Freedom of a Christian Commonwealth : Richard Hooker and the problem of Christian liberty
Littlejohn, William Bradford
This thesis takes as its starting point recent variations on the old narrative that seeks to make the Reformation, and Calvinism in particular, the catalyst for generating modern liberal politics. Using David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms as an example, I show how these narratives often involve attempting to accomplish a “transfer” from the realm of spiritual liberty to that of civil liberty, a transfer against which John Calvin warns in his famous discussion of Christian liberty. In making such a transfer, such narratives are often insufficiently attentive to the theological complexities of the Reformation doctrine of Christian liberty, and the tensions that could lie concealed in various appeals to the doctrine. Accordingly, adopting as a lens John Perry’s concept of the “clash of loyalties,” (the conflict of religious and civil commitments which helped give rise to liberalism), I attempt to trace how different understandings of Christian liberty, and its accompanying concept of “things indifferent,” served both to mitigate and to exacerbate the clash of loyalties in the sixteenth century. This narrative culminates in the attempt of English puritans in the reign of Elizabeth to resolve the conflict by subjecting all ecclesiastical, political, and moral matters to the bar of Scriptural law, thus undermining earlier understandings of what Christian liberty entailed. Against this backdrop, I survey the work of Richard Hooker as an attempt to recover and clarify the doctrine of Christian liberty. This involves a careful distinction of individual and institutional liberty, and different senses of the concept “things indifferent,” a rehabilitation of the role of reason in moral determinations, and a harmonization of the believer’s loyalties by clarifying the relation of divine and human law. The result is a vision of a Christian commonwealth free to render corporate obedience to Christ while at the same time enabling the freedom of its citizens.