Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No Checks and Balances Here

“Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other, what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after this the Church succeedeth that which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” (Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5.VIII.2)

Richard Hooker has been both praised and blamed for creating the “Three-legged Stool.” I am not alone in rejecting this image of three equal legs as the meaning of Hooker’s own argument. But, not a few modern Anglicans have decided that this is the way best to summarize the essence of his teaching about epistemological authority, that is specifically, how we know the truth. As a result of this idea of a Three-legged Stool, some have created a system of checks and balances. Furthermore, they have recast the terms of this in endless and creative fashions, with no fidelity to anything but their whims.

The Three-legged Stool, by correct definition, is “Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition.” These three as sources of knowledge can rightly be said to come from Hooker’s work. However, the word “tradition” was not often used this way by Hooker himself, who used it sometimes in a negative way referring to excesses and distortions associated with the papists of his times. It is, however, quite correct to use the word “Tradition” for the collective mind of the Church, and therefore the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2: 16), and in this way to understand part of Hooker’s meaning in the words, “the Church by her ecclesiastical authority.”

Nonetheless, the problem with the Three-legged Stool is, as I said, that it carries the idea of three equal legs. For Hooker the idea of equality among these three things was simply wrong. The Scriptures have the highest place of authority, for in the Scriptures it is God Himself who speaks, since the word of God is directly revealed there, teaching and setting forth “all things necessary for salvation.” Second, to Hooker, is Reason. In light of the whole of his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity we must add the word “right.” Right Reason (see Books 1.VIII.3, and 3.IX.3), rather than simply reason, is best understood in light of the opening chapters of Book II, where he teaches that wisdom, as it is explained in the Proverbs of Solomon, and mentioned in other passages of the Bible, includes more than simply what is revealed in scripture. It includes knowledge of the natural world, and practical matters of understanding. We can draw from this that a mad man possesses reason, but not Right Reason (the same may be said of an untrustworthy Enthusiast, whose claims to private revelation defy credibility if only on the basis of his apparent instability). We can draw, as well, that Right Reason placed after Scripture, rules out the notion that human reason is equal by its own weight to the Word of God.

That the teaching and authority of the Church comes third tells us that to Hooker, only a mind enlightened by the Word of God and possessing Right Reason responds truly to the teaching and authority of the Church. So he says in Book 3.IX.3:

“Is it a small office to despise the Church of God? ‘My son, keep thy father’s commandment,’ saith Solomon, ‘and forget not thy mother’s instruction: Bind them both always about thine heart.’ It doth not stand with the duty we owe to our heavenly Father, that to the ordinances of our mother the Church we should show ourselves disobedient. Let us not say we keep the commandments of the one, when we break the law of the other: for unless we observe both we obey neither.”

In this way, he upholds not only the teaching of the Church (to which we add the words, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est: “What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”), but also, what he calls “her ecclesiastical authority,” not to be redundant, but to extend the meaning to include Government and Canon Law.

False notions

The first mistake concerning the Three-legged Stool is conveyed by the image itself. Hooker taught a hierarchy of authority with Scripture at the highest place, Right Reason as second because it is necessary that the word of God communicate to human minds, and what we call Tradition, but that he called the Church, as the third. (Yes, Hooker meant as well to include the Church’s Government and Canon Law, but for purposes of Epistemology these need to be placed on the back burner.) However, not everyone means to imply equality when using the phrase “Three-legged Stool.” Here the weakness of analogies as a method can meet with innocence. But, the image tends to convey equality nonetheless. Better we should think of a small ladder with three rungs. The revelation of Holy Scripture is the highest rung. This is essential and absolutely necessary to understand because of the deceptive ways in which this idea of three sources of authority is misused. It is misused every time that it is applied as a system of checks and balances.

When used this way it is a method for any party that wants to eliminate from authority the disfavored commandments of God. They find that the Scriptures are against their innovation. So, they pretend that the Scriptures can be weighed either against Tradition or Reason. Furthermore, because Tradition cannot be used as easily as Scripture itself- by misapplication and sophistry of “interpretation”- they replace Tradition with Experience, pretending that these two mean the same thing. The result is a new “Three-legged Stool” of Scripture, Reason and Experience, always put forth as “the historic understanding of comprehensiveness in Anglicanism.” But, in fact, it is nothing but a new invention of dishonest minds relying on the credulity of the uneducated. It is sophistry, not wisdom; a sales-pitch, not teaching; politics, not doctrine. It is a wide gate and a broad path that leads to destruction.

