Richard Hooker and the “Wall of Separation”

Richard Hooker was a learned Anglican churchman and apologist writing in theRichard Hooker sixteenth century. His monumental work, “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,” is a wonderfully interesting but grossly neglected treatment of the relationship of church and state in England. Its subtle defense of both the distinctiveness and the non-separateness of church and state represents an early and elegant version of many of the arguments about the nature and scope of disestablishment that continue to circulate today.

In the following passage (from Book VIII), he defends the idea of the distinctiveness, but non-separateness, of the civil and religious spheres against the complaints of English dissenters. He resists what he calls the idea of “personal” separation. Note the particular phrase he uses!

We hold, that seeing there is not any man of the Church of England but the same man is also a member of the commonwealth; nor any man a member of the commonwealth, which is not also of the Church of England; therefore as in a figure triangular the base doth differ from the sides thereof, and yet one and the selfsame line is both a base and also a side; a side simply, a base if it chance to be the bottom and underlie the rest: so, albeit properties and actions of one kind do cause the name of a commonwealth, qualities and functions of another sort the name of a Church to be given unto a multitude, yet one and the selfsame multitude may in such sort be both, and is so with us, that no person appertaining to the one can be denied to be also of the other. Contrariwise, unless they against us should hold, that the Church and the commonwealth are two, both distinct and separate societies, of which two, the one comprehendeth always persons not belonging to the other; that which they do they could not conclude out of the difference between the Church and the commonwealth; namely, that bishops may not meddle with the affairs of the commonwealth, because they are governors of another corporation, which is the Church; nor kings with making laws for the Church, because they have government not of this corporation, but of another divided from it, the commonwealth; and the walls of separation between these two must for ever be upheld. They hold the necessity of personal separation, which clean excludeth the power of one man’s dealing in both; we of natural, which doth not hinder but that one and the same person may in both bear a principal sway.

Those with an interest in Hooker should check out this new review at the University Bookman by W. Bradford Littlejohn of a new edition of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (in 3 volumes!), edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade. From Littlejohn’s review:

Here Hooker undertakes a systematic defense of the established polity of the English church against its puritan-presbyterian critics, laying broad and deep foundations in philosophy, theology, and political theory before meeting head-on the leading principles of the puritan platform and then refuting, point-by-point, their objections against each aspect of the English church’s worship and organization.

The Preface, in addition to expressing the purpose for the work, provides a keen analysis of the social circumstances that called it forth. Book I provides a theological and philosophical account of the different forms of law that govern human affairs. Book II critically examines the biblicist foundation of puritan epistemology, Book III the puritan assumption of a divine-law constitution for the church, and Book IV their first principle of liturgics: to depart as far as possible from Roman Catholicism. With these foundations laid, Hooker uses Book V to defend the disputed parts of the Book of Common Prayer, Book VI (unfinished) to critique the presbyterian doctrine of lay-elders, Book VII to defend episcopal jurisdiction, and the unfinished Book VIII to defend (and just as importantly, to define and delimit) the royal supremacy in the English church.

Versluis, “American Gurus”

Today, Oxford University Press releases American Gurus: From Transcendentalism to New Age Religion, by Arthur Versluis (Michigan State University). The publisher’s description follows:

By the early twenty-first century, a phenomenon that once was inconceivable had become nearly commonplace in American society: the public spiritual teacher who neither belongs to, nor is authorized by a major religious tradition. From the Oprah Winfrey-endorsed Eckhart Tolle to figures like Gangaji and Adhyashanti, there are now countless spiritual teachers who claim and teach variants of instant or immediate enlightenment.

American Gurus tells the story of how this phenomenon emerged. Through an examination of the broader literary and religious context of the subject, Arthur Versluis shows that a characteristic feature of the Western esoteric tradition is the claim that every person can achieve “spontaneous, direct, unmediated spiritual insight.” This claim was articulated with special clarity by the New England Transcendentalists Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Versluis explores Transcendentalism, Walt Whitman, the Beat movement, Timothy Leary, and the New Age movement to shed light on the emergence of the contemporary American guru. 

This insightful study is the first to show how Asian religions and Western mysticism converged to produce the phenomenon of “spontaneously enlightened” American gurus.

USCIRF Issues Annual Report

The US Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan government advisory body, has issued its annual report for 2014. As it does every year, the report designates countries with bad records on religious freedom. The “countries of particular concern” for 2014 are Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. In addition, the report names countries with somewhat less bad, but still problematic records, the so-called “Tier 2 countries”: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey. Finally, the report names countries and regions that merit watching, including, somewhat surprisingly, Western Europe, which makes the list this year, among other reasons, because of recent bans on religious dress and ritual slaughter.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the United States to coordinate its efforts on behalf of international religious freedom with global actors–not only the UN and the OSCE, but also other national governments that now make religious freedom part of their foreign policy. The geopolitics of religious will be the the subject of one of the panels at our upcoming conference on international religious freedom this summer in Rome (watch this space for further details).

The report is pretty long, about 200 pages, but quite worthwhile. For a good summary, check out this piece by the Commission’s Knox Thames and Elizabeth Cassidy.

Burson & Lehner, eds., “Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe”

This month the University of Notre Dame Press publishes Enlightenment and Enlightenment and Catholicism in EuropeCatholicism in Europe: A Transnational History, what looks to be an extremely interesting collection of essays on the intellectual history of the Enlightenment edited by Jeffrey D. Burson (Georgia Southern University) and Ulrich N. Lehner (Marquette University). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years, historians have rediscovered the religious dimensions of the Enlightenment. This volume offers a thorough reappraisal of the so-called “Catholic Enlightenment” as a transnational Enlightenment movement. This Catholic Enlightenment was at once ultramontane and conciliarist, sometimes moderate but often surprisingly radical, with participants active throughout Europe in universities, seminaries, salons, and the periodical press.

In Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe: A Transnational History, the contributors, primarily European scholars, provide intellectual biographies of twenty Catholic Enlightenment figures across eighteenth-century Europe, many of them little known in English-language scholarship on the Enlightenment and pre-revolutionary eras. These figures represent not only familiar French intellectuals of the Catholic Enlightenment but also Iberian, Italian, English, Polish, and German thinkers. The essays focus on the intellectual and cultural factors influencing the lives and works of their subjects, revealing the often global networks of intellectual sociability and reading that united them both to the Catholic Enlightenment and to eighteenth-century policies and projects. The volume, whose purpose is to advance the understanding of a transnational “Catholic Enlightenment,” will be a reliable reference for historians, theologians, and scholars working in religious studies.