Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Morning Sermon 5th November Canon Alan Amos

Teachers of the Faith :  Richard Hooker ( 3 Nov. ) and William Temple ( 6 Nov.)

Alan introduction  :  the two teachers in  historical context.

Today we are celebrating two renowned Church of England teachers of the faith,  Richard Hooker and William Temple.   After a brief note on history,  Clare and I are going to present some of the key issues for us as Anglicans; I will be speaking in the person of Richard Hooker,  and Clare for William Temple.

First the history.  Richard Hooker was born in 1554 and lived until 1600.  He was thus born during the brief reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor,  and lived until near the end of the reign of Elizabeth 1 who had restored the independence of the Church of England from Rome.

William Temple  was born in 1881 and died in 1944.   His life therefore almost spanned the period of the two world wars,  and included the years  of the industrial depression of the thirties

Clare:   Alan you have said you will speak to us in the person of Richard Hooker.  Can I ask you then, Richard Hooker,  what lessons you may share with us that have relevance to our life and faith today ?

  •  Well thank you for crediting,  me ,  Richard,  with the gift of forward vision.  I could well have made use of that in my attempts to set out what the Church of England stands for.   As you know, it is during the reign of our glorious Queen Elizabeth that I was privileged to exercise my teaching ministry on behalf of the Church ,  of which as monarch she was supreme governor.  The times I have lived through have been vexed by religious strife;   on the one hand there have been those who wanted to reinstate the old Catholic order,  on the other hand there has been no lack of dissenters,  those among us Protestants who will accept no authority except that of the Scriptures,  according of course to their own interpretations.   It has been the blessing of our Queen’s long  reign that it has provided the space within which to work out what the Church of England might be under divine providence.   I have realised that our Church is an entity through which the Christian faith revealed to the apostles is struggling to become true to its divine calling.   At its best,  our Church of England can witness  to the apostolic faith and order, true to the Scriptures and to the teaching of the early Church.    And so I  have tried to put in order what you may think of as a kind of three-legged stool,  consisting of scripture, tradition and reason,   all of which have to be held in consideration together when we find ourselves in controversy with one another,  though I would argue that Scripture remains the supreme test of doctrine and church practice.    It amuses me a little that later writers look back on me as the source of the teaching of the Anglican via media,  the middle way.   But neither the term Anglican,  nor the term via media were in use in my day.  We were not wanting to be distanced from the continental reformation,  but on the other hand neither did we want to be distanced from the best we have inherited from the great Christian teachers of the past,  such as Chysostom and Augustine of Hippo.   And I fear that we have little to learn from those who want to re-invent the church with no set liturgy and no recognised authority beyond the local gathered congregation of believers.  Out with surplices and out with bishops they say.   And out with much else besides.  But on what principle,  may I ask ?  What principle indeed !   Why should their imaginations have a greater value than the spiritual wisdom we find in the universal church of the first three Christian centuries,  before the incursion of much superstition,  and the sad divisions that have been afflicted upon us.

Well I must now must turn to my future and distant colleague William Temple  and ask what we may learn from you,  William about what has come to be known as the Anglican way.

[Clare…]    Well now Richard, I am glad I have got this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to you in particular for one of your insights that I have found invaluable throughout my own work and ministry. It relates to your understanding of Scripture. You are famous throughout Anglican history and theology for your willingness to suggest that there are three sources of authority for Anglican Christians, Scripture certainly, but also, tradition and reason. It is often referred to as the Anglican ‘three legged stool’ – indeed this idea is so closely associated with you Richard, that the very expression of ‘stool’ is generally credited to you – though I understand it wasn’t in fact you who first used the term. But though I am grateful to you for your willingness to give importance to both tradition and especially reason as well as Scripture, since taking ‘reason’ in particular seriously has been a vital aspect of my own understanding of my role as a Christian minister, what I particularly wanted to thank you for was what my grandchildren in the faith will call the hermeneutical key to Scripture. For those people who don’t know Greek vocabulary as well as you and I do, Richard, that means what is the fundamental focus that we should use to interpret the Bible. And Richard, you set it out so brilliantly in your comment when you said so succinctly,  “The main drift of the whole New Testament is that which St John setteth down as the purpose of his own history. ‘These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing have life in his name.’ ”[1] 

Certainly in my view this understanding of ‘life’ as being the heart of scripture is very dear to my heart and I believe one of the most important contributions that the Anglican tradition has made to biblical interpretation.

