The Evolving Reputation of Richard Hooker: An Examination of Responses, 1600-1714

The Evolving Reputation of Richard Hooker: An Examination of Responses, 1600-1714

The Evolving Reputation of Richard Hooker: An Examination of Responses, 1600-1714

The Evolving Reputation of Richard Hooker: An Examination of Responses, 1600-1714

Synopsis

Richard Hooker has long been viewed as one of England's great theological and political writers. When he died, however, at the end of the sixteenth century, his writings had proved to be something of a damp squib. This book examines, against the background of the political and religious crises of the seventeenth century, how he came to rise from comparative obscurity to be regarded as a universal authority. It will be seen how an unintended alliance of Reformed Protestants, suspicious of Hooker, and Catholics, anxious to exploit his perceived sympathies, led to his establishment as a distinctive, well-regarded English writer. Whilst the boundaries of Hooker's comprehensiveness have expanded and contracted in response to particular situations, the belief that he is an important writer has remained remarkably constant ever since.

Excerpt

It has been claimed that in ‘the long and crowded roll of great English men of letters there is no figure of greater significance to the instructed mind than Hooker’, and that his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, are a milestone in the history of religious thought. The Polity has certainly been lauded as the first ‘philosophical masterpiece’ to be written in the vernacular and traditionally been acclaimed for setting out the classic depiction of the English via media based upon the sound triumvirate of scripture, reason, and tradition. Hooker has been celebrated for rejecting the hardening disjunctions between these assorted authorities, and for bringing them into a rational and coherent synthesis, which avoided the mistaken extremes of Romanism or Puritanism. Although the English Church clearly pre-dated Hooker, his skilful congruence of the divergent strands of the Reformation has been regarded as publicly signifying ‘the beginning of what we now call Anglicanism’.

In spite of the longevity of these claims, however, it is far from clear that the legacy of our Anglican Hooker is quite so straightforward. If Hooker was indeed the father of a special English Church settlement then it begs the question of why the terms Anglican or via media appear nowhere in the Polity? It could be that others applied them later to positions defended by Hooker, or possibly even invented by him. More radically it might be that we need to accept the validity of a whole series of revisionist studies, which have addressed the issue of

C. J. Sisson, The Judicious Marriage of Mr Hooker and the Birth of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (Cambridge, 1940), p. ix.

P. Avis, Anglicanism and the Christian Church (Edinburgh, 1989), pp. xix, 47; D. Stancliffe, ‘Proem’, in P. B. Secor, Richard Hooker, Prophet of Anglicanism, (Tunbridge Wells, 1999), p. viii; W. D. Neelands, ‘Hooker on Scripture, Reason and “Tradition”’, in A. S. McGrade (ed.), Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community (Tempe, 1997), 74–94.

J. S. Marshall, Hooker and the Anglican Tradition. An Historical and Theological Study of Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity (London, 1963), 1; H. McAdoo, ‘Richard Hooker’, in The English Religious Tradition and the Genius of Anglicanism (Wantage, 1992), 105–25.

Marshall, Hooker, 1.

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