The Warden (Trollope)

Trollope, Anthony, The Warden.

If someone today were to write a novel where reformists clashed with religious conservatives, you would certainly expect it to be a highly contentious, even biased work. Trollope demonstrates his skill as a novelist by showing both sides as composed of fairly admirable people. His resolution of the problem is even more impressive.

Mr Harding, a warden of a religious hospitable, is a kind and virtuous man. He is living off of an annuity that far exceeds his daily needs, though he and everyone else is unaware of this. In comes a do-gooder, Dr John Bold. Bold discovers the disparity and begins to rally the populace against the avaricious church. There is a problem: Bold is engaged to Mr Harding’s daughter.

Throughout the novel Trollope illustrates the genius of conservatism: sometimes its best not to make all changes at once because you can’t account for how many decent people you will destroy. Even worse, Bold engages the media to run a hatchet job, which completely crushes Harding’s spirit (my hatred of the press is complete at this point). Of course, Harding is a coward on this point. Do not worry about what the media says. One only needs to respond with the middle finger.

Trollope also has a dashing flair for the unique flavors of 19th century British life.

“No room, Bold thought, could have been more becoming for a dignitary of the church; each wall was loaded with theology; over each separate bookcase was printed in small gold letters the names of those great divines whose works ranged beneath….Chrysostom, St Augustine, Thomas a Becket, Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Laud, and Dr Phillpotts” (160).

In the last chapter Trollope notes that the rector served the Eucharist once every three months. There is this bizarre view in some Reformed and Evangelical circles that frequent eating with Jesus is too Catholicky or High Church. The opposite is the case.

Richard Hooker (W. Bradford Littlejohn)

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Littlejohn, W. Bradford. Richard Hooker. Wipf & Stock.

I wish I had something like this in 2008 when I was wrestling with claims of “what is the true church?” The conservative Protestant publishing world had lost giants like Hooker and Chemnitz. Turretin had been recently translated and published, but he still stayed on the periphery.

Richard Hooker gives us a cosmopolitan vision that is Protestant, yet unashamedly Anglican. I cannot go with him on some points (as I am Presbyterian), yet to interact with his thoughts improves the architecture of the mind. We thank Brad Littlejohn for this little text and for streamlining Richard Hooker for a new generation.

The Mythical Hooker

Myth 1: he was a serene philosopher who floated above controversy.
Myth 2: He is anti-Calvinist.
Myth 3: He retrieved Thomas Aquinas who had been rejected by the Reformation.

Richard Hooker: The Book

In terms of skill and strategy, Littlejohn notes that “the Puritan position had been rendered desperate by the great flanking movements in Books I and II” (Littlejohn). Hooker was unique in that he renounced the standard process of polemics. Earlier polemicists, much like discernment bloggers today, stated the opponent’s position paragraph by paragraph and then refuted each line. This turned small pamphlets into unmanageable tomes. Hooker blessedly repudiated this method. By contrast he offered a text that logically flowed from its prior structural argument.

I do wish Littlejohn had developed exactly how Hooker outflanked his opponents. He asserted it and pointed to relevant passages (which the reader may or may not have). A fuller discussion would have been appreciated. I do plan, however, to read through the Davenant Series on Hooker.

The Challenges to Be Answered

Do the sign of the cross and the wearing of vestments constitute an erasure of the Reformation? To what degree does our appeal to Scripture determine worship? The next question is related to the first one: does anything beyond this jeopardize Christian liberty?

The presbyterians’ argument was thus: no bishop (or elder) is to have spiritual authority over the others; and royal supremacy was to be challenged. This meant that Good Queen Bess would actually be under clerics’ authority in some spheres.

Hooker, therefore, had to respond to a (a) strict biblicism, (b) presbyterian government, and (c) the challenge to civil unity.

A Tour of the Laws

Preface: people are quick to impute all the problems of a society to the established order, with the result that whatever then claims the strongest sanction receives the victor. Elsewhere Hooker makes a very perceptive point on subordinate, yet legitimate human laws. Human laws can teach (albeit, limited) wisdom. Or rather, these human laws are grounded in Wisdom, which participates in the Eternal Law of God. Therefore, we should honor these “manifold forms” in which Wisdom is revealed.

Book II: Considering Scripture as the only law. Scriptural warrant is good, but we must be honest, so Hooker argues, in how it is (and perhaps can be) applied.


Hooker as Polemicist

His famous Preface begins with a subtle attack on the discipline in Calvin’s Geneva, and it is the way in which Hooker crafts his argument that makes him so formidable. He knows that his opponents, the “precisianists,” are acting out of conscience. His concern is that they identify their own probably inferences as infallible truth.

Hooker as Philosopher

Nature and Grace. All created things strive towards a comprehensive final good (Laws 1.11.1). And since God is the highest good, all things seek participation in him. Grace hath need of Nature. Even though faith is a gift from God, it takes root in our natural faculties.

Hooker as Pastor



Hooker drew upon a distinction made by Thomas Aquinas between the object of our knowledge and the nature of our knowledge.

Key Themes: Law

Hooker will criticize the hyper-Puritans for not understanding the different kinds of laws. These kinds of laws do not bind the conscience. Rather, they have an intrinsic rationality “that elicits the morally attuned heart’s free response.”

While this sounds like an open attack on the liberty of conscience (and it probably is), it is little different from Samuel Rutherford’s attack on the Antinomians. One can only act in liberty if the conscience is in conformity to right reason.

Key Themes: Church

Initial premise–the church is perfectly righteous by virtue of its union with Christ, yet it is often hidden in history.

The problem: how false did a church’s preaching have to be before it was no longer a true church? This was initially applied to Rome, then to the Church of England, and then the separatists applied it to each other.

Visible and Invisible. This isn’t just the pure body of the elect vs. you sinners. It is also two planes on which even believers experienced their union with Christ. On one hand we rest entirely on Christ alone, yet on the other we commune with the visible body of the saints. According to Littlejohn, Hooker’s goal is more on how the church participates in the life of heaven than what is and isn’t a true church.

Key Themes: Liturgy and Sacraments

Doctrine of participation: First, we avoid saying the church is an extension of the Incarnation because this blurs the Creator/creature distinction (see Hooker V.56.4-5).