25.1.11

Hooker, Indaba and Christian Unity


For Hooker, the unity of the Church centres around its ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph. 4:5-6).

Hooker encourages unity in all things and just as he describes how, 'the Church and the commonwealth... should always dwell lovingly together,' (Hooker, Op. cit. BOOK VIII. Ch. i. 5), unity within the church is essential and motivates the way Hooker addresses his opponents with a 'Charity which hopeth all things, [and] prayeth also for all men,' (Hooker, Op. cit. BOOK V. Ch. xlix. 2).

Aware of the divergent hermeneutical approaches groups brought to the scriptures in his own day, Hooker, like Rowan Williams, would have valued indaba1 because we have every need to keep listening to one another. Anglicanism, if it really is imbued with Hooker's theological method is a modest, generous and listening church. Although a gifted polemicist, we can perhaps, with a less cynical approach, detect a genuine hope for fraternal unity, and sorrow at the prospect of schism, in Hooker's writings. He trusts that although,

...contentions are now at their highest float...that the day will come...when the passions of former enmity being allayed, we shall with ten times redoubled tokens of our unfeignedly reconciled love, shew ourselves each towards [the] other...(Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. ix. 4)

The Virginia Report describes how, 'Anglicans are held together by the characteristic way in which they use Scripture, tradition and reason in discerning afresh the mind of Christ for the Church in each generation,' (The Virginia Report, p. 15).


Hooker defended the reformed and catholic church, the Ecclesia Anglicana, which is today reforming still. If it is faithful to Hooker, Anglicanism guards what has been 'taught by Christ and his Apostles in the word of God...' (Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. iv. 1). It is suspicious of anything that 'no Church ever have found … out, … till this present time,' (Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. iv. 1) but aware also that, 'The orders therefore which were observed in the Apostles times, are not to be urged as a rule universallie either sufficient or necessarie,' (Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. iv, 5). A faithful reading of Scripture, and the ends for which it was given, must be informed by our attention to both tradition and reason, so that church practices are appropriate to particular times and contexts.

As the Church of England struggles to implement structures for the reception of women bishops, our reformation occurs slowly in response to changing times. This is because, faithful to Hooker's spirit of generosity, it reforms carefully, as it hopes for the assent of all its people to the changes it makes. It laments that some leave its fold.

I am excited at the prospect of serving a Church with Hooker as a forerunner. Rowan Williams believes Hooker's methodology proved that he opposed any position that 'refuses the work of interpretation or that pretends that history has come to a halt,' (R Williams, The Richard Hooker Lecture, transcript). It will be a church that moves with the times, but does so faithfully to its maker.

Although as a church, we argue and debate, and at times the world reckons that there is little love amongst us, we should speak words to one another, like Hooker, in his controversies with the Puritans and the Romanisers, that prove that we

...labour under the same yoke, as men that look for the same eternal reward of their labours ...in bands of indissoluble love... as if our persons being many our souls were but one, rather than in such dismembered sort to spend our few and wretched days in a tedious prosecuting of wearisome contentions...(Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. ix. 4).

1 Rowan Williams describes indaba thus:

"We have given these the African name of indaba groups, groups where in traditional African culture, people get together to sort out the problems that affect them all, where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common mind or a common story that everyone is able to tell when they go away from it. This is how we approached it. This is what we heard. This is where we arrived as we prayed and thought and talked together."

Archbishop's Reflections on Lambeth Conference 2008 at The Lambeth Conference official Website [online at http://www.lambethconference.org/lc2008/news/news.cfm/2008/4/23/Archbishop-of-Canterbury-Better-Bishops-for-the-sake-of-a-better-Church]

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