By this means, every teaching of Scripture can be ruled out, whether it is the fact that a bishop must be the husband of one wife rather than simply the spouse of one spouse, or that only when a man cleaves to his wife are the two made one flesh. By claiming that “reason” or “experience” teach things contrary to Scripture, and that these two “legs” must be weighed against that one “leg,” they manage to overthrow all true teaching whenever it stands in the way of Satanic progress.

The older perpsective

It was relayed to me that a popular blog (weak in theology and content) contained an article in which one of their writers claimed that she did not worry about the Anglican Catechism having always taught that two of the sacraments are “generally necessary for salvation,” because for her the scriptures were good enough. What she really meant was not the scriptures, but her very limited understanding of the scriptures. Then she said that for Anglo-Catholics the scriptures are not enough: “They need something from tradition too.” This is not a “liberal” speaking, but rather a sort of theological “new conservative” whose foundation is every bit as innovative as that of the revisionists. She decides for herself what is and is not “a salvation issue” with absolutely no regard for the Anglican heritage she claims as her own. This is also a misuse of the Three-legged Stool as a system of checks and balances.

The Catholic mind of a Traditional Anglican does the opposite of what this writer said. For us the tradition is not enough; we must also be persuaded by Scripture. But, this is in response to what the writer meant when she used the word “tradition.” She thinks of the tradition in strictly superficial terms. For such people, the tradition is only as old as the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the 1940 Hymnal, the pattern of church buildings and other practical matters to do with how we carry out the Form in which we worship God together. But these things are not the Tradition, even though they are traditional.

When we really understand it is sufficient to say, simply, the Tradition. However, for the sake of clarity and communication, it is not always possible to speak this way to everyone. The Tradition always refers to teaching; it is a purely doctrinal Tradition. As such it safeguards the validity of the Sacraments, and in fact cannot continue without them, nor they without it. Properly understood, even the three things put forth by Hooker are within the Tradition. The Scriptures, Right Reason and the Church-with-her-Authority live inside this Tradition, that is, the teaching carried on along with the Apostolic Succession from age to age. Our liturgical life has taken useful forms due to the wisdom of Right Reason that helped the Church to form them in the earliest years, and that has from time to time and place to place given variety in details according to the needs of the people. But, always, within the Tradition, it is the same Gospel, the same Sacraments, and the same Teaching commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ, quickened and empowered by the same Holy Spirit, taking us into the presence of God the Father. In a sense, speaking of the Scriptures and the Tradition as two separate things is itself a mistake. The Scriptures are part of the Tradition, and these speak not with voices that must be weighed against each other in the scales. These speak to us with the one voice of God. And, as wisdom teaches, they cannot contradict or vary.


An Anglican Cleric said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a good critique of the "three legged stool" metaphor, which as you point out is not from Hooker, but is a misreading of Hooker. This critique is extremely relevant, as I have heard the "three legged stool" bandied about even in Continuing Church circles. The proper way of stating the relationship of Scripture, tradition and right reason is obviously important; this is what Dogmatic Theology used to call Prolegomena. But the "three legged stool" business is less than helpful. The metaphor should be retired.
Laurence K. Wells

Death Bredon said...

Not to belittle the massive contribution of Hooker as an Anglican Divine, we must nevertheless remember that he is but one man expressing Anglican epistemology in his way -- a correct way, in my opinion, when properly understood, as Fr. Hart well explicates.

Today, however, perhaps an easier and more succinct method of expressing the same content comes from Dean Vernon Staley, who writes in his classic catechism that principle of Anglican epistemology is as such:


Here we see the interplay between Scripture, Tradition, which here means the historical complication and construction of the Scriptures by Church as a whole as expressed by the right reason of the "consenus patrum."

But yet again, when both Hooker and Staley are further distilled to their essence, we are left with the most ancient, anti-innovation, anti-subjective principles of the three adjectives from St. Vincent Canon -- always, everywhere, everyone.

Sometimes its hard to improve on the original!

Carlos said...

Awesome! I was just thinking about Hooker today. When I first became and Episcopalian I read many intro books about the Episcopal Church and always "Via Media" and the three legged stool were showcased as the two grand "mysteries" of the Anglican Faith...

I'm curious about this "Experiance" addition. I'd heard an Episcopal priest speak about this once but it seemed like a forced fourth leg and something specifically added by the innovation crowd to allow them to have some weights against scripture.

