Richard Hooker: A Learned Discourse of Justification

My comments on excerpts from this alleged “learned” discourse will be interspersed below.

A Sermon by Richard Hooker with Introductory comments by James Kiefer

Kiefer writes:

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) was possibly the greatest theologian that England has ever produced. In 1585, he was appointed Master of theTemple: that is, was assigned to one of the most visible pulpits in England. Almost immediately, he incurred the suspicions of the Puritan party. In the course of one of his sermons, he said: “I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly.” This sentence, which today would be fiercely attacked by those who thought it arrogant, narrow, and bigoted, was at the time attacked on opposite grounds. Walter Travers, the afternoon lecturer at the Temple, said that since the adherents of the Pope did not believe in justification by faith, they could not be justified by faith, which meant that they could not be justified at all, which meant that they were certainly damned, with no exceptions. Hooker, he claimed, had sold out to the enemy. The sermon given below is Hooker’s reply. In reading it, remember that, when he argues that the popish errors do not automatically damn all who hold them, he needs to state emphatically that he is not himself one who hold such views.

Hooker’s sermon is entitled, “A Learned Discourse of Justification, Works, and how the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown.” Followed by this text of Scripture: “The wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore perverse judgment doth proceed” (Habakkuk 1:4). Recall the quote from N.T. Wright where he references Hooker. The quote or paraphrase of Hooker by Wright is not found in this sermon by Hooker. Anyway, here are some excerpts from Hooker defending the Church of Rome and the salvation of at least some who dwell under her tyranny.

Richard Hooker:

This is the mystery of the man of sin. This maze the Church of Rome doth cause her followers to tread when they ask her the way of justification. I cannot stand now to unrip this building and to sift it piece by piece; only I will set up a frame of apostolical erection by it in a few words, that it may befall Babylon, in presence of that which God hath builded, as it happened unto Dagon before the ark…

But if the name FOUNDATION do note the principal thing which is believed, then is that the foundation of our faith which St. Paul hath unto Timothy: “God manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, etc.”;[1 Tim 3:16] that of Nathanael: “Thou art the Son of the living God, thou art the king of Israel” [Jn 1:49]; that of the inhabitants of Samaria: “This is Christ, the Saviour of the world.” [Jn 4:42] He that directly denieth this doth utterly raze the very foundation of our faith. I have proved heretofore that, although the Church of Rome hath played the harlot worse than ever did Israel, yet are they not, as now the synagogue of the Jews which plainly denieth Christ Jesus, [Rev 2:9; 3:9] quite and clean excluded from the new covenant.

The implication is that Hooker believes that the Church of Rome does not plainly deny Christ in spite of doctrines (e.g., purgatory, the Mass, universal atonement) that nullify the precious blood of Christ as propitiation on behalf of His people. He says that she (Rome) played the harlot worse than ethnic Israel. Evidently, Hooker thinks the only religionists who fit the bill of a “synagogue of Satan” are Jews who profess to believe in the God of Israel but who explicitly deny that Jesus is the Messiah.

I might, if I had not otherwhere largely done it already, show by sundry manifest and clear proofs how the motions and operations of life are sometimes so undiscernible and secret, that they seem stone-dead who notwithstanding are still alive unto God in Christ.

Since this whole sermon is in the context of the Church of Rome and some of those who abide therein, this quote above speaks to that. It really doesn’t make much sense since those whom Hooker might say only *appear* to be “stone-dead” are still manifesting the rotten fruit of purgatory, etc. Apparently, Hooker believes that those in whom fruit unto death (Romans 7:5) is manifest are, notwithstanding, “still alive unto God in Christ.”

We must therefore put a difference between them who err of ignorance, retaining nevertheless a mind desirous to be instructed in the truth, and them who, after the truth is laid open, persist in stubborn defence of their blindness.

How true it is indeed, that there’s nothing new under the sun. To Hooker, there are some who follow after damnable heresies out ignorance (which is true enough), but this ignorance only serves to extenuate (lessen) their guilt. Hooker, in effect, must make the distinction between stubbornly and obstinately persisting in following after a false christ, and merely following after a false christ in ignorance.

Heretical defenders, froward and stiffnecked teachers of circumcision, the blessed Apostle calleth dogs. [Phil 3:2] Silly men, that were seduced to think they taught the truth, he pitieth, he taketh up in his arms, he lovingly embraceth, he kisseth, and with more than fatherly tenderness doth so temper, qualify, and correct the speech he useth towards them, that a man cannot easily discern whether did most abound, the love which he bare to their godly affection or the grief which the danger of their opinion bred him.

Their opinion was dangerous; was not so likewise theirs who thought that the kingdom of Christ should be earthly? was not theirs who thought that the Gospel should be preached only to the Jews? What more opposite to prophetical doctrine concerning the coming of Christ than the one, concerning the Catholic Church than the other? Yet they who had these fancies, even when they had them, were not the worst men in the world.

Hooker is contrasting the different ways in which Paul dealt with teachers of circumcision (Philippians 3:2) and how he dealt with those foolish Galatians as he calls them in his letter. Of course, Hooker seems to be implying that only the blind teacher falls into the ditch (or pit), rather than than both teacher and student. Obviously, Paul’s concern regarding the Galatians is WHY they are observing the things they are. Are they observing things which they ought not to observe out of love for Him that saved them, or are they observing things as a means to establish their own righteousness?

The heresy of freewill was a millstone about the Pelagians’ neck: shall we therefore give sentence of death inevitable against all those fathers in the Greek church who, being mispersuaded, died in the error of freewill?

