Richard Hooker

Richard Hooker: Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Vol. 3: Books VI-VIII

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The state of Bishops although sometime oppugned, and that by such as therein would most seem to please God, yet by his providence upheld hitherto, whose glory it is to maintain that whereof himself is the Author.

1. I have heard that a famous Kingdom in the world being solicited to reform such disorders as all men saw the Church exceedingly burdened with, when of each degree great multitudes thereto inclined, and the number of them did every day so increase that this intended work was likely to take no other effect than all good men did wish and labour for: A principal actor herein (for zeal and boldness of spirit) thought it good to show them betimes what it was which must be effected, or else that there could be no work of perfect Reformation accomplished. To this purpose, in a solemn Sermon, and in a great Assembly he described to them the present quality of their public Estate, by the parable of a tree, huge and goodly to look upon, but without that fruit which it should and might bring forth; affirming that the only way of redress was a full and perfect establishment of Christ's Discipline (for so their manner is to entitle a thing hammered out upon the forge of their own invention) and that to make way of entrance for it, there must be three great limbs cut off from the body of that stately tree of the Kingdom: Those three limbs were three sorts of men; Nobles, whose high Estate would make them otherwise disdain to put their necks under that yoke: Lawyers, whose Courts being not pulled down, the new Church Consistories were not like to flourish: Finally, Prelates, whose ancient Dignity, and the simplicity of their intended Church Discipline, could not possibly stand together. The proposition of which device being plausible to active spirits, pg 72restless through desire of innovation, whom commonly nothing does more offend than a change which goes fearfully on by slow and suspicious paces; the heavier and more experienced sort began presently thereat to pull back their feet again, and exceedingly to fear the stratagem of Reformation for ever after. Whereupon ensued those extreme conflicts of the one part with the other, which continuing and increasing to this very day, have now made the state of that flourishing Kingdom even such, as whereto we may most fitly apply those words of the prophet Jeremiah, Thy breach is great like the Sea, who can heal thee? | Whether this were done in truth, according to the constant affirmation of some avouching the same, I take not upon me to examine; That which I note therein is, How with us that policy has been corrected. For to the Authors of pretended Reformation with us, it has not seemed expedient to offer the edge of the axe to all three boughs at once, but rather to single them, and strike at the weakest first, making show that the lop of that one shall draw the more abundance of sap to the other two, that they may thereby the better prosper. All prosperity, felicity and peace we wish multiplied on each Estate, as far as their own heart's desire is: But let men know that there is a God, whose eye beholds them in all their ways, a God, the usual and ordinary course of whose justice, is to return upon the head of malice the same devices which it contrives against others. The foul practices which have been used for the overthrow of Bishops, may perhaps wax bold in process of time to give the like assault even there, from whence at this present they are most seconded. | Nor let it over-dismay them who suffer such things at the hands of this most unkind world, to see that heavenly estate and dignity thus conculcated, in regard whereof so many their Predecessors were no less esteemed than if they had not been men but Angels among men. With former Bishops it was as with Job in the days of that prosperity, which at large he describes, saying, To me men gave ear, they waited and held their tongue at my counsel, after my words they replied not, I appointed out their way and did sit as chief, I dwelt as it had been a King in an Army. At this day the case is otherwise with them; and yet no otherwise than with the selfsame Job at what time the alteration of his estate wrested these contrary speeches from him, But now they that are younger than I mock at me, the children of fools, and offspring of slaves, creatures more base than the earth they tread on, such as if they did show their heads young and old would shout at them and chase them through the streets with a cry, their song I am, I am a theme for them to talk on. An injury less grievous if it were not offered by them whom Satan has through his fraud and subtlety so far beguiled as to make them imagine herein they do to God a part of most faithful service. Whereas the Lord in truth, whom they serve herein, is as St. Cyprian tells them, alike, not Christ (for he it is that does appoint and protect Bishops) but rather Christ's adversary and enemy of his Church. | A thousand five pg 73hundred years and upward the Church of Christ has now continued under the sacred Regiment of Bishops. Neither for so long has Christianity been ever planted in any Kingdom throughout the world but with this kind of government alone, which to have been ordained of God, I am for my own part even as resolutely persuaded, as that any other kind of Government in the world whatsoever is of God. In this Realm of England, before Normans, yea before Saxons, there being Christians, the chief Pastors of their souls were Bishops. This order from about the first establishment of Christian Religion which was publicly begun through the virtuous disposition of King Lucius not fully two hundred years after Christ, continued till the coming in of the Saxons; By whom Paganism being everywhere else replanted, only one part of the Island, where-into the ancient, natural inhabitants the Britons were driven, retained constantly the faith of Christ, together with the same form of spiritual Regiment, which their Fathers had before received. Wherefore in the Histories of the Church we find very ancient mention made of our own Bishops. bAt the Council of Rimini about the year 359 Britain had three of her Bishops present. cAt the arrival of Augustine the Monk, whom Gregory sent hither to reclaim the Saxons from Gentility about six hundred years after Christ, the Britons he found observers still of the selfsame Government by Bishops over the rest of the Clergy; under this form Christianity took root again, where it had been exiled. Under the selfsame form it remained dtill the days of the Norman Conqueror. By him and his successors thereto esworn, it has from that time till now, by the space of above five hundred years more been upheld. O Nation utterly without knowledge, without sense! We are not through error of mind deceived, but some wicked thing has undoubtedly bewitched us, if we forsake that Government, the use whereof universal experience has for so many years approved, and betake ourselves to a Regiment, neither appointed of God himself, as they who favour it pretend, nor till yesterday ever heard of among men. By the Jews Festus was much complained of, as being a Governor marvellous corrupt, and almost intolerable: Such notwithstanding were they who came after him, that men which thought the public condition most afflicted under Festus, began to wish they had him again, and to esteem him a Ruler commendable. Great things are hoped for at the hands of these new Presidents, whom Reformation would bring in: Notwithstanding the time may come, when Bishops whose Regiment does now seem a yoke so heavy to bear, will be longed for again even by them that are the readiest to have it taken from off their necks. But in the hands of Divine pg 74Providence we leave the ordering of all such events; and come now to the Question itself which is raised concerning Bishops. For the better understanding whereof we must beforehand set down what is meant, when in this Question we name a Bishop.

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Notes

Editor’s Note
a Cyprian, Bk 1, Epist. 3 [CSEL 3.2:669; ACW 46:71; ANF 5:339].
Editor’s Note
b Sulpicius Severus, Sacred History, Bk 2 [CSEL 1:94; N2 11:116].
Editor’s Note
c Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 2, c. 2 [PL 95:81–2; Loeb 1:204–7].
Editor’s Note
d Anno 1066.
Editor’s Note
e William, called the Bastard, still breathing threats and slaughter to the people, was rendered gentle by Archbishop Aldred of York, who bound him with religious oaths to conserve the commonwealth and protect ecclesiastical discipline. William of Newburgh, Bk 1, c. 1 [Of English Matters, p. 357].
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