As you said in the article, the stool is just an analogy to help conceptualize Hooker's arguement and sometimes a misleading one at that...

poetreader said...

Hooker's formulation (with the later derivatoives from it) makes a valuable tool for sorting these issues out, providing it is recognized as a highly imperfect tool. Sola Scriptura is simply wrong. Scripture is not, has never been, can and will never be alone, having been written in and for the Church, and rightly interpreted only by orthodox members of the Church. Scripture is intimately a part of Tradition, that part which prevents mere "small-t" tradition from subjecting the Church to venerable fancies. Neither Scripture nor the Tradition can, of course, be understood without the use of reason, but I'm not comfortable with the heights to which Hooker seemed willing to elevate it. In his writing in those terms, he was very much a man of his times, a child of a scholasticism which followed the kind of thinking that became the foundation of the so-called Enlightenment, and ultimately of the now-prevailing unbelief.

As for experience, when I became an Episcopalian, back in the sixties, in an AngloCatholic parish, the model was already being taught with four legs, but this is, actually, no more than a part of right reason, merely data to be used by reason. Even together reason and experience, though important, are not strong enough to serve as a leg for that stool.

I much prefer a ladder model, but I find it useful to see the ladder as supported on two uprights, Scripture and Tradition, working together to support rungs, among them reason, on which the Christian can climb.


andrew said...

"followed the kind of thinking that became the foundation for the so-called enlightenment..."

perhaps an anachronism. cetainly false. please see, for example, etienne gilson's *the spirit of mediaeval philosophy* or some other such work by an expert in the field of mediaeval thought (philosophical and/or theological). scholasticism's representation of the relation between faith and reason (divine revelation and philosophy), per say, Thomas Aquinas, and that of the enlightenment, say, per Immanuel Kant, are entirely at odds. there were a few scholastics (e.g., abelard) who occasionally made the truths of faith answerable to the bar of reason, but this was the exception rather than the rule. and to characterize or judge a methodology (or anything else) on the basis of an aberration thereof is, technically, sophistic.

the characterization in the body of this post of the right relation between faith and reason is very much in line with what scholastic theologians actually taught, as opposed to what they are popularly believed to have taught.

Anonymous said...

Poetreader, your "ladder" model sounds too luch like a Tridentine understanding of Scripture and tradition ("partim ... partim) which is surely unCatholic. This was not supported by Vatican II or by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

When you read the Fathers, you find there a consistent appeal of Holy Scripture as the final court of appeal. No "Scripture says this, but tradition says that." You need to remember that Scripture has a Canon-a closed list of books. We might argue about the Deutero- canonicals, but EVERYONE agrees that the list is closed. Tradition, on the other hand, is fairly amorphous. Many different theolopgical positions can be defended by appealing to the Fathers against the Scriptures.
Both Augustinians and Semi-Pelagians can find passages to quote. Where do you set the limits to "tradition"? Elaine Pagels and the Neo-Gnostics include the Gospel of Thomas and other weird literature. How do you refute them? Your ladder may be a bit wobbly if not set on a firm foundation.

When you airily dismiss "Scriptura sola," you need to remember that this formula is an incomplete sentence. Scripture is alone for what purpose, in what sense? It means different things to various types of Protestants. It is clearly maintained in the classic Anglican formula, "containing all things necessary for salvation." Do you wish to deny that? If so, then you are no longer an Anglican. Even Rome asserts Scriptura sola in an important sense, in that only the canonical Scriptures may be read in the Mass. This is a point which the Holy See has been at pains to emphasize since Vatican II
opened the way for crazy experiments. So when you deny "Scriptura sola," you need to be more specific about what you are denying.
Laurence K. Wells

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Death Bredon, for the quote from Dean Vernon Stanley, with which I agree fully.

Hooker's epistemological approach was informed by the typical theological training of his day, which was infused with lessons from classical philosophy. This emphasis on reason is one of the strengths of Roman systematic theology. It is extraordinarily helpful. Those in the catholic tradition need to find a way to reconcile this emphasis with the catholic view of Scripture and Tradition as finally authoritative.

