Commemorating Richard Hooker

Here’s a book that I’ve just added to my list Things I Should Have Read In Seminary: The Laws of Eccleiastical Polity by Richard Hooker. I recently finished reading books I through IV of this monumental work as rendered into modern English by the good folks over at the Davenant Institute. Check it out if you haven’t before; I highly recommend it.

Don’t get me wrong; I knew that Hooker’s Laws were important in the establishment of classical Anglicanism, that it was a monumental work of English prose, groundbreaking in the field of English-language philosophy, and the beginning of a distinctly Anglican perspective on Christianity as Reformed Catholicism, neither Papist on the one hand nor Radical Puritan on the other, but firmly moderated where it needed to be, in line with the other Protestant churches of Europe. A lot can be gleaned from well-written reviews and cliffnotes. But finally, ten years later than I believe I should have, I’ve finally started reading through this thing. And since today, November 3rd, is Hooker’s commemoration day, this seemed the right time to share some thoughts therefrom.

If you want or need a brief generic introduction to Hooker himself, you can jump over to Wikipedia, or read this little bio I wrote up two years ago.

A lot can be gleaned from an outline, so here are the first four books of the Laws in outline. (Some of the titles below are modernized for clarity.)

The Preface: RADICALISM, When Reform Becomes Revolution

  1. The Cause and Occasion for Writing this Work and What is Hoped for from Those for Whom Such Pains are Taken
  2. The First Establishment of Presbyterian Discipline by John Calvin in Geneva and the Beginning of the Conflict in the Church of England
  3. How So Many People Come to be Trained to Approve of this Discipline
  4. What Has Made the More Learned Approve this Discipline
  5. Their Call for a Trial by Debate
  6. No End to Conflict Until Both Sides Submit to a Definitive Judgement
  7. An Outline of the Remaining Books
  8. Why We Have Many Good Reasons to Fear the Consequences of Your Reformation, if it Indeed Took Place
  9. Conclusion

Book I: DIVINE LAW and HUMAN NATURE

  1. The Reason for Writing this General Discourse
  2. The Law by which God has from the Beginning Determined to Do all Things
  3. The Law by which Natural Agents Work
  4. The Law by which Angels Work
  5. The Law by which Man is Directed to the Imitation of God
  6. How Men First Begin to Know the Law they Should Observe
  7. Man’s Will, which Laws of Action are Made to Guide
  8. Of the Natural Way to Find Out Laws by Reason to Lead the Will to What is Good
  9. The Advantages of Keeping the Law Taught by Reason
  10. How Reason Leads Men to Make the Laws by which Political Societies are Governed and to Agree about Laws of Fellowship between Independent Societies
  11. Why God has made Known in Scripture Supernatural Laws to Direct Men’s Steps
  12. Why So Many Natural Laws and Laws of Reason are Found in Scripture
  13. The Advantage of Having Such Divine Laws Written
  14. The Sufficiency of Scripture unto the End for which it was Instituted
  15. Positive Laws in Scripture, how Some of them are Changeable, and the General Use of Scripture
  16. Conclusion: How All of This Pertains to the Present Controversy

Book II: THE WORD OF GOD

  1. How Far Does the Authority of Scripture Extend?
  2. Doing All Things to the Glory of God
  3. Must All Things Be Sanctified by the Word of God?
  4. Acting Without Clear Direction from Scripture
  5. Negative Arguments Derived from Scripture
  6. Arguments from Scripture’s Silence
  7. The Proper Weight of Human Authority

Book III: THE WORDS OF MAN

  1. Defining the Church
  2. Must Scripture Contain a Complete System of Church Government?
  3. Church Government is not a Matter of Salvation
  4. We Do Not Dishonor Scripture
  5. The Word of God and the Words of Man
  6. All Churches Add Laws Beyond Scripture
  7. The Appeal to “General Rules of Scripture”
  8. Reason May Also Serve as a Tool of the Spirit
  9. The Right Use of Reason in Devising Church Laws
  10. Why Scriptural Commands May Not Always Bind
  11. Can Biblical Laws Be Changed?

