Divine Law and Human Nature: Book I of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization
Purpose for writing: Hooker sought to vindicate “the Laws of the Church which have guided us for so many years….which are now being called into question” (Hooker 2). In doing so Hooker gives us a brief defense of “natural law,” noting that even “The very being of God is a sort of law to His working, for the perfection that God is, gives perfection to what he does” (5).
Following Aristotle, Hooker notes that God “works towards a certain end and by a certain law which constrains the effects of his power” (7). Hooker understands that “natural law” can be a slippery term. Does it mean “rational principles” or “Newton’s physics” or something else? Therefore, he distinguishes the various laws that guide God’s creation. His main focus is on the “rational being [who] with a free will [is a] voluntary agent” (11-12).
His section on angelic law is somewhat unique in natural law treatments. He notes, correctly I think, that when we consider them “corporately, their law makes them an army, some in rank and degree above others” (19). Demons, moreover, “were dispersed, some in the air, some on the earth, some under the water, some among the minerals, dens, and caves under the earth” (20).
Concerning rational agents, Hooker notes that “Choice, however, means that whatever we do, we also could have left undone” and that the “two fountains of human action are knowledge and will, and when the will tends toward a particular end, we call it choice” (29). Hooker is clearly in line with the intellectualist tradition in that the mind guides the rest of the faculties (38).
Concerning human and divine laws, he makes the distinction between primary and secondary laws. A primary law deals with our original nature, the latter with our depraved nature The former includes embassies, good trade, etc. The latter concerns war (61).
A “good” is that which can make our nature more perfect (64).
Concerning Scripture, Hooker responds to the papist objection “Well how do you know from Scripture which books are Scripture?” He begins by noting that every field of study requires the prior knowledge of some things outside the field of study and takes for granted many things” (81). When Scripture says “all things necessary for salvation,” it cannot “be construed to mean all things absolutely, but all things of a certain kind, such as all things we could not know by our natural reason. Scripture does indeed contain all these things. However, it also presupposes that we first know and are persuaded of certain rational first principles, and building on that, Scripture teaches us the rest” (80-81). And that is the purpose of natural law.