Don’t Check Your Brain at the Door

Today the church remembers an Anglican priest and eloquent writer who argued for a middle way between Roman Catholicism and the rising pietistic tide in the 16th Century: Fr. Richard Hooker, Apologist for the Middle Way.

Saint Richard was born in 1554 near Exeter in Britain in a time when the nation, and the church, was mightily confused. Though the Anglican church had embraced the Reformation, it was struggling with just how it fit into the sweeping changes rolling through religion and politics.

Roman Catholicism, on the one hand, saw the Anglican Church as having abandoned the one true faith. Puritans, on the other, thought the Anglican church had abandoned the Bible (which the pietistic movement saw as the only text with any authority at all).

Into this melee Saint Hooker was born, educated at Corpus Christi College in Oxford, and ordained. He served several country parishes early on in his priesthood, attending the needs of country people. Using his experience in the parish, in 1593 the good Father penned a seminal work, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, a roadmap for the Anglican approach to the faith.

In stark contrast to Martin Luther, Saint Hooker’s work was charitable and eloquent, meticulously laying out how Scripture, tradition, and reason (yes: reason) could provide a way for the faithful to organize themselves. The Puritans chaffed at the idea, thinking only the Bible provided any answers to any questions. Roman Catholicism could accept this trifecta in part, but thought that tradition trumped the other two, especially when it came to the Papacy.

Nevertheless, Saint Hooker plodded on, believing that the law of nature (reason) could help people organize themselves within a religious construct. His scaffolding became an overarching philosophical defense of Anglican practices where reason, scripture, and tradition all had a pillar in presenting a platform for encountering the Divine and interacting with one another.

Saint Hooker died in the year 1600, but his legacy lives on. He is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that checking your brain at the church door and deferring reason to tradition or even to scripture is too high of a price for admission.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s _New Book of Festivals & Commemorations)

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