Richard Hooker Essay - Critical Essays

Hooker, Richard

Introduction

Richard Hooker 1554?-1600

English essayist and theologian.

One of the most widely-read and studied theologians of his time, Hooker is chiefly remembered for his eight-volume religious treatise, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1593-1648). Central to medieval Christian humanism, the work was conceived both as an illustration of Hooker's philosophical theology and as a defense of the Church of England against Presbyterian and Roman Catholic opponents. Often cited by scholars for its influence in shaping the principles that have dominated Anglican thought, Hooker's ecclesiastical commentary is viewed by religious scholars as essential to the understanding of the history of the Anglican church. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity also interests critics because of its mixture of ethical, political, legal, and religious philosophies, as well as for Hooker's depiction of the political complexities of his age. Furthermore, his intricate literary style, heavily reliant on the use of epigrams and rhetorical questions, is often compared with those of notable figures such as William Shakespeare and John Milton, while his philosophy is compared to that of John Locke.

Biographical Information

Much of what we know of Hooker comes from The Life of Mr. Richard Hooker (1665) by Izaak Walton. Hooker was born in 1553 or 1554 near the city of Exeter in Devonshire. His family did not have the financial means to send him to a university, but Hooker was able to enter Corpus Christi College at Oxford with the help of the Bishop of Salisbury, John Jewel. He received a B.A. in 1574 and his M.A. in 1577. He was ordained a deacon in 1579 and made a full fellow of his college. In 1580, Hooker and four of his friends were briefly expelled from Oxford for supporting a candidate known to have strong Calvinist-Presbyterian leanings for the office of president of Christ College. All were restored the following month after the candidate had assumed the presidency. During his tenure at Oxford, Hooker conducted annual Hebrew lectures and became the tutor of George Cranmer, the greatnephew of the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, and of Edwin Sandys, whose father was the Archbishop of York. Hooker was ordained in the priesthood in 1581. Upon leaving Oxford, he moved into the household of John Churchman, a distinguished London merchant. In 1588, Hooker married John Churchman's daughter, Joan, receiving a dowry of seven hundred pounds.

In 1585, Queen Elizabeth I appointed Hooker master of the Temple in London, though the most widely favored candidate was Walter Travers, a Presbyterian reformer. Hooker and Travers regularly used their sermons to argue theological matters and entered into a public rivalry which eventually prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene, preventing Travers from further preaching. Hooker's sermons from this period laid the groundwork for Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

In 1591, Hooker left his position as master of the Temple. In order to allow Hooker to complete a written defense of the Church of England, the Archbishop presented him with a rectory at Boscombe in Wiltshire, though Hooker continued to live with the Churchman family. He also made Hooker subdean of Salisbury Cathedral, where he spent time each year working at the cathedral library. The preface and first four books of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity were published in 1593, financed by his former student, Edwin Sandys. In 1595, the Queen presented Hooker with an estate at Bishopsbourne in Kent, where he moved from London with his family. While there, he completed and published the fifth book of the Laws in 1597. This was the last volume of the work to be published during Hooker's lifetime. Hooker died on November 2, 1600, while preparing a rebuttal to a Puritan treatise that had attacked him and the first five books of the Laws. The final three books of were published posthumously, as were several of his sermons.

Major Works

Hooker's magnum opus, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was written primarily to defend the Elizabethan church against the attacks of English Presbyterians, but with attention also given to the refutation of what he and his Anglican contemporaries called the errors of the Church of Rome. The preface to the Laws is a historical account of the Genevan and English Reformed Movement, which lays the groundwork for Hooker's rejection of the arguments of sixteenth-century Presbyterianism. In book one Hooker explores the concept of law in general and deals in particular with laws guiding individual and social behavior. Books two through four reject the major affirmative principles of the Reform movement. Book five is a defense against Puritan attacks upon the legally prescribed forms of public worship as set forth in the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer. Books six through eight detail the structure of the Anglican Church and uphold the sovereignty of the monarch as the head of the Church of England. These last three books remained unfinished at the time of Hooker's death, but were distributed among his friends to be edited for later publication.

Critical Reception

There was great critical interest in Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity during the seventeenth century and his works were reprinted several times between 1611 and 1639. Supporters of the Restoration extolled Hooker as the great defender of the established church against all of the charges aimed at it by Roman Catholics and Protestant Nonconformists. Critic John E. Booty argues that Hooker provided “a philosophical foundation for the sixteenth-century Church of England, a foundation dealing with profound issues in a large and ecumenical spirit.” Subsequent critics have asserted that Hooker's work set the tone for Anglican thought throughout history. John Locke cited Hooker as an authority in his Two Treatises on Government (1689) and critics have also pointed to Hooker's influence on the American political philosophy of the late 1700s. Hooker's ideas regarding the law and his emphasis on reason have remained a focus for critics into the twentieth century, with some commentators asserting that Hooker's arguments are flawed because he was unable to reconcile his theories of church and state with the realities of the Tudor political situation. Recent critics have emphasized the study of Hooker's writing style, analyzing his long, complex sentences and asserting that they are uniquely designed to deliver his message. According to critic Georges Edelen, what distinguishes Hooker's style is “the superb sense of decorum with which he uses the contrast of syntactical form, not simply for emphasis, but with acute sensitivity to the expressive values implicit in the form itself.”