Book IV: IN DEFENSE OF REFORMED CATHOLIC WORSHIP

  1. The Importance of Liturgy
  2. Their Demand for Apostolic Simplicity
  3. The Charge that we Follow Rome
  4. Must All Roman Ceremonies Go?
  5. The Status of the Medieval Church
  6. Are Papists the Same as Canaanites?
  7. The Example of the Early Church
  8. The Danger of Swerving to the Opposite Extreme
  9. It Does not matter what Rome Thinks of Our Liturgy
  10. The Laments of “The Godly”
  11. The Charge that our Ceremonies are Judaizing
  12. Stumbling-blocks for Weaker Brethren
  13. Conformity to Foreign Reformed Churches
  14. In Defense of the Church of England’s Proceedings

As you can see, this is a lengthy treatise moving lowly and carefully, step by step. One of the primary purposes of these works was actually to provide a full-scale rebuttal to early Puritan complaints that the Church of England was too “Popish” and needed further reform, particularly in getting rid of bishops in favor of Presbyterianism, and eliminating Roman-infested rites and ceremonies. Many bishops had simply appealed to the status quo or to the authority of the Queen as supreme governor of the national church in reply to such dissent, so Hooker’s defense of what would later come to be known as “Anglicanism” was something new.

Rather than tackling the complaints and objections head-on, Hooker first set out a groundwork of philosophy and theology, biblical hermeneutics and interpretation. He wanted to set out the nature of law before arguing about what laws are good or not good.

For our understanding, it is critical to realize that a “law” in this sense is not necessarily a legal rule, but more generally a rule of how something works, or is. So by that definition, God is literally a “law” unto himself – who and what God is sets out the laws by which God operates. We then turn to the laws by which nature and angels and humans operate, and dive into the long and complicated field of epistemology – the study of how we know what we know. Against the Radical Puritans of his day and in line with historic Christianity, Hooker argues that general revelation, or natural theology, or the Law of Nature, teaches man a great deal about the sciences, morality, and even something of God himself (cf. Romans 1:19-20). This becomes the foundation for his ongoing defense of the role of reason in the discernment of good laws, guided by Scripture.

The doctrine of Scripture is an important subject along the way, too, especially in Book II. There he asserts full agreement with the Radicals concerning the perfection of Scripture, but he argues that the Bible does not exist to be (as we would say today) a complete textbook about everything. Rather, that which it is meant to address, it addresses perfectly. It upholds and clarifies natural law, and reveals divine truths (particularly concerning the Gospel) that would not be knowable otherwise. He even deals with the doctrine of sola scriptura, and candidly explains the reality that the Bible’s perfect authority is not justified by itself (that would be circular logic!), but discerned by reason.

With these foundations in place, Hooker is able to wade into the murky waters of disagreement over the extent of the authority of the Church. Some of it has to do with the “Regulative Principle of Worship” (a primarily Calvinist view that worship can only contain what the Bible positively allows) versus the “Normative Principle” (the traditional view that worship can contain anything the Bible doesn’t forbid). Some of it has to do with the nature of law, already taken care of in previous sections.

Book IV is where things start to get particularly interesting for the modern reader. (I mean, I actually really enjoyed the Preface and first three Books, but on the whole Anglicanism is no longer fighting to defend itself from Presbyterian detractors.) In the 4th book Hooker brings us to a series of objections to Prayer Book worship. These are still mainly about general principles, specific elements in the Prayer Book won’t be addressed until Book V from what I can tell. Nevertheless, here there are arguments that are super helpful for us today. Many of the general questions addressed are still (or again) being asked in the 21st century: is our worship too Papist? How should we address the issues of the “weaker brethren” in our midst? Why can’t we just return to the simplicity of the Apostolic Church? What does Apostolic-age worship even really look like?

Our worship-related issues today aren’t just about Roman influences; we also have controversies over Pentecostal/Charismatic elements, popular evangelical elements, and there is (still or again) a sort of Puritan party to be found here and there, pushing in the direction of Reformed Calvinist worship principles. Richard Hooker doesn’t answer all the questions that we have today, of course, but the observations and arguments he makes in Book IV are all insightful and can ground us more solidly in the tradition we have received.

I am hoping, in my non-existent spare time, to type up specific thoughts and reflections from what of the Laws that I’ve read thus far. If you’re interested in that, you can track my progress on this index page here, and/or follow my personal blog leorningcniht (Old English for “disciple”).

Holidays about Angels

Today is the feast of Holy Michael and All Angels, according to the 2019 Prayer Book. Throughout the world, many churches are celebrating ‘Michaelmas’ right now. St. Michael is understood (from texts like Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7) to be the chief or captain of the angelic hosts, an “archangel”. Thus, with Michael, we celebrate today also all the other angels who serve God in their mysterious and wonderful ways. This holiday can be traced to the 5th century when a church near Rome was dedicated to St. Michael’s name, and by the 9th century St. Michael’s Day was a widely celebrated feast day.

