Littlejohn on Vermigli on the Eucharist

Brad Littlejohn, the leading proponent of Richard Hooker today, gave a good paper defending the Protestant view of the Eucharist.  I highlight the key points here.

Click to access Hillsdale-sacraments-paper-2.2.pdf

Key argument 1:  We are so accustomed to hearing that the Reformation debate was over whether or not Christ’s body and blood were present in the Eucharist that we really need to pause to wrap our heads around this: the central debate, the issue for which many were to pay with their lives, was whether bread and wine were present in the Eucharist.

1.1.  If the Eucharist is parallel with the Incarnation, then the bread and wine need to be really present, otherwise we have docetism.

1.2.1. If Christ’s present, per transubstantiation, replaces the bread and wine, then the modern advocates of “Incarnationalism” are actually guilty of the very thing they accuse Reformed when they say we don’t have an “enchanted” view of creation.

2. How can a body, Christ’s, which is a quantum, be present yet not by way of quantity?  If they say he is present by quantity, then given multiple masses, he has multiple bodies.

3. The mode of Christ’s presence is the Holy Spirit. Christ is really present.



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).