Obviously, it is not “sentence of death inevitable,” but it is sentence of death inevitable to those who do not repent and believe the gospel. And it is the sentence of being judged unregenerate but not necessarily judged as reprobate. Basically, after reading this quote I think of the basic Biblical distinction between unregenerate and reprobate.

I seek not to obtrude upon you any private opinions of mine own. The best learned in our profession are of this judgment, that all the heresies and corruptions of the Church of Rome do not prove her to deny the foundation directly. If they did, they should prove her simply to be no Christian Church. “But I suppose,” saith one, “that in the papacy some church remaineth, a church crazed [cracked], or, if you will, broken quite in pieces, forlorn, misshapen, yet some church.” His reason is this: “Antichrist must sit in the temple of God.” [John Calvin, Letter to Laelius Socinus, 9 Dec 1549, (Brunswick: C A Achwetschke, 1875), Epistola 1324, OPERA QUAE SUPERSUNT OMNIA, vol 13, col 487; cf INST IV, ii, 11f]

Hooker cites Calvin on how the foundation of the Church is “preserved” underneath all the Romish rubble.

A third hath these words:

‘I acknowledge the church of Rome, even at this present day, for a church of Christ, such a church as Israel under Jeroboam, yet a church”. His reason is this:

‘Every man seeth, except he willingly hoodwink himself, that as always so now the church of Rome holdeth firmly and steadfastly the doctrine of truth concerning God and the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, and baptizeth in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, confesseth and avoucheth Christ for the only Redeemer of the world and the Judge that shall sit upon quick and dead, receiving true believers into endless joy, faithless and godless men being cast with Satan and his angels into flames unquenchable”. [Zanchius, DE RELIGIONE CHRISTIANA, Preface]

Hooker quotes Zanchius above. I think that the Zanchius quote is at least one reason why Roman Catholic baptism is accepted as valid among some in the Reformed world. The mention of Israel under Jeroboam clues us in on the reasoning of those like Hooker and Zanchius.

Then what is the fault of the Church of Rome? Not that she requireth works at their hands that will be saved, but that she attributeth unto works a power of satisfying God for sin, and a virtue to merit both grace here and in heaven glory. That this overthroweth the foundation of faith I grant willingly; that it is a direct denial thereof I utterly deny.

Hooker appears to be arguing that one must directly (i.e., explicitly) deny in words that Jesus is the foundation. He seems to be granting that Romish works overthrow the foundation (by necessary implication), but do not directly deny the foundation. Hooker elsewhere had argued that, “The foundation is not subverted by every kind of addition.” Well if one twists the picture found in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, they can say that any “superstructure” regardless of the “materials” can be added. What Hooker says reminds me of what John Gill thought about certain kinds of “superstructural additions” to the One foundation (an old post from Marc):

[Marc] I don’t remember reading Gill’s commentary on Philippians 3:15 before today. Even though I did not consider Gill to be saved before this, I’m still shocked that he would be so blatant:

[Gill] and if in anything ye be otherwise minded; as to seek for justification by the works of the law, or partly by Christ and partly by the law, and to imagine and expect perfection in this life:

“God shall reveal even this unto you; such errors will be made manifest sooner or later; the day will declare them, and such wood, hay, and stubble, will be burnt up by the fire, which will reveal every man’s work, 1Co_3:12.”

[Marc] Gill believed that the errors of justification by the works of the law or justification partly by Christ and partly by the law or perfectionism were “wood, hay, and stubble”! And just to make sure, I went over to see what Gill said about “wood, hay, and stubble” in 1 Corinthians 3:12:

[Gill] “wood, hay, stubble; by which are meant, not heretical doctrines, damnable heresies, such as are diametrically opposite to, and overturn the foundation; for one and the same man builds the former, as these, and is himself saved at last; neither of which is true, of such that deliver doctrines of devils.”

[Marc] So he believed that the errors of justification by the works of the law or justification partly by Christ and partly by the law or perfectionism were NOT heretical doctrines, damnable heresies, doctrines of devils, such as are diametrically opposite to, and overturn the foundation!!!

Incredible!!!

Continuing with Richard Hooker’s discourse:

Howbeit, considering how many virtuous and just men, how many saints, how many martyrs, how many of the ancient fathers of the Church have had their sundry perilous opinions — and among sundry of their opinions this, that they hoped to make God some part of amends for their sins by the voluntary punishments which they laid upon themselves: because by a consequent it may follow hereupon that they were injurious unto Christ, shall we therefore make such deadly epitaphs and set them upon their graves: “They denied the foundation of faith directly, they are damned, there is no salvation for them”? St. Augustine hath said, “Errare possum, haereticus esse nolo.” [I may be mistaken, but I have not the will to be heretical.] And except we put a difference between them that err and them that obstinately persist in error, how is it possible that ever any man should hope to be saved?

Hooker is here distinguishing between error that is not necessarily indicative of lostness and damnable heresy which is. To Hooker, it appears that as long as one does not come right out and say, “I deny that Jesus is the Christ” or “I deny that Jesus came in the flesh” then one can hold to the (alleged) “perilous” opinion of making amends for sins by the establishment — by supposed “grace” I’m sure — of one’s own righteousness (cf. Romans 10:1-4). As for Hooker’s favorable citation of Augustine’s, I have not the will (or intention) to be heretical. Well, of course. The Pharisees who desired to murder Christ and those zealous unregenerate religionists (Romans 10:3) had not the will to be heretical either.

Based on his reasoning, Hooker’s reading of Romans 10:1-4 must be that while “by a consequent” it followed that those establishing their own righteousness “were injurious unto Christ.” Hooker’s reasoning says that Paul should not have made “such deadly epitaphs” by judging them lost and praying for their salvation.

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