Arthur Stephen McGrade (ed.), Richard Hooker: Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Vol. 1: Preface, Books I to IV
The cause of writing this general discourse.
1. He that goes about to persuade a multitude, that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers; because they know the manifold defects whereto every kind of regiment is subject, but the secret lets and difficulties, which in public proceedings are innumerable and inevitable, they have not ordinarily the judgement to consider. And because such pg 43as openly reprove supposed disorders of state are taken for principal friends to the common benefit of all, and for men that carry singular freedom of mind; under this fair and plausible colour whatsoever they utter passes for good and current. That which wants in the weight of their speech, is supplied by the aptness of men's minds to accept and believe it. Whereas on the other side, if we maintain things that are established, we have not only to strive with a number of heavy prejudices deeply rooted in the hearts of men, who think that herein we serve the time, and speak in favour of the present state, because thereby we either hold or seek preferment; but also to bear such exceptions as minds so averted beforehand usually take against that which they are loath should be poured into them. | Albeit therefore much of that we are to speak in this present cause, may seem to a number perhaps tedious, perhaps obscure, dark, and intricate, (for many talk of the truth, which never sounded the depth from whence it springs, and therefore when they are led thereto they are soon weary, as men drawn from those beaten paths wherewith they have been inured) yet this may not so far prevail as to cut off that which the matter itself requires, howsoever the nice humour of some be therewith pleased or no. They to whom we shall seem tedious are in nowise injured by us, because it is in their own hands to spare that labour which they are not willing to endure. And if any complain of obscurity, they must consider, that in these matters it comes no otherwise to pass than in sundry the works both of art and also of nature, where that which has greatest force in the very things we see, is notwithstanding itself oftentimes not seen. The stateliness of houses, the goodliness of trees, when we behold them delights the eye; but that foundation which bears up the one, that root which ministers to the other nourishment and life, is in the bosom of the earth concealed: and if there be at any time occasion to search into it, such labour is then more necessary than pleasant both to them which undertake it, and for the lookers on. In like manner the use and benefit of good laws, all that live under them may enjoy with delight and comfort, albeit the grounds and first original causes from whence they have sprung be unknown, as to the greatest part of men they are. But when they who withdraw their obedience pretend that the laws which they should obey are corrupt and vicious; for better examination of their quality, it behoves the very foundation and root, the highest wellspring and fountain of them to be discovered. Which because we are not oftentimes accustomed to do, when we do it the pains we take are more needful a great deal, than acceptable, and the matters which we handle seem by reason of newness (till the mind grow better acquainted with them) dark, intricate and unfamiliar. For as much help whereof as may be in this case, I have endeavoured throughout the body of this whole discourse, that every former part might give strength to all that follow, and every later bring some light to all before. So that if the judgements of men do but hold themselves in suspense as touching these first more general meditations, till in order they have perused the rest that ensue: pg 44what may seem dark at the first will afterwards be found more plain, even as the later particular decisions will appear, I doubt not more strong, when the other have been read before. | The laws of the Church, whereby for so many ages together we have been guided in the exercise of Christian religion, and the service of the true God, our rites, customs, and orders of Ecclesiastical government are called in question, we are accused as men that will not have Christ Jesus to rule over them, but have wilfully cast his statutes behind their backs, hating to be reformed, and made subject to the sceptre of his discipline. Behold therefore we offer the laws whereby we live to the general trial and judgement of the whole world, heartily beseeching Almighty God, whom we desire to serve according to his own will, that both we and others (all kind of partial affection being clean laid aside) may have eyes to see, and hearts to embrace the things that in his sight are most acceptable. And because the point about which we strive is the quality of our laws, our first entrance hereinto cannot better be made, than with consideration of the nature of law in general, and of that law which gives life to all the rest, which are commendable just and good, namely the law whereby the Eternal himself does work. Proceeding from hence to the law first of nature, then of scripture, we shall have the easier access to those things which come after to be debated, concerning the particular cause and question which we have in hand.