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Archive E.J. Hutchinson Ecclesiastical Polity Nota Bene The Two Kingdoms

Matthew Arnold, Interpreter of Richard Hooker

One of the most important arguments that Richard Hooker makes in the preface to his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, now available in a modernized version from the Davenant Institute, is that church order (or polity) and discipline are adiaphora: neither Episcopacy nor Presbyterianism (roughly, the Genevan model) are required de iure divino such that the true church cannot exist without them. This sets Hooker’s theory apart from both Romanism and disciplinarian Puritanism.

Whatever else he may have  gotten wrong (and he got much right), Matthew Arnold understood this much; and he understood that a large number of Hooker’s readers did not understand it.

Thus he says in a preface of his own (that prefixed to Culture and Anarchy):

Certainly, culture will never make us think it an essential of religion whether we have in our Church discipline “a popular authority of elders,” as Hooker calls it, or whether we have Episcopal jurisdiction. Certainly, Hooker himself did not think it an essential; for in the dedication of his Ecclesiastical Polity, speaking of these questions of Church discipline which gave occasion to his great work, he says they are “in truth, for the greatest part, such silly things, that very easiness doth make them hard to be disputed of in serious manner.” Hooker’s great work against the impugners of the order and discipline of the Church of England was written (and this is too indistinctly seized by many who read it), not because Episcopalianism is essential, but because its impugners maintained that Presbyterianism is essential, and that Episcopalianism is sinful. Neither the one nor the other is either essential or sinful, and much may be said on behalf of both. But what is important to be remarked is that both were in the Church of England at the Reformation….

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.