I was very helped in sermon prep this past week by reading a review in Church Times.
The review prompted a bit of a trawl into the subject of "participation" - more on the review and the trawl below - and led to me offering the following thought this morning when celebrating the re-opening of St David's Belfast, a Hurst Seagar church here in Christchurch, which recently has undergone restoration of its woodwork, new and improved lighting (which show off the woodwork), better heating, a new font and new communion rails.
That thought was that it is a mistake to drive a wedge between church as people and church as building because while church as people is important to God (e.g. 1 Peter 2:1-10, our epistle reading), so is church as building because church buildings represent the participation of God in creation as God gifts to us wood and stone and grants to humanity gifts of design and craftmanship.
The Amazon blurb is:
"Richard Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity has long been acknowledged as an influential philosophical, theological and literary text. While scholars have commonly noted the presence of participatory language in selected passages of Hooker's Laws, Paul Anthony Dominiak is the first to trace how participation lends a sense of system and coherency across the whole work.
Dominiak analyses how Hooker uses an architectural framework of 'participation in God' to build a cohesive vision of the Elizabethan Church as the most fitting way to reconcile and lead English believers to the shared participation of God.
First exploring Hooker's metaphysical architecture of participation in his accounts of law and the sacraments, Dominiak then traces how this architecture structures cognitive participation in God, as well as Hooker's political vision of the Church and Commonwealth. The volume culminates with a summary of how Hooker provides a salutary resource for modern ecumenical dialogue and contemporary political retrievals of participation."
Hooker himself does not say much directly about "participation" and no doubt Dominiak's thesis will be critiqued in terms of whether he rightly takes those few things as setting out the architecture of Hooker's thought. The five critical things Hooker says which catalyse Dominiak's thesis are:
"all things in the world are said in some sort to seek the highest, and to covet more or less the participation of God himself" (I.5.2)
"‘No good is infinite but only God: therefore he our felicitie and blisse. Moreover desire tendeth unto union with that it desireth. If then in him we be blessed, it is by force of participation and conjunction with him’." (I.11.2)
"how God is in Christ, then how Christ is in us, and how the sacramentes doe serve to make us pertakers of Christ" (V.50.3)
"Participation is that mutual inward hold which Christ hath of us and wee of him, in such sort that each possesseth other by waie of speciall interest propertie and inherent copulation" (V.56.1)
"wee are therefore adopted sonnes of God to eternall life by participation of the onlie begotten Son of God, whose life is the wellspringe and cause of oures" (V.56.7).
Dominak's book, incidentally, is fearsomely expensive, but the doctoral thesis on which it is based is obtainable here.
Naturally for a monograph which is demanding for even the most academic amongst us, a review helps to understand, and to relate the importance of the book to those of us without time to dive into the dense depths of Dominiak's scholarship.
In his review, Avis makes this point which connects to some recent threads of comments here on ADU, and which generally touches on that age old chestnut, that somewhere between Jesus of Nazareth and what Christians think today, a terrible Hellenistic corruption changed plain peasant parables into a sophisticated theology which falsely transformed a radical rabbi into God Incarnate:
"As Dr Dominiak shows, the idea that binds the Platonic philosophical-mystical tradition and Christian, biblical, theology together is participation in God. Though, until recently, the idea of participation in God through grace has been largely neglected in Anglican theology, it is found, not only in Hooker, but in his near-contemporary Lancelot Andrewes and in the subsequent High Church tradition. We also see it in the Cambridge Platonists, John Keble, E. B. Pusey, F. D. Maurice, B. F. Westcott, Charles Gore, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, and Rowan Williams, to name but a few.
To hold this doctrine and to live by it, we need to believe that God has poured God’s power, goodness, and beauty into the creation; that the incarnation has elevated and transfigured human nature; that the sacraments are effective means of union with the Triune God; and that the Holy Spirit never ceases to energise and purify the Church."
"Participation in God connects with the mysterious text in 2 Peter 1.4: “that you may become partakers of the divine nature”. The concept of “divinisation” or theosis, found particularly in the Orthodox tradition, is viewed with suspicion by those who believe that it transgresses the boundary between Creator and creation, divinity and humanity.
But Dominiak shows that deification has many shades of meaning and that such fears are misplaced. He brings together “participation” and the key biblical concept of ecumenical theology, koinonia (fellowship, communion). He suggests that Hooker’s doctrine of participation can be a bridge to closer agreement with the Orthodox Churches."
There is a lot to reflect on here.
What excites me (apart from a helpful insight towards the construction of this morning's sermon) here is:
- claiming Hooker's place in that "best of all theology" pantheon, where the great theologians help us ordinary Christians understand the involvement of God in our lives, in the world we live in along with the purpose of our lives in relation to God;
- setting out how the depths of Hooker's thought relates to the simplest of Christian concepts: fellowship;
- offering a vision for the universal church: all who participate in the God who participates in them may have fellowship with one another.