Richard Hooker

The Architecture of Participation

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Paul Anthony Dominiak
T&T Clark Studies in English Theology
  • T&T Clark
    , December
     2019.
     240 pages.
     $109.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780567685070.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Paul Anthony Dominiak shows how the influential political writings of the Elizabethan divine Richard Hooker drew on epistemological and ultimately metaphysical wells of catholic and philosophical depth. In so doing, Richard Hooker: The Architecture of Participation considers the conceptual and theological scaffolding of Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, eventually arguing that herein may be found a “politicized metaphysics” (149).

Dominiak builds on the reading of others, from Torrance Kirby to Rowan Williams, in taking Hooker to be a catholic and christologically focused thinker. Hooker’s metaphysical commitments are displayed most fully in Laws I and V where participation occurs explicitly. Hooker’s approach to the topic of participation is not homogenized, even if it is read with an eye to the possibility of some measure of internal coherence (30–31, drawing thoughtfully on the work of A. N. Williams). Dominiak sees both an extensive and a more intensive version of participation evident in Hooker’s Laws. Wayne Hankey has termed these “Dionysian mediation” and “Augustinian immediacy,” and Torrance Kirby refers to them as principles of “hierarchy” and “grace” (36). Dominiak argues that both registers of participation (which we might call nature and grace or creation and redemption) are united in Christ who both serves as “influential principle” in nature and also the one who “personally perfects and elevates” in grace (37).

Hooker sought to push back against the Puritans who believed the scriptures argued against episcopacy and against lay supremacy. Dominiak shows that Hooker’s use of history and tradition fits well with his understanding of Christ, the church, and participatory mediation. In other words, Dominiak’s Hooker has good reasons for seeing development in both regards as being plausible (even if not per se necessary). In his own writings on Hooker, Rowan Williams has argued that Hooker has good Protestant reasons for believing so (see Anglican Identities [Cowley, 2003], 26–27).

Precious few exegetical and hermeneutical comments prove to be the exception in a volume that tilts almost entirely toward the mode of philosophical conceptual description (but see, e.g., 109, 145). Dominiak shows that Hooker’s ecclesiology and polity are metaphysically and christologically possible, but this raises a further question: are they also exegetically decisive or at least textually compelling? Another way to put the matter would be to say that this participationist analysis is surely necessary to assessing Hooker’s legacy and that of his polity, but that is not the same as saying that it’s sufficient apart from a paired alertness to the actual interpretation of scripture first and other catholic resources second (ranging from earlier canons to other desiderata manifesting commitments regarding Christ’s rule of his church via mediation of one sort of another, whether ecclesiastical or civil). The competence of this philosophical-conceptual study opens up the space for that further exegetical research. I think Dominiak shows Hooker’s project to fall outside the criticisms of metaphysical decline that have been offered by Radical Orthodoxy thinkers on many early modern figures, though it remains to be seen if an exegetical attentiveness (“plodding” or not) can also be directed thereunto.

Dominiak helps us avoid a rationalist view of Hooker (see his comments on cognitive desire on 127–145). That enables him to move ahead without reducing the ecclesiastical discussion of polity to a mere exercise in proof texting of one sort or another. He also helps frame Hooker as inheriting not just Thomist principles but also Augustinian commitments on grace (156–157 connect this mediation to debates about the relationship of the visible and invisible church), making further comparative analysis of Hooker alongside other Augustinians possible and appealing (for instance, in what ways can we compare and contrast Hooker’s use of Augustine relative to that of the theologian Peter Martyr Vermigli, who moved to England in exile?). Both figures are Reformed Thomists, but each of them can also be perceived as making substantive use of the Bishop of Hippo’s metaphysics in varying ways.

What began as a Durham PhD thesis has been prepared ably as a monograph. The work is to be commended for its clear style and impeccable editing. In both respects, Dominiak’s prose excels. The author also demonstrates a facility to provide nuanced textual judgments in brief, memorable descriptions; one example (somewhat off the beaten path of his main argument) is his judgment that Thomas Aquinas works to pair a Platonist metaphysic with an Aristotelian view of causality (45n59). That quick comment elides partisan readings, explains much in Thomas’s oeuvre, and helps contextualize Thomas in a historical survey of participation which is both offered in chapter 1 and thereafter put to significant comparative work. Similarly competent judgments could be highlighted elsewhere (not least in his survey of older approaches to participation on 2–12 and to its varied, more recent retrievals on 13–19). The volume’s structure is rather straightforward. After a tour of the language of participation in Christian theology, Dominiak considers the metaphysics, epistemology, and politics of Hooker, suggesting that it is Hooker’s own iteration of the doctrine of participation serving as a thread to tie the whole together.

The study by Dominiak will greatly enhance the experience of reading Hooker’s Laws and, still further, will contribute to the self-understanding of those who lay claim to that tome of Elizabethan divinity. The text likely assumes a bit much about the scope and sequence of the Laws to help guide the novitiate, but it will serve well anyone seeking to plumb its metaphysical depths a bit further. That it also prompts significant further questions for future research is a sign of its cogency and contribution, and this reviewer hopes that Hooker studies and that of Reformed political theology more broadly will remain engaged with its historical and conceptual arguments.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael Allen is the John Dyer Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
July 2, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Paul Anthony Dominiak is Vice Principal of Westcott House and an Affiliated Lecturer in the University of Cambridge, UK.

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