A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE LAWS OF ECCLESIASTICAL POLITY

It was, presumably, the calm sanity of his outlook that earned for Richard Hooker the almost ludicrously inadequate epithet 'judicious'. The epithet suggests that his contemporaries were far from appreciating his immense superiorities. Not merely as a controversialist but as a political thinker, he was incomparably the greatest Englishman of the sixteenth century and on the Continent had few compeers. For breadth of view, combined with intellectual honesty and detachment, he had no serious rival save Bodin. For fairness and courtesy in controversy only Cardinal Bellarmine was his equal. Among learned or controversial or philosophical books, no literary style is comparable in excellence to his, save the totally dissimilar style of Calvin.

Hooker's great work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, was designed to show that Puritan criticism of the Elizabethan Church was unsound in substance and in detail and that Puritan refusal to conform to the ecclesiastical law of the land could not rationally be justified. It was addressed specifically to the Puritans from the first word to the last. The first four 'books' were published in 1594, the fifth in 1597. The sixth, seventh and eighth books appear to have been completed before Hooker's death in 1599. But they are wholly or partially lost to us. What purported to be the sixth and eighth books appeared in print for the first time in 1648, the seventh only in 1662. The so-called sixth book may be of Hooker's writing, but, except for the first two chapters, it is certainly not the sixth book of the Ecclesiastical Polity. The seventh and eighth books, as we have them, represent only a first rough draft; and how far that has been faithfully reproduced, how far re-written or added to, none can tell with certainty. The eighth book, with which we are here particularly concerned, may at least be taken as substantially representing Hooker's thought and contains much that one feels almost sure was written by him as it stands. But if Walton's story of how the completed manuscript of these last books was deliberately destroyed, by a Puritan named Charke, be true, then even Puritanism never destroyed anything more worth keeping. The loss or partial loss of these books

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