reformers.

With a sincerely good-natured pat on the backs of some friends, I must confess I had been led to believe Anglicanism was the theological system of the Reformers. Good grief — who does Oxford University Press have writing and editing their dictionaries these days?


The historic episcopate was preserved, even though many, e.g. R. Hooker (the greatest of the Elizabethans), did not regard it as of divine institution.

See there? Hooker has given you an out. You can be a Congregationalist and an Anglican at the same time.

The legitimacy, and to some degree even the necessity, of ecclesiastical development was not denied, but its extent was held to be limited by the appeal to Scripture, as containing all things necessary to eternal salvation.

There you go. This let them off the Roman hook — you didn’t need the Official Church for salvation.

However, looked at from another angle, it also became a kind of concluding point for some people: Scripture contains all things necessary to eternal salvation, so why mess with anything else? That doesn’t only illuminate the Biblical Anglican’s occasional disinterest in liturgy, ritual, and aesthetics. It also illuminates why big evangelistic organizations can raise money more easily than local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Recall the salvific campaign of Bill Clinton and his appropriation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow).” Today sucks — but there’s always eternity! Blessings and be on your way!

Truth was therefore sought from the joint testimony of Scripture and ecclesiastical authority, which in its turn was to be based on the traditions of the first four centuries.

In that last excerpt, you can easily see the Scripture, Reason, and Tradition formula. (Take a look at the definition for “reason” in the ecclesiastical context.) Notice, too, that the “first four centuries” was approximately the length of time before a basic biblical canon began to take shape.