But this was not always the only angelic feast day. Other churches, particularly in the East, have had feast days for other angels for centuries. Only in the 1920’s did Rome pick up a couple of these holidays: Gabriel on March 24th (sensibly the day before the Annunciation!) and Raphael on October 24th. These did not last long, though; the Roman calendar rolled them into St. Michael’s Day in 1969, though some hardy folks still hang on to that brief-lasting calendar. There is also a roughly-1,000-year-old tradition of honoring the ministry of the Guardian Angels on October 2nd.

But the Prayer Book tradition has typically been one of brevity and simplicity. We have one official feast day for all the angels today, September 29th.

Who was St. Cyprian of Carthage?

There are several names that refer to early Christian Saints – John, Augustine, Clement, Theodore, Gregory, Basil, to name a few – so we generally have to give them suffixes to their names in order to distinguish them. Today’s commemoration in the calendar is one such example: St. Cyprian, from Carthage.

In many ways, Cyprian is the Augustine before Augustine. He was a Berber, a Roman African, born to a wealthy Pagan family, and he converted to Christianity at age 35. After his conversion he was ordained quickly, becoming the Bishop of Carthage roughly four years later. This was, perhaps understandably, a little controversial, but his actions in the ministry soon proved his sanctity-in-Christ. A wave of government oppression of the Church, called the Decian Persecution, swept through in the early 250’s, and Cyprian saw a lot of his flock cave in to the Roman demands to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Cyprian himself rode out much of that persecution in exile, believing it God’s will that he survive to shepherd his flock from a temporary distance, and be present to pick up the pieces when it was over, much like how the Apostles fled Jerusalem after the death of St. James, and how many Christians fled Jerusalem during the Roman-Jewish War culminating in the sack of 70 AD.

Needless to say, there was a controversy waiting for Cyprian when the dust settled: what do you do with the lapsi – the lapsed, who burned sacrifices to other gods? Cyprian’s initial demand was that they undergo public penance before being readmitted to Holy Communion, but a number of his earlier opponents thought this was too strict, and many priests took it upon themselves to invite people back under much more liberal conditions. As this controversy was brought to a local council, another party cropped up: a stricter group who argued that the lapsed could not repent and rejoin the church at all! The council stood with Cyprian, in between the too-liberal Novatus of Carthage and the too-strict Novatian of Rome.

As a pastoral and liturgical aside, this is insightful for us today, because we, too, see many lapsed Christians coming in and out of our churches these days. Do we admit them to Holy Communion without question? Or should we, as St. Cyprian ruled, call for public repentance of their wanderings from the Gospel before reinstating their place at the Holy Table? This is worth considering carefully, and we have resources in our Prayer Book to help us.

  • The Ash Wednesday exhortation explicitly mentions the ancient practice of public repentance.
  • The Exhortation in the Communion service warns us against unworthy reception of the Sacrament.
  • The Confirmation liturgy includes a variant for “Reaffirmation”, particularly for those who were previously confirmed, fell away, and have since returned.

It may well be that we have become too lax in our ministration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and need to re-learn, from the likes of St. Cyprian, what good Eucharistic discipline looks like.

This wrestling with the implications of the Gospel for those who fall away under persecution would return for St. Augustine of Hippo and the Donatists nearly 150 years later, though then it would be about the purported need for re-ordination, rather than readmission to Holy Communion. Cyprian was like an early Augustine in other ways too: his Latin writings were influential and beloved, his handling of controversy and good accord with other bishops was laudable. And they both saw disaster at the end of their lives. For Augustine, of course, it was the news of the sack of Rome and the arrival of barbarians at the gate of his own city. For Cyprian it was another round of government persecution, leading to his execution on 14 September 258.

The date of his commemoration isn’t so straight-forward, because 14 September has been taken by Holy Cross Day, forcing the Church calendar to shift St. Cyprian of Carthage to another day. Most Anglican calendars place him on an adjacent day – the 13th or 15th. The Roman Church has another observance (Our Lady of Sorrows) on the 15th, so they celebrate Cyprian on the 16th, and some other traditions follow suit.

Why Holy Cross Day in September?

Happy Holy Cross Day! Is that what we’re supposed to say? I mean, yeah, the Cross is where Jesus died a horrible painful death, that’s not super-happy is it… wait a minute, how is Holy Cross Day any different from Good Friday? Why do we have an extra Good Friday in September?

Perhaps we need a little history to make sense of this. To borrow from Wikipedia,

According to Christian tradition, the True Cross was discovered in 326 by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_the_Cross

September 14th, then, is the day that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was consecrated. Although, in the West, this day also commemorates St. Helena’s discovery of the Cross beforehand, as well as the restoration of the relics to Jerusalem in the 7th century after a brief Sasanid Persian invasion.