Principal Works

*Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie. Eyght Bookes. (prose) 1593

Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie. The Fift Booke. (prose) 1597

The Answere of Mr. Richard Hooker to a Supplication Preferred by W. Travers to the Privie Counsell (prose) 1612

A Learned and Comfortable Sermon of the Certaintie and Perpetuitie of Faith in the Elect (sermon) 1612

A Learned Discourse of Justification (prose) 1612

A Learned Sermon of the Nature of Pride (sermon) 1612

A Remedie Against Sorrow and Feare, Delivered in a Funeral Sermon (sermon) 1612

Two Sermons Upon Part of S. Judes Epistle (sermons) 1614

Certayne Divine Tractates (prose) 1618

Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie: The Sixth and Eighth Books … Now Published According to the Most Authentique Copies (prose) 1648

The Works of Richard Hooker … in Eight Books of Ecclesiastical Polity. Now Compleated, as with the Sixth and Eighth, so with the Seventh … out of his own manuscripts, Never Before Published (prose) 1666

*Despite the title of this work, only the first four books of Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie were published in 1593. Several of the remaining volumes were published later at irregular intervals; the work in its entirety was not published until after Hooker's death.

Criticism

L. S. Thornton (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: Thornton, L. S. “Hooker's System of Laws” and “Church and State.” In Richard Hooker: A Study of His Theology, pp. 25-40; 89-100. London: The MacMillan Co., 1924.

[In the following excerpt, Thornton examines of Hooker's hierarchy of laws and explores his concept of the proper relationship between church and state.]

We have had a preliminary glimpse into Hooker's mentality and have seen something of the differences which divided him from his Puritan opponents. We are now in a position to examine more closely his system of thought as it unfolds itself in the opening books of the Ecclesiastical Polity. The argument of Books I-IV develops directly out...

(The entire section is 8407 words.)

E. T. Davies (essay date 1946)

SOURCE: Davies, E. T. “Richard Hooker and The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” In The Political Ideas of Richard Hooker, pp. 27-43. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1946.

[In the following excerpt, Davies provides an overview of Hooker's life and work and outlines the major arguments in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity]

Although many had taken in hand to answer the Presbyterians, it was not until the last decade of the sixteenth century that the greatest and definite answer was given. It was given by Richard Hooker who was born in March, 1554, at Heavy Tree, then a village outside Exeter, but to-day a suburb of that city. His parents do...

(The entire section is 5752 words.)

John S. Marshall (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: Marshall, John S. “Hooker's Philosophy of the Appropriate.” In Hooker and the Anglican Tradition: An Historical and Theological Study of Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, pp. 77-84. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1963.

[In the following excerpt, Marshall considers Hooker's interpretation of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.]

Hooker accepts the sixteenth century Thomism of Cardinal Cajetan but he also simplifies it. As the Prayer Book simplifies the mediaeval services, so Hooker simplifies the Thomism of the great philosophers of the Roman Church. The dialectic of objections and replies disappears as the form of philosophical exposition. Thomism...

(The entire section is 2756 words.)

Georges Edelen (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: Edelen, Georges. “Hooker's Style.” In Studies in Richard Hooker: Essays Preliminary to an Edition of His Works, edited by W. Speed Hill, pp. 241-77. Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1972.

[In the following essay, Edelen examines the length and complexity of Hooker's sentences, concluding that his writing style places “a deliberate emphasis on the whole rather than the part.”]

I

The most significant elements of Hooker's style in the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity are the length of his sentences and the complexity of their structure. Even for his contemporaries it was these aspects of Hooker's prose...

(The entire section is 12229 words.)

John E. Booty (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Booty, John E. “Richard Hooker.” In The Spirit of Anglicanism: Hooker, Maurice, Temple, edited by William J. Wolf, pp. 1-45. Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow Co., Inc., 1979.

[In the following essay, Booty considers the influences on Hooker's writing career and the critical reaction to his works.]

Richard Hooker's importance for our day is suggested not so much by the work of modern Anglican theologians as by that of others who have contributed to a growing number of Hooker studies. Scholars of various nationalities, including a French Roman Catholic and a Swedish Lutheran, and various disciplines, including philosophers, historians and professors of English...