Anglicans must not forget that the right understanding of Scripture is possible only as the Holy Spirit illumines us. The writings were inspired by the same Spirit and it is by the Spirit's mediation that the Church understands and interprets Scripture. The Spirit helps the Church to discern also what is false interpretation. Only teh Church has authority to interpret the Scriptures. This is exactly what angers the gay rights activists. Theo Hobson, for example, recently posted an essay at the Guardian in which he moans about the Church's claim to have moral authority based on Scripture. He ends is editorial by challenging liberals to be true liberals and liberate the Church from this illusion. It is his call to revolution.

Just a thought said...

And the "three legged stool" (or Via Media for that matter) is in what book of scripture? or make it up as we go along

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Dear "just a thought":

I have two suggestions for you. Read my article again thinking about your questions in light of its content; and also read Book II of Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

poetreader said...

Fr. Wells,
The whole concept of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition is a bit too complex for a brief statement. Obviously the distinctions you make are applicable. Equally obviously the Scriptures must be the final authority in matters of faith, and being a closed canon, have a degree of reliability that cannot be found elsewhere. But how do we indentify what books are therein contained? How, having made that identification, do we establish what is the authoritative text? Does the Scripture, by itself, answer those questions? If we cannot identify the authoritative volume simply on its own word, how can we declare it to be "alone"? Can a man alone be trusted to understand what the Bible is saying? Many intelligent persons have come to dramatically different opinions on many issues in that way. How are we to know what interpretations "fit"? I maintain that this cannot be done other than by consulting the wealth of thinking embodied in the Tradition, the collective wisdom, if you will, of a Spirit-led Catholic Church.

I take a high view of Scripture, high enough that I still get called a fundamentalist on occasion. I quote Holy Writ as often as I did in my Pentecostal days, but left that milieu very largely becuse I came to see the utter folly of trying to evolve a true Christian Faith from the Book alone.

Yes, Father, I do "airily" dismiss such catch phrases as Sola Scriptura, believing them to be the source of a great deal of mischief. I have posted a series of five papers I wrote while still a charismatic/evangelical pastor, representing some of the thinking that led me out of that so very deficient environment and into Continuing Anglicanism. You can read them, if you are interested, at



just a thought said...

Dear Fr Heart,

Thank you for your response, I can now see my short post could be taken as discourteous, which was not my intention, just short of time, at the time so to speak.

I came across your Blog a few days ago and have been reading it on and off ever since (Put that in your thurible and smoke it indeed, you seem to have forgotten the bit about avaricious English MPs getting fabulously wealthy, not to mention the titles, land grabs and payoffs, a house here a convent there, all at the churches expense).

I have read your post and I have read a bit about Hooker (That’ll teach him for marrying the landlady’s daughter), more a politician than a theologian to my mind but I’ll not hold that against him, no doubt an intelligent man, if I have a problem with him it is his involvement with Cranmer and Ridley but I digress. Your post effectively reduces the three legged stool theory (and I’m quite sure you are aware of this) to what we RCs have always held true and that is the two pillars of revelation are Tradition and Sacred Scripture, in that order. Again as you seem to accept this approach as the authentic and acceptable understanding of the Churches teaching authority, factor in the Magisterium and your there.

My goodness you are more Roman Catholic than some Roman Catholic Priests I have met, seriously what are you still protesting about, what ever it is I am sure we are very sorry (we do seem to have apologised for everything else in the last few years), It must be cold out there for goodness sake come on home.

Now to via media, via media is, however you look at it, the politics of compromise, it is fence sitting on a grand scale and a way to get by without actually resolving conflicting ideologies, unfortunately Christianity does not give us that option. Via media is a ‘have your cake and eat it’ kind of Christianity and if we are honest we have to admit in the end disagreements come down to: if you’re right, I'm wrong and if I'm right you're wrong, there cannot be two rights we have to choose, but it is intellectually dishonest and to my mind not a little cowardly to think you can keep a foot in both camps for any length of time. And so what has via media produced, perhaps you are a traditional Anglo Catholic but that’s just the bit of the path you stand on, what about Episcopal Bishops Jefferts-Schori or Gene Robinson, they are on the same ‘via’, just a bit further away and over to the left but the Via Media is a broad path. You see it just doesn’t exist in practice because I can hear you now objecting to being associated with the antics of that pair, so where do you go now, make another church up call it apostolic and then what, in ten, twenty or 100 years, are you intent on starting the work again, a new communion, a new episcopate, in time perhaps anew pope?

The via media is a dupe, it is neither traditional nor scriptural, there is no middle way for Christianity and no broad path, the path is narrow that leads to life (please God), and it is the broad way that leads to destruction.