For Anglicans and Lutherans, however, who generally prefer their liturgy reformed around the primacy of Scripture, this feast has been focused less on the tradition of the True Cross (which may or may not be entirely historically accurate) and more on the significance of the Cross itself. There is, after all, quite a history of devotion (or veneration veneratio, which is of a lesser degree than worship latria) to the Cross and its relics; the Cross is the instrument by which Christ redeemed the world. He didn’t “just die”, he was nailed to a real physical piece of wood. Some have found this an opportunity to meditate upon the inclusion of nature itself in the Gospel, such as in the great Old English poem Dream of the Rood. Similarly, when the author of the Wisdom of Solomon was reflecting back on Noah’s ark, he also foreshadowed the Cross when he wrote:

It is your will that works of your wisdom should not be without effect;
therefore men trust their lives even to the smallest piece of wood,
and passing through the billows on a raft they come safely to land.
For even in the beginning, when arrogant giants were perishing,
the hope of the world took refuge on a raft,
and guided by your hand left to the world the seed of a new generation.
For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes.

Wisdom 14:5-7

And so, in harmony both with this ancient spirituality and a renewed focus on the Scriptures, we have Holy Cross Day in our calendar. It is like a repeat of Good Friday, but instead of looking at the pain and suffering of Christ, as such, we are looking at the glorious work of God in the world. Instead of a day of fasting, mourning, and penitence, this is a feast day. We celebrate with awe the wonder of the Gospel, and the tactile reality of the Cross, a “tree” as St. Peter once described it, literally grounds this remarkable theological event in natural reality.

With that in mind, let’s conclude with a brief comparison of the Scripture readings for Good Friday and Holy Cross Day.

Good Friday, in the Holy Day lectionary, gives us:

  • Genesis 22:1-18 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which are a typology and prophecy, respectively, of Jesus’ death
  • Psalm 22:1-11(12-21) or 40:1-16 or 69:1-22, which are songs of suffering and lament
  • Hebrews 10:1-25, which deals with the high priestly sacrifice of Jesus
  • John 19:1-37, which is the Passion of the Christ

Holy Cross Day, however, gives us these readings at the Communion service:

  • Isaiah 45:21-25, which is a universal call to turn to Christ for salvation
  • Psalm 98, one of the joyful celebrations of God’s salvation and praiseworthiness
  • Philippians 2:5-11, an exhortation to imitate Christ in his humility even unto death on the Cross
  • John 12:31-36a, where Christ speaks of his glorification and drawing all men unto himself when he is lifted up on the Cross

So you can see that Holy Cross Day has a focus on glory and celebration that Good Friday lacks. They share a call to “behold”, to gaze upon the crucified one, and the Cross itself as his instrument, and they also share a call to follow Christ – Philippians 2:5-11 in particular is also the Epistle for Palm Sunday, which falls into the same pattern as these. But ultimately this is not a day to mourn the death of Christ but a day to celebrate the victory of Christ. The crucifixion, after all, is a deeply rich event, worthy of observance in many different ways from many different angles. Good Friday is particularly concerned with his suffering and our sins that drove him there; Holy Cross Day is particularly concerned with the triumphal glory and power of God displayed in that same death.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the Cross
that he might draw the whole world to himself:
Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption,
may have grace to take up our cross and follow him;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting Amen.

Anticipating the next day’s feast

We just celebrated St. Mary Magdalene a couple days ago, and this Saint-filled end of the month is about to bring us to one of the twelve apostles, St. James.

Last year we looked at St. James Day with a nod to the Collect of the Day and a couple of the Scripture readings associated with this day.  That’s worth a quick re-read in preparation for tomorrow’s holiday.

For today, though, I’d like to remind you of a tradition that has been a subtle part of Prayer Book practice, though not always explicit: the “Eve of” a holy day.  You may be familiar with the Easter Vigil, or Christmas Eve.  You may also be familiar with the fact that many (most?) Roman churches have a Saturday evening Mass in addition to Sunday morning.  All of these are examples of “liturgical time” starting a day on the evening before, rather than on the morning of.  This is part of the Church’s Hebrew legacy, wherein every “day” begins at sundown – though in Christian liturgy we only tend to do this for Sundays and other feast days.

The 2019 Prayer Book, explaining the calendar on page 687, makes this much explicit:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebrations of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

It does not go on to say that we are to apply this principle to the other Holy Days.  But such an extension of the rule is not forbidden, and some Prayer Books in the past have operated that way, so it is a traditional option that we are free to make use of.