(The entire section is 18860 words.)

Robert K. Faulkner (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: Faulkner, Robert K. “Knowing What is Good: Rational Deduction and Rational Will.” In Richard Hooker and the Politics of a Christian England, pp. 83-96. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

[In the following excerpt, Faulkner compares views of Aristotle and Hooker on man's nature and the use of the will to overcome evil.]

THE PROMINENCE OF REASON

From desire for infinite life and bliss Hooker deduces the principal moral duties, and his deduction by reason is no less singular than his orientation by desire. That the Christian Aristotelian Hooker relies more on calculation than the philosopher Aristotle will appear peculiar....

(The entire section is 6818 words.)

Stanley Archer (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Archer, Stanley. “Ecclesiastical Polity, Books 6-8: Issues of Power and Authority.” In Richard Hooker, pp. 98-116. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983.

[In the following excerpt, Archer examines Books six through eight of Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, asserting that Hooker's goal in the last three books was to reject the lay elders as part of church polity, while defending the office and authority of the bishops and upholding the monarch as the head of the Church of England.]

The final three books of Ecclesiastical Polity have long been subject to uncertainty, doubt, and tentative conclusions as to authorship. Although Hooker lists...

(The entire section is 7353 words.)

Eve D. Lurbe (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Lurbe, Eve D. “Political Power and Ecclesiastical Power in Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.Cahiers Elisabethains 49, (1996): 15-22.

[In the following essay, Lurbe discusses Hooker's attempt to set up a foundation for royal supremacy over the Church of England and his philosophy of Anglicanism as set down in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.]

In writing his bulky Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Richard Hooker purported to provide an a posteriori foundation to the royal supremacy over the Church, which had been instituted sixty years before by Henry VIII's 1534 Supremacy Act, and was restored in 1559 by Elizabeth I.

...

(The entire section is 4318 words.)

P. G. Stanwood (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Stanwood, P. G. “Richard Hooker's Discourse and the Deception of Posterity.” In English Renaissance Prose: History, Language, and Politics, edited by Neil Rhodes, pp. 75-90. Tempe, Ariz.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1997.

[In the following essay, Stanwood surveys the critical reaction toOf the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, arguing that various groups have interpreted Hooker's writings to serve their own ends.]

Though for no other cause, yet for this; that posteritie may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to passe away as in a dreame, there shall be for mens information extant thus much...

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Debora Shuger (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Shuger, Debora. “‘Society supernatural’: the imagined community of Hooker's Laws.” In Religion and Culture in Renaissance England, edited by Claire McEachern and Debora Shuger, pp. 116-42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Shuger discusses community-related matters explored by Hooker in his writings, including jurisdiction, authority, law, and socio-political organization.]

Since the 1970s, studies of Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity have, to no one's surprise, grown suspicious of its lofty disinterestedness. Current scholarship, reacting against the hagiographic tradition established by...

(The entire section is 9741 words.)

W. David Neelands (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Neelands, W. David. “Hooker on Scripture, Reason, and ‘Tradition.’” In Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community, edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade, pp. 75-94. Tempe, Ariz.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1997.

[In the following essay, Neelands examines the commonly held belief that Hooker originated the concept of “the triple authority of Scripture, reason, and tradition.”]

It is a commonplace of Anglican self-understanding to refer to the triple authority of Scripture, reason, and tradition. For at least one hundred years, Richard Hooker has been identified as a principal and original source of this...

(The entire section is 8300 words.)

Arthur P. Monahan (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Monahan, Arthur P. “Richard Hooker: Counter-Reformation Political Thinker.” In Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community, edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade, pp. 203-17. Tempe, Ariz.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1997.

[In the following essay, Monahan contrasts the views of Hooker to those of Martin Luther and John Calvin.]

A broad continuum of basic concepts exists across the all-too-often asserted gap between medieval and modern thought. In particular, the assumed or alleged modernity of Renaissance and Reformation political thinking, with its stress on individual freedom and rejection of absolutism, is more fiction than...

(The entire section is 6190 words.)

Bryan D. Spinks (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Spinks, Bryan D. “Sacraments and Hooker's Ordo Salutis: Instruments of Participation in God.” In Two Faces of Elizabethan Anglican Theology: Sacraments and Salvation in the Thought of William Perkins and Richard Hooker, pp. 109-33. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999.

[In the following essay, Spinks explores Hooker's understanding of the purpose of the sacraments]

Hooker explained the place and purpose of sacraments thus:

Christ and his holie Spirit with all theire blessed effectes, though enteringe into the soule of man wee are not able to apprehend or expresse how, doe notwithstandinge give notize of the...

(The entire section is 8787 words.)