Interview with Dr. Andre Gazal on Richard Hooker

Published on December 15, 2017 by Joshua R Monroe

Greetings! I’m Fred Zaspel, and welcome to our discussions on Reformation history here at Books At a Glance. We are talking again with Dr. Andre Gazal, a specialist on the English Reformation – today we talk about Richard Hooker.

Zaspel:
Andre, who was Richard Hooker? Tell us briefly about his life and career.

Gazal:
Richard Hooker is the second great defender, great apologist, of the Elizabethan Settlement towards the end of the 16th century, during the decades of the 1580s and the 1590s. Interestingly enough, we’ve spoken about John Jewel last time, and Hooker was actually patronized by Jewel. Jewel actually supported Hooker’s study at Oxford back when he was younger. But the interesting thing about Hooker is, whereas Jewel was defending the Elizabethan Settlement against Roman Catholics, Hooker was defending the Elizabethan Settlement against the Puritans. Because it’s during this time that we see the Puritan movement, under Elizabeth I, emerging within the Church of England at that time.

 

Zaspel:
Explain the purpose, structure, and argument of Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

Gazal:
The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a massive work; it consists of eight books. The standard argument that he maintained was that the Puritans, and specifically the Presbyterians, in this case, were misapplying Scripture. Rather, Scripture is one type of several types of law that are instituted by God. And that Scripture is sufficient for the end for which it’s intended, and that is for salvation. Now, in Hooker’s case, salvation means not only the point of regeneration or conversion, but really the entirety of the Christian’s life. But then, when it comes to external organizations like the church, and here he is speaking of the church in this case as a human society, as a human organization that functions within a Christian commonwealth, he said that other types of law, and especially natural law, can serve, and should serve as the basis for ecclesiastical organization, for worship, and other such things related to the life of the church. Hooker would argue that resorting to these other kinds of law, with respect to the external organization of the church, with respect to the worship of the church, with respect to maintaining certain antecedent ecclesiastical traditions, does not in any way contradict Scripture; rather, it reflects the rightful use of Scripture.

 

Zaspel:
What was Hooker’s lasting influence?

Gazal:
His lasting influence would be his approach to matters of ecclesiastical polity; his approach to matters of church life; especially with the view of natural law; natural law as being a guide with respect to those things that Scripture does not address explicitly, one way or the other. Beginning in the 17th century, that becomes the basis of much later Anglican theology, especially with respect to the church and authority, and so forth.

 

Zaspel:
Hasn’t he been hailed as something of a champion of ecumenicity?

Gazal:
Yes, he has. And here’s the reason why. By the way, this is what made Hooker a very controversial figure in his day, both among Presbyterians and even among fellow conformists. And that is his recognition of the Roman Catholic Church as a legitimate church.

 

Zaspel:
Do I remember this correctly? Didn’t he preach a famous sermon on justification as essentially a Protestant position, but those on the other side are okay, too?

Gazal:
Yes. Exactly. And it’s interesting that in the Laws, he describes the ecclesiastical landscape in Europe using the analogy of an ocean; and there he speaks about all the different tributaries, with all the different tributaries being the various national Protestant churches. Among those he also includes the Roman Catholic church, all of which ultimately flow in to this one ocean, which is the church universal.

 

Zaspel:
We’re talking to Dr. Andre Gazal. He has led us through several steps now, charting out the Reformation of the Church in England. Be sure to watch for his forthcoming book, Defending the Faith: John Jewel and the Elizabethan Church.
Andre, it’s been great to have you with us, thanks so much.

Gazal:
Thank you, Fred, it was my pleasure.