In short, applying these rules, here are the Collects of the Day for the Daily Office this weekend:

  • Friday Evening: Collect for Saint James Day or Proper 11
  • Saturday Morning: Collect for Saint James Day
  • Saturday Evening: Collect for Saint James Day
  • Sunday Morning: Collect for Proper 12

A Saint-filled couple weeks have begun

In the back of my mind, there are three times of year that stand out as being particularly saturated with significant Saints’ Days: Christmas, mid-November, and late July.  I haven’t studied the sanctoral calendar closely to see how accurate these impressions are, but I think it’s worth pointing it out now that we’re in one of those periods of time.

Consider this.  Three major feast days are just ahead:

  1. St. Mary Magdalene (22 July)
  2. St. James (25 July)
  3. The Transfiguration (6 August)

Among the Optional Commemorations there are four coming up that this Customary particularly highlights as feasts to be kept:

  1. St. Gregory of Nyssa (19 July)
  2. The Parents of the Virgin Mary (26 July)
  3. Sts. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha of Bethany (29 July)
  4. St. Joseph of Arimathea (1 August)

There are also some classical Saints’ days worth considering:

  1. St. Macrina (18 July)
  2. St. Margaret of Antioch (20 July)
  3. St. Thomas a Kempis (24 July)

And a few more recent folks remembered in our calendar:

  1. William White (17 July)
  2. William Reed Huntington (27 July)
  3. William Wilberforce (30 July)

Huh, maybe I should’ve named this post “Williamtide”, haha.

Let us also consider jotting down a new name into our calendars, remembering another faithful servant who ran his course well:

  • 17 July: J. I. Packer, Priest and Teacher of the Faith, 2020

May their memories ever be a blessing to us all.

Video Introduction to the season after Trinity

Now that it’s Trinitytide, let’s talk about what this season is all about!  A lot of people like to divide the calendar into two halves: “the story of Jesus” for the first half and “the story of the Church” for the second half (Trinitytide), but that isn’t really how the season after Trinity Sunday works, either in the traditional calendar & lectionary or in the modern.  Allow me to explain, in video form…

For further reading on the traditional calendar: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/explaining-the-season-after-trinity-sunday/

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Introducing this season
  • 01:33 Major Theme: Discipleship
  • 03:16 Historical/Traditional Trinitytide
  • 07:41 Modern Trinitytide in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 14:04 a concluding prayer

The June Major Feasts

Most months of the year have about three major feast days; June is right on the average with that number: Saint Barnabas on the 11th, The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on the 24th, and Saints Peter and Paul on the 29th.

Being in the first half of the month, Saint Barnabas’ Day often lands close to Trinity Sunday or Pentecost.  While this can sometimes cause a little trouble with displacing the Ember Days or transferring Barnabas away from those highest of Sundays, it also makes a lot of sense to celebrate him in proximity to the Day of Pentecost.  The reason is simple: the book of Acts is associated with the season of Eastertide as well as the Day of Pentecost, so there’s a biblical-chronological sense to getting to the story of Barnabas on the heels of Pentecost.

The Nativity (birth) of St. John the Baptist, meanwhile, is in June for historical reasons; it’s linked with the dates for the Annunciation to Mary and the birth of Christ.  You can read more about that here!

Saints Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome.  It happened at different times, possibly in different years, although both within a few years of one another in the mid-to-late-60’s.  Their martyrdoms have traditionally been observed together on the same date, June 29th.

Among the Optional Commemorations there are a few that the Saint Aelfric Customary would highlight as Minor Feasts:

  • 1 June: St. Justin Martyr, one of the first major apologists
  • 14 June: St. Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, great theologians
  • 22 June: St. Alban, the first martyr in Britain
  • 27 June: St. Cyril of Alexandria, a key leader at the Council of Ephesus
  • 28 June: St. Irenaeus, a major 2nd century Christian writer

3-Step Spirituality in Ezekiel 3

Yes, yes, this is a liturgy blog, not a Bible Study blog, but I’m a pastor, not just a priest, so some crossover is going to be inevitable from time to time.

But, to encourage you to watch this anyway, I actually do use the liturgy as an illustration for the biblical point I was exploring.  If you sometimes struggle to teach your congregation about the liturgy, this may be an example of one way of employing it in your preaching.

Introduction to Ascensiontide & Pentecost

Time for another video!  The quarantine lifestyle has thrown a lot of my previous plans off track so this is a bit later than I would have liked, but at least it’s ready before the Day of Pentecost.  Here is a video introduction, especially for those new to the Prayer Book tradition, to the mini-season of Ascensiontide and the great holy day of Pentecost.

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Name & Meaning
  • 04:18 Major Themes
  • 08:20 Outline in traditional Prayer Books
  • 11:55 Outline in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 16:35 Other liturgical features in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 19:37 Closing Prayer: for the Sunday after the Ascension

For further reading: