On November 3, 2011, the Most Rev'd Frank T. Griswold, 25th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, preached at Dean Ferguson's installation. The service was a solemn evensong on the Feast of Richard Hooker.
Feast of Richard Hooker
Installation of the Very Rev’d Thomas Ferguson as Dean, Bexley Hall Seminary
November 3, 2011
The Most Rev’d Frank T. Griswold
25th Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church
1 Corinthians 2:6-10,13-16
Having been blessed to have had your new Dean as a gifted and much valued colleague during the time I served as Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, I am delighted to be here and to take part in this service of Evensong and Installation. I am equally grateful that this service is taking place in the Chapel of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, and that Bexley Hall enjoys a partnership with Trinity which I pray is a source of strength and blessing to both and yet another gift of the communion we celebrate in our Call to Common Mission.
The readings from scripture we have just heard are those appointed for the Feast Of Richard Hooker, sometimes called the Aquinas of Anglicanism. His magisterial work, unappetizingly entitled, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, gave a theological coherence to the ecclesial outworking of the Reformation in the British Isles, known as the Church Of England, at a time in its early life when strong and seemingly irreconcilable points of view were seeking to determine the direction of this relatively new and fragile expression of the Body of Christ.
We are told by St. Paul in our first reading of a mature wisdom, not of this age, revealed by the Spirit who searches even the depths of God, and teaches spiritually to those who are spiritually discerning. The consequence of being so taught is to possess the mind of Christ. Then, in the reading from the Gospel according to John, the One who is the Incarnate Wisdom of God, and who himself is truth, speaks to us of being sanctified in truth, and thereby being drawn into the intimate union which exists between the Father and the Son, a union that is shown forth in our union with one another, as Jesus declares, “so that the world may believe that you [Father] have sent me.”
These readings, and their particular themes, are most appropriate as we reflect not only upon the life and ministry of Richard Hooker, but as we celebrate the installation of Tom Ferguson as Dean of Bexley Hall here at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. And, as we do so, we might ask what gifts of wisdom and truth Hooker, who continues to be one with us in the Communion of Saints, has to share with us on this occasion. Or, more broadly, we might reflect upon what might he have to teach us about being wise and discerning theologians in our own day.
The first thing I would say is that Hooker would agree with Evagrius Ponticus who declared that “a theologian is one who prays.” Indeed Hooker’s notion of reason – so central to his thought, as it is brought to bear on questions of faith and practice – presupposes not only a mind steeped in pondering the scriptures, but a consciousness that has been transformed and conformed through prayer and sacrament to the mind of Christ.
His understanding of reason was so different from the way reason was later understood by the Enlightenment and into our day: that is as an analytical capacity – acute, freestanding and unsullied by such things as faith. Reason transfigured by the interior workings of the Spirit was integral to Hooker’s theology. For him, Reason was to be understood as a divine gift, a gift to be exercised along with revelation under the guidance of the Spirit. “There are,” he writes, “but two ways whereby the Spirit leadeth men into all truth: the one extraordinary, the other common; the one belongeth unto some few, the other extending itself unto all that are of God; the one the which we call by a special divine excellency ‘revelation,’ the other ‘reason’.”
Participation in Christ is central to Hooker’s theological vision. Baptism is the appropriation of our justification – that is our being embraced and reconciled and forgiven by the “mad love” of God revealed in Christ and worked into the fabric of our being by the Holy Spirit. And the Eucharist is the continuing means of our sanctification – our growing up “in all ways into Christ.” Of the Eucharist he writes, “Christ is as truly united to me, and I to him, as my arm is united and knit unto my shoulder, that he dwelleth in me as verily as the elements of bread and wine abide within me.” Here historian John Booty makes the point that for Hooker the eucharistic mystery was not a question of Christ’s real presence in the bread and wine, but of our real participation in Christ, mediated by the elements. Thus, in Booty’s words, “We may speak of …dynamic intercourse,” (that is participation) “rather than a static condition…” (that is presence).