Of course I am especially pleased that the biblical passage that you drew on to make this comment comes from the Gospel of John. That is really the Gospel – indeed the book of the New Testament that I cherish above all others. I don’t think you have met, Richard, Charles Gore, Bishop Gore of Oxford, as he will have lived about 300 years after you did. Charles was quite a good friend of mine, and we agree about many things such as the importance of social justice in society, and the key role that the Church has in bringing this about, but we disagree on what part of the New Testament we feel most at home with. As I commented: `Bishop Gore once said to me that he paid visits to St. John as to a fascinating foreign country, but he came home to St. Paul. With me the precise opposite is true. The Gospel of John is where I feel most at home.’ In fact in was in my book ‘Readings in St John’s Gospel’, a sort of commentary on the Gospel, that I made precisely that remark. They tell me that 50 years or so after my death Readings in St John’s Gospel will be the book of mine that people will most cherish and remember me for.

Why do I love this Gospel so much? I am sure that much of the reason is the importance that it gives to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That focus on the incarnation, that in Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh and dwelt with human beings, is at the very centre of my theology, and I would want to say the heart of the Anglican theological perspective. Of course that is linked to what I am told will be the most quoted short theological comment that I made, namely that ‘Christianity is the most materialistic of all great religions’. But I am glad on the whole that that is what people remember me for saying: that the incarnation is the only way in which divine truth can be fully expressed. And it is because of the incarnation that social transformation is both needed and possible. And it is the church’s right and duty to call for social change and that the church must play a role in public life.  I am sure, Richard, from your rather different perspective you grasped that as well. Of course it was those crisis years of the Second World War, when I was initially Archbishop of York and then from 1942 Archbishop of Canterbury that even further reinforced my view that there is a vital role for the church to play in public life and society. I am embarrassed with what my biographer Bishop George Bell wrote about me, although I suppose it is nice that he appreciated me – as I do him in fact, ‘William Temple was not only one of the greatest men of his day, but also one of the greatest teachers who have ever filled the Archbishopric of Canterbury. His tenure of the see was for no more than two and a half years, yet his influence on the British people, in the field of social justice, on the Christian Church as a whole, and in international relations, was of a kind to which it would be very difficult to find a parallel in the history of England.’

You ask me about my family life, Richard?  Well though I and my beloved wife Frances, didn’t have any children ourselves, we were close to our nephews and nieces, and their offspring as well. Indeed a couple of them also became bishops. One of them, my great-nephew Rupert Hoare before he was consecrated as a bishop in fact spent a decade as Principal of the Anglican theological college Westcott House in Cambridge. Even though Rupert was only 4 when I died he and I were kindred spirits, both cherishing a generous vision of the Anglican tradition, its breadth, its ecumenical spirit, and its vision to work for the kingdom of God on earth. They will try and make me a saint after I have died, but I reckon it ought to be Rupert at least as much as me, who deserves that accolade. Even if for nothing else, for appointing to the staff of the college where he was Principal  a rather strange couple, a husband and wife who were living in Lebanon at the time they were invited to become lecturers and tutors, in liturgy and in biblical studies.. And for managing to work with them for 7 on the whole good and constructive years. Aah well, at least that couple are still working away trying to encourage others, such as  a group of young people working as interns in the chaplaincies of the diocese in Europe, who will be prayed for in a moment in today’s bidding prayer, to explore those particular charisms of what it means to be an Anglican, that are so dear Richard, to you and me both.

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[1] Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity 1.xiv.4