The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity


Category: Liberty & Dignity/Philosophy/Religion

By Richard Hooker

Published in 1593

Reference #0171

The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a masterpiece of Elizabethan literature for its balanced, dignified style, its great importance in theology, in political philosophy and as an exposition of the Tudor constitution.

Hooker’s most important single contribution was to affirm the Anglican tradition as that of a three-fold cord not quickly broken — Bible, Church and Reason. Roman Catholics put Bible and tradition on a parity, while Puritans looked to scripture as the sole authority. Hooker avoided both extremes, allowing to scripture absolute authority where it spoke plainly and unequivocally. Where it was silent or ambiguous, wisdom would consult the tradition of the church in an interpretative role. But he insisted that a third element in religion lay in man’s reason, itself part of the universal law and illuminated by God, which should be obeyed whenever both scripture and tradition needed clarification, or failed to cover some new circumstance. Thus he not only avoided the “either – or” of scripture versus tradition, but introduced a third and new element, human reason.