Have you come across Father Dwight Longeneckers blog, Standing on My Head? I’m sure you will find it fascinating, look up his post Quo Vadis Anglicans? You could also look at the Coming Home Network http://www.chnetwork.org/. (Is that a little presumptuous? still I don’t expect you would have started this Blog if you were not able to handle a little controversy eh!)

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Ed. This promises to be interesting reading!

(Also, though a personal request... my heart has been very heavy lately about all that is happening and not happening in Anglicanism. I'm sure that I'm not alone in this. Please, let us pray for a Pentecost to stiffen the backs of all right-believing Anglican clergy, especially bishops and archbishops. Tomorrow may be too late to stand up for the Faith once delivered!)

Anonymous said...

The catch-phrase "Scriptura sola" has indeed been the source of much mischief. It has been bandied about by ersatz "catholics" to misrepresent the magisterial Reformation and to smuggle in modernism, a modernism decked out in liturgical vestments.
I feel that you do not understand the difference between Scriptura sola and Scriptura solo. The Reformers insisted that Scripture is the "only infallible" rule of faith and practice. They did not assert that it is the only component of a sound theological method. Is there anything other than Scripture that for you is infallible? If not, you have yielded the point.
Laurence K. Wells

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Dear "Just a Thought"

You have no understanding at all of the term via media. It is not a foot in both camps, and it is not middle of the road. It is, as Isaiah said (in the Bible), "turn not to the right hand or to the left." We avoid the extremes of heresy, which are always a lopsided affair. The concept of the via media, though not by the Latin name, comes from St. John Chrysostom in Six Little Books on the Priesthood. When I use the term I am stating openly that some Roman Catholic ideas are every bit as wrong as some of the radically Protestant ones. I am quite prepared to list and argue against RC errors, and against Fundamentalist errors too. that places me on the Via Media for the sake of the truth.

Also, you make the common mistake about the word "Protestant" defining it as having to do with "protest." It does not mean that. It simply means pro-Scripture (as in pro-Testaments). Nonetheless, most ACs do not call themselves "Protestants."

To call Hooker a politician is ridiculous.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

By the way, "J.A.T.", I forgot to mention that Hooker was writing his Laws long after Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer had been burned at the stake by Bloody Mary; he was writing in the time of Queen Elisabeth, not Henry VIII.

poetreader said...

Fr. Wells,

Scripture is indeed infallible, but a concept of infallibility doesn't really have a lot of meaning in practice, since my understanding of Scripture, or yours, or any else's, even if he be Hooker or the Pope, is all too fallible. Every interpreter of Scripture manages to miss the point at times, perhaps frequently. An individual is not even capable of deciding what is Scripture. It takes Tradition, the handing down of truth through the generations to identify and support the text, and to moderate the interpretations given to the text.

Both Rome and the Eastern Church are comfortable in asserting that the Church is infallible. I don't know what that means. As a historian of sorts, I can observe that the Church has usually been errant in one way or another. The presence of the Scriptures and the enormous weight of the Tradition of interpretation and teaching are, in my view, the mechanisms used by the Holy Spirit to make the Church indefectible, i.e. to guarantee that, after all, the gates of hell will not prevail and the Church will always be brought back to its center.

What, BTW, is this odd little phrase 'Scriptura solo'? It's not Latin. Sola Scriptura, or the reverse order you prefer, is, and translates as 'only Scripture', or 'Scripture alone'. It simply can't be alone, never has, and never will be. Death Bredon's quote from Vernon Staley, above, says it well.


Sandra McColl said...

I think I recall reading Mascall asserting (largely by way of a throwaway line) that, until the 12th century, Scripture and Tradition were synonymous.

Carlos said...

Concerning the Ecumenical Councils... are we to take that they are infallible? In the thirty nine articles it says that while they have great authority, they are still subject to err... though in I believe Tract 90, Newman believes that anything man does by his own intention is fallible, but that which is directed by God is not... it still does not leave me with a definitive answer about the infallibility of the church.

Roman Catholics have both the Pope and the Councils... the Eastern Orthodox believe in the councils... but do ACs only assert that scripture is infallible when viewed through the tradition of the fathers and theologians? While in many ways it is humbling, it does also mean that nothing is COMPLETELY free from re-interpretation. Thanks in advance for your opinions.

- Carlos

Anonymous said...

