Mike Russell, the Rector of All Souls Episcopal Church, San Diego, California, recently wrote the following short essay to explain why section B4 of the Windsor Report does not reflect the classic Anglican position on the authority of Scripture, which is to say the position of Richard Hooker.
Reproduced with Mike’s permission
The classic Anglican position, found in Hooker’s “Laws” is that scripture is the primary source of revelation for “all things necessary for salvation” not all things simply. The WR and the Neo-Puritans are attempting to make it necessary for all things simply. Books II and III of the Laws are quite clear on the boundaries set on Scripture’s “prima” authority having already rejected it as having “sola” authority.
So while Scripture is perfect for the purpose for which it was created, it is for Mr. Hooker and those that follow clearly a mixture of documents as well, many of which are bound by time and place. For example, in the Articles of Religion we see the Church setting to the side not only the Apocrypha, but the judicial and ceremonial laws of Hebrew Scripture. What is most interesting in that is that the specific parts of Leviticus we see bandied about quite often are part of the judicial law and not the moral law which is confined to the Ten Commandments.
So classic Anglicanism has at its core a hermeneutic for prioritizing the contents of Scripture and their respective authority. To treat it in any flat literal sense as a repository of eternal commands is not and never has been Anglican. That the WR is hazy on this, wanting to affirm the authority of scripture, but also warning of the dangers and ambiguities related to interpretation, leaves it listing disastrously to the fundamentalist Neo-Puritan side.
But wait, there’s more! Mr. Hooker in Book III investigates the mutability of laws and concludes that even direct commands spoken by Jesus might under different times and circumstances be mutable. How else might we have allowed divorce and remarriage except with such an Anglican hermeneutic.
And more. Most people belabor the Reason, Tradition, Scripture “three legged stool”, but that is a secondary level of discussion in Mr. Hooker who accords revelatory status to the Law of Reason, The Law of Nature and Divine Law of which Scripture is a sub category. These are three of the four categories of God’s Second Eternal Law (the fourth being Celestial Laws regarding Angels). For things NOT “necessary for salvation” we can be instructed as well by the structures of Reason and the Book of Nature and perhaps by the ongoing revelation we might have from the Holy Spirit. To ignore what these sources of revelation can teach us is to gag God.
Finally, Mr. Hooker also understood that which is a continuing topic of discussion even among contemporary legal philosophers: reflexivity among laws. In essence sometimes laws stemming from different legal arenas clash and we have to decide which to use as operative. Hooker saw this in potential clashes for people between King, Church, and Positive Laws. But it is also embedded in his understanding of the hermeneutic that develops for each conscience with respect to the interaction of the components of God’s Second Eternal Law. Nothing is ever quite so simple as having a code book that will tell us everything to do.
So, for me, when we talk about the authority of Scripture it must be framed as Mr. Hooker framed it, respecting the hermeneutic foundation that shaped our Anglican heritage. To surrender to the language of the WR (and of the groups using this same language for the last decade as though it were Anglican) is simply to set ourselves up to buy the pig in the poke.
What we need to do is resolve whether or not we are going to be true to our Anglican heritage with respect to scripture or slip into the crass fundamentalism that has proven so divisive and destructive in every setting where it has come to power.
And finally, finally, it is worth re-reading the Preface of the Laws just to appreciate how sophisticated an understanding Mr Hooker had of how conflict is fomented. For me, at any rate, its description of the sleazy tactics of the Calvinists is every bit as apropos to those of the Neo-Puritans. It is worth remembering that Mr. Hooker himself was accused by Travers and others of heresy and apostasy well before he wrote the laws. So classic Anglicanism was and continues to be defined and described by people that Puritans and Neo-Puritans alike consider heretical and apostate. Not a bad heritage to possess.