Such an understanding, born out of Hooker’s own eucharistic intimacy with Christ, allowed him to step beyond the controversies of his day regarding modes of Christ’s presence in the sacrament. He could therefore state, “Let it be sufficient for me presenting myself at the Lord’s table to know that I receive from him, without searching or inquiring of the manner how Christ performeth his promise; let disputes and questions, enemies to piety, abatements to true devotions…let them take their rest…what these elements are in themselves skilleth not, it is enough that to me which take them they are the body and blood of Christ, his promise in witness hereof sufficeth, his word he knoweth which way to accomplish.” Then, touching upon the disposition of one approaching the altar Hooker remarks, revealing something of the disposition of his own soul, “Why should any cognition possess the mind of the faithful communicant but this, ‘O my God, thou art true, O my soul thou art happy’?”
Hooker’s deep and abiding adherence to Christ, gave him an interior freedom from many of the theological preoccupations of his day. His union with the risen One also allowed him to view a number of the theological controversies that engaged his contemporaries with a remarkable generosity of spirit. That orthodoxy is by nature paradoxical – witness the Chalcedonian Definition of the two natures of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity, both adopting a perspective of both/and rather than either/or – was not lost on him. He therefore was able to discern, with the help of the Spirit, what David Tracy calls the “pluriformity of truth,” – its multidimensional nature. This made it possible for him to stand against the unyielding certitudes of Puritans and Romanists alike, challenging both by his ability, born of life in Christ, to bring out of his treasure, like the householder in the gospel “what is new and what is old.”
With regard to Scripture, Hooker fully accepted its binding authority, but at the same time he acknowledged that we “must take great heed, lest attributing unto scripture more than it can have, the incredibility of that do cause even those things which indeed it hath most abundantly to be less reverently esteemed.” I rather think that like Origen, and others after him, Hooker made a distinction between literal and spiritual readings of scripture, and realized that to insist on a literal reading of the whole could compromise how authoritatively the more crucial portions of the biblical record would be received and valued.
With regard to tradition, the continuum of the church’s life and experience, Hooker took a broad view in contrast to the Puritans. The inherited rites and ceremonies and the historic ministry including the episcopal office were part of that continuum, and together they participated in a wholeness of vision that saw God’s hand at work in all of life and the world around us. “God hath created nothing simply for itself: but each thing in all things, and of everything, each part in the other hath such interest, that in the whole world nothing is found whereunto anything created can say, ‘I need thee not.’” This sense of the mutuality and coherence of all things allowed Hooker to view as a whole scripture and a Spirit-shaped consciousness, in the form of reason, together with the “book of experience,” which Bernard of Clairvaux bids us read along with that of scripture, as well as the continuum of tradition including the sacraments whereby, “It pleaseth Almighty God to communicate by sensible means those blessings which are incomprehensible.”
So here we are this evening, some four hundred years later, bound together with Richard Hooker through baptism in the Communion of Saints. Our issues may be different, but the living water that flowed from Hooker’s life in Christ, sustained by prayer and sacrament and scripture, is here to sustain us as well.
Our prayer, as was his, is the work of the Spirit who prays within us “with groans too deep for words,” and pours God’s love into our hearts. As the Spirit of God’s Son sent into our hearts, crying Abba, Father, and as the Spirit of truth, we are exposed to the continuing revelation of the “many more things” Christ wishes to say to us, the full weight of which we cannot all at once bear.
The sacraments – those sensible means of incomprehensible blessing – are the gestures of Christ, participations in his risen life, enactments of the gospel mediated by sign and symbol, including the all too human symbol of his ministers.
And scripture: yes, studied critically but also approached as being alive and active and sharper than a two-edged sword, as we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews. Alive and active because scripture is inhabited by the Spirit of Christ who opens the scripture to us, causing our hearts to “burn within us,” if we approach it “on the tiptoe of expectation” and let it accost us it on its own terms.
“I think the joy of Holy Scripture is very much hidden by the joylessness of commentators who write about it with no sense of supernatural delight.” These are the words of Father Richard Benson, founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the First Anglican Religious Community for men after the Reformation. His words are at least a hundred years old, yet they still sound a salutary warning to us all.
These then are the privileged, but not the exclusive ways in which Christ draws us into participation in his life and ministry, and they stand at the very heart of all genuine theological formation. May this seminary, with both its Anglican and Lutheran traditions, be such a place, where mind and heart are deeply formed and fed, and may Tom, with your prayer and support, be a wise overseer of the Bexley community that has been committed to his charge. And above all, may God, “whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine,” guide and goad you by the driving motion of the Spirit, forming Christ in you and making you signs for our battered and broken world of his reconciling and death defying love. Amen.