We could probably agree on the Vernon Staley quote. That for me nicely sums up what I believe, what I take to be the authentic Christian position, iow, Anglicanism.

The "Scriptura sola ... Scriptura solo" distinction I recently learned from Jonathan Bonomo on his promising new blog "Evangelical Catholicity."
As you discern, "Scriptura solo" is pig-Latin. Mr Bonomo is making a distinction between what the magisterial Reformation taught and what some modern Evangelicals think they taught. The classical position is that only Scriptura is infallible, but not to disregard the unbroken stream of living tradition passed on in the life of the Church. This has been reduced to "me and my Bible, that's all I need." Sadly, many Anglicans only know the caricature, not the original.
In Hooker's debates with his Puritan opponents, we see the genesis of the separation between the "sola" and "solo" understandings of Biblical authority. The Puritans were developing a "solo" position, in their "regulative principal of worship" (one of the craziest things to come down the pike of Christian history). Hooker had a better grasp of how Biblical authority is exercised as "the Church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies," applying the resources of tradition and Spirit-led reason.
Laurence K. Wells

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Actually the 39 Articles say "General Councils" are infallible, not necessarily Councils which are both General and come to be acepted as Ecumenically authoritative. Some Councils looked at least as "general" in participation as true Ecumenical Councils but were later condemned, e.g., the "Robber" Council. The point is that it is the reception of the Council by the Church (as true to Revelation) that seals or certifies its dogmatic authority.

Even some synods now universally acknowledged as proper Ecumenical Councils took a long time to be recognised as such, e.g., the Second. And what is now called by the RCC the (anti-Photian) Eighth Ecumenical Council was seen as authoritative at first, virtually completely rescinded 10 years later at a pro-Photian Council, disappeared into relative obscurity for some time, and then much later came to be called the Eighth Council.

Finally, the acceptance by the C of E of the authority of true Ecumenical Councils I have shown at this 'blog before:


Given that Hooker was 2 years old when Cranmer and Ridley were burnt to death, one wonders what JAT thinks his "involvement" with them was.

As for us now agreeing with the RCC on Scripture and Tradition, the work Holy Writ or Holy Church by RC scholar Tavard shows that the truth is more complicated. The strongest opinion at the time of the Reformation within the RCC was that Revelation was only partly in Scripture, the rest in extra-Scriptural tradition, so that not all doctrine needed Scriptural support. But the Council of Trent did not (quite) go this far, and can be interpreted as consistent either with this "partly ... partly" view or the classical Anglican (and mainstream patristic) view, which says that all Revelation is in Scripture and that Tradition has an interpretative function, but is not the radical source for dogma. Notably, it is the latter which Newman supported even after his move to Rome and which has now become dominant, it would seem.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Sorry, first sentence above should have "fallible", not "infallible".

Anonymous said...

A very interesting piece by Father Hart.

About a million years ago I did a master's thesis on the idea of tradition in Hooker. The subject can indeed not easily be dealt with briefly. But one pernicious idea that can be swiftly dispatched is the sly replacement in some Anglican (and other) circles of 'tradition' with 'experience'. To the unwary these terms may seem almost interchangeable, but in fact the replacement nearly reverses the practical tendencies of one's theological method.

'Tradition' is, whatever else, a conservative element in theological method. Tradition gives perspective, tempers and restrains immediate enthusiasms, and allows the past a role in determining ecclesiastical consensus. 'Experience' in contrast tends to be a dynamic element in method that pushes in innovative directions. Experience is a nose of wax about as malleable as 'Scripture alone' in the hands of the Biblicist radicals whom Hooker so memorably attacked. For 'experience' read 'the Spirit makes me do/feel/think it' - and so back to an earlier post and thread.

I think readers of Hooker also tend to neglect the consensus principle. Hooker's vision of the Tudor constitution is idealized, but it undoubtedly emphasizes the harmonious consensus of Church and state, monarch, Lords, Commons, and Convocation. If we remove the idealization, we still have a desirable impulse towards consensus. 'Tradition' is, among other things, the consensus of the past. The consensus principle is a useful, easily understandable principle still. Do we have a practical question about a matter in doctrine or morals? Just find what the West and East agree about, and there you have consensus and truth.

+Mark Haverland

Fr. Robert Hart said...

We have established that the four of us who contribute to this blog uphold the Affirmation of St. Louis. Here is a line from it:

The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by "the ancient catholic bishops and doctors," and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.