HOOKER, RICHARD: The classic writer of the Church of England on ecclesiastical polity; Life. b. at Heavitur (a suburb of Exeter), Devonshire, about 1553; d. at Bishopsbourne (4 m. s.e. of Canterbury), Kent, Nov. 2, 1600. He was the son of poor parents and was helped to a university education at Oxford (Corpus Christi College; B.A., 1574; M.A. and fellow, 1577) by an uncle and the letter's friend, Bishop Jewel. He acted as tutor at his university, in 1579 was appointed to deliver the Hebrew lecture, and in 1581 took orders. In his marriage, which occurred about this time, he was, according to Walton, most unfortunate. He was appointed to the living of Drayton-Beauchamp, in the diocese of Lincoln, 1584, and the following year, at the recommendation of Archbishop Sandys, to whose son he had acted as tutor at Oxford, master of the Temple, London; he shared the pulpit here with Walter Travers, and opposed the letter's strenuous Puritanism. In 1591 he was presented to Boscombe, Wiltshire, and given a minor pretend of Salisbury. In 1595 he was transferred to the better living of Bishopsbourne.
Hooker was a tedious preacher; his manner was embarrassed, his sentences prolix and involved. Walton describes him as "of a mean stature and stooping, and yet more lowly in the thoughts of his soul, his body worn out, not with age, but study and holy mortifications."The Ecclesiastical Polity.
Hooker's great reputation rests upon his work Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. It consists of eight books, four of which were written in Boscombe, and published in London in 1594, the fifth in 1597. The last three books have an interesting history, which is given in full by Keble (pp. xii.-xxv.). Hooker's widow was accused of having burned the manuscript; whether justly or not, it was irrecoverably gone. The rough drafts, however, were preserved. The sixth and eighth books were published in 1648, and the seventh in 1662. Of these the sixth, according to Keble, is probably not genuine. The other two contain the substance of what Hooker wrote. The immediate occasion of the Ecclesiastical Polity seems to have been an attack of Travers upon Hooker for extending salvation to Roman Catholics, and his lack of sympathy with Calvinism. With Jewel's Apology and Foxes Book of Martyrs it is the moat important original contribution to English ecclesiastical literature of the sixteenth century; and the first great ecclesiastical work written in English. Its style has been highly praised. Written in a temperate spirit, and with vigor of thought, it is free from the multitudinous and often unsifted quotations which deface the pages of most of the theological works of the period.
The contents are rather more philosophical than theological, and the work is more valuable for its broad and fundamental principles than for exactness of definition or clearness of argument. It is in effect an answer to Puritanism, which had been bitterly attacking the episcopal system for a generation. Conceived in an admirable temper, and free from the heat and vituperation which characterized the controversial writings of the period, it makes no attempt to discredit the Presbyterian system. Its object is to assert the right of a broad liberty on the basis of Scripture and reason. Hooker expressly denies that the practise of the apostles is a rule to be invariably followed, and asserts that a change of circumstances warrants a departure from the governmental policy and discipline of the early Church. He seeks to prove that things not commanded in Scripture may still be lawful, and he does it by appealing to the practise of the Puritans themselves (as in the case of the wafer which they used in common with the Roman Catholics, etc.). The assertion of this fundamental prerogative of reason is one of the moat valuable contributions of the work. Hooker has been claimed as a champion of the High-Anglican doctrine of episcopacy, and, hardly less confidently, by the other side as the advocate of the view that church government is a matter of expediency. Isolated expressions can be found in favor of both, as even Keble qualifiedly admits (p. xxxviii.). But neither view is true. Hooker holds a position intermediate between the Anglican school of the Reformers, Archbishop Grindal (d. 1583) and most of Elizabeth's bishops, and the school which grew up in the contest with Puritanism, and had its extreme representative in Archbishop Laud (d. 1645). Had he been more exact in his definitions, it might be possible to place him more confidently on the one side or the other. As it is, he stands as the representative of toleration in the sphere of ecclesiastical polity and the advocate of the claims of reason against that narrow Scripturaliam which assumes to tolerate nothing which the Scriptures do not expressly command.
Besides the Ecclesiastical Polity, several of Hooker's
sermons have been preserved. The first collected
edition of his works was that of J. Gauden (2 parts,
London, 1662). The best is by J. Keble (3 vols.,
Oxford, 1836), corrected and revised by R. W.