Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Richard Hooker: Prophet of Anglicanism or English Magisterial Reformer?

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Richard Hooker: Prophet of Anglicanism or English Magisterial Reformer?

Article excerpt

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) has long been considered the premier theologian and foremost apologist of the Church of England. Hooker's importance to the Anglican Communion at large remains today as great as ever. Yet the actual fellowship of those who may legitimately be designated "Hooker scholars" remains relatively small.1 Within this elite circle there has recently emerged a new revisionist interpretation of Hooker and his works that warrants familiarity on the part of a wider audience of concerned readers.

This "new" revisionist interpretation is shown below to be in reality quite "old." It is now, however, being set forth once again by certain theologians of the Anglican Communion who are arguing that Hooker was in all essential doctrines an orthodox advocate of the Magisterial Reformation in England. Collaterally, they are striving to undermine what they perceive to be the dominant thesis in most post-nineteenthcentury Hooker scholarship. This dominant thesis, which they seek to refute, interprets Hooker as the primary defender of a distinctive via media way of doing theology that emerged within the structures of the Elizabethan Settlement, and that in later centuries became known as "Anglicanism." The first part of this article summarizes the arguments set forth by two of the most outspoken and representative of these Evangelical theologians, W. J. Torrance Kirby and Nigel Atkinson.2 The second part offers a critique of these arguments that defends the more traditional interpretation of Hooker as an exponent of a genuinely distinctive via media way of living and doing theology that pioneered what was later to become known as "Anglicanism."

I

The starting point of Kirby's and Atkinson's reinterpretation of Hooker is an attack upon what they regard as the anachronistic and imprecise label "Anglican" as commonly applied to Hooker.3 Observing that the term itself was never used by theologians of the Church of England during the Reformation, and that it first appeared only in the seventeenth century as a product of post-Restoration polemical historiography,4 both theologians stress the theological imprecision and vacuity of its application. Atkinson concludes: "It might as well be dropped."5

Intimately bound up with the argument that the term "Anglican" ought to be abandoned with regard to Hooker and other sixteenth-- century English reformers is the related assault upon what is perceived to be the equally anachronistic interpretation of Hooker as an exponent of a via media theology. According to Kirby and Atkinson, the "myth" of the via media as representing the peculiar character of the Church of England and as the mark of a distinctively "Anglican" theology was the creation of nineteenth-century High Churchmen af-- filiated with the Oxford Movement. From this perspective, these High Churchmen had a vested interest in trying to link Hooker and the Church of England more directly with Rome, thereby downplaying Hooker's adherence to the theological principles of reformed doctrinal orthodoxy. So Atkinson writes:

Obviously, in trying to link the Church of England more directly with Rome, it was incumbent upon the Oxford Apostles to represent the Church of England's doctrinal position as less than Reformed and closer to Rome than had otherwise been perceived. This they attempted to do by developing the theory of the via media and trying to read it back into Hooker, the Articles, the Prayer Book and the Ordinal.6

Kirby specifically refers to John Keble, the nineteenth-century editor of Hooker's Works, as the source of this portrayal of Hooker as the originator of a via media theology that sought to negotiate between the extremes of the Lutheran and Calvinist reformers on the one side and Roman Catholicism on the other.7 Again, Atkinson agrees and elaborates:

John Keble, who edited the Lawes at the start of the Oxford Movement, added a Preface in which he tried to argue that Hooker would have given his blessing to the High Church movement, even though Hooker's theological dependence on Augustine and Calvin had previously been taken for granted. …

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