Richard Hooker and the “Three Legged Stool”

Benjamin Guyer points out that the “three legged stool” of Scripture, tradition and reason often attributed to Richard Hooker is not accurate:

First, he notes that Hooker was a Thomist in his views on Scripture and reason.  The relationship between these is the same as that between grace and nature: the former perfects the latter.  Hence Hooker’s point that “the principal intent of Scripture is to deliver the laws of duties supernatural.”[[Hooker, Laws, I.12.2]]  Reason cannot attain to what Hooker calls “a more divine perfection” without the revelation mediated through Scripture.[[Hooker, Laws, I.11.4]]  Under the tutelage of divine truth, human reason does not stand alone but is instead corrected and enabled to pursue what is right and good for all.  Hooker writes, “the laws of well doing are the dictates of right reason.”[[Hooker, Laws, I.7.4]]  Hooker locates authority not in reason as such, but in right reason.  Second, and as Neelands puts it, Hooker looked upon tradition as a Roman Catholic idea that was “merely human” and inferior to Scripture and reason.[[Neelands, “Hooker on Scripture, Reason, and ‘Tradition’,” 89]]  Ergo, even if Hooker had argued for a “three-legged stool” – and Neelands is clear that Hooker did not – there would be no reason why any of us would be bound to accord independent authority to tradition, given Hooker’s own views on the primacy of Scripture and right reason.  Furthermore, if Neelands is correct that the image of the “three-legged stool” is first found in Francis Paget’s 1899 Introduction to the Fifth Book, we cannot claim that this metaphor represents the Anglican tradition.  Other historians agree with Neelands that the “three-legged stool” is a misrepresentation of Hooker’s theology.[[Nigel Voak, Richard Hooker and Reformed Theology: A Study of Reason, Will, and Grace (Oxford University Press, 2003), 251 – 265; W. J. Torrance Kirby,Richard Hooker: Reformer and Platonist (Ashgate, 2005), 1 – 28]]  Why then use it?

3 thoughts on “Richard Hooker and the “Three Legged Stool””

  1. Joel, I’m sure you’ve seen Nigel Atkinson’s book on Hooker, wherein he argues essentially the same points.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.